All 44 contributions to the Environment Act 2021

Read Bill Ministerial Extracts

Wed 26th Feb 2020
Environment Bill
Commons Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & 2nd reading
Tue 10th Mar 2020
Environment Bill (First sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 1st sitting & Committee Debate: 1st sitting: House of Commons
Tue 10th Mar 2020
Environment Bill (Second sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 2nd sitting & Committee Debate: 2nd sitting: House of Commons
Thu 12th Mar 2020
Environment Bill (Fourth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 4th sitting & Committee Debate: 4th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 17th Mar 2020
Environment Bill (Fifth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 5th sitting & Committee Debate: 5th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 17th Mar 2020
Environment Bill (Sixth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 6th sitting & Committee Debate: 6th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 19th Mar 2020
Environment Bill (Seventh sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 7th sitting & Committee Debate: 7th sitting: House of Commons
Mon 28th Sep 2020
Business without Debate
Commons Chamber

Programme motion & Programme motion
Tue 3rd Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Eighth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 8th sitting & Committee Debate: 8th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 3rd Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Ninth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 9th sitting & Committee Debate: 9th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 5th Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Tenth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 10th sitting & Committee Debate: 10th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 10th Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Twelfth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 12th sitting & Committee Debate: 12th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 10th Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Thirteenth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 13th sitting & Committee Debate: 13th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 12th Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Fourteenth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 14th sitting & Committee Debate: 14th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 12th Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Fifteenth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 15th sitting & Committee Debate: 15th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 17th Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Sixteenth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 16th sitting & Committee Debate: 16th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 17th Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Seventeenth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 17th sitting & Committee Debate: 17th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 19th Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Eighteenth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 18th sitting & Committee Debate: 18th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 19th Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Nineteeth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 19th sitting & Committee Debate: 19th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 24th Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Twentieth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 20th sitting & Committee Debate: 20th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 24th Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Twenty First sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 21st sitting & Committee Debate: 21st sitting: House of Commons
Thu 26th Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Twenty Second sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 22nd sitting & Committee Debate: 22nd sitting: House of Commons
Tue 26th Jan 2021
Environment Bill
Commons Chamber

Report stage & Report stage & Report stage & Report stage: House of Commons
Wed 26th May 2021
Environment Bill
Lords Chamber

1st reading & 1st reading
Wed 26th May 2021
Environment Bill
Commons Chamber

Report stage & Report stage & 3rd reading
Mon 7th Jun 2021
Environment Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading
Mon 21st Jun 2021
Environment Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage & Committee stage
Wed 23rd Jun 2021
Mon 28th Jun 2021
Wed 30th Jun 2021
Mon 5th Jul 2021
Wed 7th Jul 2021
Mon 12th Jul 2021
Wed 14th Jul 2021
Mon 6th Sep 2021
Environment Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage & Report stage
Wed 8th Sep 2021
Mon 13th Sep 2021
Wed 15th Sep 2021
Wed 13th Oct 2021
Environment Bill
Lords Chamber

3rd reading & 3rd reading
Wed 20th Oct 2021
Environment Bill
Commons Chamber

Consideration of Lords amendments & Consideration of Lords amendments
Tue 26th Oct 2021
Environment Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments & Consideration of Commons amendments
Mon 8th Nov 2021
Environment Bill
Commons Chamber

Consideration of Lords message & Consideration of Lords message
Tue 9th Nov 2021
Environment Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments
Tue 9th Nov 2021
Royal Assent
Lords Chamber

Royal Assent & Royal Assent

Environment Bill

2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons
Wednesday 26th February 2020

(4 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
[Relevant documents: Fourteenth Report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee of Session 2017-19, Prelegislative scrutiny of the Draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill, HC 1893. Eighteenth Report of the Environmental Audit Committee of Session 2017-19, Scrutiny of the Draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill, HC 1951.]
Second Reading
13:44
George Eustice Portrait The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

It is a pleasure to open this Second Reading debate on the Environment Bill. In recent decades, our natural world has faced multiple pressures. As a consequence, we face two great global challenges: climate change and biodiversity loss. A million species face extinction, and climate change is piling the pressure on nature, doubling the number of species under threat in the past 15 years. If global temperatures rise by even 1.5°, we will lose even more of our precious life on Earth. As an island nation, we are acutely aware of the devastating effects of plastic pollution on marine life. We need to act now to turn things around. This Government were elected on the strongest-ever manifesto for the environment, and this Bill is critical to implementing that commitment.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op)
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The Secretary of State is clearly right about the two big global challenges that we face, but does he also recognise that, as a country in our own right, we face a specific challenge with air pollution? Will he explain why he will not commit to the World Health Organisation-recommended legally binding limits on air pollution, to be set and met by 2030?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Bill provides for us to do precisely that by setting targets for PM 2.5. We will want to consult and engage people on exactly what that target should be. It is worth noting that the World Health Organisation has commended this Government’s air quality strategy, saying that it is an example for the rest of the world to follow.

Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)
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I welcome my right hon. Friend to his place, and I welcome the Bill because it is a valuable step forward, but does he recognise that particulate pollution is a very real cause for concern, not just in inner cities but in suburban areas such as mine? Will he look at why we cannot use this Bill as an opportunity to advance rapidly towards WHO standards?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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I simply say to my hon. Friend that the Bill gives us the powers to set precisely those long-term targets and to monitor our progress towards them. It also contains powers, later in the Bill, to improve our ability to manage air quality and support interventions that will enhance air quality.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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I would like to make a little bit of progress. I am conscious of the number of Members who want to speak today.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank my predecessors, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers), who did a lot of groundwork on this Bill. I should also like to record my thanks to my colleague the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), who has been involved with the Bill from the start.

The Bill is key to this Government’s ambitious environmental agenda. In 2020, as the UK hosts the next climate change conference, COP26 in Glasgow, we will be leading from the front as we write this new chapter for the UK outside the European Union: independent and committed to net zero and to nature recovery. The Government will work to tackle climate change and support nature recovery around the world and here at home, whether through recycling more and wasting less, planting trees, safeguarding our forests, protecting our oceans, savings species or pioneering new approaches to agriculture.

The first half of the Bill—parts 1 and 2—sets out the five guiding environmental principles for our terrestrial and marine environments to inform policy making across the country. These principles are that the polluter should pay; that harm should be prevented, and if it cannot be prevented, it should be rectified at source; that the environment should be taken into consideration across Government policy making; and that a precautionary approach should be taken.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
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What action are the Government taking to ensure that carbon offsetting is permanent and long lasting? Greenhouse gases can be in the atmosphere in some cases for hundreds of years, and there is a danger that carbon offsetting could be only temporary, so will the Government look at that point and come forward with proposals on it?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Bill contains a number of measures relating to a biodiversity net gain. It includes, for instance, a provision on conservation covenants, which will enable a landowner entering into an agreement to plant woodland, for instance, to have a covenant on that land as part of an agreement that would prevent it from subsequently being scrapped.

Tracey Crouch Portrait Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) (Con)
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The breadth of this Bill and the level of scrutiny that its various versions have already faced are testament to its importance and the hard work of Ministers, colleagues across the House, officials and an enormous number of organisations, yet there are still opportunities to strengthen it. With that in mind, will my right hon. Friend confirm that he is open-minded to amendments that strengthen the Bill, particularly on biodiversity net gain? Some of us agree with Greener UK that that ought to be secured and maintained in perpetuity.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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My hon. Friend will know that the Government are always open-minded to good amendments. However, she makes a valid point, which is that the Bill’s contents have already been extensively scrutinised. The Bill as presented before Second Reading has taken account of many different views.

Geraint Davies Portrait Geraint Davies
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The Secretary of State will be aware that current EU air quality standards are enforced through the courts, with Client Earth and so on having taken the Government to court. Will he accept that this Bill should include an independent agency with teeth that enforces World Health Organisation standards and, ideally, gives the fines to the health service and local government to help treat the damage caused by poor air quality and to reduce pollution locally? The Bill simply does not do that at the moment.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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The Bill will establish the Office for Environmental Protection, which will have the power to take public bodies to an upper tribunal if there are breaches of the law. Of course, there are remedies in such a process through the usual mechanism of court orders.

The Bill sets out a framework for setting and taking concrete steps towards achieving our ambitious, legally binding long-term targets, and chapter 2 will establish that new, powerful independent Office for Environmental Protection to provide expert, objective and impartial advice on environmental issues and to take a proportionate and transparent approach to issues of national importance concerning the enforcement of environmental law. The OEP will hold this and every future Government to account by reporting on the progress we have made to improve the natural environment, as set out in our published evidence-based environmental improvement plans and targets.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)
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Will the Secretary of State give way?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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I am going to make some progress.

The annual progress report we published last May showed that 90% of the highest-priority actions from our first 25-year environment plan, which will become our first improvement plan, have either been delivered or are on track. We have heeded the advice of both the Environmental Audit Committee and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, and I look forward to continuing to work closely with my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne). The OEP will enforce compliance with environmental law where needed, complementing and reinforcing the work of the world-leading Committee on Climate Change.

Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab)
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Given that clause 40 gives the OEP quite broad prohibitions on the disclosure of information, how will we know what it is up to? Will the Secretary of State explain—he can do so in writing—why we need those prohibitions? Will he confirm now that the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, which are so important to public access, will not be interfered with? Will he state in the Bill that there will be no restriction on the public’s access to information through the EIR?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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The framework set out in this Bill contains multiple mechanisms through which information is made available. We will be setting targets that will be reviewed every five years. There will then be a published environmental improvement plan that will also be reviewed every five years, and a progress report will be published annually. There are many mechanisms through which our public approach to delivering on our targets is made clear.

Edward Timpson Portrait Edward Timpson (Eddisbury) (Con)
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I welcome the Bill and its attempt, alongside enhancing the environment, to improve our farmers’ ability to produce food. To that end, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the new legally binding environmental targets will take account of the best techniques available to our farming community, so that the targets are eminently achievable?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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My hon. Friend makes an important point. Our Agriculture Bill is currently in Committee, and it includes not only tackling and mitigating climate change, but a wide range of other environmental objectives. The measures and policies in that Bill will indeed contribute to supporting the objectives and targets set out in this Bill. The OEP will provide a free-to-use complaints system for citizens, and it will also have the power, as I said earlier, to take the Government to court.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)
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One of the issues for so many of our communities is appreciating just how severe the crisis is, particularly for air quality, as we have heard in many interventions. Does the Secretary of State agree that we need to put the power with the people and increase investment in monitoring stations? Monitors could be fitted to the refuse lorries that go down every street across the land, which would provide us all with real-time data.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The waste management section of the Bill will provide us with the ability not only to strengthen our requirements on producer responsibility, but to improve our ability to track waste, so that we can ensure that it is disposed of properly.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
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I spoke about the traceability of waste to the Secretary of State’s predecessor, the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers), and heard that the Bill is perfect. However, I urge the Secretary of State to consider my amendment in Committee on the traceability of waste, particularly the end destination of municipal waste, so that residents who recycle know that their recycling will not end up in the oceans.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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While I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane, will look carefully at any amendments, the Bill will also give us the legal powers to prevent the exporting of plastic waste to other countries, confirming a manifesto commitment.

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke (Stafford) (Con)
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Residents in Stafford are concerned about the impact of plastic pollution, and I commend the local organisations, such as Stafford Litter Heroes, that are doing so much to tackle this blight on our beautiful countryside. What steps the Government are taking to implement incentives such as the drinks container deposit return scheme, which would allow everyone to do their bit to protect our planet every day?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Bill contains new powers for enhanced producer responsibility when it comes to managing single-use plastics or waste more generally, and the Bill will give us the power to extend that to new categories. The Bill will also provide the power to enable us to establish deposit return schemes.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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I want to make some progress, because I am conscious that many Members have put into speak today.

The second half of the Bill sets out measures to improve our environment right now. The Bill will enable British business to be part of the solution by incentivising and supporting approaches in the UK that will deliver for our environment. Part 3 will help us to accomplish greater resource efficiency and a better approach to waste through more circular ways of using the planet’s finite resources. It will encourage manufacturers to develop innovative packaging and strong sustainability standards by making them responsible for the entire net cost of disposing of used packaging. It will stimulate the creation of alternatives to the single-use plastics that wreak havoc on the marine environment, while establishing consistent rules to help people recycle more easily across our country and giving us powers to set up deposit return schemes.

Geraint Davies Portrait Geraint Davies
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Will the Secretary of State give way?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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I am going to make some progress.

The Bill will improve how we hold to account those who litter, so we can tackle the waste crime that costs our economy over £600 million every year. It will put pressure on businesses to waste less food and get more of the surplus out to those who really need it.

Part 4 deals with air pollution—the greatest environmental risk to human health. Fine particulate matter is the most damaging pollutant, so the Bill makes a clear commitment to set an ambitious, legally binding target that will drive down particulate levels and improve public health. The Bill will give the Government the power to ensure that polluting vehicles are removed from our roads, and it will give local authorities greater capability to improve their local environment, from green spaces to healthier air for everyone to breathe, so that we all lead longer, healthier lives wherever we live and work.

Ruth Edwards Portrait Ruth Edwards (Rushcliffe) (Con)
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I greatly welcome the ambitious proposals in this Bill, and of particular interest to my constituents in Rushcliffe are the measures on recycling. The proposals to standardise which recyclable materials are collected door to door and to include glass and food waste in that list are particularly welcome. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to enact these measures as quickly as possible? Can he give me an idea of the timeframe for these proposals becoming a reality on people’s doorsteps?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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My hon. Friend makes an important point, and we will be consulting on when to deploy the powers in the Bill. It is important that we have greater consistency on recycling and on what local authorities are required to do, so that people play their part and know exactly what is required of them.

Part 5 will facilitate more responsible management of water, so that we have secure, safe, abundant water for the future, supporting a more resilient environment. We know that nature needs our help to recover.

Charles Walker Portrait Sir Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con)
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As my right hon. Friend will know, England has 80% of the world’s chalk streams, and successive Governments have failed those chalk streams miserably. The abstraction reforms in this Bill are welcome, but they do not go far enough; nor is there any explicit commitment to building reservoirs, particularly the Abingdon reservoir. Will the Minister reflect on that?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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Obviously, I am happy to discuss these matters with my hon. Friend. The Bill has powers to strengthen the abstraction licensing regime and to limit licences that have been established for some time. It will also give us powers to modify some of the legislation on water pollutants, so that we can add additional chemicals to the list, should we need to do so.

Matthew Offord Portrait Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con)
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Although there is a lot to welcome in the Bill, the Government could achieve a lot more, particularly on water consumption. This is an opportunity to introduce targets for water consumption through labelling mechanisms that allow consumers to decide which products to buy and consume by comparing the amount of water those products use.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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We have consulted on a range of measures on water consumption. We do not think we need additional primary powers in this Bill to take steps to address those issues. We will obviously be responding to the consultation soon.

We know that nature needs our help to recover, so the focus of parts 6 and 7 is to give communities a say if their local authority plans to take down a beloved neighbourhood tree, and public authorities will be required to ensure they conserve and enhance nature across the board.

Daisy Cooper Portrait Daisy Cooper (St Albans) (LD)
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Will the Secretary of State give way?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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I will make some progress.

Landowners will be able to agree conservation covenants with charities and other bodies, so they can be assured that subsequent landowners will be required to continue the sustainable stewardship they have started. The Bill will require developers to provide a 10% increase for nature, giving them the clarity they need to do their bit for the environment, while building the homes we need across our country.

Nature recovery networks will join up space for species across our country, with local nature recovery strategies capturing local knowledge and mapping habitat hotspots, so that we can target investment where it will have the greatest impact.

Philip Dunne Portrait Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con)
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Will my right hon. Friend give way?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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I will give way one more time.

Philip Dunne Portrait Philip Dunne
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I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who is being generous in giving way. I apologise for not being able to speak in this debate as I have a Westminster Hall debate at 2.30 pm.

Can my right hon. Friend reassure the House that there will be coherence between the environmental land management scheme presented in the Agriculture Bill and empowering people to be supported through the nature recovery schemes?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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Yes, that is what we will be doing. Indeed, the design of our future environmental land management scheme will have a local component, and we want to make sure that what we do to promote nature through ELM is consistent with the local nature recovery strategies.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con)
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Will my right hon. Friend give way?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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I will give way one more time, and then I will make some progress.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling
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My right hon. Friend is being very generous in giving way.

This is one of the most important parts of the Bill. We need to restore habitats in this country, with a particular focus on those species—birds, hedgehogs and others—that have declined so dramatically in numbers. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that the mandate that goes with these measures, both for the new agency and for local authorities, will focus on helping those species to recover, particularly by recreating the habitats that will enable it to happen?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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My right hon. Friend makes an important point, and the Bill will require local authorities to have their own strategies for biodiversity and for nature recovery. As he identifies, these are exactly the types of issues that we want them to address.

Before I close, I will highlight three new additions to the Bill since it was introduced in the previous Parliament. Clause 19 will mean that, when introducing a Bill, every Secretary of State in every future UK Government will have to include on the face of that Bill a statement on whether the new primary legislation will have the effect of reducing existing levels of environmental protection.

The second addition is that the Bill will create a new power to implement the Government’s manifesto commitment to end the exporting of polluting plastic waste to non-OECD countries. We will consult industry, non-governmental organisations and local authorities on specific restrictions or prohibitions.

Thirdly, clause 20 will require the Government to take stock biennially of significant developments in international legislation on the environment and then publish a review.

In conclusion, this Government are committed to leaving the environment in a better state than we found it, whether through planting 30,000 hectares of trees a year by the end of this Parliament, transforming our approach to agriculture, tackling air pollution or improving our waste management. This Bill will create the framework to set a long-term course for our country to drive environmental improvement, and I commend it to the House.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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A large number of colleagues want to contribute to this debate, so I give warning that there will be an immediate seven-minute time limit on Back-Bench speeches.

14:06
Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)
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The climate crisis is the most pressing issue facing our planet. The actions we take in the next few years will determine whether we can address the climate emergency or whether we pass on to our children the rotten inheritance of living on a dying planet. It is therefore with great responsibility that we debate this Bill.

The Government are calling this a “landmark Bill” and “world-leading legislation,” but I fear that is not quite right. The Secretary of State should be more honest, because this still seems like a draft Bill—a Bill that is not quite there. This is an okay Bill, but by no means the groundbreaking legislation we have been promised.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab)
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Does he share my concern and disappointment that the Secretary of State did not mention part 8? Part 8 refers to the potential for divergence from the incredibly important regulations on the chemical industry that affect our entire manufacturing sector, not just the chemical industry itself. Does he share my concern that part 8 has the ability to diverge, with serious consequences for most of our economy?

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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The details on regression and non-regression are an important part of this Bill. We need to make sure we maintain our high standards, because those high standards, especially in the chemical industry, drive jobs and employment right across the country. Any risk of divergence affects the ability of those products to be sold overseas, which affects the ability of jobs to be held back in our country. I am glad my hon. Friend has raised that issue.

Some hon. Members will remember when Parliament adopted Labour’s motion to declare a climate emergency. For me, it presents us with a very simple challenge: now that Parliament has declared a climate emergency, what are we doing differently? It is a challenge to us as individuals and to businesses, but it is especially a challenge to lawmakers, Ministers and regulators.

Because the climate crisis is real, we need bolder, swifter action to decarbonise our economy and to protect vulnerable habitats. We need to recognise that the crisis is not just about carbon, although it is. It is about other greenhouse gases, too, and it is an ecological emergency, with our planet’s animals, birds and insect species in decline and their habitats under threat.

The water we drink, the food we consume and the fish in our seas are all affected by pollutants, from plastics to chemicals. As we have seen from the floods caused by Storms Ciara and Dennis, the climate crisis is also leading to more extreme weather more often and with more severe consequences.

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd) (Lab)
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The National Flood Forum has noted that extreme and flash flooding will be one of the greatest effects of the climate crisis. In my constituency, we have experienced unprecedented flooding, and the River Taff’s levels rose by more than a metre above all previous records. If that is not a wake-up call, I do not know what is. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government need to act urgently to secure better climate protections, to ensure that all other towns, villages and cities across the world are not impacted in the way my community has been this week?

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her intervention and for all the work that she and her Welsh colleagues have been doing in supporting communities that are under water. We need much firmer action. We need a proper plan for flooding that reverses the austerity cuts made to our flood defences, and that removes the requirement for match funding which favours affluent communities over poorer ones. We also need urgent action from the Government to address the worrying aspects of the legacy of the coal industry in Wales, which could result in a real disaster if action is not taken. I encourage her to carry on campaigning on that.

As my hon. Friend has mentioned, Britain is not unique in the challenges facing us in terms of the climate catastrophe. In many cases, what will happen in the global south will be even more disastrous than what is happening in the UK. That is why action cannot wait.

Ben Lake Portrait Ben Lake (Ceredigion) (PC)
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The hon. Gentleman will be aware of concerns that the Bill does not focus enough on the UK’s global footprint, so does he agree that the Government should introduce a mandatory due diligence mechanism, which would help to reduce the UK’s global footprint?

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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I am grateful for that intervention. It is a good reminder that one way in which we have decarbonised in the past few years has simply been by exporting our carbon; we export not only waste, but the production of the most carbon-intensive products that we use. The hon. Gentleman raises a good point.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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I will make some progress before taking further interventions, mindful of the people who are to follow.

As a nation, we need a gold-standard Environment Bill. I agree with the Minister that we need world-leading legislation, but this is not it. This still looks like a draft Bill; there has not been complete pre-legislative scrutiny for the entire Bill, which I think it needs; it lacks coherence as between its different sections; and it lacks the ambition to tackle the climate crisis as a whole with a comprehensive and renewed strategy. Labour will be a critical friend to Ministers during this process. We will be not be opposing the Bill today, but in that spirit we hope that Ministers will look seriously at adopting the measures we will put forward to improve and strengthen it, especially in Committee.

I have a concern about the positioning of the Bill: it has been spun so hard by successive Governments, and Secretaries of State in particular, that it cannot possibly deliver the grand soundbites that it has been set up as doing. That means that the heavy lifting required now to address our decarbonisation efforts and protect our communities may be hampered, because the Bill will not be able to deliver on those lofty promises. I worry that unless we match those grand soundbites with determined action, we will be failing our children and the communities we are here to serve.

In the time left, I want to cover three key areas of concern about the Bill. The first relates to Labour’s belief that non-regression in environmental standards must be a legal requirement. The second relates to how the new Office for Environmental Protection needs to be strengthened, and the third relates to how the ambition of Government press releases needs to be translated into genuine delivery in the Bill. First, on standards and targets, we were promised during the election that the Government would not lower our food standards, despite all the evidence pointing to the contrary, in post-Brexit trade deals. As we have already seen with the debates on the Agriculture Bill, Ministers have chosen to leave the door open for the undercutting of British farm and food standards in post-Brexit trade deals. The new Environment Secretary cannot even guarantee that chlorinated chicken or lactic acid-washed chicken will not be allowed into Britain as a result of the US trade deal. The rough ride he got with the National Farmers Union this morning will just be the start if he does not come to the realisation that many of us on both sides of this House have, that the commitment that he and others have given must be put into law. We cannot allow our standards to be undercut, and that principle of not allowing our standards to be undercut applies to this Bill too. We need to ensure that non-regression on environmental standards with the EU is a floor that we must not go below.

Geraint Davies Portrait Geraint Davies
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Will my hon. Friend give way?

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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I am going to make a bit of progress, but I will come back to my hon. Friend in a moment if I can.

We simply cannot allow our environmental standards to be undercut in the same way as our food and animal welfare standards risk being undercut with trade deals. We need to ensure that we have measures approaching dynamic alignment with the European Union so that Britain is not seen as a country with lower standards than our European friends. Lower regulatory standards and lower animal welfare standards, especially on imported food, would see damage to ecosystems and habitats and a downward pressure on regulation in future, which would harm our efforts to decarbonise our economy. I want to see the lofty words said by all the Ministers on the Front Bench and the Prime Minister about non-regression put in the Bill. Where is the legal commitment to non-regression on environmental protections that the British people have asked for? Why is it not clearly in the Bill? If we are to have any hope of tackling the climate emergency in a meaningful way, we need to be aiming towards net zero by 2030, not by 2050.

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con)
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On net zero by 2030, does the hon. Gentleman not recognise what the Committee on Climate Change and Baroness Brown recognise, which is that reaching net zero by 2050 will be a huge challenge for this country? Blithely throwing around “2030” as though this is easy is doing a disservice not just this House, but to the people watching.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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I am a big fan of the hon. Gentleman’s Instagram feed and follow it with great passion, and sometimes I feel a bit disappointed by interventions such as that. We cannot afford not to hit net zero by 2030, but the Government are currently on track for 2099. A far-off date many, moons away will not deal with the climate emergency and will not protect our habitats that need protecting. That drive needs to be there, though we know that for some sectors achieving net zero target by 2030 will be very challenging, and for some achieving it by 2050 will be very challenging, with agriculture being one of those sectors. The NFU’s plan to hit net zero by 2040 is very challenging. If sectors are to deliver net zero by any date, we will need some sectors to go faster and further than others to create carbon headroom, with the requirement that that progress is not double-counted in carbon calculations. Sadly, this supposedly world-leading Environment Bill does not have a single target in it. It contains no duty on Ministers to ensure that Britain decarbonises and stops the climate crisis getting any worse.

Secondly, I turn to the Office for Environmental Protection—the proposed new regulator. I know from previous debates that some Conservative Members are not too keen on the idea of a new Government outfit created in this space, but I agree with Ministers that we need a robust regulator. Sadly, the one being proposed in the Bill is not strong enough in our view. We need it to have teeth, and a remit that is unaffected by Government patronage. It needs to carefully consider the science and to have a bite that would make Ministers think twice about missing their targets. That is what the Office for Environmental Protection should be, but, sadly, that is not what the Bill envisages.

The new regulator does not have true independence from Government. It has no legal powers to hold the Government to account in the way it needs to. Approving its chair via a Government-led Select Committee, on which the Government have a majority, is not sufficient. Given that Ministers have been dragged time and time again through the courts for missing air quality targets, how can we ensure that this regulator would make that a thing of the past and not a repeat prescription?

We need Ministers to do as Members on both sides have suggested today and adopt World Health Organisation targets for air quality and particulates. We need regulators to have teeth to make sure that those targets are enforced, and we need to make sure that the new regulator sits and works in a complementary way in and with what is an already quite congested regulatory space on the environment.

Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury (Weaver Vale) (Lab)
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Prospect the union has written to me expressing its concern that only 100 staff will be employed by the Office for Environmental Protection. Does the shadow Minister share my concerns about this under-resourcing?

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Since 2010 we have seen that quangos and regulators can still exist but their ability to deliver that regulation and the quality of that regulation depends on the resources. If a political lever is being applied by Ministers—as I have said before, I have a lot of time for the current Environment Secretary, but that does not necessarily mean that anyone who follows him would have the same approach—if budgets were to be changed and if political patronage were to be applied in terms of the OEP’s leadership and board, that could affect the outcomes. Resourcing does matter.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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I will not take any further interventions, so that I can finish my remarks. [Interruption.] I say that, but that would have been a good time for one. I come to the section of my speech about water, unless someone would like to intervene briefly. [Laughter.]

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami
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I do so in the spirit of kindness, but there is a serious point here. Luton airport is in the constituency next to mine, and one concern that many of my constituents have as a result is about air quality. All of our constituencies will have separate issues. What is the hon. Gentleman’s view as to how we can use this Bill to apply to specific instances at specific times—for example, to deal with poor air quality around Luton airport?

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman and will like more of his Instagram posts as a reward for that kind intervention. We do need to address air quality around airports and transport modes in particular, but the ability to do that is predicated on the data, which is why my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) made the point that he did earlier. It is important to make sure that we take action based on reliable evidence, which means that we need the right testing stations. At the moment there are far too few air-quality monitoring stations. We need to go forward by embracing having monitoring stations on more schools, more GP surgeries and in more areas with a greater level of public dwelling. That is how we should address the issue. For airports in particular, it is about surface access and making sure that people can get to airports more easily.

I have been coughing and spluttering for a while, so I will rush through the rest of my speech so that I do not take up anyone else’s time. As Conservative Members have said, the part of the Bill that deals with water does not go far enough to deal with some of the issues relating to water poverty, or do anything to address per capita consumption or meaningful water labelling or to solve the challenge of where we are going to get the water that we need for the homes we need to build in future. For the Bill to be genuinely world leading, I would have hoped that the Government would adopt some of the current groundbreaking ideas in water policy, such as water neutrality, which is the idea that for every new home that we build we will not provide any more water resources—they will be offset by water efficiency in our existing housing stock. There are some really grand opportunities and fantastic water innovations, which is why we need the Bill to go further on water efficiency in our homes, actions on leaks and investment in water-efficient technologies. We also need a war on leaky loos, as that is important.

I would like the Government to look at a commitment whereby the water industry moves to using 100% renewable energy within the next five years. Ministers already have the power to do that, given the regulatory powers of Ofwat and DEFRA.

Finally, the Secretary of State has already mentioned that the Bill includes a section on trees that will allow trees to be chopped down in a different way. The Bill does not include any new powers to plant trees. That seems to be an omission: I imagine Members from all parties will look at the Bill and say, “Surely that’s not right.” Given that the Government are missing their tree-planting target by 71% already, further powers to chop down trees do not seem to be the priority. We need to look into not only how to plant more trees but at different types of biodiversity and habitats, and make sure that carbon is sequestered in the right way. That is really important, because if we are to address the loss of species, both in the UK and globally, we need to take action.

COP26 provides us with a global platform to showcase the very best of our global thinking, our action and our legislation. Currently, the Bill does not deliver the groundbreaking global platform that we need to take into COP26. I hope that Ministers will take seriously the concerns that I have raised and that my Opposition colleagues will address when they speak later, because there is a real desire on both sides of the House to improve the legislation and make it as genuinely world leading as the Secretary of State aspires for it to be. To that end, I invite the Secretary of State to work with us to improve the legislation; simply voting down every amendment so that we keep a clean sheet will not deliver that. I hope that he will take that challenge in the spirit in which it is meant so that we can work together to improve the legislation. The climate crisis needs to be addressed and it will not be sufficiently addressed if we allow the Bill to pass unaltered.

14:23
Neil Parish Portrait Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con)
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It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate on the Second Reading of the Environment Bill. I am pleased that the Government have reintroduced the Bill and I am also pleased that there is a degree of co-operation with the Opposition. It is important that we get the Bill absolutely right.

In the previous Parliament, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee conducted pre-legislative scrutiny of the previous Bill, and I am pleased that the legislation has moved towards some of our recommendations. For example, I welcome the fact that the Government will set a multi-annual budget for the Office for Environmental Protection and have included climate change within its remit. We just need to make sure that there is enough money for the OEP to run properly.

I wish to make three points about how the Bill can be improved. First, concerns have been expressed that in some areas, such as target setting, the Bill might allow a weakening of standards—for example, on air quality. I welcome the plan to set a target for particulate matter, but it is planned only for 2022, and we do not know how ambitious the target might be. At this early stage, I urge the Government to set an example and match the World Health Organisation guidelines for dangerous emissions such as particulate matter. The British Heart Foundation estimates that the number of heart attacks and stroke deaths linked to air pollution could exceed 160,000 by 2030, unless action is taken. DEFRA has already carried out a study that shows that it can achieve World Health Organisation standards of 10 micrograms per cubic metre by 2030, so I urge the Government to set that target. Let us put that target into law now and use the Bill to improve human health as well as our natural environment.

Secondly, it is vital that we set up the Office for Environmental Protection now that we are outside the EU; however, it needs to be independent of Government and have the teeth to bite. The OEP will not be independent if it is constantly worrying about having its budgets cut, so will the Government commit to a multi-annual budget settlement, the enshrinement in law of which I would welcome?

Carla Lockhart Portrait Carla Lockhart (Upper Bann) (DUP)
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I think we all agree that we certainly do not want an OEP that is a toothless tiger; we want one that can react to and govern the climate and nature emergency in which we find ourselves. We need clarity as to whether the OEP will be set up, particularly in England and Northern Ireland, as of 1 January 2021.

Neil Parish Portrait Neil Parish
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Naturally, there is the matter of how the OEP works with the devolved Administration in Northern Ireland, but I agree that it needs to have those powers. I am sure that the Secretary of State will have listened to the hon. Lady’s intervention.

The appointments process in the setting up of the OEP should follow the Office for Budget Responsibility model, in which the Treasury Committee can veto the Chancellor’s choice. I am sure that my great friend the Secretary of State would not mind giving away some of his new fiefdom to the EFRA Committee, but we will wait and see. I offer that to him—or perhaps he might offer it to me.

My final point on the OEP is that my Committee concluded that judicial review is not the most appropriate enforcement mechanism for environmental cases because it focuses on process rather than outcomes and leaves the decision making to the lawyers. That is a really important point. I welcome the tribunal model in the Bill, because I hope that it will allow environmental specialists to have a role. We need practical solutions for when the Government are in breach—such as we have with air-pollution plans—rather than lawyers and going through process all the time. We really want to make sure that we get the experts in place.

Anthony Mangnall Portrait Anthony Mangnall (Totnes) (Con)
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Does my hon. Friend believe it is necessary to make sure that there is a time limit for the investigations that the OEP might undertake, so that we can see a speedy reaction to any issues that may arise?

Neil Parish Portrait Neil Parish
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My hon. Friend makes a good point. We do not want to waste years in the courts; these things have to be done quickly. We need practical solutions for when the Government are in breach, just as we have with air pollution plans. I am still concerned that the environmental review outlined in the Bill is just a judicial review by another name. We have a great opportunity to build on our strong commitment to the environment. We all want to leave the environment in a better place than we found it. Will the Secretary of State look again at some of our Select Committee proposals, because the Bill can still be strengthened in many areas? One final point on the OEP is that the judicial review is not the most appropriate enforcement mechanism for environmental cases. We therefore need a more practical solution.

Finally, I ask the Government, as we have made a commitment to improve the environment, to look not only at the Environment Bill, but at the Agriculture Bill and the Fishing Bill, because they all fit together. As yet another round of flooding seems likely in the future, the Environment Bill will be important, as will be the Agriculture Bill. Fitting the two together with new land management projects will be a very good way of making sure that we can deliver a catchment-area basis for flooding. We can also improve our environment and work with the water companies on holding more water and on making sure that the reservoirs do not overflow. We can also look at the rewetting of peatland. All of those things can be done, but they must be linked with the Environment Bill.

Finally—I am sure that this is in the minds of Ministers and the Secretary of State—we must ensure that we join up the Environment Bill with the Agriculture and Fishing Bills, and also make sure that, as we drive towards a better environment, we do so across the whole of Government. This cannot just be done by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, because things such as delivering on air quality can only be achieved across Government.

I look forward to the Bill being read a Second time. It is taking us in the right direction, but let us also look at the independence of the OEP. We also need to make sure that tribunals deal not just with legal matters, but with environmental matters. With that, I very much welcome the Second Reading of this Bill.

14:31
Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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I refer hon. Members to my speech on 28 October when we had the dress rehearsal for this Bill—at least we all know our lines now. None the less, the concerns remain the same, because they have not been addressed: the Bill still lacks in ambition; the Office of Environmental Protection still lacks teeth; the Ministry of Defence is still exempt; the armed forces can still cause environmental havoc; national security is still off limits for environmental consideration; renewable energy still does not get the big licks it should be getting; and this Bill is still, in my view, insipid and weak.

Worse than that, clause 18 should force Ministers to consider the environment when making policy, but, as I have already said, it exempts the military and national security. It also exempts tax, spending and the allocation of resources. In other words, it exempts the main thrusts of Government policy—the biggest tools in the Government cupboard. If resource considerations do not take environmental concerns into account, we will hardly be driving Government policy towards good environmental goals.

If taxation policy does not have a weather eye on environmental policy, it misses the opportunity to ensure that the polluter pays. It misses the chance to engage Government’s biggest lever of public policy. Equally, if spending decisions are not environmentally aware, then the Government are not environmentally aware. If the Government were serious about delivering environmental benefits, that would have been the key point of the Bill —it would have been proclaiming a commitment to change, to improvement, to making a future unlike the past.

If there really were an environmental heart to this Government, it would be at the heart of this Bill. It would tie all governmental resourcing decisions into improving the environment, and into considering the environmental impact of policies. It would put the environment at the middle of decision making. It did not happen; it has not happened. This Bill is just ticking a box to say that the gap left by Brexit is being filled, but that filler is not reaching the edges of that gap.

Even the hiatus of an election and the inordinately long time it has taken to bring this Bill back have not offered the Government enough time to make improvements to the Bill. Still, there is nothing that will force England’s water companies to address the leakage from their pipes to conserve that resource. The clue to decent performance there, of course, is to remove the profit motive and have water publicly owned, as it is in Scotland.

The Bill still does not lend strength to enforcement. There are still no strong compliance powers for the new watchdog, the OEP, in the Bill and those that it will have will be restricted to wagging a finger at backsliding public bodies. This was an opportunity to make a clear case for environmental improvement and protection. This was an opportunity to lay down markers on protecting the marine environment, putting protections in place for the oceans, improving river health and securing decent bathing waters.

Charles Walker Portrait Sir Charles Walker
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Let me just say something about protecting the marine environment. By the way, the hubris of this House is just stunning when it comes to the environment. We talk about saving the world, but instead, in England, we have trashed our chalk streams. In Scotland, the salmon farming industry has entirely destroyed the sea lochs of the west coast of Scotland, made them barren of sea life, and destroyed the salmon runs coming in and out of the rivers. If we could perhaps act locally, we might be able to talk in a more informed way globally.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue. Certainly, there is much hubris in this Chamber about such issues. Something that I will come on to is the Scottish Government’s environmental strategy, which was released in the past couple of days, in which issues such as those are certainly being looked at.

David Linden Portrait David Linden (Glasgow East) (SNP)
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I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. In response to the point made by the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker), for whom I have a lot of respect and with whom I have a lot of similarities in terms of our love of angling, I say that the salmon fishing industry has been hugely important to large parts of the west coast of Scotland, not least the Western Isles. Sometimes when we talk about hubris, we need to think about the local economy as well, which is so important for our country.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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An excellent point and I thank my hon. Friend for making it.

Brexit was supposed to give the UK Government the power to do things differently—to imagine a better way to do things. Whether Brexit was ever capable of doing that is a moot point, but it does not really matter, because the Government do not have the ambition to try. They do not have the imagination to see a better way to do things, or the determination to improve lives. There could be ambitious, legally binding limits on plastic pollution, and limits on how much could be produced, used and discarded. There could be incentives, perhaps even tax incentives, for retailers to cut the plastic. If they cannot even rate measures to improve the health of the oceans as being worthy of putting in this Bill, where really then is the commitment to addressing climate change?

Geraint Davies Portrait Geraint Davies
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Does the hon. Lady agree that this needs to sit alongside a fiscal strategy that taxes virgin plastic, that has a go at diesel particulates and, indeed, at dangerous chemicals? Unless the Department works closely with the Treasury to deliver that, we will simply not be able to deliver on our ambition.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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I absolutely agree with the hon. Member. This really needs to be taken in the round, and I see little evidence of that in the Bill. Further to that, where are the measures to combat climate change in the Bill? The climate emergency gets lots of warm words from Whitehall, but it gets so little in the way of action. If an Environment Bill is not the place for addressing the biggest environmental issue of the day, where is?

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
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On the issue of waste, may I ask the hon. Lady for cross-party support for the amendment that I am tabling on the obligation of local councils to provide traceability on the end destination of our household waste? In that way, the public can be confident that the recycling that we collect does not end up in the ocean or indeed in incinerators, but actually gets recycled. That is the amendment that I will put forward, and I am looking for cross-party support. Will she provide it?

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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I thank the hon. Lady for her contribution. That is certainly something that I am prepared to look at, but, of course, local councils and local authorities are an issue for England and Wales only. Those issues are devolved to Scotland, so it is not necessarily something that we would be able to support in actuality, but I certainly agree with the principle of what she said.

I was talking previously about targets and real action—or lack of targets and real action—so where are the provisions to encourage tree planting? During the election, so many pledges were bandied back and forth about how many trees would be planted under a Tory or Labour Government. Hundreds of millions were promised, but here is the first opportunity to do something about that, and there is nothing—not a squirt. I find it amazing that Scotland has only around a third of the landmass of the UK, but four fifths of the tree planting in the UK is in Scotland. Let us at least see some indication that the UK Government will at least pretend to follow suit.

While we are on the subject, how about implementing policies to discourage the importation of products that have caused deforestation elsewhere, or which have contributed to the pressure to clear forest? How about a commitment to write that into trade deals? How about placing an obligation on businesses to consider such things in the course of their operations? In fact, the real thing that is missing from the Bill is a clear governmental intention to force businesses to get on board with improving the environment. It is as if the Government think that businesses will not be robust enough to handle that compliance. If the Government will not lead, they cannot expect people, businesses and organisations to do it instead. Ministers have an obligation to find ways to really drive this agenda forward, and so far they have failed in that.

The old 25-year environment plan is outdated and needs to be refreshed. The Bill—the reprise—starts its life outdated and in need of improvement. Fortunately, there is a shining example of excellence not too far away—I am not talking about Wales, to be clear—which is a ready-made vision of a future where compliance with environmental objectives is seen to be the norm, rather than the exception, and where Ministers are not afraid to take on leadership roles and are prepared to ensure that businesses and organisations take action too. Scotland’s environmental strategy, released this week as I mentioned earlier, is a plan worth copying. It is a plan worth following: it has vision, leadership, education and action all rolled up into one. I urge Members to take the time to read it. It is so good that Charles Dundas, the chair of Scottish Environment LINK, a former Lib Dem councillor and colleague of mine, said:

“It is fantastic to see such a bold vision for the protection of Scotland’s environment, which, as the Scottish Government says, is fundamental to our future.”

I tell Ministers that it is not too late to have some real ambition in the Bill. It is not a done deal and they still have time to make wholesale changes and massive improvements to make this a Bill that they can be proud of. The political will is all that is needed. They would find agreement, as we have already heard, on both sides of the Chamber, and they would have the pleasure and privilege of knowing that they actually contributed during their careers. Do something fabulous, Ministers! Do something you will be proud of in your old age, amend the Bill and make it fit for purpose.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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It is a pleasure to call Rob Butler to make his maiden speech.

14:43
Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler (Aylesbury) (Con)
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Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is an honour to have the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this debate on the Environment Bill, which will have far-reaching implications for our economy and our society, heralding a cleaner, greener nation.

There is only one place to begin my remarks today, and that is in paying tribute to my predecessor, Sir David Lidington. David was the Member of Parliament for Aylesbury for fully 27 years. He held senior ministerial roles, culminating as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister of State for the Cabinet Office during some particularly testing times for the last Government. Whenever I mention David, the response is the same—that he is a man who is decent, dedicated and thoughtful, a gentleman and the epitome of the public servant. When a new colleague was talking to me about David recently, he had just one question, “Do you have an equally big brain?” My answer was simple—“No.” After all, David led his Cambridge college to victory on “University Challenge”, not once but twice, whereas the only TV quiz show I competed on twice was “Blankety Blank”.

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami
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Is that true?

Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler
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It is true.

David did, of course, have the advantage of serving the magnificent constituency of Aylesbury, which I now have the great privilege to represent. Aylesbury has been a part of my life for longer than I can remember. I was born in the Royal Bucks Hospital in the town, and my first home was in Bedgrove. My roots in the constituency go back even further. My great-grandfather was the village blacksmith in Bledlow Ridge. Aylesbury can trace its history to the iron age, has held a market since Anglo-Saxon times and has been the proud county town of Buckinghamshire for close to 500 years.

The historic quarter of the town centre retains its charm and appeal to locals and visitors alike. It includes statues of Benjamin Disraeli, the father of one nation Conservatism, and of John Hampden, commemorating his role asserting the rights of Parliament against Charles I. There is also now a statue of David Bowie, who in the 1970s staged the world debut performances of two albums at the legendary Friars music club in the town. Visitors should be aware that the statue bursts into song on the hour: more than one unsuspecting tourist has had rather a shock when out of nowhere comes a rendition of “Ziggy Stardust”.

One historic building that is rarely remarked upon is the prison, a Victorian edifice dating from 1847. It is a place that holds particular interest for me, however, as until recently I served as a non-executive director of HM Prison and Probation Service and as the magistrate member of the Sentencing Council. I hope to continue that work in Parliament, focusing particularly on two themes—making our prison estate fit for purpose and putting victims right at the heart of the criminal justice system. Perhaps I may say at this point that I regard our prison and probation officers as the unsung heroes of our public services.

Among the more notorious inmates of Aylesbury prison were the Great Train Robbers, which brings me neatly to HS2. As the home of the Aylesbury duck, it has been said by many of my constituents that HS2 is simply quackers. Seriously though, as the Member of Parliament for Aylesbury and speaking in the debate on the Environment Bill, I would not be forgiven by my constituents if I did not mention HS2. Opposition to the project has long been the single biggest issue in my constituency. Thousands of residents are both disappointed and frustrated by the decision to proceed, not least because of the harm HS2 will do to the environment, including the destruction of more than 100 ancient woodlands. The actions of HS2 Ltd and its contractors have already provoked many complaints to me, and I take this opportunity to state that I will be unwavering in holding them to account.

Aylesbury is setting itself up to thrive throughout the 21st century. Faced with the same challenges as many medium-sized market towns, not least the decline of the traditional high street, there is a passionate ambition to become a real community and commercial hub where people want to live, work, visit and invest. Already the Waterside theatre and the Exchange have brought life back to the canal side. There has been significant house building, including across Aylesbury Vale, where the population has grown by 10% in the last five years. There is far more to come, with projections of a further 16,000 homes in and around the town by 2033. So I welcome the commitment in the Bill to require all development to be accompanied by a 10% net gain in biodiversity. The Aylesbury garden town project goes even further in its vision to be not just green but—I am delighted to say—blue, with plans to create a garden-way encircling the town and to uncover hidden waterways.

The people of Aylesbury are rightly proud that it was the birthplace of the Paralympic movement, and they now have pioneering plans to make the town fully accessible to all.

There is much more than just the town of Aylesbury in the constituency. About a third of its population live in villages and hamlets, wonderful places such as Wendover, Stokenchurch, Aston Clinton, Weston Turville and Hughenden. Two thirds of the area is agricultural, and I have already very much enjoyed meeting farmers in the constituency, and not just because they agreed to put up gigantic posters of me during the election campaign. Many of those farmers are enthusiastic about the Bill. They recognise their unique role in the stewardship of the land and preservation of the countryside, and I am confident that the Bill will enable our farmers to ensure our food security and run sustainable businesses, while playing their part in ensuring the highest environmental standards.

The farms, villages and hamlets in my constituency lie in beautiful countryside, but they face the same challenges as many other rural areas, including access to health services, buses and broadband. Although Buckinghamshire is often regarded as affluent, my constituency also has pockets of deprivation, and I will strive to ensure a fairer deal for everyone I represent because, like each and every one of us in this Chamber, I am only here because of my constituents. As a former journalist, I am acutely aware of the need for accountability to them and to the public in general. Politics has not had a good press in recent years and it is beholden on us to improve that, not for the sake of a good headline or hundreds of likes on a tweet, but in order to rebuild faith and confidence that our institutions and representatives truly uphold democracy and deliver in the best interests of all the people.

I am honoured to be in this place at this pivotal time in our country’s history, when we forge new relationships and trade links around the world, and set out robust and far-reaching new laws to preserve and protect our part of the world through this Environment Bill. I conclude by expressing my sincere gratitude to the people of the Aylesbury constituency for putting their trust and faith in me to represent them here.

14:50
Christian Matheson Portrait Christian Matheson (City of Chester) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What a great pleasure it is to follow the maiden speech of the new hon. Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler). I look forward to him bringing in his “Blankety Blank” chequebook and pen so that we can all admire it in the Tea Room. May I also pay a very warm tribute to his predecessor, David Lidington, who I shadowed for a while? I have to say that I did not actually enjoy shadowing him—not because of his intellect, which was clearly there, but because he was a thoroughly decent person, and I did not like to argue or battle with him because that just was not his way or mine. I congratulate the new hon. Member for Aylesbury and welcome him to this place.

I also welcome the Environment Bill as a step in the right direction, as my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) has said, in tackling the existential threat that we face. After years of delay, we cannot afford to wait any longer to pass robust climate legislation matching the scale of the emergency. A year and a half ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made it clear that we had to act urgently over the next 12 years or forever miss the opportunity to prevent climate catastrophe, but nothing has changed since that announcement, except that we have lost one and a half of those 12 years. While the Government have been preoccupied with the chaos of Brexit, natural wildlife continues to disappear at an alarming rate, flooding is at a record high and fossil fuel production continues to damage our climate. We keep getting told that weather extremes are unprecedented and one-in-100-year occurrences—and then they happen again the next year.

I welcome the opportunity to debate this Bill, but the Government must address its significant limitations. I share the widespread concern expressed by the climate groups that there are significant gaps in the Bill, weakening our capacity to take urgent action. I also generally worry that, despite all the assurances to the contrary, the Conservatives are using the opportunity of Brexit to reduce standards and environmental protections and enforcements, as the Labour party warned they would seek to do.

One of the great pleasures of representing my hometown of Chester is representing Chester Zoo, which is more than simply a tourist attraction; it is leading the way in conservation and wildlife protection, and is a centre of global expertise and leadership in conservation and environmentalism. The zoo’s work spans a wide and diverse range of conservation challenges, with a specific concern about protection of biodiversity. The zoo’s representatives tell me that they welcome the Bill, but share the concern that biodiversity protections could be diluted or ignored as local authorities struggle to implement targets, and they emphasised that the climate emergency is also a biodiversity emergency.

The introduction of a mandatory 10% biodiversity net gain requirement for all new developments is a step in the right direction, but it puts the responsibility for implementing and enforcing biodiversity targets on the shoulder of local authorities, which are already on their knees due to the central Government-imposed cuts that have crippled local government since 2010. Local authorities have neither the funding, nor any longer the capacity, to enforce these crucial biodiversity targets. My local authority of Cheshire West and Chester has lost £300 million since 2010, forcing it to make difficult financial choices. For example, at least half of its expenditure goes on adult social care and care for the vulnerable. It is unrealistic for the Government to further burden councils with the responsibility for enforcing the 10% biodiversity net gain without providing additional funding or expert staff.

Habitat and species loss is a devastating result of climate change that cannot be overlooked. Will the Minister tell me what the Government are doing to address this shortfall and provide a realistic solution to the continued devastation of natural biodiversity across the country? Would the Government be willing to consider making the 10% increase in biodiversity a minimum requirement to encourage developers to exceed the target? And I have to ask: is the planning system really the correct vehicle for restoring UK nature and wildlife? It has consistently failed to address other areas of societal challenges, such as the provision of affordable housing, so why do the Government think it is fit for purpose as a means of reversing the destruction of UK wildlife and habitats?

I have concerns about the Office for Environmental Protection. As we have already heard, perhaps the most disappointing part of the Bill is its failure to create a truly independent environmental watchdog with any enforcement capabilities. The OEP’s budget is decided by the Government, meaning that the office will be under the control of the same Government that it is designed to be holding to account. The lack of accountability is astonishing and removes any sort of independence, allowing the Government to overlook environmental regulations whenever it is politically beneficial.

As we reach the crucial tipping point for climate change, the Government will be preoccupied with new trade deals, cosying up to the climate change denying President Trump in a desperate attempt to secure any trade deal—however bad—to justify their exit from the European Union. The OEP is a toothless environmental watchdog with no capacity to issue fines or stand independently from the Government to ensure that environmental protections are upheld. A further weakness identified by both Chester Zoo and the World Wildlife Fund is that the OEP has no jurisdiction over the private sector, particularly fossil fuel companies. The UK has the biggest fossil fuel subsidies in the EU, with £10.5 billion a year in support for fossil fuels, and the Tory party accepted generous donations from fossil fuel investors during the election, at the same time as cutting support for solar and onshore wind.

The absence of proposals to promote ethical procurement and sustainable, deforestation-free supply chains is a missed opportunity, and will prevent the Bill from achieving its stated goal of being an “historic step change”. We should be following the lead of Chester, led by Chester Zoo, which has developed the sustainable palm oil city model, making Chester the first city in the world to adopt sustainable palm oil city status. Some producers and retailers such as Iceland—the shop, not the country—have chosen to step away from using palm oil at all. I welcome their commitment to preventing deforestation, especially in south-east Asia, but I also note the view that the adoption of sustainable palm oil production, as promoted by Chester Zoo and others, would be a more long-term solution.

The UK has a chance to lead the way globally in tackling the climate emergency. We cannot afford to be less ambitious. I hope that the Government will recognise the constructive points that my hon. Friends and I are making. The Bill has a long way to go before it can successfully uphold the promise to leave nature in a better state for the next generation, because at the moment it seems that we have a Government who are reneging on their promise to maintain standards in environmental protection and enforcement after Brexit, just as we warned they would do. And if they do that on environmental commitments, they will do it on food, consumer standards and employment protections. As the Bill progresses and we seek to amend it, I hope that the Government prove me wrong and act on these concerns.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to call Cherilyn Mackrory to make her maiden speech.

14:49
Cherilyn Mackrory Portrait Cherilyn Mackrory (Truro and Falmouth) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a true honour to be standing here today as the newly elected representative for Truro and Falmouth—a whirlwind for me and my little family, as I was a candidate only for five weeks before polling day. Cornwall, my adopted home—but to which my husband, my daughter and even my dog are native—has welcomed me warmly, and I would like to show my gratitude to my constituents by being a force for good in this role and a genuine help to all residents, regardless of how or whether they voted in December.

I am happy to say that it is a pleasure to pay tribute to my predecessor. Sarah Newton entered this place in 2010 and has always been a staunch advocate for securing fairer funding for Cornwall. It is largely thanks to Sarah’s efforts, along with her Cornish colleagues at the time, that we are now expecting a women and children’s facility at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro, along with a further £450 million for the NHS in Cornwall. Sarah also ensured a stable future for Falmouth docks for the first time in years.

Sarah served as a Minister in the Department for Work and Pensions, and spoke passionately in this place several times in defence of the most vulnerable people in our society. Colleagues across the House have spoken very fondly of Sarah, paying tribute particularly to her compassion and kindness. On this I can concur. Having been a candidate for such a short time before my election, I have found her help invaluable. She even put me up for my first week in Parliament, and that is going above and beyond. I am sure that Members across the House will join me in wishing Sarah all the very best for her future endeavours.

I am very lucky to represent Truro and Falmouth. It is a fantastic constituency, from the beautiful rugged and windswept north coast to the equally beautiful rolling and gentle south coast—there are no favourites here! It makes the bulk of its fortunes from fishing, farming and tourism. However, we also have exciting emerging industries such as geothermal energy, lithium extraction, and the potential for floating offshore wind farms—not forgetting theatre, breweries, surfing, sailing, a thriving arts and food culture, campuses for two universities, and more besides.

Falmouth was my first home when I came to Cornwall, and I can testify first hand as to why it regularly makes The Times “happiest places to live” lists. Last year, The Times described Falmouth as

“as close as Britain gets to the California/Barcelona city-by-the-sea lifestyle.”

I would agree, except more so once it stops raining. It has not actually stopped raining since August.

Falmouth boasts the third deepest natural harbour in the world after Sydney and Rio, which is why fishing and sailing exist alongside a healthy working docks—and that is so important to the economy. Cornwall has always been outward-looking and seafaring. Evidence of overseas trade exists as far back as the bronze age. In 1805, news of Britain’s victory and Nelson’s death at Trafalgar was landed at Falmouth and taken by stagecoach to London.

Truro is Cornwall’s only city. It is the base of Cornish local government, fantastic shopping, and, with the completion of the Hall for Cornwall later this year, also its centre for culture. The reopening of this hugely important establishment means that we can welcome over 200,000 people a year through its doors. It will also house space for creative start-ups. It is set to transform the centre of Truro, as well as being a game-changer for Cornwall as a whole.

My family is my inspiration—and by the way, I am lucky enough to have the best one of those as well. My mum and dad—Gordon and Olwyn Williams—and my big sisters have guided me through all my experiences and continue with their unending encouragement. It is the compassion that I have inherited from them that will drive me in my work in this place. My wonderful husband, Nick, is endlessly patient, and his determination for work defies belief for most people; and we have our precious daughter Chloe, whose future I want to help make the happiest it can be. I love them all, and I could not be doing this without their unwavering support. This is a definite team effort.

I am the wife of a hook-and-line fisherman with an under-10 metre vessel. When he rings to say that he is still an hour away from safety and the weather has taken a turn for the worse that was not forecast, I can tell you now that the dread is palpable. We need to champion our small boats in any fishing deal that is coming our way. Their job is precarious enough. We need to support our coastal communities to brave the elements and thrive in the 21st century. There are opportunities on the horizon, and we need to grab them with both hands and bring them home.

I am very proud to be part of this one nation Conservative party committed to being a world leader for conservation. I am also proud to represent the constituency where Surfers Against Sewage is located. It is one of the UK’s leading environmental organisations and has pioneered work to protect our seas and waterways from plastic pollution as well as to improve water quality. I have been passionate about looking after the natural environment for longer than I can remember. It has always been instinctive to me that this is just something we should do; we did not need to be told to do it.

This Environment Bill is bold. It will help to deliver the Government’s manifesto promise of the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on this earth, and I fully support its progress. I recommend much of its content, particularly with regard to waste management and nature recovery. I would like to see the south-west exceed the targets in it. I am very, very ambitious for this. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—my neighbour as the Member for Camborne and Redruth—on his new appointment and on his work to date.

I would like to see a bigger reduction in the consumption of single-use plastic. I think we can do this as a society. We do not need to spend resources clearing it up. It is going to take a culture change. We are all consumers and it has to come from us. We will need help from industry to make it convenient for consumers and also good value for money. That is the way we will make it happen. I would like to see greater checks and balances on our interim targets to ensure that we can stay on track in the short term as well as the long term. That is a recipe for success. I would like to see a greater commitment to managing our oceans. If we do not look after the marine environment, we will have no fishing industry in Cornwall. The saying is, “Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day, but teach him how to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime.”

The Cornish are innovative, bold, and incredibly capable. It is my job to make sure that Cornwall gets the investment, the levelling up of funding and a fair chance so that my constituents and our children have the opportunity to swim, not sink. There is so much for Cornwall and the great south-west to be ambitious about. My constituents are determined, driven, and by far the most adaptable people I have met, and it will be my job to help make sure that we are ambitious for the future.

15:05
Dan Jarvis Portrait Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a huge pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory), who has just given an outstanding maiden speech in which she very clearly conveyed her passion and commitment to her constituents and her constituency. She made an incredibly poignant point about the precarious nature of seafaring. I wish her well in this House, and I know that she will be a very powerful advocate for her constituents for many, many years to come.

This Bill comes before Parliament at a time when our country—indeed, our planet—faces two major environmental crises: climate change and biodiversity collapse. The debate on the climate emergency here in the UK has shifted very rapidly from the fringes to the mainstream in just a matter of a few years. For those of us who represent communities such as the ones I am proud to represent in South Yorkshire that have recently been devasted by flooding, it is not difficult to understand why, because we are no longer talking about the existential threat to future generations but about the immediate threat to family homes and small businesses.

There is now close to universal agreement that the Government must take urgent action to address the climate emergency, and this Environment Bill represents their first real test. It is important to note, however, that regional and local government also has a crucial role to play—it cannot simply be left to Westminster and to Whitehall to tackle this crisis alone. To date, 287 councils and eight combined authorities, including my own, have declared a climate emergency. We understand the extent of the crisis, but we need the resources to make meaningful change.

This is an extensive Bill covering a wide range of issues, but I would like to focus my short contribution on tree planting. One point on which I hope we can all agree is the important role of trees in tackling this emergency. Trees capture carbon, reduce soil erosion, improve air quality, alleviate flooding, and support biodiversity. Expansion of our woodlands will be key if we are to be successful in preventing irreversible damage to the environment. Indeed, the Government’s Committee on Climate Change set a target of 17% to 19% woodland cover as a key part of the UK’s actions to reach net zero emissions by 2050. The requirement in the Bill for local highway authorities to consult members of the public before felling street trees will be welcomed by communities up and down the country. It is important, though, that this duty is properly resourced if it is to provide meaningful consultations.

However, it is disappointing to see that this Bill does not include a statutory requirement for the Government to produce a national tree strategy for England, as is the case in Scotland. Given that work is already well under way to develop an English tree strategy for consultation in the coming months, I hope the Government will consider amending the Bill so that it refers to the forthcoming strategy. This would send out a positive signal about the importance of trees and woodlands, and their important role in tackling the crises of climate and biodiversity. Furthermore, it would reinforce the commitments made in the Government’s own manifesto, in which they pledged to plant 30 million trees a year by 2025.

One way that the Government could demonstrate their resolution would be to act on the Woodland Trust’s emergency tree plan proposals, in which three key recommendations were put forward: first, to look after what we have by protecting and restoring existing trees and woodland; secondly, to create new policies, capacity and funding for woods and trees; and thirdly, to devolve more powers to local government.

A further measure that the Government could explore is to expand on the ambition and innovation shown by the northern forest initiative—a project spearheaded by the Woodland Trust and its community forest partners in the region. The forest will see 50 million trees planted over the next 25 years in the north of England, with more than 600,000 already in the ground. It is the perfect example of the kind of project we must deliver on if we are serious about reversing the damage done to the natural environment.

I have three asks of the Government in respect of the Bill and tree planting. First, will they ensure that they link this Bill, the Agriculture Bill and the national tree strategy, so that a coherent and unambiguous plan for increasing tree cover is achieved, as well as other environmental targets? Secondly, once the national tree strategy is published, will the Government amend the Bill, so that it refers to that strategy? Finally, will they commit to grow the northern forest?

This is a vital piece of legislation and an opportunity for the Government to show leadership on the global stage in the fight against the climate emergency. We cannot afford any more missed opportunities, and it is quite clear that the Bill still requires improvement. One way the Government could show that leadership is to firm up their commitments on tree planting.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
- Hansard -

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call Dr Ben Spencer to make his maiden speech.

15:10
Ben Spencer Portrait Dr Ben Spencer (Runnymede and Weybridge) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Seven years ago, working as a doctor on call at St Thomas’s Hospital, I looked across the river at this place and wondered what it would be like to be here—and now I know. It is remarkably similar to being on call, but permanently. Being a Member of Parliament is a great privilege and duty, and I would like to thank the people of Runnymede and Weybridge for putting their trust and faith in me. I will do my all to repay that trust. I would like to thank the people who work on and around the parliamentary estate, who have been so welcoming and discharge their duties with dedication, diligence and resolute professionalism.

I pay tribute to my predecessor, the right hon. Philip Hammond. Philip was a phenomenal Member of Parliament. He served his country and the people of Runnymede and Weybridge for over 22 years. He held many of the highest offices of state. It is rumoured that he, like me, was a teenage goth. It is true—I was—but I didn’t dye my hair though. While there are some key areas on which Philip and I do not agree, most of all he is a man of principle. When push came to shove, he stood by his principles, and that is the measure of a man.

I have heard many excellent maiden speeches from Members on both sides of the House. Mr Deputy Speaker, it probably will not surprise you that I have noticed a pattern: it would appear that everywhere, all over the country, is the most beautiful and pleasant place to live. I want to put it on record that Runnymede and Weybridge truly, truly, truly is the most beautiful and pleasant place to live. It is also central to the history of our nation. Magna Carta, signed over 800 years ago, was the birth of the rule of law in our country and, indeed, the world. This Parliament may be the mother of all Parliaments, but Runnymede is the mother of the rule of law.

When I walk through the Churchill arch and see the bomb damage from the second world war, I am reminded of Brooklands in Weybridge. It was in Brooklands, where the first racing track was built and which went on to become the site of an advanced aviation factory, that over 2,500 Wellington bombers and 3,000 Hurricane fighters were built during the second world war. For both those reasons, quite literally, we would not be here today without the legacy of Runnymede and Weybridge. Our heritage is second to none.

There are many parts of the constituency that I would celebrate today if I had more time, but what makes Runnymede and Weybridge great are the people and our warm and vibrant communities—from the famous, such as the Wentworth estate, where the PGA tour takes place, to the not-so-famous, such as the Englefield Green Social Hall, where the Christmas performance of the “Beauty and the Beast” pantomime was the highlight of my election campaign. The consequence of having such vibrant communities and flourishing Christmas fairs is that I have now developed a tombola addiction, but I do have several sets of bath salts and some odd fruit cordials and drinks at the back of my cupboard that I have won, which Members are welcome to take home to their families.

We are all here on borrowed time, by the grace of our constituents, so let me tell you a little of my mission here. It is equality of opportunity. It is that everyone, no matter who they are or where they come from, has great opportunities in life—the opportunity to learn, to have a meaningful and worthwhile job, to set up a business and to grow old in peace and security. I would not be here today without the great opportunities that I had in my life, such as going to a state grammar school in the west midlands. But words like “equality” and “opportunity” are often bandied around without context or meaning.

As a mental health doctor, I have worked in many different hospitals and seen people from all walks of life. I know what a lack of opportunity looks like. Sadly, I have seen people without hope—people who cannot aspire and achieve, hamstrung in life by bad schools, no jobs, shabby housing, poor mental health or addiction. When, working as a doctor, I have supported people get back into work or get a decent place to live, it has often been better than any medicine I could prescribe. It must be that the successes of those who dare to dream are only bounded by their industry and talents.

Turning to today’s debate, we have always taken the lead on the most pressing issues of our time. Today it is our environment and climate change. Sadly, air pollution levels are high in Runnymede and Weybridge, driven by the motorways that criss-cross the constituency and the flightpaths that we live under. This Bill will make strides to improve our health and wellbeing and secure our children’s future.

From my office in Parliament, I can now look back at St Thomas’s Hospital, and when I do I am reminded that things do not always go as we expect. For many people, things do not go to plan in life. We need a strong safety net of welfare and public services, such as our NHS, which I am proud to have worked in for over 10 years, and which my wife continues to work in. Our public services need effective management, leadership and funding, paid for by a flourishing economy and led by a strong Conservative Government. All this is why I am a Conservative and why I am here today.

Environment Bill (First sitting)

Committee stage & Committee Debate: 1st sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 10th March 2020

(4 years, 2 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 10 March 2020 - (10 Mar 2020)
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chairs: †Sir Roger Gale, Sir George Howarth
† Afolami, Bim (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con)
† Ansell, Caroline (Eastbourne) (Con)
† Bhatti, Saqib (Meriden) (Con)
† Brock, Deidre (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
† Docherty, Leo (Aldershot) (Con)
† Edwards, Ruth (Rushcliffe) (Con)
† Graham, Richard (Gloucester) (Con)
† Longhi, Marco (Dudley North) (Con)
† McCarthy, Kerry (Bristol East) (Lab)
† Mackrory, Cherilyn (Truro and Falmouth) (Con)
† Moore, Robbie (Keighley) (Con)
† Morden, Jessica (Newport East) (Lab)
† Oppong-Asare, Abena (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)
† Pow, Rebecca (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)
† Sobel, Alex (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op)
Thomson, Richard (Gordon) (SNP)
† Whitehead, Dr Alan (Southampton, Test) (Lab)
Adam Mellows-Facer, Anwen Rees, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
Witnesses
Signe Norberg, Public Affairs Manager, Aldersgate Group
Edward Lockhart-Mummery, Project Convenor and Principal Investigator, Broadway Initiative
Martin Baxter, Chief Policy Adviser, Broadway Initiative
David Bellamy, Senior Environment Policy Manager, Food and Drink Federation
Andrew Poole, Deputy Head of Policy, Federation of Small Businesses
Martin Curtois, External Affairs Director, Veolia
Public Bill Committee
Tuesday 10 March 2020
Morning
[Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]
Environment Bill
09:25
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Ordinarily, the public would be invited in for the initial brief announcement and then have to go out again, so we thought we would save them the effort. There are a couple of preliminary points. Please turn off your mobile phones. I have a tendency to send Members to the Tower if they allow their phones to ring. I am checking my own, as well. I am afraid that tea and coffee are not allowed, so those who want a tea or a coffee will have to go outside to have it.

We will consider the programme motion and the motion on reporting written evidence for publication and then have a quick chat in private. It is easier than yanking people in and chucking them out again. We will try to take the motions without too much debate.

Ordered,

That—

(1) the Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 9.25am on Tuesday 10 March) meet—

(a) at 2.00pm on Tuesday 10 March;

(b) at 11.30am and 2.00pm on Thursday 12 March;

(c) at 9.25am and 2.00pm on Tuesday 17 March;

(d) at 11.30am and 2.00pm on Thursday 19 March;

(e) at 9.25am and 2.00pm on Tuesday 24 March;

(f) at 11.30am and 2.00pm on Thursday 26 March;

(g) at 9.25am and 2.00pm on Tuesday 31 March;

(h) at 4.00pm and 7.00pm on Tuesday 21 April;

(i) at 11.30am and 2.00pm on Thursday 23 April;

(j) at 9.25am and 2.00pm on Tuesday 28 April;

(k) at 11.30am and 2.00pm on Thursday 30 April;

(l) at 9.25am and 2.00pm on Tuesday 5 May;

(2) the Committee shall hear oral evidence in accordance with the following Table:

Table

Date

Time

Witness

Tuesday 10 March

Until no later than 10.30 am

Aldersgate Group; Broadway Initiative

Tuesday 10 March

Until no later than 11.25 am

Food and Drink Federation; Federation of Small Businesses; Veolia

Tuesday 10 March

Until no later than 2.30 pm

Local Government Association

Tuesday 10 March

Until no later than 3.30 pm

Natural England; Wildlife Trusts; Country Land and Business Association; NFU

Tuesday 10 March

Until no later than 4.00 pm

National Federation of Builders

Tuesday 10 March

Until no later than 5.00 pm

Greener UK; Greenpeace; Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

Thursday 12 March

Until no later than 12.15 pm

Asthma UK and British Lung Foundation; UNICEF; Air Quality Expert Group; ClientEarth

Thursday 12 March

Until no later than 1.00 pm

Water UK; Blueprint for Water; Marine Conservation Society

Thursday 12 March

Until no later than 2.45 pm

George Monbiot; Wildlife and Environment Link

Thursday 12 March

Until no later than 3.15 pm

Keep Britain Tidy; Green Alliance

Thursday 12 March

Until no later than 4.00 pm

Chem Trust; Chemical Industries Association; Unite

Thursday 12 March

Until no later than 5.00 pm

Scottish Environment LINK; Environmental Protection Scotland; Law Society Scotland



(3) proceedings on consideration of the Bill in Committee shall be taken in the following order: Clauses 1 to 21; Schedule 1; Clauses 22 to 45; Schedule 2; Clause 46; Schedule 3; Clause 47; Schedule 4; Clause 48; Schedule 5; Clause 49; Schedule 6; Clause 50; Schedule 7; Clause 51; Schedule 8; Clause 52; Schedule 9; Clauses 53 to 63; Schedule 10; Clauses 64 to 69; Schedule 11; Clause 70; Schedule 12; Clauses 71 to 78; Schedule 13; Clauses 79 to 90; Schedule 14; Clauses 91 to 100; Schedule 15; Clauses 101 to 115; Schedule 16; Clauses 116 to 122; Schedule 17; Clauses 123 and 124; Schedule 18; Clause 125; Schedule 19; Clauses 126 to 133; new Clauses; new Schedules; remaining proceedings on the Bill;

(4) the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 5.00 pm on Tuesday 5 May.—(Leo Docherty.)

Resolved,

That, at this and any subsequent meeting at which oral evidence is to be heard, the Committee shall sit in private until the witnesses are admitted.—(Leo Docherty.)

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Written evidence will be made available in the Committee Room. I take it that the Committee is happy to receive it.

Resolved,

That, subject to the discretion of the Chair, any written evidence received by the Committee shall be reported to the House for publication.—(Leo Docherty.)

09:27
The Committee deliberated in private.
Examination of Witnesses
Signe Norberg, Edward Lockhart-Mummery and Martin Baxter gave evidence.
09:30
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for joining us. We shall now hear oral evidence from the Aldersgate Group and the Broadway Initiative. Before we start, I would be grateful if you would be kind enough to identify yourselves for the benefit of the record.

Signe Norberg: I am Signe Norberg. I am the public affairs manager at Aldersgate Group.

Edward Lockhart-Mummery: I am Edward Lockhart-Mummery, convener of the Broadway Initiative.

Martin Baxter: I am Martin Baxter, chief policy adviser at the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment. We are home to the Broadway Initiative.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Thank you—and thank you for giving your time this morning. We have limited time, as you are aware, before I will have to draw the sitting to a close. Concise answers—I have already urged my colleagues to ask concise questions—will help us to get through the business.

Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Good morning. I would like to start with some thoughts about the Office for Environmental Protection. You will have seen from the structure of the Bill that the office will be set up by the Government, essentially, and will have certain powers, but many people say that, in other areas, it lacks independence or teeth. What is your view of the structure of the OEP?

Martin Baxter: I might as well go first. I think we would share some of the concerns around independence. I think there is an opportunity for greater independence, particularly on the appointment and removal of the chair. The Office for Budget Responsibility has a confirmatory vote for the appointment of its chair, and I think a similar mechanism could be put in for the OEP. It has a wide range of powers and duties. Potentially, some of the powers could become duties, particularly if there are changes to targets, but, largely, it is a body that could have strategic effect in helping to drive improvements in environmental performance.

Signe Norberg: We would agree that the OEP will have a wide remit, and some of its powers are really welcome. We share the view that there are some aspects, with regard to its independence, that we would like strengthened, particularly on matters explicitly to do with funding and the commitment that the Government made previously, in the pre-legislative scrutiny on the previous draft Bill, to having an explicit five-year budget on the face of the Bill, to make sure that there would be long-term certainty. We also support calls for Parliament to have a role in the appointment of the chair of the OEP—making sure that the relevant Select Committee was involved in the appointment process.

Edward Lockhart-Mummery: I would just make a wider point, from a business perspective. I think that the OEP has an important role to play because it gives confidence in the overall system. That is why independence is important. I just wanted to fill in that gap as to why business thinks that independence is important in terms of having a really credible body. That can also be achieved in the way that it operates. I found this with the Committee on Climate Change. One of the important things is the appointment of the first chair—and, actually, the second chair. The chair can determine how a body like that works in practice—its credibility, the things it chooses to pursue, how it gives strategic advice, and things like that. So I think it is also very much the way, and the type of person who is the chair, that are important.

Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Whitehead
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q You reflected on the independence of the OEP and have suggested that concerns might be raised about its funding and funding cycle. Are there amendments you would like to see to the Bill to establish that independence in a clearcut way? Along with the OEP’s potential independence, would you like to see something specific in the Bill that protects its remit and funding cycle so we can be assured that it will not be subject to the vicissitudes of the Department or the Exchequer?

Signe Norberg: With regards to the specific areas of the Bill, there could be strengthening amendments to schedule 1, which sets out the appointment process. A paragraph in there to specify the role of the Select Committee in appointing the chair would strengthen the Bill, because the OEP’s chair has the power to select the other members. Within that, there is also a funding section, which could establish the five-year process. The important thing is that the OEP, with its formidable remit, will have independence and certainty in the long term. That should go beyond this Government, secure in the fact that successive Governments will deliver on the commitments. It should have a baseline budget to operate from, regardless of economic circumstances. If the funding mechanism in schedule 1 is strengthened, that would be welcome and really bolster the OEP’s ability to do its work.

Martin Baxter: In terms of a specific amendment, paragraph 2(1) of schedule 1 could be changed. It says:

“Non-executive members are to be appointed by the Secretary of State” ,

but you could add to that, “with confirmation from the Environmental Audit Committee and/or Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.” That would give Parliament enhanced power in that appointments process. That is a targeted, small amendment that could enhance independence in the process.

Rebecca Pow Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rebecca Pow)
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Q Thank you so much for coming in; it is really appreciated. I have two points to pick up, one of which was raised by Ms Norberg. I think you suggested that the Office for Environmental Protection, the overarching body that will hold public bodies to account, ought to be more like the Office for Budget Responsibility, but that body does not have the enforcement functions that the OEP will have. Do you have any views about that?

Signe Norberg: The point about appointing the chair is more about ensuring that there is scrutiny around who is appointed as chair. We fully recognise that the OEP will have a different remit compared to the OBR. It is more about ensuring that Parliament has a role in appointing the chair.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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Q The OBR and what we are proposing for the Office for Environmental Protection are quite different in terms of functions. The Office for Environmental Protection is more like the Equality and Human Rights Commission and very much set up on those lines. Do the others have views on that?

Martin Baxter: Given the importance of the OEP and questions about independence and holding public authorities, including Government, to account, stakeholders feel that that enhanced independence is very important. The model of having a confirmatory vote from the appropriate Select Committee in that appointments process is something that the OBR has in its remit, and we think that could be transferred across to the OEP as well. That is not to say that they do not have very different functions as bodies; we fully accept that.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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Q Could I widen it out a bit? Industry and business have been very engaged in the development of the Bill, which is much appreciated. One of the strong messages we got from your two groups, in particular, was that you wanted legally binding targets and strong direction in the Bill. Why do you feel that is so important? Can you help the Committee understand whether the Bill is strong enough and why you want that?

Edward Lockhart-Mummery: You are absolutely right. We have been working on this for about two or three years with a wide group of business organisations. We have got 20 of the main business groups, covering all sectors, from the Federation of Small Businesses to the CBI, Make UK, Water UK and the Home Builders Federation. Consistently across that group, the notion of a long-term framework for the environment is incredibly important.

We did a bit of research looking at the timescales over which businesses take decisions, whether it is project cycles, investment cycles for capital, or whatever. A lot of the investment cycles are very long. Unless you have a long-term framework for the environment, it is difficult to make the kind of improvements that we would all like to see.

In the past, we have often had very short-term decision making on the environment, which makes it difficult for business to adjust. If we are constantly in that cycle of responding very quickly and introducing policies on a one or two-year basis, it is very hard for business. Everyone—human beings—wants to see a clean and good environment. Business supports that as much as everyone else. If they have clarity over the long-term direction of policy and a clear set of targets, they can start designing. Whatever sector you are in, you can start designing.

Let me give you a quick example. We are working with the home building sector on a sectoral plan for all new houses, for the environment, because we have got the clarity of net zero and because we are getting clarity on targets through the Environment Bill. The sector can suddenly sit down and start saying, “Right, these are the long-term things we need to plan for—water efficiency, flood resilience and air quality.” They can start investing in the R&D and driving innovation.

We think that is very important, and we advocated very strongly right from the start. We put together a blueprint for the Environment Bill. We have advocated very strongly to Treasury and others that that long-term framework is important. We think it is a game changer, in the sense that, as soon as you have that, rather than environment being a compliance issue within firms, it becomes a strategic issue within firms, sectors and local areas, where everyone can build this into what they are doing.

In principle, we think targets are fantastic and we really welcome them in the Bill. We also think that there are some small changes that could be made to the target-setting framework that would be win-wins. They would improve the ability to achieve environmental outcomes but also reduce costs and increase certainty for business. I will focus on two—so that I am not hogging the microphone, I might then hand over to colleagues. One is that we would really like to see clear objectives in the Bill. At the moment, there is a target-setting mechanism, but it is not exactly clear. It says that four targets will be set in four areas, but it is not clear exactly what targets would be set. It would give greater clarity to have objectives that consistently show what kind of targets are going to be set and give that long-term clarity for everyone.

We have often made the point that, in the past 10 years, we have had eight different Secretaries of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. If they all set their own targets, depending on what they are interested in, you could end up with a patchwork of targets. We would really like to see clarity on the objectives. This is the kind of thing we are talking about. If the Bill said something like environmental objectives would be to have a healthy, resilient and biodiverse natural environment, an environment that supports human health and wellbeing for everyone, and sustainable use of resources, those would be high-level objectives but would give everyone clarity, as to how targets would be set.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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May I just interrupt you there for a second? I might bring the other gentleman in from the Broadway group—

None Portrait The Chair
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Minister, if anybody brings him in, it will be me. May we please finish hearing what is being said and then you can come back in?

Edward Lockhart-Mummery: One thing we did with IEMA is a big survey of about 370 people working in businesses and different organisations. I think 95% of them supported having objectives in the Bill. That is that one.

The other thing is to have a clearer duty right at the start that environmental improvement plans have to enable the targets to be met. At the moment, the targets are legally binding in the sense that if you miss a target, Government have to make amends and take action, and there is a reporting mechanism. What is missing—and is in the Climate Change Act 2008—is what we call a day one duty, something that says there is a duty on the Secretary of State to make sure that they are putting in place the right policies to support this. These two things would underline that clarity and long-term certainty for business and reduce long-term costs for business to achieve the outcomes.

None Portrait The Chair
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Ms Norberg, do you wish to add anything before I go back to the Minister?

Signe Norberg: I would like to add that our business members, who represent around £550 billion of global turnover, do support the Bill. They really want to see a robust environmental regime, because they fundamentally believe that environmental policies make clear economic sense for them. It is also better for the overall environment.

On why businesses want to see that happen, it does not just make clear economic sense; it also provides a stable environment in which they can invest in their workforce and in green products and services, and innovate their business model. If the Bill clearly sets out what is expected and by when, and what the targets are in the intermediate term to meet these objectives, it will help businesses to adjust their business model, where needed, but also to go beyond the targets.

We would certainly support some of the points that Ed has made about objectives. We would also like to see the interim targets strengthened further, because when you have certainty about what is going to happen in the next five years, it helps you also to look at the long-term targets that are 15 years ahead. If there is also something around remedial actions—so that when it looks like the intermediate targets are going to be missed, action will be taken—that will give businesses certainty around what is expected of their sector, but also about how they fit within the overall environmental framework.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)
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Q Leading on from what you were saying about the interim targets, how do you strike the balance? At the moment, you have very long-term targets of at least 15 years. I accept what the other witnesses were saying about how that gives business certainty, because decisions are made on a long-term basis, but if your target is way into the future, the danger is that you do not drive progress in the interim. The Aldersgate Group clearly supports interim targets.

Signe Norberg: Certainly, and that stresses the importance of the interim targets, with the long-term targets being, as they should be, long term and indicating the direction of travel. The interim targets help to drive progress in the intermediate term, but also help us to see where we are and what we need to do to put us back on track. If we strengthen the interim targets, that will certainly be something that we know our businesses would welcome, because it not only provides the direction of travel but helps them look at their own model.

Martin Baxter: We fully support long-term targets because they give the strategic predictability and confidence for business to invest over the long term. The importance of interim targets is that they determine the pace at which we need to make progress, hence the need for a robust process for setting the long-term targets and involving businesses in the interim targets, to ensure absolute clarity about the likely investment needed to achieve progress at the rate we need. If we want to speed up progress, the question is, “How much will it cost and where will the cost fall?” We have to make sure that businesses are part of owning some of these targets, because they are the ones that will have to make the investment to deliver them. They have to understand what changes will be needed and what policy mechanisms might need to be introduced to ensure that that can all be achieved. That is where the role of interim targets and their link to environmental improvement plans, and the robustness with which those interim targets will be set, is really important.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
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Q Mr Lockhart-Mummery, you also spoke about objectives. I am interested to know how those objectives would fit with targets and interim targets, and how that would pull the whole purpose of the Bill together. Perhaps in your answer you could say a little bit more about that as well?

Edward Lockhart-Mummery: Absolutely. The objectives would guide how the targets and interim targets were set. The Secretary of State, when setting targets, would have to think how those targets would contribute to meeting the long-term objectives. That would be the legal mechanism. When stakeholders were having discussions with Government, everyone would understand the purpose of those targets and that would temper the discussion, because everyone would have a clear vision for what they were.

Objectives could also determine how principles and environmental improvement plans are applied in the Bill, so that when you are developing environmental improvement plans, you are also thinking, “What are we trying to achieve through this Bill?”, when you are applying principles and when the OEP is exercising its function. Thus, everyone is clear on the purpose of all those processes in chapter 1 of the Bill, which is the governance framework, and those objectives link to how the Government applies those processes, so that it is clear externally what we are trying to achieve. Then businesses, local authorities and other organisations know what we are trying to achieve through the Bill and know that when Government pull all those levers, it is all trying to go in a particular direction.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
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Q But you would also support interim targets further downstream?

Edward Lockhart-Mummery: We definitely support strengthening the targets. This is something we have discussed a lot in our group, and there are slightly different views of exactly how you do it. Some people would support the targets’ being legally binding, and others say that the final targets should be legally binding, but on the interim targets there needs to be more transparency. Then, if an interim target is not met, it could be that it triggers more of a reporting process, where the Government say, “We have missed the interim target. This is why, and this is what we’re doing about it,” rather than their being legally binding.

Potentially, if you made those interim targets legally binding, it could have perverse effects. Government might be a little less ambitious in setting interim targets, because it is always harder to know exactly what you are going to be able to do in the shorter term, particularly when some things require a lot of capital investment. If the target is to increase recycling rates, that requires a lot of capital investment or whatever.

There are some questions about exactly how you would set those interim targets. Because they are nearer term, it is more likely that the same Government will be in power when they are met, so what you do not want is for them to end up being very unambitious in setting the targets. A transparency mechanism would certainly be very good.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con)
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Q Can I come back to Mr Baxter first? In the brief you gave us before this sitting began, you mentioned two ways that you thought the Bill could be improved. Although you raised earlier the importance of the selection or election of the OEP chairman and so on, your focus in the written evidence was more on structural issues. Could you flesh out what you meant by

“enhancing the coherence between the different governance elements so they are mutually supportive and aligned to drive environmental improvement to a common purpose”?

That sounds like management-speak. Can you try to bring it alive and explain what you really have in mind and what the benefits of it are?

Martin Baxter: Certainly. There are three key elements in the governance section of the Bill. First is the process for setting legally binding targets, and underpinning that is the significant improvement test in the natural environment. The environmental principles have a slightly different objective, on environmental protection and sustainable development. The Office for Environmental Protection has a different set of objectives as well. We think there is a real opportunity to set a common purpose in terms of clear objectives, as Ed has outlined, and to point all aspects of the governance process into achieving those. That is where we think you could get far greater coherence and cohesion between the different elements.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham
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Q Can I just explore that a bit more? On page 13, in part 1, the principle objective of the OEP is pretty clear:

“to contribute to—

(a) environmental protection, and

(b) the improvement of the natural environment.”

Page 1 of the Bill is about making provision to improve the natural environment and environmental protection. Those two seem to be very closely aligned, are then not?

Martin Baxter: In part, they are, but they could be further brought together. The real test of the targets and the EIPs is whether significant environmental improvement is being met. It is that test that underlies why we are setting targets and it forms the basis on which environmental principles will be applied, potentially, and also the role of the OEP. We think that could provide greater cohesion, via all things pointing to that common purpose.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham
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Q Mr Lockhart-Mummery, you said early on that the Bill needed clear objectives at the beginning. Given what Mr Baxter has just said, do I take it that you want to see a fleshed-out opening paragraph that talks about not just improving the natural environment but what the benefits that we are looking for from that should be?

Edward Lockhart-Mummery: Exactly. Improving the natural environment is a good start. That could be clearer. For example, improving health is not there clearly in “improving the natural environment”, yet quite a lot that we would want to do—improving air quality, nature and so forth—is about health. Being really clear that this is also about health and wellbeing is important. Then there is sustainable resource use. At the moment, there is a big focus on single-use plastics, very rightly. If, in the very short term, we only thought about single-use plastics, we would not necessarily drive holistic sustainability overall. We might rush out of plastics into aluminium or other things, whereas what we really want to know is, right at the top, that this is about using the resources that we have sustainably. If that is clear at the top of the Bill, everything drives that. We do not take siloed short-term decisions, but we are clear that when we are setting targets we are looking to use our resources sustainably overall to contribute to a healthy, resilient, biodiverse natural environment, to health and to wellbeing for everyone. Those three objectives capture almost everything you could want to do through this Bill, alongside decarbonisation, which is the territory of the Climate Change Act 2008, but both are mutually supportive.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham
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Q That sounds as if what both of you are saying is that you want to see an introductory paragraph that lays out, before the stuff that is quite process-y, the benefits that we are trying to drive out through this Environment Bill a bit more clearly.

Ms Norberg, your earlier statement was slightly different. It was less on the ambitions of what the output would be and more on further improvements to strengthen the regulatory framework and the target-setting process. There is quite a lot of detail in terms of the targets and interim targets, is there not? How much more process can a Bill really have?

Signe Norberg: I would begin by saying that we also support Broadway’s ask around an objective. We thoroughly support that because we think it gives the long-term direction—which is set out here, but an objective would provide a little more detail. In terms of the processes around interim targets and the target-setting process, this is not so much about adding in more process—as you say, what we have is already quite a heavy process document—but more about clarifying some aspects, which would be quite welcome. We have touched a little today on the interim targets. It is not about changing them but about maybe clarifying that when intermediate targets look to be off track, there is recourse to put them back on track or the Secretary of State looks at how we will get back on track by updating them. There is a little bit there, but this is about adding further language to clarify a point like that. This is not about adding further process; it is more about adding clarification.

None Portrait The Chair
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Q Thank you very much. Mr Graham, I am conscious of the fact that there are a number of other Members who want to come in. I cannot allow one Member to dominate the entire proceedings.

I am going to do something now that I should have done at the beginning—I apologise for this. Before I bring in Deidre Brock, will Ms Norberg and one or others of you gentlemen, very briefly, identify whose interests you represent?

Signe Norberg: We represent an alliance of businesses, non-governmental organisations and academic institutions. They cover several different industries, work across economies and have scale. We look at their specific industries. All of that comes together to create a holistic environment for businesses and the natural environmental flow.

Edward Lockhart-Mummery: The Broadway Initiative brings together the mainstream business organisations across sectors from the Federation of Small Businesses to the CBI, as well as groups covering each important sector that touches on the environment. That is our core group. We also work with professional bodies such as the IEMA and academic bodies, and we work closely with environmental groups. We are committed to the outcomes committed to by the Government through the 25-year plan and net zero. We are keen to explore how we can really make that work through the economy.

None Portrait The Chair
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Thank you very much. I apologise; I should have asked that at the beginning for the record, and because there are people in this room who may not read everything that they should have read into just the bald titles.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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Q Returning to the OEP, what are your thoughts on the relationship between the OEP and the environmental governance bodies, including the Committee on Climate Change, the Environment Agency and Natural England? Major budget cuts have clearly been made at Natural England recently, and the organisation has expressed concerns about its ability to monitor environmental breaches. What are your thoughts on how that works, or does not work, in the Bill?

Martin Baxter: We support the creation of the OEP. Its role in ensuring that public authorities fulfil their duties under environmental law is important. That remit is quite different from the role of the Environment Agency, Natural England and the Committee on Climate Change. That committee has an advisory role; it does a lot of analysis and a lot of fantastic work, but it does not have a role in holding public authorities to account for the delivery of net zero commitments. That is an important distinction to make between the OEP and the Committee on Climate Change.

Ideally, the OEP will be a strategic body able to look at where our governance system might either need to be strengthened or become more effective, and then make recommendations. It has an important monitoring and scrutiny role that extends into progress towards achieving long-term targets and looking at environmental improvement plans, so at least we will have a transparent and independent view of that, which is important. We welcome that.

The OEP also has an ability to advise on the implementation of environmental law. That implementation role is critical, because the effectiveness of environmental law is often in the extent to which it might be properly enforced. In terms of monitoring the implementation of environmental law, the OEP has the power to comment on whether there are sufficient resources in place for those laws to be properly implemented, enforced and delivered. There are the right hooks in the Bill, in terms of the OEP’s role and remit, to allow that to go forward.

None Portrait The Chair
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Ms Norberg, do you want to come in?

Signe Norberg: Martin summarised it fairly well. There is a recognition that these bodies will have to have some level of co-operation. That will be important in terms of the practical aspects of these bodies.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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Q You sound a wee bit equivocal or dubious about whether the OEP has sufficient powers to enforce this properly. That is the impression I am getting; correct me if I am wrong.

Martin Baxter: No, it has the powers to be able to do it. The question is how it chooses to use its powers. In setting up the OEP, one of the first things it has to do is develop its strategy, which will be absolutely crucial in determining the direction that it sees for itself, in terms of implementing the powers and duties that it has. If it chooses to utilise those powers to help to drive systemic change where there may be weaknesses in our system of environmental governance, that would be really welcome. That is what we expect it to be able to do.

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con)
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Q Ms Norberg, in the event that, in the future after the passage of the Bill, the British Government—for whatever reason—do not perform very well and do not do the things that we believe they should, who should be the main accountable individual or group of individuals for that?

Signe Norberg: Within Government?

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I am trying to say that you presumably want the Government to be accountable for this, through Parliament and, ultimately, to the electorate in our elections. Do you agree?

Signe Norberg: Yes.

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q So, going back to what we were talking about at the beginning around the Office for Environmental Protection, and thinking about accountability, what is your sense of giving more power to Parliament, as opposed to the Government? My reading is that that might actually impact on that accountability.

Signe Norberg: I am not entirely sure that I agree with that. The Bill gives a lot of powers to the Secretary of State to provide an overall framework to meet targets, working with the chair of the independent OEP. With regard to having Parliament as part of that, that is just an additional mechanism to give further authority to the OEP. It is not necessarily to act as a hindrance; it is more about the Bill giving Parliament a role in the OEP’s setting up, to make sure that it is truly independent, because it is meant to be for the ages. As you rightly put it, we do not know what will happen in the future, so this is more about ensuring that the setting up of the OEP, and particularly the chair, because of the essential role of the chair, is robust enough.

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami
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Q You mentioned independence. Do you think there is a danger that if you were to increase the distance between the OEP and the Secretary of State and the Department, you might end up in a situation in which the Government are trying to do one thing and the OEP is trying to do something else? Obviously, in all government there is a natural tension all the time, but I suppose my point is: do you not feel that, in our parliamentary system, we should hold the Secretary of State to account fully for all the decisions that get made, including those relating to the chair and the nature of everything we are talking about? Do you not worry that if you were to increase that distance, you might reduce accountability for that individual, because they may say, “Look, the Office for Environmental Protection did this, but I did not agree”?

Signe Norberg: The purpose of the OEP is to hold public authorities to account. Because of that, it should have a little bit of distance from the Secretary of State. That does not mean that it is completely separate. Through its annual reporting and so on, it should be able to criticise the Government where appropriate. Surely they should also work together. I am not necessarily sure that I agree that it would limit the effectiveness of the system itself. The OEP should be a critical, independent friend of the Government, to achieve that natural improvement.

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q So it should be a bit like an environmental National Audit Office, which is the way I like to think about it?

Signe Norberg: Yes, I would not disagree with that characterisation.

Edward Lockhart-Mummery: There is a relationship between Government and the electorate every five years. The OEP has an important role in making transparent just what is going on in the interim period so that the electorate has the right information every five years and can see transparently what has been going on, what the Government have been doing, how that has affected the outcome, whether the Government have been pulling the right levers and that kind of thing. That is a role that the CCC plays very effectively on climate change, because people are increasingly aware of how the Government are performing. There is a role. The CCC is playing that role with probably less independence than the OEP currently has.

I take your point that there is a question. You do not necessarily want to go to an extreme on independence. Somehow you need to get the balance right. The question of Parliament having a say over appointments is quite interesting, partly because when a Secretary of State is appointing a chair, they are thinking, “Is that a chair that the EFRA Committee and the EAC across all parties will accept?”. I think that is quite an interesting discipline. It removes any fear that it might just be the Secretary of State appointing their chums, if they know that it will be properly scrutinised across parties. That degree of independence would be quite effective, but I take your point.

The CCC is not particularly independent, but putting forward the advice on net zero was a bold thing to do. It was able to do that. The role of transparency and making clear to the electorate what is going on could be the body’s most important function.

I would also expect that an effective body would not take Government enforcement action all the time. What you do not want is a body constantly doing that. What the OEP might effectively do is make clear from the start, “These are the types of cases we are going to take and why.” That would send a clear signal to Government and then you would hope that there would not be loads of enforcement cases, with the OEP taking public bodies to court.

Alex Sobel Portrait Alex Sobel (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op)
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Q Following on from that question, clearly the duties of the OEP in investigation and enforcement are very important. We have a regulatory environment that finishes in December this year. The OEP will not be up and running in January next year. Do you have concerns that there will be a governance gap in the interim? How do you feel about the independence of enforcement, investigation and action that is taken on potential breaches in that interim period?

Signe Norberg: From what I understand, there is a Government ambition to prevent that being the case, and that is why we have seen the inclusion in the Bill of the interim chief executive officer. In so far as that is a safeguard to ensure that we have the OEP set up by 1 January, I think that is welcome. It stresses the importance of ensuring that this is robust enough and that you get on with appointing the permanent chair and the permanent executive directors of the OEP as quickly as possible.

Martin Baxter: If you look at the role of the European Commission, which is where in part the OEP comes from in terms of its functions and that watchdog role, the Commission moves very slowly. It does not take rapid action. It does not instigate infraction proceedings against member states. There is a build-up of a process by which you can start to see the Commission giving a warning shot across the bows, where there might be a member state that is not in a position to achieve everything. I do not see a huge challenge in terms of a governance gap with the OEP becoming set up in the timescales that are being discussed. I do not think that is a material weakness.

Alex Sobel Portrait Alex Sobel
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q This is a different subject, but something you alluded to earlier was the need for a broader strategic aim. Other countries have an overarching environmental objective as part of their environmental legislation. The shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test, has tabled an amendment that at the start of the Bill there should be a clause stating an environmental objective. Do you think that would improve and strengthen the Bill?

Martin Baxter: Definitely; I think we made that clear in our earlier comments. We see that internationally. The Dutch Environment and Planning Act has a clear set of objectives that frame the purpose of the legislation. I think you also see that in the Environment (Wales) Act 2016. This is not without precedent in the UK and internationally. It provides that direction of travel and the opportunity to think about the different parts of the Bill as a coherent whole.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Before I come back to the Front Benchers, are there any other questions from either side?

Ruth Edwards Portrait Ruth Edwards (Rushcliffe) (Con)
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Q I am interested in the witnesses’ views on the whole system of environmental governance and how well it works together, including the targets, the environmental protections and the Office for Environmental Protection. Do you think that it works together holistically? Are there any gaps? It would be good to get your views on that.

Martin Baxter: We have touched on the issue of coherence, which is fine. The key elements of a national framework are there, at least for England, because the governance aspects do not stretch into all parts of the UK. It is important to recognise that. There is a certain rhythm between the process for setting targets and the development of an environmental improvement plan, which is aligned to achieving the targets. Then there is a process of implementation and reporting by the Secretary of State, and commentary and reporting by the Office for Environmental Protection. That is good.

There is potentially a question from our perspective over the transmission mechanism from national policy, targets and plans down to what this means in the spatial context. That has not been brought forward in the Bill. We have local nature recovery strategies, which are in the nature chapter. We have requirements on water management plans, which are in the water chapter. But there was the potential to bring together, at a local level, more coherence to environmental improvement strategies in places, which can be contextualised to local environments and provide the basis for local people to be able to engage in democratic processes in helping to set priorities. That is where we would look at completing a full governance framework. That is the direction of travel that we would like to see.

Marco Longhi Portrait Marco Longhi (Dudley North) (Con)
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Q You referred to objectives earlier. Is there not a risk that you could look at these objectives and set targets a little too early —putting the cart before the horse—before we have had a chance to delve into the detail and heard everybody’s expert advice?

Edward Lockhart-Mummery: I take your point. Like many organisations that we work closely with, we argued strongly not to have set targets on the face of the Bill, because it is really important that there is an inclusive discussion about what the right targets are, which targets will build on what people already do, how quickly we can meet targets and how much they will cost. We think that having a target-setting process in the Bill is the right way to go, and then there can be a discussion about what targets are appropriate.

If you do not have something guiding what you are trying to achieve from those targets, then it is not clear what the targets are for. We would not support two pages or 10 pages setting out in detail what you are trying to achieve. We need something saying that it is about a healthy environment, the health and wellbeing of people, and sustainable resource use. We think that is the right level of detail to guide target setting.

I have worked in environmental policy for 20 years. Those three things are always the purpose of environmental policy. That is not second guessing or putting the cart before the horse, because we know from experience that those are things we are trying to achieve. If we put those on the face of the Bill, it will be clear.

Having knowledge of all the Secretaries of State over the past 10 years, any self-respecting Secretary of State would have wanted to put a target in. However, if a Secretary of State was really interested in butterflies or single-use plastics, you would end up with targets all over the place. What you want is clarity about what you are trying to achieve through targets, and we feel that something high level would be helpful.

None Portrait The Chair
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On the assumption that it is on the same subject, I call Ms Edwards.

Ruth Edwards Portrait Ruth Edwards
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Q You talk about having a healthy environment as an objective. How would you legally define a healthy environment? If it is on the face of the Bill, we need legal certainty about what the concept means. Otherwise, are we not just creating legal confusion and vagueness?

Edward Lockhart-Mummery: It is something that has precedent in Welsh law. There would need to be a process of defining in more detail what it means. There are other terms in the Bill that need to be defined, such as the significant improvement test for the targets. There would need to be a process. I would argue that that would be quite a helpful process, because then we would have a public conversation about what we mean by “healthy”. Is it that people going about in their daily lives and going to school should be able to do so without dying? What does it mean, and what is the proportionate, sensible definition for that? You are right that it would need to be defined in this context, but the process of defining it is probably an important step towards achieving the outcome.

None Portrait The Chair
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We are nearing the end of this session, I am afraid. In the context of what we have heard this morning, Dr Whitehead, do you have any further questions?

Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Whitehead
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q One thing we have not heard this morning, in the context of how the OEP and the targets that are to be set might work, is the fact that all this is taking over from the environmental protections that were there through the European Union when we were members. Do you think the Bill allows for the transition of those protections to a UK context to be sufficiently enforced and, ideally, enhanced? Or do you think there needs to be anything else in the Bill that can perhaps ensure that there is no regression in standards as we move forward with these new arrangements?

Signe Norberg: With regard to whether or not it would sufficiently transfer protections into a UK context, it is important, as Martin pointed out earlier, to noteeb;normal;j that the Bill itself predominantly applies to England. There must be processes through which the devolved Administrations set up their independent supervisory bodies, but they also all need to work together. Through that, the Bill has the right building blocks; it will be about how those bodies co-ordinate among themselves.

In and of itself, the Bill does not inherently prevent future regression from standards, but there could be mechanisms within the Bill to clarify that. For instance, if you had strong language in the objective about maintaining high environmental standards, that would clearly set out that it should not be a regression. We recognise that there is not an intention for a regression to take place, but that could be an example of how you would potentially safeguard against that.

Edward Lockhart-Mummery: On day one, of course, we roll over all existing standards, and then we have the OEP in place to enforce. That gives us the starting point. With a few tweaks, this governance framework ensures that we at least maintain and improve, because you have that process of setting targets that always have to improve, and because the governance process is set out with the environmental improvement plans and principles, with the Office for Environmental Protection overseeing everything.

If that works, we are in a better position and we can really think creatively here. What are the structures, what are the plans, what are the partnerships that are needed to achieve those objectives? I would put a “potentially” in front of that, because potentially we have a better basis for achieving, but there are probably some tweaks that can be made to the Bill during its passage. Implementation, and how everyone works together on achieving the outcomes, is also important.

The transparency mechanism that was inserted into the Bill between its first and second iterations is helpful, because it allows proper, transparent consideration of whether we are doing something that regresses and how we look compared with international standards. That is a useful way of driving transparency within Parliament about what is happening. Clearly, the Government have moved quite a distance on this. We are driving from the private sector perspective to try to make all of this work and support the direction of the Bill. We are doing it in hope, to some extent.

None Portrait The Chair
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Thank you. In the light of all of that, are there any final questions from the Minister?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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Q On a related point, do you think it is important to have an equivalent governance framework to the OEP in Scotland and Wales? Northern Ireland is already committed to joining the OEP, as is set out in the Bill. The other two have close liaison with all the teams and countries, but at the moment they have said they are going to set up their own bodies. How important is it, from a business point of view, that they function in as similar way as possible?

Martin Baxter: In terms of functioning, the really important thing is common standards driving common outcomes. Businesses are working across the UK and beyond, so having a harmonised approach to the environmental outcomes we are looking to achieve is very important.

In terms of the governance mechanisms, the Scottish Government announced last week that they were looking to create an independent body and watchdog. For Northern Ireland, there are obviously the provisions in the Bill. Wales is perhaps on a slightly different track at the moment. I am not entirely sure where it is in terms of an independent body.

There is clearly an opportunity to drive efficiency by having a common framework, maybe for an overarching view. Yes, I agree with common governance frameworks and ensuring that there is co-operation and collaboration, so that where we have shared environments, such as shared catchments, we are managing those and setting targets and objectives for improvement on a common basis. That is very important.

I also think there is the potential within the UK that, if we start to set different standards, we will shift burdens from one place to another. If you end up with very different policies on waste, for example, you might end up shipping waste from one part of the UK to the other, just because it happens to be easier or cheaper. Those overarching mechanisms of co-operation and collaboration are very important.

None Portrait The Chair
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Thank you very much indeed. Ladies and gentlemen, that brings this session to a conclusion. Ms Norberg, Mr Lockhart-Mummery and Mr Baxter, thank you all very much indeed for coming along and affording the Committee the benefit of your observations. We are deeply grateful to you.

Examination of Witnesses

Martin Curtois, Andrew Poole and David Bellamy gave evidence.

10:30
None Portrait The Chair
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Once again, good morning. We now hear oral evidence from the Food and Drink Federation, the Federation of Small Businesses and Veolia. We have until 11.25 am when the House will sit. For the benefit of the record, I would be grateful, gentlemen, if you identified yourselves and the nature of the organisation you represent, starting with Mr Curtois. I hope I have pronounced your name correctly. If not, please correct me.

Martin Curtois: Sure. Good morning, everyone. It is Martin Curtois. I am executive affairs director at Veolia. We employ 15,000 people and are heavily involved in both the collection and recycling and treatment of waste, and very much involved in resource efficiency.

Andrew Poole: My name is Andrew Poole. I am deputy head of policy at the Federation of Small Businesses. We are a membership organisation representing 160,000 small business members and, more broadly, small businesses right across the country.

David Bellamy: I am David Bellamy. I am senior environment policy manager at the Food and Drink Federation, the principal trade body for the UK food and drink manufacturing industry, which is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK.

None Portrait The Chair
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Thank you, gentlemen. We are grateful to you for coming along and giving us the help that we are likely to need. We will start with Dr Whitehead.

Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Whitehead
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Q Good morning, gentlemen. The Bill is generally recognised as having some good bits, on recycling materials and end-of-life concerns about materials in the part on waste and resources, but it has been widely criticised because it concentrates on those particular elements of the waste hierarchy rather than looking at ways in which the waste hierarchy could be driven up, as reflected in the waste and resources White Paper. Do you have any views on that? Do you think that there are any ways in which the Bill could be strengthened to emphasise the point that, actually, recycling is not the end of the road, as far as waste is concerned, and that other things—reuse, redesign and minimisation—have an equally important part to play?

Martin Curtois: In terms of the Bill, the resources and waste strategy that DEFRA devised is very strong—you are absolutely right—because what it does, in a number of different ways, is try to improve the whole process. It incorporates things such as “polluter pays”, so it puts the onus on manufacturers to design better. The inclusion of modulated fees in the extended producer responsibility puts a clear onus on manufacturers and producers to design for recyclability, and that will ultimately reduce waste, which is what we all want. Obviously, it involves elements including better segregation, for example, of food waste, which should reduce the carbon impact. It talks about taking the burden away from local authorities and putting it more on manufacturers.

You are therefore absolutely right to say that that is a strong element of the Bill, but I think possibly there should also be other things. As you say, at the top of the hierarchy are elements such as reuse. We operate many sites across the UK where we have voluntary arrangements, for example in Southwark with the British Heart Foundation, where there are various items that can be reused and that is done for charitable benefit. It may be that that ought to be looked at, possibly in the detail of the Bill, just to see where it can be done, because obviously it ultimately is the best way forward. It should at least get some consideration, because everything focused around the resources and waste strategy is primarily, as you say, on the recycling side. There is not much emphasis on residual waste, which obviously we need to avoid because we need to avoid landfill. I therefore think there could be some consideration in terms of reuse.

I also think that one of the best ways in which you can reduce waste right at the outset is by designing better. The Bill reflects that element of the resources and waste strategy, which we see in a very positive way, because so many manufacturers and producers have come to our site—some from not far away in south-east London—to see how they can design their products with perhaps less composites, in a better way, which will ensure that they are at least recyclable at the outset. That is the very start of the process, which we have to get right if we are to make significant change.

None Portrait The Chair
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Mr Bellamy, does the FDF have a view on this?

David Bellamy: Yes, we do. I think what we would argue is this. As the previous contribution outlined, we obviously expect the extended producer responsibility reforms and the accompaniments to that in terms of consistency, and the focus much more on producers paying full net costs for the end-of-life management of packaging, to focus minds a lot more on the prevention side in itself. Having said that, we must not lose sight of the fact that it is a legal requirement, for those who handle waste and convey it to another person in the waste transfer system, to have regard to the waste hierarchy. That is a legal requirement; it is in the law as it stands at the moment. It is also a legal requirement in respect of packaging waste and packaging under the essential requirements regulations that producers who pack food products must have regard to using the minimum amount of packaging to maintain the necessary levels of safety, food hygiene, etc., and consumer acceptance. That is also a legal requirement that is enshrined in the legislation. In that sense, there are already legal requirements around maintaining a focus on prevention, in the sense of how we regulate the waste hierarchy. While it is right that there is a lot of focus on recycling in the resources and waste strategy, we feel that that is part of a bigger picture.

We should not lose sight of voluntary activity around this space. Our members’ commitment to reducing food waste has been documented in some figures that the Waste and Resources Action Programme recently published that show that the food and drink manufacturing sector has reduced food waste by 30% since 2011. Half that reduction has been achieved between 2015 and 2018. That is on a per capita basis measured against the target of the sustainable development goal of the United Nations. So there is a focus on source reduction, whether through legal mechanisms that are already in place, but also in terms of the voluntary work that our members are engaged in.

None Portrait The Chair
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Thank you. Does the FSB have a view, Mr Poole?

Andrew Poole: I agree with the assertion that reuse and reduction are equally important to recycling. It is worth bearing in mind the sheer diversity of the small business audience, which operates across myriad different sectors and in very different ways from one another. It is also worth bearing in mind that many small businesses operate as both producers of materials and consumers. It is worth understanding the very different issues that they face. For many, particularly those operating as consumers within the parameters set by the business, it is clear that recycling will be some low-hanging fruit. When we compare our recycling rates with other countries in the world, clearly some rapid improvements should be made. However, I take the point that it is equally important to look at reuse and reduction as well.

Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Whitehead
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Q Clause 52, in the context of recycling and minimisation of waste, provides for charges for single-use plastic items. Do you think this clause clarifies its purpose sufficiently? Is it about minimising single-use items, or is it about reducing the role of plastic in single-use items? First, do you think that a clause such as this would work in reducing single-use items in the food and drink industry, for example? Do you consider that it might be prudent to concentrate on the fact that single-use items can be made of more things than plastic and that amendments to the Bill might make that clear in terms of how the single-use environment might develop?

None Portrait The Chair
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Mr Bellamy, food and drink have been mentioned, so perhaps you might like to have the first crack at this one?

David Bellamy: Our comments are framed around single-use plastic packaging items, which is our interest in terms of plastic. Basically, our view is that a better way to achieve this kind of outcome would be to deal with this within the refinements to the extended producer responsibility system and the reform programme, in the sense that you could do this through modulated fees, as a much better way of achieving the same sort of outcome. In that way, we would be sure that the money raised from such an approach would be used to improve the system. That is a vital principle of FDF: that the moneys we raise through increased producer fees are used to improve the system of recycling and that those moneys do not get channelled off into other expenditure demands. That is a very important principle that we hold dear in FDF. We have to be mindful that alternatives to plastic materials may also have an impact; it is not only plastics themselves. If you switch to some other materials, you have to look at their life cycle, including perhaps at how they are mined. They all have impacts that we need to consider.

In terms of the clause in the Bill for this, we suggest that any introduction of a charge should be subject to some form of public consultation. We are a little bit concerned that this could be taken forward in a way that did not involve any public debate or allow interested stakeholders to make representations.

Andrew Poole: It is really important for the Government, through the legislation, to make clear the objective of requirements such as this and what they want small firms to do differently from what they are doing already. When looking across environmental legislation, I will talk a lot about pathways to change. We want to set out not only the reasoning behind the legislation but what businesses should be doing differently, and how the Government see them doing it differently.

In terms of single-use plastics, we can compare that to the carrier bag charge, which has worked fairly successfully. Businesses, on the whole, were quite happy to adopt that. It was clear that the outcome was to be a reduction in those bags. There were also some obvious ways of doing things differently that could have achieved the same outcome. It is just about making clear what that outcome needs to be and what businesses should be doing differently to achieve the same thing.

None Portrait The Chair
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Finally in response to this point, Mr Curtois.

Martin Curtois: On the point made earlier about plastic, post the David Attenborough programme and others, there was almost an overreaction against plastic, in the sense that people to some extent forgot its value in food preservation and were effectively looking to ban it. One problem we have to take into account, so far as plastics are concerned, is that, as was mentioned, the environmental consequences of using other products can sometimes be worse. That is obviously something that we want to steer clear of.

We also need to be careful about using the right plastics. Moving to a system in which products are manufactured primarily from high-density polyethylene, polypropylene or polyethylene terephthalate, or from a single-source product—with one plastic used for the bottle top as well as the bottle, for example—would make it a great deal easier to recycle. For example, we have a plant in Dagenham, in east London, where we effectively recycle many of the plastic milk bottles used in London, turning them into plastic pellets. Obviously, from our point of view, that single-source aspect is very important. That element needs to be taken into account.

I can understand why the focus has been on single-use plastic items first, because it has been the biggest element that the public have leapt on, in terms of recycling and in terms of wanting change, so I can see why priority has been given to that. If we can start to get that right and start to make changes that mean—for example, we have developed some kit that recognises the black plastic used in TRESemmé shampoo bottles, because of the pigment within it, which allows us to recycle that more efficiently. Significant changes can be made that could start to reduce the environmental impact quickly, which I think we all want.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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Q Mr Bellamy clearly highlighted the legal requirements already in place on a lot of waste and recycling issues. There is the waste strategy, which has the reuse, recycle, longer-life element to it, which is very strong. Will you give us business’s point of view on how the Bill will move us towards what we call the circular economy? What opportunities will that provide for businesses in particular? Maybe you could give special thought to the Bill aligning all local authority recycling collection services across the country. What sort of opportunities might that, among other measures, offer businesses?

None Portrait The Chair
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Mr Bellamy, you appear to be in the firing line this morning.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Sorry about that.

David Bellamy: Clearly, the powers in the Bill on extended producer responsibility, introducing a deposit return system and collection consistency—provided these systems are developed holistically together, and are joined up—will, combined, revolutionise our recycling system in the UK. As I say, we need to be mindful of unintended consequences. That is why they need to be developed holistically: so we have a coherent system.

Consistency is an essential piece of this jigsaw that we do not want overlooked in taking these reforms forward. If producers are asked, for example, to label their packaging as either recyclable or non-recyclable in a binary system, it is vital that we bring the public with us on that journey. The collection system needs to be in line with that change, and consistency will need to be in place, ready, in time for this new producer responsibility system. That is vital for the FDF and its members. We support that approach.

We would also like a very early signal from Government that they plan to include plastic film in that core set of materials, for consistency. We may even be able to accelerate that faster than the work of the UK plastics pact, which I think is looking at 2025. We may be able to do that sooner with the right co-operation in the chain. We would like to be ambitious in that regard. By that, we mean mono-material and multi-material films, and we include cartons in that aspiration as well. We would like the Government to be more ambitious on that. Let’s get this right from the start, so the local authorities have the right signals from Government about the consistency in the core set of materials, and develop the infrastructure accordingly from the outset. That is very important to us.

I mentioned earlier that it is important that all the money raised by producers in this new system goes towards improving the system. That is why we have separate issues with the plastics tax; it does not adhere to that principle, because we have a policy of non-hypothecation in the UK. We are not in support of a plastics tax; we are in support of reforming the producer responsibility system through a few modulated fees, which would then be used to improve the system.

One specific issue we have is the exponential cost our members face in buying the packaging recovery notes. You may be aware that these prices have gone up exponentially over the past year or so for plastics and aluminium. There is no evidence that this additional money—our members are paying hundreds of millions of extra pounds in these costs—is going towards improving the recycling system. We are happy to pay the extra money, but we want to see the improvements in the system. We would like a meeting with the Minister as soon as can be arranged to discuss a range of options that we have set out in a written submission to Government about things that can be done in the shorter term to address this PRN crisis, as we regard it, within our membership. We would like the Minister to reconsider our request to have that meeting as soon as possible.

None Portrait The Chair
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There is no requirement on everybody to answer every question, but gentlemen, do either of you wish to add anything to that?

Andrew Poole: From our point of view, one of the things that has become abundantly clear over the past few years is that our members as small businesses are saying that they want to do the right thing, and they want to demonstrate to their customers that they are doing the right thing. Talking about the holistic approach to waste and recycling, a lot of these issues are pragmatic. How do we make it easy for small firms to play their role? On local authorities, obviously, small businesses are not allowed to take their waste to municipal sites. They are not eligible for municipal waste collections in the way that many domestic householders are, despite many of them not using many more different types of waste than those households. Again, that is in the spirit of making it as easy as possible for small firms to comply and play their role. That would be one element of it.

Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)
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Q I want to follow up on the Minister’s question about a more collaborative, joined-up approach. Obviously, Andrew, local authorities will be your key partners, and you touched on small businesses and the challenges that they may face. Can you go into detail about your resourcing, and the support needed to deliver on the recycling targets?

Andrew Poole: Businesses do not have access to waste collection services provided by local authorities, which means that they have to arrange the collections themselves. That incurs a cost, but one thing that is often overlooked is the opportunity cost for small businesses; the issue is not so much the waste collection service itself. How do you identify a trustworthy waste collector? How do you know what they are doing with that waste? Do they provide all the different types of recycling that you need? Will that come at an additional cost? Do they collect on the right days, when you need it? All of those things that businesses need to think about could be made easier. Giving them access to more domestic-focused waste collection would be one way of looking at that for certain businesses below a certain threshold.

Another thing is pragmatism. If you are talking about a deposit and return scheme, for instance, with which many of our businesses will be involved, do they have the space to do it? Is there practically and pragmatically enough space? Those issues could easily be got over, but they need to be thought about. It comes back to the theme of what we can do, within the existing infrastructure, to make it easier for businesses to comply, even before we start to think about what new things are required. A lot of things could be done today to make it easier for businesses to recycle more, in particular.

Martin Curtois: Owing to the emphasis in the resources and waste strategy on domestic infrastructure and building facilities here, so that we can treat our waste and recycling within the UK, the industry estimates that there is a £10 billion business opportunity for investment in the UK, because there are gaps in regional infrastructure. It is important that we treat as much of both our recyclate and residual waste as possible in the UK. To be honest, some of the borders are closing in terms of waste being treated overseas in northern Europe. Obviously there is public demand for more plastic reprocessing in the UK, because that is best from an environmental point of view. That is really important.

Consistent collections will make things easier for households, because whatever part of the country you are in, you will essentially have the choice to recycle paper and card; plastic bottles; pots, tubs and trays, which at the moment many councils do not recycle; and steels and aluminium. There will also be separate glass and food waste. That will make it easier to recycle and easier, to be frank, to generate revenue from those materials, because they are collected separately. You can imagine that for the anaerobic digestion industry, separate food waste will be beneficial—or if it is food and green, that is used for in-vessel composting. There is a logic in that.

As for individual businesses, as my fellow witnesses will know, there will be mandatory collection of food waste above a certain limit. That is another good way to reduce carbon impact. In terms of the commercial collection schemes that we run, sometimes you can have economies of scale if you collect within a certain commercial trading estate and offer a service to all businesses within that estate. The obvious point, which really I should have made at the start, is that everyone thinks about municipal recycling and what everyone leaves outside their property, but business recycling is just as, if not more, important; there might be more waste involved. Anything we can do to simplify the system for businesses, so that it is less onerous and allows us to reduce our carbon impact quicker, has to be the right move.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Mr Bellamy, do you want to add anything to that?

David Bellamy: I agree with Martin Curtois about the importance of developing the infrastructure in the UK. This goes back to the point I raised about the PRN crisis. It would be helpful to have an early signal from the Government about their export policy and the fact that we want to gradually reduce exports over time and build up the UK’s capacity to recycle materials. We should also look at how we can work together much more on quality standards for materials; ex-MRFs are another way to help the situation and develop more end markets. Those sorts of things should be looked at. Plus, of course, an early signal on our approach to collection consistency would be helpful. We do not necessarily need to wait until 2023. The earlier we can get signals from the Government about the direction of policy, the more it will help the market to invest, and it would provide certainty going forward.

Robbie Moore Portrait Robbie Moore (Keighley) (Con)
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Q We have talked a little bit about recycling this morning, but I am interested in the steps taken by the food and drink industry and the small business sector to reduce the use of plastics. From your perspective, what are the unintended consequences of reducing plastic use, and how will the Bill support you with those unintended consequences?

David Bellamy: On reducing plastic use, there is a presumption there that plastic can be substituted by equivalent materials; that is the challenge. Obviously the industry is happy to look at alternative materials, but they must provide that equivalent functionality. Plastic is a very efficient material for getting products through the supply chain. The issue really is plastic waste, not plastic per se. An element of responsible disposal comes into this discussion as well.

We support the work of the UK plastics pact, which looks at not only phasing out non-essential plastic items, but how we can make plastic more recyclable, compostable or reusable, and generally reducing that waste. This is a combination of things, and looking at potential alternatives to plastic, where there are equivalent materials that provide equivalent functionality. We must not end up with unintended consequences, either for food safety or for food waste. It is about finding that sweet spot and functionality.

Also, we need to look at how we improve plastics as they are used now, perhaps moving towards alternative types of plastic and looking at how we can increase the recyclability of existing formats. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach; it has to be evaluated in the round, and we have to make sure we do not move to unintended consequences. Also, we need to keep focused on the fact that plastics per se are not the issue; it is plastic waste. It is about keeping plastics in the circular economy and out of the environment. The measures in the Bill to give producers full responsibility for the system, at full cost, will make it a lot easier to deliver change.

Andrew Poole: I back up what David said. On the unintended consequences, it is worth looking at associated opportunity costs. Presumably one of the unintended consequences relates to not putting businesses out of business. Coming back to the point about carrier bags, a cost was put on bags, and the business community as a whole welcomed that, but one issue was really hard to communicate, it seemed. It was not that businesses did not want to charge for the plastic, because they could manage that; they could swap and do alternatives. However, one unintended consequence, particularly for smaller retailers, was the reporting requirements on top. We need to look underneath the physical changes that the businesses have to make, and examine the bureaucracy that underpins those changes, such as any onerous reporting burden that is not balanced or proportionate. That is often quite hidden, but so often, the opportunity cost for businesses outweighs the up-front cost.

Martin Curtois: Most major brands have focus groups based on consumers—you and me—and there has been a significant change in how brands are responding to the issue of sustainability, because they understand that the public get it and want us to improve environmental performance. We can see that in supermarkets: we now have refill options, which are great ways to encourage reuse and reduce waste from the outset.

We have agreed on most things so far. However, from a reprocessor’s point of view, the great benefit that I see arising from a plastics tax that insists that products contain 30% recycled content is that it gives certainty to invest in more plastics reprocessing facilities. That will ultimately mean that the plastic is more sustainable at the outset, because you are using less virgin plastic and more recycled content. Before this Bill has even come on to the statute book, brands that always thought of sustainability as a nice-to-have—likely with a small financial incentive as well—now think of it as a must-have. That is significant and positive, because it will mean we are getting it right at the start of the process, which reduces the carbon impact.

It has even been shown through research that if the public are offered a water bottle with clearly labelled recycled content that costs £1.24, as opposed to a bottle without it that costs £1.20, they will pay the little bit extra to have a sustainable container. We have to make sure we exert the influence that the public want us to have when it comes to performing better in this area.

Alex Sobel Portrait Alex Sobel
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I will speak to two areas. First, when I engage with people in both the food and drink industry and the waste compressing industry, one issue is the lack of reprocessing facilities, but the second—and usually more important—issue is the quality of the bales of material. When they show me a bale from France and a bale from the UK, the French bales are much cleaner than the UK ones. Are the provisions in the Bill going to improve that so we can have better recycling?

Secondly, you alluded to the market in waste pushing up the cost of these bales, which is a disincentive to invest in reprocessing. Do you think that the provisions in this Bill will pull that back? As an adjunct, there is the issue of transfrontier shipments of waste—that is, waste being sold overseas. Again, do you think the provisions in this Bill will help us end that practice and engage in reprocessing in order to create a circular economy in the UK?

Martin Curtois: There are a couple of elements that we have to bear in mind. First, due to the changes in China and many other markets, the emphasis in those countries is on a race to the top. They are insisting on premium quality, and if we provide premium-quality bales it is much easier to have a market, so the way that has changed has actually been beneficial to some extent. Also, the overall value of these commodities has fallen, as with many others, so it is even more important that the product you are producing is of a premium quality. It is very important that we get that right at the start.

The Bill’s emphasis on encouraging more investment within the UK was one of the very clear signals that was outlined in the strategy. To give you an example, with plastic pots, tubs and trays, it is currently inconsistent. Part of that is that they are of little value as things currently stand, but if they were being collected separately under a formalised approach, it would be easier to generate value from them. That is the case with all elements of recycling. If you can collect clean product—this is why DRS may be advantageous as well—in sufficient quantity, it is easier to make a high-grade product for reprocessing.

There are a number of principles within the Bill that are pointing us in the right direction. From the sector as a whole, if the Bill becomes a reality and, as a result, we make it easier for the reprocessors to produce a good product, and if they have confirmation that the legislation is there and they are not investing in something that, 10 years down the line, will no longer be a Government priority, the money is there to go in. There is a benefit to the UK economy as a whole, because these facilities are needed throughout the UK. It is just where people are and where the waste is, so there can be a knock-on benefit nationally to the economy.

David Bellamy: On the issue of quality, the powers in the Bill around EPR reform will help the situation. They will change the dynamic, in the sense that producers will be in the driving seat in terms of how payments are made to local authorities for collection. Those payments will only be handed over against agreed quality standards, so there will be a much bigger drive towards quality collections, which is what we need. Combined with the consistency approach, that will help the situation considerably.

We have also not mentioned the DRS, which will also help the quality of collections as far as particularly polyethylene terephthalate plastics in drinks bottles are concerned. That will also have a positive impact on quality. There is still an issue, as I suggested earlier, about the option of the industry working more with Government to develop quality standards and ex-MRF for bales and such. In many places on the continent, they have much higher standards for accepting materials, and we ought to be doing something similar here.

Cherilyn Mackrory Portrait Cherilyn Mackrory (Truro and Falmouth) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I am interested to see that the Bill provides a balance between the detail and the direction of travel. My question is to do with how much of a carrot or stick approach the industry needs from Government. The industry has come on in leaps and bounds in this direction in recent years, but in terms of consistent labelling and practices between different local authorities, how much of a stick or carrot approach do you think the industry needs from Government? Or is industry able to take charge on this?

Martin Curtois: Consistency of labelling could be one of the most significant changes in the right direction. At the moment you have this awful phrase, “widely recyclable”, and no one knows what it means. It could apply to one local authority and not to another. We would advocate literally a simplified traffic light system, whereby green is recyclable and red is not. I think the shock, for a retailer or producer, of having a red dot on its packaging would be such that it would want to avoid it. At a stroke, you would be improving recyclability straightaway.

That is one key element of it. It also drives people mad that they just do not know whether a product is recyclable or not, so you would get an improvement not only at the front end in terms of the manufacturers’ production, but in the materials we receive at the processing facilities. As you can imagine, we receive thousands of tonnes of materials a year. Anything that can be done to ensure that people are sorting it more efficiently at the outset will make our job of reprocessing it more straightforward.

Andrew Poole: For me and for small businesses, a lot of this legislation is generally about trust. The problem is that, if we do not get these things in place, everyone knows that the stick will come. There is an opportunity at the moment to be on the front foot. A lot of our engagement around the Bill has been about keeping businesses on the front foot and steering the legislation in a way that is beneficial to everyone. It is a case of giving all of these things a consistent approach, including labelling, for example. It is about trust in the outcomes of the legislation, and about making the right decisions. It is about trusting what they can see and seeing that the decisions are the right ones. It is important to have that transparency around the whole Bill.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Can I ask the FDF about food waste? It is mentioned peripherally in the Bill in terms of the separate collections and so on, but there is nothing more. There is a food strategy being worked on by Henry Dimbleby and others, which may have stuff in it. Is there scope for more specific provisions in the Bill? For example, Courtauld is still voluntary. Progress is being driven by the good guys rather than there being an obligation on everyone. You referred to the figures produced by WRAP. Could the Bill do more on that?

David Bellamy: We have not identified any shortcomings to date. Obviously, there are voluntary approaches. You mentioned WRAP, and there is also the UK food waste reduction road map. Companies are signing up to that in increasing numbers and manufacturers are making good progress. We are expecting a consultation on food waste reporting from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs soon, and there is no need for primary powers in the Bill to do that. There was talk of the potential for powers on setting targets down the track. I am not sure where the Government are on that at the moment.

We have not identified any shortcomings as such. The inertia is there with the UK food waste reduction road map, and knowing that food waste reporting is going to come in as planned as a legal requirement in line with the road map.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Is that the mandatory food waste audits? When you refer to reporting, are some companies such as Tesco already doing audits of key items at least? Do you mean that at least the big companies report on the amount of food waste in their supply chain?

David Bellamy: Yes. It is defined in the consultation, but certain companies of a certain size will be required to report their food waste. The idea is that they would do that in line with what they report under the road map, or what they do under Courtauld currently continues, so that there is no disconnect.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q So basically it is making mandatory what some companies do on a voluntary basis.

David Bellamy: Yes. That is my understanding of the Government’s proposals.

Andrew Poole: Making it mandatory would be a sign of failure potentially at a certain level, in the sense that we can encourage them to do it voluntarily. I come back to the idea of making it easy for people to do it. Once we get to the mandatory stage we would then be arguing about issues. We picked on the reporting requirements of things like that. If it was risk-based and proportionate, that would be the way to go. We would hope that businesses in particular would be doing this voluntarily, to begin with.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q What often happens, though, is that some companies do it. There has been an issue in the past over things being reported in aggregate rather than identified specifically, and there has been no naming and shaming of individual supermarkets. Anecdotally, some supermarkets are clearly driving down those food waste figures while others are not doing their bit. That is always the problem with the voluntary approach.

Andrew Poole: It is quite important with those big producers that many of these requirements are not pushed down through the supply chain. If you are a small supplier supplying a big supermarket, one of the requirements is to deal with a proportionate and risk-based reporting mechanism. That has to be borne in mind if you are targeting big supermarkets such as Tesco. They have to report everything, and the burden is passed down through those that supply them as well.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Are you saying that it is not a good thing?

Andrew Poole: I am saying it would have to be looked at quite carefully, so that the requirements were proportionate and the supply chain was taken into consideration as well.

Saqib Bhatti Portrait Saqib Bhatti (Meriden) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Mr Poole, you spoke a lot about trust and transparency, and the Bill has a careful balance between detail and direction, but a lot of details will be prescribed through secondary legislation. I just wanted to garner your opinions on the importance of public consultation, so that we can garner expert views to develop detailed policies through secondary legislation.

Andrew Poole: I come back to the point I keep making, which is that small businesses are signed up to this—in the broad concept. They want to do the right thing for the environment. They are human beings. What is increasingly important is that they want to demonstrate to their customers that they are doing the right thing. They are aligned with the broad concept of the Bill.

When it comes to those granular details, that is obviously what is going to make or break the Bill. Government must see small businesses as a partner for delivery at every stage where those decision have to be made. I suggest that the outcomes of this Bill will not be achieved without a fully engaged small business community playing a very active role in it. It is a plea to policy makers and legislators that small business views are taken into account fully when those decisions get made, at each stage.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Can I come back, Mr Curtois, to your earlier point that you thought there was masses in the Bill in terms of recycling, but less on residual waste and how that should be treated. What would you hope to see in the Bill that would cover that?

Martin Curtois: The situation in the UK in terms of residual waste is that it is virtually impossible to export refuse-derived fuel now in a viable way, because particularly in mainland Europe the cost of that is making it prohibitive. For obvious reasons, landfill is at the bottom of the waste hierarchy, and from what I can see from the resources and waste strategy the overall aim is to prevent waste where possible, recycle more and landfill next to nothing.

So we have got to recognise that even though recycling will hopefully continue to go up—ultimately I think the aim is to get, possibly, to 65%—there is something that has not yet really been covered in depth in the resources and waste strategy, which is that we need to do something with the residual waste. We operate 10 energy recovery facilities within the UK, three of which have district heating. Bearing in mind the plans that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has for a heat road map, which I think is proposed for June, there is a role, which we need at least to recognise, for energy recovery, preferably with heat decarbonisation.

We are addressing the issue that the waste has to go somewhere. The landfills are running out. Therefore we need to do something with it that will also help us with generating electricity, given the fact that there will be even more intense pressure on the grid because of the number of electric cars that we obviously hope for, to reduce our carbon impact. There should be at least some recognition that it is an important component of the overall mix.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Can I ask Mr Bellamy a separate question? It is really about your members and their attitudes to eliminating avoidable waste of all kinds. Do you think the introduction of charges for any single-use plastic item will incentivise a shift towards the direction that the Government want to go in, or do you think your members will resist that?

David Bellamy: The question of avoidable waste is a little bit open to interpretation, in our estimation. It may warrant a definition in the Bill. We suggest that that material might not be recoverable in any shape or form, or it might not be replaceable by something else.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Would you support the traffic light system, which clearly identifies for every consumer exactly which bit of plastic can be recycled and which cannot?

David Bellamy: We support a binary labelling system to that effect. We have not looked at a traffic light scheme as such. The current proposal is more of a descriptor-based labelling system, which basically says that something can or cannot be recycled. We strongly support the concept of a binary system.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Andrew, can your members respond to the challenge with the speed that is needed to achieve these net carbon targets?

Andrew Poole: The truth is that some will, and some will not. We have tried to highlight, across the piece, in terms of these environmental challenges, the requirement to understand the business audience in more detail. Small businesses are very different. There are myriad different types of organisation. We consistently challenge policy makers on that requirement to understand in more detail the business audience that is being affected. If there are any requirements or opportunities to provide support to small businesses, that support should be targeted to those businesses that are least able to adapt. The more time that businesses are given to adapt and change the way they do things, the more likely they are to achieve those changes.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In one way—

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Mr Graham, I am sorry, but I going to take a brief, final question from Ruth Edwards. I have tried to get everybody in. This will be the final question.

Ruth Edwards Portrait Ruth Edwards
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you. I will be very quick. I want to return briefly to the issue of public consultation. How important will that be in determining the type of deposit return scheme that would be delivered by the Bill through the secondary legislation that it will bring in?

Martin Curtois: I believe that in Scotland, they are planning to go for an all-in deposit return scheme in April 2021. We will see how that works in practice. It seems that in Scotland they have decided that is the way they will go. It will be interesting—because they have proposed an all-in scheme rather than an on-the-go scheme—to see whether they can cope with the number of materials that will involve, as far as a DRS is concerned.

There was, perhaps, some merit to an on-the-go scheme. It would perhaps have had the advantage of primarily focusing on the plastic bottles and cans that are collected, which currently go into high street refuse bins and are virtually unsorted. We could go from 60% to 95% recycling of plastic bottles, if we have an on-the-go system that works and that focuses strictly on the bottles and the cans. It will be interesting to see what happens in Scotland and how that evolves. That will be the biggest and best test.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Q Mr Poole, I assume the FSB’s members will have an interest in recycling.

Andrew Poole: Absolutely. Coming back to recycling or the deposit return scheme, I think it is important to understand local issues. Locality-based solutions may be required. The solution in one area, for example, on a busy high street, will be different from that required for businesses in the middle of the countryside. The importance of consultations is to bring out the granularity of different options for the different types of businesses and different types of locations. As has been said on this panel, a one-size-fits-all approach will not necessarily work.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Q A final word, Mr Bellamy.

David Bellamy: Just to say at the outset, we support a co-ordinated approach to DRS, introduced on a GB-wide basis, and based on best practice, particularly in the Nordic countries, where it has already been implemented for some time. We are, obviously, mindful of the potential impacts on local authorities. We fully understand why they might be sensitive to a DRS. We feel that there will be savings to be made for local authorities. There will be less material for them to collect, potentially, and less litter for them to deal with.

With the introduction of EPR reforms alongside the DRS, we think there will be opportunities to refine the service provision of local authorities and deal with any potential economic impacts in that way. We think that local authorities right now might be thinking about their contracts and whether they need to be reviewed in the light of the DRS coming along. We think it might be reasonable for the Government to consider some support for local authorities to help them do that at this stage. All in all, we support the DRS. We welcome a second consultation, which is important.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Thank you Mr Curtois, Mr Bellamy and Mr Poole. The Committee is indebted to you. I am afraid that brings us to the end of this morning’s proceedings. The Committee will meet again at 2 pm.

11:25
The Chair adjourned the Committee without Question put (Standing Order No. 88).
Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.

Environment Bill (Second sitting)

Committee stage & Committee Debate: 2nd sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 10th March 2020

(4 years, 2 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 10 March 2020 - (10 Mar 2020)
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chairs: † Sir Roger Gale, Sir George Howarth
† Afolami, Bim (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con)
† Ansell, Caroline (Eastbourne) (Con)
† Bhatti, Saqib (Meriden) (Con)
† Brock, Deidre (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
† Docherty, Leo (Aldershot) (Con)
† Edwards, Ruth (Rushcliffe) (Con)
† Graham, Richard (Gloucester) (Con)
† Longhi, Marco (Dudley North) (Con)
† McCarthy, Kerry (Bristol East) (Lab)
† Mackrory, Cherilyn (Truro and Falmouth) (Con)
† Moore, Robbie (Keighley) (Con)
† Morden, Jessica (Newport East) (Lab)
† Oppong-Asare, Abena (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)
† Pow, Rebecca (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)
† Sobel, Alex (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op)
† Thomson, Richard (Gordon) (SNP)
† Whitehead, Dr Alan (Southampton, Test) (Lab)
Adam Mellows-Facer, Anwen Rees, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
Witnesses
Mayor Philip Glanville, Mayor of Hackney, Local Government Association
Dr Diane Mitchell, Chief Environment Adviser, National Farmers Union
Alan Law, Deputy Chief Executive, Natural England
Dr Sue Young, Head of Land Use Planning and Ecological Networks, The Wildlife Trusts
Judicaelle Hammond, Director of Policy, Country Land and Business Association
Rico Wojtulewicz, Head of Housing and Planning Policy, House Builders Association (housebuilding division of the National Federation of Builders)
Ruth Chambers, Senior Parliamentary Affairs Associate, Greener UK
Rebecca Newsom, Head of Politics, Greenpeace UK
Ali Plummer, Senior Policy Officer, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
Public Bill Committee
Tuesday 10 March 2020
(Afternoon)
[Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]
Environment Bill
Examination of Witness
Mayor Philip Glanville gave evidence.
14:00
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. For the benefit of the record, I shall ask our councillor guest to identify himself in a moment. I am advised that there may be a Division on the Floor of the House. That is probably slightly private information, but I do not see any reason why the public should not know what is going on. If the Division bell rings, it will not mean that an inmate has escaped; it means we will all have to go over the road and vote. There will be injury time; whatever we have to take off for the vote, which will be 15 minutes, we will add back on again.

We have half an hour for this session with the representative of local government. By the way, the other thing I have to mention, in case anybody is concerned, is that we have endeavoured to let some daylight into the room by opening the blinds. Apparently, that interferes with the broadcasting quality, so if I have ruined the picture it is entirely my fault. We felt we were enough like mushrooms as it was without having complete darkness in here.

Without further ado, the Local Government Association. Councillor Glanville, would you like to introduce yourself and explain, for the benefit of the record, what you represent, please?

Mayor Glanville: Thank you, Chair. I am Phil Glanville, the elected Mayor of Hackney and a representative of the Local Government Association. I serve on the relevant policy board covering the Bill.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

We are most grateful to you for coming in.

Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q 48 Good afternoon, Mr Mayor. What consultations on the Bill have taken place while you have been a representative on the Local Government Association committee that has been dealing with Bill? Where have been the main disagreements with regard to local government interests?

Mayor Glanville: There has been extensive engagement. Obviously, the original Bill dates back to last year. Our committee has been looking at various aspects of the Bill and we have submitted our package of evidence to the Committee. We are seeing new powers and responsibilities for local government. I appeared before the waste reduction investigation that was conducted last year. There has been extensive engagement and investigation into some aspects of the Bill. The challenge for all of us is that the Bill is very ambitious and sets new targets. In some areas, such as biodiversity and air pollution, the relationship with local government and where responsibilities lie are less clear.

On areas such as waste, recycling, plastic pollution and single-use plastics, the engagement has been more extensive. It depends on the areas of the Bill we are talking about and the responsibilities that are in focus. The areas of disagreement are common to those that arise when local government takes representations. Where we take on new responsibilities, we need adequate time to prepare and adequate funding in order to do that.

We have a track record of delivering improved and innovative recycling services during a decade of funding changes as a result of austerity. We have continued to improve our recycling services, investing more than £4.2 billion of resources. If we were to move towards the types of changes suggested in the Bill, the burden could be increased by up to £700 million. We will provide further information as the LGA on that. Without that increase in resources, council tax payers will have to meet that uplift in our duties around waste and recycling, or other services will have to be cut.

Those sorts of challenges go across different parts of the Bill, whether it is the work on biodiversity and planning or the clear ambition to deal with air pollution. Some of those responsibilities do sit with local authorities and we are ready to rise to that challenge, but whole industries will see changes in regulation as a result of the Bill. We believe we can rise to that challenge, in partnership with Government and industry. I am sure that over the course of the next half hour we will explore some of those areas more specifically. The main areas of disagreement relate to having the right powers and funding to match our duties.

Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Whitehead
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q That is very clear, certainly in terms of the ability of local government to deliver on the challenges set by the Bill. Are there particular areas that relate to the powers that local government has at the moment to do things that may be within, or possibly outside, some of the particular asks that the Bill will put on local government? Are there areas where local government may not have powers at the moment, for example on planning, in terms of biodiversity gain, and so on, and where further work will be needed should such aspirations be placed on local government as a result of the Bill?

Mayor Glanville: Biodiversity and how the planning system could lead to the net gain that is the priority within the Bill is one of the key areas. We have a system of local planning authorities that is well established. The system has accommodated various changes relating to energy, carbon and sustainability over a number of years, and we have adapted to those changes and adopted them within both our local plan development and the way our committees regulate development.

The planning context is really important, before I come to the detail on biodiversity. We have seen 2.6 million homes consented to in the past six years. A million of those have yet to be built, in the context of a 40% reduction in funding for local planning authorities. We have seen some improvements. We can set fees that allow us to recover the costs of fulfilling our planning responsibilities as local authorities, but there is still a £180 million gap between the cost of fulfilling our responsibilities and the funding that we receive from planning fees.

If we introduce new responsibilities for biodiversity, the challenge is whether we will close the existing gap and ensure that a new gap does not develop. We need to ensure that local authorities have the expertise to meet those new biodiversity responsibilities. That could be addressed either through the wider financial settlement for local government, or through a fees regime. As it is written at the moment, the Bill does not suggest that local authorities will be pre-eminent in collecting any additional resources if a development does not meet biodiversity standards.

Many Members who are involved in constituency casework, as I am as a council leader, will know that planning is always contested. People see the impact of a new development very much in their local community. If we are saying that the impact of new developments on biodiversity will be fully recognised, which we welcome, we want to ensure that any compensation is either held within that development, and the development contributes to a net improvement in biodiversity, or, if not, that local planning authorities can use those resources for the local community. That could be by placing extra requirements on a development, or by using our expertise in tree planting, and improving diversity and green infrastructure in the local area. As things stand in the Bill, we fear that there may well be a levy, but the levy would not be recycled back into the planning system, or would not result in the net improvement in biodiversity that we all want to see.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

I will come back to you if I can, Dr Whitehead.

Rebecca Pow Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rebecca Pow)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you very much for attending—it is much appreciated. The Government are committed to funding all new burdens on local authorities through the Bill, so I want to get your view quickly on that. I would also be interested to know, in the light of that, what opportunities the Bill offers local authorities, perhaps particularly referencing the fact that lots of local authorities have committed to their own climate and environmental standards, and to tackling the climate crisis. How do you think it might help you to deliver those?

Mayor Glanville: It is a positive Bill in the sense that we all share its ambitions to respond to the climate emergency, uphold the principle of “polluter pays” when we are talking about waste and recycling, and embed high standards for air quality in domestic legislation. Local government shares all those ambitions.

To take waste and recycling, there are some ambitious principles set out in the Bill, especially for dealing with single-use plastics, encouraging deposit and return schemes and improving the way recycling is delivered. Underneath that, however, is the context that I set out of the challenge of local government finance. If we are to move to the type of systems that are set out in the Bill and introduce food recycling everywhere, it would require an uplift in resources.

I welcome what the Minister said about new burdens being met with resources, but often the detail about where those burdens lie comes later. I have some experience of taking part in discussions on measures such as the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. There is normally a dispute later between central and local government about what the new responsibilities are and where they are fully accommodated. You often get transition funding, which allows some adaptation and change, but the picture for long-term revenue for local government is still incredibly challenging. I know that we are all going into a spending review and some of those things might be addressed.

There are huge opportunities for local government, because when it comes to waste and recycling, we are obviously the processors of all our consumer waste. We all want to see less of that waste produced in the first place. As I said, I gave evidence last year. If we just focus on plastics and single-use plastics, that is obviously where a lot of residents and campaign organisations are focusing our minds, but with a true waste reduction strategy consumer packaging would not be produced in the first place and there would be more upstream regulation of the types of materials that go into our waste system.

Some 70% of councils have all seven common forms of plastic recycled in their waste streams, but other types of packaging that local authorities cannot process are still going into the waste streams. Consumers often think that they can recycle them and it can be frustrating for them when they find that they cannot. Those types of packaging obviously increase the amount of residual waste.

As the Bill develops and regulation flows from it, we are hoping not just that we will focus on the work that we all need to do to continue to improve the recycling end but that we will work at the producer end, which, obviously, individual local authorities and the LGA do not have the scope to focus on. That is where we can really add value. We can clarify some of the areas where local government needs to rise to the challenge, but also where industry and consumer behaviour need to change.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q So this is very much what is termed a framework Bill. I get the impression that the local authorities would welcome more public consultation and engagement to get this right for you and for the businesses that we heard from this morning.

Mayor Glanville: Absolutely. As I said, we all face a tremendous amount of challenge from residents, consumers and activists. We all want to play our part in responding to the climate emergency. We as the Local Government Association have been doing a lot of peer-to-peer work. My board has created a climate change emergency action plan, and we are keen to continue that work. Where we would value a greater voice is at the political and officer level, if there is a taskforce linked to the Bill, especially on climate change emergency and action. I am told that there are still some details there to work through in terms of leading that full sector-led response.

Jessica Morden Portrait Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Can I ask two things? The Minister said that all new burdens would be met. What is the figure that you said initially that local government would need to do the work set out in the Bill?

Mayor Glanville: Just on the area of waste and recycling, to meet the objectives that are set out in the Bill, we have done some internal modelling that said there would be a £700 million gap in local government funding to meet those new responsibilities and burdens. That is in the context of a total amount of around £4.2 billion spent on processing household waste. Of that, £700 million is spent on recycling, so it is a doubling of the recycling and reducing element that is outlined in the Bill.

Jessica Morden Portrait Jessica Morden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Waste crime is obviously a big problem, with organised criminals dumping vast amounts of waste. What powers, duties and resources does local government already have, and what does it need? Does the Bill address that issue adequately?

Mayor Glanville: The challenge when taking enforcement action is the cost of bringing cases to court or issuing civil penalties. Local government has a lot of powers in that area, but it can sometimes be challenging to prove a cost-evidence base for implementing them, so anything to improve not just our powers but the ability to ensure that the polluter pays will help. That is the element that is always the challenge for local government.

Robbie Moore Portrait Robbie Moore (Keighley) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Many local authorities have declared climate emergencies. How will the Bill help local authorities to address those self-declared climate emergencies?

Mayor Glanville: Local authorities across the country from Hackney to Hull have declared climate emergencies. The Local Government Association itself has. Local authorities are doing a lot of work outside the scope of the Bill on energy, and there is some detailed work going on at the LGA. The challenge with air pollution and some of the aspirations in the Bill is that many of the elements are reliant on industry and consumer change. There is a lot of work on clean air zones in local government. There is experimentation in places around Nottingham on levying parking charges in workplaces. Wider investment in sustainable and public transport is needed to ensure that our aspirations on air pollution can be met.

In the Bill, there is some positive work on the contribution of motor vessels on our waterways and improving regulation of them. The Bill strengthens elements relating to domestic pollution and domestic fuels, which we very much welcome as well.

We are very keen, as local government, to ensure that we do our part in responding to the climate emergency. There are some of those upstream, “producer pays” principles around waste and recycling—for example, the car industry switching to a more electric fleet, and I know there have been announcements on bus funding—but if we are talking about the types of shift that we are going to need in consumer behaviour in the way that we travel, further work will need to be done together on that.

Alex Sobel Portrait Alex Sobel (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q First, I am particularly concerned with the new duty in clause 54 that local authorities are going to have to collect food waste every week. Most local authorities now have bi-weekly collections. Many do not collect food waste at all, so that would be a big investment in vehicles and staffing and then in anaerobic digestion facilities. You said that there is a £700 million gap for recycling. Is that inclusive of food waste or is another figure needed for local authorities to be able to fund the food waste duty that the Bill puts on them?

Mayor Glanville: That is inclusive of food waste. You identify one of the challenges. Typologies change across the country. What is required to collect food waste and the density of infrastructure in a borough such as Hackney can be very different from what is required in large rural authorities. We are nervous about having duties that do not recognise those challenges and differences. Different local authorities have set different regulations around how often they collect residual waste. Some local authorities are still doing that weekly, some are doing it bi-weekly and some every three weeks, and they vary how often they collect recycling and food waste alongside that. Many inner London boroughs that have the challenges of density and flats are still collecting waste more often than areas where there are suburban typologies where people can store more waste in their homes. In a typology such as Hackney, where all of the residential growth has been around flats, it is often impossible to do that, given the size of flats.

We hope to see the work on the Bill and regulation recognise some of those differences and challenges and get to the position where food waste is available for everyone, but makes sure that it is done in the right way with the right change in industry and the capacity within industry to roll it out. Rolling it out everywhere weekly is part of the £700 million figure. Obviously, some local authorities have invested already. One of the challenges around burden is whether authorities that are already delivering on a weekly basis receive extra resources or will they only go to those authorities that have yet to make that investment? It is an equity, fairness and transparency question across local government.

Alex Sobel Portrait Alex Sobel
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Q I have a second question on air quality. The Mayor of London has committed to reach World Health Organisation standards by 2030. The Bill fails to set legally binding targets. What steps should local and national Government take to meet that ambition to meet WHO air quality limits by 2030? Do you think the Bill could be amended to make that happen?

Mayor Glanville: Local government has not come to a position on the 2030 target. Speaking from the LGA perspective, we recognise that we need to have ambitious targets. We need to have a pathway to get there, which will require quite a lot of action around industry. It is not local government that is producing the transport—we are dealing with the consequences. While you can introduce clean air zones and have the work that combined authorities and the Mayor have done around ultra-low emission zones, investing in disabled transport, walking and clean bus fleets, all that will not get us to the 2030 target unless industry moves as well. If that target were put into the Bill, we would need to have a clear pathway of getting there and the resources for doing that. Many organisations, such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace want to get to that 2030 target. I think targets are really important, but only if you have a plan to get there. We risk setting targets that we will not meet if we do not maintain the confidence of that wider coalition—that is the challenge.

None Portrait The Chair
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Four people still want ask questions and we have fewer than eight minutes in which to do that, so short questions and short answers, please.

Saqib Bhatti Portrait Saqib Bhatti (Meriden) (Con)
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Q You spoke about the Bill being ambitious, and legislation such as this should be ambitious. You talked about opportunities. Local councils up and down the country are doing things to be environmentally friendly. How does the Bill enhance the current activity? Are you looking at things such as procurement to assist in that?

Mayor Glanville: It can provide an excellent framework, especially on the waste and resources piece, introducing more of those principles around producer- paying deposit and reuse schemes. Setting out a clear regulatory framework for that backs up the work that local government is already doing. As I have answered in response to other questions, we cannot just look at the waste and recycling end. We need national Government to make a clearer ask of industry.

Industry also welcomes having frameworks that we can all work to. I do not think it wants to put labels on consumer products that suggest that local recycling streams can accommodate that recycling and then find out that they cannot. That confusion is something that both local and national Government want to see resolved. As long as the balance between rights and responsibilities between local and national Government are right, something like the work on biodiversity can be a real improvement to the planning system. It has to be done in the right way and work with local government and residents’ expectations of local government. While we as a sector are representing ourselves, it is often the through the expectations of our residents that we will have some control and influence around implementing these policies. If the legislation is not drafted in the right way, we will not have that and people will say: “Why, if it is supposed to be improving local biodiversity, is it not contributing to it?”.

In the areas around tree management, we want to be clear about the role of, say, the Forestry Commission and what new statutory powers it is going to have and does it interact properly with the local planning and regulatory system?

Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)
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Q Clauses 95 to 98 seek to create local nature recovery strategies across England. How will that help local authorities provide a more effective and joined-up nationwide strategy for nature recovery? We heard evidence earlier from Veolia, which has a number of refuse and recycling centres in your patch.

Mayor Glanville: Can I clarify what Veolia said?

Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare
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It was were talking about how it would like a more joined-up approach with the council and, along with others on the panel, about how businesses need more support to be able to deliver their recycling and waste strategies.

Mayor Glanville: In terms of setting those strategies, it is making sure that if we have a duty to set them locally, and they are backed up within the planning system, we recognise the context of where local government is at the moment with resourcing.

There were questions earlier about how local government is rising to the challenge of the climate emergency. We, and many local authorities like Hackney, are investing in our agriculturalists and in the people who work in our parks. We have ambitious targets around planting trees and green infrastructure. We are resourcing that through our planning gain, within the existing planning system, and using policies around section 106 and the community infrastructure levy.

If local government is going to be doing even more, either the system that exists at the moment is going to have to accommodate that or those new duties are going have to be explored as well. Not every local authority is going to have tree specialists or still have a biodiversity officer. Over the period of austerity they have all too often been seen as back-office functions. There are real pressures within the planning system and pressures to make sure that we continue to deliver the housing numbers within our local plans.

It is right that we refocus on green infrastructure, biodiversity and a net increase, but without resources being in place we will either have to get them from the planning system or from some other settlement, to make sure we are able to deliver on those ambitions.

None Portrait The Chair
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I fear this is likely to be the last question.

Cherilyn Mackrory Portrait Cherilyn Mackrory (Truro and Falmouth) (Con)
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Q I will make it quick. Putting aside the specific issue of funding, which I believe has already been addressed this afternoon, can you tell me what else is important to ensure that local authorities can effectively deliver this Bill?

Mayor Glanville: It is a continuing engagement. Obviously, as we have said, it is a framework Bill, which has advantages and disadvantages. There is a high degree of discussion around the Bill at the moment, including about what should be in it and how far it should move into clearly engaging on those ambitious targets and regulations. There is an opportunity in the engagement process with a Bill to engage with local government, with industry and with campaigners.

As you move towards regulations and statutory instruments, some of the focus and the ability for scrutiny in Parliament can be lost, along with local government’s ability to influence. We are keen to make sure that there is clarity in both those positions and that there will still be opportunities to engage around some of the specifics, as we move into further discussions about waste and recycling, air pollution, how we interact with the planning system, the work around flooding and water, and other key areas. There is still a huge amount that we can do. The Local Government Association is committed to rising to that challenge and contributing to making sure that this not just ambitious but implementable legislation at a national and local level.

None Portrait The Chair
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Thank you, Mayor Glanville. Rather than chop you off mid-flow, I will terminate this session now. You are probably aware that the Committee has authorised the receipt of written submissions, so if there is anything that occurs to you that you wish us to have on behalf of your association then please put it in writing and let us have it.

Mayor Glanville: Thank you, Chair.

None Portrait The Chair
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Thank you for joining us this afternoon. Please could we now change over as swiftly as possible as I will try to start the next session at 2.30 pm, when it is supposed to begin.

Examination of Witnesses

Dr Diane Mitchell, Alan Law, Dr Sue Young and Judicaelle Hammond gave evidence.

14:30
None Portrait The Chair
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Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. We are now going to take evidence from Natural England, the Wildlife Trusts, the Country Land and Business Association and the National Farmers Union. We have one hour, I am afraid—and that is all—to accommodate what I am sure will be a very great deal of interesting information. Without further ado, Dr Mitchell, please identify yourself and give us a flavour of what the organisation you represent does, for the benefit of the record.

Dr Mitchell: I am Diane Mitchell and I am the chief environment adviser at the National Farmers Union of England and Wales, representing about 50,000 farmers and grower businesses.

None Portrait The Chair
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Before we go any further, for some reason, we have a problem with these microphones. Please project if you can, and if we can crank up the sound, that would be helpful as well. Mr Law, please.

Alan Law: Alan Law, I am deputy chief executive at Natural England. Natural England is Government’s wildlife adviser. We are an arm’s length body, a non-departmental public body in the DEFRA group.

Judicaelle Hammond: I am Judicaelle Hammond. I am the director of policy and advice at the Country Land and Business Association. We represent about 30,000 members who own or operate businesses based on land in rural areas in England and Wales.

None Portrait The Chair
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Dr Young, by a process of elimination, you are—

Dr Young: I am Sue Young. I work as head of land use policy and ecological networks at the Wildlife Trusts. The Wildlife Trusts is a federated organisation of 46 charities, it covers the whole of the UK and provides advice on nature issues and looks after nature reserves and manages land.

None Portrait The Chair
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Thank you very much. I should have said this at the beginning and I will say it now: if any Members and, indeed, any guests for that matter—it seems to be a bit fetid in here—wish to take their jackets off, you are welcome to do so.

Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Whitehead
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Q A particular issue that concerns all of you in different ways is the nature recovery network, and it is the Bill’s intention to lay the foundation for that. Do you think that local nature recovery strategies actually do provide that mechanism to secure nature’s recovery on the land?

Dr Young: A nature recovery network is a really important part of the solution to the ecological crisis that we are facing. It is a joined-up system of places needed to allow nature to recover. To be effective, it must extend across the whole of England, including rural and urban areas, and connect to similar initiatives elsewhere in the UK. The section on local nature recovery strategies in the Bill is really good and sets an ambitious agenda that would enable us to tackle nature’s recovery. It needs to be clearer how the local nature recovery strategies will contribute to a national network and targets for nature’s recovery.

That seems to be missing in the Bill at the moment; there is not a clear description of how the components that are set out in that part will add up to a system that works ecologically. The Bill says that the strategies will identify areas that could be good for biodiversity in the future, but that really needs to be based on ecological principles, rather than being an ad hoc set of sites where habitats could be created. That will ensure that the ambition contained within the Bill to secure nature’s recovery is realised. That could be achieved with some relatively small amendments to clause 97.

None Portrait The Chair
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Thank you. It will not be necessary for every member of the panel to answer every question, but to set the stage and for ease of reference, I will on this occasion simply work from, in my case, right to left—in your case, left to right. Ms Hammond, please.

Judicaelle Hammond: Thank you. Local nature recovery strategies are a real opportunity to make a difference to nature. There are a few things I would like to raise in terms of how they are going to work. First, at the moment, they are just about nature. We wonder whether there is a point to them being more holistic, so that we avoid silos and manage to have a look at how land is used in a way that maximises the various benefit types, including flood management and climate change, not just nature. This is a plea for them to not just be considered in isolation.

Another aspect is the issue of who should be leading on this. The Bill provides for a multiplicity of possible responsible bodies, including local authorities. As we heard from the gentleman from the Local Government Association, local authorities are already overstretched. We have an issue over whether they have the capacity to lead on that.

Another aspect is skills, and that was raised to the Committee. Would Natural England be better placed to do that?

It is important to have clear priorities. There need to be no gaps and no overlaps with regards to local nature recovery strategies, and that needs to be an important driver from national Government. Most of the land we refer to is in private ownership, so it will be important to consult with landowners and land managers on that.

Alan Law: The Bill has the potential to be the most significant environmental piece of legislation since the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. We have worked on conservation in this country for the last 70 years, driven by a focus on looking at the rare and putting in place protection measures for those rare site species: parks. What is exciting about the Bill and its links to the 25-year environment plan is the ambition to go from protecting small parts of the countryside—looking after the rare and the special—to trying to drive wholesale large nature recovery. That ambition around recovery is fundamental. The most important part of the Bill revolves around this nature recovery network and the links between the local and the national.

Will local nature recovery strategies alone deliver the ambition of the nature recovery network? No, they probably will not. That will not happen without further tightening up, either in the Bill or in supporting guidance or regulations. For reasons already articulated, we need to ensure that local nature recovery strategies operate within some form of national framework so that they are coherent. A national framework needs to be in place.

There need to be mechanisms for developing local nature recovery strategies so that they are quality assured and checked to ensure that they actually add up to a part of that coherent network. We need to see clear expressions of the set national targets writ into those local nature recovery strategies. At the moment we have an ambition at the front of the Bill around targets and we have a tool—a delivery mechanism—around local plans, but there is no hard-wired connection between the two. That is not difficult to achieve, so the issue is to tighten up around the links between targets, delivery processes, and some of the accountabilities.

Dr Mitchell: I have some opening words from my perspective on the Bill itself. British farmers are the stewards of our natural environment, and they have a good track record of protecting, maintaining and enhancing our environment. We welcome some aspects of the Bill, but some improvements could be made to ensure that environmental enhancement policies are carefully considered, and that food production and the environment go hand in hand. One of the key themes in the Bill and its various measures will be the need for them to work for farmers and food production as well as for the environment. Setting that context and going on to nature recovery networks and local nature recovery strategies, there is a lot of jargon around. We need greater clarity on these different phrases and how they all fit together.

How local nature recovery strategies may be used is unclear from our perspective. The suggestion is that they may be used to inform planning decisions. That makes us slightly nervous because is it some sort of designation that may be used to identify environmental priorities or opportunities that may restrict what farmers might want to do with their land in future, such as new building requirements? Farmers may want to update and modernise their buildings, but will that be restricted if they are in one of these areas? Or might they have an impact on land values?

Those are some of the questions we have in the back of our minds. Farmers get very nervous when you start drawing lines on maps, particularly when it comes to thinking about how environmental land management schemes may be ruled out in future. If these strategies are used to identify where farmers may be able to enter into one of these ELM schemes, does that mean they will be restricted in their engagement? We recommend that these local nature recovery strategies are confined to areas that are already identified for environmental value, such as sites of special scientific interest.

My final point is that we need to ensure that farmers are properly consulted at an early stage of the strategies, so that food production is considered alongside any environmental priorities.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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Q Thank you for coming in. I want to go back to the local nature recovery network strategies and how they link to national strategies. Clause 98(5)(b) includes a very specific reference, that the local nature recovery strategies

“could contribute to the establishment of a network of areas across England for the recovery…of biodiversity”.

That is newly added since the previous Bill, in response to engagement with stakeholders. I want to know, first, whether you welcome that and what you think about it and, secondly, going on a bit, your view of the overall measures in the Bill in driving us towards this nature recovery environmental improvement.

Alan Law: We welcome the insertion of that clause. I have “could” underlined, rather than a more affirmative statement on the plan to undertake it. The ambition is clearly there to develop local strategies that add up to a coherent whole, but a little bit more in some of the supporting guidance or regulation to tighten up exactly how national standards will be met should be defined, and how those can be used in terms of local strategies. A timeline for production of the local strategies, again, would be great to see coming through while the Bill is in transition.

It will be really important to have some formal mechanism for scrutinising those plans and for advising on how fit for purpose they are. They will go back up to the Secretary of State, who provides that scrutiny. Forgive us for the presumption, but perhaps a body such as Natural England could provide that sort of role.

Dr Young: We were really pleased to see that addition in the Bill, because it makes the link. It is clear in the explanatory notes that it is talking about a nature recovery network. I will reiterate how important a nature recovery network is to tackle the massive declines that we have seen in nature over our lifetimes.

I agree with Alan’s point that the Bill uses the phrase “could contribute”. Certainly, the Bill’s ambition is clear, but there is always a danger of the ambition not being implemented in the way the Government foresee. When resources are tight, organisations will do what they must do rather than what they should do. It would be good to see a change in some of the wording in the Bill from “may” to “must” so it achieves the ambition we really hope it will achieve. The Bill uses the phrase “a network of areas”. It would be really good if the term “a nature recovery network” were included in the Bill rather than just in the explanatory notes, so that we are really clear what we want the Bill to do and what we want people to do.

It will be important to think about how this is implemented. Again, we are really pleased that the duty on local authorities in an earlier section of the Bill has been improved so that it is about local authorities not just having regard to the protection of biodiversity but enhancing it and having regard to local nature recovery strategies. However, in the past, “have regard” has not been a very strong term and has not led to sufficient action to halt the declines. A slight change of wording—perhaps to “act in accordance with local nature recovery strategies”—would really shift the focus from thinking to doing and taking action.

We would like local nature recovery strategies to be more clearly required to be expressed in the planning system. I think local authorities and public bodies having regard to local nature recovery strategies in their decision making about planning and spending would lead to stronger action. It would also help to a certain extent with the point that colleagues have made about consultation, because the planning system provides us with a ready-made administrative system for good consultation.

Alex Sobel Portrait Alex Sobel
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Q I just have one question. I think there is general consensus that we do not want a lower standard of environmental protection after the end of the end of the transition and the implementation of the Bill. Do you feel that the Bill replicates our current level of environmental protection—the level as it was when we were a member of the EU—or will it deliver a lower level of environmental protection?

Judicaelle Hammond: There is no reason, given the way the Bill is framed at the moment, that those standards will drop. The CLA is on record as a strong supporter of high standards remaining, not least because that gives us an opportunity to use high standards as a unique selling point both in the export market and internally. These are absolutely necessary, and we need to make sure that we maintain them.

The Committee may want to consider the kinds of issues with trade deals that are being raised at the moment with the Agriculture Bill. They apply in exactly the same way to the need to ensure that we do not get imports that are produced at much lower standards of environmental protection—and, indeed, climate change action—than would be allowed here. That is an element of the Bill on which there could be some really useful reflection.

Dr Mitchell: There are a number of safeguards in the Bill to ensure that our environmental standards are not lowered. The environmental governance aspects around target setting, the embedding of the environmental principles and the introduction of the OEP should ensure that our standards are not lowered.

One of the things that we need to consider alongside our standards is the fact that farmers are doing a lot to maintain our environment as well as creating habitats and enhancing it. We ought to recognise that as well as all the things that we do to improve and enhance our environment, there is a lot of work in terms of good day-to-day management and maintenance that farmers do to maintain our landscapes. At the moment that does not seem to be recognised in the Bill, and we would like that to be recognised a bit more.

Alan Law: There are two aspects here—differentiating ambition from certainty. On the one hand, the Bill provides the mechanism through target setting to go beyond existing standards. That is entirely welcome. As yet, we do not have the clarity around those targets, but it is entirely welcome. The other area is around potential regression. There is a protection in the Bill through clause 19 around primary legislation, but that does not apply to secondary legislation, so conservation regulations in that area could be subject to regression.

Ruth Edwards Portrait Ruth Edwards (Rushcliffe) (Con)
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Q My question is particularly directed at Dr Young and Mr Law. Do you believe that 10% is the correct level of improvement for the biodiversity net gain targets?

Alan Law: I would reframe the question to say a 10% minimum. The work that we have done with stakeholders around those thresholds suggests that many are indeed willing to go higher than that, but there is a sense that applying a mandatory higher level at this stage would be counterproductive. We are content with it, but we apply it as a minimum. I would also say that it is 110%, of course, rather than 10%—it is 10% on top.

None Portrait The Chair
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You are saying that 10% is the minimum but also the maximum.

Alan Law: No, 10% is the minimum.

None Portrait The Chair
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Any advance on 10%, Dr Young?

Dr Young: It is important that 10% should not be a cap on the ambition for net gain. Net gain can make a really good contribution to nature’s recovery and we certainly welcome seeing it in the Bill and that it is mandatory. Having quoted 10%, however, we would not want to limit the ambition of those developers and local authorities that would like to go higher.

Dr Mitchell: Net gain provides an opportunity for some farmers who can be the deliverers of it, which is important to consider, but we should not forget that farmers can be developers themselves. They may want to replace a farm building, which may require them to meet the net gain requirements.

We are pleased to see in the Bill that there is an exemption from the need to provide net gain for permitted development. That is really helpful and important, especially for smaller developments on farms that farmers can do through the permitted development rights. We have to remember that in some areas of high environmental value, going beyond 10% might be quite difficult for the farmers, because they are doing 110%, which means that they may have to contribute quite a lot or they may have to get someone else to do the biodiversity credits for them.

We are conscious that in some areas, permitted development rights may not apply for some reason—for example, in national parks. In those areas, farmers would be disadvantaged. Not only would they have the additional costs of applying for planning permission, but they may have additional specific design requirements to meet in that national park area, and they would have to meet the net gain requirements on top of that, so they are already possibly at a disadvantage. One suggestion we have is to broaden the exemption that I just talked about to deliver the net gain to areas where the permitted development rights do not currently apply.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con)
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Q I want to come on to the thorny issue of conservation covenants and potential abstraction compensation. May I start with one question to Mr Law of Natural England? From your point of view, what could conservation covenants deliver on the ground? If you could be as concise as possible, that would be great.

Alan Law: At the moment, we have a range of tools available to us to deliver conservation outcomes. We can designate sites, we can offer incentives and we can engage through the planning system to try to deliver planning gain. Conservation covenants would provide another tool we could use that would be between some of those existing tools.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham
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Q You clearly see it as a positive. Can you give us one example of what could be delivered? Bring it alive for anybody watching this great programme.

Alan Law: We could have conversations with landowners about new agri-environment agreements. Our ambition is to see public investments in public benefits in perpetuity. We could explore the desirability of a covenant with the agreement of the landowner to secure the long-term value of that investment. We could alternatively use a covenant as a different means of ensuring an area is protected in the long term, as an alternative to designation.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham
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Q That is not quite a specific example, but it gives us some structural ideas. Ms Hammond, you welcomed the idea; you are in favour of it. Can you give us an idea of how your members would benefit from conservation covenants?

Judicaelle Hammond: Yes, as you say, we welcome the idea. Depending on how they are set up, we think that covenants are a flexible way to ensure that conservation aims are advanced. They enable two parties to enter into a contract for the long term, which my members value, because most of them will think of their business in multigenerational terms. This is an opportunity for our members to deliver some of the ambitions.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham
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Q And access to an enhanced environment for members of the public, as well.

Judicaelle Hammond: Yes.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham
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Thank you. Dr Mitchell—

None Portrait The Chair
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Just a moment, before we move forward, you are quite entitled to ask specific questions of specific people, but does anybody else want to comment on the issues that have been raised so far? Yes, Dr Young.

Dr Young: I think conservation covenants provide a really useful tool for securing long-term environmental gains. Our concern about the effectiveness of this is that net gain, for example, which they could work well with, ought to be secured in perpetuity. It should not be too easy to discharge a covenant and risk the loss of biodiversity and other public goods. The terms used in the circumstances for modifying or discharging them ought to be clear enough to give that confidence.

None Portrait The Chair
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Right, Mr Graham, if you would like to carry on.