Hedgerows: Legal Protection

Selaine Saxby Excerpts
Wednesday 24th January 2024

(1 month ago)

Westminster Hall
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Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered legal protections for hedgerows.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Ms Elliott. I welcome the work of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and its consultation last June, which sought to ensure that protections for hedgerows will continue, following the end of cross-compliance protections this January. I thank the Minister for her engagement on the issue and, as an advisory board member of the Conservative Environment Network, I thank the network for its help in relation to this debate.

Our green and pleasant land has been a source of national pride for centuries. Looking at the gently rolling hills of my North Devon constituency, it is easy to see why. The land is a green patchwork, stitched together by hedgerows. I am proud to be one of the 85 MPs and peers who are hedgerow heroes for the Campaign to Protect Rural England, continuously calling on the Government to commit to significant hedgerow planting and restoration.

The Government have made many welcome steps towards protecting hedgerows. The Environment Act 2021 introduced a mandatory biodiversity net gain requirement for new development, along with local nature recovery strategies to target the best places for nature recovery and wider environmental benefits. In January 2023, under the refreshed 25-year environment plan, the Government announced a target to create or restore 30,000 miles of hedgerows by 2037 and 45,000 miles of hedgerows by 2050. That target will result in 360,000 miles of English hedgerows, which is 10% above the 1984 peak.

Other positives include clear regulations prohibiting the removal of countryside hedgerows without approval, and our countryside stewardship schemes, which help to maintain and restore over 10,000 km of existing hedgerows and plant an additional 4,000 km across the country. Countryside stewardship provides financial incentives for farmers, foresters and land managers to look after and improve the environment. Under grant type BE3—management of hedgerows—farmers will be paid £13 per 100 metres for one side of a hedge. That is available for the countryside stewardship mid-tier and higher-tier options, and will go towards improving the structure and longevity of hedgerows and maintaining them as distinctive and historic landscape features.

Healthy hedgerows are visually appealing, but they are also unsung heroes. Their roots absorb excess water and help to reduce the risk of flooding. Their leaves provide a source of shade for livestock in the summer and shelter in the winter. Their thick, tangled branches are home to countless iconic British species, from the humble hedgehog to bats, turtle doves and yellowhammers. Hedges are also home to precious pollinators, without which we would all go hungry. Over 1,500 invertebrates, including bees, beetles, spiders and hoverflies, have been identified in hedgerows in the UK. Spring-flowering trees and shrubs, such as blackthorn and hawthorn, which are often found in hedgerows, can be important sources of spring foraging for wild bee species in intensively managed landscapes.

The National Trust is very keen that I highlight its annual BlossomWatch campaign. Blackthorn and hawthorn blossom hedgerow is some of the most spectacular to be found anywhere in our countryside. The National Trust highlights that since 1945, the UK’s hedgerow network has shrunk by about 50%. That is concerning because hedgerows are not just an iconic feature of our landscapes, but critical habitats for our wildlife that clean our air and help with carbon capture and reducing flooding. The National Trust welcomes the Government’s target to create or restore 30,000 miles of hedgerows by 2037 and 45,000 by 2050.

According to the Government’s independent adviser on climate change, the Climate Change Committee, hedgerows are key to meeting our legally binding commitment to reach net zero by 2050. The committee has recommended increasing the length of hedgerows by 40% by 2050. Studies suggest that England’s hedges could already hold as much as 9 million tonnes of carbon. Unmanaged hedgerows are estimated to sequester over 140 tonnes of carbon per hectare, compared with 169 tonnes for a 30-year native woodland. If hedgerows are properly managed, they could sequester even more, both in their woody stems and in the roots below.

I am a genuine believer in our farmers as the best custodians of our countryside. However, we have lost nearly 118,000 miles of hedgerows in the UK since the 1950s, when farmers were encouraged to increase the intensity of their production.

Gregory Campbell Portrait Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP)
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I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing the debate. She mentions the importance of the farming community and what they do to secure, promote and enhance hedgerows in our nation. Does she agree that we need to do as much as we can to support them in their much-needed task, which people often forget about and take for granted?

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby
- Hansard - -

I agree entirely, and I will speak further about what more we can do to support farmers. My North Devon constituency is home to a large number of farmers.

There are few legal protections to prevent poor hedgerow management practices. When I was a councillor, I was contacted every year without fail about the cutting of local hedgerows. The problem is that the lack of a landscape criterion means that locally distinctive hedgerows are not protected and local authorities are often powerless to retain them. According to CPRE, more than half of local authorities feel that existing exceptions for built development lead to unacceptable or avoidable hedgerow loss.

Prior to the UK’s departure from the EU, cross-compliance rules governed eligibility for the EU’s common agricultural policy and provided basic environmental protections. The UK has now replaced CAP, and the rules ceased to apply as of 31 January 2023. It is worth noting that the majority of rules under cross-compliance are now covered by domestic legislation, but although the Hedgerows Regulations 1997 protect some hedgerows from being removed, there are now no regulations to protect hedgerows from harmful management practices such as ploughing too close to the base, spraying them with chemicals and cutting them at the wrong time of year.

Perhaps this is an apt time to mention the no-cutting period. The Big Garden Birdwatch—the world’s largest garden wildlife survey, organised by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds—is happening this weekend. Every year, hundreds of thousands of nature lovers take part and help to build a picture of how garden birds are faring in the UK. If hon. Members have not signed up already, that is something for this weekend. A no-cutting period would ensure that hedgerows are not cut back during the important bird nesting season from early spring to late summer. Any reduction or loss of the no-cutting period would place severe additional pressures on farmland bird species that are already facing spiralling declines. A no-cutting period would benefit not just birds, but bees.

Colleagues have told me that there is a problem with highway authorities cutting grass verges and roadside hedges at the wrong time of year. Cutting roadside hedges destroys all the wild flowers, which have great benefits in helping bees to pollinate. It is also important to recognise that hedgerows need management, and that should be incorporated into any scheme, as many birds nest inside the hedgerows to protect them from predators, not on the bits that need trimming.

One of the UK’s very rare bumblebees, the brown-banded carder bee, was spotted in Braunton last summer. Maintaining road verges with pollinators in mind can create a network of habitat that can connect populations of bumblebees, allowing them to find suitable flowers to pollinate. I want to give a big thank you to Braunton parish council and the local volunteers at the Bumblebee Conservation Trust for their work.

Recent research by CPRE has found that planting hedgerows on arable land can boost the production of pollinating insects, increase crop yields by 10% and reduce pesticide use by 30%. The study examines what it would mean for farmers if the UK’s hedgerow network were expanded by 40% by 2050. It calculates that for every £1 invested in hedgerows, farmers would see a £1.73 return from higher crop yields.

A petition supported by North Devon residents states:

“All hedgerow cutting or trimming and non-essential tree felling should be banned between March and August to give declining bird species a chance to breed undisturbed by human activity.”

The Hedgerows Regulations 1997 offer limited legal protection, as they apply only to narrowly defined important hedges. Broadly, a hedgerow is considered important if it is at least 30 years old and meets criteria based on the number of plant and animal species it supports, its historical significance, and associated hedge features such as a hedge bank, ditch or tree.

The 2023 DEFRA consultation on protecting hedgerows included questions about ensuring continued protection for hedgerows after the end of cross-compliance. That meant that to receive the basic payment scheme, farmers and land managers were required to maintain overall standards and put in place hedgerow management measures. However, although the Department held a consultation last June on the shape of future regulations, no amendments have been made since their introduction in 1997. The Government have yet to respond, and they missed their deadline last year to replicate the previous rules in UK law. The Department has stated:

“We are determined to protect and restore vital wildlife habitats and have recently consulted on continuing hedgerow protections after the end of cross compliance and will publish a summary of responses as well as outline our next steps shortly.”

I hope that the Minister can clarify when “shortly” is, as the delayed Government response to the consultation risks a regulatory gap in the protection of hedgerows under basic hedgerow management standards.

Farmers make countless sacrifices to produce the food we eat, and they care deeply for their land. They are as much a part of the landscape as they are custodians of it. Farmers are integral to rural communities such as mine in North Devon: they help to stitch them together, create jobs and produce high-quality food, all while caring for our much-loved countryside. I will always champion our great British farmers and ensure that their voices are heard.

I welcome the good news from the Secretary of State this month regarding the latest upgrades to the UK’s farming schemes since Brexit to help support our farmers, including a 10% increase in the average value of agreements in the sustainable farming incentive and countryside stewardship schemes. A streamlined single application process for farmers to apply for the schemes is also to be warmly welcomed. I am pleased that the process has been made simpler for British farmers to access. Those upgrades underpin the Government’s commitment to support farmers and take actions to boost sustainable food production while delivering positive outcomes for the environment.

Now that we are outside the EU, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a bespoke system of farm support that better rewards farmers, protects our natural environment and is unique to our national circumstances. The new environmental land management schemes are a step in the right direction. ELMS deliver much greater value for taxpayers’ money and create a new revenue stream for farmers to complement the money they receive for food production. ELMS also help in tackling long-term threats to our food security by encouraging more sustainable farming practices and improving key assets for food production, such as soil health, water quality and healthy hedgerows.

It was great to visit the farm of my constituent David Chugg in Kingsheanton with the National Farmers Union and see the work being done to plant small trees into hedgerows as part of an ELM scheme. I am glad that the new ELM scheme means that farms such as David’s will have their management of hedgerows funded, in recognition of their historic, cultural and environmental value to our countryside.

The Government’s target is for 70% of farms to sign up to the sustainable farming incentive by 2028, and I welcome the good progress being made towards that goal. However, even if the target is met and all those farms sign up to the existing hedgerow options, it is estimated that 120,000 km of hedgerows will be left with little meaningful legal protection. The Government’s primary focus on incentivising good environmental stewardship over punitive enforcement is the right one.

Farmers have three relevant options as part of the sustainable farming incentive under ELM, with payments on offer for the measurement, management and planting of new hedgerows, but some level of legislative protection for our most precious natural assets is necessary. I therefore urge the Government to update the Hedgerows Regulations to include protections against harmful management practices. That is essential to replace the protections lost with the end of cross-compliance. We should also broaden our ambitions and think more carefully about the type of regulatory environment we want to create.

In 2018, my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) commissioned the Stacey review. The review set out to rationalise the basis on which future farming regulations should be made to safeguard animal and plant welfare, ensure good land management and prevent hazards. Proportionate, smart regulation enables farmers to fulfil those goals, and the review contained a series of wide-ranging recommendations to strengthen and simplify regulation. Unfortunately, the Government have still not issued a formal response. I call on the Minister to do so.

Farming is an unpredictable business, and the hundreds of farmers whose land still lies under water after Storm Henk are a testament to that. It is our duty as policymakers to provide them with certainty and the tools they need to strengthen their resilience. North Devon residents have also signed a petition to make the protection of hedgerows a condition of ELMS and BPS subsidies. We need to ensure that farmers have the confidence to engage with that process. To ensure that farmers have that confidence in ELMS, to restore our natural world and to boost our food security, the Government should at the very least increase the ELMS budget in line with inflation and index future budgets to inflation. Consumer price inflation ran at an average of 4.18% from December 2019 to October 2023. The £2.4 billion annual budget should therefore increase by at least £400 million to restore it to its original value.

Whitehall could also be less prescriptive in the payments that it makes available to farmers. I would like to see more market-based payment rates for ELMS, reflective of our environmental needs and the demands from farmers. Options with the greatest environmental benefits or those with the lowest sign-up rates should have their payment rates boosted to increase uptake. To meet the Climate Change Committee’s recommendations to increase the length of hedgerows, SFI options for the planting and careful management of hedgerows should be included.

Farmers also need greater advice on how to access the opportunities available. After speaking to farmers in my constituency, I know how important that is. I hope the Minister will look to appoint regional and local farm champions to provide peer-to-peer advice and training on sustainable and profitable farm practices.

To sum up, I have a few suggestions for the Minister. We should introduce a landscape criterion in the regulations to give local authorities more discretion to protect hedgerows that are important to the local landscape character, but might not meet the current criteria for importance. We should improve the Hedgerows Regulations so that they are easier for local authorities to implement: any simplification should strengthen hedgerow protection, not weaken it. We should consider a closed season over winter for when hedgerow removal notices can be submitted to local authorities. That would allow comprehensive surveys of the hedgerow to take place, as required, before removal is permitted.

The key point that I want to stress is the need for those regulations that have been lost under cross-compliance, which relate to the management of hedgerows. Although I know that hedgerow planting is not a silver bullet for agricultural carbon emissions, it can play a significant role alongside good soil management, agroforestry and uptake of low carbon fertilisers.

We have just found out that our Lib Dem-run district council will miss its 2030 net zero target after having reduced its greenhouse gases by only 16% in the last four years. I hope that the Government can facilitate our farmers in filling some of the gaps that the Lib Dems have left, and secure, enhance and extend our stunning network of hedgerows across North Devon and the country.

I trust the farmers in North Devon to look after their hedgerows. They understand the link between good hedgerows, better biodiversity and improved productivity, but we must look at the next steps on protection. It is important that we boost our biodiversity to strengthen our rural economies and maximise the benefits of our beautiful countryside. We need to ensure that our hedgerows are legally protected.

--- Later in debate ---
Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby
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It has been a privilege to have you in the Chair today, Ms Elliott. I thank all hon. Members for their contributions. I thank the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) for his concern about the family disputes on our side of the House, and I reassure him that the Conservative Environment Network acts as an umbrella organisation and occasional mediator. It is the largest caucus in this place, and supports the party of rural Britain and the first Government ever to legislate to protect our environment.

I look forward to supporting new legal protections for hedgerows, and thank the Minister for pulling that rabbit out of the hedgerow this morning. I hope that the consultation response is imminent, which should be sooner than “shortly”. I also hope, for all the hedgerow heroes who care so much, that both those events will come to pass before the hawthorn and blackthorn blossom emerges.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered legal protections for hedgerows.

Groceries Supply Code of Practice

Selaine Saxby Excerpts
Monday 22nd January 2024

(1 month ago)

Westminster Hall
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Christina Rees Portrait Christina Rees
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is a champion for the farmers in his constituency, and I hope to come to those issues later in my speech.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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I thank the hon. Lady for giving way and for her excellent speech on this important topic. Does she agree that farmers such as those in North Devon have a huge role to play in our green transition and that supermarkets have a duty to ensure that farmers are getting a fair and just price for their produce, otherwise they have no hope of producing it sustainably?

Christina Rees Portrait Christina Rees
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Definitely, and I will come on to that. I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention.

Sustainable Farming Initiative

Selaine Saxby Excerpts
Tuesday 19th December 2023

(2 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
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Absolutely. If we do not give people stability of income and certainty, how can we expect them to provide the food and the environmental gains that we need?

I challenge the Minister to come up with any industry that has been penalised as badly by the Government over the past four years as our farmers. To be fair, I do not think the Government actually intended to do so much harm to farming and farmers. I do not believe they sat down and decided to break their promise to farmers and make a net cut of more than a sixth in farm spending, but those cuts have happened all the same because of flaws built into the system either by accident or by design, which have led to predictable and ever-increasing sums of money being taken out of farming, while smaller and less predictable amounts have been introduced.

Let me set out some of the flaws, in the hope that the Minister will address them. First, the system has built-in perverse incentives, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Helen Morgan) said, which mean that farmers at the forefront of environmental work are penalised. Farmers who are in an existing higher level stewardship or uplands entry level stewardship scheme lose their BPS—by the end of this month, they will have lost between 35% and 50%—yet they cannot fully access SFI. In other words, farmers already doing good environmental work can only lose income from this process. That is especially so in the Lake district, the Cartmel peninsula, the dales and the Eden valley—some of our most treasured and picturesque landscapes. In upland areas, basic payments typically make up 60% of financial support. Farmers in those beautiful places, which are so essential to our heritage, our environment and our tourism economy are stuck. They are already in stewardship schemes, but their BPS is being removed and they cannot meaningfully access SFI.

The Lake district is a world heritage site. If the landscape changes dramatically for the worse in the next few years because of the Government’s failure to understand the impact of their error, that world heritage site status is at risk, and its loss would cause huge damage to our vital hospitality and tourism economy in Cumbria, which serves 20 million visitors a year and sustains 60,000 jobs.

The Government’s failure to allow farmers to stack schemes to deliver more for nature is foolish and bureaucratic, and it means that they were always going to be taking more away from farmers than they could ever give back.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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I am not sure whether things are just different in North Devon, but my farmers seem to be able to stack their schemes. I was asked to come here today by a lovely lady called Debbs Harding, who is part of the Nature Friendly Farming Network, to fully endorse this programme. Yes, there is more to be done—there is always more to be done. However, I am delighted to hear that the Liberal Democrats welcome the schemes and are not just going back to Brexit, which has been their previous position.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On the point that SFI can add value, the reality is that, with the exception of moorland options, there is no reason for anybody in a stewardship scheme to add to what they currently lose. My colleague from Appleby, who said he can only replace 7% of what he loses from BPS, is typical of many people. There are exceptions, of course, and I could name people who have done well out of it. Yet when we have taken out the best part of half a billion and put in £155 million to replace it, it stands to reason that the average farmer in North Devon and everywhere else is worse off.

I try to give the Government some credit by saying that this is incompetence and not malice. They did not mean to break their promise; they have just botched the transition and broken it by accident. However, if the Minister will not address the flaw that prevents farmers in stewardship schemes from meaningfully accessing SFI, we can only conclude that the betrayal of England’s farmers is not accidental after all, but deliberate. Will he look at the matter urgently, so that we do not lose farmers pushed to the brink due to the Government’s obvious failure?

Another flaw in the Government’s approach to the new scheme is that they keep chopping and changing. The Rural Payments Agency cannot keep up with the constant flux, as the Government reinvent SFI every few months. The platform for delivery is struggling to keep pace. For example, the Government’s latest edict is that everyone who began an SFI application in September must have completed it by 31 December. If they have not completed and submitted it by then, all their details will be wiped and they will have to go back to square one and start again. To add to that, the Government’s insistence on drip-feeding SFI options to farmers means that many have not applied because they are worried that if they do, a better new option may be revealed soon after.

Government Support for a Circular Economy

Selaine Saxby Excerpts
Wednesday 25th October 2023

(4 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Caroline Ansell Portrait Caroline Ansell (Eastbourne) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered Government support for a circular economy.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which is a leading non-governmental organisation on the topic, the circular economy is

“a system where materials never become waste”

and the natural environment is able to regenerate, and in which

“products and materials are kept in circulation through processes like maintenance, reuse, refurbishment, remanufacture, recycling, and composting.”

The sustainable and regenerative system that it creates is one in which economic growth is decoupled from our resource consumption.

I hope to make it clear that there are economic opportunities to be derived from a more circular economy. It is great example of the environment and the economy going hand in hand, rather than being pitted against one another as competing and conflicting aims. The approach runs counter to the linear “take, make and dispose” approach to resource consumption to which we have become accustomed.

To illustrate the status quo, imagine a single-use plastic bottle of water. The bottle takes approximately five seconds to produce in a factory. It is transported to a shop for someone to buy, and it takes around five minutes to drink, at which point it is put in the bin. Having taken just five seconds to produce and five minutes to consume, the plastic bottle can then stay in our environment for 500 years. Even then—as I have been cautioned by the founder and lead member of Plastic Free Eastbourne, who is a modest local hero—the journey does not end there. Every piece of plastic that we have ever produced is still with us somewhere. When a plastic bottle eventually starts to degrade, it does not simply disappear; it breaks down into smaller parts—microplastics and even nanoplastics.

That is one of the reasons for the campaign to roll out refillable water bottles, which hon. Members will see if they visit my fair constituency of Eastbourne. The first refillable water bottle station, which I had the great privilege to attend back in the time between lockdowns, was introduced in 2021. That one refill station has now sprung to 14, and a further five are in the pipeline, so that people can return again and again to fill their bottles, in their own circular economy.

Plastic bottles are still in production in their millions, and we pay for the convenience, perhaps without thinking about the inevitable hidden costs to our environment. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has undertaken hugely important work in order to make strides in this area, and specifically to improve recycling rates in England. As recently as this weekend, DEFRA made important announcements about its reforms for simpler recycling, which will see councils across England providing for the collection of the same set of materials from households, including a weekly food waste collection.

There is perhaps a higher calling to that notion of food waste. I met just this week with an enterprise called Too Good to Go. Its app connects local shoppers to local businesses that are anxious to pass on food that would otherwise go to waste. In my constituency alone, 70,000 kg of food—equivalent in its carbon emissions, I am told, to 156 days of constant warm showers—has been saved from landfill.

The recycling reforms do not stop there. I know that the Minister’s Department has been working tirelessly to create an extended producer responsibility scheme for packaging that moves the burden of responsibility and payment for waste management from local councils to packaging producers. The scheme will help to ensure that the polluter pays for the packaging legacy that it creates. In doing so, it will encourage innovation and lower packaging use. It will also ensure that all the packaging we use has a clear label stating “recycle” or “do not recycle”.

As the Minister will know, last week was Recycling Week 2023. The theme was “the big recycling hunt”—an entire week dedicated to shedding light on the recyclable everyday household items that we do not put in the recycling bin, such as aerosols and plastic cleaning and toiletry bottles. With so many random recycling labels out there, the presence of a standard, recognisable label will remove doubt and help consumers to get it right when they go to the recycling bin.

Another critical aspect of the extended producer responsibility scheme is the modulated fee structure. In theory, that will mean that producers are charged different amounts, paying less for recyclable items than non-recyclable ones. However, I understand that industry is still awaiting the details, meaning that the timeline for roll-out is stretched, and there could be a scenario in which producers are paying into the scheme before the modulated fee structure has been implemented. The modulated fee structure is the key to driving the action we want to see from packaging producers. Could the Minister provide further clarity on the timeline? We need to ensure that we incentivise producers not only correctly but in a sufficiently timely manner for them to deliver change to their packaging.

The third pillar to these packaging reforms is the deposit return scheme for drinks containers. I know that progress on that policy has been fraught due to factors outside of DEFRA’s control, but it was an aspiration and ambition raised at Plastic Free Eastbourne’s recent water summit. It is considered an important solution, so how do we focus on it? It has worked incredibly well for our European neighbours, albeit less so across the border in Scotland. I understand that there are potentially lessons to be learned from that experience. I would welcome an update from the Minister on the scheme.

Individually and collectively, the reforms will be game changing for our recycling system and help to boost our stubbornly low recycling rates in Eastbourne and across England. In my own council area, the recycling rate sits at 32.8%, which is sadly below the national average of 44% and below next-door Wealden’s 48%. I am concerned about the risk that a focus on recycling may overshadow other processes I have referenced, such as reduction, reuse, refurbishment, re-manufacture and composting, which are all so critical to the creation of a circular economy.

Speaking of composting, let me return briefly to the topic of food waste. It is certainly welcome news that households will now have a weekly food waste collection. Even collecting food waste in its own bin has been shown to reduce the amount of waste created, perhaps by embarrassing people—awkward but true—into cutting their waste. The carbon emissions from food waste are enormous and represent a huge waste of money and food. Processing food waste through composting and anaerobic digestion will help to reduce the emissions that would have been created if it had gone into the general waste bin.

I also want to draw attention to what other countries, such as Italy, are doing with their collection of food waste and compostable plastics. Those plastics are made from bioplastics, which means that, unlike regular plastics, they are not made using fossil fuels and they break down quickly in industrial composting facilities. This challenge—the move from fossil-based plastics to those made from more sustainable and renewable raw materials such as corn and starch—was the subject of a petition by Eastbourne’s plastic-free community that garnered 1,446 signatures. This important topic was covered in some depth by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in its report published earlier this year.

I am aware that there are challenges in the transition to bioplastics, including with disposal, the question of one-time use, and the use of land to grow the raw materials. But the march towards the bioeconomy the world over, with ever-increasing uptake and interest in bioplastics, is something that we must surely be watching with keen interest. I understand that the UK does not have as many composting facilities as anaerobic digestion plants, but compostable plastics are increasingly being adopted by businesses that want to do the right thing for the environment.

Compostable plastics are a clear example of the market in action. Recognising the problem posed by single-use plastic waste, companies have invested in research and development, and come up with an innovative tech-driven solution. There are many businesses already operating in this space, and we should surely incentivise them rather than disadvantaging them with a framework that does not recognise the good that their work could represent.

The applications of compostable plastics are broad. I have seen them used in items such as coffee cups, packaging for online clothing deliveries, coffee pods, sauce sachets, tea bags, and—perhaps most relatably—food waste caddy liners. The Government and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation are in agreement that there is a role for compostable plastics in specific applications such as coffee pods and tea bags. In a recent DEFRA consultation on consistency in recycling, 77% of respondents approved of the introduction of compostable caddy liners, a move supported by the Bio-based and Biodegradable Industries Association, but the commentary in the executive summary suggests quite the opposite—that a majority disagreed with that move. Is that something that the Minister could resolve?

I have devoted a lot of time to packaging—I think that reflects both where the general public’s interest lies and where DEFRA has taken most steps—but packaging is only part of the circular economy. The UK throws away 300,000 tonnes of electrical waste from households and businesses each year. That makes us the world’s second largest annual contributor of e-waste, averaging a whopping 23.9 kg per person. The idea of fast tech—the disposable use of electronic goods—is gaining prominence among campaigners, and disposable vapes in particular have become a focus. The Government have taken steps to tackle disposable vapes, but the issue is much broader.

To illustrate that, recent research by Material Focus revealed that there are 7.5 million unused electrical children’s toys hidden in households across the UK. Even if they do make it out of the cupboard, they do not necessarily go to the right place. Three million toys have been sent to landfill in the past six months alone. That is enough to fill Hamleys’ flagship Regent Street store nearly 14 times over—not fun; we have all seen “Toy Story 3”.

I understand that some councils are voluntarily introducing kerbside or communal bins for e-waste collection. Even rolled out at scale, however, will that tackle the problem head on? Do we not need to look further upstream to the design of products and the obligations that we place on their producers?

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
- Hansard - -

I thank my hon. Friend for her excellent speech and for bringing this important matter before the House. She is talking about encouraging people to behave a certain way with reusable products, but does she agree that this place could also utilise the tax system more effectively? Take period products: unlike products that cannot be reused, we tax products promoted as “period pants” at 20%. Will she join me in supporting the Marks & Spencer campaign that went to No. 10 yesterday and saying “pants to the tax”?

Caroline Ansell Portrait Caroline Ansell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for saying “pants to the tax”, and I am happy to confirm that I am 100% behind the campaign. It is a strange and extraordinary anomaly that period pants are classified as a garment, rather than as a period product. I cannot imagine anyone wearing period pants on other days of the month, just for fashion or pleasure, so I 100% subscribe to the campaign. We would be levelling up not only by changing the VAT regime for period pants, but by distinguishing between disposable and reusable. Surely we want to promote reusable in this context. It would be an important incentive because it would give choice, and my understanding is that the leading companies have pledged that the tax difference would be passed on to customers. This is another important way in which we can use the frameworks and levers around VAT and tax, as my hon. Friend said, to help people make the best and wisest decisions. I thank her for mentioning that important campaign.

Some products are more easily reused and repaired than others. A more circular approach in general would be a welcome step up in ambition, but I understand that the Minister is actively engaged through reforms to the waste electrical and electronic equipment regulations. It would be good to hear how those reforms are progressing.

Each year, only 1% of clothes are recycled into new clothes. It has been estimated that one truckload of clothing is landfilled or burned every second globally. On our high streets, charity shops do a fantastic job of providing access to textile reuse, both for clothing and for sometimes overlooked purposes such as furniture upholstery. Access to charity stores has helped to normalise reuse.

The work of charity shops will only go so far, however, and does not tackle the root cause. Back in 2018, the Government committed to consult on a textile extended producer responsibility scheme, but that has been superseded by other pressing priorities for the Department. However, there was a commitment to help establish the best waste hierarchy in order to better manage textile waste. With the Government target to halve residual waste, we have an incentive to tackle textile waste, but without a clear route to correct disposal, clothes will continue to be sent to landfill and incineration. In the light of that, I wonder what more the Minister might have planned to tackle textile waste.

This might be a Miranda Hart moment: my notes say “lubes”. For the benefit of Hansard, however, I might resort to “lubricants”. I wish to make some comments about cross-departmental collaboration. Energy is a resource that we must husband effectively and efficiently. With the UK target to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, we have been made to reassess our relationship with energy and the composition of specific resources that that might require.

Intuitively, we know that a more circular economy is one that uses renewable energy sources. In the south, looking across the downland from Eastbourne, we can see the most glorious vista across the waves to Rampion offshore wind farm, which powers half the homes in Sussex, and there is an ambition for an extension that would take in the whole county. As we continue to adopt renewables at scale, we must make sure that the resources that go into harvesting the energy are sustainable. The topic of blade recyclability is gaining traction, but the sustainability mindset should cover all aspects of the process, right down to whether the lubricants used in the generation of energy are sustainable. If our wind farms made the transition to bio-based lubricants, typically from vegetable oils, that would be very effective. Of course, the UK has abundant bio-based resources, such as rapeseed oil, for producing bio-lubricants.

There are further advantages to the adoption of a bio-based fuel. Bio-based fuels not only extend the life of the machinery, as evidenced by the Eden Project, but have a wider economic and environmental benefit: if they are accidentally discharged into the environment, they are benign compared with petroleum-based lubricants. Although waste and resources as a whole sit with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, wind turbines are a Department for Energy Security and Net Zero matter. It is vital that cross-cutting, cross-Department issues do not fall through the cracks, so I would love to know what work could be undertaken between DEFRA and DESNZ around such issues and challenges. I will take that up with colleagues in DESNZ.

I know that by covering only packaging, electronics, textiles and renewables, I have missed out many other sectors that would benefit from a circular economy, but I hope that I have gone some way towards illustrating the opportunities, and the case for Government support. Business giants such as Currys, Apple, M&S and IKEA have been experimenting with reuse and take-back schemes. Indeed, the likes of eBay stake their entire business model on reuse. I am sporting my latest purchase: my vintage M&S jacket recently procured through eBay. They are joined by a suite of start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises across the country that have put the circular economy at their heart. However, across the board, businesses are concerned that without stronger incentives, we will perhaps not see the leap from small-scale initiatives and trials to mass roll-out.

A circular economy is more efficient. It can save us money and make us money. In short, this is not a hair-shirted environmental mission. There are economic opportunities to be pursued, but after decades of disposability, there is work to be done to ensure that action is aligned with the Government’s commitment to creating a more circular economy.

Environmental Protection

Selaine Saxby Excerpts
Tuesday 18th July 2023

(7 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab/Co-op)
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The only reason we are here today is that, after 13 years, the country we love, and the quality of life for millions of working people, are suffering from the Tory sewage scandal. As a direct result of the Government’s actions, raw human waste was dumped across our country for more than 11 million hours, resulting in 1.5 million sewage dumps—more than 800 every single day.

Millions of water customers—our constituents—have paid their hard-earned money in good faith for their waste water to be treated properly. Instead, they see the places that they care about—the places where they have put down roots and invested their families’ shared futures—being polluted. Those sewage dumps go into the sea, where people swim; into the canals, along which people cycle and walk their dogs on the towpath; into the rivers, where people fish or canoe; on to the beaches, where our children and grandchildren build sandcastles; and, of course, into our leisure and beauty hotspots, where hard-working local businesses rely on tourists to come flocking in numbers.

On 14 October last year, I asked the Government what assessment had been made of

“the economic impact of beach closures as a result of sewage pollution on coastal businesses”.

The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison), confirmed that her Department had not made such an assessment. Can the Secretary tell me today whether her Department has finally worked out the economic impact of sewage discharges on those businesses—yes or no?

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
- Hansard - -

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is scaremongering by Opposition MPs about the level of sewage being discharged, and that some of us have outstanding bathing water on our beaches because there has already been significant investment? It is important to recognise the difference between combined sewer overflow and the alternative to it running out to sea; less than 5% is contaminated water. Is it rushing up through people’s front rooms?

Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Nuance and facts do matter in this type of debate, but the facts speak for themselves, frankly: going by the Government’s figures, there are 800 such discharges each and every day. As we see right across the country, including in my own region, beaches are completely closed off to members of the public, and that has a material impact on the businesses who rely in good faith on tourists coming. That is the lived experience of people there, and we should not decry that either, so let us get the balance right and accept that this issue needs to be addressed.

A responsible Government would undertake an economic impact assessment to truly understand the impact of the problem, but the order itself states that an economic

“impact assessment has not been produced for this instrument as no, or no significant, impact on the private, voluntary or public sectors is foreseen.”

That feels to me as if the Government have their head in the sand.

Animal Welfare (Kept Animals)

Selaine Saxby Excerpts
Wednesday 21st June 2023

(8 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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Like others, I am disappointed that we are not progressing with the legislation. As the Parliamentary Private Secretary on the original Bill Committee, I am familiar with it, but to such an extent that I was in agreement with the current Secretary of State’s decision that the only way to deliver the legislation, which is in the manifesto that we stood upon, is to expedite the individual components. I hope we can do that. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the ministerial team for their ongoing engagement and explanation of what has been going on.

It is an interesting day to have chosen for this debate. Earlier today, I attended the first parliamentary Great Get Together, which was hosted by the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater) in honour of her late sister, who quite rightly said:

“we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.”—[Official Report, 3 June 2015; Vol. 596, c. 675.]

Having been PPS on the Bill Committee, I know that there is consensus to get these measures through, which is why I am somewhat staggered to find that the Opposition party would stoop so low as to play politics with puppies, because that is what we are looking at. When Government Members go home tonight there will be a social media campaign that says that we have done X, Y and Z to puppies. The reality is that we are delivering the legislation that will enable us to do what we said we would do.

Labour has been in opposition a long time, which is great for this country, but it means that they have no idea how to deliver complex legislation. If the ministerial team decide that it has to be broken down to enable it to get through, I have confidence in this Minister to do that. Like most of us, I would dearly like to stop 10,000 puppies being illegally imported each year and I want the legislation to be speeded up so we can stop it as soon as possible.

I want to take the opportunity to thank the animal welfare organisations I have campaigned with since I got to this House—Dogs Trust, Cats Protection, the RSPCA and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. Like all of us, they want to find a way to deliver this legislation smoothly, so that we can unite behind our much loved animals.

Oral Answers to Questions

Selaine Saxby Excerpts
Thursday 25th May 2023

(9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Michael Tomlinson Portrait The Solicitor General
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I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not welcome the strategy. He was calling for it, and the shadow Attorney General, the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), was calling for it at the last Attorney General questions. We promised that it would be delivered soon—I remember that exchange—and, indeed, it was delivered soon after those questions. He will know that that strategy sits within the Home Office, which is absolutely right, and I will continue to work with the Home Office on the fraud strategy. I am sure he will be pleased, as my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) was, with the written ministerial statement yesterday specifically on the subject of this Question.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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6. What steps the Crown Prosecution Service is taking to support the prosecution of domestic abuse cases.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
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8. What steps the Crown Prosecution Service is taking to support the prosecution of domestic abuse cases.

Victoria Prentis Portrait The Attorney General (Victoria Prentis)
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We are committed to increasing the volume of prosecutions and supporting more victims of domestic abuse. For example, we have ensured that victims now have much longer to report offences.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby
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Can my right hon. and learned Friend outline what is being done to encourage the reporting of rape and sexual assault in rural areas, where victims may be less likely to report these crimes due to distant support services?

Victoria Prentis Portrait The Attorney General
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is a great champion for her rural area. She will be pleased to know that, in the south-west England CPS area, we consistently see one of the highest conviction rates for rape and domestic abuse. Her area is covered by Operation Soteria, which is testing new ways of working between the police and the CPS.

Plastic Pollution in the Ocean

Selaine Saxby Excerpts
Thursday 18th May 2023

(9 months, 1 week ago)

Westminster Hall
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Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of reducing plastic pollution in the ocean.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this important debate on plastic pollution in the ocean, ahead of the United Nations global plastics treaty second round negotiations next week. I also thank the Chamber Engagement Team and constituents who have responded to its survey on this important issue.

As an island nation here in the UK, we see first hand the effect of our plastic pollution washing up along our coastline. While plastic has been one of the world’s most valuable inventions, inappropriate waste recycling has led to a global crisis where microplastics are present in our waterways and food chains. Nearly 460 megatonnes of plastic were produced in 2019. That is expected to reach 1,231 megatonnes by 2060—a 267% increase—and plastic waste is expected to see a 287% increase.

As a nation, we have reacted to our increased knowledge of the effects of plastic pollution via fantastic societal change. The use of reusable products, such as coffee cups and shopping bags, has really cut down the amount of waste washing up on our shores. The carrier bag charge, implemented in 2015, has reduced the use of single-use carrier bags in supermarkets by 95%, while the ban on straws, stirrers and cotton buds significantly reduced the number ending up in our oceans. Following the ban, the Great British Beach Clean said that cotton bud sticks had moved out of the UK’s top 10 most common beach litter items. The 2018 ban on microbeads has also limited difficult-to-clear plastics in our water. The Marine Conservation Society’s Beachwatch project also found 11% less litter on our beaches in 2022 compared with 2012.

There are also fantastic community efforts, such as Plastic Free North Devon, which work in the community to organise clean-ups, educate hospitality businesses on reducing plastic use and—especially important in tourist hotspots such as north Devon—offer wooden bodyboards in place of the traditional polystyrene ones. National bodies such as Keep Britain Tidy are launching projects such as their Ocean Recovery project, which is the only UK-based trawl net recycling scheme. Since being established last year, it has already recycled 100 tonnes of trawl net and rope. We are making great strides in reducing the amount of plastic we use, but we also need to make it easier to recycle the plastic—for instance, the estimated 4 billion plastic bottles that are not recycled each year.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op)
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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for initiating the debate. She may be aware that the World Wildlife Fund argues that some 8 million tonnes of plastic get dumped every year. While she rightly describes the progress made in this country in particular—but also in others—does she share my view that for the future, we actually need to see discussion of how we can toughen up product standards to increase the amount of plastic that can be recycled, and give consumers more information about which plastics used in products can be recycled and which cannot?

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby
- Hansard - -

Yes, in many ways I agree. I will certainly come on to speak far more about the global implications of the situation. While we are doing so much on our own island, we need to do so much more. In particular, the upcoming deposit return scheme, confirmed in the environment improvement plan, will bring the UK in line with similar nations, and recycle 90% or more of relevant containers.

Alongside reducing use and recycling as much as possible, we also need to look at the hierarchy of waste and reusing plastic products where possible. I ask the Minister to look at setting a target for the reuse of packaging, alongside our work on recycling. By setting a target, we would incentivise businesses to invest in reuse schemes that reduce the amount of resources required in our packaging supply chains. A recent UN report on reducing plastic pollution found that proper reuse systems could reduce plastic pollution by 30% by 2040, compared with 20% for recycling. Investing in and facilitating a reuse system would also reduce the cost of waste management and increase jobs in the sector. Unfortunately, despite UK efforts, plastic has been entering the ocean for decades and continues to do so.

Margaret Ferrier Portrait Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Ind)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate. Microplastics continue to threaten our marine ecosystems, with research showing that fishing net pollution is deadly for sharks, seabirds and seals. Does she agree that the solution to this must be found through balancing industry productivity while increasing necessary regulation?

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby
- Hansard - -

Of course, it is vital that we find a balance. Fishing materials continue to be an issue, which is why I think that some of the initiatives that are already under way to help the industry to recycle more are so vital.

As I was saying, plastics have been entering the ocean for decades and continue to do so. Between modern-day plastic and legacy plastic—the oldest piece of plastic that has been found is a buoy from 1966—there are trillions of pieces of plastic floating in our oceans. They affect our entire ocean’s ecosystem at every stage, from turtles getting trapped in nets to plastic breaking down into microplastics and slowly building up in our food chain.

Although we do not know as much about our seas as we should, we know that plastic has negatively affected almost 700 marine species. Microplastics also slowly sink down through our oceans to settle on the ocean floor, forming plastic deserts that kill wildlife and can stretch up to hundreds of kilometres. The largest floating patch is the great Pacific garbage patch, which contains more than 100 million kg of plastic over an area three times the size of France. It is the largest example of an ocean gyre where the currents draw flotsam to a point. As the convergence spot of the currents from the south Pacific and the Arctic, the zone is a plastic superhighway. It takes an average of only seven years for plastic floating in the ocean to reach the great Pacific garbage patch.

We know that the next generation care passionately about the planet, particularly their oceans and beaches. As a coastal MP, I know how engaged our schools are with this issue, and it often acts as an introduction to wider conservation work. Last year, I attended Greenpeace’s big plastic count, which almost a quarter of a million people took part in, including more than 9,500 school students. That shows just how seriously our youngest constituents take plastic pollution. Books such as “Ruby Rockpool”, which was written by the mermaid Hannah Pearl, suggest ways that youngsters can help. They bring the problems to life, but unfortunately solutions are not as simple as in Hannah’s excellent book, in which the ocean is healed with a sea star’s power.

Of course, no matter what we do domestically, this is ultimately a global issue requiring a global solution. The UK is responsible for almost 7 million sq km of the world’s oceans, and one of our overseas territories in the south Pacific demonstrates the challenge. Henderson island in the Pitcairn Islands is both uninhabited and thousands of miles from the nearest population centre. Despite that, an estimated 40 million pieces of plastic rubbish have landed on its shores. The island is home to the endangered Henderson petrel and the flightless Henderson crake, and is an important breeding ground for many other large seabirds. As we saw in Sir David Attenborough’s excellent “Blue Planet II”, the impact of plastic in the ocean extends to seabirds and can lead to parents feeding their offspring plastic instead of fish.

To limit the continuing impact of plastic on our oceans and food chain, we need not only to reduce how much plastic waste irresponsibly reaches our environment, but work to remove it. Fortunately, there are innovative start-ups such as the Ocean Cleanup, which undertakes the only efforts to remove legacy plastics from our oceans. It aims to remove 90% of floating plastic from the ocean by 2040.

Margaret Ferrier Portrait Margaret Ferrier
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As we know, tiny microfibres are entering the sea due to us washing our clothes. The company CLEANR is now turning to 3D printing technology to create microplastic filters for washing machines. Does the hon. Member agree that we must continue to use new technologies available to develop innovative solutions to this environmental crisis?

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby
- Hansard - -

Indeed, I sponsored the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) on that topic. Although there is much work to do on microfibres, the plastics I will talk about are significantly more dramatic, in terms of their magnitude and the skills that are needed to clean them up.

To remove the waste from the gyres, the Ocean Cleanup is using a combination of computer modelling, artificial intelligence and space-borne plastic detection to identify the densest areas of plastic to optimise clean-up. It has created a trawler-type solution that pulls a semi-circular 4 metre-high net system very slowly—half walking speed— through the garbage patch into a funnel called a retention zone, which takes the plastic on to ships to be taken back to shore. It sounds very simple, but it is in fact highly complex to work in the open seas of the Pacific and protect wildlife—it has several active systems to prevent bycatch—as it removes different types and sizes of plastic pieces. As it scales up the system, it is reducing the cost, and it aims to reach €10 per kilo of plastic waste.

As 80% of marine plastics are estimated to have come from land-based sources—the remaining 20% are from fishing and other marine sources—the Ocean Cleanup is also focused on preventing waste from reaching the ocean in the first place, predominantly from rivers. It has identified that 1% of the world’s rivers are responsible for transmitting 80% of those land-based plastics to the ocean. To prevent that plastic from entering the oceans, it has developed the Interceptor system, which is currently focused on the most polluting rivers. Its Trashfence system is used in the Rio Motagua in Guatemala, which currently emits approximately 20,000 megatonnes of plastic into the Caribbean each year, or 2% of all the plastic emitted into the world’s oceans annually. That is a key scheme for the Ocean Cleanup to be working on.

For the Ocean Cleanup to achieve its aims, it needs long-term, dependable funding. So far, it has raised more than $250 million from private donations. It is asking the UK to become the first Government to support it financially. At present, it needs $37 million to fund one of its new systems per year.

As a founding member of the High Ambition Coalition to end plastic pollution, which called for a target in the UN global plastics treaty to stop plastics entering our oceans by 2040, the UK Government are leading the way in a global effort to clean up our oceans. They could signal a greater dedication to cleaning up the great Pacific garbage patch ahead of a legal obligation. They could also help with mapping the problems around the world, such as in the Atlantic and Indian oceans, where the UK has permanent naval bases.

The UK has an excellent capability in oceanographic research, and could work with the Ocean Cleanup to help it with the vital mapping of the gyres so that we know where to find the plastic, how much is there, what it likely consists of, where it is coming from and so on. The Ocean Cleanup has proven know-how, as it was the first to fully map the great Pacific garbage patch.

Although plastics have a significant impact on our wildlife, they also affect island nations smaller than our own. The Pacific island nations are not just on the frontline of rising sea levels; they are among those most affected by the increase in plastic in our oceans. China is working hard to court them and extend its influence and power projection, but the UK still has significant interests in the region. China is one of the world’s largest polluters, and the UK can strengthen its ties in the region by supporting measures to limit plastic pollution and help clean up other island nations’ waters.

The UN global plastic treaty second round negotiations next week are another opportunity for the UK to push for positive changes to our environment as a global leader. At COP26, we secured the Glasgow climate pact, and at COP15 in Montreal, we pushed for global protections of biodiversity and nature. We need to add our voice to negotiations to secure limits to virgin plastic production and unnecessary plastic use. With the fifth largest marine estate in the world, and a population dedicated to protecting our environment and wildlife, we are well placed not only to cut down on our own plastic waste but to lead global efforts in cleaning up our oceans.

We need to remove legacy plastics while they are retrievable. If we wait too long, they will break down into microplastics and we will have a far harder job of removing plastic from our environment. I hope the Government will not only continue to implement their environment improvement plan, but will lead support for projects such as the Ocean Cleanup.

--- Later in debate ---
Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes. The hon. Lady tempts me, because I will say more about that in a moment.

Recycle Track Systems says:

“There are numerous initiatives to curb ocean plastic pollution at any one time, including everything from grassroots beach clean-ups to international agreements. One of the recent changes is the United Nations Environment Assembly’s agreement in March 2022 to develop a legally binding treaty to bring plastic pollution to an end. It will still be years in the making but is a considerable step forward according to many. What’s more, many organizations, such as Ocean Conservancy, are now calling for more dramatic changes to stop ocean plastic pollution, such as the reduction in production and consumption as well as outright bans on single-use plastics”—

as the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) mentioned— “Many are calling for a shift to a zero-waste circular economy as the only solution to a plastic problem that we can’t recycle away.”

The Scottish Government aim to make Scotland a zero-waste society with a circular economy. They have a target of recycling 70% of waste by 2025, exceeding even EU targets, and they are matching the EU target for plastic packaging to be economically recyclable or reusable by 2030. The Scottish Government are also a signatory to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s new plastics economy global commitment, which will ban specified items of single-use plastics in EU member states. They have signed up to the agreement, even though there is no compulsion for Scotland to do so, as it is no longer a member of the EU, sadly. I hope the UK Government will follow the example of Scotland and the EU in that regard.

Scotland’s deposit return scheme works on the basis of the polluter pays, a principle that incentivises recycling, reduces litter and tackles climate change by reducing the amount of plastic going to landfill or ending up in our oceans. The scheme has been delayed because the First Minister is very keen to work with business to get this right. It is in all our interests, even if it is sometimes tempting to make cheap political points about this issue. The reality is that it is a fine and noble principle, and we should all work to make sure that it can do what it says on the tin. We all need to think about how we use, reuse and dispose of our plastic, because that is the problem that oceans face today.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby
- Hansard - -

Would the hon. Lady agree that, while the deposit return scheme systems that are being looked at across the UK are vital, is it not better—as we are talking about international efforts—that we all work together to ensure that the scheme runs across the whole country, rather than having different schemes in different parts of our own islands, making it more complex for everyone involved?

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady, but the point is that we cannot all move at the speed of the slowest caravan. We have to be bold and ambitious in what we seek our deposit returns scheme to achieve. What she proposes would be a better way forward, but the UK Government are slower and less ambitious. That is a pity, but we cannot be held back by that.

The scale of the plastic pollution in our oceans is catastrophic, and it is deeply damaging and deadly to marine life and habitats. It is difficult to know how many marine animals are killed each year due to plastic pollution. Many will go completely unrecorded. That said, some estimate that over 1 million animals, including many sea turtles, die each year due to plastic pollution in the ocean. The majority of animals that die are seabirds. Mammals are often more visible in the media and the public imagination, but they actually count for only around 100,000 deaths. That is still a huge number, but it does not tell the whole story. Those are just the marine animals that die as a result of plastic debris in the ocean. The toll would be much higher if other polluting factors, such as emissions from plastic production, were taken into account.

On a different tack, animals carry microplastics in their bodies, so when those animals are eaten those microplastics are also ingested. The process is called trophic transfer of microplastics. Since one animal eats another, microplastics can move through the food chain, ultimately reaching the human food chain. Some scientists have estimated that the average person might eat 5 grams of microplastics in a week, which is about the weight of a credit card. Another study breaks that down to being up to 52,000 particles annually from various food sources. According to the UN, there are over 50 trillion microplastics in the ocean, more than the number of stars in the Milky Way—that is astonishing. Due to the sheer quantity of microplastics in the ocean, it is difficult to find any marine animal without plastic particles in its gut or tissue. It is poisoning their food supply.

Whether or not microplastics impact human health is a relatively new field of study, but what we know so far is troubling, according to experts. Plastics and microplastics contain many harmful additives and tend to collect additional contaminants from their surroundings. Microplastic ingestion has been correlated with irritable bowel syndrome, while plastic-associated chemicals, such as bisphenol A, show correlations with chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. We are talking about serious contamination. Action on plastic waste in our oceans requires us to reflect very carefully on the price we pay for plastic pollution—and the price our oceans pay.

--- Later in debate ---
Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby
- Hansard - -

Again, it has been a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I thank all hon. Members, and particularly the Minister, for participating. The Minister’s extensive speech demonstrated the volume of work that the Government have undertaken and continue to undertake to clean up our vital oceans.

I particularly thank the Ocean Cleanup team—João Ribeiro-Bidaoui is in the Public Gallery. The video of the work that it is undertaking in the Pacific—I understand that the hon. Member for Falkirk (John Mc Nally) has seen it—is very compelling. I urge Members and anyone else who cares to do so to join us on 13 September in the Churchill Room. There will be a live transmission by the founder of the Ocean Cleanup, Boyan Slat, from the Pacific as he works on the ships cleaning up the ocean.

We have a real opportunity to do more on the global stage. Great Britain really could rule the waves on this one.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered the matter of reducing plastic pollution in the ocean.

Water Quality: Sewage Discharge

Selaine Saxby Excerpts
Tuesday 25th April 2023

(10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think that is a polite way of describing what we heard.

Sewage overflows are not new. They are the result of Victorian plumbing infrastructure combining waste water and surface water pipes, and they were designed to act as a safety valve so that the impact of heavy rainfall would not lead to sewage backing up into people’s homes. That was more than 100 years ago; since privatisation, we have seen much-needed investment into our leaking water network. More than 30% of pipes, if not close to 40%, have been replaced in that time.

It was in Labour’s time in government, back in 2003, that the EU took the Government to court in relation to sewage discharges from overflows. In 2009, it was a Labour Government who introduced operator self-monitoring, allowing water companies to mark their own homework. After the minimal progress under Labour, it was a Conservative Minister who recognised the problem and recognised that we needed an objective means of measuring discharges. That is why water companies were instructed in 2013 to monitor when and for how long their storm overflows operated. That data is published online; thanks to our Environment Act, it will now need to be provided in near-real time. As I have said, all storm overflows will be monitored by the end of this year.

It is the monitoring and opening up of information that has exposed the scale of the issue. It is why we have already had successful criminal prosecutions, it is why we have an unprecedented criminal investigation under way right now, and frankly it is why we are seeing a Labour party that is desperate to make up for its failures in office.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
- Hansard - -

Would my right hon. Friend be kind enough to clarify to the House that in most cases, and certainly in my constituency, storm overflows are over 95% rainwater? Certainly, at no point is raw sewage being dumped on our beautiful beaches.

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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I agree. Facts are our friends in these matters, and it is important that we continue to ensure that our constituents are well informed.

I agree with the shadow Secretary of State that there is a massive difference between a press release and a plan. We have already set out our plans and are delivering them: the environmental improvement plan; our integrated plan for water, which is tackling all forms of water pollution from transport and metal mines to forever chemicals and farming; and our storm overflow reduction plan, which I am pleased to announce today that we are planning to enshrine further in law. Through the Environment Act 2021, we will legislate for a clear target on storm overflow reduction in line with our plan. That clear, credible and costed legally binding target will add to our transparent and determined approach to solving the issue, while being careful with consumer bills.

--- Later in debate ---
Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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I am perplexed as to why we need another Bill on this topic, particularly when it is uncosted and would result in a threefold increase in water bills and when we already have the epic Environment Act 2021. What we really need to do is implement what is in that Act. While I fully accept that far more needs to be done, particularly on what is running into our rivers, we also need to acknowledge where progress has been made, especially when our vital tourism economy is so reliant on the quality of our water.

South West Water is responsible for 34% of all our bathing waters and for 10 million visitors to that region. We have 100% of those bathing waters now at bathing water quality, up from 90% in 2010. In my beautiful North Devon constituency, I have nine designated bathing waters, all of which are good or excellent. We have already seen a 50% reduction in bathing season storm overflows and a 75% reduction in the duration of spills. The investment by South West Water in the fantastic surf beach of Croyde has now seen its bathing quality rise from good to excellent. Anyone familiar with North Devon’s beautiful beaches knows how much better water quality is compared with 20 to 30 years ago.

Only 1% of the water pollution we are dealing with is sewage. More than 95% of our storm overflow discharge is rainwater. Anyone watching South West Water’s new WaterFit Live app will note that the overflows run after extensive rain, which is completely different from raw sewage being dumped on the beaches, particularly when the alternative is that it gets washed up into people’s front rooms. It is only because we are now monitoring the situation that we know what is going on.

The crystal clear waters of North Devon are beckoning. We have the first cold-water surf reserve in the world and the first UNESCO biosphere reserve. We pride ourselves on our waters. Indeed, people should come wild swimming in my patch. They will see dolphins playing, and they might see mermaid purses on the beach. The sharks do go past—it is pretty wild out there. We have jellyfish, including ones the size of dustbin lids. With the changing climate, we occasionally get ones that sting these days. We have seals that like to play with the gig rowers. Because of the oars flapping in the water, they jump up to see people. It was a bit hairier than my normal surf companion when I caught one out on the beach.

I will be back in my waters this weekend, and I will be proud to be so. I hope that if people have not yet booked their summer holiday, they will consider coming to Croyde. On Friday, the Opposition spoke about the need to ensure that people can access our beaches. I was proud to be at the opening of the country’s first adaptive surf centre, and now everyone can access that beach, with its excellent water company.

Farming on Dartmoor

Selaine Saxby Excerpts
Tuesday 18th April 2023

(10 months, 1 week ago)

Westminster Hall
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Geoffrey Cox Portrait Sir Geoffrey Cox (Torridge and West Devon) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of farming on Dartmoor.

I am delighted to serve both under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie, and in the company of so many of my hon. and right hon. Friends. It is good to see representatives from other parties present to discuss this question as well.

I should say at once that the issues connected with Dartmoor are enormously complex, and they have been debated over decades, if not longer. I do not intend to enter into the wider debate as to what is right or wrong in connection with overgrazing or undergrazing, or as to the causes of the problems that we face on Dartmoor today. The immediate occasion of the debate—I am grateful to the Minister for preliminary discussions—is a problem that has arisen in connection with the farmers on Dartmoor, the viability of their business, and the levels of stocking and grazing that are to be expected by Natural England in connection with the renewal of their higher level stewardship arrangements.

Farmers on Dartmoor sustain the communities of Dartmoor. They breed a particularly independent and hardy-minded type of family who are able to make a living from the harsh and adverse environment that the moorland presents. There are approximately 900 farms and 23 commons on Dartmoor. Dartmoor is owned by a patchwork of private landowners, including the Duchy of Cornwall—there are many other landowners—but it is divided into 23 commons. Some of the land is tenanted, but invariably the commoners have rights to graze on those commons, and there are hundreds of commoners. It is therefore a particularly complex environment.

The higher level stewardship schemes were introduced on Dartmoor in the early 2000s. They were 10-year agreements. Broadly speaking, they commenced in 2012 and 2013, and they are now due for renewal. It is open to farmers to extend their agreements by five years, and the first agreements started to expire in February of this year. The problem that has arisen is this: in or about February of this year, a letter arrived at all of the commoners’ associations, each of which is responsible for the management of one of the 23 commons, indicating to them that, if they were to enter into new agreements, they would have to remove their stock entirely from the moors in the wintertime. What in fact was said was that, other than ponies—you may be familiar with the famous Dartmoor pony, Mr Hosie—stocking and grazing in the winter would be permitted only if they could be justified on ecological and environmental grounds. In essence, that has been interpreted to mean—and Natural England does not appear to contest that it means—the effective removal of stocking and grazing in the winter.

The letter was followed a few weeks later by another letter to a particular common indicating that it would have to reduce its summer grazing by some 80%. Were those indications to be implemented, they would effectively mean the complete eradication of grazing on that common throughout the year and only 20% levels in the summer. That exploded a metaphorical bomb in the small and fragile communities that the moorland hosts. Throughout the entire moor, Natural England’s policy was interpreted to be to apply those stocking levels across the moor. I am glad to say that that is now apparently not Natural England’s intention, but the fact is that those letters were written without consultation or warning. Not a single organisation on the moor was consulted—not the Dartmoor National Park Authority, not the Dartmoor Commoners’ Council, not the landowners, not the farmers’ groups. Not a single warning was given before that sudden and unexpected announcement by the statutory regulator for the moor, which controls the sites of special scientific interest where statutory consent must be given and, more widely, advises the Rural Payments Agency on whether it should agree to these higher level agreements. Not a single word of consultation was given or received.

I think my right hon. and hon. Friends would agree that that was an extremely unfortunate step for the regulator to have taken, and I think it regrets it. I have had a chance to speak to representatives of the agency, and there is no doubt that it accepts that its communications were poor. The problem on Dartmoor is that there has been a steady and gradual breakdown in the relationship of trust and confidence that should exist between the statutory regulator and the farming communities that, by common consent, must implement the agency’s statutory objectives. Natural England cannot fulfil its statutory objectives without the people, the human capital of Dartmoor. Therefore, if that relationship of trust is damaged, the problem of how we manage this precious landscape for the future, both for Dartmoor’s inhabitants—its families and wider communities—and in the wider public interest, will get far worse.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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My right hon. and learned Friend is making an excellent speech. On the subject of that relationship and communication, does he agree that the damage has already been done on other moors? Exmoor farmers in my constituency are already contacting me with concerns about their future in the light of what has happened on Dartmoor.

Geoffrey Cox Portrait Sir Geoffrey Cox
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It is a highly regrettable situation. My hon. Friends and I have absolutely no argument with the absolute necessary of Natural England fulfilling its statutory objectives—we gave it those legal responsibilities, and they must be fulfilled and enacted—but that can be achieved only in partnership with those who live and work in the area. That means building a positive relationship of trust and confidence. It means achieving, if at all possible, consensus.

My hon. Friends the Members for South West Devon (Sir Gary Streeter) and for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) and I wrote to the Secretary of State and to my right hon. Friend the Minister. As our letter said, we strongly believe that Natural England on its own in Dartmoor will not be able to achieve the kind of relationship, partnership, co-operation and consensus that will lead to a way forward for the future. We all know that the sites of special scientific interest on Dartmoor are in an unfavourable condition. The farmers know that the moor needs to be brought towards a favourable condition. We can argue, as I said I would avoid, about the causes of that. Many say it is because of overgrazing. It is perfectly true that in the ’80s and ’90s the policies of the European Union, which paid farmers to intensify their livestock numbers because they paid headage subsidies, undoubtedly overgrazed the moor. Many farmers and experts would argue that since that time the dramatic reduction in stocking numbers on Dartmoor, which has been happening since the late 1990s, has caused problems with the consequential burgeoning of molinia purple moor grass, but I do not want to get into that debate today; I want to focus the Government’s mind on how we are to move forward for the future.