Sue Hayman contributions to the Environment Bill 2019-20


Mon 28th October 2019 Environment Bill (Commons Chamber)
2nd reading: House of Commons
Money resolution: House of Commons
Ways and Means resolution: House of Commons
28 interactions (1,440 words)

Environment Bill

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

(9 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Bill Main Page
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing) - Hansard
28 Oct 2019, 7:29 p.m.

Before I call the shadow Minister, I should warn hon. Members that there will be an initial time limit of four minutes and that that is likely to reduce very soon to three minutes.

Sue Hayman (Workington) (Lab) Hansard
28 Oct 2019, 7:36 p.m.

I begin by thanking the Secretary of State and her civil servants for meeting me last week, and by acknowledging all the work put into the Bill by civil servants, non-governmental organisations and others who have brought it to this stage. We can all acknowledge that it contains improvements on the original draft.

That said, Greener UK, the organisation representing environmental NGOs, has said that the Bill is

“in need of significant amendment before it is capable of guaranteeing that we do not fall below current standards.”

Catherine West Portrait Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab) - Hansard
28 Oct 2019, 7:37 p.m.

Does my hon. Friend agree that leaving the European Union, or the risk of leaving it, puts many of these environmental protections at risk?

Sue Hayman Hansard
28 Oct 2019, 7:30 p.m.

It is vital that as we leave the EU all the necessary environmental protections are in place and equivalent to what we have now.

The Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), has also raised concerns. He said:

“Despite the Government attempting to establish a robust framework for environmental governance, it appears to have fallen short in its own ambitions.”

It is clear that improvements are still needed. Nature is in a worse state than when the Conservative Government came to power. That is shown in the latest RSPB state of nature report, which found that 41% of UK species studied had declined and that no real improvements had been made since its report in 2016. Greener UK is also concerned about the Government’s commitment to resourcing vital environmental work, saying:

“For the bill to succeed, it will require a step change in resourcing of local government, the Office for Environmental Protection and frontline delivery agencies such as Natural England and the Environment Agency.”

Antoinette Sandbach (Eddisbury) (Ind) Hansard
28 Oct 2019, 7:39 p.m.

I would be grateful if the hon. Lady could confirm that she welcomes the ambition in the Bill to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than it inherited, but does she also agree that that means that the Bill should reflect a non-regression principle—in other words, that our environmental standards should not fall below what we currently have?

Sue Hayman Hansard
28 Oct 2019, 7:39 p.m.

The hon. Lady makes an important point. I shall come to non-regression later.

Caroline Lucas Portrait Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green) - Hansard

The hon. Lady is making a powerful case. The Secretary of State talked a lot about how the Bill would put in place a long-term vision. Does she share my concern about what it says about biodiversity net gain? It says that the net gain sites are guaranteed for only 30 years. They could be ploughed up after 30 years. Does that reflect a long-term vision?

Sue Hayman Hansard
28 Oct 2019, 7:39 p.m.

What the hon. Lady has said reflects some of my own concerns. I also have concerns about backing everything on to net gain, which has not proved as effective as would have been hoped in other countries, such as Australia.

Tracey Crouch Portrait Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) (Con) - Hansard
28 Oct 2019, 7:39 p.m.

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Sue Hayman Hansard
28 Oct 2019, 7:39 p.m.

I am going to make some progress. I am aware of the shortage of time.

We will discuss the details of the Bill in Committee, but I want to touch on a few aspects of it now: the principle of non-regression, targets, and the independence and powers of the Office for Environmental Protection. I also want to mention, briefly, some of our concerns about biodiversity net gain, water, nature recovery strategies and recycling.

The Financial Times has reported that an official paper proposed to deviate from green standards set by the European Union, and that the UK was open to significant divergence despite the Prime Minister’s promise that standards would not fall. Can the Secretary of State shed any more light on the content of that official paper? The Government have missed four chances to guarantee equal environmental standards after Brexit. Will the Secretary of State now commit herself to an amendment to legally ensure non-regression on environmental standards? According to Greener UK, the environmental principles constitute

“a significant and unacceptable weakening of the legal effect of the principles.”

May I ask the Secretary of State how that can be justified?

We know that the Government have missed a number of environmental targets, and that the number of serious pollution incidents recorded in 2018-19 rose to the highest level since 2014-15. A leaked document from last year showed that the Government had actually abandoned agreed targets for conserving England’s sites of special scientific interest, and we know that air quality targets have also been consistently flouted.

Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op) - Hansard
28 Oct 2019, 7:42 p.m.

My hon. Friend is making some important points. Along with many other residents, I am currently opposing the building of an incinerator in Rumney, Trowbridge and St Mellons, in my constituency. My constituents are worried not only about the air quality implications of what comes out of the incinerator but about traffic particulates from heavy goods vehicles which, potentially, will be bringing waste to the site from all over the UK. Does my hon. Friend agree that that needs to be looked at?

Sue Hayman Hansard
28 Oct 2019, 7:42 p.m.

I agree that we need to look at such issues extremely carefully when making planning decisions.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab) - Hansard
28 Oct 2019, 7:42 p.m.

If the Government are really serious about air quality, surely it is time for them to adopt a 100% standard, to include carbon capture and storage, in any environment Bill that they may introduce, and to give our industry an opportunity to thrive and survive.

Sue Hayman Hansard
28 Oct 2019, 7:42 p.m.

It is a shame that funding for CCS was stopped some years ago. If that had not happened, we might be quite a bit further ahead.

All the targets in the Bill, including the interim targets, must be legally binding, and must be set to be achieved as soon as possible. It is commendable that the Bill confirms the creation of statutory environmental improvement plans to ensure legally binding environmental targets in areas such as air, water, waste and biodiversity by 2022, but Greenpeace has pointed out that it does not contain any provisions to hold the Government to those legal commitments until 2037. Given the climate and environment emergency that we face, can the Secretary of State explain why she is allowing a delay of nearly two decades before the Bill can have any real bite?

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op) - Hansard
28 Oct 2019, 7:44 p.m.

This weekend the River Ouse flooded yet again, and, four years after the floods that devastated the city of York, the Government have failed to address the serious need for upper catchment management to improve the diversity of the moorlands. Does my hon. Friend agree that that should be centre stage in the Bill?

Sue Hayman Hansard
28 Oct 2019, 7:44 p.m.

As I am sure my hon. Friend knows, flooding is an issue that is close to my heart as well, and we certainly need to ask why it is not included more fundamentally in the Bill.

Although the Bill sets out responsibilities for improving air quality, it does not commit the Government to reaching the World Health Organisation’s goal of 10 micrograms per cubic metre by 2030 at the latest. The hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) mentioned that earlier, but he is no longer present, so I will ask the same question: will the Secretary of State agree to enshrine that target in the Bill, given the public health emergency caused by illegal air pollution?

Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab) - Hansard
28 Oct 2019, 7:44 p.m.

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mike Wood Portrait Mike Wood (Dudley South) (Con) - Hansard
28 Oct 2019, 7:44 p.m.

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Sue Hayman Hansard
28 Oct 2019, 7:44 p.m.

I really think that I need to make some progress.

Let me now say something about the independence of the proposed Office for Environmental Protection. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) has said, the only reason the Government have made any movement on waste, landfill and air quality is the threat of EU fines, so it is disappointing that the OEP will have no powers to issue such fines. Will the Secretary of State agree to consider enabling it to do so, in order to give it real teeth? I welcome the change enabling it to conduct investigations on its own initiative, but we should like it to be empowered to conduct broader inquiries into systemic issues, to make recommendations, and to issue guidance.

Greener UK has said:

“The bill includes several measures which could seriously undermine the water environment”.

Another hon. Member who has now left the Chamber mentioned abstraction. The proposed new powers for the Environment Agency to revoke abstraction licences would not come into play until 1 January 2028, although England’s water supplies are already under severe pressure. There are also no water efficiency commitments, although British water consumption is the highest in Europe. Can the Secretary of State explain how that omission can be in line with the Government’s pledge in their 25-year environment plan to reduce water use and halve water leakages by 2050?

I am pleased to see that the Bill includes a commitment to nature recovery networks, but it passes more powers and duties to local councils without attaching adequate funding.

Tracey Crouch Portrait Tracey Crouch - Hansard
28 Oct 2019, 7:47 p.m.

Like me, the hon. Lady will have seen many plans for housing developments in her constituency featuring lovely pictures of trees and shrubbery, and will know that the reality turns out to be very different. Does she, like me, welcome the commitment in the Bill to requiring developers to ensure that their developments improve biodiversity by at least 10%, either on site or nearby?

Sue Hayman Hansard
28 Oct 2019, 7:47 p.m.

I agree that our planning and development should be much better in terms of environmental impact, and I think it important for us to set targets for that to be achieved.

The Bill does little to ensure that nature recovery strategies properly influence policy and decision making in areas such as planning—we may need to go further in some instances—environmental land management, and biodiversity net gain. In respect of biodiversity net gain, can the Secretary of State give us the rationale, in the context of a climate and environment emergency, for the exemption of national infrastructure projects, although they are often the most environmentally damaging development schemes? Can she also tell us why biodiversity net gain does not apply to private organisations?

Labour will seek further assurances that legally binding targets on waste minimisation will be introduced. Does the Secretary of State agree that the waste and resource efficiency measures are far too focused on end-of-life solutions to waste and recycling issues? The fact that potential single use charges will apply only to plastic is a significant missed opportunity that could result in unintended consequences.

Conor McGinn Portrait Conor McGinn (St Helens North) (Lab) - Hansard
28 Oct 2019, 7:49 p.m.

Labour-run St Helens Council is the leading English local authority investing in new technology, new vehicles and an innovative single-use recycling point. Does my hon. Friend agree that that burden should be shared between national and local government, particularly at a time when local authorities have been so financially constrained? Should the Government not concentrate on supporting authorities that are acting now, rather than waiting to fund those that are not at a later stage?

Sue Hayman Hansard
28 Oct 2019, 7:49 p.m.

My hon. Friend has made an excellent point.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab) - Hansard

My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Does she agree that we could cut out much of our waste through a system like the one that was introduced in Germany 20 years ago, the Grüne Punkt system, under which people leave packaging in supermarkets? That would quickly change the way in which producers supply products to our stores.

Sue Hayman Hansard
28 Oct 2019, 7:49 p.m.

My hon. Friend gives an excellent example, and I thank him for that.

Anna McMorrin Portrait Anna McMorrin (Cardiff North) (Lab) - Hansard

Does my hon. Friend agree that we need 100% responsibility from the producers themselves, from the creation of waste right through to the clean-up, and that the recycling must also be looked at so that waste is not just shipped overseas, which is where it is going at present? We need to be conscious of all this. My Back-Bench Bill in the last Session addressed some of these areas, and I am pleased to see that some of it has been taken on board, but not all of it has been; we need to see that from the beginning of the life cycle to the end, so that when people go into the supermarkets they can actually make decisions based on this information.

Sue Hayman Hansard
28 Oct 2019, 7:51 p.m.

That is right. It is important that we look at it right across the piece, from manufacturing down to what happens after we have finished using something.

Tellingly, waste recovery company Biffa has said that it is disappointed in the lack of ambition in the Bill, and it has called for plastics to be recycled domestically in the UK to restore public confidence in recycling and to boost UK jobs and investment. That will require a commitment from Government to further invest in UK recycling infrastructure, which is long overdue.

In conclusion, despite this being a move in the right direction it is clear that the provisions in the Bill are not sufficient when we consider the scale of the environmental and climate crisis we face. We need radical, targeted measures, and I ask the Secretary of State to work with the Opposition in Committee so that we can achieve this goal.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing) - Hansard
28 Oct 2019, 7:51 p.m.

Order. There is an immediate time limit of four minutes on Back-Bench speeches.