All Rachel Hopkins contributions to the Environment Bill 2021-22

Wed 26th May 2021
3 interactions (477 words)
Tue 26th January 2021
Environment Bill
Commons Chamber

Report stage
Report stage
Report stage: House of Commons
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
7 interactions (800 words)

Environment Bill

(Report stage)
Rachel Hopkins Excerpts
Andy Carter Portrait Andy Carter (Warrington South) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney).

The events of the past 12 months in particular have shown us the advantages of getting out and exploring nature on our doorstep. It is crucial, as we build back greener from the pandemic, that we take advantage of this opportunity to protect those green spaces and reflect on the world that we want to see for our children and their children.

I was very proud that this Government was elected on the strongest ever manifesto for the environment, and this Bill is critical to implementing that commitment. Central to this legislation is a commitment to leave the environment in a better state than when we found it. This is a world-leading measure that could be the net zero equivalent for nature. It is critical in our action to address biodiversity decline.

I am particularly pleased to see the commitment to tree planting in the Bill. I also welcome the introduction of local nature recovery strategies, which will allow us to map local assets and identify areas suitable for recovery.

Our changing climate is becoming associated with more extreme weather, higher risks of drought and an increase in flooding, which affected so many of the homes in my constituency in Sankey Bridges, in Heatley, and in Dallam and Bewsey during Storm Christoph in January.  The Minister was incredibly supportive and helpful during that time. Many local residents, though, are still not back in their homes, and are unlikely to be so anytime soon. Will my hon. Friend look at what more she could do to support those residents and Warrington Borough Council? I am very pleased that the Bill introduces additional requirements on water companies, enabling more resilient solutions.

Many of the environmental issues that we face have distinct local elements, and responding to challenges at a local level, in Warrington, not only allows for bespoke and more appropriate responses, but drives the potential for innovation. I want to mention air quality briefly. Warrington has historically had some of the worst air quality in the north-west of England, because of its location surrounded by motorways with high levels of congestion, and historically because of the location of a coal-fired power station at Fiddler’s Ferry. Now that has closed, and the air quality is already improving. My question to the Minister is, how can we leverage the Government’s nature target and commitment to improve air quality, not only in Warrington but across the UK, and given our presidency of COP, set out an ambition for a global improvement too? Finally, I welcome the work being undertaken by the Cheshire Wildlife Trust to protect some of our most vulnerable habitats locally, particularly through its peat free campaign.

The Bill will manage the impact of human activity on the environment. It creates a more sustainable and resilient economy and, critically, it engages our constituents and local government to improve environmental outcomes. I very much look forward to supporting it.

Rachel Hopkins Portrait Rachel Hopkins (Luton South) (Lab)
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I want to speak to new clause 25, amendment 46 and amendment 22, which would cement in legislation forward-looking protections for trees, deforestation, species conservation and biodiversity gain.

We are in a climate and ecological emergency. Many of my Luton South constituents have contacted me deeply concerned about nature and biodiversity in the UK and across the world. The Bill was an opportunity to embed ambitious environmental protections in law and to kick-start a nature recovery ahead of COP26 and the convention on biological diversity, COP15.

The state of nature is very alarming. Wildlife in Britain is in freefall, with 44% of species in decline over the last 10 years. One in seven native British species are now at risk of extinction. UK tree planting targets were missed by over 50% in 2019-20, and across the world the World Wide Fund for Nature’s “Living Planet Report 2020” found that there had been an average 68% decline in the populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish since 1970.

So instead of a radical plan that shows global leadership in addressing the climate and nature crisis, the Government’s Bill dramatically falls short of what is needed. As the Environmental Audit Committee stated, the draft Bill

“is a missed opportunity for taking a holistic approach to environment and climate change, placing them at the heart of Government policy.”

I believe that the Government are resisting concrete, ambitious protections, so that our environment can be used as a bargaining chip that would undercut Britain’s environmental standards.

I hope that the Government will support the Opposition’s amendments that seek to enhance the protections in the Bill. We need the Government to publish a tree strategy for England, coupled with clear targets that would drastically increase woodland coverage, to protect and maintain new and restored existing woodlands. New clause 25 would ensure that the Government’s tree strategy was transparent about the protection, restoration and expansion of trees and woodland. As the planting of trees is a local issue as much as a global issue, will the Minister commit to ring-fencing a significant proportion of tree-planting grants of the £640 million Nature for Climate fund for local authorities, so that they can plant trees at scale and play their part in tackling the global crisis?

We also need the species conservation strategies to contribute to nature’s recovery. Amendment 46 would help deliver that, and could ensure that effective strategies are put in place to restore bees and other pollinator species and protect them from harmful pesticides. Amendment 22 would require the Government to commit to maintaining habitats that are secured under biodiversity gain in perpetuity, rather than the 30 years currently specified in the Bill. These amendments would embed sustained, forward-looking action in law to begin to reverse species decline and loss of species, and set nature on a path to recovery.

I look forward to hearing the Minister’s closing remarks.

Robbie Moore Portrait Robbie Moore (Keighley) (Con)
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It is a real privilege to once again speak in this place to express my support for the Environment Bill. It was fantastic to have the opportunity to serve on the Bill Committee and to see all the hard work that has gone into this piece of legislation. I repeat my for all the work that she has done in bringing forward this Bill.

All of us in this House will agree that the environment is precious, and I care deeply about protecting and enhancing it for future generations. As the Minister will be well aware from my interactions with her, from lobbying to stop the development of the Aire valley incinerator to the recent granting of bathing water status on the River Wharfe in my constituency, I and many of my constituents across Keighley and Ilkley care deeply about enhancing our environment. As I deliver this speech, two of my constituents, Patrick Godden and Jack Hanson, are completing a walk from Ilkley to Westminster to raise awareness and funds for the Ilkley clean river campaign, a group that has campaigned hard to improve water quality in the River Wharfe. Measures in the Bill such as the statutory duty on water companies to develop sewage management plans and the changes to the water companies licensing process will ensure that the River Wharfe and many other rivers up and down the country have better water quality and biodiversity and enhanced aquatic ecosystems, and I wholly wholeheartedly approve of that.

I am delighted that this Government are following other countries in introducing conservation covenants. The Government have acknowledged the important role landowners can play in conservation efforts. The current system makes it difficult for legal obligations on environmental protection to stay in place once land is sold or passed on, and conservation covenants will help. These long-term commitments will ensure positive opportunities for conservation are not missed, and the conservation covenants will introduce obligations to improve conservation as long as public good will is there and will help restore the natural qualities of our land.

There are other great measures in this Bill, such as local nature recovery strategies; the Government have recognised that local nature recovery must start at the local level, and that will make a huge difference locally. I would briefly like to mention my support for amendment 41 tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), a probing amendment which seeks to include a provision for local planning authorities to be able to take unlawful tree felling and lack of compliance with restocking and enforcement orders by landowners into account when considering planning obligations.

We have an obligation to ensure that the next generation inherits a healthier planet and the Environment Bill goes a long way to achieving that.

Environment Bill

(Report stage)
Rachel Hopkins Excerpts
Tuesday 26th January 2021

(8 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Kim Johnson Portrait Kim Johnson (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab) [V]
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I would like to start by thanking my constituents who have contributed to this debate by sending me emails.

We are in a climate and ecological emergency. Considering the scale and urgency of the crisis we are facing, it is staggering that the Government have seen fit to postpone the Bill yet again. We have a responsibility to take rapid and radical action towards sustainability and environmental protection. Delaying this core piece of legislation is a major setback to that work. In the run-up to hosting COP26 later this year, the Bill should be an absolute priority, as should commitment to maintaining and enhancing environmental protection. That it is not, speaks volumes about the commitment of this Government to the environment, to our global responsibilities and to future generations.

The Bill, as it stands, has been called a missed opportunity by the Environmental Audit Committee, and has failed to enshrine action on climate change at the heart of Government policy. Environmental campaigners and organisations across the board have been clear that we need ambitious targets, enforced by a fully independent watchdog, with significant powers to actively dissuade the contravention of environmental legislation. However, if the watchdog is to be effective, it must be capable of holding the Government to account, and that means full independence and serious powers to prosecute and impose financial penalties. The Bill currently allows the OEP to be guided by the Secretary of State, threatening to turn it from a watchdog into a lapdog.

I support many of the various amendments that have been tabled today to strengthen the Bill, including amendment 23, which would ensure the independence of the OEP. With the extra time we now have due to the postponement of the Bill, we could go even further. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will take on board the recommendations of countless environmental campaign groups, endless research projects and recognition by the UN itself that the environmental crisis cannot be tackled without powerful legislation and a fundamental rethink of our economic strategy?

The Bill must take the opportunity to put forward a radical vision that puts climate justice and sustainability at the heart of government through a massive programme of investment and regulation, to offer every worker in high-carbon and unsustainable industries the option of retraining, and to be relocated into high-skill, high-wage jobs in their own communities, from insulating houses to green tech to expanding public transport. “Redeployment not redundancies” must be the strategy. The working class must not pay the price for the corporate greed ravaging the Earth. Instead, strategic support and investment must be undertaken to protect both people and planet, clamp down on tax avoidance and use the income to generate sustainable jobs and invest in a carbon-zero economy. Tinkering at the edges is not an option; the Government must take the rapid and radical action needed to get a grip.

Rachel Hopkins Portrait Rachel Hopkins (Luton South) (Lab) [V]
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I will be voting in favour of amendment 25 to the Environment Bill, to embed World Health Organisation targets on air quality; amendment 23, to ensure the Office for Environmental Protection is truly independent; and new clause 9, to enforce commitments to protect biodiversity, health and wellbeing, and the sustainable use of resources. However, due to time constraints, I will focus on Labour’s amendment 39, and the importance of Parliament scrutinising the granting of any exemptions for the use of banned pesticides.

I share the concerns of my Luton South constituents who have contacted me, and the more than 50,000 people who have signed the Wildlife Trust’s petition about protecting bees from the use of neonicotinoids. Their existence is too important to the functioning and survival of ecosystems, so the protection of bees is non-negotiable. It is important to recognise, though, that bees are not just in rural areas: the bees in Luton South produce the delicious High Town Honey just around the corner from me, which has won several prizes at the Bedfordshire Beekeepers Association honey show. The decline of bees will have a disastrous impact on food security. Bees pollinate around 70% of the fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds we eat, but in the UK 13 bee species are already extinct, and one in 10 of Europe’s wild bee species is under threat.

The Secretary of State has authorised farmers to use neonicotinoids on sugar beet crops, even though it is widely recognised that they kill bees. The Government’s justification that sugar beet is not a flowering crop, and therefore the risk is acceptable, does not stand up to scrutiny. A similar application for the use of neonicotinoids in 2018 was refused by the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides because of “unacceptable environmental risks.” This is not to say that overall, I do not recognise the genuine concerns of sugar beet growers across the east of England, but the Government should back farmers to help create a sustainable solution through better support for the sector, accelerating the introduction of blight-resistant crops, and including allowances for crop loss in next year’s sugar contracts.

The Government’s decision to allow the use of banned pesticides has too big a consequence for there to be no parliamentary scrutiny. The emergency authorisation of pesticides must never become common practice. The Government have a clear choice today: vote to speed up the decline of our bee population, or uphold the ban, allow parliamentary scrutiny of future exemptions, and save our bees.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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I thank hon. Members for their co-operation: we have managed to get everybody from the Back Benches in during this debate. I now call the Minister, Rebecca Pow.

--- Later in debate ---
Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD) [V]
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Like the previous Members of my party who have spoken, I shall be supporting the Opposition amendments. However, I would like to use my time to focus entirely on air pollution—a subject that is close not just to my heart, but to so many people I meet every day. It is also vital to our future and to our health, both individually and as communities.

In my constituency of Edinburgh West, we have two of the most polluted roads in Scotland, and one in every 29 deaths in our city of Edinburgh has been attributed to air pollution. Surely that is beyond unacceptable. I also have personal family reasons for knowing what a silent and merciless killer air pollution can be. Lives are blighted or even lost, and our NHS is put under yet more strain. Clean air is one of the most precious commodities that we have, and it is becoming even more precious.

For me, there is nothing that we could do that would be too much, but tinkering around the edges, as this Bill will do, is not good enough. We need to be brave and, yes, we need to start spending money. Our children are now making it abundantly clear that they do not believe that previous generations have done enough to ensure that the planet is safe for them, and they are the ones who tend to be exposed to higher levels of pollution than adults. We need to listen and act now. The Liberal Democrats’ zero carbon target is 2045; we believe that 2050 is simply too late. We need to strengthen our interim targets and undertake a 10-year emergency emission reduction programme to cut emissions as much as possible by 2030.

This legislation is a good start, but it does not have the teeth necessary to provide the robust protection for the environment that we need. If it is not to become little more than a series of meaningless platitudes, the Office for Environmental Protection and local authorities must have sufficient funding and empowerment to be effective. We need an Act modelled on the Climate Change Act 2008, with regular interim targets to cut not just air pollution but plastic pollution, and to restore nature. For me, the clean air provisions are simply not good enough. We need new legal limits that meet World Health Organisation limits, a new duty on public bodies to do their part in tackling pollution, and a new right to clean air in domestic law. All that is meaningless, however, if the reports are correct and the Bill is delayed until the next Session. More time will be lost, more people will breathe in dangerously polluted air, more damage will be done to our lives, our environment and the planet, and the chances of turning this ecological disaster around will be lost. I hope that the House will support the Opposition amendment.

Rachel Hopkins Portrait Rachel Hopkins [V]
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The River Lea flows all the way through my constituency of Luton South, so I shall start by welcoming the earlier clarification stating that clause 82 should cover damage caused to chalk streams as a result of low flow, as championed by the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker). I will be supporting the Opposition Front-Bench amendments, including amendment 24 on chemical regulations, but I want to speak specifically about waste management in support of new clause 8, which will require the Secretary of State to take account of the waste hierarchy, starting with the priority action of prevention.

The waste hierarchy refers to the priority order of managing waste: prevention; preparing for reuse; recycling; other forms of recovery; and disposal. To tackle the climate and ecological emergency, there must be a preventive and focused approach to waste management. I am fully aware that the Minister has stated that the Bill enables the Government to place obligations, including targets, on producers to prevent waste, but I am concerned that the Government are refusing to explicitly put that commitment to prioritising preventive action in the Bill. The Bill should use the strongest possible language to demonstrate the UK’s commitment to preventing the creation of waste, as well as to the reusing and recycling of it.

Local government has a crucial role in waste management and in tackling unnecessary and unrecyclable material. Community-based action to shape attitudes and behaviour is vital to improving the UK’s sustainable management of waste, and bolder language would further empower councils to take stronger action.

Luton Council’s waste management strategy for 2018 to 2028 is committed to a “waste less, recycle more” plan that recognises the importance of limiting the amount of waste. As well as ensuring that the recycling process is efficient, the waste minimisation strategy has a focus on behaviour change through education, engagement and communication, including working with schools, encouraging visitors to reduce the amount of waste and maintaining waste standards. However, unprecedented budget cuts imposed by the Government’s austerity agenda over the last decade have restricted the great work that councils do to sustainably tackle waste, so I urge the Government to back Labour’s amendment, to use stronger language to tackle waste prevention and to empower our councils by providing more financial support to expand preventive waste strategies in our communities.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson [V]
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I want to speak to new clause 10, tabled in the name of Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru colleagues, and also to new schedule 1. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) spoke eloquently about the impact on the environment of disposable nappies, and about the sometimes misleading claims made about their environmental friendliness by the manufacturers. My partner and I decided to use cloth nappies for our children. I fully understand that, for varying reasons, that is not a decision that everyone feels able to take, or something that people can do 100% of the time, but it was a choice that worked very well for us.

New clause 10 and new schedule 1, taken together, would establish the basis on which the Government could act to address the problem of waste caused by nappies that are not reusable. Establishing clear standards for disposable nappies would help parents to make informed choices. It would provide clarity over terms such as “reusable”, “biodegradable”, “eco-friendly”, “environmentally friendly” and anything else that was put into the mix. That would help parents by making it clear what they were buying and what the impact of that choice would be. Furthermore, the schedule would, through the relevant national authorities cited, oblige the Government to begin to encourage local authorities to promote the use of reusable nappies if they do not do so already—I know that some do—and so reduce waste, by working alongside parents as well as existing schemes such as nappy libraries, which many parents find so valuable.

The waste that comes from disposable nappies is one of the biggest single environmental problems that we face, but it is also, potentially, one of the easiest for us to begin to solve through the provision of good information and good incentives from Government. To do so would be good for babies and good for the world that they grow up in. It is something that we are able to act on, and we should look to do so.