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Countryside Protection

Volume 682: debated on Thursday 15 October 2020

I am delighted to give my hon. Friend the Minister a rest from the Dispatch Box after a marathon session.

Within the rich diversity of the English countryside, our existing national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and sites of special scientific interest have the highest status of protection. The Prime Minister has signalled our ambition in this area and is committed to protect 30% of our terrestrial land by 2030. The £640 million Nature4Climate fund announced in this year’s Budget will drive our progress towards this goal.

The Secretary of State will know that he is popular in the House, and he is a very mild-mannered, pleasant chap. I want him to turn into some sort of ravening big beast, because he has been in the job nine months, and we have soil degradation, habitat loss and species extinction, while none of our rivers and streams is fit to paddle in, let alone swim in. When is he going to wake up to the crisis that is facing our countryside and do something about it? It is not, “What’s the plan, Stan?”; it is “What’s the plan, George?”

The hon. Gentleman paints an accurate picture of the environmental degradation that has taken place, particularly in the past 50 years or so. As we think about the future, it is not enough just to protect particular sites; we need to build back nature in some of these areas. We will be doing that through our new environmental land management policy to replace the common agricultural policy, creating new habitats and creating space for nature. We will also be delivering this through the new approach and governance framework outlined in our Environment Bill.

Our familiar countryside is as it is today because of protection and management, but, as we have heard, the Environment Bill that is needed to maintain that protection has gone missing, and financial support for farmers, who of course do so much to manage our countryside, is just weeks away from major upheaval. The Secretary of State talks about sustainable farming initiatives without bringing any detail to this House, and that is a worry for everybody. Come 1 January, will farmers have the financial information they need to make informed decisions, and will the promised Office for Environmental Protection actually be in place and operating properly?

The Environment Bill will be resuming its passage in Committee shortly. The hon. Gentleman will be aware, for instance, that the Government have recently been consulting on our new approach to introduce due diligence in the supply chain to prevent deforestation. There are good reasons why the Bill has been paused while that consultation is considered. In answer to his question, yes, farmers will have all the information they need by next year, and we will begin the transition to the new policy next year.