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Topical Questions

Volume 662: debated on Thursday 20 June 2019

I am delighted to announce that Tamara Finkelstein OBE has been appointed as the new permanent secretary at DEFRA. She is the fourth woman in succession to be permanent secretary at this Department. With respect to the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), I do think it is a very, very good thing if important institutions in this country are, wherever possible, led by women.

I congratulate the new permanent secretary at the Secretary of State’s Department. It is always good to see senior women in leadership roles.

The Government have set out a new net zero emissions target. Putting our country on track to meet that in order to tackle the climate emergency is going to take urgent and bold action, so will the Secretary of State commit to bringing forward the date to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars to 2030, allow onshore wind facilities to be built again, and re-establish the Department of Energy and Climate Change?

Those are important points, well made. Bringing forward the target by which we get rid of petrol and diesel cars is always kept under review. At the moment, we believe that the target is achievable and stretching, but we will of course keep it under review as more progress is made. On renewable energy, we lead the world in offshore wind, and we have also done a huge amount on solar energy, in particular—99% of the solar power generated in this country has been generated since 2010. I pay tribute to Ministers who served in the coalition Government between 2010 and 2015 for their work in this area.

T2. When visiting the local Co-op shop last night on my way home from Parliament, I noticed that shoppers were being presented with bags emblazoned with the words, “100% compostable”. These bags were perfectly serviceable for the job that they were asked to do. Given that this technology is now available, is it not time that we banned the use of single-use plastic bags and bags for life to help the environment? (911473)

The environmental impact of bags, including bags for life, can be reduced simply through reusing them. We will be publishing our response on extending the carrier bag charge to all retailers very soon, so we are not currently considering stopping the use of plastic bags altogether. In our bio-economy strategy, we have committed to issuing a call for evidence, because it is important to note that these biodegradable bags need careful treatment when they come to the end of their life.

Following the recent Scottish deposit return scheme proposals and the conclusion of the Government’s consultation on a DRS, can the Secretary of State tell us how the Government intend to learn from best practice? Does he hope to emulate the 98.5% recycling rate achieved by Germany for plastic and glass bottles and metal drink cans? Will he commit to a deposit return scheme that matches the ambition of other Governments in Europe, to achieve a UK-wide standard, as suggested in “Our Waste, Our Resources”?

This is something that the Government have worked on extensively. I have visited several countries, including Germany, and it is fair to say that not all deposit return schemes take glass. As I have said to the House before, the front end of these schemes is very simple, but how we make the back end work is complex. That is why it is taking some time. We are considering carefully with the devolved Administrations how we can make progress, and I hope we will be able to announce more soon.

T4. Reforesting is an important part of the Conservative agenda on the environment. Does the Minister agree that the Woodland Trust’s Smithills estate is a key part of that strategy? (911475)

I agree. The Smithills estate was where the first tree of the northern forest was planted, which is a very important step forward. It is a great site, overshadowed by the wonderful Winter Hill TV mast. I love it, and I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s support for it.

T5. An investigation published last week by The Guardian, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and “Channel 4 News” suggested that at least 3,000 deaths each year could be avoided if agricultural ammonia emissions were halved. The Secretary of State said that he wanted to close the current loopholes by 2025. May I suggest that it would be a marvellous legacy for him as he leaves the Department —which he presumably will, whatever happens today—to introduce a comprehensive ammonia reduction strategy? (911476)

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s valuable advice. She is right: when it comes to dealing with air quality, we need to deal with ammonia emissions. We have a number of policies that we will implement as part of our environment Bill.

The River Mersey, which originates in Stockport and flows through my constituency on its journey to Liverpool, has been named and shamed by Greenpeace as proportionately more polluted than the great Pacific garbage patch. That follows a University of Manchester study showing that microplastics in the river bed sediment were higher than in any other environment. What work is the Department doing to address the issue of microplastics entering the waterways, and what pressure is being put on the industry to address it?

I grew up in Liverpool, and it is sad to hear that terrible statistic revealed by Greenpeace. I think it is fair to say that the Government have already taken action by reducing microplastics from certain cosmetic products and rinse-off products. We will do more by taking forward the ban on plastic straws and other single-use plastic items. We will continue to work with the water industry on what more we can do about filtration, so that we keep plastics out of the rivers.

Given the extraordinarily high contribution of cars on our roads to poor air quality, will the Secretary of State lobby the Department for Transport to review all major road schemes to see whether they will contribute to poor air quality, and look at modal shift, to get people off our roads and out of their cars?

The hon. Gentleman knows of what he speaks, as a distinguished former taxi driver, as well as a very effective spokesman for the people of Eltham in the borough of Greenwich. We absolutely do need to take account in all new road building schemes of the impact of pollution.

Yesterday I was able to sponsor National Refill Day with Water UK. Reusing our water bottles means that we could get rid of millions of plastic bottles that we do not need. It is about not only recycling plastic, but using a lot less. Does the Secretary of State welcome that?

I hugely welcome that, and I am grateful to water companies and others who have made the provision of water fountains a critical part of ensuring that we use less plastic.

The Heathrow masterplan released this week promises 40,000 more vehicles on our roads, 6 million more tonnes of CO2 released per annum and new noise for hundreds of thousands of households. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Secretary of State for Transport about the environmental consequences of Heathrow expansion?

Intense and productive discussions, but it is also important to recognise that a majority of Labour MPs and Scottish National party MPs support Heathrow expansion.

The Secretary of State has answered this several times, but it bears asking again: is it still his contention that other European Union countries are looking enviously at this Government’s efforts to leave the EU?

Increasingly enviously, and I think it is the case that other European Union countries, many of which I love, are looking enviously at the gallimaufry of talent that exists on the Government Benches at this time. I suspect that those other European Union countries appreciate the festival of democracy in which we are currently engaged.

Order. Before we turn to the next session of oral questions, I must advise the House that the urgent question I had granted to the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) has now been withdrawn by the hon. Gentleman, so we will proceed from Question Time to the business question, and then to the two ministerial statements that are scheduled to follow it. That is really for the benefit of Members’ timekeeping, so that they know when the sessions they may wish to attend will be.