Theresa Villiers contributions to the Environment Bill 2019-20

Mon 28th October 2019 Environment Bill (Commons Chamber)
2nd reading: House of Commons
Money resolution: House of Commons
Ways and Means resolution: House of Commons
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Environment Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
(Money resolution: House of Commons)
(Ways and Means resolution: House of Commons)
(2nd reading: House of Commons)
(Money resolution: House of Commons)
(Ways and Means resolution: House of Commons)
Theresa Villiers Excerpts
Monday 28th October 2019

(8 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Bill Main Page
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Mr Speaker

Before I invite the—it says here the Minister, but this is no mere Minister—the Secretary of State herself to move the Second Reading, I must announce my decision on certification for the purposes of Standing Order No. 83J (Certification of bills etc. as relating exclusively to England or England and Wales and being within devolved legislative competence), with which I am sure colleagues are keenly familiar. On the basis of material put before me, I certify that, in my opinion, clauses 1 to 18, 23, 52, 78, 84 and 88 to 121 of the Environment Bill and schedules 15 to 19 to the Bill relate exclusively to England on matters within devolved legislative competence, as defined in Standing Order No. 83J; and—I know colleagues are keenly hanging upon this—clauses 56, 61, 63, 65, 73 to 75, 77 and 86 of the Environment Bill and schedule 11 to the Bill relate exclusively to England and Wales on matters within devolved legislative competence, as defined in Standing Order No. 83J.7.7 pm

Theresa Villiers Portrait The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Theresa Villiers) -

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This is a Government who recognise the profound importance of the great environmental challenges of our time. We are the first Government to set the goal that this generation should leave the natural environment in a better state than it was bequeathed to us. This is the first Government to make a legally binding commitment to become a net zero carbon economy. We have cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25% since we returned to office, while growing the economy at the same time. We have pledged more funds than ever before to help the developing world reverse the decline of nature and tackle climate change. We are determined to respond to the grave public concern about these threats, so a new Cabinet Committee will co-ordinate work on climate change across Government, under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister.

Our action is guided by the mounting scientific evidence of the inextricable link between climate and nature. Wildlife habitats are crucial carbon storage systems. Protecting those forests, peatlands and natural open spaces is vital if we are to have any chance of averting disastrous climate change.

Mr Ivan Lewis (Bury South) (Ind)

I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. Will she confirm that it is Government policy that green belt land should be built on only in extenuating circumstances? The proposals to build on the green belt in Radcliffe, Unsworth and Simister in my constituency will devastate entire green belt areas and completely destroy the character of the village of Simister. Does she agree that that is not acceptable in any community?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers -

I agree that it is vital that we protect our green belt and that green belt rules are abided by. The Government are absolutely determined to defend the green belt as part of our environmental policy.

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con) -

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend. This is a very welcome Bill, which builds on much good work that the Government have already done. Does she recognise, however, that in suburban parts of London, like hers and mine, there remains a concern about particulate pollution? Will she consider, as the Bill progresses, what more we can do to strengthen the fight against particulate pollution—for example, by seeking to strengthen our commitment by joining the World Health Organisation guidelines on particulate pollution by 2030?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers -

My hon. Friend will be aware that clause 2 sets out the ambition to set a legally binding target on fine particulate pollution, responding to exactly the concerns of his constituents—and indeed of mine in Chipping Barnet.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con) -

Planting more trees would make a great contribution to a more beautiful environment and have other good consequences. Will my right hon. Friend say a little about how that can be done, and can some of them come to Wokingham, please?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers -

The Government have been involved in planting about 15 million trees, but we are determined to expand the programme because trees are crucial storage mechanisms for carbon and we will never get to net zero unless we plant a lot more.

Bill Wiggin Portrait Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire) (Con) -

My constituents, who, like me, care about nature, are absolutely delighted with the Bill. I am thrilled to be able to support it, particularly for rural communities blighted by fly-tipping. However, will my right hon. Friend watch out for the water abstraction element? It seems uncharacteristically mean.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers -

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his praise for the determination expressed in the Bill to protect nature and reverse the decline in biodiversity. We will listen carefully to his concerns and those of his constituents with regard to water abstraction to ensure that the Bill’s provisions are implemented in a way that is sensible, proportionate and fair.

Adam Afriyie Portrait Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con) -

I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. Windsor is a beautiful constituency with a lot of active people campaigning on the environment. One of our biggest bugbears is Heathrow airport and any expansion of it. Will she confirm that the Bill contains measures on fine particulates that could well have an impact on Heathrow’s ability to expand?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers -

It will certainly be vital for the expansion programme at Heathrow, if it goes ahead, to comply with the exacting environmental requirements that have already been placed on it. Naturally enough, it will also have to comply with any new requirements introduced to meet the target on fine particulate pollution, to which we are committed.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP) -

We have all received briefs from the Countryside Alliance and various other countryside bodies. They are very clear that the countryside is a place of great beauty and a habitat for wildlife. It is also a place of work and is home to millions of people. Will the Government ensure that the farming community, who own the land, look after the land and have managed it for years, will continue to do so, and that any new legislation will not disadvantage them?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers -

We believe we can support farmers in their environmental stewardship and in caring for our natural environment through our replacement for the common agricultural policy. That will allow us to go further and faster in providing support for farmers conducting their crucially important role in protecting our natural environment.

Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab) Parliament Live -

I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. For everybody’s constituents, including mine in Gedling, the Bill is very important. It contains a lot of very welcome measures. If we are to have an election in the next few weeks, will she look at what can be done to preserve those measures so that they are not lost? I know that that is a matter of process, but it is extremely important to all of us and our constituents.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers -

I agree that this landmark proposed legislation needs to continue regardless of when Parliament dissolves for a general election. It is vital that the Bill comes back to the House as soon as possible to ensure that we can embed in legislation the important protections it contains.

Several hon. Members rose—

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers -

I will take one more intervention and then I will make some progress.

Dr Rupa Huq Portrait Dr Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab) -

I am very grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. I was encouraged by her answer on Heathrow. She and I were on the same side of this argument for many years. I wondered whether we still agree. In 2017, she said,

“this is a hugely expensive project and one that will create significant economic damage.”

Her constituents and my constituents agree. Does she still agree with those words today?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers -

As the hon. Lady points out, my reservations about the Heathrow expansion are on the record for everyone to read. The fact is that the House has voted by a large majority to give outline planning permission to this project. It is now for the scheme’s promoters to demonstrate that they can come up with a scheme that meets the exacting conditions on the environment that Parliament has set.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con) -

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene. Like many Members, I am one of a team of species champions, each representing an individual species that is in some way endangered. Does she agree it is very important that, as we tackle the housing challenge, we ensure developers build houses and create estates in a way that is sustainable for the surrounding countryside and allows those who move into such areas to live side by side with nature in the neighbouring area? Otherwise, we will lose more of the species that are so valuable to us.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers -

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right and that is a core aim of the Bill: to ensure we deliver the homes we need in a way that safeguards our environment and nature.

Several hon. Members rose—

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers -

I have taken a lot of interventions and I need to make some progress.

We are determined to seize the environmental opportunities that come with leaving the EU, including: the opportunity to create a better, more sustainable means of managing our fish stocks and a fairer deal for the communities who have lost out under the common fisheries policy; and the opportunity to support our farmers to cut emissions and pollution, and protect nature with a new system of farm support based on public money for the public goods.

The Bill will help us to realise the bold vision set out in our 25-year environment plan for urgent meaningful action across society towards long-term environmental targets, so that global Britain can go further and faster for our natural environment. Nine consultations underpin the proposed legislation. They received over 400,000 responses. Over half the Bill’s measures extend beyond England. I want to thank the devolved Administrations for working with us on the Bill, so that we can benefit the environment right across our United Kingdom.

The Bill will enshrine environmental principles in UK law for the first time, ensuring that the environment will be placed at the centre of Government decision making. The following principles are on the face of the Bill: the polluter should pay; harm should be prevented or rectified at source; the environment should be taken into consideration across Government policy; and a precautionary approach should be taken.

Bob Seely Portrait Mr Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con) -

Would my right hon. Friend like to congratulate the Isle of Wight on becoming, earlier this year, a part of UNESCO’s biosphere network? Will she work with me to ensure that our precious landscape, both on the Island and elsewhere in the UK, is increasingly protected under the Bill to make sure we do not lose it?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers -

I do indeed pass on my congratulations on that tremendous achievement.

Clauses 1 to 6 require the Government to set legally binding, long-term evidence-based targets to deliver significant environmental improvement in resource efficiency and waste reduction, biodiversity, air quality and water.

We will become the first country in the world to do this. Future Governments will be required to publish plans to meet the targets that they have set themselves, reviewing milestones every five years and making existing targets more demanding or setting new ones if they fall short. All future Governments will be required to report annually on progress on delivering an environmental improvement plan.

Several hon. Members rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing) -

Order. Before the Secretary of State gives way to the plethora of people who wish to intervene, at present the number of people who wish to speak means that speeches will be limited to between three and four minutes. If people intervene and take more time during the Secretary of State’s speech, that time limit will go down significantly.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers -

I will take a point of information from the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck).

Ms Karen Buck Portrait Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab) -

I thank the Secretary of State very much. On air quality, will she join me in congratulating the Mayor of London on the success of the ultra low emission zone, which has seen such a dramatic fall in polluting vehicles moving into inner London? Is she also conscious of the fact that 83% of reporting zones across the country are still in breach of air pollution limits? However much she tells us that the Government will be doing better, does she recognise just how scandalously short we have fallen in recent years? We have very serious doubts about what the Government are—

Madam Deputy Speaker -

Order. We cannot have this, because the hon. Lady has just spoken for half as long as most people who wait here till 10 o’clock will get.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers -

I will take the hint and make progress, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I reassure the hon. Member for Westminster North that we have made significant advances in cleaning up air quality across the country. There are still significant issues with roadside exceedances. There is more that we need to do and that is why the Bill will set out those demanding targets.

Several hon. Members rose—

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers -

No, I will make some progress.

I want to highlight clause 2, which contains one of the most ambitious elements of the legislation: namely, a duty to set a legally binding target for PM2.5 fine particulate matter. As Members will be aware, this pollutant has the most significant impact on human health. Poor air quality is the biggest environmental threat to public health. It is shortening lives and causing illness, and this Government are determined to step up our efforts to clean up the air that we breathe—an issue that I know concerns my constituents in Chipping Barnet, and I am sure that that view is shared by many across our nation.

Steve Brine Portrait Steve Brine (Winchester) (Ind) -

Many of our constituents will be so relieved to hear the House discussing a positive piece of legislation. As a former public health Minister, I know that our clean air strategy was described by the WHO as an

“example for the rest of the world to follow.”

Will the Secretary of State say a word about how the Bill will enable and help local government to meet their responsibilities in improving air quality across the country?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers -

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we will not be able to succeed in our ambition to clean up our air quality without strong action by local government. There are important provisions in the Bill to help local government to address air quality challenges, for example, in relation to domestic burning.

Several hon. Members rose—

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers -

For the sake of Back Benchers’ speeches later on, I will have to make some progress. Just as this nation acted successfully to curb the air pollution dangers of the past, we now need to address this major environmental harm that we face in the modern era.

Clauses 19 to 38 will establish the Office for Environmental Protection as a powerful new independent watchdog on the environment. It will provide expert independent advice to Government on environmental plans; scrutinise policy and progress; investigate if public authorities fail to live up to their commitments on the environment; and, where necessary, take enforcement action. The OEP will have a role in enforcing climate change law as well, complementing the functions of the much respected Committee on Climate Change. This addition to the Bill was one for which both the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and the Environmental Audit Committee called. As a non-departmental public body, the OEP will be independent of ministerial control. It will have a free-to-use complaints system for the public, and multi-year funding settlements will give it financial stability.

The second half of the Bill will empower environmental improvement across a range of sectors, encouraging businesses to innovate and invest in meeting the crucial environmental challenges that we face as nation, and creating additional powers for local government on waste, nature, air quality and water. I think everyone in the House would agree that we need greater efficiency in the way we treat resources and waste. Our constituents are fed up with litter and fly-tipping and appalled by plastic pollution. This legislation will help us to crack down on the blight of waste crime and fly-tipping that costs the taxpayer over £600 million every year. It contains a powerful new set of measures to tackle plastic waste.

Vicky Ford Portrait Vicky Ford (Chelmsford) (Con) -

Does my right hon. Friend agree that making the producers responsible for the plastic that they make will drive a step change in ensuring that products are no longer just chucked away, but are made to last and be repaired and recycled, bringing an end to this plastic pollution nightmare?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers -

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the extended producer responsibility provisions in the Bill will help to deliver the results for which she is calling.

Our “Future of the Sea” report estimates that 12 million tonnes of plastic are currently entering the ocean and that that could treble by 2025. Our constituents are demanding change. We must act to address the shocking levels of plastic in the marine environment, and the Bill will make it easier to reuse and recycle so that we build a more circular economy at home to conserve and better use our precious natural resources.

Clause 49 grants the power to set up a deposit return scheme for products such as drinks containers. Clause 50 enables the plastic bag charge to be extended to other items—the charge has seen bag use drop by 90% since its introduction. We believe that these provisions will be widely welcomed by many who want concerted action to tackle the tragedy of plastics pollution. The suite of measures on plastics in the Bill is further strengthened by powers to make those who produce plastic packaging pay for its whole lifetime cost, including disposal. This will incentivise a switch to more sustainable forms of packaging and, crucially, provide an income stream to fund improvements to the way we tackle waste and recycling. Stronger standards for a wide range of products and clearer labelling will enable consumers to identify more sustainable products. A consistent set of materials will be collected from every household and business to help us all to recycle more, and the Bill also includes measures to encourage businesses to waste less food and help to ensure that surpluses reach those who need them.

Giles Watling Portrait Giles Watling (Clacton) (Con) -

I am a very old-fashioned man, and I come from an age when we mended things if they broke. I hope that my right hon. Friend agrees that the Bill will encourage people to go back to the days when we actually fixed things rather than threw them away at the end of use.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers -

That is one of the outcomes that we hope the Bill will help to deliver.

  As well as wide-ranging plans on plastics, the Bill has at its heart an extensive package to protect nature. The net gain provisions in schedule 15 will make a 10% boost for biodiversity a compulsory part of plans for new development. I believe that this will generate tens of millions for investment in nature and give more people better access to green space.

Lady Hermon (North Down) (Ind)

I am quite sure that the right hon. Lady, as a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, will be deeply concerned that we have no functioning Assembly and have not had one for almost three years. If we do not have the Assembly restored in the forthcoming weeks, will she commit to extending much more of this—I use her word—“landmark” Environment Bill to Northern Ireland? Many people in Northern Ireland would be very pleased if she could make that commitment.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers -

I cannot give that commitment today, but we work very closely with the Northern Ireland civil service, and the hon. Lady will be aware that many provisions in the Bill are ready to apply to Northern Ireland; for the moment, they need Ministers to switch them on. We will continue to keep the question of governance under review, and I would love to see many more of these measures extended to Northern Ireland, but we have to respect the constitutional settlement.

Several hon. Members rose—

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers -

No, I am going to make some progress.

The Government have already strengthened the protections for ancient woodlands, veteran trees and irreplaceable habitats, and the Bill helps us to go further. Schedule 16 will help to combat illegal deforestation. We are also legislating to give communities a say when local authorities plan to remove treasured trees from urban and suburban streets.

Philip Dunne Portrait Mr Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con) -

On the subject of engaging communities, will the Secretary of State take note of a recent report from the Environmental Audit Committee, on which I sit, on invasive species which calls for an army of volunteers across this country to help identify invasive species so we can help to eradicate them?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers -

I agree that volunteers getting involved in the fight against invasive species is very productive. There is an example in my own constituency, where a group is helping to remove invasive species from Pymmes Brook.

The Bill will strengthen and improve the duty on public authorities to make sure that the way they carry out their functions both conserves and enhances biodiversity and enables landowners to enter voluntary conservation covenants with responsible bodies, such as charities, that would bind subsequent owners of the land to sustainable stewardship long into the future. It also provides an important statutory underpinning for the nature recovery network we outlined in our 25-year plan—for example, by mandating the creation of local nature recovery strategies to map nature-rich habitats.

Steve Double Portrait Steve Double (St Austell and Newquay) (Con) -

As chair of the all-party group on ocean conservation, I want to thank the Secretary of State on behalf of all of us who care about our seas for the measures in the Bill to reduce plastic waste. We also welcome the additional powers to hold water companies to account. Can she confirm that these extra powers will help to reduce the number of sewer overflows during heavy rain and hold water companies to account if they fail to reduce and eventually eradicate them?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers -

My hon. Friend is right that the Bill contains measures that will make it easier to maintain the pressure on water companies to do more to combat pollution. We want them to do better when it comes to tackling these completely unacceptable instances of sewer overflows and pollution.

Several hon. Members rose—

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers -

No, I am going to wind up now.

Clean, safe and abundant water for all is a fundamental focus of this Bill. The provisions in part 5 will improve the way companies operate to meet current and future demand, help to ensure improved, long-term water resources, help with wastewater planning and enable more resilient solutions to drought and flooding.

In conclusion, just as the Bill seeks to put nature and climate at the heart of government decision making, so the Government are placing these environmental goals at the heart of our efforts to relieve poverty around the world. We are doubling our international climate finance funding and investing £220 million to protect international biodiversity. Working with overseas territories, we are on track to protect over 4 million sq km of the ocean by the end of 2020, and we are leading a global ocean alliance determined to protect at least 30% of the ocean in marine protected areas by 2030.

As we look ahead to co-hosting COP 26, we want this country to lead the global ambition for international targets on climate, ocean and biodiversity. I hope that in years to come people will look back on 2020 as a turning point—as a time when we came together, both nationally and internationally, to start to reverse the disastrous erosion of nature and wildlife. There can be no doubt that reversing the tragedy of biodiversity loss is a massive task, but the Bill sets up a vital framework to enable that process of recovery to accelerate. It is a truly landmark piece of legislation, enshrining environmental principles in law, requiring this Government and their successors to set demanding and legally binding targets and creating a world-leading environmental watchdog to hold them to account.

In my maiden speech in this House, I extolled the beauty of the open spaces of my Chipping Barnet constituency. I emphasised the crucial importance I placed on protection of the green belt and our natural environment. Fifteen years on, I remain convinced that there can be few things more important for a Member of this House than to be able to say that in their time in elected office they played a part in conserving the stunning landscapes, wildlife and natural habitats of this great country. In its 232 pages, its 130 clauses and its 20 schedules, the Bill will help us all to do that. I commend the Bill to the House.

Several hon. Members rose—