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Environment Act 2021: Implementation

Volume 705: debated on Thursday 9 December 2021

May I begin by welcoming the new shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon), to his place? I am sure that, like all of us, he will find that the rich and colourful diversity of the issues in the portfolio means that there is never a dull moment. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) for his two years in the role.

Work on implementing the Environment Act is well under way. We have started developing legally binding environmental targets, consulted on measures to reform the way we deal with waste, published a draft principles policy statement and published a consultation on due diligence in supply chains. Finally, the Office for Environmental Protection has been legally established.

I thank the Secretary of State for those words. In my beautiful constituency of South West Hertfordshire, as he will be aware, we have some stunning chalk streams, including the rivers Chess, Bulbourne and Gade, so I am glad to see the additional protections that the Environment Act offers. I have monthly meetings with Thames Water and related organisations. Can the Secretary of State tell the House how he is working with private companies to implement measures on limiting storm overflows?

I thank my hon. Friend for his work on the important issue of improving water quality. The Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), shares his passion for improving chalk streams in particular. We have made it clear to water companies that they must significantly reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows as a priority. We have set out that expectation through the strategic policy statement for Ofwat; we have also taken action to place it on a legislative footing in the Environment Act.

As we look at improving the environment, have the Government looked at the possibility of subsidising the growth of hemp, which allows us to make environmentally friendly cloth and biodegradable plastics and is a very good break crop for farmers to incorporate?

I know that there are the benefits that he mentions from growing hemp. Licences for medical hemp is an issue that the Home Office leads on, but it is an interesting crop; more people are starting to look at it and grow it. The hon. Gentleman raises an important point.

I welcome the proposals in the Act for biodiversity net gain, with an obligation on developers to ensure that all new proposals feature at least a 10% improvement in biodiversity. In the guidance that the Secretary of State issues, will he ensure that that obligation applies to planning applications that are already in the pipeline, not just new applications?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Biodiversity net gain will be an important policy tool to support work in local nature recovery strategies and make space for nature in new developments. On his point about timing, I think the measure will take effect in 2023 and will apply at that point to applications going for determination when it is active.

Fly-tipping incidents increased by 16% to March this year. The number of enforcement actions has decreased in the same period because of a lack of staff and resources. How does the Secretary of State think that the implementation of the Environment Act will ever improve those figures and clean up our country?

As the hon. Lady will know, we have a significant number of staff—more than 10,000—in the Environment Agency. Waste crime and fly-tipping have been a priority for them, and a number of successful prosecutions have been brought.