Thank you to those who contacted me recently about the progress of the Environment Bill and I know that with Mid Worcestershire being a largely rural constituency, the environment is an issue that my constituents feel strongly about.
I therefore want to take the opportunity to reassure my constituents that I remain fully committed to the Environment Bill as a key part of delivering the manifesto commitment to create the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on Earth. I would like to assure you that carrying over the Bill to the next session does not diminish the ambition for our environment in any way, with Report Stage recommencing early in the Second Session and Royal Assent expected in the Autumn. Key work on implementing the Bill’s measures will continue at pace, including establishing the Office for Environmental Protection, setting long-term legally-binding targets for environmental protection and creating a new Deposit Return Scheme for drinks containers.
The Environment Bill will place environmental ambition and accountability at the heart of Government. I am pleased that legislative measures will be introduced to address the biggest environmental priorities of our age, ensuring we can deliver on the commitment to leave the natural world in a better condition than we found it. These will include meeting net-zero by 2050, as well as wider long-term legally binding targets on biodiversity, air quality, water, and resource and waste efficiency which will be established under the Bill.
The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) is now expected to commence shortly after Royal Assent – and will be based in Worcester. The Office for Environmental Protection will have the power to take public bodies to an upper tribunal if there are breaches of the law. I believe it is important that the OEP is independent and fully transparent in order to effectively hold the Government to account on its targets. I am therefore pleased by assurances from Ministers that the OEP will be operationally independent from Government, including from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. This means that Ministers will not be able to set its programme of activity or influence its decision-making.
The Environment Bill requires that Statutory Instruments setting out environmental targets must be laid before parliament by 31 October 2022. Ministers will continue to develop targets through a robust, evidence-led process to meet this deadline. Long-term targets will be developed through a robust evidence-led process, and Ministers shall not prejudge where this will take them. Ministers have also committed that their proposed objectives for biodiversity targets include restoring species populations and priority habitats, which will improve the state of nature. By setting targets of at least 15 years, Ministers will ensure that Governments look beyond the short term, but this does not mean we should not make progress until 2030. I am confident that the process put in place to develop targets will contribute to meeting new global goals set under the convention on biological diversity.
The UK is committed to playing a leading role in developing an ambitious and transformative post-2020 framework for global biodiversity under the convention on biological diversity. Following agreement of this framework, Ministers will publish a new strategy for nature in England that will outline how they will implement the convention on biological diversity’s new global targets domestically and meet the 25-year environmental goals for nature at the same time.
I recognise the importance of setting legally binding targets to support these ambitions, so I am pleased that the Environment Bill includes a requirement to set at least one long-term, legally binding target in relation to biodiversity, as well as targets for air quality, water and resource efficiency, and waste reduction. I know that the Government will determine the specific areas in which targets will be set using the robust and transparent target-setting, monitoring and reporting process that the Bill legislates for, and will seek advice from independent experts. I’m particularly pleased that both Parliament and the public will have the opportunity to provide input to the development of these targets.
I know several constituents raised concerns about deforestation, and I’m pleased that last year the Government set out its approach to tackling this issue, especially where linked to UK demand for products such as cocoa, rubber, soya, and palm oil. Combined, the new package of measures will ensure that greater resilience, traceability and sustainability are built into the UK’s supply chains by working in partnership with other countries and supporting farmers to transition to more sustainable food and land use systems. The measures include the introduction of a new law in the Environment Bill which will require greater due diligence from businesses, and make it illegal for UK businesses to use key commodities if they have not been produced in line with local laws protecting forests and other natural ecosystems. The final, operational details of the proposal will be implemented through secondary legislation, which will be subject to further consultation. This will consider which commodities will be prescribed, the thresholds that determine which businesses will be subject to the requirements, the precise information businesses will be required to report on and the level of fines.
Through this pandemic, we’ve all spent much more time at home and I know that I have a huge appreciation for our wonderful Worcestershire countryside. Connecting more people from all backgrounds with the natural environment for their health and wellbeing is a key part of the 25-Year Environment Plan, which is the Government's first environmental improvement plan. Under the Bill, long-term targets can be set out for any aspects of the natural environment or people’s enjoyment of it. The Bill requires the Government to set out at least one target in four priority areas, air quality, biodiversity, water waste and resource efficiency, as well as the fine particulate matter target. I understand that there is also scope to set further future targets.
The Resources and Waste Strategy sets out Government plans to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste throughout the lifetime of the 25 Year Environment Plan, however for the most problematic plastics the Government will go faster, working towards all plastic packaging placed on the market being recyclable, reusable, or compostable by 2025. In 2019, consultations ran on a number of key policy measures set out in the strategy: reforming existing packaging waste regulations; exploring the introduction of a deposit return scheme for drinks containers; increasing consistency in the recycling system; I am pleased that the Environment Bill includes powers to enable Government to deliver these measures.
The UK has been at the forefront of opposing animal tests where alternative approaches could be used. This is known as the "last-resort principle", which we will retain and enshrine in legislation through the Environment Bill. Ministers are determined that there should be no need for any additional animal testing for a chemical that has already been registered, unless it is subject to further evaluation that shows the registration dossier is inadequate or there are still concerns about the hazards and risks of the chemical, especially to human health.
Lastly, I received a considerable amount of correspondence about the use of neonicotinoids. The Government continues to support the restrictions on neonicotinoids to protect pollinators, and emergency authorisations for pesticides are only granted in exceptional circumstances where diseases or pests cannot be controlled by any other reasonable means. These emergency authorisations can provide short term availability of a product if the applicant can demonstrate that this addresses a danger which cannot be contained by any other reasonable means, that the use will be limited and controlled and that the necessary protection of people and of the environment can be achieved. Under EU legislation, Member States may also grant emergency authorisations in exceptional circumstances. I can assure you that the UK’s approach to the use of emergency authorisations has not changed as a result of the UK’s exit from the EU.
The application for the use of Syngenta’s Cruiser SB on the 2021 sugar beet crop is for England only and the duration of authorisation is strictly limited to the period required to allow supply of the product. Furthermore, sugar beet is a non-flowering crop that is mainly grown in the East of England.
This exceptional use of Syngenta’s Cruiser SB will be strictly controlled and conditions of the authorisation include reduced application rate as well as a prohibition on any flowering crop being planted in the same field where the product has been used within 22 months of sugar beet and a prohibition on oilseed rape being planted within 32 months of sugar beet.
Protecting pollinators remains a priority for the Government. The National Pollinator Strategy, published in 2014, is a ten year plan which sets out how the Government, conservation groups, farmers, beekeepers and researchers can work together to improve the status of the approximately 1,500 pollinating insect species in England.
Outside the EU Britain can develop global gold standard environmental policies. Having left the Common Agricultural Policy we can use public money for public goods, rewarding environmentally responsible land use, and leaving the Common Fisheries Policy means we are able to grant access and allocate quotas based on sustainability, allowing us to pursue the highest standards in marine conservation. I want to give one last assurance that leaving the EU does not mean in any way that we will lower our high standards of food, trade and animal welfare.
I hope this has answered the majority of the concerns that have been raised with me. I will of course continue to monitor developments of this Bill closely and am in regular contact with Rebecca Pow and Victoria Prentis and other ministers at DEFRA - and thank you again to those who took the time to contact me.