Debates between Rebecca Pow and Ruth Jones during the 2019 Parliament

Tue 26th Jan 2021
Environment Bill
Commons Chamber

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

Committee Debate: 22nd sitting: House of Commons
Tue 24th Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Twenty First sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee Debate: 21st sitting: House of Commons
Tue 24th Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Twentieth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee Debate: 20th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 19th Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Nineteeth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee Debate: 19th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 17th Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Sixteenth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

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

Committee Debate: 17th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 12th Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Fourteenth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

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

Committee Debate: 15th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 10th Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Thirteenth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee Debate: 13th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 3rd Nov 2020
Environment Bill (Ninth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee Debate: 9th sitting: House of Commons

Environment Test From Patch Testing (First sitting)

Debate between Rebecca Pow and Ruth Jones
Monday 16th August 2021

(5 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful, as ever, but disappointed by the Minister’s response. I do not think we need to divide the Committee, but I doubt whether even the Office for Environmental Protection will be established in the next months. Let us hope that it will go more quickly. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 30

Smoking related waste

“(1) The Secretary of State will by regulations introduce a producer responsibility scheme in England to tackle smoking related waste.

(2) The scheme will compel those tobacco companies operating in England, as defined in the regulations and subject to annual review, to provide financial support to the scheme based on a market share basis.

(3) The scheme will ensure that those tobacco companies will have no operational or other involvement in the scheme other than to provide financial support in accordance with guidance from the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and the Department of Health and Social Care.

(4) The regulations will set a target for a reduction in smoking related waste by 2030.

(5) The regulations will set out an appropriate vehicle to deliver the scheme including governance and criteria for funding related initiatives.

(6) The Secretary of State must prepare and publish an annual report of the scheme and must lay a copy of the report before Parliament.”—(Ruth Jones.)

The aim of this new clause is to ensure that the Government creates a producer responsibility scheme for smoking related waste. No such scheme exists at present and the clear up and waste reduction of cigarette butts are not covered by other Directives.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab)
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I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause is really quite clear, and I suspect that colleagues on both sides of the Committee know what is coming, but I want to speak to it for a moment. It is designed to ensure that the Government create a producer responsibility scheme for smoking-related waste. No such scheme exists at present, and the clear-up and waste reduction of cigarette butts are not covered by other directives.

I remind colleagues that it was this Government who clarified, back in February 2020, that tobacco packaging is covered by the current producer responsibility regulations, which require companies to recycle a proportion of the packaging waste that they place on the market. In their resources and waste strategy, the Government committed to look into and consult on the extended producer responsibility, or EPR, for five new waste streams by 2025, as well as to consult on two of them by 2022. The five priority waste streams are: textiles, fishing gear, certain products in construction and demolition, bulky waste, and vehicle tyres—the Minister has already alluded to that several times during our debates. They are important areas for the challenges facing us as we look to tackle the climate emergency.

The producer responsibility powers in the Bill enable the Government to set up an EPR scheme for cigarette litter. I urge the Minister to do so, and I look forward to a positive response from her on that specific point. I am concerned that, up until now, Ministers have not identified cigarette litter as a priority area for EPR, so I would like some further clarity on the detail and the likely timescale for any progress. I am sure that the Committee does not need to be reminded—I will do so anyway—that cigarette butts are estimated to account for 5% of ocean plastic, which is a big deal. We need to act, and we need to act now.

I hope the Minister will take the opportunity to set out a clear action plan and timetable when addressing the issues raised by the new clause. There is a crossover with the other responsibilities that we have as parliamentarians and lawmakers, because it is clear that smoking has a public health impact. Having been an NHS physiotherapist for more than 30 years before being elected to this place, I know a fair bit about the lungs and the danger that smoking causes. New clause 30 will help the wider battle against smoking and help promote a healthier world for all of us. As such, and with the determination needed to tackle the climate emergency, I wish to divide the Committee.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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I thank the hon. Member for Newport West for her contribution. It is always good to hear about people’s backgrounds, and her medical knowledge is obviously very useful.

Smoking-related litter is a particularly persistent and widespread problem. In the 2017 litter strategy, we explained that the most effective way to tackle smoking-related litter is obviously by reducing the prevalence of smoking in the first place. Given the hon. Member’s background in health, I am sure she would agree with that. Smoking rates in England are currently at their lowest recorded level, and our ambition is for a smoke-free Britain by 2030. In the meantime, I have made it clear that the lack of serious investment by the industry to clear up the mess caused by its products cannot continue.

In September, I held a roundtable with the tobacco industry and other stakeholders. I got a key group together, and I was pleased that we were able to get them to come to the table. We understand that Keep Britain Tidy is working with the tobacco industry to develop a non-regulatory producer responsibility scheme, and we are watching very closely, because it could provide a rapid means of securing significant investment from the industry to tackle the litter created by its products, rather than having to take legislative action.

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Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
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I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

New clause 34 was tabled in my name and in those of my hon. Friends the Members for Southampton, Test, for Cambridge, for Putney, and for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough. We are seeking to ensure that we build on the Minister’s words and give real effect to the long-term sustainable change that the climate emergency demands.

The new clause is clear in tone and intent. Although we are an island, safe and secure water supplies have eluded us in the past, and with a rising population and increased demand, the existing infrastructure, on which we have relied for many years, needs to be supported. It needs the pressure taken off, which is what the new clause would do.

In preparing to speak to new clause 34, I read Ofwat’s recent report exploring the decisions that can be taken, the options available, and the action required to reduce demand for water in coming years. The report notes that

“on average we currently use about 140 litres of water per person per day in England and Wales, up from 85 litres per person in the 1960s.”

The report’s findings also reveal that

“tackling household leaks and using innovative technologies could help to decrease water use by two thirds—or over one bath per person per day—over the next 50 years.”

The new clause therefore goes some way to giving parliamentary and legal effect to addressing many concerns related to tackling water waste up and down England.

The preservation of our environment is ultimately in our hands and those of the people we represent: working people in all parts of the United Kingdom. We need to ensure that the law in shaped in such a way that we motivate and encourage people to change their behaviour and to adapt to the changing and evolving demands of the climate emergency. The Bill will go some way towards ensuring that we reach out and give the people of England the necessary direction, whether that is through the introduction of mandatory minimum standards subject to a five-yearly review or a set of fittings requirements. If we do not act now—there is no reason for us not to seize this initiative—we cannot expect people in the country to act.

This is a once-in-a-generation Bill, as the Minister said on Second Reading and previously in Committee. Let us ensure that those words mean something. Let us deliver a Bill that is fit for purpose, and that will stand the test of time and the scrutiny of future generations. With the future of our planet in mind, I move the new clause.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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I thank the hon. Member for tabling the new clause. I have met a range of bodies to talk about water efficiency, including the Bathroom Manufacturers Association, and there is no end of things to learn about loos, flushes and showers—it is genuinely very interesting. I now read the riot act to my kids when they have showers that are far too long.

I understand the hon. Member’s intention of improving water efficiency in our homes. We agree that more needs to be done to improve the management of our water resources, but I can reassure her that, with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, we are already investigating how the building regulations could best promote water efficiency through the introduction of mandatory water efficiency labelling for water-using products. We consulted on those measures in 2019, and we will be able to use clause 49 of and schedule 6 to the Bill, and existing powers under the Building Act 1984, to make the changes required. We expect to publish a Government response to the consultation in spring 2021, which is fast approaching, and that will set out our policy on water efficiency and, specifically, whether changes to the building regulations are required.

The new clause would introduce mandatory minimum standards for water efficiency in the building regulations. However, I hope that the hon. Member notes that the regulations already set minimum water efficiency standards for new homes. She is right about the amounts: we use 145 litres a day. We actually aim to get that down to 110 litres a day. Improving labelling and consumer information about the amount of water that gadgets use will be part and parcel of the new water efficiency world.

Let me add that under section 81 of the Water Act 2003, there is already a duty on the Secretary of State to report every three years on the steps that he has taken to encourage water conservation. That report must be laid before Parliament. The last report was published in December 2018, so I suggest that there is no need for a similar review requirement.

I hope that I have covered all the points that will reassure the hon. Member that she does not need to press the new clause, and that she might kindly withdraw it.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is good to hear about the Minister’s new knowledge of bathroom fittings; I must admit that we have all learned a lot about them. I remember, even as a student, putting a brick in our cistern to save water, which was a great thing—and obviously a good use of household bricks. I think we all agree that more absolutely needs to be done, and while I take her point about new homes being covered by regulations, we need to deal with existing homes. Let us be honest: there are far more existing homes that need encouragement and help to do the right thing. We also need to ensure that people are aware of their water usage, because if they do not know how much water they are using, they cannot do anything to conserve it. It would be good to marry up the various sound water conservation measures in other legislation by incorporating them all in the new clause. It is a shame that she has not accepted—

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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I just want to make a quick correction. I mentioned a figure of 110 litres. Does the hon. Member agree that, while the efficiency requirement for a new build will be 125 litres per person per day, it could be the 110 litre figure that I mentioned if that is imposed by a local authority when granting planning permission? Does she welcome that?

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do welcome it, but I am a bit lukewarm. I would sooner it was down to the original rate in the 1960s of 85 litres per person, which would be far more helpful in moving forward on the climate change emergency. I am disappointed that the Minister has not taken the new clause on board, but I will not seek to divide the Committee on it, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 35

Clean Air Duty

‘(1) The Secretary of State must prepare and publish an annual policy statement setting out how the Government is working to improve air quality, and must lay a copy of the report before Parliament.

(2) The annual policy statement in subsection (1) must include—

(a) how public authorities are improving air quality, including indoor air quality; and

(b) how Government departments are working together to improve air quality, including indoor air quality.

(3) A Minister of the Crown must, not later than three months after the report has been laid before Parliament, make a motion in the House of Commons in relation to the report.’—(Fleur Anderson.)

This new clause requires the Secretary of State to publish an annual report on air quality which includes indoor air quality and the work of public authorities and Government departments working together to improve it.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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

This is the final new clause. It is only right and proper that, as we come towards the end of the Committee’s scrutiny of the Bill, after considering more than 230 amendments and 35 new clauses, we end with something that we can all agree on.

This new clause is all about working together. It has been tabled by the all-party parliamentary group on air pollution. It asks Government Departments to work together and for reports on how the Government are working with local authorities to achieve something very ambitious—tackling our air quality. It has cross-party support from hon. Members including the chair of the APPG, my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), and 23 other MPs.

The new clause is intended to help the Minister to get to that holy grail of action—cross-departmental working—and to achieve cross-government support for action to tackle air pollution, specifically indoor air pollution. Given that the public health crisis results in 40,000 deaths a year and costs £20 billion, urgent action is needed by the Department for Transport and many others across Government. The new clause would help with that.

The new clause is an important addition to the parts of the Bill on air quality, in particular schedule 11. The Minister may say that that is sufficient, but I would argue that it is not. Schedule 11 amends the Environment Act 1995 and gives the Secretary of State the duty to report on the

“assessment of the progress made in meeting air quality objectives, and air quality standards, in relation to England, and…the steps the Secretary of State has taken in that year in support of the meeting of those objectives and standards.”

Those reports and that action are very welcome, but the new clause takes them further. It would be in the Bill itself, rather than an amendment to another Act, and has additional reporting requirements that would do more to ensure that there was more focus on achieving our air quality targets and more joined-up working in Government.

Hon. Members will have read an email sent to us all in which Professor Sir Stephen Holgate, the Royal College of Physicians’ adviser on air quality and the UK Research and Innovation clean air champion, supports the new clause. I know that it is important to the Minister to be science-led. He said:

“I strongly support the need for placing greater transparent responsibility on public bodies, both central and local, to say what steps they are taking to improve air quality, both outside and inside buildings including houses, workplaces and schools. Since most people spend over 80% of their time indoors, the indoor air is a particular concern especially since all the emphasis is on conserving energy by “sealing” buildings with little regard to ensuring that ventilation is adequate. …unless attention is focused on the ever-increasing chemical contaminants that will accumulate, without adequate ventilation, the public will suffer adverse health effects. This is especially so in periods of “lock-down” during the coronavirus pandemic and the attention needed to be given to this is in the building of new homes. Special attention must be given to vulnerable groups such as pregnant women, children, older people and those with chronic disease.”

Many other scientists back up those findings.

We all know that air pollution is a public health crisis, as acknowledged by the joint report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, the Environmental Audit Committee, the Health and Social Care Committee and the Transport Committee last year. There was joint working there, which we can encourage with the joint working on the reports that the new clause would make a legislative commitment.

A report by King’s College Hospital last year showed that cutting air pollution by a fifth would reduce the number of lung cancer cases by 7.6% in London, 6.4% in Birmingham, 5.9% in Bristol, 5.3% in Liverpool, 5.6% in Manchester, 6.7% in Nottingham, 6% in Oxford and 5.9% in Southampton. I read those figures out to show the local impact that air pollution is having on a considerable number of people’s lives; we know that it needs local action. The new clause would ensure that we find out what that local action is and whether it is good enough.

Living near a busy road can trigger bronchitic symptoms among children with asthma. If pollution were to be reduced by one fifth, there would be 3,865 fewer cases of children with bronchitic symptoms every year in London. In my own constituency, I would see the difference that that would make. The Government have made considerable funding available to local authorities, so local authorities should report back on what the funding has achieved.

We now know that there is a more urgent reason for the new clause, which would strengthen the Bill. There is a direct link between coronavirus deaths and air pollution. Harvard says there is an 8% risk, whereas the Max Planck Institute says it is 14%, for each additional microgram per cubic metre of PM2.5, the smaller particulates. There is a direct link between air quality and coronavirus deaths, and the new clause would make taking urgent action compulsory. It is no surprise that there is a link, because air pollution weakens lungs, hearts and brains, which covid also affects. We need a joined-up approach, with cleaner transport and ventilated schools. It is about education, health, better building regulations from MHCLG, better planning and knowing the effects of more home working with digital infrastructure.

The new clause would encourage a fiscal strategy that helps to drive a holistic vision of a cleaner, healthier and more productive future for all. Put simply, we need to have a joined-up approach to have the best effect, and the new clause would help to ensure that is done by asking for joined-up reporting. No matter what is already in the Bill, it just does not go far enough. The new clause is needed.

The new clause does not have specific targets and action plans that can be rejected by the Conservative party. In fact, they are for the Office for Environmental Protection, which was mentioned in many earlier debates, to decide. However, this would be a wonderful model for the UK to showcase at COP26 next year, and for other Governments to adopt. There is no doubt that there might be a silo mentality in DEFRA that says, “We can’t ask other Departments to do things,” but air pollution is an NHS public health issue of massive proportions, and it cannot be left to DEFRA or to the Secretary of State for one Department.

No one Department has the tools to combat air pollution. The Minister will say that she will work with the Department for Transport, the Department of Health and Social Care and many other Departments, but the new clause would ensure that others could learn from best practice—we would be able to see when things were not going well and put them right as quickly as possible. We need such a collective, joined-up approach. The Minister should raise her ambition to embrace other Departments that, in their hearts, want to work together for the common good.

As we have seen again and again with previous debates, the Government have a big majority and can vote against the new clause, but this is the opportunity—this last new clause—for us to come together and agree. The biggest test for the Government is not how many votes there are, but whether they are big enough to accept in good grace an idea from an all-party parliamentary group that they know is in the best interest and is supported in principle by all parties, and to take it forward for the common good. I think we would have cheers from people outside this place, who would hear that we are working together to tackle a concern that is so important to so many people.

This is an important opportunity to work together across government and public bodies to improve public health by improving air quality outside and inside, which would save lives. All our constituents would want us to do all that we can to protect them and their children, and the new clause would help us deliver on our duty to do so. I ask the Minister and members of the Committee to put their constituents and country first by supporting the new clause.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Rebecca Pow and Ruth Jones
Thursday 22nd April 2021

(9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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There is another doughty spokesman for his constituency. My hon. Friend has spoken to me about this matter before. It is vital that we tackle plastic waste by taking a holistic approach, which includes increasing reuse and recycling, in line with our ambition to transition to a more circular economy. More work is required to understand where chemical recycling represents the best outcome for waste and to assess any unintended consequences, but I welcome the invitation and the chance to visit the ReNew ELP site. He should contact my office, and, when time permits, I would be delighted to visit.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is good to be here in the Chamber and see you face to face today, Mr Speaker.

The Joint Unit for Waste Crime is an important component of the fight against waste, fly-tipping and littering. The Peterstone Wentlooge area of Newport West is a good example of an area in dire need of action from this unit, as the “road to nowhere” there, as it is known, is blighted by fly-tipping, including of noxious substances and chemicals. Clean-up costs for more than 1 million fly-tips cost the taxpayer £58 million in 2017-18, the last time the Department published details of clean-up costs. This Government have pushed councils to the brink and removed the funding needed to tackle fly-tipping, so will the Minister tell the House when this Government will finally take the action needed to protect this green and pleasant land?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Lady for her question and I am sorry to hear about that road to nowhere. I would hate my constituency to be described as the “road to nowhere”. I understand what she is getting at, but this Government are tackling litter. We have a whole policy on tackling litter and I have been meeting Keep Britain Tidy regularly to discuss what more we can do. We have had a lot of campaigns, including “Keep it, Bin it”, which has been extremely effective, and we will be working further on measures. We relaunched the countryside code and added to it during lockdown to cut down on the amount of litter that is dumped, and this has had a significant effect. Local authorities have all of their measures that they can put in place—they can take people to court and people can get hefty fines—but they need to take action with the measures at hand.

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Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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We are of course taking this issue extremely seriously, and all our sympathies go out to Ella’s family. In fact, the Secretary of State and I were pleased to meet Ella’s mother—for which we thank her—and we listened closely to what she said. The coroner’s report was published yesterday and we will respond in due course. The points made are being taken extremely seriously.

Through our landmark Environment Bill, we will introduce a duty to set a long-term air-quality target and an exposure target. To do that, we are meeting all the scientists and academics and all those who can inform us as to exactly the right level to set. We understand that air pollution is a killer and we need to take it very seriously. A £3.8 million air clean-up programme is under way and we are working hard to ensure that that money is targeted at the places where it is needed.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In the Committee on the missing-in-action and elusive Environment Bill, Labour tried to write the World Health Organisation air-quality guidelines into the Bill. Unsurprisingly, the Tories voted us down. Yesterday, in response to the devastating death of Ella Kissi-Debrah in 2013, the coroner published a prevention of future deaths report that recommended that the Government should view the World Health Organisation guidelines for air pollution “as minimum requirements”, because all particulate matter is harmful. The coroner has given a clear recommendation and clearly stated that it would save lives, so when will the Minister commit to setting a PM2.5 target that is at least in line with the World Health Organisation guidelines?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

The report highlights that there is no safe limit of PM2.5, which is why it is so important that we get it right. That is why we are taking so much advice on it. The WHO has acclaimed our clean air strategy as world leading and

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

It sets out the steps that we are starting to take to improve air quality. The Environment Bill will introduce a duty to set a long-term target on air quality and an exposure target, which nobody has done before. We will give the issue all the attention it deserves.

Draft Single Use Carrier Bags Charges (England) (Amendment) Order 2021

Debate between Rebecca Pow and Ruth Jones
Thursday 22nd April 2021

(9 months ago)

General Committees
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Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I thank the shadow Minister, as always, for her comments. I join her in offering Her Majesty belated birthday wishes, although I am not sure it will exactly be a happy birthday this year. I send our genuine sympathies to the shadow Whip, the hon. Member for North Tyneside, on the death of her husband. This happened to me two years ago, and I can honestly say that I know how she will be feeling. Will the shadow Minister please pass that on to her from us all?

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Of course.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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In order for us to leave the environment in a better state than we found it for the next generation, it is essential that we get the right legislation in place to limit the impact on the natural world of our use of resources. Plastics are an incontrovertible cause of harm to our environment, both terrestrial and marine. These measures are an important part of our wider strategy to tackle plastic pollution. In addition, we are getting under way a raft of measures, not least the Treasury’s plastic tax and the ban on stirrers and straws. All the measures in the Environment Bill will help us to tackle plastics in the waste stream and their negative impact on the environment.

Perhaps I should touch first on the all-important Environment Bill. I think the shadow Minister is being slightly disingenuous, because work on it has not stopped. Indeed, this pause—it is only a pause—has enabled work to carry on with all speed on the targets, and on further strengthening the Bill and what it will trigger. That includes water quality targets. I know you are really keen on our water quality, Sir Charles, and those targets will help to drive improvement in chalk streams and all our rivers. We are also working hard on the air targets, and all the other important things that the Bill will trigger.

The Bill will put in place the measure to set up extended producer responsibility. That will put the onus on the manufacturers of plastic packaging to be responsible throughout its entire life cycle, and that includes where it ends up. Manufacturers will not want plastic packaging to end up as waste, so they will think hard and long about things such as its design and labelling. That will have a big impact on any plastic bags that are left in use, as I think the shadow Minister alluded to. We launched the second consultation on the matter on 24 March—the consultation ends on 4 June—so we are moving very quickly towards its introduction. A huge amount of work is going on to ensure that we get that absolutely right.

The shadow Minister touched on something that a lot of people question, namely why these bags are not biodegradable or compostable. I asked the same questions myself when I arrived in the Department, because it seemed straightforward. However, we have to consider what they biodegrade into. What chemicals, which then go into our soil and water, do they break down into? Biodegradable plastics are, by their nature, at odds with the principle of reuse and recycling; they are not reused or recycled, because they break down. Strong concerns have been raised about how biodegradable they are, and what they break down into. They might have a vital role to play in some very niche areas, but we are carrying out an awful lot of research into this, and at the moment there is a lot of concern about them. They will certainly not step in and replace plastic carrier bags.

I think the shadow Minister asked about the consultation on the order that we are considering. It was consulted on between December 2018 and February 2019, and the summary of responses was published on 31 March 2020. We received a lot of responses to the consultation right across the supply chain, from the waste industry, from non-governmental organisations and from members of the public, with pretty overwhelming support for the proposals. That was very positive.

The shadow Minister touched on the question of bags for life. They should be reused. They are not single-use bags; they are bags for life, as their name suggests. They will last longer than single-use plastic bags. If they are reused sufficiently, their overall environmental impact in comparison to single-use plastic bags is likely to be positive. Interestingly—I am not sure that a lot of people are aware of this, but let us make them aware—retailers are required to take back worn-out bags for life and replace them like for like, free of charge. The impact assessment that accompanies the legislation estimates an increase of 40% in the number of bags of life used over 10 years. However, the policy change will lead to an overall reduction of 21% in the number of bags supplied across all bag types—single-use carrier bags. bags for life, paper bags, cotton bags and so on—over that period, which will lead to an overall reduction in plastic usage. Do not forget my idea of wicker baskets, either.

The shadow Minister may be interested to hear that, as I mentioned in my speech, we will review how the whole system works once it is up and running for single-use carrier bags, and then we will consider extending to retailers those reporting requirements on bags for life. That is not included at the moment, but if it looks as though it would be helpful, it will certainly be looked at.

The shadow Minister touched on paper bags, and she expressed the concern that we were charging only for plastic bags when we ought to be charging for paper ones as well. For her information, paper bags need to be reused three to four times to have an impact equivalent to that of plastic. For cotton bags, the figure rises to 130 times. Paper bags may be littered or escape into the environment, but they are much less damaging than plastic, because they break down. Of course, cotton bags are rarely littered. The point is that the environmental impact of all bag types will be reduced by reuse. If we all reuse our bags, we will really reduce their impact.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The point I was trying to make about paper bags is that it takes four times as much energy to produce them as it does to produce plastic bags. It is not about what happens during their lifetime; it is about their production, which is so energy-inefficient.

Environment Bill

Debate between Rebecca Pow and Ruth Jones
Report stage & Report stage: House of Commons
Tuesday 26th January 2021

(11 months, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 - Government Bill Page View all Environment Act 2021 Debates Read Hansard Text
Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker; I shall slow down a tiny bit, then.

I did just want to say a little more in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne. I talked about the sewerage management plans, which are now going to be requirements, and said that I would use the powers of direction in the Bill if water companies were not using those properly. Section 13(1) of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 already requires risk management authorities to co-operate with one another when exercising prescribed functions, but I intend to expand those functions to include the preparation of a drainage and sewerage management plan.

I hope that demonstrates that I and this Government, and DEFRA in particular, are putting this whole issue of dealing with our water right up there, centre stage. It is so important to all of us that we sort our water out, and it is thanks to so many colleagues—my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne and others who have spoken—that we are taking this really seriously. I hope that everyone will be supportive of that, including my Labour shadow colleagues.

Let me go back to REACH very quickly. I said that we had included safeguards to protect the fundamental principles of REACH, which is schedule 20. That includes ensuring a high level of protection for human health and the environment, and replacing substances of very high concern, such as cancer-causing chromium compounds, through the REACH authorisation process. As I said, we cannot agree to proposed new sub-paragraph (1B), which would force us to follow what the EU does instead of having ownership of our own laws. We would have to make decisions and regulations with no regard to our own scientific evidence. We have no plans at all to diverge from EU REACH for the sake of it. I hope the shadow Minister was listening to that, because she particularly raised it. Protecting the environment and human health is paramount, and the UK will retain the fundamental approaches and key principles of EU REACH.

I really will wind up now, Madam Deputy Speaker, and thank you for your time. It has been an honour to preside over the passage of this Bill. It has been long, and it still continues, but all the better. It charts a new and much-needed exciting and ambitious course for us all on the environment, and it will leave it in a better state than we found it. I want to thank all colleagues on both sides of the House who have taken part in this, helping to drive us all towards a fairer, greener future. I want to thank my Bill team. I probably do not have time to name them all, but I named them in Committee. I thank my private office, all Members who sat on the Public Bill Committee, my long-suffering family and my husband Charles, who I hope is watching me from up there.

As Members of the House are aware, the immense pressure put on the parliamentary timetable by the covid pandemic means that the Bill will sadly need to be carried over to the second Session. As I stated at the start, we will be back. I give an assurance that this carry-over will in no way reduce our commitment on the environment. Intensive work relating to measures in the Bill is already under way and will continue. One of the reasons I came to Parliament was to work to put the environment centre stage, helping to steer us to an essential sustainable trajectory for the planet. It is the right thing to do, and we are doing it.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for her wide-ranging thanks and comments, but I have to say that we will be doing it all again in May, because this is only day one, and we have day two to go. Hopefully, the Bill will eventually become law, which will be really good, because that is the whole point of this.

Our amendments would make an average Bill better, but as the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) said, we want the Bill to go further. Labour wants to seize the opportunity before us to develop a genuinely once-in-a-generation Bill, in the words of the Minister. Changing explanatory notes about the Bill is all very well, but it does not change the legislation. If it is that important, we should put it in the Bill.

The Minister touched on the deposit scheme, as requested, but we do not want to focus on consultation; we want a proper scheme delivered at the earliest opportunity. On air quality, it is vital that we act and act now. One Government Back Bencher noted that the World Health Organisation knows best, and I urge the Minister to take heed of that piece of advice. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) for sharing the experiences of his constituents who live in, as he put it, a “pollution blizzard”. I am also grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma) and for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) for their moving and important speeches on new clause 6, on air quality. They both mentioned the lost life of Ella Kissi-Debrah—a name we must never forget.

The Minister is right: we all want strong, effective management of our water; we want clean water; and we want to mitigate the impact of hazardous waste in our waters. I am pleased that the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, the right hon. Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne), spoke earlier in the debate. He knows from the shadow Minister for water, my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock), that Her Majesty’s Opposition support his private Member’s Bill. Water quality is so important. That is why, when preparing for the debate, I was shocked to find that in Camborne and Redruth—the Secretary of State’s seat—all 10 rivers that pass through the constituency have failed to meet the standards of chemical pollution set by the Environment Agency. Simply put, the Government’s inaction has seen contaminated water not just across the country but in the Secretary of State’s own backyard. I hope that that will focus the Minister’s mind.

I join my good friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones), in praising Friends of the Earth Pontypridd for its campaigning work on water, and I praise her work on nappies too. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Putney (Fleur Anderson) and for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins) for their enthusiastic contributions. The vital nature of science and its purpose was highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), who spoke about his many decades of fighting to protect our environment and preserve our planet; he is right. The Chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), made an important contribution in which he spoke to both his amendment and ours, and I thank him for the cross-party approach he has taken to these issues.

On waste, the Minister heard the message loud and clear from colleagues, and a special mention goes to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) for her years of campaigning. The Minister could quite easily accept new clause 8 and show that a cross-party approach is welcomed by Tory Ministers.

Amendment 24, which we will push to a vote, would ensure that Britain does not become a dumping ground for hazardous waste. It would prevent damaging deregulation and help to maintain regulatory parity with EU REACH and chemical-related laws that would prevent the dumping of products on the UK market that fail to meet the EU regulations and avoid the cost and complexity of regulatory divergence on the industry. Our objective is clear, and I hope that the Minister will support our amendment tonight. The need to do whatever we can to preserve our environment and protect our planet is obvious, so I hope that she will join us in doing just that.

We wish to push amendment 24 to a vote, Mr Deputy Speaker, but, with the leave of the House, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 59

Hazardous waste: England and Wales

Amendments made: 32, page 46, line 39, leave out “Before section 62A” and insert “After section 62”.

This amendment changes the way in which the location of new section 62ZA of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 is identified. It is currently inserted before section 62A of the 1990 Act, which is repealed by the Waste and Environmental Permitting etc. (Legislative Functions and Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020.

Amendment 33, page 48, line 45, leave out from beginning to first “the” in line 13 on page 49 and insert—

‘(8A) In the application of this Part to England, “hazardous waste” means—

(a) any waste identified as hazardous waste in—

(i) the waste list as it applies in relation to England, or

(ii) regulations made by the Secretary of State under regulation 3 of the Waste and Environmental Permitting etc. (Legislative Functions and Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020/1540), and

(b) any other waste that is treated as hazardous waste for the purposes of—

(i) regulations made by the Secretary of State under section 62ZA, or

(ii) the Hazardous Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2005 (S.I. 2005/894).

(8B) In the application of this Part to Wales, “hazardous waste” means—

(a) any waste identified as hazardous waste in—

(i) the waste list as it applies in relation to Wales, or

(ii) regulations made by the Welsh Ministers under regulation 3 of the Waste and Environmental Permitting etc. (Legislative Functions and Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020/1540), and

(b) any other waste that is treated as hazardous waste for the purposes of—

(i) regulations made by the Welsh Ministers under section 62ZA, or

(ii) the Hazardous Waste (Wales) Regulations 2005 (S.I. 2005/1806).

(8C) In subsections (8A) and (8B),’.

This amendment updates the definitions of hazardous waste being inserted into Part 2 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to take account of the Waste and Environmental Permitting etc. (Legislative Functions and Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020.

Amendment 34, page 49, line 18, leave out from “(2000/532/EC)” to end of line 19.—(Rebecca Pow.)

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 33.

Clause 62

Regulations under the Environmental Protection Act 1990

Amendment made: 35, page 55, line 33, leave out subsection (4).—(Rebecca Pow.)

This amendment omits an amendment to section 62A of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which is no longer needed because section 62A is repealed by the Waste and Environmental Permitting etc. (Legislative Functions and Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020.

Clause 73

Environmental recall of motor vehicles etc

Amendment made: 7, page 63, line 18, at end insert—

“and the regulations may provide that a reference in the regulations to a standard is to be construed as a reference to that standard as it has effect from time to time.”—(Rebecca Pow.)

This amendment provides that regulations under Clause 73 specifying relevant environmental standards may specify standards as they have effect from time to time. This power to make ambulatory references will avoid the need to amend the regulations each time standards are updated.

Clause 91

Disclosure of Revenue and Customs information

Amendment made: 8, page 91, line 31, leave out

“section 154(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003”

and insert

“paragraph 24(2) of Schedule 22 to the Sentencing Act 2020”.—(Rebecca Pow.)

Section 154(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 has been replaced by paragraph 24(2) of Schedule 22 to the Sentencing Act 2020. This amendment updates the cross-reference in consequence.

Schedule 20

Amendment of REACH legislation

Amendment proposed: 24, page 244, line 19, at end insert—

‘(1A) Regulations made under this paragraph must not regress upon the protections or standards of any Article or Annex of the REACH Regulation.

(1B) Subject to sub-paragraph (1A), the Secretary of State—

(a) must make regulations under this paragraph to maintain, and

(b) may make regulations under this paragraph to exceed

     parity of all protections and standards of chemical regulation with any new or amended regulations of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the regulation of chemicals.’ —(Ruth Jones.)

This amendment would set a minimum of protections under REACH and remove the possibility that a Secretary of State might lower standards than are in place currently, whilst reserving the right for them to set higher standards should they choose.

Draft Reach Etc. (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 Draft Control of mercury (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 Draft Detergents (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 Draft Waste and Environmental permitting Etc. (Legislative Functions and Amendment Etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020

Debate between Rebecca Pow and Ruth Jones
Tuesday 8th December 2020

(1 year, 1 month ago)

General Committees
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Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I thank the shadow Minister. It is never a hardship to listen to her speaking at length. She referred to people thinking that this might be a niche issue; chemicals are far from a niche issue, and the Government have never treated them as such. We are taking this extremely seriously, which is why so much liaison and discussion has gone on with industry, businesses and, indeed, with the devolved areas over the SIs. That remains crucial. As I have pointed out, there is still much ongoing discussion with them about these issues. She criticises the SIs, but today is her opportunity to scrutinise the legislation, and we have given her ample opportunity to do so, and indeed anyone else on the Committee.

As I said at the end of my earlier speech, the instruments are necessary to ensure that the Northern Ireland protocol is implemented properly. They correct operability deficiencies, which is necessary for the implementation of the protocol, respond to the Government’s commitment to unfettered access for Northern Ireland goods, and help to ensure that we are fully prepared for the end of the transition period on 31 December. The REACH SI does not set up the UK REACH regime, about which we heard a great deal. That was done by the REACH Etc. (Amendment Etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which the House considered last year.

All that the present SI does is make amendments to provision for the Northern Ireland protocol to change some of the transitional provisions to extend deadlines for data submission. These instruments will also ensure that the UK continues to meet its international obligations for mercury, as a party to the Minamata convention. They will also ensure that we continue to maintain the high standards of biodegradability for detergents and surfactants. The waste instrument makes small but important changes to existing legislation, and takes powers back from the European Commission. It amends legislation relating to the restriction of hazardous substances, packaging and batteries, so that the UK complies with the Northern Ireland protocol.

I will skim through some of the queries raised. A lot of them were quite general; they were about the overall REACH regime, which is not exactly what these statutory instruments are all about, but I will touch on some of them. In particular, the hon. Member for Newport West raised the subject of associate membership of ECHA. We have gone past that now; I am sure she knows that. That would be unacceptable, because it would tie the UK to the EU’s regulatory agenda and leave us subject to the European Court of Justice.

The hon. Lady touched on animal testing. As a former chair of the all-party parliamentary group for animal welfare, this is a subject dear to my heart, on which I engaged as a Back Bencher. Under EU REACH, tests on vertebrate animals must only be used as a last resort, and companies must demonstrate this. We are retaining this principle in the UK REACH. Extending the deadline would give industry more time to make sensible arrangements for access to existing data about chemicals. That is why the extension that we have talked about today for two years, four years, and six years is so helpful. The data includes information for animal studies, and it will reduce the risk of repeat animal tests.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I understand the point the Minister is making, but is she confident that when we leave the EU, animal testing will not be duplicated in the UK? The animal testing agencies are very concerned that there will be duplication, and that means duplication of animal testing.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

Potentially, I think the hon. Lady is unnecessarily scaremongering. She has heard what I have just said: we are retaining the principle in UK REACH that animal testing would be a last resort. If testing has already been done and we have got the data, no one wants to repeat that. The UK, as she knows, has always been at the forefront of opposing animal testing where alternative approaches could be used, and we will retain the last-resort principle. I hope that offers assurance.

I have touched on why we need a separate UK REACH. It would not be appropriate for us to automatically implement future EU decisions under UK REACH, because the EU will no longer consider the impact of their decisions on Great Britain. In setting up our own system, we can take the EU’s decisions into account, but we will need to consider, in every case, whether the decisions we are making are right for Great Britain.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Is the Minister confident that, as we divert from the EU, we will be able to maintain standards, and that this is not a race to the bottom, as some in the industry worry?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

Again, I would suggest that the hon. Lady is scaremongering. Does she honestly think we want to be in a race to the bottom over something as important to human health and the environment as chemicals? She sat through the Environment Bill with me, where we talked about protecting the environment. Does she really think that I as the Minister, and all the people working in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, would open up the floodgates for a race to the bottom over dangerous chemicals? One of these SIs relates to hazardous chemicals. I reiterate that we will stick to the principles that we maintain—and indeed will probably strengthen them. We have the opportunity to do that in a bespoke way now. I hope that is of some assurance.

The hon. Lady touched on costs. We are very conscious of the need to reduce costs, which is why the UK has been looking to agree an approach to data-sharing with the EU as part of the free trade agreement. She was obviously edging towards that in her conversations about remaining part of ECHA, which we will not. Our negotiations are ongoing, and the aim I have just outlined would assist us greatly in meeting the need for the data to underpin UK REACH, while also avoiding extra costs to industry. We could then significantly reduce the requirements and costs on companies, which would submit their data directly to HSE. Again, however, the extension of the time period for companies to do this will also help with all that.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is being very generous with her time. She is talking about data-sharing. The Prime Minister and his team have gone to Brussels for negotiations with the EU. Will they come back with a deal that will include the data-sharing clause?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I am ever supportive of the Prime Minister and optimistic. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] As we all are—that was a great response, and I thank the Committee for it. The hon. Lady is pushing me, but obviously we cannot have only one plan; we cannot have only a negotiated plan A. That is why we are creating an independent chemicals regime, and we must plan for a scenario in which the EU does not agree to our preferred route of data-sharing. However, I am sure we would all want our independent regime to be robust and effective, so we should all accept the importance of industry and authorities having the information that they need to protect human health and the environment properly through the supply chain, as I have touched on before. Obviously it is not cost-free, but if we do not maintain that, we are moving away from the core principles of industry being responsible for understanding the risks of the substances it uses. Regulators must have the information that they need to provide oversight and assurance. We are sticking to our principles, but obviously we have to get the right data and keep everybody safe in our new regime.

That leads me neatly on to my next point. The hon. Lady referred to a race to the bottom and the lowering of standards, but I can assure her that we are definitely taking a risk-based approach to phasing the submission of registration data by requiring, as I touched on earlier, that companies producing the highest tonnage of chemicals and the most hazardous chemicals have to provide their data first, two years after the 300 days. Companies producing lower tonnages and lower-risk chemicals will follow after that. Taking such an approach should facilitate the submission of better-quality data for the risky products first, and then companies can have bit longer to submit their data on less concerning risky products. HSE will be able to look at a variety of sources to inform its decisions, which will also include using its years of experience on chemical regulation within EU REACH and the new substance regime that ran prior to it.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister mentioned HSE, its powers of enforcement and its legislative ability to regulate. Is she confident that there will be enough members of staff and funding, given that HSE’s budget has been stripped out of all proportion over the last 10 years?

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Rebecca Pow and Ruth Jones
Thursday 26th November 2020

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady gives some examples, but she is somewhat aggressive in her approach, in that I work so closely with the Department for Transport and the Department of Health and Social Care so that we do have a joined-up approach on air quality, and our clean air strategy goes right across all Departments. Some £1.2 billion from the Department for Transport is being devoted to cycling and walking investment, and the bike vouchers literarily went like hot cakes in the summer. We do work closely together. The hon. Lady raises some important points, and we are looking into all the options because we know that times are changing and work patterns are changing.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are one United Kingdom, so I know that the Minister will have paid keen attention to the work happening, albeit devolved, in other parts of the country to tackle toxic air quality and pollution. Will the Minister confirm that she has read the Welsh Government’s clean air plan and share with the House some of the tips she has picked up?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Lady for bringing Wales into the discussion, but of course air quality is a devolved matter—she serves on the Environment Bill Committee, in which we have said so many times that it is a devolved matter. I hope that she and the Welsh Ministers have read our clean air strategy, because it is considered a global leader, but I am always open to ideas. If we can pick up tips from other places, I am all for it.

Environment Bill (Twenty Second sitting)

Debate between Rebecca Pow and Ruth Jones
Committee Debate: 22nd sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 26th November 2020

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 - Government Bill Page View all Environment Act 2021 Debates Read Hansard Text
Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful, as ever, but disappointed by the Minister’s response. I do not think we need to divide the Committee, but I doubt whether even the Office for Environmental Protection will be established in the next months. Let us hope that it will go more quickly. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 30

Smoking related waste

“(1) The Secretary of State will by regulations introduce a producer responsibility scheme in England to tackle smoking related waste.

(2) The scheme will compel those tobacco companies operating in England, as defined in the regulations and subject to annual review, to provide financial support to the scheme based on a market share basis.

(3) The scheme will ensure that those tobacco companies will have no operational or other involvement in the scheme other than to provide financial support in accordance with guidance from the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and the Department of Health and Social Care.

(4) The regulations will set a target for a reduction in smoking related waste by 2030.

(5) The regulations will set out an appropriate vehicle to deliver the scheme including governance and criteria for funding related initiatives.

(6) The Secretary of State must prepare and publish an annual report of the scheme and must lay a copy of the report before Parliament.”—(Ruth Jones.)

The aim of this new clause is to ensure that the Government creates a producer responsibility scheme for smoking related waste. No such scheme exists at present and the clear up and waste reduction of cigarette butts are not covered by other Directives.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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

The new clause is really quite clear, and I suspect that colleagues on both sides of the Committee know what is coming, but I want to speak to it for a moment. It is designed to ensure that the Government create a producer responsibility scheme for smoking-related waste. No such scheme exists at present, and the clear-up and waste reduction of cigarette butts are not covered by other directives.

I remind colleagues that it was this Government who clarified, back in February 2020, that tobacco packaging is covered by the current producer responsibility regulations, which require companies to recycle a proportion of the packaging waste that they place on the market. In their resources and waste strategy, the Government committed to look into and consult on the extended producer responsibility, or EPR, for five new waste streams by 2025, as well as to consult on two of them by 2022. The five priority waste streams are: textiles, fishing gear, certain products in construction and demolition, bulky waste, and vehicle tyres—the Minister has already alluded to that several times during our debates. They are important areas for the challenges facing us as we look to tackle the climate emergency.

The producer responsibility powers in the Bill enable the Government to set up an EPR scheme for cigarette litter. I urge the Minister to do so, and I look forward to a positive response from her on that specific point. I am concerned that, up until now, Ministers have not identified cigarette litter as a priority area for EPR, so I would like some further clarity on the detail and the likely timescale for any progress. I am sure that the Committee does not need to be reminded—I will do so anyway—that cigarette butts are estimated to account for 5% of ocean plastic, which is a big deal. We need to act, and we need to act now.

I hope the Minister will take the opportunity to set out a clear action plan and timetable when addressing the issues raised by the new clause. There is a crossover with the other responsibilities that we have as parliamentarians and lawmakers, because it is clear that smoking has a public health impact. Having been an NHS physiotherapist for more than 30 years before being elected to this place, I know a fair bit about the lungs and the danger that smoking causes. New clause 30 will help the wider battle against smoking and help promote a healthier world for all of us. As such, and with the determination needed to tackle the climate emergency, I wish to divide the Committee.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Member for Newport West for her contribution. It is always good to hear about people’s backgrounds, and her medical knowledge is obviously very useful.

Smoking-related litter is a particularly persistent and widespread problem. In the 2017 litter strategy, we explained that the most effective way to tackle smoking-related litter is obviously by reducing the prevalence of smoking in the first place. Given the hon. Member’s background in health, I am sure she would agree with that. Smoking rates in England are currently at their lowest recorded level, and our ambition is for a smoke-free Britain by 2030. In the meantime, I have made it clear that the lack of serious investment by the industry to clear up the mess caused by its products cannot continue.

In September, I held a roundtable with the tobacco industry and other stakeholders. I got a key group together, and I was pleased that we were able to get them to come to the table. We understand that Keep Britain Tidy is working with the tobacco industry to develop a non-regulatory producer responsibility scheme, and we are watching very closely, because it could provide a rapid means of securing significant investment from the industry to tackle the litter created by its products, rather than having to take legislative action.

--- Later in debate ---
Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Member for tabling the new clause. I have met a range of bodies to talk about water efficiency, including the Bathroom Manufacturers Association, and there is no end of things to learn about loos, flushes and showers—it is genuinely very interesting. I now read the riot act to my kids when they have showers that are far too long.

I understand the hon. Member’s intention of improving water efficiency in our homes. We agree that more needs to be done to improve the management of our water resources, but I can reassure her that, with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, we are already investigating how the building regulations could best promote water efficiency through the introduction of mandatory water efficiency labelling for water-using products. We consulted on those measures in 2019, and we will be able to use clause 49 of and schedule 6 to the Bill, and existing powers under the Building Act 1984, to make the changes required. We expect to publish a Government response to the consultation in spring 2021, which is fast approaching, and that will set out our policy on water efficiency and, specifically, whether changes to the building regulations are required.

The new clause would introduce mandatory minimum standards for water efficiency in the building regulations. However, I hope that the hon. Member notes that the regulations already set minimum water efficiency standards for new homes. She is right about the amounts: we use 145 litres a day. We actually aim to get that down to 110 litres a day. Improving labelling and consumer information about the amount of water that gadgets use will be part and parcel of the new water efficiency world.

Let me add that under section 81 of the Water Act 2003, there is already a duty on the Secretary of State to report every three years on the steps that he has taken to encourage water conservation. That report must be laid before Parliament. The last report was published in December 2018, so I suggest that there is no need for a similar review requirement.

I hope that I have covered all the points that will reassure the hon. Member that she does not need to press the new clause, and that she might kindly withdraw it.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is good to hear about the Minister’s new knowledge of bathroom fittings; I must admit that we have all learned a lot about them. I remember, even as a student, putting a brick in our cistern to save water, which was a great thing—and obviously a good use of household bricks. I think we all agree that more absolutely needs to be done, and while I take her point about new homes being covered by regulations, we need to deal with existing homes. Let us be honest: there are far more existing homes that need encouragement and help to do the right thing. We also need to ensure that people are aware of their water usage, because if they do not know how much water they are using, they cannot do anything to conserve it. It would be good to marry up the various sound water conservation measures in other legislation by incorporating them all in the new clause. It is a shame that she has not accepted—

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I just want to make a quick correction. I mentioned a figure of 110 litres. Does the hon. Member agree that, while the efficiency requirement for a new build will be 125 litres per person per day, it could be the 110 litre figure that I mentioned if that is imposed by a local authority when granting planning permission? Does she welcome that?

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do welcome it, but I am a bit lukewarm. I would sooner it was down to the original rate in the 1960s of 85 litres per person, which would be far more helpful in moving forward on the climate change emergency. I am disappointed that the Minister has not taken the new clause on board, but I will not seek to divide the Committee on it, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 35

Clean Air Duty

‘(1) The Secretary of State must prepare and publish an annual policy statement setting out how the Government is working to improve air quality, and must lay a copy of the report before Parliament.

(2) The annual policy statement in subsection (1) must include—

(a) how public authorities are improving air quality, including indoor air quality; and

(b) how Government departments are working together to improve air quality, including indoor air quality.

(3) A Minister of the Crown must, not later than three months after the report has been laid before Parliament, make a motion in the House of Commons in relation to the report.’—(Fleur Anderson.)

This new clause requires the Secretary of State to publish an annual report on air quality which includes indoor air quality and the work of public authorities and Government departments working together to improve it.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Environment Bill (Twenty First sitting)

Debate between Rebecca Pow and Ruth Jones
Committee Debate: 21st sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 24th November 2020

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 - Government Bill Page View all Environment Act 2021 Debates Read Hansard Text
Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I thank my hon. Friend for making my case for me. A great deal of thought has gone into it, which I was going to come to at the end. The shadow Minister suggests that this has not been thought about; I think those were his exact words. To reiterate what my hon. Friend said, this has been thought about in great detail, to come up with a system that will be better at solving problems and improving the environment than the one the EU has on offer.

Furthermore, the Committee might wish to note that this new clause would give the OEP powers that even the European Commission does not have, so it cannot claim to be ensuring equivalence between the OEP and the European Commission. The European Commission cannot fine a member state government, only the Court of Justice of the European Union can do so, a point that really needs clarifying with the shadow Minister. As I have already mentioned, we have stronger remedies than the CJEU. It would be wholly inappropriate for the OEP to directly impose fines. Effectively that would mean the OEP could prematurely sanction public authorities, without reference to the courts, and with no appeals mechanism for the public authority to challenge the decision.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Minister agree that enabling the OEP to issue penalty notices would help to give its investigatory work a degree of clout, and serve as a meaningful contribution to efforts to improve public authorities’ compliance with environmental law?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I do not think the OEP is going to have any problem at all operating its clout. We will have a new chairman and a supporting board, and that will be their raison d’être. They do not need fines. In fact, I wrote an exclamation mark as I thought it was a bit of a joke when I saw that the shadow Minister had suggested that the OEP should become a funding body. That would be a significant expansion in its scope, and not consistent with its role as a watchdog to hold Government to account.

In summary, the OEP’s enforcement framework has been designed to resolve cases as robustly, quickly and effectively as possible. The powers already available to the courts to grant and enforce remedies make a system of fines unnecessary. I therefore ask the hon. Member to withdraw the new clause.

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Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister has talked about the OEP holding the Government to account. How will it do that, as it will be part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs? It will be appointed by the Government, and will, surely, be hand in glove with the Department. It is very difficult to say that it will actually be able to hold the Government to account.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I will not go into a huge amount of detail in my answer, as it was all covered in the early stages, but I could send the hon. Lady a page on how and why the OEP will remain independent. It will be an utterly independent body, and the Secretary of State has to be mindful of the independence of the OEP; that is a crucial part of some of the detail written into the Bill, and, if she wants to be referred to those sections, I am sure that we could clarify those with her.

Clause 26 enables the OEP to assess how environmental law is implemented; it is not simply about compliance with—or deviation from—the law, but will be more about whether the law is effective and delivering its intention. The OEP will seek information from public authorities to undertake this duty but, again, its findings will be addressed to Government, and only Government are required to respond.

This will work as one big machine, and local authorities will clearly play an important part; that is not to say that public authorities cannot implement any of the OEP’s recommendations which are applicable to them, if appropriate. However, this is very different from the suggestion that public authorities must comply with the OEP’s recommendations unless they publish a report justifying an alternative approach.

For those reasons, I ask the hon. Member for Southampton, Test to withdraw the new clause.

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Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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

I rise to speak to new clause 16 in my name and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Southampton, Test, for Cambridge, for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare), for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) and for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle). The new clause is a specific and targeted addition to the Bill, and I do not intend to speak on it for long.

As colleagues will know from our recent discussions on waste and recycling, it is important that we act as comprehensively as possible and that we show real leadership on these important issues. For us to take these matters seriously—actually and theoretically—we need the Bill, when it leaves Committee, to be made up of a comprehensive plan backed by a coherent agenda that will deliver real results now and into the future. I hope the Minister recognises that the new clause will do nothing other than enhance the scope and reach of the Bill, taking it a great deal closer to being fit for purpose.

The Minister and Government Back Benchers will know that we have not sought to divide the Committee for the sake of it in recent weeks. Truth be told, all our amendments are worthy of a vote and of being added to the Bill. Alas, the Minister and her loyal colleagues have put paid to any chance of those additions. I wish to press new clause 16 to a vote, however, for a number of reasons, the most important being that people out there need to know that although efforts to make recycling fit for purpose, to tackle waste and to fight the climate emergency head on in England were on the table, they were all rejected. I would be delighted if the Minister rose to inform the Committee that she will accept the new clause and, even at this late stage, I urge her to scrap her notes and do just that.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady will be pleased to know that I will not be recycling my notes just yet. I thank her for tabling new clause 16, which seeks to ensure that the Secretary of State must take account of the requirements of the waste hierarchy when considering all matters relating to waste and resource efficiency. Organisations that produce or manage waste in England and Wales are already legally obliged to comply with the waste hierarchy duty, as set out in the Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011—the hon. Lady is perhaps not aware of that.

The Environment Agency is responsible for enforcing that in England. Government policy in this area has, for a long time, been developed with the principles of the waste hierarchy in mind, and that commitment was affirmed in our resources and waste strategy in 2018—an excellent strategy that I urge the hon. Lady to read—which sets out our plans to move away from an inefficient “take, make, use, throw away” model, to a more circular economy that keeps products and materials in use for as long as possible. We discussed that at length in many of the earlier waste clauses.

We intend to ensure that waste is prevented in the first place and that we recycle as much as possible once waste is created. Measures in the Bill have been developed with the waste hierarchy as our guiding light. At the top of the hierarchy, clause 50 and schedule 7 allow for regulations to be made about resource efficiency requirements, to drive a shift in the market towards products that last longer and can be reused and repaired more easily, as well as towards those that can be recycled. Those regulations would be used, for example, to require fitted furniture to be easy to disassemble and reassemble, or for parts to be easily repaired or replaced. The hon. Lady is absolutely right: the public are really welcoming of such measures.

Our producer responsibility powers in clause 47 and schedule 4 can be used to help to prevent products or materials from becoming waste. By imposing obligations on food producers, for example, we can hold them responsible for surplus food and food waste. That is a huge step forward: collecting food waste but also urging people not to create so much waste in the first place.

Our other producer responsibility powers in clause 48 and schedule 5 will also help prevent waste by making producers accountable for the full cost of managing their products at the end of life. I honestly believe that that will be a game-changer in terms of the amount of waste created. As I have mentioned before, that will encourage businesses to reduce the amount of packaging that they use and to use reusable and recyclable packaging, so that less waste is produced.

Clause 54 will ensure that we make recycling simpler for households, by stipulating a consistent set of materials that must be collected from all households and businesses in England, which, as I have just mentioned, will include food waste. I can therefore reassure the hon. Lady that we do not need the new clause, having touched on everything that she raised. She said that she intended to press the new clause to a vote, but surely I have convinced her that that really is not necessary.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for those helpful comments and for raising the awareness of the importance of the 2011 legislation and the other relevant legislation which, of course, is compulsory bedtime reading on this side of the Committee.

We have discussed at length the importance of the cyclical nature of recycling, but it is so important that we begin to break it down. As the Minister rightly said, it is not just about the end product, but the starting point and how we ensure that products, when they are first created or built, are designed so that they can be fully recycled. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test spent a great deal of time explaining how car parts can be broken down and used again in different ways, and we all took that on board.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

Perhaps the hon. Lady did not register the producer responsibility, which will put the onus on the person who invents and designs the product in the first place. They will remain responsible for the cost of that product through its life and where it ends up, so that will make them think, “Goodness, I don’t want to be responsible for that, so I’ll think about how I design it in the first place,” and that will reduce waste. Maybe she missed that.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I did not miss it, and I am perfectly clear about the producer responsibility. However, I am also clear on the need for public co-operation, because all recycling and waste management begins at home. We must ensure that we have the public on board. Although we are talking about the waste hierarchy, we need to ensure that the public out there in the real world understand fully what is expected of them. We need to make it easy for them, which means that they must have clear instructions—hopefully universal instructions rather than different authorities doing different things, confusing people. On that basis, I am sorry to disappoint the Minister, but I am going to press this new clause to a vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

Environment Bill (Twentieth sitting)

Debate between Rebecca Pow and Ruth Jones
Committee Debate: 20th sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 24th November 2020

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I welcome the fact that the Opposition are in agreement and welcome this. Nobody in their right minds would think this is a bad idea. I welcome that and we do share a good relationship, so I thank them for that. Yes, the amendment was tabled and we all listened to it, and indeed we had plenty of people on our side pushing for it as well. This is a global issue. Let us tackle it together globally, which I think the hon. Gentleman will agree is what we are doing.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

While we are singing from the same hymn sheet and all in harmony, would the Minister agree with over 90% of respondents to the public consultation—there were 63,000 respondents, which is a fantastic result— who felt the legislation could go further and that local law should be strengthened?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

A great deal of consultation went into this and all of those views were looked at, and then it was considered what would be the best and most positive way forward. Tackling this issue is not straightforward and requires dealing with other governments around the world. One has to tread a careful path, and I believe we have come up with a really workable solution.

To answer the comment by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test about why we did not do this more quickly, the consultation took a long time and we had to take into account a great many views and discussions. We must remember that a lot of this originated from the work done by Sir Ian Cheshire and the Global Resource Initiative. We referenced that way back in March, when I was being asked why the Government were not doing this fast enough. We had the GRI’s summary and we were working up how we could continue to work from its recommendations. That is where we engaged with so many NGOs, particularly the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and WWF, because they are valued partners with a great deal of experience. They have been helpful in inputting into what we have come up with. I hope that is helpful to the shadow Minister and I think we will have a bit more discussion about this later, but I will leave it there.

Amendment 231 agreed to.

Clause 130, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 131

Commencement

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Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Members for Cambridge and for Putney for their input. The hon. Member for Cambridge seemed to suggest that my optimism and enthusiasm are negative assets, but I would never even have started my journey to this place if I had not had such optimism and enthusiasm; I am sure the same could be said of every Member here.

I vowed all that time ago that I would engage with environmental issues should I ever make it to Parliament. Lo and behold, here we are discussing the Environment Bill. I know that the hon. Gentleman is very passionate about the environment, and I like to think that he is just teasing me, because he knows that while I and my colleagues are in office, we will stand up for everything in the Bill. We hope that future Governments will do the same, because that is the purpose of the legislation.

The new clause, which aims to tie the UK to EU law at the end of the transition period, is unnecessary. To put it simply, we have left the EU and we should not bind ourselves to the legislative systems of the past. The Government made it very clear that the UK will continue to be a global leader, championing the most effective policies and legislation to achieve our environmental ambitions. I believe that we have demonstrated that even today with the due diligence clause. We will continue to improve on our environmental standards, building on existing legislation as we do so.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is making some interesting points, but does she agree that this is not about staying tied to the EU’s apron strings but about UK rules getting better and better? The new clause provides us with a baseline to improve on.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady leads me neatly on to say that the UK does not need the EU to improve the environment; our high regulatory standards on environmental protection are not dependent on EU membership. Rightly, one could say that over the years we have taken on board standards, such as those governing sewage in water, but we have actually influenced a lot of European policy. Now we are going further. We often led the way, as members of the EU will acknowledge.

To continue with the same approach as the EU is not good enough. I know that many members of the Committee are well aware of the damaging effects of some EU policies, in particular the common agricultural policy. The thought behind it was good, but the environmental consequences are not necessarily to be lauded. That is why we now have this great opportunity to change it, as we must. We will do better.

Lest everyone always thinks that the EU offers some gold-plated system, let me give some examples of where we have already gone ahead of it. For a start, we were the first major economy to legislate for net-zero emissions by 2050. Another good example is the UK’s landfill tax, which is one of the highest in Europe and has been effective in reducing waste disposal and increasing recycling. The UK has also introduced one of the world’s strictest ivory bans to protect elephants from poaching, whereas the EU has yet to legislate on that. Similarly, our clean air strategy has been applauded by the World Health Organisation as an example for the rest of the world to follow.

I must also mention the UK’s microbeads ban, which shows the power of the Back Benchers who worked on it; just the other day, my involvement and that of many others was cited in the Chamber. That ban came into effect in 2018, but the EU did not move to introduce an equivalent ban until a year later. Those are just a few examples, not to mention our recent ban on single-use plastics—plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton buds—coming into force in October 2022. We are ahead in many cases.

There are concerns about non-regression, but surely, after we have sat here for weeks going through the Bill with a fine-toothed comb, it is obvious that we have a real, detailed framework of targets, monitoring and reporting. We are then to be held to account on whether the improvement is actually occurring: Parliament will be able to scrutinise. There will be a closer watch on these things than ever before, which is a good thing. The Secretary of State is required to report to Parliament every two years on what is happening on the environmental front internationally—to look at the new environmental laws being introduced, sift through them and work out which ones would benefit us.

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Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Lady for the new clause and join her in thanking the EFRA Committee; the Committee does a lot of really helpful inquiries, and the waste and packaging one helps to add to the weight of knowledge and information. As hon. Members will know, I was on that Committee for a long time, and one does feel that the recommendations that come out of those inquiries are often useful and can help in that whole mix of listening, consulting and reporting.

The Government are absolutely committed to monitoring waste throughout its journey by improving the data captured on the generation, treatment and end use of waste. As I have said numerous times, I am keen to see improved transparency in where waste is ending up and to make that information more accessible to and usable for businesses, regulators and Government as well as the public. As the hon. Member said, people do want information and to understand, and that is why our labelling requirements—another measure introduced through the Bill—will be so helpful.

Waste tracking is reliant on largely paper-based record keeping, making it difficult to track waste effectively and providing organised criminals with the opportunity to hide evidence of the systematic mishandling of waste. That is why clauses 55 and 56 provide the regulation-making powers needed to introduce mandatory electronic waste tracking across the UK. The powers, which I know the green NGOs will welcome, will enable us to monitor waste through its entire journey from production to end use. The hon. Member was slightly critical about some of the NGOs’ comments, but actually those measures met with a great deal of positivity. The clauses will enable us to track all controlled waste and waste from mines and quarries, and that will include information on waste that is being recycled as well as on products and materials produced from waste.

I am pleased to confirm that we will consult on the design of a waste tracking system next year and that the consultation will address both access to and use of waste tracking data as suggested by the new clause. I therefore do not consider it necessary to introduce a separate clause placing a duty on the Government to launch a specific register for the end use of recycled waste, as that would duplicate effort for both public authorities and businesses.

The new clause would place a further duty on the Secretary of State to introduce the measures in England only, but clauses 55 and 56 give us the necessary powers to establish a system that covers the whole of the UK. We are working closely with the devolved Administrations—that includes the Scottish Government —to develop that. While I support the intention behind the new clause, I consider it unnecessary and ask the hon. Member kindly not to press it.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am glad that the Minister agrees with the comments of the EFRA Committee about the lack of hard data. That is why we need a register, and that is why we tabled the new clause. I am also glad that she acknowledged the importance of ensuring we bring the public with us. Public confidence is so important; otherwise, they will not buy into any new recycling schemes.

The Minister mentioned mandatory electronic waste tracking, which is to be welcomed. However, the new clause is not about having an either/or system; it would enhance the system. The register would be a useful addition to that electronic waste tracking system.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

Is the hon. Member aware—I touched on it in my speech—that local authorities already collect and report data on their waste and many publish information about recycling performance? Information reported to local authorities is published, including on the destination of recyclable material where available. Does she agree that one does not want to put extra burdens on local authorities when they are already dealing with a lot of what she is arguing for?

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for her comments. The problem is that we have a voluntary code with some taking part and others not. That is the issue. No one wants duplication of anything, but we do want to reinforce and enhance the current system so that we have a coherent and comprehensive system across England and—she mentioned the devolved nations—for all areas.

The Minister mentioned the public consultation, and I take that on board. My only worry is that such consultations have been known to be a cause for people to drag their feet. We urge her to ensure that the consultation is speedy, with suitable results at the end of it. I will not press the new clause, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

I suspect that no one wishes to move new clause 8, unless I hear to the contrary.

Environment Bill (Nineteeth sitting)

Debate between Rebecca Pow and Ruth Jones
Committee Debate: 19th sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 19th November 2020

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 - Government Bill Page View all Environment Act 2021 Debates Read Hansard Text
Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I thank my hon. Friend for a slightly off-the-wall intervention. I bet he has a recycling centre in his own constituency in mind. There will obviously be opportunities.

I will not say that the whole tree planting industry has to be kick-started, because there was a brilliant piece on “Farming Today” this morning—I do not know whether anyone was awake that early—about massive tree planting going on in the north. There is a huge private forestry scheme; it is private and has lots of input by Natural England and the Forestry Commission. It feeds into a big sawmill; the sawmills need the wood, and we want to stop the wood being imported, so we need to grow it at home. Although one may not think that the word “trees” is mentioned enough, all the policies we are putting in place to deliver biodiversity net gain and local nature recovery, or a great many of them, will involve tree planting.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Minister not agree that, although it is great to have the tree planting strategy coming up next year, this is a missed opportunity to put it in the Bill, making it a really good, comprehensive, joined-up piece of work?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Member for that. While she makes a good point, I point her to the fact that we did a public paper this summer, which explored whether a statutory target for trees in England would be appropriate under the target-setting process of the Environment Bill. Perhaps the shadow Minister missed it, but it shows that all of this work is ongoing. We have this target-setting measure in the Bill, and this will be a prime example of where a target ought to be set.

I would take issue. I do not honestly believe that picking out individual things right now, putting them in the Bill and saying there should be a target on them is the right way to go about it. We need the ability to make the target, but we also need to get absolutely right what that target should be. On those grounds, one could say, “We’ll have a target for reeds, for pennywort and for some corncockle.” That is not the way the Bill works. I hope I am making that quite clear. I hope I am also making it quite clear that we have this massive commitment to tree planting. Indeed, that was outlined in our manifesto, and the Prime Minister made his announcement this week in his 10-point plan linking it all together.

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Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I wholeheartedly agree. That is what I was trying to get at in the beginning: given that we basically helped to set up those regulations in the first place, we are hardly likely to want to lower standards. Indeed, I would say that we might want to raise them. That will all have to be done on the advice of the experts and the rest. We have no intention whatsoever of lowering our standards.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister says that the Government have no intention of lowering standards, but the ECHA—the European Chemicals Agency—has an annual budget of approximately £100 million and 400 staff, while the Government have promised only £13 million to cover those costs. How can that be commensurate with the protection that we need?

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

By using it better and more efficiently!

Environment Bill (Sixteenth sitting)

Debate between Rebecca Pow and Ruth Jones
Committee Debate: 16th sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 17th November 2020

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester for the amendment and for painting such a charming picture of wild swimming in the River Wye, which I should think is quite chilly. I must also refer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow, who has done so much work on this. As my hon. Friend knows, I have met colleagues several times to discuss this very important issue. He quoted some, frankly, fairly ghastly statistics, as did the hon. Member for Southampton, Test. My hon. Friend is right that this matters and he knows, as does our right hon. Friend, that I take it extremely seriously. I think the hon. Gentleman knows that too.

The issue of river health and the impact of sewer overflows is a priority for me. One of my hats is Water Minister. I vowed that I must do something about that while I am in this role, and I am determined to take action. It has been overlooked for far too long. I have discussed that with my officials at great length. I will not say that they thanked me for it all the time, but it is a priority that I believe we have to get right.

I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester that controlled sewage discharge to watercourses from sewage treatment works are tightly regulated by the Environment Agency using powers under the environmental permitting regulations, so we obviously already have that in place. I want to be clear that when we were designing the current provisions in the Environment Bill on drainage and sewerage management plans, in clause 76, it was a prime objective to tackle the discharge of sewage into our waterways better.

Clause 76 specifically requires that each sewerage undertaker must prepare a drainage and sewerage management plan. [Interruption.] Yes, there is a “must”—that got a cheer! The clause also specifically requires that a drainage and sewerage management plan “must” address relevant environmental “risks”—those two words are very important—and how they are to be mitigated. That will include sewer overflows and their impact on water quality.

Although I understand the intention for specific references to address sewer discharges and water quality, it is entirely appropriate in this case to provide a broad definition in primary legislation of relevant environmental risks. The provision needs to stand the test of time and be fit for the environmental challenges of tomorrow, not just of today. I can say unequivocally and can confirm that I and any future DEFRA Ministers will also have a failsafe power to make directions to specify any other matters that a plan must address. In simple terms, that will ensure that if a plan or plans are not adequate, the Government can take swift action. I will not hesitate to use that power to direct companies if I am not satisfied with their performance to address sewer discharges and water quality. They should consider themselves on notice; in the meeting that was referred to by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test, I pretty much gave that message. I am not messing about.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is making a powerful point. The Opposition have no problem at all with how diligent she is and how conscientiously she does her job. I am just wondering how she would feel if a successor—obviously in many years’ time—was not quite as diligent. We need to know that the safeguards are in the Bill. We want them enshrined in primary legislation. If the Minister is so keen on the power and so committed to it, what is the problem with putting it in the Bill?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Lady for reiterating my commitment. We believe the measures and steps that are here will ensure that that does happen—the sewerage and drainage management plans will come into use and the idea of that will become normal—but there will be an opportunity for a DEFRA Minister to have a failsafe power to make directions to specify any other matters. We also have the Environment Agency keeping abreast of all this. We even have the OEP, at the end of the day. We have so many checks and balances in the Bill that once we get the system going, it should be failsafe.

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Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

The hon. Member for Putney has highlighted why we need to control water abstraction, which is why these clauses are so important. The Government would strongly prefer that solutions are found at a local level between abstractors and the Environment Agency, before these new powers are utilised. A lot of work is already going on to look at abstraction licences, to find different ways of working and to reduce quantities of water abstraction. Indeed, the Government’s 2017 abstraction plan sets out the Government’s commitment and actions to protect our water environment, and it is already beginning to have some effect. Since 2014, a total of 31 billion litres of water has been returned to the environment, and a further 456 billion litres has been recovered from unused or underused licences.

The implementation date of 2028 will afford the Environment Agency the time to engage directly with abstractors to resolve situations without the need to use these powers. That is one of the main pieces of work in progress, as I have outlined. It will also allow time for a catchment-based approach to water resources, to produce solutions. There is a lot of catchment-based work going on. Opportunities will come through the new environment and land management scheme and its systems of new environmental management, where farmers and catchments work together, which is crucial in a holistic approach to the water landscape.

Finally, the date allows time for the transfer of abstraction licensing into the new environmental permitting regime. The powers are more of a big stick, but we are hoping that these other things will swing into place before they have to be used.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Minister agree that 2028 is a long time into the future? By then, small water bodies and wetland habitats, which are an essential but unnecessarily overlooked part of our water environment, may be lost. Something that has already gone cannot be brought back. The year 2028 is far too far into the future and we do not want things to be lost in the meantime.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, but I hope she realises, as I have just outlined, that we are taking action now. The Environment Agency is already working on reducing abstraction with these licence holders in many cases, and that work must carry on at pace.

I also want to be clear—the hon. Member for Putney touched on this—that these measures do not apply to water company abstraction licences. Following the Water Act 2014, water companies are not eligible for compensation for any revocation variation of their abstraction licences, so it is not the water companies we are actually talking about, but the other abstractors of water.

Environment Bill (Seventeenth sitting)

Debate between Rebecca Pow and Ruth Jones
Committee Debate: 17th sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 17th November 2020

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 - Government Bill Page View all Environment Act 2021 Debates Read Hansard Text
Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I reiterate how closely we are working with other Departments and on the “Planning for the future” White Paper to make sure that biodiversity remains the significant objective that it needs to be, as has been indicated already.

Other measures in the Bill, such as the local nature recovery strategies that we will come on to talk about, will help with our moving towards biodiversity net gain. There are a lot of measures that will make it much clearer where the net gain is, what the advantages and benefits of it are, and where it should go.

One of the main aims of our planning reforms is to enhance the environment while having the development that we need. We want environmental assets to be protected. We want to provide more green spaces, more sustainable development and new homes that are energy-efficient. Many of these measures have already been announced and are being introduced, such as the measures on houses and on the reduction of carbon-intensive modes of transport. All these things will work together, and measures in the Bill will help that process. We will also work through the White Paper to deliver even further on the net gain.

Let me reiterate that limiting the power might compel future Governments to make other adjustments to the requirement that would compromise environmental and development outcomes more fundamentally than a lower percentage of net gain. What we are trying to do overall is to raise up the whole net gain.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Minister agree that these amendments are very moderate? We are not looking to limit things down, but to raise things up. The Bill already has the relevant percentage—10%—so to put that as a minimum is surely a very moderate thing. That word is a very important one. As she has already said, she is very ambitious, so adding that word would surely increase the ambition.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I hear what the hon. Lady says, but I still stick to my point that restricting the ability to set a low percentage requirement might force Government to exempt any development types that cannot achieve the 10%. What we are trying to do is to make sure that everyone gets to the 10% mark, and others might go above that voluntarily.

On the final point about the amendment, about compelling the Secretary of State to review the percentage within five years, I offer my assurances that the Government intend to monitor closely the policy outcome of net gain after its implementation. Of course, Members should remember that we have our Office for Environmental Protection; we have a great big monitoring and reporting body. It will be very difficult for anyone not to stick to these measures. They are all in the Bill and they add to the overall enhancing of the environment. I respectfully ask the hon. Member for Cambridge to withdraw the amendment.

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Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I thank both hon. Members for their comments. The 25-year environment plan has been referred to, and I would say that Opposition Members are talking about weakening the commitments on biodiversity net gain in the 25-year plan. The Bill actually takes us further on biodiversity net gain. The plan only included a commitment to consult on a mandatory approach and strengthened policy. We are proposing a robust mandatory requirement with a broad scope of mechanisms for securing gains. I think that is important to register at the beginning.

The schedule states that “any habitat enhancement” within a development site that is considered significant by the planning authority must be

“maintained for at least 30 years after the development is completed.”

Respondents to the net gain consultation expressed strong support for a minimum period of maintenance, and Government responded by confirming that they would introduce a minimum period—hence the 30 years.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am just seeking some clarification on the definition. The Minister said the amendment appears to weaken the Bill, but “in perpetuity” cannot be weaker than 25 years, because perpetuity is longer than 25 years.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

My point was that what we are introducing in the Bill is much stronger than what was in the 25-year environment plan. That was the point I was making. I will press on—

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Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister has talked about targeted, narrow exemptions, but that is not what it says in the Bill. I take on board the fact that she is enthusiastic about and fully committed to this, but somebody coming after her—heaven forbid—could use the wording in a completely different way and we would need to follow that is actually in the Bill, rather than what is in an explanatory note.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Lady for that and I reiterate my first sentence. The Government will not introduce broad exemptions from delivering biodiversity net gain, and we have made that quite clear.

Amendment 170 would undo the exemption for permitted development from the net gain requirement. Permitted development rights play a vital role in freeing up local planning authorities to deal with planning applications that really matter to local communities, and have a wider social, economic and environmental impact. The hon. Member for Cambridge will know that from his time on the planning committee at the district council. Many permitted development rights are for small-scale development or changes of use, such as modest alterations to buildings, small fences or temporary use of land for fairs, where there is little or no impact on biodiversity.

Development undertaken through local planning orders is not exempt from net gain, as we have touched on. Only development under the general permitted development order, such as adding a conservatory, is exempt. It is true that we have extended the scope of the permitted development rights in recent years in order to deliver more homes, but permitted development rights such as allowing office-to-residential conversions and allowing residential blocks to be built up are principally about the use of existing developments and development land, and so are generally outside the scope of biodiversity net gain.

Brownfield sites were mentioned. It is not the Government’s intention to exempt brownfield sites. We absolutely recognise the biodiversity value those sites can have and, indeed, their value to communities—many of them are right in the centre of towns and cities. Any brownfield exemptions will be narrow and will have to recognise biodiversity value. We will consult further on the details of exemptions. For example, brownfield sites will have a set of criteria that would relate to them when these matters were being considered.

Special development orders are rarely used, but it is important to retain the legislative flexibility to make them very quickly to respond to urgent priorities. For instance, in recent years they have been used to secure urgent planning permission for the temporary lorry parks as part of the Brexit preparations, and Members will be able to see the benefit of that and why it is important to do that quickly.

New towns were also touched on, and we are aware that there are extant powers in the New Towns Act 1981 to use special development orders to set out the planning framework for new towns. There are no plans to use those powers at present, and the Government recently consulted on modernising the planning powers of development corporations to ensure that they are fit for purpose. However, we are clear that any new town would need to contribute to biodiversity gain: indeed, one of the great things about new towns is that there is the opportunity and scope to make them wonderful, green, biodiverse spaces in which to live. We have learned so many lessons this year about how important those things are.

We think it is right that the legislation is clear that biodiversity gain should not be included in permitted development rights, and that a clear exemption for development orders is the best way forward. I hope I have given clarity on some of those other areas, and for the reasons I have set out, I ask the hon. Gentleman not to press amendments 170 and 171.

Environment Bill (Fourteenth sitting)

Debate between Rebecca Pow and Ruth Jones
Committee Debate: 14th sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 12th November 2020

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 - Government Bill Page View all Environment Act 2021 Debates Read Hansard Text
Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 19 in schedule 7, page 165, line 30, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

It is a pleasure to see you back in the Chair, Sir George, and to serve under your chairmanship. The amendment is in the names of my hon. Friends the Members for Southampton, Test, for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare), for Cambridge and, my neighbour back home, for Newport East (Jessica Morden).

The schedule gives the relevant national authority the power to make the regulations that set the resource efficiency requirements that products are required to meet. As a Member representing a Welsh constituency, it is a real pleasure to be able to speak to a part of the Bill that applies to all parts of the UK—to all countries. Once again, it is appropriate to remind colleagues that the Bill is important for all our futures. That is why we need to ensure that it is fit for purpose and effective in its measure and scope.

Our amendment to schedule 7 once again looks to the power of language and the subsequent ambition and drive of the Minister and her colleagues. I have never doubted her willingness or commitment to action, but that is why we wanted the Bill to come back sooner, so that all Members could give it the attention and focus that it deserves. For all the commitment and focus, however, we need to see results and actions, not just empty rhetoric that lands up simply being nothing more than words. That is why the amendment proposes to leave out “may” and to insert “must”.

All those of us privileged to be elected to this House, from all parts of the country, come with the support of our constituents behind us. We also come with our party political views and commitments, too. Those views and commitments will, as we all know, change depending on the contemporary political issues of the day, which is why it is so important that we get the wording of the Bill correct now, to ensure that what we mean is enshrined in law for, and clearly understood by, future generations.

The schedule is applicable to all parts of the United Kingdom, so it is vital that we make it as strong as possible. We do not need any more “mays”; we need more “musts”. Language, as has been said in previous sittings, is something that we need to get right. We need to ensure that the language used in the final iteration of the Bill is as strong and ambitious as it can be. As this part of the Bill looks at the general powers exercised, we need to ensure that the relevant authorities are empowered to do what is necessary, and are obligated to do so. The amendment will help to do that, and I hope that the Minister will take it in the spirit in which it is intended.

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

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George. I thank the hon. Member for the amendment. As with amendment 18 on the resource efficiency information power, it is not appropriate to have a duty to take action on all products or to specify particular products in advance. Our intention is to use the power to set resource efficiency eco-design requirements for products where the greatest benefit can be realised. As I did in respect of amendment 18, I reassure the hon. Member that we are committed to approaching the making of any regulations in that way.

It is really important that we have flexibility on setting standards on products that come to light as critical. It is not possible right now to identify products in advance, as it very much depends on industry practice, the environmental impact that the particular group of products being considered might have on the environment, and the feasibility of setting minimum eco-design requirements.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Member for his slightly cheeky intervention. We are talking about the Environment Bill. I have outlined the difference between “may” and “must” in great detail. Importantly, we are not stopping it happening, but it has to happen in the right way and on the right products. A great deal of stakeholder engagement has already happened with industry and will continue, because industry has to be able to do such things, and we have to bring industry along with us.

I will give a good example of where we might soon need to use the measures. Evidence has suggested that absorbent hygiene products might be a good place to start. Similarly, we have identified some other waste streams. The powers might be useful on textiles, furniture, electronics and construction materials, so the provision will genuinely be used and it will genuinely be useful.

I believe that the prioritisation approach will also provide sufficient flexibility to implement or modify requirements at different times for different products, and within a reasonable time span. It will also facilitate the making of separate provisions for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, should the devolved Administrations wish to exercise the powers, as the hon. Member for Newport West recognised. For those reasons, I believe it is appropriate to take regulation-making powers, rather than a duty on the Government to set standards, and I therefore ask her to kindly withdraw the amendment.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for her comments. I think she has made the case for me, because I would hope that the devolved Administrations would insist on taking up the powers. The schedule addresses future circumstances very well with the word “specified”. It is future-proofing the Bill, but the word “must” strengthens it at the beginning. That is why we are pushing for it.

We will not divide the Committee on this matter today; we are content that the wording has been recorded in Hansard. But it is really important that we strengthen the Bill and make sure that people can take the powers when they should do so. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 162, in schedule 7, page 165, line 35, leave out sub-sub-paragraph (a).

As with a number of other important amendments, I move the amendment in the names of my hon. Friends the Members for Southampton, Test, for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare), for Cambridge and, my constituency neighbour back home, for Newport East (Jessica Morden) —that was a memory test.

As Government and Labour colleagues will know from their preparation for this sitting of the Committee, this is very much a technical amendment. Having done that reading, I know that all Members will agree that amendment 162 essentially speaks for itself. [Laughter.] As a consequence, I will not detain the Committee for longer than is necessary, but I will touch on a couple of important points.

First, our amendment proposes to remove sub-sub-paragraph (a). We tabled the amendment because Labour Members are conscious of the need to use the Bill both now and in the future. We do not want to reduce the scope and reach of the Bill before we know where the challenges facing our environment are, what action may be required and when. Once again, I reiterate the point about language: it is vital that every word, every full stop and every sub-sub-paragraph enhances our ability to protect the natural world and preserve our environment. This amendment will help to do that and I hope that the Minister will accept it in the spirit that is intended.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

Again, I thank the hon. Member for tabling the amendment, but I also reassure her that the Government recognise the importance of measures to improve the durability, repairability and recyclability of both energy-related products and products that are not energy-related. The amendment is therefore not necessary, because at the end of the transition period the Government will have powers to set resource-efficiency requirements for energy-related products under the Ecodesign for Energy-Related Products Regulations 2010. Also, DEFRA is working closely with the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in this regard.

In combination with the information power detailed in schedule 6, we could, for example, require that information be provided with electronic devices explaining their expected lifetime, and how to carry out repairs or upgrades. The retained eco-design legislation could be used in tandem to set requirements for the availability of spare parts and upgradeable design.

Lots of us who have our own washing machines, dishwashers and all of those sorts of equipment would probably be pretty much in favour of some of those ideas, so having two sets of powers covering resource efficiency for the same products risks being confusing for businesses and other stakeholders. Therefore, I ask that the hon. Member withdraw her amendment.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for her words there, including her explanation, and also for setting out the scenarios that could be useful in the future. It is always useful to have practical examples to be able to think about how these measures will be applied in the future.

Obviously, while we are sad that the Minister is not going to take our amendment on board, we nevertheless now have it on the record. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I thank my hon. Friend for that incredibly concise intervention. Indeed, the amendment is not necessary, which is the point I am trying to make and what I think he is getting at, because it would be really complicated, if not impossible, to lay down requirements on a product basis that cover these considerations for all exporting countries. Some difference in standards is obviously inevitable, and because of this complexity, such matters are much better dealt with—as I think my hon. Friend is getting at—by other legal mechanisms. That is the remit of the International Labour Organisation’s conventions.

Amendment 164 would remove reference to the material composition of products. This wording is essential to the objectives of the power, as the materials in a product will determine how easily the product can be to be taken apart, recycled and manufactured. Material composition may also determine the amount of pollution associated with these activities.

Finally, I must emphasise the importance of having a carefully defined power within the scope of the Bill. The detriment of seeking to cover too many considerations within these provisions is the risk of making it overly complicated to actually use the powers. On those grounds, I ask the hon. Lady if she will kindly withdraw her amendment.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am glad that the Minister shares our concerns about human rights, public health and fair working conditions. As the hon. Member for Gloucester said, it is a cocktail, but to be honest it is a good cocktail, and it is useful, and it will actually assist us as we go forward with this Bill. It will enhance the Bill, because we think that the Bill should cover these important aspects.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

May I very quickly intervene on the hon. Lady, if that is all right, Mr Chairman?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I want to highlight that we do not consider that goals such as labour rights are best delivered through setting requirements relating to product standards and information. To add to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester, action is already under way on those fronts through a number of other routes, including the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which requires corporate reporting on supply chains and multi-stakeholder working groups and encourages companies to sign up to the International Labour Organisation’s call for action, which I referred to before.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister for augmenting her comments. I agree it is good that we have the Modern Slavery Act and that is important, but there is no harm in putting an additional belt and braces on this Bill to ensure that human rights are taken into consideration, as are public health and fair working conditions. We have pushed for the minimum wage and the living wage, and it is important that those things are taken into consideration. There is no harm in our having integrated objectives across a number of Bills, because it shows that the Government are joined up and thinking across the piece. That is why we will push this amendment to a Division, because it is such an important one and we think it should be enshrined in law.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

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Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 20 in schedule 8, page 170, line 9, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

The amendment appears in my name and those of my hon. Friends. The schedule seeks to enable the national authority, namely the Secretary of State in relation to England, Ministers in the Welsh Government and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland to make regulations establishing deposit schemes.

I thank those out there in the real world who are working on these important issues. For example, Greener UK is working tremendously hard to ensure that the Bill is fit for purpose. I hope that Ministers will take the same approach.

With the powers in place, it will be imperative that the Government promise to deliver the model that will best achieve their aims, as detailed in the resources and waste strategy. Those include changing behaviour to reduce littering on land, in rivers and at sea, and to improve recycling rates. Members of the Committee will remember —I only just remember—the pop bottle schemes, when people would go around with bottles and get 5p. For young people, it was a useful income—for those of us old enough to remember.

All-in deposit schemes—by that, I mean drinks containers of all sizes and materials—offer the best financial return. They achieve the best recycling return, and constitute the clearest system for the public to use. That was confirmed by a series of impact assessments undertaken by the Government in 2019, which found that an all-in deposit return scheme would offer substantial financial benefit and collect a greater proportion of containers when compared with a more limited system that only covered so-called “on the go” drinks containers. An all-in scheme is the most likely to offer opportunities for scaling up to a refill system in future.

Further to that, an all-in deposit return scheme would ensure compatibility right across the UK, by setting out a system for England that would work in harmony with Scotland’s plans. We all have our views on whether the Government are committed to the Union, but as a Welsh MP the lack of respect for devolution and the devolved Government in Wales in recent months has been a matter of huge concern to me and many of my constituents. If the Government are to show that they are serious, they need to show it in letter as well as in voice.

The amendment would allow the Government to do just that. A system that works for and with all nations of the UK would especially benefit those who live near the border between, say, England and Scotland and anyone travelling between the two nations. My Scottish colleagues have highlighted the matter in the House on previous occasions. We want to ensure that the systems are compatible, if not all encompassing, while ensuring that they do not undermine one another financially or environmentally. Likewise, that approach would facilitate a simple roll-out to Wales and Northern Ireland, and so would be a win-win for us all.

The Bill only states that the Secretary of State “may” establish a scheme. The amendment would ensure that the Secretary of State, whoever he or she might be, would actually deliver. Our amendment follows many others tabled to the Bill and moved in Committee. It is all about delivery, action and getting it right by writing it into the Bill.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Lady for her amendment. We obviously recognise the importance of reducing littering and increasing recycling rates as part of our commitment to leave the environment in a better state for the next generation. Our 2019 manifesto pledged to introduce a deposit return scheme to incentivise people to recycle plastic and glass.

This power we enable us to establish deposit return schemes for different items, particularly those which are littered—it is important to try to cut those down—where we want to increase recycling, as well as the quality and value of recycled material. That is all part of that drive that this section is about.

A deposit return scheme will allow us to take plastic from drinks bottles and ensure it gets recycled back into a new bottle, reducing our reliance on virgin plastic material. We touched on that yesterday. So many companies would like a regular, consistent supply of the right kind of plastic to turn into other bottles. We are working on developing an evidence base that will include further consultation before finalising the design and scope of a DRS for drinks containers that will be set down in regulations made using this power.

We know that UK consumers go through a shocking 14 billion plastic drinks bottles, 9 billion drinks cans and 5 billion glass bottles a year. Although plastic bottles are fully recyclable, recent packaging recycling rates of 65% demonstrates that there is room for improvement. We consider that a well-designed deposit return scheme for drinks and containers could achieve something like 90% and higher, as countries that have already introduced the scheme are achieving.

This power gives the relevant national authority the flexibility to make regulations to establish deposit return schemes in relation to specific products or materials. It also gives the flexibility to decide which items are to be included in the DRS, to secure an increase in recycling and reuse of materials and to reduce the incidence of littering and fly-tipping.

It is entirely appropriate to be flexible here. It would not be appropriate for this power to be exercised in some circumstances. The discretionary element allows it to be used in a targeted manner for things that are, for example, the most littered items, such as drinks containers, that are often consumed away from the home. This comes out as one of the top lists on the “Keep Britain Tidy” surveys that are constantly conducted.

We need to have a system that allows us to add and adjust as we learn more about how a deposit return scheme works in practice. I have talked to lots of people involved in these types of schemes. Getting the system right is crucial. I ask the hon. Lady, therefore, to withdraw her amendment.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for her comments. I am slightly anxious that she is talking about further consultation here, because the public just want us to get on with this. They are fed up with being consulted. They have given their views and they want it to happen now. As Greta Thunberg and all the young people, certainly in my constituency, are telling me, “Get on with it. We cannot afford to wait for you. This planet has to be there for us tomorrow.”

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is an interesting point. As my hon. Friend said, if the Government are serious about this, they need to get on with it and they need to be seen to be getting on with it.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

The hon. Member for Cambridge has fired me up now. The point is that this scheme must also fit with other schemes, so it also must fit with the consistent collection of items by the local authorities. A great deal of work must be done to ensure that they all fit together. Even the hon. Member for Cambridge mentioned that one system must not undermine another; they must fit together. If we could get consistent systems across all the devolved Administrations, that would be useful. We are watching Scotland closely, because it is a little bit ahead, to see how that works. It is important that we bring all those things together.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, of course we agree with her that these things have to be communicated clearly. We need to make sure that no one scheme undermines another. We do not want people crossing borders with lorryloads of plastic waste or whatever. That is not the intention. We understand that. However, it is important that we have clear communication across all four nations to make sure that that does not happen. The Minister outlined the regulations that will come through—

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I am sure the hon. Lady will agree and applaud the fact that we consulted closely with the Welsh Assembly Government, and on behalf of Northern Ireland. We are working closely with them on the proposals on exactly the grounds that she proposes.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I agree that it is important that we continue to make that point and communicate clearly across all four nations, but the Minister mentioned further regulations down the line. How will those be enforced? We want to know the how, the what and the where. How will it all come together? I am still not clear on exactly what will happen, so perhaps in future debates the Minister will outline those regulations.

The Minister talked about flexibility. Again, I hark back to my physiotherapy days: we do not want to be so flexible that we fall over. We need some constraints and guidelines to help us to walk in the right path. We are all in favour of getting this done. It is just a question of how soon, how quickly and how best we can do it. With that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I beg to move amendment 68, in schedule 8, page 172, line 39, leave out from “scheme” to end of line 40 and insert

“in relation to which the Scottish deposit administrator is exercising functions”.

This amendment modifies the way in which the scheme administrator of a Scottish deposit and return scheme is described, by referring to the administrator “exercising functions” rather than being “designated”. This is consistent with the terminology used in the relevant Scottish legislation. A similar change is made by Amendment 69.

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Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Member for his comments. I am pleased he raised those points, because it gives me a chance to expand a bit on a genuinely interesting subject by which most of the population are fascinated. As has been mentioned, people do want the schemes. In fact, I am old enough to remember those glass Tizer bottles that could be taken back.

To reiterate, we are talking about schedule 8, which deals with deposit return schemes and the issue of how many plastic drinks bottles we use—14 billion a year, as well as 9 billion cans and 5 billion glass bottles. A lot of them are recycled, but it is still only 65%, so we have a long way to go. That is why the schemes will be important.

We have had a consultation and we are in the process of developing proposals using further evidence and ongoing stakeholder engagement, which is important because we have to involve the industry and local authorities—all the people involved in that whole space. The final scope and model of the schemes for drinks containers, including whether it is all-in or on-the-go, will be presented in a second consultation. We are considering cans and plastic and glass bottles.

In the previous consultation, we also consulted on coffee cups, cartons and pouches, which are one of my bugbears. We seem to be forced to buy our cat food in pouches whereas most of it used to be in tins, which I can hardly find now. That is an interesting subject that we need to go into at some point.

The opportunity will be provided by the schedule, which sets out the framework for deposit return schemes, including what items would be subject to a deposit return scheme, how the deposit amount is set, the requirements that can be placed on scheme participants, and the enforcement requirements under a deposit return scheme. The crucial thing is that a scheme has to be well functioning to make it easy for consumers to use. That is incredibly important, otherwise they will not use it and it will not work.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister raises an interesting point about cat food pouches that I will take away. Obviously it is importantly to address those things, so can she outline the timescale for that?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I was going on to say, touching on the important point made by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test, that the powers will allow us and future Governments to introduce deposit return schemes for other items in future. That is the purpose of them, so they can be expanded in scope, exactly as he hopes. He makes a good point on those grounds.

For example, those schemes could be for batteries, electrical and electronic equipment, and bulky items, including mattresses. The point about mattresses is absolutely right. My family are farmers and they find many mattresses dumped in their gateways on the outskirts of Bath. I know other Committee members’ families are involved in recycling and waste, and they could probably tell similar stories. The schedule will give us that opportunity.

The schemes will work hand in hand with the extended producer responsibility schemes, which will also help to reduce the amount of waste being dumped. Takeaway cups are classed as packaging, so they will come under the extended producer responsibility schemes for packaging. We are committed, as I think I said on a previous day, to consulting on EPR for textiles and bulky household items, so mattresses could come under that category of extended producer responsibility. Thus, exactly as I think the hon. Member was suggesting, it will all be factored into the costs of the mattress, but the manufacturer will have to abide by the EPR system for the mattresses. Other items that we have committed to consulting on for that EPR scheme are construction materials, tyres and fishing gear, so they should all work together.

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Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 21 to schedule 9, page 174, line 28, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

This amendment is another case of “may” and “must”; at the risk of harping on about these things, it is important that we get our language correct. For the benefit of colleagues, I refer them to page 174, line 28 of the Bill, where we want to leave out “may” and insert the word “must”. The reason is that we want Ministers to take to keep their promises and be honest and bold in their promises. Once again, we are looking to strengthen the Bill and make it fit for purpose, and that is why I am asking the Minister to accept this objective and balanced amendment.

This schedule allows for the making of regulations about charges for single-use plastic items. These charges, which we have seen right across the country, with a charge on plastic bags in supermarkets and large stores such as John Lewis and the Link, aim to deliver a reduction in the consumption of single-use plastic items. Our amendment follows on from many others tabled to this Bill and moved in Committee. It is about delivery, it is about action and it is about getting this right.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Member for her amendment. However, it is appropriate to provide the relevant national authority with flexibility regarding when and how this provision relating to littered plastics is given effect. We have seen similar amendments across the Bill, balancing powers, what “may” be done, with duties or what “must” be done. This amendment is no different.

It will not be appropriate for this power to be exercised in all circumstances: for instance, our extended producer responsibility reforms to the packaging waste regulations should make significant strides towards addressing unnecessary plastic waste in packaging. Adding an additional charge would be unnecessary and unfair to those producers, as they would face an overlap of multiple charges and fees. To avoid that, we must take care when deciding which policy instrument to use in order to bring about the most effective change.

We need to take a measured approach and introduce the charge for items where there is a clear, considered and evidenced need for us to intervene. Imposing a duty for the Government to do so without thorough investigation into which products we should charge for could, for instance, lead to the unintended consequences of driving the market away from a single-use plastic product because a suitable alternative is available. That could risk causing even more serious effects, such as increasing greenhouse gas emissions through poor material switches.

The UK is consistently and rightly seen as a world leader in the area of tackling plastic pollution. I recently met a group called Oceana, a global organisation, thinking we were going to pick up lots of tips from them about how they are dealing with it, but they said, “Oh, no, we are watching you, Minister!” That was interesting—we are very much being watched on what measures we are putting in place.

We want to continue to lead by example to ensure that we reduce the plastic pollution entering the environment in the right way to prevent greater issues further down the line. This power will allow us and the devolved Governments of Wales and Northern Ireland to intervene as and when there is a clear need for change. I therefore ask the hon. Lady whether she might withdraw her amendment.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for her explanation. It is always helpful to hear her expand on matters. It is also good to hear that, yes, the Government are being scrutinised by non-governmental organisations out there. It is good to see that they are being held accountable by such people, who are, let us be honest, the watchdogs. They, too, want to ensure that we have action.

The argument about flexibility—that the danger with too much flexibility is that we cannot actually achieve anything—has been made many times, so I will not repeat it, but I am happy to hear about the progress being made in moving matters forward. Again, I press the Minister on timescales. If we are to consult, then how long for and when will action come through? However, I am sure we will discuss that later. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 182 in schedule 9, page 174, line 32, leave out paragraph 1(2)(b) and insert—

“(b) are made of plastic or any other single use material, and”.

The schedule seeks to reduce the consumption of single-use plastic by allowing charges to be imposed. However, the provision for charges to apply only to single-use plastics risks merely shifting the environmental burden, as alternative materials may be used with equal environmental recklessness. The risks of material substitution are plentiful and well documented by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, chaired by the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), a Conservative Member. They have also been covered in comprehensive reports from Greenpeace and the Green Alliance, and I thank both organisations for their work on this important area.

The deeper problem lies with the single-use, throwaway culture, not with plastic per se. We need to look at changing hearts and minds, as well as legislation. I am well aware that during the pandemic our progress on getting rid of single-use plastics has been set back, but I hope the Minister will take this serious and urgent issue forward.

To take fly-tipping, for example, one north London borough—I am sure that this is similar elsewhere—spends millions on collecting fly-tipping, because it has an obligation to keep streets clean, and residents complain when it does not. I am sure all hon. Members in the Committee have similar stories about the amounts their local councils have to fork out to ensure that their streets are kept clear of litter and fly-tipping.

It is not the council dumping mattresses, furniture, unwanted goods and so on; it is residents, businesses and the like, and we had a discussion about that, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test. To tackle the problem, therefore, we need to get it into people’s heads that enough is enough. It is simply not acceptable to attack, damage and contaminate our environment like that. Similarly, with this amendment, we want to tackle the throwaway culture once and for all, and we can use the Bill to do just that.

The amendment would address that increasing challenge. We need to ensure that charges are possible for all single-use materials, not just the plastic ones. In simpler terms, our amendment would ensure that the Government can successfully tackle our throwaway culture at the same time as tackling plastic pollution. Treating plastic in a policy vacuum is a short-sighted approach that risks changes that could, for example, increase carbon emissions or result in more waste generation.

The amendment follows on from many others tabled to the Bill and moved in Committee. It is all about delivery, action and getting the Bill right.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I appreciate the focus on this issue. However, I fear that the amendment has not taken enough account of the bespoke issue of plastics or of how much of the Bill is aimed at tackling our single-use culture. Applying charges to single-use plastic items will be an effective way of reducing the impact on the natural world. The measures are designed to focus specifically on single-use, hard-to-recycle plastics.

In 2019, the Marine Conservation Society recorded that, on average, per 100 metres of beach, more than 150 pieces of plastic were found, which is a shocking revelation. That is more than triple the second most commonly listed item, which is cigarette stubs, which also contain plastic. I do not know whether hon. Members have been to the Keep Britain Tidy events, but that organisation has a big drive on cigarette butts at the moment. They contain a horrifying amount of plastic, not to mention the other toxic chemicals.

The MCS’s work showcases the prevalence of plastics in our environment and explains why this material needs a focused clause in the Bill. As we saw with our ban on plastic straws, plastics still have an important role to play in certain applications, but Government intervention is necessary to tackle unnecessary plastic. Many of our mailbags are full of messages about these items. Public opinion was demonstrated in HMT’s call for evidence on tackling the plastic problem in March 2018, which received an incredible 162,000 responses, with strong support for the use of taxes and charges to tackle single-use plastic waste.

A lot is already being done on single-use plastics. Great work is being done on microbeads and microplastics, which the hon. Member for Cambridge referred to. When I was a Back Bencher, I asked the Speaker whether he had had a shower that morning, with the intention to point out how many microbeads were in the shower gel that would have been used. We have brought in one of the toughest bans in the world. There is also the 5p single-use carrier bag charge, which has had a dramatic impact on the number of bags used. A lot of good work has already been done.

The Bill already provides a robust approach towards achieving a more circular economy. Our new powers to reform the packaging waste regulations will enable us to adapt the system to incentivise all packaging, not just plastic, to be more carefully designed and manufactured, with recyclability in mind. The eco-design measures and consumer information powers will enable regulations to be made that set basic standards with sustainability in mind and that require information provision to consumers, to drive the market towards products that are designed to last longer, perhaps through multiple uses, instead of being thrown away after first use. The House of Commons shop is selling some excellent cutlery packs, which are made of bamboo. My hon. Friends and hon. Members should all carry a pack in their pockets or bags, to cut down on single-use items.

Meanwhile, our powers to enable the implementation of a deposit return scheme and introduce consistency in household and business recycling collections will drive the capture of more material and all types of single-use items for recycling.

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Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I was literally on my last paragraph. The ability to place a charge on single-use plastic items will be a powerful tool in our efforts to tackle the issues arising from our use of single-use plastic, while still allowing for their continued use by people who need them. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Newport West to withdraw the amendment.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Again, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test has said, we are not talking about plastics; we are talking about single-use items.

Environment Bill (Fifteenth sitting)

Debate between Rebecca Pow and Ruth Jones
Committee Debate: 15th sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 12th November 2020

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 - Government Bill Page View all Environment Act 2021 Debates Read Hansard Text
Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I think the hon. Gentleman has made his own point, really. He has outlined why we do not want food waste mingled up with all the rest of the waste. That is why through this Bill, no matter where in England a person lives, they will see dry waste—plastic, metal, glass, paper and card—collected, and food, which is not dry waste, in a separate bin. That is all in the Bill. Food waste will be collected from households on a weekly basis—I do not know how much clearer I can be. That will make recycling more straightforward and, with all the other measures in the Bill, will help us to increase overall recycling rates to 65%.

These recyclable waste streams must be collected separately from other waste and separately from each other, except when it is technically or economically impractical to do so or there is no significant environmental benefit. That will lead to higher quality, driving up the value of all recycled materials and, in turn, encouraging more recycling through increased demand. The clause allows us to add additional recyclable waste streams in future, subject to certain conditions. It will provide consistency of recycling for the first time, and help us meet future recycling targets. I therefore commend it to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 54 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill

Clause 55

Electronic waste tracking: Great Britain

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 128, in clause 55, page 41, line 33, leave out “including” and insert “excluding”.

Clause 55 adds new text to the Environmental Protection Act 1990, and seeks to set up a new system of electronic tracking for waste. Our amendment, which stands in my name and that of my hon. colleagues, seeks to secure that new system. I say to the Minister that the proposed new system is very welcome, but although we welcome the proposal, we and many campaigners and experts want to go further. The new system needs to be expanded to track all materials in line with the National Materials Datahub—the same data hub that the Government have previously supported. I hope the Minister will understand the background and motivation behind what we are trying to do here, and I commend the amendment to the Committee.

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Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Lady for the amendment. I would point out that in the resources and waste strategy, the Government committed to modernising, simplifying and harmonising current regulations relating to the transport, management and description of waste, which have been introduced in a very piecemeal fashion over the past 30 years or so. She will probably agree with me that the current system is in urgent need of an update, and I welcome the fact that she is supporting these general measures.

Waste tracking is still largely carried out using paper-based record keeping, which makes it very difficult to track waste effectively, as it provides organised criminals with the opportunity to hide evidence of the systematic mishandling of waste. In 2018, the independent review into serious and organised waste crime recommended that mandatory electronic tracking of waste should be introduced at the earliest opportunity to address the problems of illegality in the waste sector. In the current system, waste can be fraudulently re-classified and transferred on, or simply illegally dumped, and the paper trail then disappears. That makes it difficult to identify and deal with waste crime, including cases of fly-tipping, which concerns rural and urban areas.

To make essential improvements and create a digital waste-tracking system, amendments may be required to primary legislation or retained direct EU legislation. That does not mean that we are falling behind the EU on standards of waste management—far from it. Instead, we will amend the current legislation to develop a comprehensive system, to ensure that waste can be tracked and regulated more effectively.

The practical effect of the amendment, therefore, would be to undermine and restrict our ability to introduce mandatory electronic waste tracking in a way that works best for our environment, now and in the future, although I know that is not the hon. Member’s intention. I ask her, therefore, to withdraw the amendment.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister for her expansion on the situation. We are singing from the same hymn sheet, because electronic tracking is so important, as the Minister said; the paperwork trail is not as accurate as the electronic one. We all want the same thing. I am pleased she has mentioned the EU, because we do not want to fall behind the EU either. That is paramount as we move forward from 1 January. With that in mind, we will not push the amendment to a Division. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: 43, in clause 55, page 41, line 44, leave out “the National Assembly for Wales” and insert “Senedd Cymru”.—(Rebecca Pow.)

See Amendment 28.

Clause 55, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 56

Electronic waste tracking: Northern Ireland

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 7, in clause 56, page 43, line 4, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

This amendment, again, is focused on language and the strength of the legislation. We want to replace “may” with “must”. I suspect the Minister is getting tired of hearing these amendments, but we are trying to be helpful and ensure that the Bill is as strong and effective as possible. I will not repeat the benefits of “must” over “may”.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Member for the amendment. The introduction of a mandatory electronic waste tracking system will increase transparency in the waste industry, as I outlined earlier, and pose a barrier to organised criminals operating in the sector.

Clause 56 provides the regulation-making powers needed to legislate on how the system is set up and administered in Northern Ireland. It is entirely appropriate to provide the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland with the flexibility as to when and how the provision is given effect. Primary legislation consistently takes that approach to the balance between powers and duties. This enabling power should not be converted into a duty.

It should be for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to decide how and when to use the enabling power to bring forward legislation and, in turn, for the Northern Ireland Assembly to decide whether to approve this legislation. The Assembly must be given its proper place in terms of scrutiny when it comes to the commencement and implementation of the powers. The proposed amendment to place an absolute duty on the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs goes against the spirit of that. If the amendment is made, the Department could be subject to a duty to make regulations on waste tracking that it would then be unable to comply with if the Assembly did not approve the legislation. It would also not be appropriate for Northern Ireland to be subject to a duty to make waste tracking regulations that the other nations of the UK are not subject to. I therefore consider the amendment inappropriate and ask the hon. Lady if she will kindly withdraw it.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for her comments. While I understand her reasoning, we want Northern Ireland to be in line with the rest of the UK in being as strong and far reaching as possible on waste and electronic tracking systems. It is important that we enable the Northern Ireland Assembly and the authorities there to do everything they want to. We had a long debate on powers and duties when considering the Agriculture Bill. If it is that important, it should be legislated for, and it should be in the Bill. However, having heard the Minister, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 56 agreed to.

Clauses 57 and 58 agreed to.

Clause 59

Transfrontier shipments of waste

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Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I too looked at that great list of members yesterday and at non-OECD countries. The OECD countries represent 80% of the world’s investment and wealth. I just wanted to make a point about OECD countries and waste, though. We must not forget that waste is a commodity and that there is a legitimate global market for secondary materials. Exports of waste for recycling between OECD countries are already covered by an international agreement—the OECD decision—which provides the framework for the control of movements of waste.

Where the UK cannot currently recycle materials economically, exports can ensure in some cases that th3e materials are recycled, rather than sent to landfill or for incineration. Not all products sold in the UK are made in the UK. Waste exports can help to increase the amount of recycled materials going into new products we buy that are produced abroad. We must not forget the big picture where waste goes and what it is used for.

Making the amendment before the consultation on the date for stopping the exports of waste to non-OECD countries would pre-empt the result of the consultation. It is important that all stakeholders have a fair and equal opportunity to express their view on when the proposed prohibition should be implemented. The prohibition could have wide-ranging effects on local authorities and our wider waste infrastructure, and it is important to consider these effects fully before we set a timetable for implementing the ban.

I assure all hon. Members that the Government take very seriously the regulation of waste imports and exports, as well as the impact illegal waste shipments can have on the global environment—hence our manifesto commitments. Electronic waste tracking will help this agenda, as we will know what is going where and it will be harder to send the wrong products abroad. I reaffirm that we should be dealing with our own waste right here in the UK wherever possible. I ask the hon. Member for Newport West to withdraw her amendment.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for her enthusiasm for this Bill. We are obviously all enthused, and it is important we get the word out about what is going on. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Cambridge and for Southampton, Test for their eloquent speeches about the need to deal with things at home and not just shove them off into the far blue yonder. People at home have woken up and want to do the right thing. We go on and on about people’s awareness being raised, but we must ensure that they have the ability to do the right thing.

Greta Thunberg has spoken eloquently and young people around the UK especially have taken on board what she says. I was honoured to make my maiden speech on 1 May last year, when she addressed a number of us in Portcullis House. It was the day we declared the climate change emergency so it was important. She is seen as one of the leading lights in engaging young people and encouraging them to lobby those within and outside this room, so that we will do the right thing for them and for future generations.

The nub of the matter is the end result, which is that we are dumping containers in another country. I have seen TV pictures of young people—children—scavenging through waste sites, and the waste has clearly been identified as coming from the UK. That is not acceptable and we know it. We need to make sure we deal with our waste here in the United Kingdom, for the very reason that the Minister has outlined, and with the very mechanisms that she outlined. We make the waste and we must dispose of it properly ourselves though measures including proper processing and proper waste stations. Let us not forget, if we ship waste abroad, it contributes to climate change through the extra emissions from shipping freight.

The Minister has made an eloquent plea for us to withdraw the amendment because the deadline of March 2020 might hinder meaningful consultation, but I argue that the deadline is a helpful way to encourage people to consult and to decide how we can achieve what we want within the timeline. I should say it is a spur—a driver—to help. If the Government are ambitious then, yes, set an ambitious target. That is why it is important that we should push the deadline. That is how we can start to demonstrate that this is about actions, not words. For that reason we shall divide the Committee.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

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Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. Improving the quality of the air we breathe is an absolute priority for the Government. We are taking action to reduce pollution from a range of sources, including a £3.8 billion plan to reduce pollution from road vehicles and our commitment, set out in clause 2 of the Bill, to set a legally binding national target to reduce fine particulate matter, which we discussed a great deal on the very first day of this Committee, a long time ago. The current local air quality management framework places responsibility on local councils to assess local levels of air pollution and to address pollution exceedances. The framework—I think this is what the hon. Gentleman was suggesting, and I agree with him—is not sufficient for delivering the progress we want to see.

The hon. Gentleman has raised a number of issues, but, first of all, on cross-departmental working, I can assure him that I, as the environment Minister, am working increasingly across Departments. On air, we work with the Department for Transport in particular; we have the joint air quality unit with that Department and we are also increasingly working with the Department of Health and Social Care. That is really healthy and really important.

However, going back to that framework, local authorities have told us that they need greater co-operation from a range of bodies in order to deliver meaningful action to bring pollution levels to within statutory limits. The provisions in the schedule will drive greater co-operation between different levels of local government and allow the Secretary of State to designate other relevant public authorities that will also be required to take action. I think that is what the hon. Member for Southampton, Test is really driving at, but it is all in here, and we will consult on which bodies should be designated—actually, we launched a call for evidence on this on 5 October, so work is already under way.

As we set out in our clean air strategy, we also want to provide a quicker and more proportionate enforcement mechanism for smoke control areas, enabling greater local action on domestic solid fuel burning, which is a major contributor to national fine particulate matter emissions. I think the hon. Gentleman touched on funding. We anticipate only a small extra cost to local authorities from the revised local air quality management frameworks —the estimate we have had is around £13,000 per year per local authority.

Returning to the enforcement measures, especially in relation to the smoke control areas and domestic solid fuel burning, we are going to help tackle that, and we will achieve that by replacing the criminal offence in existing legislation with a civil penalty regime, which will allow for the removal of the statutory defences that currently hinder enforcement. This change will ensure that local authorities can avoid lengthy and costly court cases—many of them have mentioned this to us—in enforcing regulations on the smoke emissions, enabling much smarter enforcement. It will be much quicker and simpler for them to deal with an issue as and when they come across it if we make it a civil penalty.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On that point about enforcement, while we agree that it is essential that local authorities are able to enforce, how does the Minister see that enforcement being undertaken? There are environmental health officers up to their eyes with covid, there are lots of people who are no longer in work because of the cuts the authorities have had to make and the funding is an issue. How will it happen?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

The main way it will happen is that we will put the measures in the Bill to enable it to happen, so that the local authorities can take the action they are asking for. This is something they have been asking for and it will be made much simpler for them to take the action that they want to take, so they need to take it. We will have all our targets on smoke and fine particulate matter, so there will be even more reason to tackle any issues within one’s particular local authority.

These measures will also require retailers in England to notify customers of the law regarding the purchase of certain solid fuels for use in smoke control areas. These measures will all work together to improve compliance. They will remove the limit on the fine for the current offence of delivering these fuels to a building in a smoke control area. Local authorities will also be able to apply smoke control legislation to boats moored in their area, subject to consultation. Finally, criminal prosecution of serious offenders who repeatedly emit smoke that is prejudicial to health will be made possible by removing an exemption in existing statutory nuisance legislation. That is another thing that will definitely help the local authorities.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 69 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 11 agreed to.

Clause 70 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 12 agreed to.

Clause 71

Environmental recall of motor vehicles etc

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 8, in clause 71, page 61, line 25, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

The clause provides for the Secretary of State to make regulations providing for the recall of relevant products that do not meet the appropriate environmental standards. I am afraid that this is yet another case of mays and musts. The whole point of the Bill is to deliver real change and to ensure that we seize every opportunity to save our planet.

Do not forget, the Bill disappeared for more than 200 days, so we have lost a lot of time in the fight against climate change—but the fight is why we are here today. We cannot simply report back to the Floor of the House, and to the country, a Bill that is full of mays, ifs and buts. Let us be confident and turn those mays into musts and whens. We can get the Bill through and get on with what we need to do about climate change.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

We know the harmful effect that pollution from vehicles and machinery has on our air quality and the health of our communities. I am sure that all Members are aware of the difficulties facing many local authorities in bringing down concentrations of dangerous air pollution. Much of that is due to vehicles that emit more pollution on the road than they do in a certification test. The Government therefore set out in our clean air strategy that vehicles that do not meet the relevant environmental standards must be recalled and fixed. The provisions will enable the Transport Secretary to issue a mandatory recall notice if vehicles or parts of vehicles do not meet the environmental standards required of them.

I assure hon. Members that my colleagues in the Department for Transport intend to lay secondary legislation at the earliest opportunity to ensure that non-compliant vehicles can be removed from the road. However, it is critical that the vehicle recall regime is fit for purpose. We therefore intend to have a full public consultation on the draft regulations, and we expect the secondary legislation to be in place as soon as possible after Royal Assent. That will depend on the outcome of the consultation. It is appropriate that the Secretary of State is provided with the flexibility as to when and how this provision is given effect. I therefore ask the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment.

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Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister for her words. Obviously, we welcome the clean air strategy. The fact that secondary legislation will be introduced is also welcome but, again, we do not want it to be seen as an excuse to kick things further down the road. Kicking the can down the road is not a good idea, especially when it comes to people’s health. As we know, the lack of clean air can impact directly on people’s lung capacity, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and things like that, which are all exacerbated by poor air quality.

My question to the Minister—it is rhetorical, of course—is, again, who will enforce? She has talked about secondary legislation, but who will actually enforce when a vehicle is seen emitting polluting smoke and particles? Who will do it? There is no money and no staff within the local authorities to do it.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

The measures will impose no additional cost on the motorists. All the recalls will continue to be fully funded by the affected vehicle manufacturers. When enacting a recall, the Government will now be able to impose supplementary conditions on vehicle manufacturers, which could include the requirement that the owner of the vehicle or equipment is compensated for any inconvenience. I hope that the hon. Lady will agree that that means there is a sound system, including setting it all in secondary legislation.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is interesting. I am sure that we will have further debates on this with later parts of the Bill. When I ask who will enforce, I am talking about boots on the ground—who will physically get to the car, lorry or whatever, to pull it in for the assessment it needs in order to impose that secondary legislation? But I am grateful to her for her explanation and, on that note, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 71 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 72 to 74 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Leo Docherty.)

Environment Bill (Thirteenth sitting)

Debate between Rebecca Pow and Ruth Jones
Committee Debate: 13th sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 10th November 2020

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 - Government Bill Page View all Environment Act 2021 Debates Read Hansard Text
Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Whitehead
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Absolutely, and that is what we want to do as well. That is why we want to ensure that it works as well as it should. It appears, I hope, that this formulation, strange as it looks, is capable of being operated in a sound way, as far as the Assembly is concerned for the future, and that people will not be running around corridors asking a building to think, but running around corridors asking the Minister to think, which is what I thought should have been in the Bill. If it works that way round, that is fine. I thank the Minister for her clarification. I have no intention of opposing the schedule.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule 3, as amended, accordingly agreed to.

Clause 47 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 4

Producer responsibility obligations

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 16, in schedule 4, page 151, line 12, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

It is still a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray, even though we are not mentioning that. It is lovely to have the Minister back in her rightful place. The Environment Bill is very important and long overdue, as we have heard. I want to touch on the reason we are here, what we are dealing with, and how we can honour the pledges and promises made to the people of the United Kingdom, primarily in England.

The Bill, according to the Government’s published paper, comprises two thematic halves. The first provides a legal framework for environmental governance, which my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test so knowledgably touched on this morning and last week. The second half of the Bill makes provision for specific improvement of the environment, including measures on waste and resource efficiency, which we are discussing today. In the coming days, we will cover air quality and environmental recall; water; nature and biodiversity; and conservation covenants. They will all be discussed. We need to get the Bill right to ensure that we honour the promise to provide a once-in-a-generation piece of legislation—a promise that the Minister and many Government Members heralded at every opportunity, at least until the Bill disappeared back in March. It is so good to have it back.

That is why Her Majesty’s Opposition have tabled this amendment. We must not have a Bill that is made up of passive “mays” or “coulds”; we need “wills” and “musts”. Many in this House and across England, and those in the sector, have waited hundreds of days for the missing-in-action Bill. Now that it is back and we are here in Committee, we must not waste—I apologise for the pun—the opportunity to have the strongest possible legislation, so we have tabled the amendment.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Member for proposing the amendment. I also welcome her taking up the cudgels—perhaps I should say something less aggressive.

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Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

Yes, taking up the baton on behalf of the Opposition. May I assure the hon. Member for Newport West that the Government have every intention of making regulations using schedule 4? The Bill creates producer responsibility obligations in respect of specified products or materials. That is one of a number of provisions that will enable us to take action significantly to improve the environmental performance of products across their entire life cycle—from the raw material used, to end-of-life management. Other powers in the Bill include our ability in schedule 5 to require producers to pay disposal costs for their products; our powers in schedule 6 to introduce deposit return schemes; and the powers in schedule 7 to set resource efficiency standards in relation to the design and lifetime of products.

The Government need the flexibility to decide what measures will best deliver the outcomes that we want. Imposing producer responsibility obligations in all cases may not be appropriate. The power is drafted in a way that gives us the flexibility to choose the appropriate measure or combination of measures for any product, and to decide which producers are obligated, the obligations on them, and the steps that they need to take to demonstrate that they have met their obligations.

In this instance, we will use these powers to introduce new regulations for producer packaging responsibility. That will increase the reuse and recycling of packaging and reduce the use of unnecessary and avoidable packaging. In 2019, we consulted with the devolved Administrations on proposals to reform the regulations, and we will consult again in 2021, so it is a lengthy process, but a lot of discussion has informed this. In the resources and waste strategy for England, we made commitments relating to updating our already up-and-running producer responsibility schemes on waste electricals, waste batteries and end-of-life vehicles; these powers are needed to implement those commitments. We also committed to taking action to address food waste.

Products vary. They have different supply chains, use different materials and have different impacts on the environment. That is why we need to be able to introduce product-specific regulations, using the appropriate powers. This power provides the flexibility to impose producer responsibility obligations where it is appropriate to do so, and that flexibility would be removed by the amendment. I therefore ask the hon. Member to kindly withdraw it.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for her comments. I take the point about flexibility; in my previous job as a physiotherapist, however, we had both flexibility and control. Splints and corsets were very useful in ensuring flexibility in confined areas. That is why the “mays” should be turned into “musts”. The grammar is important to us. But I take the point, and this is a probing amendment, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

I was, and I thought the Chairman was going to interrupt me when I mentioned all the food.

Finally, schedule 4 allows us to set obligations on producers in relation to reuse, redistribution, recovery and recycling. All that will contribute to a more resource-efficient economy. For those reasons, I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful for the Minister’s reassurance, in which she stressed the importance of the cyclical nature of the production of goods. We must break the cycle of new, new, new. I am risking the wrath of the Chair, but when I sat on the Environmental Audit Committee, we had an investigation and report into the throwaway nature of the fashion industry; that is very relevant to the Bill.

I thank the hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden, my hon. Friend the Member for Putney and the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith for mentioning the importance of recycling centres. There is no point in everyone sorting their recycling at home if there is nowhere to recycle things. That is an important part of the process, which is why we will press after the legislation is enacted to ensure that happens. Having received the Minister’s reassurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - -

Did he?

The hon. Member for Putney also raised an important point about garden waste. We have now legislated for garden waste to be collected: that is in clause 54.

I also wanted to give a quick résumé about the life cycle issue that the hon. Member for Southampton, Test touched on. He mentioned the waste hierarchy, which is basically driving towards a circular economy. That is the driving force of the resources and waste strategy, and it is the intention behind the Bill. I will whizz through the related measures in the Bill, which are about raw material, extraction and manufacturing.

The resource efficiency requirement power enables standards to be set that relate to the materials and techniques used by manufacturers, such as specifying the minimum amount of recycled fibre in clothing, as we mentioned earlier. The resource efficiency information power will drive the market by providing consumers and businesses with the information they need to make sustainable choices. I can see my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester looking at me; in order for him to be able to make the right choices, he wants to know how sustainable a product is, so that he can buy that one as opposed to another one. There will be more information and more labelling.

On end of life, the resource efficiency powers can be used to specify that products are designed so that when they reach end of life, they can easily be dismantled—exactly as the hon. Member for Southampton, Test has outlined—and the materials can be recovered and recycled. Our powers for deposit return, extended producer responsibility and recycling collections would enable better management of products and materials at the end of life. That will increase reuse and recycling, and it will reduce the amount of material that is incinerated or landfilled.

Preventing waste from being created in the first place and reducing the amount of waste that is produced is a priority for the Government. That is why we have stated our ambition to achieve zero avoidable waste by 2050. We will do this though the measures set out in the resources and waste strategy—we seek the powers for some of those in this Bill—and through other initiatives such as the new waste prevention programme, which we hope to publish and consult on in the near future. On all those grounds, I ask the hon. Member for Newport West if she might withdraw her amendment.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
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What an enlightening debate we have had. In terms of one-upmanship, dare I say it, my hon. Friend the Member for Putney has managed reusable nappies for four children. This debate has been useful, and it is good to have all the ideas, because only by putting all our heads together can we make this Environment Bill ground-breaking. We want it to work, and that is why our amendments are designed to help, not to hinder.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test made the important point that as well as recycling, the reusing of goods, parts and components is crucial. People want to do the right thing. Since programmes such as “Blue Planet” have come along, people are much more aware of pollution and how they can play their part. They want to do the right thing, and this Bill must make it easy for them to do so.

The Minister mentioned garden waste. At the risk of blowing Wales’s trumpet, Wales already has a successful garden waste scheme—in fact, recycling rates in Wales are very high—so perhaps she can look across the border. She also mentioned targets. If we do not have targets, how do we know if we are getting to the end of the road? How will we know if we are improving unless we set targets in the first place? We should set targets not to be punitive, but to help us to assess our progress; that is why they are important. We believe that the amendment is also important, so we will press it to a Division.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

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Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
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I beg to move amendment 17, in schedule 5, page 157, line 9, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

Earlier this afternoon, I noted how important the Bill is and how we need to ensure that it receives thorough scrutiny, so that it is as strong and coherent as it can be. With that in mind, we need to do what I urged the Committee to do earlier: get the Bill right, so that we honour and meet the promise of a once-in-a-generation piece of legislation. I remind the Minister that she and her colleagues heralded that promise at every opportunity, until the Bill disappeared in March, only to return now.

That is why we are proposing the amendment. As I noted with amendment 16 to schedule 4, we must not rest on our laurels. We cannot have a Bill that is simply made up of passive and weak “mays” and “coulds”; we need the “wills” and “musts”. The fact that we have waited so long, listening to campaigners and those active in the sector, means that we cannot waste the opportunity to deliver a strong, wide-ranging and competent piece of legislation.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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I thank the hon. Lady for her amendment, but I reassure her that we feel it is not needed. The Government need the flexibility—I have mentioned this before—to decide what measures will best deliver the outcomes we want to see achieved. Requiring producers to pay disposal costs in all cases might not be the appropriate option.

The power is drafted to give flexibility to choose the appropriate measure, or combination of measures, for any product. It also gives us the flexibility to decide for which products or materials producers must pay disposal costs, the producers who must pay the disposal costs, the costs that they must pay and what those costs should be.

At this point, I will take a step back to reflect on what the measures will actually mean. The powers will allow us to create a strong financial incentive for businesses to do the right thing. I have spoken with businesses, and of course they want strong signals, because without them they will not be inclined to invest, innovate or go in the direction that we want them to go. That is so important.

The measures will encourage producers such as supermarkets to reduce the packaging they use in their products, so that less waste is produced. Everybody will start thinking about their products and their packaging, because they have to be responsible for what happens to it at the end of the day. It would be in the best interests of manufacturers to make products that are more reusable and recyclable. Thinking back to nappies, if they are to be reusable or rewashable, they could contain recycled fabric—in fact, that is a jolly good idea, and someone is probably already doing it. That is just an example. Such decisions should all have sustainability in mind, and the customers will see that—with the new labelling and all the information—in the products that they buy.

I can therefore reassure the hon. Member for Newport West that the Government have every intention of making regulations using schedule 5. The resources and waste strategy also commits us to reviewing and consulting on measures, including extended producer responsibility for five other waste streams by the end of 2025. Those five include textiles, construction materials and fishing gear. Along with the other products in that list, they have all been highlighted as urgent areas that could do with this kind of focus.

We need to retain the flexibility to introduce product-specific regulations using the appropriate powers, and as drafted, this power provides the flexibility to impose extended producer responsibility obligations where it is appropriate to do so. I hope that is helpful, and I therefore ask the hon. Lady whether she might withdraw her amendment.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
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I thank the Minister for her words, and respectfully say that strong signals sometimes need to be backed up with strong words, which is why we wanted to amend the wording of the schedule to “must”, not “may”. However, that point having been made again, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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I thank my hon. Friend for mentioning his constituency and for raising that important point about how we need to get business on board, and how we need to give the right signals and get the right things to happen to move us to the circular economy. At the end of the day, we want less waste landfilled or incinerated, less litter and a decrease in the use of virgin raw materials. These outcomes bring wider social benefits —touching on amendment 17—as they improve the environment for the public and for wildlife. They also reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For all of these reasons, the measures in the Environment Bill are strong enough as they stand, and it follows that social issues such as poor conditions for workers are considered outside the scope of extended producer responsibility. I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for her explanation and I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Putney for highlighting the issues of litter and fly-tipping, which really vex people. My inbox is full of complaints about such issues as are, I am sure, those of most Members here if their constituency is anything like mine. It is important that the quality of people’s environment is enhanced and made as good as possible. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test: as he points out, the wording is important. People outside these walls do not fully understand what the Bill is trying to say: the word “disposal”—as he says—is in the dictionary and it means getting rid of something, but we want to make sure that we have a cyclical economy. We come back to making sure that words matter.

I was pleased to hear the Minister highlight the manifesto pledge not to dump rubbish in non-OECD countries. It raises the issue of whether it will go to OECD countries, but that is obviously important. I was also pleased to hear COP26 raised. It is important that the UK sets a shining example to the rest of the world on that, and that is why we are pushing amendment 17: it is so important that we make sure we get it right at this stage so that, as has been mentioned, future generations look back on the Environment Bill with pride. We will be seeking to divide the Committee.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Environment Bill (Ninth sitting)

Debate between Rebecca Pow and Ruth Jones
Committee Debate: 9th sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 3rd November 2020

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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I will keep my comments to what the amendment refers to, which is the involvement of the Environmental Audit Committee and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that Parliament should have a role in the process of making significant public appointments. To scrutinise key appointments made by Ministers is a proper role for Parliament. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and the Environmental Audit Committee—I am proud to have been a member of both, and many hon. Members here are members of those Committees—will jointly carry out a pre-appointment hearing with the Secretary of State’s preferred candidate for the OEP chair.

As the shadow Minister knows, there has already been a lot of discussion about this. This is a commitment. The Secretary of State will duly consider any recommendation made by the Committees.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab)
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The Minister says that the preferred candidate can be scrutinised. Is that not a bit of a Hobson’s choice?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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This is an open and fair process, and other appointments are duly scrutinised in that way. The considerations and views of both Committees will be taken extremely seriously because the work they do is very pertinent to the work in this sphere of Government. The OEP chair is then consulted by the Secretary of State on the appointments of the non-executive members. We do not believe it necessary or desirable for Parliament to scrutinise all those individual appointments in the way that has been suggested.

Ministers are accountable and responsible to Parliament for public appointments, and they should therefore retain the ability to make the final determinations. Ultimately, Ministers are accountable to Parliament and the public for the overall performance of the public body and of public money. The OEP will be added to the schedule of the Public Appointments Order in Council and so will be independently regulated by the Commissioner for Public Appointments. The Secretary of State will be required to act in accordance with the governance code, including with the principles of public appointments, which would ensure that members are appointed through a fair and open process.

The chair of the OEP will be classed as a significant appointment, requiring a senior independent panel member, approved by the commissioner, to sit on the advisory assessment panel, which can report back to the commissioner on any breaches of process. We have also introduced, in paragraph 17, a duty on the Secretary of State to have regard to the need to the need to protect the OEP’s independence in exercising functions in respect of the OEP, including on public appointments.

Those arrangements, and the requirements in the Bill, provide the appropriate balance between parliamentary oversight and ministerial accountability, while ensuring that appointments to the OEP are made fairly and on merit. I therefore request that the hon. Member for Southampton, Test withdraw his amendment.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Rebecca Pow and Ruth Jones
Thursday 15th October 2020

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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I want to highlight that, through our landmark Environment Bill, we will be delivering on parts of our clean air strategy, which will introduce a target for concentration levels of PM2.5. We will be setting an additional long-term target on air quality, which actually goes beyond the EU requirement. We will also have in the Bill measures that will improve local air quality management frameworks used by local authorities to make them much simpler and easier to use, and all of those measures will tackle the issues that the hon. Lady so rightly raises.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab)
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Campaigners, activists and our constituents are all waiting with bated breath for the return of the Environment Bill, which has dropped off the Order Paper for more than 200 days now and counting. When the Bill finally returns to the House, will the Minister commit to including the World Health Organisation’s guideline air pollution limits in it? She has already said today that she wants the evidence base to be in it, but the WHO has done the work, so can we not have a commitment to accept these guidelines?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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I thank the hon. Lady for asking about the Environment Bill. As we say constantly, it will be returning very soon, but we do have an out-date for it, which is 1 December, so she can just work backwards from that, and I look forward to seeing her in the Chamber. On the point about the World Health Organisation, she should remember that these are guidelines. We have been praised for our outstanding clean air strategy, which is considered world-leading, and there is an absolute commitment to this. I think she came to one of the evidence sessions where we heard how complicated it is to set the actual target. There are many contributors to this particulate matter, and we have to look at them all before we set the target.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Rebecca Pow and Ruth Jones
Thursday 10th September 2020

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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The Environment Bill has a big section on tackling air quality, with two targets to be set. Many other air pollutants—five in total—are also tackled, and we already have targets in place for them as part of the clean air strategy. We have a comprehensive strategy, because we appreciate just how serious the issue of air quality is. We as a Government will be tackling that, including with clean air zones across the country, many of which are coming forward in the near future.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for her responses to my hon. Friends the Members for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) and for Stockport (Navendu Mishra), but may I press her further? According to Labour research, almost 60% of people in England are living in areas where levels of toxic air pollution exceeded legal limits last year. That shocking statistic should jolt the Government into action. Will the Minister commit to incorporating World Health Organisation air-quality standards into the Environment Bill?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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I welcome the shadow Minister to her place. As I have said, the Bill contains two targets, and PM2.5 is one of them. We understand that that is the most significant and impactful pollutant of our health, but we must consult on this issue. I have met many experts and specialists in this area, and we must wait for the actual data before we can finally bring those measures into the Bill and ensure that we get this right. As I said, clean air zones are being introduced across the country to tackle this issue through our clean air strategy.