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House of Commons Hansard
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Public Bill Committees
17 March 2020

Environment Bill (Fifth sitting)

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: † Sir Roger Gale, Sir George Howarth

† Afolami, Bim (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con)

† Ansell, Caroline (Eastbourne) (Con)

† Bhatti, Saqib (Meriden) (Con)

† Brock, Deidre (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)

† Docherty, Leo (Aldershot) (Con)

Edwards, Ruth (Rushcliffe) (Con)

† Graham, Richard (Gloucester) (Con)

† Longhi, Marco (Dudley North) (Con)

† McCarthy, Kerry (Bristol East) (Lab)

† Mackrory, Cherilyn (Truro and Falmouth) (Con)

† Moore, Robbie (Keighley) (Con)

† Morden, Jessica (Newport East) (Lab)

† Oppong-Asare, Abena (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)

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

† Sobel, Alex (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op)

† Thomson, Richard (Gordon) (SNP)

† Whitehead, Dr Alan (Southampton, Test) (Lab)

Adam Mellows-Facer, Anwen Rees, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 17 March 2020

(Morning)

[Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]

Environment Bill

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Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Before we start, a couple of housekeeping matters. Please make sure that your electronics are turned off. No tea and coffee, I am afraid; you will have to go outside if you want that, as it is not allowed during the sittings. Members may remove their jackets if they wish.

We now begin the line-by-line consideration of the Bill. The selection list is available on the table if you do not already have it. We had a discussion on this during the evidence-taking sessions, but I repeat that amendments are generally put into groups on the same or similar issues for debate. Amendments are decided on not necessarily in the order in which they are debated, but in the order in which they come up in the Bill. You will find yourselves debating matters that are not immediately voted on, and there is sometimes a tendency, particularly on the part of the Opposition, to panic and say, “We wanted to vote on that.” You may well be right that we have missed something, and if we do, please remind us, but bear in mind that the vote happens at the right place in the Bill, and not necessarily because of where the amendment appears in the group. If that does not make sense, ask me and I will try to clarify it.

My policy—Sir George may have a different one—is that it is often helpful to have a fairly broad-ranging debate at the start of a group of amendments on a clause. I have no problem with that; it tends to facilitate the discussion, but—and it is a big but, for the benefit of the new Members—at the end of consideration on each clause, we have a debate on whether the clause should stand part of the Bill. There cannot be a stand part debate at the beginning and the end of proceedings on a clause, so if you choose to talk a lot at the beginning, you will not get two bites at the cherry. The Chair will decide whether there will be a stand part debate.

I hope that is clear. Nobody has a monopoly of wisdom; if you have any cause for concern, or you do not understand what is going on, please ask, and someone will endeavour to provide you with a tolerably intelligent answer.

Clause 1

Environmental targets

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I beg to move amendment 79, in clause 1, page 1, line 7, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

This amendment seeks to ensure the power given in this Bill to the Secretary of State to set long term targets is exercised.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Gale, as it will be, I anticipate, for many more mornings and afternoons. I will not say it is a pleasure every time I speak, but please take it as being one.

I would like to say a few things about how the Opposition intend to pursue matters in this Committee. As hon. Members will see, a substantial number of amendments have been tabled, and we will go through those in Committee. I hope that upon scrutiny of those amendments, hon. Members will conclude that every one is an attempt to make a good Bill better. They are not in any way intended to be subversive of the Bill’s purposes, to wreck the Bill’s outcome, or to divert the Bill from its intended outcomes. Rather, they are intended to make the Bill as good as it can be. I echo the sentiments of one of the star witnesses in our evidence sessions last week, Richard Benwell of Wildlife and Countryside Link, who said that this could be a brilliant Bill. I hope that it will be by the time we finish our considerations in Committee.

I am fully dedicated to making sure that when the Bill gets on to the statute book, it has the purposes that we all, I think, agree on, and is a serious marker of what this country has to do to develop environmental biodiversity and a healthy environment—a healthy environment in which nature recovers, and we have clean water and, in the context of the climate change emergency, everything that will allow our natural environment to be in a healthy state for the future. I want the Bill to mark this House’s contribution to that process.

I am completely at one with the Minister in that aim; I know that is what she wants to achieve. I know from her environmental commitment and credentials, which she has worn on her sleeve ever since she has been in this House—she has a fine, nature-friendly outfit on today—that she is completely dedicated to getting the Bill passed in the best possible way. I hope that our discussions in Committee, and our amendments, will be viewed in that light. Regardless of party affiliation or other considerations, I hope they will be looked at based on one criterion: do they or do they not make this a brilliant Bill? I hope that is how we will judge our proceedings; I will certainly try to conduct myself in that spirit.

That brings me to my concerns about what is in clause 1—and a number of other clauses throughout the legislation, as we will find as we go through the Bill. In addition to being a potentially brilliant Bill for now, this has to be a brilliant Bill for the future. The House, and this Committee in particular, has to turn it into legislation that will really last—that will commit future generations of parliamentarians and Governments to the actions it sets out. It has to be very robust in the instructions that it sends to those future generations, but we are particularly concerned that it simply is not, in a number of respects.

The Bill derives in substantial part from the Government’s 25-year nature plan. There is a clue there about how long its provisions are supposed to last. The things we consider today have to be robust and relevant for tomorrow. The Bill has to work in that way, and we have to know that it will work across Administrations. However, clause 1 demonstrates that it may not easily do so.

In the clause, and a number of others, the Secretary of State is given the option of implementing, by regulations, a particular part of the Bill. Throughout the Bill, a number of provisions are couched in terms of not “may” but “must”. For example, clause 92 states:

“The Secretary of State must publish information…The Secretary of State must publish reports…A report must relate to a period”,

and

“A report must set out”.

Those provisions are all clear about what has to happen, but the same is not true of clause 1 and a number of other clauses.

There is an even more worrying double lock—or double unlock—regarding the Bill’s way of doing things. When I look at a Bill, I always turn to the end. It is rather like looking at the last three pages of a novel to see what happens before starting to read it. I do not recommend doing that for a novel, but I do recommend it for this particular Bill.

Clause 131, the commencement clause, is clear. For Members who are less familiar with how such clauses work, the commencement clause sets out a number of dates on which clauses in the Bill should be taken as commencing—that is, become live legislation. Clause 131 states that a number of provisions in the Bill come into force on the day that it becomes an Act. A number of other provisions come into force two months after the Bill becomes an Act. Part 1 of the Bill, which contains clause 1 and is probably the most important part of the Bill, comes

“into force on such day as the Secretary of State may by regulations appoint”.

There is therefore a double lock on the clause. The Secretary of State “may” decide to make it live—or not. If they decide not to make it live, it simply does not become real, and what is set out in the clause does not happen. Even if they decide in principle that it will happen, and the clause is live, its wording means that the Secretary of State can decide that what it sets out will not take place, and need not implement the regulatory process.

Hon. Members may be thinking, “He protests too much. This doesn’t happen in real life, surely. This is just how things are set out in legislation,” but I assure them that this does happen in real life; it has happened on a number of occasions. The statute books are not exactly littered with, but are substantially populated by, things in Bills that simply have not happened because of the way the legislation was constructed. I can give the example of the Energy Act 2013. I happened to sit on that Bill Committee. Part 5 is on the construction and designation of a strategy and policy statement, which would set out imperatives that would bind authorities and bodies dealing with low-carbon energy. When that Bill was passed, I really thought that the statement would happen; I considered that really important—and still do—in making sure that Ofgem would be guided by a low-carbon imperative.

The wording on that policy and strategy statement was couched in the same way as the provision in this Bill. The 2013 Act said:

“The Secretary of State may designate a statement as the strategy and policy statement for the purposes of this Part”.

The 2013 Act was stronger than this Bill. Part 5 of the Act became live two months after the Act became law. However, the Act was passed during the Conservative- led coalition of 2010 to 2015, and in a subsequent Administration, a Minister decided, because they could, that there was no need for a policy and strategy statement, and that it would not be produced. I have asked a number of questions about why that statement has not appeared. The situation does not help at all to ensure that Ofgem does what it should on its low-carbon commitments and imperatives. But the Minister in that Administration decided that they were not going to produce the statement, and that was it. I hope that this Administration will take a different view and finally introduce such a statement, which I think is essential.

The point of that little diversion is that we are talking about not just words on a piece of paper that need not be taken seriously. This is serious stuff that relates to the viability and credibility of the Bill when it becomes an Act of Parliament. Bear in mind that many people out there are looking to the Bill to provide exactly that credibility on the natural environment, biodiversity and many other things. They are looking to the Bill for robustness and sincerity on all the things that they hold so dear about the environment and all the things that go into it. If we pass a Bill that does not have that robustness, a number of people will rightly say, “How serious are you about this? Are you as serious you should be about what the imperatives should be, and about the targets and other things in the Bill?”

My reading of the Bill is that if the Minister decides that there is no need for targets, the Minister just does not implement this clause. I am absolutely certain that this Minister, who is the right Minister in the right place at the right time, with the right intentions, has absolutely no intention of doing anything other than making sure that the Bill proceeds as speedily as possible through its stages and into implementation. However—I know this is difficult to envisage—the Minister may not be there forever. A future Administration, or a future Minister, may look at the legislation and think, “Hmm, I don’t have to do that. That’s a bit onerous and a bit difficult. Maybe we will put it to one side,” just as happened with the Energy Act 2013.

It would be a good idea to consider replacing “may” with “must” in a number of instances in the Bill. Some “mays” are perfectly good; sometimes it is the right word, because of the choice that people will have as to what kind of regulation they want to put in or whatever. However, “may” is not appropriate for this clause and for a number of others. In the Climate Change Act 2008, to which the Bill has often been compared, there is no such messing about with wording. The beginning of the Act quite straightforwardly stated:

“It is the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure that the net UK carbon account for the year 2050 is at least 80% lower than the 1990 baseline.”

That is quite clear. There is no messing about or resiling.

I do not suggest that we should put a series of duties into the Bill, but we should look seriously at bringing forward proposals to alter the Bill’s wording as it goes through Parliament. I will not seek to divide the Committee on this point, because it is something that all of us need to take away and think about. I hope the Minister takes this away, thinks about it and comes back with proposals, perhaps on Report, to alter that wording, so that we can have full confidence that the Bill will become the Act that we all want it to be. I shall draw attention to these omissions and shortcomings as the Bill progresses, but the Committee will be delighted to know that I will not make this long a speech every time.

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We’ll see!

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But I might do if no consideration at all is given to this particular point.

I hope that the Minister will be able to come at least some way towards me in reshaping the Bill so that the confidence we both want to have in this legislation can be seen by the outside world, and so that we can ensure that what we say in this Committee actually gets done—not just by this Minister, but by subsequent Administrations. With that, I assure the Committee that that is the longest I am going to speak on this subject. I rest my case. I hope that the Minister has something positive on her piece of paper in this respect. We shall see how we go.

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It is a huge pleasure to have you as our Chairman, Sir Roger. Hopefully we are all going to have a long and fruitful bonding experience over the next few weeks.

I thank the shadow Minister for his opening remarks and for describing this legislation as a “good Bill”; we all welcome that tone. I echo his general comments about wanting to do the right thing for the environment. I believe everyone on this Committee wants to do that, but I do in particular. I also thank him for his personal comments. I must actually throw some similar comments back at him. He and I have appeared many times in the same Committees, environmental all-party parliamentary groups and all that, so I know that he has a great deal of experience in this area. In many respects, we sing from the same hymn sheet. I welcome his involvement, as he brings a great deal of experience to the table.

Let me turn to the detail of the amendment. I understand the shadow Minister’s desire for there to be a duty on the Secretary of State to set targets. However, such a duty would remove the flexibility and discretion needed by the Secretary of State in relation to target setting. The Bill creates a power to set long-term, legally-binding environmental targets, and provides for such targets to be set in relation to any aspect of the natural environment or people’s enjoyment of it. It is very wide-ranging, so flexibility is required. It is entirely appropriate to give the Secretary of State flexibility as to when and how the power ought to be exercised. That is the beauty of this power.

As I am sure the shadow Minister knows, primary legislation consistently takes this approach to the balance between powers, which are “may”, and duties, which are “must”. I welcome the fact that the shadow Minister has raised this point, because I have been quizzing my own team about those two words and exactly what they do, and it is quite clear to me that this is the right approach. When the Government are under a clear requirement, the word “must” is used. This recognises that the circumstances, scenario and background to the use of the provision are clear.

In other scenarios, it might not be possible definitely to say that something must be done, due to factors outside our control—for example, if public consultation is still under way, and there will be a great deal of consultation as the statutory instruments are laid before Parliament.

The Secretary of State is already under a duty—that means “must”—to exercise this power to set “at least one” target in each of the Bill’s priority areas. That is in the next few lines of the Bill. They are also under a separate duty to set the PM2.5 target. That is a legal requirement and the Government cannot get out of that. The Bill’s statutory cycle of monitoring, planning and reporting ensures that the Government will take early regular steps to achieve the long-term targets and will be held accountable through regular scrutiny by the Office for Environmental Protection.

The shadow Minister asked whether the system would be robust. I assure him that it will be—that is its purpose. The need for new targets will be reviewed every five years through the significant improvement test that we will come on to later. That is also a legal requirement, and the Secretary of State will use the review’s outcome to decide whether to set new long-term environmental targets.

The significant improvement test provisions of the Bill will form part of environmental law, with the OEP—the body that will be set up to hold the Government to account—having oversight of the Government’s implementation of the provisions, as it will over all aspects of environmental law. That is my summary of the shadow Minister’s queries.

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Does the Minister not accept that, as I pointed out in my analysis of the Energy Act 2013, if a number of obligations or “musts” in a clause are subservient to a fundamental “may”, they have no independent existence? That was exactly the case in that Act: the Minister had a number of musts to do, but they were all subject to the original may. As the original may turned out to be just a may, all the musts completely fell away. The Minister has given examples of some musts in the Bill, but unless we have a first must or duty—it might not be time-limited, so that the Minister has flexibility over when exactly to do it—those other things are not of any great significance. It is the first may or must that is key.

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We are muddling a lot of “musts” and “mays” here—it is a good job that Theresa May is not still Prime Minister.

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It could be Theresa Must.

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It is clear that there is flexibility in the power to set long-term targets by regulations, but clause 1(2) says that the Secretary of State “must exercise the power”. That brings in the duty, which is a legal requirement to set the targets. If there is a “must” provision—and there is: to set targets in those four key areas—it must be exercised. It is quite clear.

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Mr Gale, I think you can gather that I am not terribly convinced. I do not doubt the Minister’s sincerity for a minute. Indeed, I wonder whether, had the Minister been in post during the Bill’s construction—I think this part was originally constructed in 2018—she would have gone along with that particular wording. I appreciate that she has a Bill in front of her with the wording as it is, and she has advice that the wording is as it is because that is how it should be.

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I want to point out one other thing. The Office for Environmental Protection will be able to enforce against the Government if they do not set the targets. That indicates that the process and structure we are setting up are strong.

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The Office for Environmental Protection can intervene against the Minister, but the Minister will see later on in the Bill that not even the office has to be set up under these circumstances. The word “may” is so pervasive in the Bill that a number of the things that can act to do what the Minister wants to do are contingent. That should give the Minister some concern, as well as me.

The Minister makes the strong point that once the mechanism is up and running, arguably it will be quite robust. We would like the mechanism to be a little more robust. However, if the whole thing depends on the idea that a Minister may or may not decide that it will be implemented, the rest of it does not necessarily follow strongly. I urge the Minister to please go away and think about this, despite what she said this morning, and see whether a formulation—not necessarily exactly the formulation in the amendment—can be arrived at that will give us and the outside world a much better series of assurances about the Bill’s robustness overall. I may speak on this matter again later in the Bill, but I have done my best this morning and we will see where we go from there.

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The hon. Gentleman did not make the request, but I think he indicated that he wished to withdraw the amendment.

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For the time being, yes.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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I beg to move amendment 103, in clause 1, page 1, line 10, at end insert—

“(1A) The Secretary of State must exercise the power in subsection (1) with the aim of establishing a coherent framework of targets he or she considers would, if met:

(a) make a significant contribution towards the environmental objectives, and

(b) ensure continuous improvement of the environment as a whole.

(1B) Where the Secretary of State considers that a target is necessary but the means of expressing the target is not yet sufficiently developed, he or she must explain the steps being taken to develop an appropriate target.”

The amendment aims to bind the target setting processes into the environmental objectives.

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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 1—The environmental objective

“(1) The environmental objective is to achieve and maintain a healthy natural environment.

(2) Any rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies and procedures arising from this Act must be enforced, allowed and followed for the purpose of contributing to achievement of the environmental objective.”

This new clause is intended to aid coherence in the Bill by tying together separate parts under a unifying aim. It strengthens links between the target setting framework and the delivery mechanisms to focus delivery on targets.

New clause 6—The environmental purpose

“(1) The purpose of this Part is to provide a framework to enable the following environmental objectives to be achieved and maintained—

(a) a healthy, resilient, and biodiverse natural environment;

(b) an environment that supports human health and wellbeing for everyone; and

(c) sustainable use of resources.”

The new clause is intended to give clear and coherent direction for applying targets and the other governance mechanisms contained in the first Part of the Environment Bill.

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I am afraid that my level of expertise does not match that of the shadow Minister, but I will do my best with the time, space and knowledge that I have to do justice to the three amendments.

Amendment 103 is listed in the names of the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), who is Chair of the Select Committee for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee; and myself, as vice-chair of the EAC. It is therefore clear that these are not partisan amendments. We took it upon ourselves to table them as a result of the prelegislative scrutiny we undertook. The scrutiny applied by this Committee last week underlines the need for the amendment.

I will speak to amendment 103 and new clauses 1 and 6, and will then refer to some of the things that were said my our expert witnesses last week, which underline the need for the amendments to be included in the Bill. All three are complementary, although they all provide something slightly different to strengthen the Bill. I say to the Minister that these proposals will strengthen the Bill and give it clarity; I do not intend to wreck the Bill or change its intent.

Amendment 103 would give the Secretary of State the power to look at environmental objectives holistically, and would ensure that the overarching goal of the Bill and of the Department is the continuous improvement of the whole environment. It would also make the targets richer, as the Secretary of State must explain why targets are being set at that stage and the necessity for them.

The amendment links target setting with environmental objectives. Evidence from last week’s expert witness sessions explains why that is important and why the Bill may not yet be strong enough to ensure it. I am not saying that the Minister or Secretary of State would not do such things, but we have to legislate for future Administrations that may not be as committed as the current one.

Last week, we took evidence from Ali Plummer of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead asked her:

“Do you think the clauses give a sufficiently clear direction of travel on the sort of targets that will be set?”

The amendment relates specifically to that matter. Ali Plummer responded:

“Not currently, the way the Bill is written. The provisions to set targets in priority areas are welcome. We are looking for slightly more clarity and reassurance in two areas: first, on the scope of targets that will be set, to ensure there are enough targets set in the priority areas, and that they will cover that whole priority area, and not just a small proportion of it; and secondly, on the targets being sufficiently ambitious to drive the transformation that we need in order to tackle some big environmental issues.”

The amendment speaks directly to that evidence—for me, not strongly enough, though it takes us a long way towards the goals that Ali Plummer set out.

Ali Plummer also said that

“on, for example, the priority area of biodiversity…I think we are looking for more confidence that the Government’s intent will be carried, through the Bill, by successive Governments.”

We will come back to that. The amendment is not about the aim of the present Government, but about successive Governments and setting a long-term framework. She went on to say:

“I am not sure that that sense of direction is there. While there is a significant environmental improvement test, I do not think that quite gives us the confidence that the Bill will really drive the transformation that we need across Government if we are to really tackle the issues.”––[Official Report, Environment Public Bill Committee, 10 March 2020; c. 75, Q118.]

The point about transformation being needed across Government, not just in the Minister’s Department, brings me on to a question that I asked of Ruth Chambers of Greener UK, regarding the carve-outs and exclusions in the Bill. She responded that they

“absolve much of Government from applying the principles in the way that they should be applied. The most simple solution would be to remove or diminish those carve-outs. We do not think that a very strong or justified case has been made for the carve-outs, certainly for the Ministry of Defence or the armed forces; in many ways, it is the gold standard Department, in terms of encountering environmental principles in its work. There seems to be no strong case for excluding it, so remove the exclusions.”––[Official Report, Environment Public Bill Committee, 10 March 2020; c. 76, Q120.]

The amendment provides a framework to do that, although not wholly.

I will move on to new clause 1, and return later to some of the expert witness statements. I was honoured to table the new clause with my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test; hopefully he will not be dissatisfied with the way I speak to it. The intention of the new clause is to enshrine an environmental objective in the Bill. The new clause complements amendment 103, because it is about achieving and maintaining a healthy natural environment. That goes very well with the point that we need continuous improvement of the environment.

The new clause also says:

“Any rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies and procedures arising from this Act must be enforced, allowed and followed for the purpose of contributing to achievement of the environmental objective.”

It would give all those powers—or duties, shall we say, as “powers” are one of the things listed—to the Secretary of State and would give the Bill an overall coherence that it lacks. It would tie things together and give confidence that there is a single unitary aim, and would start the process of tying target-setting to the aim.

That was underlined by the excellent evidence that we had from Dr Richard Benwell of Wildlife and—

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Countryside Link.

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I thank my hon. Friend—Wildlife and Countryside Link. We also heard from George Monbiot in that sitting. The hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth asked last week—I am sure that it relates to her constituency —how far back we would need to go in terms of preserving Dartmoor, and they gave a good answer. Parts of their answers are useful with reference to the new clause. George Monbiot said:

“We need flexibility, as well as the much broader overarching target of enhancing biodiversity and enhancing abundance at the same time. We could add to that a target to enhance the breadth and depth of food chains: the trophic functioning of ecosystems, through trophic rewilding or strengthening trophic links”.––[Official Report, Environment Public Bill Committee, 12 March 2020; c. 121, Q163.]

That, again, is a broad aim, which is included in the new clause.

Dr Benwell said in answering the same question:

“In the Bill at the moment, that legal duty could be fulfilled by setting four very parochial targets for air, water, waste and wildlife. I do not think that that is the intention, but when it comes down to it, the test is whether the target would achieve significant environmental improvement in biodiversity.”

I do not think that the Minister or the Secretary of State would set very parochial targets in those four areas, but perhaps a future Minister or Secretary of State would. That is why I think that not only would a much broader environmental objective, as in the new clause, be welcome, it is necessary.

Dr Benwell continued:

“You could imagine a single target that deals with one rare species in one corner of the country. That could legitimately be argued to be a significant environmental improvement for biodiversity.”

For instance, our entire biodiversity target could relate to red squirrels, which now mainly reside in Cumbria. That would be our whole objective. If a future Secretary of State were obsessed with red squirrels, and did not care for any other aspect of biodiversity, that might happen. I know that the current Secretary of State does not have those views, but while I have been in Parliament, and sat as a member of the Environmental Audit Committee, there have been four Environment Secretaries, so they come and go fairly often, although I hope the present one stays longer in his role.

Dr Benwell said:

“You could set an overarching objective that says what sort of end state you want to have—a thriving environment that is healthy for wildlife and people”.

That is what new clause 1 would do. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test does not seem to be shaking his head, so I assume I am getting that right. Not much later in the sitting, the hon. Member for Dudley North asked whether the Bill sufficiently empowers all Departments to protect and improve the environment. Dr Benwell said:

“‘Empowers’, possibly; ‘requires’, not quite yet.”––[Official Report, Environment Public Bill Committee, 12 March 2020; c. 121-22, Q163.]

New clause 1 responds to Dr Benwell’s response, and goes from “not quite yet” to now. That is why it is a necessary improvement to the Bill.

Many of the amendments and new clauses that we shall talk about later and during the passage of the Bill will bring us back to new clause 1, which is an anchoring point from which to improve the Bill. Even if the Minister does not accept it today, I hope that through in Committee and on Report she will consider taking a much broader environmental objective as part of the Bill, to help us improve it.

Finally, I will move to new clause 6, which has been tabled in my name and that of the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton. I am sure that in quieter times it would have attracted many more names, but since it was tabled, one or two other things have emerged that have taken up the attention of hon. Members across the House.

This clause is complementary to new clause 1 and overlaps with it. Again, it applies targets and mechanisms to the overarching aim of the Bill, and provides a bit more clarity about them. It states that a framework should be established

“to enable the following environmental objectives…(a) a healthy, resilient, and biodiverse natural environment; (b) an environment that supports human health and wellbeing for everyone; and (c) sustainable use of resources.”

I probably covered the biodiversity point when I was speaking about new clause 1, but this clause takes care of that point, which I will call the red squirrel issue.

New clause 6 also talks about human health and wellbeing. We heard a lot of evidence, for instance, about the issue of air quality. Air quality does not necessarily relate to biodiversity or climate objectives, but it is exceedingly important to human health and wellbeing. We know that places such as London and my constituency in Leeds have some of the worst air quality in Europe, and many deaths result from that. I do not think the Bill is sufficiently strong to be mindful of that fact, or empowered to take the necessary action.

I do not want to have to remind the Minister that under the EU regulations we are leaving, the Government had to be taken to court three times by one of the witnesses from ClientEarth in order to strengthen their actions. I do not think that the clean air zones implemented in my constituency—although they are nearly nine months late—would have been introduced without that action. This Bill takes over from those EU regulations, and to set it on the right foot we need these targets and mechanisms to be front and centre, otherwise we may find ourselves unable to take the actions that have been taken in the past to safeguard and improve our air quality. I will now draw to a conclusion, and thank you, Sir Roger.

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My hon. Friend has made a powerful case for these amendments to be included in the Bill, and has said most of the things that I wanted to say about them. What I will add for the clarification of the Committee is that, as hon. Members can see, new clause 1 is very similar to new clause 6, which has the support of the Chair of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The purpose of these new clauses, particularly new clause 1, is—as the title of new clause 6 suggests—to add an overall clarification of the environmental purpose of the Bill, and to draw together a Bill that, for all its merits, has in many ways turned up via a process of iteration.

The first two sections of the Bill originally surfaced at the end of 2018, and it was then amended to some considerable extent and appeared as part of a larger Bill in 2019. That Bill did not get through all of its stages before the election was called, although it passed on Second Reading. Significantly, between the original Bill and the 2019 Bill appearing, no less than six parts had been added, including the Office for Environmental Protection part. As a result, the Bill does not have a coherent overarching principle that applies to all its parts. Historically, that has been done in some instances by what is called a preamble clause, which is pretty obscure and has fallen into disuse when writing Bills in this country. I would have preferred a preamble clause to do the job, but an environmental purpose clause does the job just as well. Indeed, there are numerous examples in different pieces of legislation. In health and safety legislation, for example, there is a purpose clause to pull everything together.

The clauses differ only very slightly in their definitions, so I would be happy with any of them. New clause 6 brings together the purposes of the Bill within a stated framework that enables,

“a healthy, resilient, and biodiverse natural environment”

and

“an environment that supports human health and wellbeing for everyone; and...sustainable use of resources.”

It defines the overall purpose of the Bill, which is important. It keeps the different elements of the different parts of the Bill’s metaphorical noses to the grindstone. It makes sure that all the things we are thinking of doing in the Bill have an overall purpose behind them: a healthy, natural environment. The Minister might say that that is a bit of a free hit for environmental lawyers who might come in on the environmental purpose and say, “You are not putting forward a healthy, resilient and biodiverse natural environment with what you are doing.” I might say that that is precisely the purpose of the amendment, which is to enable the overall objective of the Bill to be judged against the actions of parts of the Bill as they fall for individual action in any clauses that we might pass.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West has said, that is the idea of these clauses. I think they would add considerably to the robustness of the Bill—a theme we began to talk about seriously this morning—because of the way in which they would gather everything together under an umbrella of purpose. That point is arguable. Some might say there is sufficient purpose in the Bill, and there is indeed plenty of purpose in the Bill. It is just a question of whether it is fully gathered together in the relationship between the parts of the Bill on biodiversity, water, air and waste, and gathered together into the fundamental purposes of the first part of the Bill and put together as an overall whole.

I hope the Minister will think about what I have said carefully. As you have reminded us, Mr Gale, the clauses would not come up for a vote until the end of our proceedings, so they will not be voted on today. However, we feel strongly about this, and I think we would consider dividing the Committee when they come up, if there is no reasonable response to the intent put forward in these new clauses.

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Thank you, Dr Whitehead. We will make a note, and whoever is in the Chair at the time that the new clauses are reached will take cognisance of what you have just said.

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I thank the hon. Member for Leeds North West and the shadow Minister for their input, and I acknowledge the input of the Chairs of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and the Environmental Audit Committee. I have a great deal of respect for both Committees, having been on both of them myself, as have some hon. Members here.

I thank hon. Members for the interest they have shown in part 1 of the Bill, which genuinely and openly talks about the new framework of environmental governance. I welcome their input and the fact that they want to look at the intention to ensure that the targets, the environmental improvement plans, the environmental principles and the Office for Environmental Protection work together to protect our natural environment.

As this was one of the specific points raised by the hon. Member for Leeds North West, I want to touch at the outset on driving significant environmental improvement and to reassure him that through the Bill the Government will set at least one new long-term target in each of the four priority areas of water, air quality, waste and resources, and biodiversity by 31 October 2022. Those targets will be set following a great deal of robust evidence-gathering, consultation and engagement with experts, advisers and the public, and they will have to be approved by Parliament through the affirmative process when the statutory instruments are set. People will have plenty of opportunity to engage.

I also want to reassure the hon. Gentleman, since he in particular raised this matter, about other targets. I think the witness from the RSPB raised that in our session last week. I want to offer reassurance that the target-setting process is an ongoing process. It is not a one-off thing, where we set one target and that is the end of that. That is why we will also need to consider what other targets might be needed to ensure that we can significantly improve the natural environment in England—in the area of biodiversity, for example, which he mentioned, because it is complicated and involves all sorts of areas linking into each other.

We will conduct that review at the same time as the first statutory review of the environmental improvement plan, and report to Parliament on its outcome by 31 January 2023. The first environmental improvement plan is the first plan of this Bill; it will help us to deliver what is in the 25-year improvement plan. I hope that reassures the hon. Gentleman that target setting is not a one-off thing, but will be a constant, flowing landscape.

I also want to reassure colleagues that a huge amount of thought has gone into the setting of this framework, so that it is a coherent framework for environmental protection and improvement. I would say to the shadow Minister that it does have an overarching purpose: it has the environmental principles. Those principles will work with all other areas of the Bill to improve the natural environment and environmental protection. It is a huge and wide commitment. The policy statement will explain how those principles will be applied to contribute to that environmental protection and to sustainable development. In my view, we have those objectives right there at the top of the Bill.

I want to go into a bit more detail and to give a few more reassurances. The measures in the Bill will all form part of environmental law once it has been enacted. That means that the Office for Environmental Protection will have oversight of the Government’s implementation of their duties as it does over all other aspects of environmental law.

We have designed each governance mechanism in part 1 of the Bill with guiding objectives. I have referred to those already. They will ensure that targets and environmental improvement plans, the environmental objectives and the Office for Environmental Protection work in harmony to protect and enhance our natural environment. A raft of measures will all work together to bring about the overall environmental improvement that the shadow Minister and I agree is of the utmost importance. That is what we are trying to achieve through the Bill. Both targets and environmental improvement plans have the objective of delivering significant improvement in the natural environment. That is referred to in clauses 6 and 7.

I want to touch on what significant improvement is, because that was touched on by the hon. Member for Leeds North West. It will be for the Government, in carrying out all the reviews and procedures that happen, to determine what “significantly” means. There is no single, overarching metric for the environment—I am sure that the shadow Minister, with his knowledge of science and the environment, will completely understand this—so creating an objective test here is impossible. However, we take “significantly” to mean that only small, marginal or fractional improvement of the whole environment, or dramatic improvement in just a few narrow areas of the natural environment, would not be acceptable. We could not fudge it and get away with doing a few small things or one or two dramatic things and say, “That’s it.” That just would not work.

The Office for Environmental Protection may provide its own view when it monitors the implementation of environmental law and monitors progress in improving the natural environment in accordance with the Government’s environmental improvement plans and targets. If it disagrees with the Government’s interpretation, it can publish a report, to which the Government are required to respond.

Both the OEP report and the Government response must be laid before Parliament, so every hon. Member here will be able to see them. The OEP is also required to produce its own strategy setting out how it intends to perform its functions and would be expected, as part of that, to set out its approach to fulfilling its responsibility to monitor and report on environmental improvement plans and targets.

I hope that is clear. The Government must periodically review their long-term targets, alongside existing statutory targets—of course, we still have quite a lot of other environmental law and targets, which will carry on—to consider whether all those things collectively, both the existing legislation and the new targets, would significantly improve the natural environment in England. We refer to that as the significant improvement test, and I have just set out a lot about what “significantly” means.

If significant improvement did not occur, the Government would have to set out how they intend to use their target-setting powers to rectify that. That would most likely involve plans to modify existing targets and perhaps to set more ambitious new targets. It will be a constantly moving feast of analysing targets and checking whether they are the right ones. Should they be tweaked a bit? Should we be improving them? The significant improvement test is intended to capture both the breadth and the amount of improvement, with the aim of ensuring that England’s natural environment as a whole improves significantly.

Clauses 7 to 14 create an ongoing requirement for the Government to have a

“plan for significantly improving the natural environment”.

During environmental improvement plan reviews, the Government must consider whether further policies are needed to achieve targets, as I mentioned.

With regard to environmental principles, clause 16(4) will ensure that the policy statement on environmental principles contributes to the improvement of environmental protection and sustainable development. I touched on that right at the beginning. There will be the policy statement under it, explaining how it will be put into operation.

The hon. Member for Leeds North West mentioned carve-outs. I want it to be clear that the environmental principles policy statement will apply across Government—across the whole policy function of Government. When a Minister of another Department brings forward primary legislation, they have to consider the environmental principles. That is a groundbreaking introduction by the Government. There will be exceptions in a couple of areas, where it is self-explanatory that the principles could not be used appropriately. That defence is one of those, but I am sure the hon. Member will understand that.

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I wonder if the Minister could help me. Let us take the example of a habitat in extremely poor condition and facing further decline. That habitat could be significantly improved simply by preventing further decline and intervening to bring the habitat up to a poor but improving condition. That would be a significant improvement, but it would not constitute a high-quality or healthy habitat. Does the Minister accept that that is a problem with the definition of significant improvement? Or does she think that other elements in the Bill would define significant improvement to make that definition of a poor environment improvement—[Interruption.] I see the Minister has been provided with inspiration. Does she think that other parts of the Bill would make that argument superfluous—namely, that significant improvement would equate to healthy, with the other elements of the Bill being in place? I am not sure it does.

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The hon. Gentleman raises a good point. Before I read the inspiration that has been passed to me, let me say that the whole point of the significant improvement test, which is a legal requirement—we have other requirements to keep on checking, testing and monitoring targets through the environment improvement plan, which is also checked every five years —is that it is a holistic approach. The shadow Minister is picking one thing, but with the range of targets that will be set, that one thing will be constantly reported on and monitored. Later in the Bill, we will discuss the nature recovery networks and strategy. The point he raises will be addressed through those other measures in the Bill that, on the whole, will be the levers to raise all our biodiversity and ensure nature improvement.

We have a constant monitoring system in place where we raise up the holistic approach. Every five years the Government have to assess whether meeting the long-term targets set under the Bill’s framework, alongside the other statutory targets, would significantly improve the natural environment. That is all open and transparent; the Government have to respond to Parliament on their conclusions and, if they consider that the test is not met, set out how they plan to close the gap, setting other powers. There are many powers in the Bill for target setting, but also for reporting back. I hope that will give the hon. Gentleman some assurances that the things I believe he wants in the Bill will get into it through the levers provided in it.

Clause 22 sets a principal objective for the Office for Environmental Protection. It will ensure that the OEP contributes to environmental protection and the improvement of the natural environment in exercising its functions. Not only do we have measures for Government, we also have an overarching body checking and monitoring everything and saying what it thinks should or should not happen—whether there should be new targets or whether the targets are being addressed. All those measures are closely aligned; the idea is that they will work together to deliver the environmental protection mentioned in the amendments, concerning improvement and protection of the natural environment as well as the sustainable use of resources.

The shadow Minister said that the Bill had come and gone a few times and has grown a bit; I say it has grown better and stronger, and that we need lots of those measures. The framework now is coherent. I have done a flow-chart of how this all works together, because it is quite complicated. However, if the shadow Minister looks at all the measures together, they knit in with each other to give this holistic approach to what will happen for the environment and how we will care for it.

The hon. Member for Leeds North West and the shadow Minister mentioned this “healthy environment” wording. Clearly, there are many different views on what constitutes a healthy environment, and the Government could not assess what they needed to do to satisfy that new legal obligation, and nor could anyone else. The Government cannot support an amendment that creates such an obligation. It would create uncertainty to call just for a “healthy environment”, because everyone’s idea of that is different. The Government cannot support such a commitment, because the legal obligations are too uncertain. However, we support the overarching architecture of everything working together to create the holistic environment, and an approach where all the targets work together and we are on a trajectory towards a much better environment. The shadow Minister and I are in complete agreement with each other that that is the direction that we should be taking.

To sum up, the Government do not believe that amendment 103 or new clauses 1 and 6 are necessary. I ask hon. Members kindly to withdraw them.

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I will not press the amendment to a vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

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On a point of order, Mr Gale. I want to be clear that amendment 103 and new clause 6 are to be withdrawn, with no effect on new clause 1.

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That is absolutely the case. Let me restate, because none of us has a monopoly on wisdom: formally, only the lead amendment is moved. If any other amendments or new clauses are to be moved, we have to have an indication of that fact at the right time, when they will be moved. Only the lead amendment can be withdrawn, because only the lead amendment has been moved, at this stage. Everyone happy?

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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I beg to move amendment 1, in clause 1, page 1, line 11, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

“(2) The Secretary of State must exercise the power in subsection (1) so as to set the appropriate long-term targets within each priority area for the purpose of achieving and maintaining a healthy environment on land and at sea”.

This amendment seeks to provide legal clarification to show that the Secretary of State’s purpose when setting targets is to maintain a healthy environment. It also seeks to explicitly include the marine environment links to which are currently sparse in this Bill.

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With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 85, in clause 6, page 4, line 21, at the end insert—

“on land, and at sea.”

This amendment makes explicit that the review of environmental targets should consider both marine and terrestrial environments

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We have not yet got beyond the first page of the Bill because, I suggest, it is a particularly important page for the rest of the Bill. These two amendments seek to put clearly on the face of the Bill what we are talking about in terms of the environment. They add “on land” and “at sea”, first to the targets in line 11 onwards. They do so because we think—as we have made clear by tabling an amendment to clause 6—that the Bill ought to be completely clear that we are talking about the threats not just to the environment but to the marine environment as well. The two are indissolubly linked.

Later, we will talk about beaches, which one might say are neither terrestrial nor marine, but involve a particular series of concerns about both of them. The Bill needs to be clear that that all comes within an definition of what we are talking about.

We all agree that the marine environment is important if we are to maintain clean beaches and water we can swim in, and to maintain fish stocks. They are all considerations that we should not forget about and that have an impact on the terrestrial environment. We must make it clear, without a shadow of a doubt, that that is what we are talking about. In a previous meeting, the Minister appeared to be amenable to explicitly including the marine environment. She may have other ways of expressing that, but there is a commonality of purpose about the importance of ensuring that the marine environment is clearly referred to in the Bill.

The amendments have different merits. Amendment 85 does not force any target changes, but focuses on the Government’s review of environmental targets. It would introduce a minimal change, so that when the Government conduct the review that they propose to

“consider whether the significant improvement test is met,”

they should consider the sea as well as the land. The amendments have slightly different purposes, but the same overall aim, which is to ensure—by waving a blue flag or whatever other means—that the environment we are talking about considers the sea as well as the land, and to underline that the two are indissolubly linked in whatever general targets we may have for a better environment. One cannot work without the other.

In the context of those considerations, I hope the Minister will be well disposed towards assuring us, with chapter and verse quoted, that everything is okay, and that we have everything in the Bill that we need to ensure that the marine environment is properly considered and brought into play. Alternatively, she may say, “Hmm, hang on a minute. They might have a point.” She might then think about ways in which we can ensure that those environmental concerns are properly reflected in the Bill.

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I thank the shadow Minister for amendments 1 and 85, which would include specific reference to

“on land, and at sea”

in clauses 1 and 6. The Bill requires that at least one long-term target is set in each of the four priority areas, as has been explained. That provides clarity and certainty about the areas on which policy setting will focus between now and October 2022.

I reassure the hon. Gentleman that the power to set targets is not limited to those priority areas alone and can be used in respect of any matter relating to the natural environment. I give him absolute reassurances that the definition of the natural environment includes consideration of the marine environment. Indeed, I welcome this being raised. The fact that we are discussing it and getting that in writing will clarify the position. He is absolutely right to raise the issue. The marine environment will be included, and it is explicitly highlighted on page 57 of the explanatory notes. The shadow Minister is not alone in calling for that; the Natural Capital Committee also wanted clarification, and we gave it reassurances.

The Secretary of State will consider expected environmental improvement across all aspects—terrestrial and marine—of England’s natural environment when conducting the significant improvement test, which is a legal requirement. That involves assessing whether the natural environment as a whole, including the marine environment, will have improved significantly. Such an approach is aligned with comments made at the evidence session. The Committee may remember that Dr Richard Benwell, the chief executive of Wildlife and Countryside Link, stated that

“the environment has to operate as a system.”—[Official Report, Environment Public Bill Committee, 12 March 2020; c. 116, Q157.]

Of course, the system has to include marine and land—all aspects. Furthermore, the Office for Environmental Protection has a key role, and if it believes that additional targets should be set, it can recommend that in its annual report on assessing the Government’s progress. The OEP could therefore comment on the marine environment specifically, and the Government must publish and lay before Parliament a response to the OEP’s report.

The process ensures that Parliament, supported by the OEP, can hold the Government to account on the sufficiency of measures to significantly improve the natural environment. I hope that provides clarification and reassurance about the word “marine” and references to “on land” and “on sea.” I therefore ask the hon. Member to withdraw the amendment.

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As the Minister said, the fact that we are discussing these matters, and that our words are going on the record, is useful in buttressing what is in the legislation. I am grateful to her for her clarification, which is also on the record. On that basis, I happily beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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I beg to move amendment 76, in clause 1, page 1, line 17, at end insert—

“(e) global footprint.”

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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 77, in clause 1, page 2, line 16, at end insert—

“(10) Without prejudice to subsection (6), the global footprint target is required to be met with regard to ecosystem conversion and degradation, and to deforestation and forest degradation, by 31 December 2020.”

Amendment 78, in clause 44, page 27, line 24, at end insert—

“‘global footprint’ means—

(a) direct and indirect environmental harm, caused by, and

(b) human rights violations arising in connection with the production, transportation or other handling of goods which are imported, manufactured, processed, or sold (whether for the production of other goods or otherwise), including but not limited to direct and indirect harm associated with—”.

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Amendments 76 to 78 are intrinsically linked with new clause 5, which we will come to, which is about the enforcement mechanism and due diligence in supply chains that would allow us to ensure that actions takes place. I will try to separate the amendments from the new clause and return to this issue in a bit more detail when we get to the new clause.

Amendment 76 would add “global footprint” to the four priority areas in which a long-term target must be set. As the Minister is aware, the target is only in respect of at least one matter within each priority area. Some people may think, at first glance, our ability to know what the global picture will look like over a long period is limited, particularly given the uncertainties we face. However, as the Minister will know, this measure is about trying to drill down and find an action we can take in each priority area.

Amendment 77 is not about long-term targets but about a very short-term target we could address on ecosystem conversion, degradation, deforestation and forest degradation by the end of the year. I will come in a moment to why the date given is important. Amendment 78 would define “global footprint”, and we will come later to new clause 5, on due diligence in the supply chain, which is really important.

The amendments in the group address the climate and ecological emergencies that we all recognise. The 25-year environment plan commits to leaving a lighter footprint on the global environment, but that is not supported in any way by legislation. The overseas impact of our consumption, production and, I would add, financial investment—banks lending to the companies that are doing these things—is partly about the embedded carbon and water in the products that we produce and consume, but it is also about the depletion of natural resources, including deforestation, and it often comes with a human cost, too. We hear about indigenous people being displaced from their land and we hear terrible cases of environmental defenders being murdered or disappeared, particularly in Latin America. We hear about modern slavery in the food supply chain, or exploitation of workers.

I took part in a debate last year or the year before—I lose track of time in this place—linking up World Food Day and modern slavery. The cheap food that we consume comes at a cost. Sometimes, that is an environmental cost. Often, it is at a cost to the people who work within the food system.

If we need an economic reason to pursue this agenda, as opposed to just caring about the environment and climate change, the World Economic Forum “Global Risks Report 2020” ranks environmental risk as the greatest systemic threat to our global economy, although I suspect that the report may have been published before coronavirus hit us. It says that the decline of natural assets will cost the world at least £368 billion a year, which adds up to almost £8 trillion by 2050, and the UK will suffer some of the biggest financial losses because of our trading patterns, consumption and so on.

As we all know, the extraction and processing of natural resources globally has accelerated over the past two decades. It accounts for more than 90% of our biodiversity loss and water stress and around a half of our climate impacts. That is having a particular impact on the world’s forest.

From other debates, we know about the importance of our land and our oceans in terms of carbon mitigation—acting as natural carbon sinks. Land and oceans could offer as much as one third of carbon mitigation needed globally by 2030, to contain global warming at 1.5°. We have had that debate in the UK, about tree planting and peatlands and so on, but obviously, the huge forests of the world, such as the Amazon, are incredibly important. However, the world’s intact tropical forests are now absorbing a third less carbon than they did in the 1990s, owing to the impact of higher temperatures, droughts and deforestation. In the 1990s, the carbon uptake from those forests used to be equivalent to about 17% of carbon dioxide emissions from human activities. That figure has now sunk to around 6% of global emissions in the last decade. If dramatic action is not taken now to halt deforestation, tropical forests may even become a source of additional carbon into the world’s atmosphere by the 2060s.

Much of this global deforestation is the result of agricultural production. Some 77% of agricultural land is currently used for livestock, through pasture grazing and the production of animal feed, such as soya. Soya imports represent almost half of Europe’s deforestation footprint, and around 90% of that is used for animal feed. Many of the products that we consume in the European market, particularly embedded soya in meat and dairy, as well as palm oil, cocoa, pulp and paper, are directly or indirectly connected through the supply chain with deforestation and human rights abuses in some of the most precious and biodiverse ecosystems across the world, including the Amazon and Indonesian forests. For example, 95% of the chickens slaughtered in the UK each year are intensively farmed—a model of production that relies on industrial animal feed containing soya.

The solution is to stop deforestation and to give significant areas back to nature. The 2015 United Nations New York declaration on forests committed to restoring an area of forests and croplands larger than the size of India by 2030. We need three significant interventions to meet that goal.

The first is significantly to reduce global meat and dairy consumption and to give large areas of existing agricultural land back to nature. Another is to end the use of crop-based biofuels, to prevent further land conversion away from high-quality natural ecosystems. We also need to clean up global supply chains, to limit deforestation, which new clause 5 particularly addresses. This is one way that the UK can show leadership as we approach COP26. It would also show leadership towards one of the draft targets for the Convention on Biological Diversity at Kunming in China later this year, if that goes ahead.

Amendment 77 is a short-term, binding target that we want in the Bill. At the moment, because of the way the Bill is drafted, interim targets will not be set until the beginning of January 2023. Amendment 77 would insert a zero-deforestation supply chain target for December 2020 for all commodities and goods used or consumed in the UK. The Consumer Goods Forum committed to eliminate all deforestation from supply chains of key commodities by 2020. Of course, we are now in 2020, and those voluntary commitments have failed. Greenpeace analysis suggests that some 50 million hectares of forest—an area the size of Spain—are likely to have been destroyed for production since those original commitments were made. I mentioned the link between deforestation and our consumption patterns.

Some might say that a legal deforestation target for 2020 is not deliverable, but some examples show just what can be achieved with the will to do so. Greenpeace exposed the link between Amazon destruction and the production of agri-commodities such as soy in 2006, which prompted global traders and brands, including Cargill and McDonald’s, to set up an Amazon soy moratorium, which the Brazilian Government later supported. Unfortunately, things have changed in Brazil, with a move back towards bad practices. However, in 2014, after eight years of the moratorium, almost no Amazon forest was cleared for soy.

The Government signed up to support the delivery of industry commitments to zero deforestation by 2020, both through their international commitments in the Amsterdam declaration and the New York declaration on forests, as well as via the 25-year plan. Amendment 77 would simply ensure that those commitments have legal force and would show bold leadership in supporting nature-based solutions, particularly as we approach the year of COP.

Finally, I have had a letter from the chair of the Global Resource Initiative taskforce, which is due to release a report with its recommendations on 30 March. The letter does not say whether I can say what is in it, so I am slightly wary of revealing of what I think will be the recommendations. I will return to that, because by the time we get to new clause 5, the report will have hopefully been published. I do not want to get Sir Ian Cheshire into trouble. However, the report sets out the case for a more strategic approach to tackling deforestation, through a package of 14 interconnected actions, and makes a recommendation for a legally binding target. The end of the letter says:

“The science is unequivocal—protecting and restoring forests will be critical if we are to avert a climate catastrophe. The business case is also beyond doubt—UK businesses have much to benefit from establishing themselves as leaders in deforestation-free supply chains and much to lose from being left behind.

The Environment Bill provides an opportunity to accelerate this change, to provide a level playing for business and to demonstrate UK leadership.”

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I apologise, Sir Roger, for having inadvertently deknighted you earlier. I do not wish to continue with that practice any further. It is a new world, but it is quite useful, I think.

My hon. Friend has made a powerful case for the amendments, which we strongly think should be supported. It would be an omission if the Bill did not recognise what the international footprint of our actions is all about and how intrinsically linked that is, in a world where sugar snap peas are grown in Kenya—[Interruption.] I am merely saying that they are grown there, Minister—our choices are our own in those respects. Things are flown around the world at a moment’s notice and flowers are put in cargo plane holds. There are the effects of our attempts at reforestation, but we then observe deforestation in substantial parts of the world as a result, quite probably, of them taking part in the processes by which we get soya milk on our tables in the UK. We might deplore such practices in principle, but actually, we substantially support them as a result of our preferences for particular things in this country. That causes those international events to occur, which we then deplore further.

The idea that we are intrinsically linked through our global footprint, in terms of what we do in this country as far as the environment is concerned, seems very important in the Bill’s successful passage through the House. Although amendment 77 makes very specific points, the amendments are more than slightly contingent on new clause 5, which we will debate later. I would like to hear how the Minister thinks that in the absence of a something that includes our international environmental footprint, the Bill can do justice to what should be intrinsic elements of concern when we talk about our domestic environment. Not only did my hon. Friend make a powerful case, but we are completely convinced that this needs rectifying in the Bill, and I hope that we can do that by not just passing the amendments, but taking serious cognisance of new clause 5 when we discuss it later on.

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I have signed amendments 76 and 78 from my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), but not amendment 77—that is an oversight, however, and I also fully support it. I will talk about two specific things relating to our global footprint in the Amazon and West Papua, and it is worth declaring that I am the chair of the all-party group on West Papua, although I have no pecuniary interests.

My hon. Friend and the shadow Minister made excellent cases, but I want to add a bit more detail. Three weeks ago, Chief Raoni, one of the indigenous leaders of the Amazon, came to the House and I met him, and last week, I hosted WWF Brazil’s chief executive here. They also met the Minister’s colleague, Lord Goldsmith, while they were here, and one of their key asks was that the UK Government are very clear about the import of goods from the Amazon. The range of goods is very broad. The dangers in the Amazon are live at the moment, with concerns that in just a matter of months, wildfires could rage in the Amazon as we saw last year, destroying millions of hectares of rainforest.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East made good points about soya and cattle farming, but there is also extremely widespread mining—not just by large companies, but the wildcat mining, in which the family of the Brazilian President have traditionally been involved —for metals such as aluminium, iron, nickel and copper. The sourcing of the materials for many of the everyday products that people use involves deforestation and mining in the Amazon. That has further effects because activities such as farming and mining require infrastructure, such as roads right through the rainforest. The use of the river and of heavy diesel vehicles creates water and air degradation.

We spoke about biodiversity in the UK, but our biodiversity pales into insignificance compared with the biodiversity in the rainforests of the Amazon or West Papua. It is the Committee’s duty not to forget that the UK is a major importer of goods and a major world centre for resources and raw materials, which are traded in London and imported into the UK. That means that we have a much broader responsibility.

West Papua is a lesser-known area that is part of Indonesia and has one of the world’s largest mines, the Grasberg Freeport mine. There, beyond the loss of environmental habitat and the pollution of water and air, there are also human rights abuses. There is a well-documented history of extrajudicial killings around the operation of the mine. Offshore, BP—a British company—is involved in oil and gas resources. Our global footprint is huge and the Bill must focus on that. If we are to enshrine environmental protections in domestic law, we cannot close our borders and say, “We are doing sufficient things here,” while forgetting our global footprint and the effects of our markets, imports, production facilities and export investment in causing global environmental degradation.

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I thank hon. Members for their contributions on this really key subject. I remind the Committee that the Bill gives us the power to set long-term legally binding targets on any matter relating to the natural environment.

I will pick up on the point made by the hon. Member for Bristol East about the 25-year environment plan, which is of course the first environmental improvement plan under the Bill. That plan talks about “leaving a lighter footprint” and the whole of chapter 6 is about,

“Protecting and improving our global environment”.

That is there in writing and I assure the Committee that the power in the Bill to set long-term legally binding targets on any matter relating to the natural environment allows us to set targets on our global environmental footprint.

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I know that the 25-year plan will be incorporated as the first environmental plan, but my point was that by adding amendment 76 and the fifth priority on the global footprint, we would ensure that the Bill specifies that global footprint targets would have to be set. Simply referring to the 25-year plan is just warm words rather than any clear commitment to action.

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I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention, and I recognise all the work that she is doing on this issue; she speaks knowledgably and passionately about it. However, the amendment would go further by creating a legal obligation on the Government to set targets on our wider global footprint, including human rights aspects, and amendment 77 would require us not only to set a target but meet it by 31 December 2020.

Before accepting such obligations, a responsible Government, which I like to think we are, would need to be confident that we had or could develop reliable metrics and an established baseline for such targets, and a clear understanding of any potential perverse incentives that such targets could create. The proposal sounds very straightforward but, of course, there is a great deal involved in it. We are working to explore the feasibility and effectiveness of a global environment footprint indicator, which includes reviewing the existing methodologies of global impact indicators.

We cannot responsibly accept a commitment to set global footprint as a priority area, as that would entail us in setting at least one legally binding target in a timescale that does not reflect the need to build the solid foundations that are needed. However, the hon. Lady was right to draw our attention to the impact that our domestic consumption can have on our global footprint, and the shadow Minister also mentioned that. Indeed, I went berserk with my own children when I found a packet of Kenyan beans in the bottom of my fridge; that was in December, so they were not seasonal for us. Woe betide them if they ever do that again! I put said packet in the bottom of one of their Christmas stockings to make the point. Anyway, I digress.

This is such an important issue and many colleagues have touched on it. That is why it is really important that the UK establishes roundtables on palm oil and soya. Indeed, we have already done a great amount of work on some of these issues. For example, the UK achieved 77% certified sustainable palm oil in 2018, which is—staggeringly—up from just 16% in 2010. The UK has moved very fast on that issue. Eight of the UK’s largest supermarkets, representing a combined retail market share of 83%, have published new sourcing policies to deliver sustainable soya to the UK market. We will continue to work both with those businesses, through these roundtables on palm oil and soya, and with producer countries through our UK international climate finance projects to improve the sustainability of forest risk commodities.

The hon. Member for Leeds North West starkly highlighted the example of the Amazon and the impact that we have; we must take things very carefully. However, that is not to say that, in doing all this work, we should not then harness the power through the Bill to introduce a target on our global environmental footprint. That is something that we have the option to consider.

I will also touch on the Global Resource Initiative, which was set up last year to investigate what the UK can do overall to reduce its footprint. We are awaiting the GRI’s recommendations and we will consider them carefully before responding. Any recommendations for long-term, legally binding targets will need to identify the reliable metrics, baselines and targets that I have mentioned before. However, the Bill gives us the power to introduce a target on our global environmental footprint at any time, so such targets are definitely in the mix.

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Our global environmental footprint abroad is very important and the hon. Member for Leeds North West made an interesting point in particular about our footprint in Indonesia. I happen to know about the BP investment at the Tangguh liquid natural gas project very well. It uses two offshore platforms, and there is an absolutely amazing social responsibility programme, which I have seen in detail. It is widely recognised as one of the best in the world, both by the people of West Papua and more widely in Indonesia.

It is worth noting that we have significant renewable energy projects there, including some interest in tidal stream—we brought a delegation from Indonesia to Scotland recently. Through the Department for International Development’s climate change unit, we have worked on making their timber production sustainable and are now looking at how we can help them make the palm oil industry sustainable. The Minister makes an important point about how we can build a strong environmental footprint abroad.

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I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention.

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On a point of order, Sir Roger. Does the hon. Member for Gloucester have any interest to declare in relation to the statement he just made?

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That is not a point of order for the Chair. If the hon. Member for Gloucester had any interest to declare, I am sure he would do so.

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I am happy to say that my only interest to declare is as an unpaid, voluntary trade envoy in Indonesia for the last three Prime Ministers.

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I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. He speaks with a great deal of knowledge about worldwide issues, as he always does in the Chamber.

On the grounds of what I have said, I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment.

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I will have to go back and read what the Minister said, because I am rather confused. She seems to be jumping around all over the place. On one hand, she says a global footprint target can be included in the Bill and cites some good things that have happened through volunteer initiatives and through companies—perhaps with a bit of Government pressure on them—to say that such things can be done. On the other hand, she says that we cannot possibly put it in the Bill.

I point out that amendment 77 is designed to ensure that there is an end-of-year target, which was previously a commitment. The Government have said in various different forums that they would achieve that, so it is a bit late now to say, “We need to worry about the metrics, and we need to be working on this, that and the other.”

I tried to intervene on the Minister because I wanted to ask her about the GRI recommendations, which will come forward on 30 March. If it recommends that the provision should be in the Environment Bill, will the Minister commit to table amendments that reflect the GRI recommendations? As she would not let me intervene to ask her about that, she is very welcome to intervene and tell me whether that is the case. It might affect whether I decide to push anything to a vote.

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I will intervene very briefly. I reiterate that we await the outcome of the recommendations and will consider them very carefully. Getting the metrics right is absolutely crucial, as is every target in the Bill. I said strongly that there is a power in the Bill to set targets on our global environmental footprint. I shall leave it there.

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As I said, I want to revisit that, because I thought the Minister was making an argument against being able to pursue targets. She did not adequately make the case for not having the specific priority of a global footprint target, but we will return to that when we discuss new clause 5, which is a comprehensive clause about due diligence in the supply chain and how we enforce all this. We shall return to the debate then, rather than my pressing these issues to a vote now. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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I beg to move amendment 178, in clause 1, page 1, line 17, at end insert—

“(3A) Targets set within the priority area of air quality must include targets for—

(a) the ambient 24 hour mean concentration of PM2.5 and PM10;

(b) average human exposure to PM2.5 and PM10; and

(c) annual emissions of NOx, ammonia, PM2.5, PM10, SO2 and non-methane volatile organic compounds.

(3B) Targets set within the priority area of water must include, but are not limited to, matters relating to—

(a) abstraction rates; and

(b) the chemical and biological status and monitoring of inland freshwater and the marine environment.

(3C) Targets set within the priority area of biodiversity must include, but are not limited to, matters relating to—

(a) the abundance, diversity and extinction risk of species; and

(b) the quality, extent and connectivity of habitats.

(3D) Targets set within the priority area of waste and resources must include, but are not limited to, matters relating to the reduction of overall material use and waste generation and pollution, including but not limited to plastics.”

We are now moving on to a debate on one of the most important elements of the Bill. I suspect it will take us beyond the break for lunch, but I will start my remarks. The amendment is designed to address the priority areas for environmental targets, which are set out in clause 1(3). Hon. Members can see that the stated policy areas are air quality, water, biodiversity, and resource efficiency and waste reduction. Other targets, particularly on PM2.5 air quality, are mentioned later in the Bill, but those are the priority areas for the purpose of the Bill.

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Order. It is tiresome, but I have to interrupt the hon. Gentleman.

The Chair adjourned the Committee without Question put (Standing Order No. 88).

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.

Environment Bill (Sixth sitting)

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: † Sir Roger Gale, Sir George Howarth

† Afolami, Bim (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con)

† Ansell, Caroline (Eastbourne) (Con)

† Bhatti, Saqib (Meriden) (Con)

† Brock, Deidre (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)

† Docherty, Leo (Aldershot) (Con)

Edwards, Ruth (Rushcliffe) (Con)

† Graham, Richard (Gloucester) (Con)

† Longhi, Marco (Dudley North) (Con)

† McCarthy, Kerry (Bristol East) (Lab)

† Mackrory, Cherilyn (Truro and Falmouth) (Con)

† Moore, Robbie (Keighley) (Con)

† Morden, Jessica (Newport East) (Lab)

† Oppong-Asare, Abena (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)

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

† Sobel, Alex (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op)

† Thomson, Richard (Gordon) (SNP)

† Whitehead, Dr Alan (Southampton, Test) (Lab)

Adam Mellows-Facer, Anwen Rees, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 17 March 2020

(Afternoon)

[Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]

Environment Bill

Clause 1

Environmental Targets

Amendment moved (this day): 178, in clause 1, page 1, line 17, at end insert—

“(3A) Targets set within the priority area of air quality must include targets for—

(a) the ambient 24 hour mean concentration of PM2.5 and PM10;

(b) average human exposure to PM2.5 and PM10; and

(c) annual emissions of NOx, ammonia, PM2.5, PM10, SO2 and non-methane volatile organic compounds.

(3B) Targets set within the priority area of water must include, but are not limited to, matters relating to—

(a) abstraction rates; and

(b) the chemical and biological status and monitoring of inland freshwater and the marine environment.

(3C) Targets set within the priority area of biodiversity must include, but are not limited to, matters relating to—

(a) the abundance, diversity and extinction risk of species; and

(b) the quality, extent and connectivity of habitats.

(3D) Targets set within the priority area of waste and resources must include, but are not limited to, matters relating to the reduction of overall material use and waste generation and pollution, including but not limited to plastics.”—(Dr Whitehead.)

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Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Before we start proceedings, I have been advised that the ambition today is to get to the end of clause 6, which as far as I am concerned is both admirable and acceptable. The Chairman’s job is to be in the Chair, and I am prepared to do that, but if we sit rather later than we might have done, I will suspend the sitting, probably for 15 minutes at 4.30 pm—for natural causes.

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For the elucidation of the Committee, I confirm that the intention of the Opposition is to get to the end of clause 6 in reasonably good order, so it will not be necessary, I hope, for the Chair to suspend proceedings, because we will already have gone home by then. We will see whether I manage to keep my remarks suitably brief, so that we can achieve that goal.

I barely started my remarks about the amendment this morning. I will first emphasise how important the amendment is to ensuring that the priority area targets are seen as targets with content, rather than targets in theory. That is important because of the frankly rather odd way in which subsection (2) is set out:

“The Secretary of State must exercise the power in subsection (1) so as to set a long-term target in respect of at least one matter within each priority area.”

That might suggest that the Secretary of State will have a lottery choice, and will say, “Well, I’ve got to set at least one target in each area, so what’s it going to be? If I go above my limit of one target per area, I might not be able to get targets in other areas,” or perhaps, “I haven’t got enough targets in this section, so I have to beef them up.”

In reality, targets are not one per customer; they are based on what targets should be set in each area. What are the themes that one would prioritise within each area in which a target might be set? What are the priorities regarding air quality, water, biodiversity and waste and resources that would cause us to say, “Perhaps in this area there should be three or four targets, and in that area two, or more than three”?

The Bill allows the Secretary of State to set more than one target, but it at least strongly suggests that it should be one target, and implies that that should be it. I hope we can be clear today that that certainly is not it, and that the Secretary of State will be charged with looking at each area and deciding, on the basis of what is needed, what the targets for those areas should be. They might or might not be numerous.

There is a rumour that there was discussion with the Treasury about how many targets might be allowed in each area, and the Treasury said, “Maybe keep it to one each. That will be okay.” I am sure that is untrue, but nevertheless the drafting of this part of part 1 seems a little odd.

In amendment 178, we have tried to say, “What would be the general priority areas?” One might say that it was our best go at answering that. If we have time to spare this afternoon, having got through our business, we could have a little roundtable and decide whether we think those are the absolute priorities, or whether we should put in others or change them around. It is an attempt, which I think is good enough to go into the legislation, to look at what the main areas are within each priority area that we could reasonably set targets on.

Within air quality, it would be good to have targets on average human exposure to PM2.5 and PM10, and annual emissions of nitrogen oxides, ammonia, the different PMs and non-methane volatile organic compounds. For water, the targets could be on abstraction rates,

“the chemical and biological status and monitoring of inland freshwater”

and, importantly, the marine environment, which we touched on this morning.

In the priority area of biodiversity, there could be targets on

“the abundance, diversity and extinction risk of species”

and

“the quality, extent and connectivity of habitats”.

Later in the Bill, we will talk about recreating habitats if necessary, and ensuring, through local plans, that habitats join up with each other, so that we do not have a series of island habitants with no relation to each other. Perhaps we should have a biodiversity target on ensuring that those habitats are connected.

In the priority area of waste and resources, there could be targets on

“overall material use and waste generation and pollution, including but not limited to plastics.”

As we will see later in our discussions, there could certainly be targets relating to the extent to which things are properly moved up the waste hierarchy. One of the concerns we have regarding the waste and resources part of the Bill is the extent to which there is, rightly, a concern for recycling, but not for going any further up the waste hierarchy than that.

Amendment 178 is the explanation that we would like to see after the very thin gruel served up in clause 1(3). It is by no means the last word, and we state in the amendment that the targets are not limited to those set out in it. Indeed, it would be a perfectly good idea if the Secretary of State or Minister said, “I don’t quite agree with the targets that you have set out here. There are other priority areas in these sectors, and we’d like to set targets on those instead.” We are not precious about that in any way.

I hope the Committee can accept the principle that it is not sufficient to set out single-word priority areas, particularly in clause 1(2). In the Bill, there needs to be some unpacking of the process, so that we can assure ourselves that we will get to grips with the sort of targets that we believe are necessary. That is a friendly proposal. I hope it is met with interest from Government Members, and that we can discuss how we get that right, having accepted the principle. We do not necessarily need the amendment to be accepted in its totality, but if we do not see any movement at all in its direction, we strongly feel that we ought to set down a marker to show that it is important that such a process be undertaken, and would therefore reluctantly seek to divide the Committee.

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I thank the shadow Minister for seeking to specify the targets that the Government should set within each priority area. He asked if what he said was met with interest. Of course it was. He recognises that the Bill includes a requirement, which I reiterate, to set at least one long-term legally binding target in each of four important areas: air quality; water; biodiversity; and resource efficiency and waste reduction. Those were chosen because they are the priority areas that reflect where we believe targets will drive long-lasting significant improvement in the natural environment, which is the aim of the Bill.

The four priority areas were chosen to complement the chapters of the Bill, to build on the vision in the 25-year environment plan—the first environment improvement plan in the Bill—and to facilitate the delivery of comprehensive measures, with an “s” on the end, across the natural environment; we are talking about not just one thing, but a whole raft of measures. The Bill’s framework allows long-term targets to be set on any aspect of the natural environment, or people’s enjoyment of it, beyond the four priority areas in order to drive significant improvement in the natural environment. Of course, all those things will be monitored, checked and reported on to ensure that the significant improvement is achieved, and if more targets are seen to be required, then more targets are what will happen.

I would like to reassure the shadow Minister that the Government will be able to determine the specific areas in which targets will be set via the robust and transparent target-setting process that I referred to this morning. Advice from independent experts will be sought in every case during the process. Stakeholders and the public will also have an opportunity to give input on targets. Indeed, just now in the Tea Room, one of our colleagues asked about giving input on the deposit return scheme. I said, “Yes, there will be a lot of engagement and a lot of consultation, through the Bill.” Targets will be based on robust, scientifically credible evidence, as well as economic analysis.

We do not want to prejudge which specific targets will emerge from the process, and the Office for Environmental Protection has a role in setting targets. If the OEP believes that additional targets should be set, it can say what it thinks should be done in its annual report when it is assessing the Government’s progress. It will do that every year. The Government then have to publish and lay before Parliament a response to the OEP’s call. Any long-term targets will be set via statutory instruments, which will be subject to the affirmative procedure. That means that Parliament can scrutinise, debate, and ultimately vote on them, so everyone gets their say. I hope that will please the shadow Minister, because he will very much be part of that. This process ensures that Parliament, supported by the OEP, can hold the Government to account for the targets they set.

On air quality, we are committed to tackling a diversity of air pollutants that harm human health and the environment, including those that the shadow Minister mentioned. I remind him that we already have ambitious statutory emissions reduction ceilings in place for five key pollutants, as well as legally binding concentration limits for other pollutants, and those are already starting to drive significant improvements to air quality. Those are in legislation, and we obviously have to abide by them. The case for more ambitious action on fine particulate matter is especially strong, which is why we are creating through this Bill a specific duty to set a target for PM2.5, in addition to a further long-term air quality target.

Far from having a thin gruel, as the shadow Minister said—in jest, I am sure—we have a substantial porridge. That porridge will provide the building block for the whole process of setting these targets, with our main ambition being to drive and enhance a better-protected environment. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

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Service on a Bill Committee such as this might seem like doing porridge, but—[Laughter.] Before we proceed, the normal convention is that whoever moves the motion speaks first. There is then a pause, not because I have forgotten what to do, but so that I can see whether anybody else is excited by the debate. If I pause and nobody bothers to indicate that they wish to speak, I call the Minister. Two Members have now indicated that they wish to speak. That is perfectly in order, and I have no problem with it, but traditionally, the Minister speaks last to summarise the debate. There is then the possibility of prolonging the matter further, but that is how it is usually done.

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I apologise for not rising quickly enough before the Minister spoke. I will try to do so more quickly in future.

I reiterate that under our current regime, it took three court cases, brought by a voluntary organisation, for Government to bring forward the clean air measures that are now being introduced. Obviously, a lot of other targets are included in amendment 178, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test—my name is not on that amendment, but I will be supporting it—but the ones about air quality are particularly close to my heart.

The fact that we had to go through those court cases under the European regulations, and that those clean air targets are not in the Bill, is deeply worrying. I am sure that we have ceilings, but for a lot of people, those ceilings are too high, and people are still going to die of breathing-related and other lung-related conditions. The ceiling in this Committee Room, for example, is very high; knowing what we now know, we would not again build this room with this ceiling height; we would have a far lower ceiling. The same is true for levels of particulate matter.

When we took evidence from ClientEarth last week, Katie Neald said:

“The cases that ClientEarth has taken against the UK Government have been key both to driving action to meet the legal limits we already have and to highlighting this as a serious issue and highlighting Government failures so far. It is really important that the Bill allows people to continue to do that against these new binding targets.”––[Official Report, Environment Public Bill Committee, 12 March 2020; c. 95, Q136.]

This amendment creates that framework. Without it, the Bill is insufficient.

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I apologise, Sir Roger, for not indicating earlier that I wished to speak. I want to make a very quick point, which underpins quite a lot of my criticism of many of the amendments that have been tabled to this Bill.

This Bill is a framework measure. The Government have already set out their priority areas, which are listed in the Bill. To get into the level of specificity in the amendment presupposes that we could know, theoretically for 15, 20 or 25 years, all the measures we may wish to choose. There are some that might seem good now, but in future may not seem so good. Flexibility is very important and something any Government of any colour or description, or any Minister, would need in future because, as we are seeing, the science and advice can change quite quickly. Having priority areas around the broad themes set out in the Bill makes sense because air will not cease to exist—if it does, we will cease to exist. Within that, however, we need Parliament and the Government to have flexibility. On those grounds, I do not support the amendment.

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Does the Minister wish to comment on what has just been said before I go back to Dr Whitehead?

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Very briefly, thank you, Sir Roger.

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden. He has hit the nail on the head in summing up the flexibility for the targets and the importance of getting and inputting the right expert advice and having the flexibility to move and change with the requirements. The environment is such a huge thing. There is no one thing; it is not a straightforward answer. There will be lots of different targets to consider. Specifically, however, we have a requirement to set at least one long-term target.

To pick on the point made by the hon. Member for Leeds North West on air quality, we have a clean air strategy already, which the World Health Organisation has held up as an example for the rest of the world to follow. We are already taking the lead on that and have committed £3.5 billion to delivering our clean air strategy and the measures within it. They are already operating and will work part and parcel with the Bill’s new measures to have an even more holistic and comprehensive approach to air quality.

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If the Bill were just a framework Bill, it would be about a quarter as long as it is. The fact that, in various parts, it has quite a lot of detail about the things that are required within the overall framework indicates that the Bill is more than that. It seeks to set out, guide and secure a whole series of advances in environmental standards and enhancements of the natural environment in a way that hopefully we can all be proud of.

That is why I call this particular section thin gruel. I was trying to see where we can go with the porridge analogy. Although its potential is not thin gruel, the way it is set out in the Bill appears to me to turn out something that is rather more thin gruel than good porridge. Some Government Members, meanwhile, are thinking “How can we make it flower out of its bowl with all sorts of things added to it?”

Our amendment does not stop Ministers coming up with new targets—wide targets, changeover time and so on—and go with the flow of circumstances as they unfold, but it prevents the porridge from being thinner than it might otherwise be. We want to see basic, good porridge with some fruit, raspberries—

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With some nuts on top, which together makes a pleasing dish that one can understand and be secure that one is going to get a good breakfast as a result. That is the purpose of our amendment. We feel strongly about that—we all like a good breakfast. On that basis, I am not happy with the Minister’s response. I do not see how the things that she wants to get done on the Bill will in any way be undermined or diluted by the structure that we have put forward. On the contrary, I think they would be underpinned and expanded. On that basis, I will press the amendment to a Division.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division 1

17 March 2020

The Committee divided:

Ayes: 5
Noes: 9

Question accordingly negatived.

View Details

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I beg to move amendment 80, in clause 1, page 2, line 4, at end insert—

“(4A) A target under this section must be set on the basis of the best available evidence and any advice given under section (3)(1).

(4B) In setting targets under this section, the Secretary of State must take into account relevant international best practices and seek to improve on them.”

This amendment seeks to ensure that targets are evidence based and have considered international best practises.

The amendment deals with what the targets must specify. As the Bill stands at the moment, that is a little vague. Subsection (4) states:

“A target set under this section must specify—

(a) a standard to be achieved, which must be capable of being objectively

measured, and

(b) a date by which it is to be achieved.”

We think that that formulation does not take full account of the way in which those targets should be appraised, particularly the way they should be appraised on the basis of the best available evidence and international best practices and how the UK might be able to improve on them. We therefore suggest adding proposed new subsections (4A) and (4B) after subsection (4).

We have to look at the best available evidence. I am not saying for a moment that this would occur, but a target that was set under this procedure by the Minister, which appeared to have been conjured out of thin air on a whim and did not have much support, would be gravely undermining of those people who want those targets to be achieved and those achievements to be firmly attained.

The best available evidence and the relevant international best practices are extremely important. We should be able to say that we can learn from others and incorporate that into our practices so that we leap ahead in our achievements. That is a very good guideline to inform target setting, and it is what we offer in our amendment. Again, I would be interested to hear from the Minister whether she thinks that what is in the Bill at the moment really does the job in terms of setting targets, or whether, perhaps by using different means from the clause, there are ways in which we can make sure that the Bill stands up rather better to the target-setting task that we have set it.

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Of course I recognise the shadow Minister’s desire to ensure that, when these targets are set, they are based on the highest possible standards of evidence, practice and advice. However, I believe that it is not necessary to make such explicit amendments as the one that we are considering, because we have already committed to setting targets under a robust, evidence-led process. We expect the best available evidence to inform this, including, of course, scientific data, models, historical datasets and assessment of what is feasible from a socioeconomic perspective. I can assure him that absolutely nothing will be conjured out of thin air, as he was suggesting; conducting ourselves in such a way would not be a correct way for Government to operate.

I am sure that the shadow Minister will be interested to be reminded that every two years, we will conduct a review of significant developments in international environmental legislation. I think that that was one of the new additions to the Bill that was inserted during the process that he was outlining earlier, about how the Bill came and went, and fell, and various other things. This is an extra addition that I believe will be useful and will address exactly what he is talking about, because it is right that we consider what is happening across the rest of the world, to make sure that we are aligned, whether we want to be or not, and consider what other people are doing, and make sure we keep abreast of developments in driving forward our environmental protection legislation.

Of course, we will publish that review and make sure that any relevant findings are factored into our environmental improvement plan, and considered with the environmental target-setting process. We will also seek and consider very carefully the advice of independent experts before setting the targets. Additionally, our target proposals will be subject to the affirmative procedure in Parliament; both Houses will have the opportunity to scrutinise, debate and ultimately vote on the details and the ambition of the targets. We also expect the Select Committees to take an interest in this process and they will have an opportunity to scrutinise the Government’s target proposals. They might choose to conduct their own inquiries or publish reports, which the Government would then respond to in the usual manner.

Having given that amount of detail, I hope that it provides some reassurance. The shadow Minister is obviously raising really important issues, but I hope that my response makes it clear that we are taking this matter very seriously. I therefore ask him to withdraw the amendment.

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The Minister has said exactly what I had anticipated she might say in the best of outcomes, and that is now on the record; indeed, our purpose principally was to ensure that that kind of statement about these targets was there for all to see. I am grateful to her for setting that out and I am much happier than I would have been if she had not said that. I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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I beg to move amendment 28, in clause 1, page 2, line 15, leave out “the National Assembly for Wales” and insert “Senedd Cymru”.

This amendment reflects the renaming of the National Assembly for Wales as “Senedd Cymru” by the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Act 2020. Similar changes are made by Amendments 29, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47,48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 67, 72, and 73.

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With this, it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments 29, 32 to 36, 67, 37 to 57, 72 and 73, and 58 to 64.

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Section 2 of the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Act 2020 renames the National Assembly for Wales as the Welsh Parliament or Senedd Cymru. The changes will take effect from 6 May 2020. As a consequence, amendment 28 would replace references in the Bill to “the National Assembly for Wales” with “Senedd Cymru”, and replace references to “the Assembly” with “the Senedd”—I hope I have made that quite clear. This is consistent with the approach that the Welsh Government are taking to their own legislation.

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Could the Minister clarify whether we are replacing “the National Assembly for Wales” with “Senedd Cymru” in all legislation or whether we are inserting both, as was implied in part of her statement, by saying, “the National Assembly for Wales/Senedd Cymru”? Does the National Assembly for Wales cease to exist completely, and are we always to refer to it as Senedd Cymru in all future parliamentary debates?

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That is a very perceptive question, which does not surprise me at all—my hon. Friend is always on the ball. The answer is no, the Welsh Assembly will remain. I will just add that the Government consulted the Welsh Government on how the Welsh legislature should be referred to in legislation moving forward, and using the Welsh title ensures there is a consistent approach across the statute book.

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For clarification, can I just confirm that we will refer to “the National Assembly for Wales” and to “Senedd Cymru” in the Bill, and that that is the format that Parliament and the Government will adopt for all legislation, and that we are not replacing “the National Assembly for Wales” with “Senedd Cymru” on every occasion?

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The answer to the first part of his question is yes.

Amendment 28 agreed to.

Amendment made: 29, in clause 1, page 2, line 16, leave out “Assembly” and insert “Senedd”.—(Rebecca Pow.)

See Amendment 28.

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I am satisfied that clause 1 has been sufficiently debated, and I therefore do not propose to take a clause stand part debate.

Clause 1, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2

Environmental targets: particulate matter

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I beg to move amendment 23, in clause 2, page 2, line 20, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

“(2) The PM2.5 air quality target must—

(a) be less than or equal to 10µg/m3;

(b) have an attainment deadline on or before 1 January 2030.”

This amendment is intended to set parameters on the face of the Bill to ensure that the PM2.5 target will be at least as strict as the 2005 WHO guidelines, with an attainment deadline of 2030 at the latest.

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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 185, in clause 2, page 2, line 20, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

“(2) The PM2.5 air quality target must—

(a) follow World Health Organisation guidelines and;

(b) have an attainment deadline on or before 1 January 2030.”

This amendment ensures that the international standard on small particulate matter set by the World Health Organisation is followed, and that this target is reached by the end of the decade.

Amendment 25, in clause 6, page 4, line 21, after “England” insert—

“and minimise, or where possible eliminate, the harmful impacts of air pollution on human health and the environment as quickly as possible”.

This amendment is intended to strengthen the test against which targets are assessed, to ensure that the human health impacts of air pollution are considered, with the aim of minimising, or where possible eliminating, them.

Amendment 26, in clause 6, page 4, line 29, after “2023” insert—

“or, in the case of the PM2.5 air quality target and any other long-term and interim target set within the air quality priority area, within 6 months of publication of updated guidelines on ambient air pollution by the World Health Organization, whichever is earlier”.

This amendment is intended to allow any new targets to reflect updated WHO guidelines.

Amendment 27, in clause 6, page 4, line 31, after “completed” insert—

“or, in the case of the PM2.5 air quality target and any other long-term and interim target set within the air quality priority area, within 6 months of publication of updated guidelines on ambient air pollution by the World Health Organization, whichever is earlier”.

This amendment is intended to trigger an early review of the PM2.5 target, and other air quality targets, within 6 months of the publication of the updated WHO guidelines.

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This amendment should be discussed with amendment 185. Amendment 23 is tabled in the name of the esteemed Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), and a number of other Members, most of whom are not on this Committee—and some of our names have been added. Amendment 185 is in the names of Members who are mostly on the Committee.

These amendments highlight a real difference between what is in the Bill about the additional environmental target on particulate matter, in addition to what is in clause 1(3), and the World Health Organisation guidelines. Clause 2 indicates why this is not just a framework Bill, as it includes some real stuff on particulate matter. But that real stuff does not get us to where we need to be on targets for particulate matter in ambient air.

One way or another, these amendments seek to equate the target guidelines to the World Health Organisation guidelines on particulate matter. Indeed, amendment 23 states that the PM2.5 air quality target should be,

“less than or equal to 10µg/m3”.

I understand that that would be equivalent to the World Health Organisation guidelines. In that sense, although the amendments are slightly differently worded, they do not have any different intent or purpose.

The questions are: why the WHO guidelines; what have we done so far on PM2.5 emissions; and where might the targets suggested in the Bill get us? One problem with how we have addressed PM2.5 and other particulate matter is that although the emissions expressed as density per cubic metre of air have come down very substantially over the years, levels have pretty much plateaued between the early 2000s and the present. Indeed, as I see it we will not get too much further in achieving targets on the basis of that performance over recent years. The suggested targets set out in the Bill do not take us much further down the road as far as a fall in emissions is concerned. We need to align ourselves with the WHO guidelines, so that we can ensure that we are targeting a regular and continuing reduction in emissions.

As hon. Members will know, these emissions are serious for human health. The smaller the particulate emissions, the more likely those particulates are to penetrate human tissue and lungs, and to cause long-term injury and health problems for the recipients. These finer particulates are pretty much a product of a lot of modern living, coming from, for example, tyres, brakes, diesel emissions—all sorts of things like that. It is certainly more than possible to target those factors in such a way as to get emissions down to a much more seriously depleted level than at present.

Indeed, that was the subject of a report by the Department in 2019 entitled, “Air quality: Assessing progress towards WHO guideline levels of PM2.5 in the UK”. That report, which was obviously a Government report, suggested in its conclusion that the analysis of progress that had been made and of future progress demonstrated that,

“measures in the Clean Air Strategy, alongside action by EU Member States, are likely to take us a substantial way towards achieving the WHO guideline level for annual mean PM2.5”,

but that:

“It also helps us understand where further action is needed.”

That is probably a summary of where the Government are as far as these guidelines are concerned: we are some way towards the WHO guidelines, but we are not there yet, and we need to understand that further action is needed and where it is needed. That is why we think a target, which should run alongside the WHO guideline level, is essential in or around this Bill.

What does the report state about the feasibility of getting to those WHO guideline levels in the UK? It is very clear:

“On the basis of scientific modelling…we believe that, whilst challenging, it would be technically feasible to meet the WHO guideline level for PM2.5 across the UK in the future.”

It goes on to say:

“Substantive further analysis is needed to understand what would be an appropriate timescale and means, and we will work with a broad range of experts, factoring in economic, social and technological feasibility to do this.”

However, the report says that this is feasible. It can be done, and it can be done on the basis of a reasonable timescale and within a reasonable set of means.

I do not think there is an argument here to say that anyone is setting an impossible task ahead of us, that this really cannot be done, or that we should not try to shoot for this because we will only fail and that would undermine the validity of targets. It is something that the Government’s own researchers have concluded is eminently feasible and doable. The only difference is that it has not been done or targeted yet.

I would be interested to hear any arguments why this should not be done and why we should not seek to put this in as our target in the Bill, because I cannot honestly think of any really good ones right at this minute. If the arguments are, “Well, it’s too hard,” or, “We shouldn’t be doing this right now,” or, “It’s something that would cost our country dearly,” I would suggest that the Government’s own advice is to the contrary. Therefore, I hope that the Committee can unite around the idea that this is where we should be going with our targets, and put this amendment on to the statute book.

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The hon. Gentleman says we must have guidelines; I agree with him totally, but in fact the guidelines are there in the legislation. Clause 1 lays out specifically what the standard means and the date by which it is to be achieved, which cannot be more than 15 years after the date on which the target is initially set. The guidelines are there, and clause 2, in seven crisp bullets, gives more detail about what is expected of the Secretary of State.

The hon. Gentleman’s amendment looks, on appearance, to be a modest word or two, but what he is trying to achieve is a rewriting of clauses 1, 2 and 3 altogether, setting not the guideline, but a very specific target and deadline. I cannot help wondering whether the deadline, which is before January 2030, is not linked specifically to the Labour party conference motion that called for net zero carbon by 2030—something his own Front Bench has rejected, accepting the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s target of net zero by 2050.

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Those are two different things.

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They are indeed, but the date is, by coincidence, the same.

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That is a bit like thinking that, if there are two bodies in different parts of the country, they must be connected because they are two bodies. It does not follow, to be honest, because they are not connected.

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I am interested in the hon. Gentleman saying that they are not connected. The two dates happen to be the same, so there is a connection. It is not like two bodies in different parts of the country. The key thing is that the guidelines for which he calls are there; the deadline for which he calls is a separate thing.

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The Government shares the shadow Minister’s desire to take ambitious action to reduce public exposure to air pollution and ensure that the latest evidence is taken into consideration when targets are reviewed. The Government take fine particulate matter, and air pollution as a whole, extremely seriously, and completely understand public concerns about this very serious health issue. That is why the Government are already taking action to improve air quality, backed by significant investment.

We have put in place a £3.5 billion plan to reduce harmful emissions from road transport. Last year, we published our world-leading clean air strategy, which sets out the comprehensive action required at all levels of Government and society to clean up our air. I reiterate that that strategy has been praised by the WHO as an example for the rest of the world to follow, so we are already leading on this agenda. That is not to say that there is not a great deal to do; there is, but the Government are taking it extremely seriously.

The Bill builds on the ambitious actions that we have already taken and delivers key parts of our strategy, including by creating a duty to set a legally binding target for PM2.5, in addition to the long-term air quality target. That size of particulate is considered particularly dangerous because it lodges in the lungs, and can cause all sorts of extra conditions. I have met with many health bodies to discuss that. It is a very serious issue and a problem for many people. However, we are showing our commitment to tackling it by stating in the Bill that we will have a legally binding target.

It is important that we get this right. We must set targets that are ambitious but achievable. Last week, Mayor Glanville, the representative from the Local Government Association, highlighted the importance of ambitious targets, but was at pains to emphasise the need for a clear pathway to achieve them. It would not be appropriate to adopt a level and achievement date, as proposed in amendments 23 and 185, without first completing a thorough and science-based consideration of our options.

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Bearing in mind that the Minister has already quoted from last week’s evidence sessions, does she agree that Professor Lewis made it very clear that, once we reached the target level mentioned in the amendment, the United Kingdom would not be fully in control of the target, and it would therefore be dangerous to put such a target in the Bill?

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I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I was going to mention Professor Alastair Lewis. Members will remember that he is the chairman of the UK’s air quality expert group. He gave stark evidence. He is obviously an expert in his field, and it was really interesting to hear what he said. He stressed the technical challenges involved in setting a target for a pollutant as complex as PM2.5, which he explained is formed from diverse sources—the shadow Minister is right about that—and chemical reactions in the atmosphere. He was at pains to explain that a lot of PM2.5 comes from the continent, and it depends on the direction of the wind, the weather and the atmospheric conditions. My hon. Friend is right that those things are not totally within our control.

Professor Lewis explained the need to decide how we would measure progress towards the target, and that the process would be challenging and would take time. It is crucial to get it right. When developing the detail of the target, we will seek evidence from a wide range of sources and ensure we give due consideration to the health benefits of reducing pollution, as well as the measures required to meet the targets and the costs to business and taxpayers. It is really important that we bring them on board.

I want to refer quickly to the report that the shadow Minister mentioned. I thought he might bring up the DEFRA report published in July 2019, which demonstrated that significant progress would be made towards the current WHO guideline level of 2.5 by 2030. He is right about that. However, the analysis did not outline a pathway to achieve the WHO guideline level across the country or take into account the full economic viability or practical deliverability.

In setting our ambitions for achievable targets, it is essential that we give consideration to these matters—achievability and the measures required to meet it. That is very much what our witnesses said last week. If we set unrealistic targets, it could lead to actions that are neither cost effective nor proportionate. That is why we are committed to an evidence-based process using the best available science—something I know the shadow Minister is really keen we do—and advice from experts to set an ambitious and achievable PM2.5 air quality target.

I reiterate that it is crucial for public, Parliament and stakeholders that they have the opportunity to comment on this and have an input in the process of developing these targets. By taking the time to carry out this important work in engagement, we will ensure that targets are ambitious, credible and, crucially, supported by society. We have the significant improvement test, which is a legal requirement, outlined in the Bill. It will consider all relevant targets collectively and assess whether meeting them will significantly improve the natural environment of England as a whole. It is intended to capture the breadth and the amount of improvement. It is very much a holistic approach and it encompasses the impacts of air pollution on the natural environment and the associated effects on human health. All these things will be taken into account in assessing the journey to the targets. I therefore surmise that the proposal in amendment 25 is not necessary.

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The Minister is quite right in pointing out that the report we mentioned did not take into account within a scientific model the full economic viability or practical deliverability of that change. If she were to commission this group to go away and do that, would she commit to the WHO guidelines after that point?

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The shadow Minister knows that I will make no such commitment here. This has to be evidence based. Get the right evidence, then the decisions can be made. That is how this Bill will operate. All the advice we took last week from the experts—the people we have to listen to—very much agreed that this was the direction that we need to take. Reviewing individual targets through the test, as proposed in amendments 26 and 27, would not be in line with the holistic approach of the Bill.

Furthermore, the fixed timetable for periodically conducting the significant improvement test provides much needed certainty and predictability to business and society. We have heard from many businesses that they want this surety. It would be inappropriate to determine the timescale for this test on the basis of one new piece of evidence. However, we recognise that the evidence will evolve as highlighted by amendments 26, 27 and 185. The Government will consider new evidence as it comes to light after targets have been set, as part of the five-yearly review of our environmental improvement plan and its annual progress report. The Office for Environmental Protection has a key role. If the OEP believes that additional targets should be set, as I have said before, or that an update to a target is necessary as a result of new evidence, it can recommend this in its annual report, assessing the Government’s progress.

I am convinced there is a very clear process for all this. The Government will then have to publish and lay before Parliament a response to any such report by the OEP. This process ensures Parliament, supported by the OEP, can hold the Government to account on the sufficiency of its measures to improve the natural environment. I therefore kindly ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

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I do worry about the idea that a target should only be set if we know that the target can be achieved and exceeded immediately. If we did that all of the time, we would not have targets. We would set what we were going to do as a target and—well I never—we would always achieve it. A target has to be something that is grasping at the stars in order to be achieved. A target, among other things, should not just be based on the idea that you can do something now, easily. It should be, in part, a wake-up call and a gee-up to make sure the target is achieved once you have done the basic work that it is technically possible to do. Indeed, the Government report got us to a position of doing that. I do not accept the Minister’s arguments on this. There should be a target, at the very least to keep us on the straight and narrow as far as reduction in particulate emissions are concerned, which is based on WHO guidelines. I therefore seek a division on this.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division 2

17 March 2020

The Committee divided:

Ayes: 5
Noes: 9

Question accordingly negatived.

View Details

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3

Environmental targets: process

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I beg to move amendment 81, in clause 3, page 2, line 33, leave out subsection (1) and insert—

“(1) Before making regulations under sections 1 or 2, reviewing targets under section 6, setting interim targets under section 10, or considering actions required to achieve targets set under sections 1, 2, or 10, the Secretary of State must—

(a) obtain, and take into account, the advice of a relevant independent and expert advisory body set up for this purpose;

(b) carry out full public consultation;

(c) publish that advice as soon as is reasonably practicable.

(1A) If regulations laid under sections 1 or 2 or interim targets make provision different from that recommended by the advisory body, the Secretary of State must both publish the public interest reasons for those differences and make a statement to Parliament on them.

(1B) Any advisory body set up under subsection (1)(a) must comprise 50 per cent of members nominated by the OEP and 50 per cent of members nominated by the Committee on Climate Change.”

This amendment seeks to prevent the Secretary of State from breaking Articles 4 to 8 of the United Nations Aarhus Convention of which the UK is a party. It encourages the Secretary of State to set up and listen to an independent expert body, to consult with the public, and share information. Where discrepancies between what is advised and the regulations the secretary of state chooses to make arise, it requests explanation of that discrepancy. Finally it makes suggestions for how that advisory body should be set up.

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With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 181, in clause 3, page 2, line 35, at end insert—

“(1A) The advice sought under section 3(1) must include advice on how the scope and level of targets should be set to significantly improve the natural environment and minimise, or where possible eliminate, the harmful impacts of pollution on human health and the environment.”

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I was slightly taken aback as I had received an indication from the Chair’s provisional grouping and selection of amendments that amendments 81 and 181 would be taken separately.

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They can be voted on separately but debated together. I hate to say it, but I am right.

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I think I probably have a provisional grouping in front of me here and things maybe have changed since then. In that case, I am very sorry that I raised that particular point.

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No problem at all. The grouping on the selection paper indicates amendment 81 with 181 and then, separately, amendment 24.

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My other problem here was that I had extensively marked up the provisional grouping with colour coding and so on, and was reluctant to set it aside. That is maybe why I brought it into the Committee. It is a nice piece of work in its own right.

We are talking about amendments 81 and 181 grouped together, which I am happy to talk to. I begin with amendment 81, which seeks to unpack the statement at the beginning of clause 3 that before “making regulations” the

“Secretary of State must seek advice from persons the Secretary of State considers to be independent and to have relevant expertise.”

That is a rather strange form of wording. Hon. Members may agree on that. It appears, at its face, that the Secretary of State could choose who—in his or her opinion— is “independent”, a subjective view from the Secretary of State, and who has “relevant expertise”. That is also a subjective view. The Secretary of State can decide on his or her advice without consultation, and can decide from whom he or she must seek that advice.

Amendment 81 seeks to make it much clearer that that is not how the process of seeking and obtaining advice would be carried out. Not only that, that it also seeks to put in place what is essentially good practice from previous legislation in this area, to guide us on how that process would be undertaken. Amendment 81 sets out that the Secretary of State would have to “obtain” and “take into account” the

“advice of a relevant independent and expert advisory body set up for this purpose”

when reviewing targets and making regulations under clauses 1 or 2. It would not just be someone who the Secretary of State thought had some relevance to the matter, or to whom they decided to go in the belief that they might be independent. They would be “independent”, they would be “expert”, and they would be separate. It would be clear who that advice was coming from.

On the basis of that advice, full public consultation should be undertaken, and that advice would be published as soon as was reasonably practical. It gives the Secretary of State a get-out, and it is proper that it should. Since the advice is to be given as advice, and if the Secretary of State decided that they did not want to take that advice, or wanted to make a provision other than the one recommended by the advisory body, then the Secretary of State should

“publish the public interest reasons for those differences and make a statement to Parliament on them.”

That is what is known as a comply or explain procedure. It would be expected, in the first instance, that the Secretary of State would comply with properly given, properly expert and properly independent advice, but if they did not feel that they could comply with that advice, it would be up to them to put up a good case as to why not, to publish that good case and to make a statement to Parliament on the good case as to why they could not comply.

We have suggested that the members of the advisory body for this purpose should be nominated by two bodies, one of which is independent and the other, we hope, will very shortly be independent. We suggest that 50% of members be nominated by the Office for Environmental Protection and 50% by the Committee on Climate Change.

That brings me to the procedures that were set up under the original climate change legislation, the Climate Change Act 2008, which, as I have already mentioned in these proceedings and will undoubtedly mention again, seems to me to be a yardstick by which we should measure what we are doing in the Bill. The Bill has often been described as a Climate Change Act for the environment, and it is right that we should make that comparison, because a Bill in its best form will, first, stand the comparison and, secondly, as the Climate Change Act has, stand the test of time between Administrations and through vicissitudes and changes in scientific consideration. It will have within it the mechanism to keep a firm eye on what we are doing, but at the same time change, if necessary, with changes in circumstances.

The Climate Change Act is clear about what the Secretary of State must do in terms of either setting targets or amending target percentages. That is a comparator with what is suggested in this Bill in clause 3. The Climate Change Act states the following:

“Before laying before Parliament a draft of a statutory instrument containing an order…amending the 2050 target or the baseline year…the Secretary of State must…obtain, and take into account, the advice of the Committee on Climate Change”—

the Committee on Climate Change was set up by the Climate Change Act for that purpose of providing independent advice. The Act also says that the Secretary of State must publish that advice and, if the order that the Secretary of State lays makes provision different from that recommended by the committee,

“the Secretary of State must also publish a statement setting out the reasons for that decision.”

The “comply or explain” mode of doing things is enshrined in the Climate Change Act. Indeed, it is shot through the Climate Change Act in terms of different orders that can be made to amend targets or baseline years or to amend target percentages. When the target percentage in the Act was, as hon. Members will recall, changed in July of last year—I was privileged to lead for Labour on the change that was put forward in, as it happened, a statutory instrument—that change went through well, in that the procedures in the Climate Change Act allowed the change to be made on the basis of proper advice and consultation and ministerial statements to that effect. All those procedures worked well in relation to the Climate Change Act and the changes made there.

There are no such procedures in this Bill. That is what we are particularly concerned about. We think that a procedure similar to that in the Climate Change Act but addressing the particular concerns of the Environment Bill—not everything can simply be squeezed in unamended and unchanged—would be the appropriate way to deal with this request for advice on setting targets and interim targets. Yes, the amendment is quite a bit more extensive than the brief mention of targets in clause 3, but it would add real lustre to the Bill, ensuring that targets would be properly set, properly consulted on and properly explained. Therefore, they would be properly and legitimately adopted.

Amendment 181 seeks to expand on the advice sought under clause 3(1) and is to be taken alongside our proposals on advice. It seeks

“advice on how the scope and level of targets should be set to significantly improve the natural environment and minimise, or where possible eliminate, the harmful impacts of pollution on human health and the environment.”

It therefore specifies to an extent what the content of the advice sought by the independent body would look like, and how the body could be sure to shape its advice to be consistent with the intentions of the framers of the legislation. We think both changes would be good for and strengthen the Bill, and we hope that the Government will be interested in proceeding, if not along those exact lines, then along lines similar to those in the Climate Change Act, knowing that that procedure has stood the test of time well. It would certainly be robust for the future.

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for amendments 81 and 181. I hope he has already got the impression that we are absolutely committed to setting targets under a robust evidence-led process. Independent experts, the public, stakeholders and Parliament will all play a part in informing the scope and level of target development. The Government will carefully consider advice from independent experts before setting targets.

As the Bill progresses, we will continue to consider how the role of experts is best fulfilled. A number of witnesses last week referred to the need to use experts, and they will be used constantly and continuously. Such experts could include academics, scientists and practitioners within the four priority areas included in the Bill. The expert advice we receive to support the setting of both the target for PM2.5 and the further long-term air quality target will include that on how targets will reduce the harmful impacts of air pollution on human health. We will rely hugely on that expert advice.

Long-term targets will be subject to the affirmative procedure, so Parliament will have the opportunity to scrutinise and analyse the target proposals. That will, of course, include the shadow Minister, because both Houses will debate the statutory instruments that will set the targets. The Office for Environmental Protection will publish annual reports on the Government’s progress towards the targets, which may include recommendations for improving progress. As I have reiterated a number of times, the Government will be required to publish a response to the recommendations.

I want to stress that the Office for Environmental Protection can advise on targets, either through its duties related to environmental law or through its annual progress report on the environmental improvement plan. For example, it has a statutory power to advise on changes to environmental law, which enables it to comment on proposed legislation on long-term targets. It also has a statutory duty to monitor progress towards meeting targets as part of its annual progress report on the environmental improvement plan, which can include recommending how progress could be improved. So there is already a very strong mechanism.

Environmental law extends to all target provisions of the Bill—for example, procedural requirements on target setting and amendments, and the requirement to achieve targets. In addition, the Government will conduct the first significant improvement test—that is a legal requirement—and report to Parliament on its outcome, three months after the deadline for bringing forward the initial priority area targets.

The significant improvement test provisions of the Bill will form part of environmental law, which is why they will come under the OEP. That means that the OEP will have oversight of the provisions, as it does over all aspects of environmental law, and will have a key role in making sure that the Government meet the targets.

The shadow Minister rightly drew analogies with the Climate Change Act 2008 and the Committee on Climate Change. I am pleased that he recognises the similarities. In designing this framework, we have learned from the successful example of the Climate Change Act—for example, the strong duty to achieve long-term targets, the requirement to report on progress and scrutiny of progress by an independent, statutory body, in this case, the Office for Environmental Protection. That mirrors the CCA. We are confident that the framework is every bit as strong as the CCA framework and that it provides certainty to society that the Government will achieve the targets, delivering significant environmental improvements.

Ongoing stakeholder engagement, expert advice and public consultation will help to inform future target areas, as part of the robust, evidence-led, target-setting process. The Government will, as a matter of course, conduct a wide range of consultations for the first set of long-term targets. I hope that that is clear. We do not need the amendments suggested by the shadow Minister, and I ask him to withdraw them.

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That is all quite terrific, but it is not quite what it says in the Bill. That is the problem. The Minister has set out a robust and wide-ranging procedure for setting targets and I hope that all the steps she mentioned are going to be followed. If they are, we have a good arrangement. However, if we look at the Bill, there is fairly scattered evidence that that is the way we are going to conduct ourselves. On the contrary, it actually appears to give a great deal of leeway for somebody or some people not to do most of those things in setting the targets, if that is what they wanted to do.

We are perhaps back to some of the discussions we had this morning about the extent to which the Bill has to stand not just the test of time, but the potential test of malevolence. If a well-minded and dedicated Minister, such as the one we have before us this afternoon, were to conduct the procedure, that is exactly how she would conduct it, and I would expect nothing less of her, because that is the frame of mind in which she approaches the issue—but, in legislating, we have to consider that not everyone would have that positive frame of mind. I do not want to divide the Committee, but I am concerned that the procedure in the Bill is too sketchily set out for comfort. Maybe, when we draw up the regulations, we could flesh out some of the things that the Minister said this afternoon, to assure ourselves that that is what we will do, and do properly. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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I call Alex Sobel.

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I was not expecting to be called quite so soon, so I will move amendment 24 formally.

Amendment proposed: 24, in clause 3, page 3, line 20, leave out “31 October 2022” and insert “31 December 2020”.—(Alex Sobel.)

This amendment is intended to bring forward the deadline for laying regulations setting the PM2.5 target to December 2020.

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I could cut my speech short and just say that I am very pleased the hon. Member has withdrawn his amendment.

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He has not withdrawn it; he has moved it formally.

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I will give my speech then, Sir Roger.

The amendment would undermine the intention to ensure that we set targets via an open consultation process that allows sufficient time for relevant evidence to be gathered, scrutinised and tested. As part of that process, we intend to seek evidence from a wide range of stakeholder interests, carry out good quality scientific socioeconomic analysis, take advice from independent experts and conduct a public consultation, alongside the parliamentary scrutiny of the target SIs that I have mentioned many times before.

It is important that we get that right rather than rushing to set targets, so we do not want to bring the deadline forward from 31 October 2022. We have heard strong support for that approach from stakeholders, who are all keen to have time and space to contribute meaningfully to target development. It is critical that there is certainty about what our targets are by the time we review our environmental improvement plan. That is essential for us to set out appropriate interim targets—the ones that will get us to the long-term target—and consider what measures may be required to achieve both the interim and long-term targets. The review of the plan must happen by 31 January 2023, so to that end, the target deadline of 31 October 2022 works well.

The Committee should also note that 31 October 2022 is a deadline. It does not prevent us from setting a target earlier where we have robust evidence and have received the necessary input from experts, stakeholders and the public.

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Can the Minister reassure us that the 2022 deadline does not mean that progress on those issues will not be made or that we cannot have interim targets before we reach the deadline? The whole thing is not being kicked off until 2022; we should still be doing our best to tackle the problem of clean air between now and then.

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The target deadline of 31 October 2022 works well for us to report back on our first environmental improvement plan three months later. We hope that some consultations will start during the process, so work will be under way to improve the environment, take advice, set targets and so on. Work will be under way to start the ball rolling.

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I thank the Minister for giving some reassurance that the date is not absolutely set in stone and that measures could be introduced earlier, although obviously the date given in the amendment is ideal from my point of view and that of the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4

Environmental targets: effect

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I beg to move amendment 82, in clause 4, page 3, line 24, at end insert

“and,

(c) interim targets are met.”

This amendment places a duty on the Secretary of State to meet the interim targets they set.

For the Committee’s further enlightenment, I can say that amendment 24 was in a different place in the provisional grouping. I landed my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West in it slightly by assuming that it would be debated under clause 2; it is actually a separate discussion. I am sorry to my hon. Friend for that, but he did a brilliant job under the circumstances.

Amendment 82 is deceptively small but makes an important point about interim targets in this piece of legislation. The Bill requires interim targets to be set on a five-yearly basis. In the environmental improvement plans, the Government are required to set out the steps they will take over a 15-year period to improve the natural environment. However, environmental improvement plans are not legally binding; they are simply policy documents.

Although the plans need to be reviewed, potentially updated every five years and reported on every year, that is not the same as legal accountability. Indeed, voluntary environmental targets have been badly missed on a number of occasions. The target set in 2010 to end the inclusion of peat in amateur gardening products by 2020 will be badly missed. The target set in 2011 for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to conserve 50%—by area—of England’s sites of special scientific interest by 2020 has been abandoned and replaced with a new target to ensure that 38.7% of SSSIs are in favourable condition, which is only just higher than the current level. A number of voluntary, interim and other targets have clearly been missed because they are just reporting objects; they do not have legal accountability.

Interim targets should be legally binding to guarantee that they will be delivered, and it is vital to have a robust legal framework in place to hold the Government and public authorities to account—not just in the long term, but in the short term. As things stand, the Government could in theory set a long-term, legally binding target for 2037, as suggested in the legislation, but then avoid having to do anything whatever about meeting it until 2036.

Amendment 82 would insert the phrase, “interim targets are met.” That would effectively place a duty on the Secretary of State to meet the interim targets that they set. In that context, it is no different from the provisions of the Climate Change Act, which I keep repeating as an example for us all to follow. Indeed, how the five-year carbon budgets work is an example for all of us to follow. They were set up by the Climate Change Act effectively as interim targets before the overall target set for 2050, which is now a 100% reduction; it was an 80% reduction in the original Act.

Those five-year targets are set by the independent body—the Committee on Climate Change—and the Government are required to meet them. If the Government cannot meet them, they are required to take measures to rectify the situation shortly afterwards. Therefore, there are far better mechanisms than those in the Bill to give interim targets real life and ensure they are not just exercises on a piece of paper.

It is important that the Secretary of State is given a duty to meet the targets, because that means that they will have to introduce mechanisms to ensure that they meet those targets. That is what we anticipate would happen as a subset of these measures.

We need to take interim targets seriously, as I am sure the Minister would agree. Indeed, it is not a question of whether we take them seriously; it is a question of how we take them seriously, in a way that ensures that they are credible, achievable, workable and play a full part in the process of getting to the eventual targets that we set at the start of the Bill.

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I will be very brief. I entirely support what my hon. Friend says about the need for interim targets. We have seen how the carbon budgets work under the Climate Change Act. There is real concern that the timetable might be slipping and that we might not manage to meet the commitments in the next couple of carbon budgets, but at least there is a mechanism.

I know that we have the environmental improvement plans, and that there is a requirement to review them and potentially update them every five years. However, there are so many strategy documents and plans. If we look at peat, for example, my hon. Friend mentioned the fact that the target set in 2010 for ending the inclusion of peat in amateur garden products by the end of this year will be missed. I know that the Government have a peat strategy, and there are various other things kicking around that are mentioned every time we talk about peat. But there is a lack of focus, a lack of drive and a lack of certainty as to where the Government are heading on that issue. I feel that if we had legally binding interim targets in the Bill, that would give a sense of direction and it would be something against which we could hold the Government to account—more so than with what is currently proposed.

Regarding my last intervention on the Minister, I was trying to be helpful. I was just asking her to give a reassurance that all the efforts to clear up our air and to tackle air pollution are going on regardless; it is not just about setting this target and whether we set it for 2022 or 2020. That is one particular measure. All I am trying to say is that I am looking for reassurances that the Government will still be focused on cleaning up our air. All she has to do is say yes.

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for tabling this amendment. Very quickly, I can give assurances that of course work is ongoing to clean up our air, because we have our clean air strategy. A great many processes are being put in place through that strategy to tackle all the key pollutants that affect air quality. The measures in the Bill come on top of that. I hope that gives the reassurance that was sought.

It is of course critical that we achieve our long-term targets to deliver significant environmental improvement, and this framework provides strong assurances that we will do so. The Bill has this whole framework of robust statutory requirements for monitoring, reporting and reviewing, combined with the Office for Environmental Protection and parliamentary scrutiny, to ensure that meeting the interim targets is taken seriously, without the need for them to be legally binding.

Interim targets are there to help the trajectory towards meeting the long-term targets, to ensure that the Government are staying on track. We cannot simply set a long-term target for 2037 and forget about it. Through this cycle—the reporting requirement and the requirement to set out the interim target of up to five years—the Bill will ensure that the Government take early, regular steps to achieve the long-term targets and can be held to account. The OEP and Parliament will, of course, play their role too.

To be clear, we have a little mechanism called the triple lock, which is the key to driving short-term progress. The Government must have an environmental improvement plan, which sets out the steps they intend to take to improve the environment, and review it at least every five years. In step 2, the Government must report on progress towards achieving the targets every year. In step 3, the OEP will hold us to account on progress towards achieving the targets, and every year it can recommend how we could make better progress, if it thinks better progress needs to be made. The Government then have to respond.

If progress seems too slow, or is deemed to be too slow, the Government may need to develop new policies to make up for that when reviewing their EIPs. They will not wait until 2037 to do that; these things can be done as a continuous process, and that is important.

The shadow Minister rightly referred back to the Climate Change Act and the five-yearly carbon budgets, as did the hon. Member for Bristol East. He asked why, if the carbon budgets were legally binding, the interim targets are not. That is a good question, but of course the targets in the Environment Bill are quite different from carbon budgets. Carbon budgets relate to a single metric: the UK’s net greenhouse gas emissions. These targets will be set on several different aspects of the natural environment.

As I am sure hon. Members will understand, that is very complicated; it is an interconnected system that is subject to natural factors as well as to human activity. Additionally, aspects of the natural environment such as water quality or soil health might respond more quickly to some things and more slowly to others, even with ambitious interventions. It is possible that the Government could adopt extremely ambitious measures and still miss their interim targets due to external factors.

What is important, in this case, is that a missed interim target is recognised and that the Government consider what is needed to get back on track. I am convinced that the system that is there to recognising that—the reporting, analysis and so on—will highlight it. There will be reporting through the EIPs, the targets and the OEP scrutiny, and the incorporation of any new interim targets or measures; it can all be looked at in the five-yearly review of the EIP. I believe there is a strong framework there already.

Finally, of course, the OEP will have the power to bring legal proceedings if the Government breach their environmental law duties, including their duty to achieve long-term targets. Of course, we cannot reach the long-term targets unless we have achieved the interim targets first. I hope I have been clear on that; I feel strongly that we have the right process here, and I hope the shadow Minister will kindly withdraw his amendment.

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I hope the Minister will not think I am being too unkind if I say that she is describing a triple lock process rather more like a triple bunch of flowers process. Yes, what she says about the process operating under positive circumstances is good. Indeed, if it happens as she has outlined, we will have a good process in place. It may well be that as time goes by and people have more confidence in how the process works, and if the Government of the day play ball with that process in its own right, the outcome will be good.

I accept the point that the Climate Change Act talks about one metric, as opposed to another. However, the point about the process adopted by that Act is that although under the law as it stands, we cannot imagine a Minister being clapped in irons and taken to the Tower for not achieving a particular carbon budget, the discipline that the legal status of that requirement places on Ministers means that they have to explain themselves to Parliament fully and carefully.

The Minister has suggested that this process substantively does the same. Ministers have to make pretty clear recompense for failings in the carbon budget. As she will know, if Ministers have slipped up in achieving a carbon budget—if they have produced a clean growth plan or low carbon plan relating to a carbon budget, and then do not achieve that budget—they are legally obliged to take measures that get it back on track. As I understand it, none of that kind of constraint applies to the Environment Bill. Although it is true that if this Bill is taken in its totality, a number of things could work together to achieve something like that end, I would prefer it if we had something a bit stronger to make sure those ends are achieved. I am not saying that there is no evidence that those structures are effectively in the Bill; only that they do not really add up to something that can give us the same sort of certainty as the process in the Climate Change Act.

I hear what the Minister says, and I hope she is right. I am reasonably confident that with a good wind behind this legislation, those procedures will obtain the confidence of the public. However, the Bill is deficient when it comes to making fully sure that it will work over the long term in the way that the public want, and therefore that the public have confidence in it. I do not particularly want to divide the Committee, but I retain my reservations about whether the structures in the Bill will give it proper effect. I hope they will, but I reserve the right to say “I told you so” if they do not work out. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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I beg to move amendment 83, in clause 4, page 3, line 24, at end insert

“and,

(c) steps identified under section 5(5)(b) are taken.”

This amendment places a duty on the Secretary of State to do what they have said needs to be done in their report.

The amendment attempts to tidy up the procedures in clauses 4 and 5. Clause 5 talks about reporting duties, and it identifies the steps that are taken to make sure the Secretary of State does what they need to do according to their report. At present, the steps identified in clause 5 stand separate from the Secretary of State’s report, and the Secretary of State appears to report in isolation. Various things have to be done, but they are not tied in with the report.

The amendment would ensure that the

“steps identified under section 5(5)(b) are taken”,

which would mean that the Secretary of State’s report is not only a piece of paper. The amendment would impose a duty on the Secretary of State to do what their report says needs to be done, so the report would have real substance for future activity in this area.

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I thank the shadow Minister for tabling the amendment. I am sure he agrees that the most critical thing is the meeting of long-term targets in order to deliver significant environmental improvement, rather than the specific process of getting there. Our target framework provides strong assurance that the Government will achieve them, so the amendment is not necessary.

If a long-term target is missed, the Government’s remedial plan must set out the steps they intend to take towards meeting the missed target as soon as reasonably practicable. The Government will remain under an explicit duty to meet the target. The OEP will have a key role in holding the Government to account on the delivery of targets, both through the annual scrutiny of progress and through its enforcement functions. If a long-term target is missed, the OEP may decide to commence an investigation, which could ultimately lead to enforcement action. We expect the case for enforcement action to increase with time if the target keeps being missed, including if the Government fail to take the steps outlined in the remedial plan. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

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I am a little happier with the Minister’s consideration of that amendment. I think it might be a good idea to pull these things together, but I accept what the Minister says, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5

Environmental targets: effect

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I beg to move amendment 84, in clause 5, page 4, line 1, at end insert—

“(c) include a timetable for adoption, implementation and review of the chosen measures, and the authorities responsible for their delivery, and

(d) an analysis of the options considered and their estimated impact on delivering progress against the relevant targets.”.

The amendment strengthens the Secretary of State’s reporting by including a timetable and analysis.

We now turn to clause 5, which sets out that the Secretary of State must

“set out the steps the Secretary of State has taken, or intends to take, to ensure the specified standard is achieved as soon as reasonably practicable.”

To give the clause a little more robustness, the amendment would add at the end that the Secretary of State’s report should

“(c) include a timetable for adoption, implementation and review of the chosen measures, and the authorities responsible for their delivery, and

(d) an analysis of the options considered and their estimated impact on delivering progress against the relevant targets.”

That sounds a little routine, but we think that without such shaping, the report could be pretty much anything. We could give the report considerable shape by requiring it to contain a timetable for the adoption, implementation and review of the chosen measures, to shape and specify them; to set out who will be responsible for doing those things; and to contain an analysis of the options that have been considered and their estimated impact. That might not necessarily be an impact assessment as we traditionally know them in legislation, but a background analysis of those options and how they would affect the delivery of progress against relevant targets would be a good net addition to the Bill. I anticipate that the Minister may think otherwise, but I am interested to hear what she has to say. I am interested to know whether she thinks that such a process, which would give reports a lot more shape, might be considered for future reports. That might be done by further secondary legislation, or by other means—not necessarily those that are laid out in the amendment.

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I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman agrees that missing a legally binding target should lead to clear consequences and next steps. I do not believe that the amendment is necessary, however, because it does not strengthen the requirements that we are creating. The Bill requires the Government to publish a remedial plan to achieve the missed standard

“as soon as reasonably practicable”.

To draw up their remedial plan, the Government would therefore have to assess both what is practicable—feasible —and what is reasonable. That would include how long the chosen measures are expected to take to achieve the missed standard, how and by whom they would be implemented, and what alternatives had been considered. To show that they had met that standard, the Government would need to set out how they had selected the measures included in the remedial plan—I think that is what the shadow Minister was getting at—as part of sound policy making and to ensure transparency.

The OEP would have a key role to play. If, for example, the Government failed to publish a remedial plan that met the relevant statutory requirements, the OEP might decide to open an investigation, which ultimately could lead to enforcement action. There are already very strong measures to back up the remedial plan, and in case standards or targets are missed. I therefore ask the hon. Member to withdraw the amendment.

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As I anticipated, I did not have an eager taker for my suggestion. Nevertheless, the Minister put on the record some of the anticipated structure following those reports. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 6

Environmental targets: review

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I beg to move amendment 183, in clause 6, page 4, line 21, at end insert—

“(3A) In considering whether the natural environment would be significantly improved, the Secretary of State must be satisfied that—

(a) the terrestrial and marine natural environment in England has improved as a system; and

(b) that the achievement of any targets which meet the conditions specified in subsection (8) would constitute significant improvement in that matter.”

This amendment would require a review to consider whether significant improvement is achieved for the environment as a whole, as well as for certain individual aspects of the environment.

We now move to the fabled land of clause 6. We have been looking at it from afar and thinking that it might be a mirage, but it turns out that, like the targets we are talking about, it may be within our grasp. The amendment is important when it comes to looking at the system of the terrestrial and marine environment as a whole in the consideration of significant improvement to the natural environment.

We have talked about what we mean by significant improvement. We have discussed whether in certain circumstances, the improvement of the habitat for a particular species near Birmingham might constitute significant improvement, or whether we need a more holistic consideration of significant improvement. I think we need something more holistic, because it is important that our individual efforts—we will discuss them later in relation to local nature action plans—join up, and that they are seen as a whole and as parts of a wider process that provides systematic improvement for the whole terrestrial and marine environment. Individual improvements should therefore be judged against that wider yardstick.

In considering that question, we want the Secretary of State to be satisfied that the same yardstick can reasonably be applied to the general and the individual, ensuring that the general is taken account of and that individual things are not only good in their own right, but achieve a wider improvement. The amendment also sets out that

“the achievement of any targets which meet the conditions specified in subsection (8) would constitute significant improvement in that matter.”

That would bind the notion of significant improvement into the wider context, and it would be a useful improvement to the Bill.

The Minister might say that a systemic view of the overall terrestrial and marine natural environment can be inserted into the process in other ways. We probably agree that it is important for it to be done one way or the other, so that we stay focused on where we are going rather than getting distracted by things that are interesting but do not add to the whole, as far as systems are concerned. I hope that she will reassure me on that point.

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I welcome the shadow Minister’s intention of ensuring that the Secretary of State looks at whether targets will achieve significant improvement in the natural environment as a whole, as well as in individual areas of it. I do not believe that the amendment is necessary. The shadow Minister will not be surprised to hear me say that, but even in our evidence session of last week, Dr Richard Benwell, chief executive officer of Wildlife and Countryside Link, stated that

“the environment has to operate as a system. If you choose one thing to focus on, you end up causing more problems to solve.”––[Official Report, Environment Public Bill Committee, 12 March 2020; c. 116, Q157.]

In line with that, the significant improvement test—a legal requirement in the Bill—is intended to consider both the breadth and the amount of improvement, with the aim of assessing whether England’s natural environment as a whole would significantly improve. It is a holistic approach, and the Bill’s definition of the natural environment is drafted to be broad enough to encompass all its elements, including the marine environment, which we discussed earlier. I believe the shadow Minister and I are thinking along the same lines, as I think he was intimating that he wants this all-encompassing approach, which is explicitly highlighted in the Bill’s explanatory notes.

The Secretary of State will consider expected environmental improvement across all aspects of England’s natural environment, both terrestrial and marine, when conducting the significant improvement test. The test involves assessing whether England’s natural environment would significantly improve as a result of collectively meeting the long-term targets, which are legally binding, under the Bill, alongside any other relevant legislative environmental targets to which we are also adhering. I hope that reassures the shadow Minister, and I ask him to withdraw amendment 183.

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I am interested to know what status the Minister thinks the explanatory notes have in these proceedings. I imagine they are rather more than insignificant, and rather less than completely significant. I read the explanatory notes to any piece of legislation. Sometimes, it occurs to me that they run very close to what is in the legislation, and sometimes they depart a little, yet they come before us in the same form on all occasions. They are a sort of concordance that goes along with the legislation so that we can understand the clauses more easily.

I am not sure whether there is a consistent production line technique for explanatory notes, and whether they have at least some legal significance in terms of seeking the Minister’s intention in presenting a piece of legislation or, indeed, a Committee’s intention in seeking to legislate.

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The shadow Minister makes a very good point about the explanatory notes, although I always love having a look at them. Explanatory notes can obviously be used in the interpretation of the Bill and in legal proceedings, if necessary, as part of wider evidence.

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That is a very helpful intervention, and it is what I thought. It means that even if explanatory notes appear to stray a little from what one might read in the legislation, if one took it absolutely at face value, we can rely on them for clarification, for future reference. That is an important point, because this afternoon, in the Minister’s response to my inquiry, she relied on what the explanatory notes said about the Bill, rather than what the Bill said. I take her point. If we are to take on board what the explanatory notes say, then that is not a bad response to my point. I wonder whether it would have been a better idea to put that stuff in the legislation, but hey, no one is perfect. We probably have a reasonably good framework to proceed with, in the light of the Minister’s explanation. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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I beg to move amendment 86, in clause 6, page 4, line 41, at end insert—

“(9) In carrying out a review under this section, the Secretary of State must consider whether any targets relating to the priority areas in section 1 that are contained in legislation which forms part of the law of England and Wales—

(a) have expired, or

(b) are required to be achieved by a date which has passed.

(10) If paragraph (a) or (b) applies, then the significant environmental improvement test is only met if a new target or targets are set relating to the same matters which specify a new standard and a future date by which such standards must be reached.”

This amendment prevents the targets from meeting the significant improvement test through virtue of being out of date and so more easily achieved.

The amendment seeks to ensure that—

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On a point of order, Sir Roger, am I right in thinking that we have got roughly halfway down page 1 of the selection list, and still have more than three full pages to go? By your calculation, are we on time to complete this business by 6 pm? If we are not, would it be possible for the Opposition to consider which of the amendments they most want to discuss, debate in detail and to push to a vote?

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Mr Graham, there is a wonderful organisation known as the usual channels, and I think you and I should allow them to do their job.

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I think we were aiming to get to the end of clause 6, so this is the last amendment that we want to raise this afternoon.

This amendment seeks to ensure that measures that are considered in carrying out a review are timely and in date. For example, the Secretary of State cannot carry out a review when things are out of date, and so more easily achieved than they would have been if the tests were in date. The amendment requires the Secretary of State to consider whether the targets that relate to the priority areas in clause 1 have expired or are required to be achieved by a date that has passed. That sounds a little like sell-by dates on cartons of milk, but it is more important than that, because a review could address targets that have expired, have been changed or have been achieved, and then the effect of that review could be pretty null.

This amendment puts at the end of the clause the requirement that

“the Secretary of State must consider whether any targets…have expired.”

If either of the considerations in proposed new subsection (9) apply, then under proposed new subsection (10),

“the significant environmental improvement test is only met if a new target or targets are set relating to the same matters which specify a new standard and a future date by which such standards must be reached.”

That is to say, if, in carrying out a review, the Secretary of State considers a target to have expired, or to have been required to be achieved by a date which has passed, then the significant environmental improvement test is met only if that is rectified.

As hon. Members said this morning, this is a moving and creaking ship. Things can change over time. New targets can be put in place, and existing targets can be changed, amended and improved. This amendment reflects the fact that over time, that may well happen. Indeed, some targets might be achieved and exceeded. If a Secretary of State is reporting on a target that has been exceeded, but is saying how a target should be reached, then clearly that report does not make a great deal of sense. The amendment rectifies that possibility, and puts in place a requirement that new targets be sought through the target-setting process discussed this morning. It allies these targets with the significant improvement test, and allows them to be met in a coherent way.

Again, the Minister may well decide that the amendment is not exactly what she wants this afternoon, but she may have information that will allow me to think, “Well, the Government have thought about this, and have a method of making sure that the problems are solved by means other than this amendment.”

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I thank the hon. Member. If I may say so, he tables slightly tortuous amendments and it is often a case of trying to get one’s head around them. I reassure him that this is not a creaking ship. This is a buoyant ship sailing towards a bright new blue environmentally enhanced horizon. As this is the last amendment today, I feel I can slip that in.

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Perhaps I can clarify the issue. My understanding of the term “creaking ship” is that it is a ship that is under sail, flourishing and driving through the water, and whose timbers are creaking as it is propelled to new horizons.

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I think the answer is, when you are in a hole, stop digging.

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I feel a bit of backtracking going on here.

Amendment 86 would mean that the significant improvement test could be met only if any targets within the four priority areas that have expired have been replaced by new targets. I reassure the hon. Member that the Government would consider current targets—not expired targets—only when conducting the significant improvement test. That test involves assessing whether England’s natural environment would improve significantly as a result of meeting the longer-term legally binding targets. That has taken up a large part of today’s discussion and is set under the Bill, as well as any other relevant legislation relating to environmental targets.

If the test is not passed, the Government must set out how they plan to use their new target-setting powers to close that gap. In practice, that will most likely involve plans to modify existing targets, make them more ambitious, or set new targets. That helps the Government to focus on the most pressing environmental issues of our time, rather than simply replacing targets that have expired. Some expired targets might, for example, no longer be the key issues on which we should focus in our long-term goals.

The Office for Environmental Protection has a key role through the exercising of its scrutiny functions, and it could publish a report if it disagreed with the Government’s conclusions that the existing targets were sufficient to pass the significant improvement test. The Government would then have to respond to that OEP report, and that response must be published and laid before Parliament. That is a clear pathway. The process ensures that Parliament, supported by the OEP, can hold the Government to account on the sufficiency of their measures to significantly improve the natural environment. I hope that clarifies the situation, and I ask the hon. Member kindly to withdraw amendment 86.

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I think that does provide clarification, to a reasonable extent. The amendment sought to copper-bottom guarantees, but the ship can sail quite well under the circumstances set out by the Minister, while perhaps not being fully caulked. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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Before everybody leaves, the expectation is that the Committee will sit at 11.30 on Thursday 19 March. I say “expectation” because, as we all know, we live in rather strange times, and I feel I owe it to Mr Graham, having slapped him down a bit, to answer the question properly.

The timetable for the Bill is agreed by the usual channels, in consultation with the Minister and shadow Minister. There should be more than adequate time to thoroughly debate the Bill, given the programme we have. I have no problems with that whatsoever. However, I understand that discussions are taking place that may affect the progress not only of this Bill, but of other legislation. That remains to be seen. We may find this extremely important piece of legislation going on ice for a week, a month or six months.

Before we part—in case we do not meet even on Thursday —I want to say two things. The proceedings today have been slightly ramshackle around the edges, but I can live with that. You have been immensely courteous, thorough and good-humoured about the proceedings, and I am grateful to you for that.

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

Adjourned till Thursday 19 March at half-past Eleven o’clock.

Written evidence reported to the House

EB13 WWF UK

EB14 Countryside Alliance

EB15 City of London Corporation

EB16 Peter Silverman MA MSc, Clean Highways

EB17 Greener UK and Wildlife and Countryside Link (supplementary submission)

EB18 British Lung Foundation

EB19 ClientEarth

EB20 London Councils

EB21 Cllr Andrew Western, Leader of Trafford Council and Greater Manchester Green City Region Lead

EB22 British Heart Foundation

EB23 Global Witness

EB24 Global Canopy

EB25 Broadway Initiative

Birmingham Commonwealth Games Bill [ Lords ]

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: † Siobhain McDonagh, Sir Charles Walker

† Anderson, Stuart (Wolverhampton South West) (Con)

† Caulfield, Maria (Lewes) (Con)

† Huddleston, Nigel (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

Jones, Fay (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con)

† Jupp, Simon (East Devon) (Con)

† Lamont, John (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (Con)

† McGinn, Conor (St Helens North) (Lab)

Mahmood, Mr Khalid (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab)

Matheson, Christian (City of Chester) (Lab)

† Newlands, Gavin (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP)

† Nichols, Charlotte (Warrington North) (Lab)

Owatemi, Taiwo (Coventry North West) (Lab)

Richards, Nicola (West Bromwich East) (Con)

Sambrook, Gary (Birmingham, Northfield) (Con)

† Tracey, Craig (North Warwickshire) (Con)

† West, Catherine (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab)

† Young, Jacob (Redcar) (Con)

Kevin Maddison, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 17 March 2020

[Siobhain McDonagh in the Chair]

Birmingham Commonwealth Games Bill [Lords]

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We are now sitting in public, and the proceedings are being broadcast. Before we begin, I have a few preliminary points to make. The most important is: happy St Patrick’s day. Please switch electronic devices to silent. Tea and coffee are not allowed during sittings.

We will first consider the programme motion on the amendment paper. We will then consider a motion to enable the reporting of written evidence for publication. I call the Minister to move the programme motion, which was agreed by the Programming Sub-Committee yesterday.

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I beg to move,

That—

(1) the Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 9.25 am on Tuesday 17 March) meet—

(a) at 2.00 pm on Tuesday 17 March;

(b) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 19 March;

(c) at 9.25 am and 2.00 pm on Tuesday 24 March;

(2) proceedings on consideration of the Bill in Committee shall be taken in the following order: Clauses 1 to 5; Schedule 1; Clauses 6 to 10; Schedule 2; Clauses 11 to 20; Schedule 3; Clauses 21 to 34; new Clauses; new Schedules; remaining proceedings on the Bill;

(3) the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 5.00 pm on Tuesday 24 March.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh. You are a vision of green today.

Resolved,

That, subject to the discretion of the Chair, any written evidence received by the Committee shall be reported to the House for publication.—(Nigel Huddleston.)

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Copies of written evidence that the Committee receives will be made available in the Committee room. We will now begin line-by-line consideration of the Bill. The selection list for today’s sitting is available in the room. It shows the order in which clauses, schedules and new clauses will be debated.

Clauses 1 to 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Clauses 6 to 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Clauses 11 to 20 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 3 agreed to.

Clauses 21 to 33 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 34

Short title

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I beg to move amendment 1, in clause 34, page 20, line 16, leave out subsection (2).

I have rarely been in a Committee where the Chair has spoken more than the Committee members. We will see how that goes today.

For Bills starting in the House of Lords, a privilege amendment is included to recognise the right or privileges of this place to control any charges on the people and on public funds. It is standard practice to remove such amendments at this stage of a Bill’s passage in the House of Commons.

Amendment 1 agreed to.

Clause 34, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New Clause 1

Local Commonwealth Games levy

“(1) The Secretary of State must make regulations to provide the powers necessary for the relevant local authorities to levy charges on hotel occupancy and short-term rentals in their respective areas for the duration of the Birmingham Commonwealth Games in the United Kingdom.

(2) The regulations must define ‘relevant local authorities’ to include the local authorities for each Games location.”—(Catherine West.)

This new clause would provide for money to be raised during the Games by the relevant local authorities charging a levy on hotel occupancy and short term rentals.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

You do look splendid in your green today, Ms McDonagh. I wish all Committee members a happy St Patrick’s day. I want to speak to all four new clauses at the same time. Am I permitted to do that?

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I am advised that they need to be taken individually.

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Thank you for that clarification.

Given that we have sped through all the clauses in the Bill so quickly, it will come as no surprise that the Opposition are delighted to welcome the prospect of the Commonwealth games in 2022. With the big question mark over the Olympic games this morning, let us hope that, by 2022, we can all be enjoying the Commonwealth games. We are all thinking about Japan and the international organising committee in these tough times.

I welcome the fact that the Government have looked at the broad question of a carbon-neutral games, which was the subject of my first question to the Minister in departmental questions the week before last, but I want to highlight two issues on the environment.

The first is the question of the bus provider, National Express. On our visit to Birmingham last week, I was concerned to learn that it is considering keeping diesel. Given that we are being so accommodating on the Bill, can the Minister touch on the conversations the Department is having with the provider around the carbon-neutral games? That is not directly relevant to my new clause, but I wanted to introduce it, because while it would be easy to see this as a national project—indeed, it is—there are also many things that could come out of it for the region. I am concerned that the fleet will still be diesel, when it could be electric, given the two-year run-in to the games. The Minister may not be able to respond now, but if he would like to write to me later, I would be grateful for his views on what progress is being made towards a carbon-neutral games.

Secondly, there has been a lot of debate about the environment as it relates to the Perry Barr flyover, which my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill) would be keen for us to mention in Committee. Even though that relates to the Lords element of proceedings, I know the Minister has listened carefully to the consideration of the issues involved. Although this is mainly a matter for local government because it pertains to highways, I still believe it is important to put it on record.

New clause 1 was spoken to on Second Reading by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston, who of course has a massive interest in the Commonwealth games because there is going to be cricket there—we are all very pleased about that. She and others in the region have looked on a cross-party basis at the question of a hotel levy, and are encouraging the Government to seriously consider such a levy so that the region can have that little bit of extra funding. That is the question the new clause deals with, and I would be grateful if we could debate it now, so that we can hear what the Government’s prima facie view is.

We on the Opposition Benches accept that this is a new idea. A £1 a night per room levy was not, for example, applied to the Olympic games in Stratford, so the new clause seeks to introduce something new. However, we are also aware that. with a regional games such as this, there is an argument for a hotel levy to be spent exclusively in the region, in order to help tourism and to help the region in general pay for what is going to be quite an expensive project. I am sure that taxpayers in Birmingham and the midlands would want us to consider affordability at this stage of the Bill, so would the Minister enlighten us as to the Government’s thinking about a hotel levy?

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I very much appreciate the comments made by the hon. Lady, and the tone that she and the Opposition parties have adopted towards the Bill to date. I completely agree with her earlier comment that, in these difficult times, the games are something we can all look forward to, and I appreciate the speed with which we have gone through the Bill in Committee so far. I will address some of her comments.

I am aware of the issues relating to the A34 highway scheme. I know there are strong views on it, both locally and in the House, and that local residents have petitioned the council and raised the prospect of a judicial review. Although this is indeed a decision for Birmingham City Council, as the authority responsible for the local road network and the wider regeneration of the Perry Barr area, those concerns need to be taken seriously, and I will be happy to continue my dialogue with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr about that.

Regarding the Sprint routes, I understand that a decision has recently been taken to use zero-emission vehicles for the operation of Sprint, which in turn has increased the timescales for delivering the scheme because of the additional infrastructure requirements. The broader issue of climate change and sustainability is one that we all take seriously, as does the organising committee, and there is a real commitment to ensuring that sustainability is a key pillar of the planning and delivery of the games. The organising committee has signed up to the UN’s sports for climate action framework, which aims to combat climate change and raise global awareness and action. That is a first for the Commonwealth games, and represents a key commitment to work towards global climate change goals. The organising committee is also in the process of developing its sustainability strategy for the games, and has convened a local sustainability forum that is supported by many bodies, Government Departments and agencies, including the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Environment Agency.

I appreciate the hon. Lady’s comments relating to the proposals for a hotel tax, which is a hotly debated issue that has already been discussed in great detail during the Bill’s previous stages. There is constant dialogue between the Government and the council on all aspects of the games, including the budget. Birmingham City Council is absolutely committed to meeting its financial contribution to the games’ budget, and has published a plan for how it will do so without the need for a hotel tax. In any case, this Bill is not necessarily the appropriate vehicle, as it is not a money Bill and a statutory hotel tax is not necessary for the council to meet its share of the cost of the games, although I appreciate that the concept is much debated.

If such a tax were introduced for the duration of the games, which run from 27 July to 7 August 2022, the proceeds gained by participating local authorities are likely to be negligible, and considerably lower in value than Birmingham City Council’s own figures, which, albeit still small, suggest that a longer-term pilot could generate between £4.5 million and £5 million per annum.

Local authorities already have a range of revenue-raising and fundraising powers to support them in meeting the financial contributions associated with such events—for example, through taxes at a local level, such as precepts and business rates. Hon. Members will also know that decisions on taxation are ultimately for Her Majesty’s Treasury. Any case put forward to HMT for a hotel tax would need to be fully costed, including balancing additional burdens on businesses.

We should be careful to consider this in the round: while the UK is one of the few nations not to charge a tourism tax, full VAT is already charged on hotel stays, which is not the case in much of Europe. We would not want to discourage people from staying overnight in Birmingham and the west midlands at games time, when the region will surely want to capitalise on the large increases in visitor numbers.

All games partners are working together to ensure that we deliver a fantastic and memorable games. To that end, the Government will work closely with Birmingham City Council to ensure that it can deliver its financial contributions. I understand that this debate will go on—it is not something we can sort out in this Bill. Accordingly, for the reasons I have just set out, I ask the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green to withdraw the new clause.

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I am very pleased to respond to the Minister’s remarks. First, I welcome the fact that having a carbon-neutral games is a key value. I will push him later on by letter on the question of the provider and what efforts are being made to introduce the least polluting buses. To respond on the question of the Perry Barr flyover, the current cost is quite high for a local authority. I would seek a reassurance that, if the local authority is unable to cover that cost, the Government are able to step in. It does seem expensive, given residents feel they are getting back from the games, and there is a lot of opposition at the moment.

Moving on to the principle of new clause 1—the hotel levy—my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston and other local MPs in the west midlands and Birmingham city area make a valid point. While full VAT is charged on hotel stays, the Minister will agree that the Treasury is not famous for ensuring there is a trickle-down effect in regions. Will he have his officers look fully at whether there could be some kind of agreement whereby some of the VAT is more transparently redirected to the region, to offset the cost of putting the games on at a local level? Would he care to respond to those issues before we move on?

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I am happy to continue the dialogue, and I commit to responding to the hon. Lady’s letter and the questions she raised.

Regarding any further location of taxes and VAT, I do not think we really have a mechanism for that in the UK. On the point about fundraising and ensuring that Birmingham and the west midlands receive adequate financial support to ensure that the games are successful—we are talking about more than £750 million of Government money going into the games—I will happily work with the hon. Lady to ensure she is comfortable that the west midlands are indeed getting a substantial proportion of Government expenditure for that.[Official Report, 19 March 2020, Vol. 673 c. 11MC.] I am happy to continue the dialogue with her.

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Does the shadow Minister want to push the new clause to a vote or to withdraw it?

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I am keen not to push it to a vote at this stage, but I hold on to the right to raise it later in the passage of the Bill. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 2

Payment of a living wage

“(1) Within 3 months of this section coming into force, the Secretary of State must direct the Organising Committee to prepare a strategy for ensuring that a living wage, as a minimum, is paid to all staff employed—

(a) directly by the Organising Committee, and

(b) by organisations awarded contracts to deliver the Games.

(2) In preparing the strategy under subsection (1), the Organising Committee must consult representatives of businesses and trade unions in the Birmingham area.

(3) For the purposes of this section, the hourly living wage for the year 2020 is—

(a) £9.30 outside London, and

(b) £10.75 inside London.

(4) For the purposes of this section, the living wage for each year after 2020 shall be the amounts determined by the Living Wage Foundation.

(5) The Secretary of State must direct the Organising Committee to seek accreditation from the Living Wage Foundation once it is eligible to do so.”.—(Catherine West.)

This new clause would direct the Organising Committee to seek accreditation from the Living Wage Foundation.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

The new clause deals with the living wage for Birmingham and the west midlands. As we heard on Second Reading, the living wage is popular in the region and has been pushed by campaigners and trade unions for quite a while. During a recent visit to Birmingham, I heard evidence from staff of the Trades Union Congress, and I understand that the living wage would be very welcome from the point of view of the workforce. For example, a number of people working in the leisure industry currently do not even receive the national minimum wage, let alone the real living wage. We know that the real living wage makes a huge difference to the lives of working people and that, if staff receive the living wage, they need only work one job, whereas many people—particularly women—on the minimum wage or less have to work two to three jobs, which puts enormous strain on their families and their mental health.

The new clause is very simple. It seeks to introduce the living wage for all staff directly employed in the running of and preparation for the games and for subcontractors. I thought about inviting the Living Wage Foundation to give evidence to the Committee, but I felt that, on balance, we all know what the living wage is and so did not need that evidence. Those of us who know members of the workforce who have gone from being on the minimum wage to being on the living wage know that it makes an enormous difference.

The new clause seeks to ensure that the prosperity that the games will bring—not only in July 2022, but in the run-up to the games—will have an uplift effect in the region. It aims not only to promote things such as women in construction, more apprenticeships and safety in the workforce and in the works going on in and around the region for the games, but to promote that concept as a legacy of the games. For example, we all want to see more grassroots sport as a result of the games. Introducing the living wage would push up the hourly rates of people working in the leisure industry, such as swimming and athletics teachers or coaches in the personal training industry. We would be doing an enormous service to not only sport and leisure in general, but, importantly, the region of Birmingham and the west midlands, which, as Members know, has the lowest level of accreditation in the UK.

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I thank the hon. Lady for tabling the new clause. This issue has been raised several times during the Bill’s passage, and the Government share the intent to make sure that we become a higher-wage economy. I concur particularly with her comments on the hospitality and leisure sector. However, I am confident that the games are setting an excellent example on fair pay. As an arm’s length body, the Birmingham 2022 organising committee’s pay scales are set in line with civil service pay rates, and all direct employees of the organising committee are therefore paid above the Living Wage Foundation’s rates.

Of course, all organisations awarded games contracts will be required to pay at least the Government’s national living wage, which is set to receive its biggest cash increase ever, rising by 6.2% from 1 April 2020, which will mean a pay rise of almost £1,000 for around 2 million workers across the UK. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his Budget speech last week, the Government are also targeting the national living wage reaching two thirds of median earnings by 2024, provided economic conditions allow. On current forecasts, that means a living wage of more than £10.50 per hour.

The Chancellor also announced that the national insurance threshold will be increased from £8,632 to £9,500 from April. Taken together, the changes to the national living wage, income tax and national insurance mean that someone working full time on the minimum wage will be more than £5,200 better off per year than in 2010.

Let us look at the wider picture of huge Government investment in Birmingham and the west midlands. Such investment will see thousands of jobs created and will lift skills and training opportunities across the region. Games partners continue to develop plans to maximise the employment, training and volunteering opportunities that the games will give rise to, ensuring lasting and meaningful benefits for those living and working in the region.

We should remember that the Birmingham 2022 games will be the first Commonwealth games with a social values charter. Organisations bidding for games contracts will be asked to demonstrate how they support delivery of the charter—for example, by promoting local employment opportunities and skills development. The games will provide a huge uplift to the local and regional economy and provide fantastic employment, training and skills development opportunities for local people and businesses. Although I understand the intent of the hon. Lady’s new clause, given what I have outlined, I ask her to withdraw it.

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I accept the Minister’s arguments about the introduction of increases to the minimum wage, but I do not accept that it would be as good as having the living wage and living wage accreditation, with the uplift that that would give to the region as soon as the Bill is passed. I do not agree that the new clause should be withdrawn, but I do accept that I will have a further opportunity to raise this important matter during the passage of the Bill.

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Are you withdrawing the new clause at this stage?

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Yes. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 3

Gambling advertising

“(1) The Organising Committee must not enter into any sponsorship, or contractual arrangement, with any business or company that derives part or all of its income from gambling.

(2) For the purposes of this section, ‘gambling’ is defined as it is in section 3 of the Gambling Act 2005.” —(Catherine West.)

This new clause would prevent the Organising Committee from receiving sponsorship from gambling companies.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

I am pleased to introduce this new clause, which deals with gambling advertising and the Commonwealth games. We all know that my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) is a fierce campaigner on this question, as are others in the House, including the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler). There is considerable concern in the House around gambling advertising, and I want to see that reflected in the Bill. I want gambling companies barred from sponsoring the games. I know it is unlikely that the organising committee will enter into an agreement with a gambling company, but it is important to have that in the Bill so that we can be sure that gambling companies will be responsible in how they proceed.

Gambling is a significant and harmful aspect of sport in general, and the NHS has recently opened a gambling clinic for 14-year-olds. The Minister and I have discussed the concerns in the House. We are pleased that the FA has decided that young people who want to watch football on their phones should not have to register with a gambling company first—that has now been stopped. That is down to the campaigning from expert Members in this House, and I want to see that apply to any sport. Because the Bill falls under the heading of sport, I want a specific pledge from the Minister to prevent any form of official gambling support. That would send a strong and notable signal that gambling in sport should be discouraged.

The Commonwealth games, with the 54 members of the Commonwealth, is an international phenomenon. It would be negative for young people watching the games to be bombarded with gambling messages. Although we have the issue of our 14-year-olds and other young people succumbing to the addiction of gambling, we would not want that to spread across any other Commonwealth country. I hope the Minister will look carefully at the new clause and advise us on how those values can be brought to the Commonwealth games.

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I thank the hon. Lady for her comments. I know we will continue to debate issues of gambling with many Members from across the House, particularly as we review the Gambling Act 2005 as it relates specifically to new clause 3.

As hon. Members know, commercial revenue, including sponsorship, forms an important part of the games budget and will reduce the level of public sector investment that would otherwise be required for the games. Securing sponsorship and granting authorisations to associate with the games are matters for the Birmingham 2022 organising committee and Commonwealth Games Federation. Their negotiations with potential sponsors are continuing, with three sponsors announced to date: WLG Gowling, an international law firm; Gl Group, a recruitment services firm; and Longines, who will be the official timekeeper for the games. All potential sponsors will have to demonstrate their alignment with Birmingham 2022’s vision and mission, and an ongoing commitment to social values, as set out in the organising committee’s social values charter.

On Second Reading, the hon. Members for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin) and for Hornsey and Wood Green acknowledged that it is unlikely that the organising committee will enter into an agreement with a gambling company. I can confirm that the gambling companies have not been sponsors of recent editions of the Commonwealth games. However, as I said in my closing remarks, I would like to provide reassurance that my Department has made clear to the organising committee the importance of promoting the games and its values through its sponsorship programme. We have asked the organising committee to provide regular updates on overall progress as the sponsorship programme develops.

Therefore, I do not agree that limiting sponsorship arrangements or prohibiting certain types of sponsors on the face of the Bill is proportionate or necessary. More broadly, we are committed in the manifesto on which we stood at the recent general election to continue to tackle gambling addiction, and we have committed to review the Gambling Act to make sure it is fit for the digital age. We are currently in the process of scoping that review.

The Health Secretary has also announced the publication of a cross-Government addiction strategy, which will include gambling. The Government and the Gambling Commission will continue to act on the evidence to protect vulnerable people—as we have done in cutting stakes on fixed odds betting terminals to £2 and banning credit card gambling. As the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green mentioned, these efforts were the result of considerable lobbying by Members on both sides of the Chamber.

The Government have made it clear that sporting bodies and event organisers must consider their responsibilities to fans and the wider community when entering any commercial arrangements. Returning to Birmingham 2022, I want to be clear that any commercial arrangements should support the vision and mission of the games, and we will continue to work with the organising committee to support that. In that spirit, I respectfully request that the hon. Lady withdraw her new clause.

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I am pleased to hear the reassurances from the Minister. If other concerns unfold during the passage of the Bill, we will raise them at a later stage if we need to. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 4

Broadcasting: listed sporting events

“(1) The Secretary of State must designate the Games as a Group A listed sporting event.

(2) For the purposes of this section, a ‘Group A listed sporting event’ is an event included in Group A of the list maintained by the Secretary of State under section 97 of the Broadcasting Act 1996.” —(Catherine West.)

This new clause would direct the Secretary of State to make the Games available on free to air television.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

This is a very topical debate. Many Members will be aware that the future of the BBC is high on the list of priorities for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the shadow DCMS team. Of course, it is not only the BBC that provides sport free to air; other channels do so as well. In this crisis of coronavirus, it is increasingly clear how important the concept of free-to-air viewing is. We do not want people to feel that they have to rush to spend hundreds of pounds to watch sport, particularly given that they cannot, at the moment, pop down to the local to watch a match any more. The shadow team has campaigned on this issue for different sports, and I am keen to reflect that campaigning and those values in the Bill.

I am keen to hear the Department’s thinking, and an efficient way to do that is to move a new clause so that we can have the debate and the Minister’s response recorded in Hansard. This simple new clause seeks to have the Commonwealth games on free to air so that everyone can enjoy them. The BBC has its networks around the world—the fantastic international service it offers and its different language services. The issue is particularly important for the 54 nations participating in the Commonwealth games. I would be pleased to hear from the Minister what the current thinking is about free-to-air broadcasting, and in particular whether the games will be classified under group A, rather than group B, under the broadcasting categories.

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It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms McDonagh. May I also wish everyone a happy St Paddy’s day?

I rise to support new clause 4, in the name of the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green. In keeping with this stage of the Bill, I will be relatively brief. We have seen from the decline in participation in many sports—notably cricket and others—that when live broadcast is moved from terrestrial TV to subscription TV, participation rates can plummet, and that sport is then affected in the medium and long term. The current issues surrounding the Six Nations coverage highlights that we need a much broader debate on this matter. In the meantime, I am happy to lend my support to the new clause to protect the games.

The SNP fully supports the Birmingham Commonwealth games. Everyone in Scotland was very proud of Glasgow’s Commonwealth games, and I hope the games have the same impact in Birmingham as they did in Glasgow. But I do have to note—as we always do—that the Glasgow games were delivered without any financial support from this place. I can sense that the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk straining to tell me that this matter is devolved, and he would be right, but that cuts both ways. We had to go 10 rounds with the Treasury to secure any appropriate Barnett consequentials flowing from the London 2012 games and, prior to that, the Manchester Commonwealth games. We would appreciate that not being the case. We will table an amendment on Report to try to ensure that 100% Barnett consequentials are secured. That assurance has been given over the Dispatch Box, but we would feel a lot more secure if the commitment were part of the law of the land.

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I thank Opposition Members for their comments. This topic will be hotly debated, and I know that the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee is aware of these issues and concerns.

On the Government’s support for the games in Scotland, hosting major events is indeed, as the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North acknowledged, a devolved matter, with responsible agencies in each of the devolved Administrations. Support from DCMS and UK Sport complements and aids the ambitions of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in identifying and securing events across the whole UK. The UK Government also support Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in UK-wide matters, including the delivery of Government guarantees on reserved policies areas. The hon. Member mentioned the great success of the Glasgow games. I completely agree. The whole of Scotland can be very proud of those games, which I will mention further in a moment; they were an incredible success.

The Commonwealth Games Federation and Birmingham 2022 are committed to ensuring that as many people as possible can access the games via their TV, mobile phone, computer screen and tablet—whichever device they choose. I have been assured that, as part of its digital strategy, the organising committee is looking to provide content on a diverse number of digital platforms, with a view to maximising audience and reach. As the Commonwealth games are a listed event, broadcasting rights must already be made available to the qualifying free-to-air terrestrial broadcasters on fair and reasonable terms. In any case, the listing regime ensures only that events are available to qualifying channels, and does not guarantee that an event will be broadcast by a free-to-air broadcaster.

Free-to-air channels have the opportunity to bid to show live coverage of group B events and have done so successfully in the past, as with the BBC’s live coverage of previous Commonwealth games held on the Gold Coast and in Glasgow. The Commonwealth games have been in group B since the list was put together in 1998 and have had excellent live coverage on free-to-air television, with 35 million domestic viewers in total for the Glasgow games. The event’s group B listing helps to enable extensive free-to-air coverage for the nation and allows the organising committee to agree live free-to-air coverage as it sees fit.

We believe that the current list strikes the appropriate balance. Reconsidering which group the Commonwealth games sit in would not be appropriate, as the organising committee is in the middle of a competitive commercial process with potential rights holders, and cannot pre-empt the outcome of those negotiations. I am sure hon. Members will appreciate that any change to the listed events regime at this time could therefore significantly and detrimentally affect the ongoing negotiations. However, I appreciate and share the spirit of the new clause, which aligns with the organising committee’s vision to ensure Birmingham 2022 is the games for everyone, with everyone having the opportunity to access and experience them, should they wish to do so.

In that vein, let me remind hon. Members that over a million tickets for games events will be available across 11 days of elite sport. Fairness, affordability and accessibility will be the central underpinnings of the organising committee’s ticketing strategy. I am therefore confident that there will be many ways for people to access and enjoy the games, whether on TV, mobile, computer screen, tablet or in person. Accordingly, I hope that the Committee can see that the new clause is not required, and that the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green sees fit to withdraw her new clause.

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I am pleased to sum up on new clause 4. I accept the Minister’s point that we are in the middle of a competitive tendering exercise, and I am happy to hold fire. However, I welcome the debate we have had, and it is important to have had it at this stage.

I also welcome the thoughts of the SNP spokesman—particularly his reference to the 35 million viewers who watched the games in Glasgow and to the Six Nations competition. I shadow declare an interest, with a Scotland rugby supporter in my household.

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Hear, hear!

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Not that it is always a happy Saturday. Hopefully, the games will lead to more grassroots participation. I would be interested, at a future date, to hear the assessment of Scottish MPs of the participation rates in grassroots sport as a result of the Glasgow Commonwealth games.

I note that the DCMS Committee has opined on broadcasting, and that is a live and ongoing debate. On value and the importance of as many people watching the games as possible, the London experience in 2012 sadly coincided with mass cutbacks to municipal and school sport. During 2012, high-achieving local authorities —I am sure Merton was one of them, Ms McDonagh —allowed all under-18-year-olds to pay £1 a swim, for example, which promoted swimming as a sport that many people could enjoy. If young people watch those fantastic swimming races, I hope that families will not have to spend £20 to go swimming, but will pay £1 a swim. I hope that local authorities in Birmingham and the west midlands will take up the challenge of increasing municipal sport, that schools will grab the opportunity and that the tickets will be available to schoolchildren, so that they can watch water polo, the exciting swimming races or any other sport.

Ms McDonagh, I am coming to my concluding remarks, but I would glad of advice on whether there will be a concluding debate or whether this is the end of the sitting.

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There will be a general debate on everything following this debate.

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Thank you. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the Chair do report the Bill, as amended, to the House.

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I thank hon. Members for their patience and for the combined efforts of both sides of the House. I thank the Scottish National party spokesman for his depth of knowledge of the Glasgow experience.

I would like to conclude on some of the values I introduced in the four clauses. First, there is the importance of a carbon-neutral games, and some of the specifics around transport. I hope civil servants will look carefully at the bus networks, which seem to be a point of contention for local people, who will enjoy these sports, but who would enjoy them even more if the air quality was as good as it possibly can be.

I was also pleased to move new clause 2 in relation to the living wage. It would have an incredible impact on local people in terms of their day to day experience. I hope we can come back to that at a further stage of the Bill.

The Minister and I share concerns around gambling. I hope the Committee’s concerns about gambling advertising are noted as we go forward in the organisation of the games.

We talked in new clause 1 about the hotel levy. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston, and others in the region, who brought this to our attention. There is cross-party support for the new clause, which would lead to a lessening of the financial burden on the local authority. I hope we can continue to look at it, particularly in relation to the question of how we can ensure that VAT goes to the region and is not just swallowed up by the Treasury.

I was pleased to talk about grassroots sports and other issues, including the importance of free-to-air broadcasting, the impact on community cohesion and the sense of purpose for the Commonwealth itself. I look forward to the next stage of the Bill.

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On behalf of the SNP, at the conclusion of the most bizarre Bill Committee I have been involved with in five years, I thank you, Ms McDonagh, the Clerks, the Doorkeepers, the millions watching at home—

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Free to air.

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On free-to-air television. I thank all Members present, even the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk—he is in Hansard now, so he has had a mention. I thank everyone present, and I look forward to further robust debate on Report.

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I thank all hon. Members for their participation today, and I thank everyone else involved. The speed of progress today should not be misinterpreted as lack of scrutiny. We have had intense scrutiny in the Chamber and outside, in the House of Lords and on Second Reading. As testament to the preparation of my team, I should say that hon. Members did not get to hear all the speeches I had in my folder today. Maybe I can get them out at some other point.

I thank everybody for their engagement and involvement with what we know will be a fantastic games; they are something we can look forward to in these challenging times, as sport can unite the nation. I thank everybody who has been involved in their development to date, including the stakeholders, the organising committee and the partners of the games. I thank the parliamentary staff, the Doorkeepers, the Clerks, hon. Members here today and the public observing. I particularly thank the team at DCMS, who have worked hard pulling the Bill together, and, of course, you, Ms McDonagh—the vision of green today.

Thank you to everybody involved. We will continue the robust debate on many of the important issues raised today. I do not dismiss them; they are all valid topics for debate. We have a shared intent and purpose, and I look forward to working with everybody involved in the coming weeks and months.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, accordingly to be reported.

Committee rose.

Written evidence reported to the House

BCGB01 News Media Association

BCGB02 Advertising Association

BCGB03 Phillip Johnson