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Public Bill Committees

Debated on Tuesday 10 November 2020

Environment Bill (Twelfth sitting)

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: † James Gray, Sir George Howarth

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

† Anderson, Fleur (Putney) (Lab)

† Bhatti, Saqib (Meriden) (Con)

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

† Browne, Anthony (South Cambridgeshire) (Con)

† Docherty, Leo (Aldershot) (Con)

Furniss, Gill (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) (Lab)

† Graham, Richard (Gloucester) (Con)

† Jones, Fay (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con)

† Jones, Ruth (Newport West) (Lab)

† Longhi, Marco (Dudley North) (Con)

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

† Moore, Robbie (Keighley) (Con)

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

† Thomson, Richard (Gordon) (SNP)

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

† Zeichner, Daniel (Cambridge) (Lab)

Anwen Rees, Sarah Ioannou, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 10 November 2020

(Morning)

[James Gray in the Chair]

Environment Bill

We have a great deal to get through today, so there is no time for idle chitchat.

Clause 37

Duty of the OEP to Involve the Relevant Minister

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Hon. Members will see that under clause 38, when the Office for Environmental Protection

“gives an information notice or a decision notice, applies for an environmental review, judicial review or statutory review or applies to intervene in a judicial review or statutory review, it must publish a statement”.

What is curious about this clause is that while it states at the beginning that the OEP “must” publish a statement, the next subsection says that that does not apply

“if the OEP considers that in the circumstances it would not be in the public interest to publish a statement.”

My concern is this: in what circumstances would it not be in the public interest to publish a statement; and why is it only for the OEP and no one else to decide that it should not publish such a statement? I would like to hear from the Minister what she considers those circumstances to be and, if the OEP so decided, what would be the criteria upon which that decision would be taken?

When we last met we all agreed that the OEP should have as much independence as possible. I fully support that. What I find confusing about the hon. Gentleman’s argument is that he is talking about reducing the OEP’s ability or flexibility to do what it sees fit, and he is trying to set down in law exactly what it should do in different circumstances. Surely we should appoint an independent regulator, make sure that the best people are running it and—as much as one can—let it decide whether to issue a notice or not. This would limit its independence.

The hon. Gentleman will have accepted already that, throughout the passage of the Bill, we have tried to assert robustly—this is accepted on all sides—that the OEP should be truly independent and should undertake its activities in that spirit of independence. We have tried to point out that a number of measures in the Bill would undermine that independence by putting constraints on the way in which it acts.

Secondly, we have tried to ensure that the OEP is set up in such a way that it is fully transparent and organisationally accountable for what it does. Those two things go together: the OEP should be fully independent, and it should be set up in such a way that that independence is based on accountability and transparency in its actions. Clause 38—I remind hon. Members that this is a clause stand part debate, not an Opposition amendment—appears to suggest that the OEP has an option to be less than transparent in its dealings with the public in relation to public statements. That is a substantial caveat on a requirement. It is a “must”, not a “may”. It “must” publish those statements, but the caveat is that if the OEP thinks that it is not in the public interest, it does not have to do so. On the face of it, that is resiling from the second principle that I set out: that the OEP should act in a publicly transparent and accountable way.

What I want from the Minister is either an explanation of why that subsection has been placed in the Bill or to know whether there could be a potential challenge to the subsection, which appears to enable the OEP to decide, regardless of any other criteria, that it feels something would not be in the public interest. If the OEP decided that it would not be in the public interest to publish a statement—so no such statement would appear and people would not know even that a statement was about to come out—what would be the potential challenge, and what machinery exists elsewhere in the Bill that one may not yet have seen that would enable criteria to be applied to how the OEP considers what is in the public interest or otherwise? All hon. Members will agree that if the question of public interest is subjective and internal to an organisation, that is not necessarily a good test of what the public interest might be considered to be.

That is why this is a stand part debate: it is a question to the Minister, rather than a suggestion that this clause be removed.

Good morning, Mr Gray. My hon. Friend is making important points. In paragraph 340 of the explanatory notes, there is a comparison with how the European Commission works. One of the key issues is: is this system now stronger or weaker? Does my hon. Friend believe that this is a more or less transparent process?

As my hon. Friend suggests, it is a less transparent process than before. It appears that, in this clause, we are retreating from the principle of transparency. Of course, I may be completely wrong, and there may be factors, to which I hope to be pointed shortly, that mitigate or dissolve that concern. I am sure that the Minister can reassure me on that, or point to things that mean that the clause, odd though it looks in terms of transparency, is not as bad as it seems on the surface.

It is good to be back. I thank the shadow Minister for his comments, and all hon. Members for carrying the proceedings last week when I was unwell. I put on record my thanks to the Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot, who did a sterling job, and to the Opposition for, I think, being kind.

We are talking about clauses 37 to 40 en bloc. Those clauses ensure that the OEP can operate effectively, openly and transparently when carrying out its important duties, which of course is vital. Clause 37 ensures that relevant Ministers are informed and able to participate in relevant enforcement cases, and that the OEP can recommend ministerial involvement in legal proceedings. That allows it to make a case for a Minister’s participation in instances where it may be helpful for Ministers to provide input to the proceedings.

The shadow Minister touched on clause 38. I gather that he will not oppose it, but it is always good to have some questions and inquiries. I hope I will make it clear that the clause requires the OEP to publish statements at specific points during the enforcement process. The clause is important because it establishes the OEP as an open, effective and transparent watchdog.

If the OEP, having decided to carry out an investigation, is to do so effectively, we must enable it to obtain and review all the available information from other public bodies, so that it can reach a robust and fair conclusion. Clause 39 therefore ensures that, in appropriate circumstances, obligations of secrecy that would otherwise apply are disapplied to enable public authorities to provide information to the OEP in complaints and enforcement cases. All these clauses work together. It is important to note, though, that we have also ensured that certain fundamental protections, such as those set out in the Data Protection Act 2018, are unaffected by this clause.

Openness and transparency are important, but confidentiality is also vital to allow the OEP to establish a safe space for dialogue with public authorities, so that it can quickly and effectively establish the facts in a case and explore potential pragmatic solutions without the need for litigation, where that can be reasonably avoided. The whole system has been set up in a way that means that when the OEP is carrying out its enforcement functions, it first takes a liaison, advisory and discussion role. We want to do all that before we get down the road of litigation and all those other things. That is very important.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire for his comments. He is absolutely right that we do not want to tie the hands of the OEP. It has to be independent, and it has to be able to come to its conclusions about which bits of information will and will not be relevant.

Clause 40 plays an important role in the OEP carrying out its functions by ensuring an appropriate degree of confidentiality during the enforcement process. I assure the shadow Minister that the clause does not create a blanket ability to prevent information being disclosed, which I think is his fear; that is not how the OEP will operate. The OEP and public authorities will still have to assess any requests for information case by case, in line with the relevant regulations.

Clauses 39 and 40 therefore strike a careful balance between retaining confidentiality of that very sensitive aspect of the enforcement process and creating greater transparency across the process. As has been said many times, transparency is absolutely key to good governance. The EU does not even have such a system, so we are setting ourselves up as world leaders by introducing this kind of independent body. I hope those points have reassured the Committee.

I thank the Minister for her explanation. I am not entirely happy with the way the clause is drafted, but I accept what she has said and will not oppose it.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 37 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 38 to 40 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 41

Meaning of “natural environment”

We now come to amendment 113. No member of the Committee has signed the amendment, but anyone may move it if they wish. No one has signalled that they wish to, so we will move straight on.

I beg to move amendment 126, in clause 41, page 25, line 35, after “structures” insert

“but including sites of archaeological, architectural, artistic, cultural or historic interest insofar as they form part of the landscape”.

This amendment seeks to widen the definition of “natural environment” in this Part to include the historic environment. For the avoidance of doubt, we do not seek the inclusion of the historic environment in the definition of “environmental law”, or in the enforcement functions of the OEP.

The amendment revisits, in a slightly different way, a discussion that we had about the definition of “natural environment” and the effect of buildings and other structures on the environment. As the Committee will recall, when we spoke about that in a previous sitting, we discussed the fact that the appearance of the natural environment has, over centuries, been changed by human activities. If we went back in time, there would be no point at which we could say, “This is the natural environment, so we will use this point in time for our definition, because after this time, it is no longer the natural environment.” The natural environment is clearly constantly changing through human intervention.

Amendment 126 would give the clause a better grip on the issue than amendment 113, which was not moved. Amendment 113 sought to leave out

“(except buildings or other structures)”,

but amendment 126 would insert

“but including sites of archaeological, architectural, artistic, cultural or historic interest insofar as they form part of the landscape”.

That is the nub of the question, as far as our landscape is concerned. Not only has the natural environment been changed over time in the way that I have described, but there are, in our natural environment, a whole host of structures—they might come under the definition of “buildings or other structures”, which, as hon. Members can see, are effectively excluded from the clause—that in various ways become part of the natural landscape as a result of their longevity in it, and because they have, at some stage, changed that landscape, thereby becoming a part of it.

I am sure hon. Members can think of many examples. I think of Maiden castle near Dorchester. That is a huge earthwork that dominates the landscape. I presume that if section 106 agreements and planning authorities had been around in the late bronze age, they would probably have decided that Maiden castle was an appalling blot on the landscape and should not have been built; they would have asked the proposers to go back and design a much smaller castle that would not obliterate the view towards the sea. However, they did not exist at the time, and Maiden castle is there. It is clearly part of the natural landscape. Under this clause, it appears that that structure would be exempted from consideration. That cannot be right. Another example is Bant’s Carn on the Isles of Scilly.

A host of things have changed the landscape and become part of it. If anyone decided that they should not be protected as part of the landscape, there would be quite an outcry. The wording of the Bill skews our approach towards these structures and monuments, which the British public hold dear as part of the natural landscape. I think the British public would be surprised to hear that we are effectively legislating not to protect them and keep them part of that natural landscape.

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. It is important to recognise that people may not even know of such places. There is a mountain called Twmbarlwm just outside my constituency. On the top, it has a twmp, or pimple, which is an iron age burial mound. People do not even know that that pimple is manmade. They would be affronted if anyone tried to deal with it. They assume it is natural, but it is not, though it has been there for hundreds of centuries. It is important that we make every effort to cover all eventualities. If this Bill is to be groundbreaking for generations to come, we must cover all bases.

I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. That underlines what we know is right in our hearts. If we reduced this to a few lines on a piece of paper, we might have to start making them distinctive in order to define what we are talking about. This amendment tries to ensure that such structures are regarded as part of the natural landscape.

The hon. Gentleman makes the valid point that many historical monuments have become part of the landscape. The UK is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. After 40,000 years of continuous human habitation, there is virtually nothing left that is not touched by the hand of man. I fully support the desire to protect monuments and so on, but the Bill is about protecting the environment. There is a separate legal framework for protecting monuments. I am worried about confusing the objective of the Bill, and worried that the OEP will be tasked with protecting monuments—when there is a separate legal framework for that—rather than protecting the natural environment.

I take the hon. Gentleman’s point but it is not a question of the OEP having to take on the mantle of English Heritage, or a national monuments commission, and assiduously sweeping the leaves off ramparts and other things. Hon. Members will see that clause 41 is simply a meaning clause: it defines what we mean elsewhere in the Bill. It is important inasmuch as it provides a serious context in which other measures in the Bill can be seated. That is its only function. When we are seating those meanings within other parts of the Bill, it is important that we are clear about the extent of those meanings or indeed the limits of those meanings. That is all that the amendment seeks to do. It does not seek to do anything more, and does not give the OEP any obligation as far as these monuments and buildings are concerned, nor the changes in the landscape to which I refer. The hon. Member can rest assured that there would be no duty of care on the OEP, and it is merely a matter of including that in the definition.

Does my hon. Friend share with me concerns that the National Trust—one of the custodians of our British landscape—is also concerned about that very clause? They say that heritage and the natural environment “go hand in hand”. They will be looking to the clause to put them together in the correct way, as my hon. Friend said, for the very nature of our British environment. Nobody in this room would disagree with that.

I thank my hon. Friend for that point, which I had not fully covered. The National Trust is, indeed, responsible for sweeping the leaves and various other things from these monuments, and it is among the bodies expressing concern that the meaning of clause 41 will not adequately serve the purpose of guiding the clauses that go before it. I hope that the Minister can provide a good explanation for the meaning in parenthesis being as it is. It is not that it should not be there—it will cover a number of issues, and if it was not there then we might start considering a modern block of flats part of the natural environment. Clearly, we would not want to go that far. I hope that the Minister accepts that amendment 126 strikes the right balance, ensuring that we have a much better definition to work with and that we make a distinction between buildings and other structures that are clearly not part of our natural environment and those that have become so, certainly in the public’s view, and deserve to be included in this meaning clause.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his amendment on the meaning of the natural environment. Obviously, we discussed this previously in some of the earlier clauses relating to heritage and such. I recognise that the natural environment does not exist in a vacuum and that our interactions with it and use of it create a heritage that we should be proud of, as I think we all are. It does not exist in a vacuum—the shadow Minister himself touched on this—but I believe it would be inappropriate to include the elements in the amendment in this particular definition, given that one of its key aims is to determine the scope of the functions of the Office for Environmental Protection.

The OEP must remain focused on its principal objective of environmental protection and the improvement of the natural environment. It is not its place to investigate complaints against breaches of legislation such as that concerned with cultural heritage such as listed buildings, which my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire touched on, listed building consents or protection for ancient monuments. There is a raft of legislation that deals with all those things, and that is not the role of the OEP.

I welcome the Minister back to the Committee. This is a fine distinction, but does she not agree that, in so dramatically excluding “buildings or other structures”, the Bill goes too far, and the amendment is an attempt to bring it back slightly?

Obviously all that has been considered and thought about, but the hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I will come on to what the 25-year plan says in a minute, because that really nails why the wording he wants is not there: it is because we believe it is already covered. It is important to note that the hon. Member’s explanatory statement—[Interruption.] I will just stop that buzzing, Mr Chairman; it is very annoying.

I apologise—I did not know it was on.

It is important to note that the hon. Member’s explanatory statement is very specific about the effect he intends the amendment to have. It states that he specifically does not wish the historic environment to be included,

“in the definition of ‘environmental law’, or in the enforcement functions of the OEP.”

It is necessary to have a distinction to ensure that, as I have just touched on, laws concerning, for example, building safety or other matters do not get tangled up in this and are not included in the OEP’s remit. Its focus must be the natural environment.

The clarification is welcome, and it is good to think about it, but unfortunately I must also point out our concern about the unintended effect that this amendment will have. The three definitions in clauses 41, 42 and 43 are intrinsically linked, working together to underpin the OEP and determine the scope of its enforcement functions. Therefore, including those matters within the meaning of the natural environment would mean that they would also be included in scope of the meaning of “environmental law” and the OEP’s enforcement policy.

Going slightly back on the previous point I made, the definition would not preclude the OEP’s looking at any breaches of environmental law that were related to the environment, for example, around Maiden castle or the twmp mentioned by the hon. Member for Newport West. Say, for example, that that was a protected habitat or there was a protected species within that habitat—I have the same around my wonderful Wellington monument, which is managed by the National Trust—and there was seen to be some contravention of the nature conservation law in relation to that habitat, which I would say Maiden castle is very much part and parcel of; that would come under the remit of the OEP to investigate, so a lot of it is included.

In line with the explanatory note, I am sure hon. Members will agree with my earlier point that it would not be appropriate for the OEP to oversee legislation in relation to all those specific wider matters. I assure the shadow Minister that the absence of the historic environment from this definition does not preclude the Government’s work on important aspects of the historic environment. For example, to touch on the previous intervention, the Bill ensures that the 25-year environment plan, including the recognition of the connection between the natural environment and heritage that is specifically written out in that 25-year plan, will be adopted as the first environmental improvement plan through the Bill. I also remind hon. Members that we have a manifesto pledge to protect and restore the natural environment, which is all part of this—it is all-encompassing. The 25-year environment plan will set the benchmark for future plans, including how to balance environmental and heritage considerations. In the light of that explanation, I ask the hon. Member to kindly withdraw the amendment.

With the greatest respect, I do not think the Minister has made the sort of case I anticipated she might make this morning to explain why the clause is so loose as far as buildings and other structures are concerned. It is not the case that our amendment would prejudice clauses subsequent to this—the Minister set out clauses 42 and 43 as falling within, for example, the meaning of environmental law. We think it would be a good thing if the structures and buildings that have changed the natural environment and have effectively become part of it were included in those considerations.

I have the exact words here of the 25-year environment plan, which is the first environmental improvement plan. It commits us to:

“Safeguarding and enhancing the beauty of our natural scenery and improving its environmental value while being sensitive to considerations of its heritage.”

It is in there.

I am sorry to say that that is rather a tenuous linkage to the fact that we must set out a plan. I have a copy of the plan we have already set out in front of me. There is merely half a line within that general plan to say that we should be “sensitive”. There is nothing else in the plan, as far as I can see, that says anything further than that—nothing that goes anywhere near the sort of consideration that we are putting in front of the Committee this morning.

The amendment makes it clear that we should not only be sensitive, but that we should include as a consideration those historic monuments and those elements of heritage that effectively form part of the natural landscape. Nothing in the Bill addresses that point, and the amendment seeks to put that consideration on the face of the Bill.

The Minister has underlined our point to some extent. Being sensitive is not good enough; we have to have something in the Bill that spells out the overall consideration that should be made when thinking about the natural environment. We think strongly about this point, to the extent that we will press the Committee to a Division this morning. The amendment has very considerable merit and, whether or not the Division is successful—we will see when the votes come out, rather in the way of the American election—we nevertheless hope that the Minister will consider the point further.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

I beg to move amendment 125, in clause 41, page 25, line 35, after “water” insert “, including the marine environment”.

This amendment clarifies that the natural environment includes a reference to the marine environment and is not confined to inland waters.

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 193, in clause 41, page 25, line 35, at end insert—

“(d) the marine environment,”.

This amendment aims to ensure that the seas and oceans and the health of those environments are considered when the OEP is working.

Before I discuss the amendment, I would like to seek your guidance, Mr Gray. As you can see, unfortunately, our Whip is not with us this morning through illness, but I wish to get a note to the Government Whip. Since I cannot walk out of the room to talk to him, may I through you or somebody pass this note to him?

I would be delighted to pass that to the Minister, who will pass it on to her Whip.

It might be appropriate for the shadow Minister to appoint one of the other Labour Members as a temporary Whip. That might be helpful for the Committee.

Yes, that is quite right. Perhaps I should have thought of that; it is difficult to do mid-flight.

It was also remiss of me not to welcome the Minister back to her place this morning. I think she knows that when she was absent last week, we sent her our good wishes for a speedy recovery. Indeed, our wishes have come true as she is with us today. I am pleased to see her in her place and I hope that she has indeed had a speedy recovery and is fully back with us, as I am sure she is. I am sorry that I did not place that on the record earlier, but I was rather preoccupied with Maiden castle and various other things.

The amendment seeks to include a better definition, effectively through a few simple words, in the same clause that we were talking about previously concerning the meaning of “natural environment”. It would mean that subsection 41(c), which begins

“land (except buildings or other structures), air and water”,

had at the end a clarification that that includes the marine environment.

It seems pretty obvious that that ought to be in the Bill. We are a country with a length of coastline that is almost uniquely extensive in Europe, and we are an island. Obviously, in the UK, we also have extensive inland waterways, such as lakes, rivers and, indeed, man-made inland waterways that have effectively become part of the natural environment, as I am sure hon. Members agree, such that they merit the sort of protection suggested by the definition in this clause. When the Minister replies, will she assure us that man-made inland waterways are included in the definition of “water” in the clause?

At no point does the Bill mention the marine environment. To the credit of Members across the House, we have developed sites of special scientific interest and conservation zones in the marine environment and around the coastline, sometimes quite a way offshore. It is not a question of having the land and the foreshore, and then simply the deep blue yonder. The marine environment must be seen as an integral part of the process of environmental conservation. Our legislation includes substantial activity to enable environmental protection and conservation to take place in those zones.

My hon. Friend is making a powerful point. During the passage of the Fisheries Bill, we spent a long time considering how to avoid dredgers damaging the marine environment. That should be included in this Bill, so that our legislation is joined up and cohesive, and ensures that the marine environment is as protected as the land.

My hon. Friend’s important point underlines the purpose of our amendment and impels me to highlight that this is not just a theoretical question about the protection of the marine environment, but a practical question about how we approach that. For example, the marine conservation zone in Lyme bay has the very practical effect of—among other things—preserving the environment for cold-water corals and various other things in that very fragile ecosystem that require our protection to survive and thrive. Those considerations of the marine environment are absolutely and indistinguishably conjoined.

Will the hon. Gentleman clarify the purpose of the amendment? Given that paragraph 355 of the explanatory notes to the Bill states:

“This includes both the marine and terrestrial environments. ‘Water’ will include seawater, freshwater and other forms of water”,

I am not sure what the purpose of the amendment is.

The hon. Gentleman has quoted the explanatory note, which is not legislation. One of the problems that Committees face is that explanatory notes have a sort of half-life: they are quite often helpful for elucidation, but they add nothing whatsoever to, or take nothing away from, the legislation in front of us. Explanatory notes might mention what is or is not the case, but essentially they indicate only how benevolently or otherwise the Government look upon the legislation.

I am as big a champion for the marine environment as anyone in this room; before this time last year, it was our livelihood. I am struggling to understand the purpose of the amendment because everything in the marine environment is covered by

“land (except buildings or other structures), air and water, and the natural systems, cycles and processes through which they interact.”

I am struggling to see what in the marine environment is not covered by the Bill as originally written.

The hon. Member will see that the Bill merely contents itself with the word “water”, which can have a number of different interpretations. In this instance, it has a substantially strong interpretation. This is not a problem with the present Government, but we are talking about legislation that must stand the test of time. It is possible and reasonably straightforward to define “water” in this case as internal waterways, rivers and other water services within the land mass. The hon. Member will see that that is what the clause appears to suggest. The “natural environment” is defined as

“plants, wild animals and other living organisms,”

“their habitats” and “land”, which suggests that the word “water” should be taken in the context of the other things in the clause.

With respect, I disagree. What the hon. Member suggests is that the land stops on the foreshore. It does not, of course; it goes straight out to sea and becomes the seabed. The land does not stop. What we are arguing here are the semantics of where our land and our waters end, which will be covered in the Fisheries Bill.

The hon. Member is right to the extent that land does extend under the water, otherwise the seas would drain fairly rapidly and we would be in a bad state. According to the hon. Member’s definition, we are conjoined with every other country in the world. The clause does not say that we must have a definition of “natural environment” that includes that—it stops in terms of what is on our land and what is not under the sea, as far as land is concerned. Arguably, the fact that it includes water could be defined, as the hon. Member suggests, as including everything on that land that is under the sea. It is nevertheless our responsibility—there are different areas of concern expressed in international treaties about territorial waters and various other things.

I completely and utterly support that the definition should cover the marine environment. My question to the hon. Member is why he picks on the marine environment as the one point of clarification needed in “land…air and water”. My hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth has talked about some aspects of the land, but does it cover soil? Does the hon. Gentleman want clarification on that? Does it cover underground waterways, for example, which are big in my area? The big issue in South Cambridgeshire is the aquifer, which is definitely under the ground. Does it cover cave systems? Is “air” just the air we breathe when we talk about air pollution, or is it also the ozone layer and so on? We could carry on with multiple long definitions and a long train of different qualifications, but I think that would create legal uncertainty for lawyers to interpret. The Bill is very generic—“land…air and water” covers everything that is important.

The hon. Gentleman tempts me to go down a detailed path of discussing subterranean water outlets. I assume, because water is within our land mass, that those would be covered by the elision of land mass and water, which is suggested by the clause. Without going into a lengthy disposition about how far under the ground water might be counted as being covered under this arrangement, we can rest assured that those matters are not a serious issue of dispute.

That is why I do not want to go into enormous detail. The amendment is straightforward and short. It proposes several words that would put the matter to rest. It just states in a modest way that the definition should include the marine environment, so that if anyone is in any doubt, there it is in the Bill. That is all we are suggesting. There is no side to that. There are no additional consequences. It merely says we should be clear that that is what it includes. I think we all agree that it should include that.

This morning, we were treated to a quote from the explanatory notes, which indicated that the marine environment should be included, but it is not. We are just doing a modest labour in the vineyard by attempting to ensure that when people say something, they mean what they say. The best way to ensure that people mean what they say is to say it. That is what we propose to do on the face of the Bill.

Amendments 125 and 193 have similar intentions. My amendment was meant as a probing amendment. I will not revisit the areas that the shadow Minister has eloquently gone through. My assumption was that the marine environment was considered for inclusion here and the decision was taken to exclude it. I would be interested to hear from the Minister what the rationale was for that.

Obviously, marine life is just as vital to the global ecosystem as terrestrial life, and the health of marine environments also needs to be protected. There may be some other agencies responsible, which the Government reckon should do the job, but surely there is a good case to be made for an agency with an overarching view of these tasks and challenges for the whole environment. I look forward to the Minister’s comments.

This is a short clause, but it is very important. I am fortunate to represent Cambridge, a city with some fantastic environmental organisations. The David Attenborough Building is renowned. It houses the Cambridge Conservation Initiative, which includes the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Fauna & Flora International and BirdLife International. I was fortunate to visit them a while ago, when I was preparing for a Westminster Hall debate. I was briefed by a range of dazzling experts. I was struck from their presentations by how many talked about the marine environment. I had not realised how significant it was. That was very much the term they used throughout their recommendations and advice to me.

I know the Minister cares passionately about the marine environment. I remember a Prime Minister’s Question Time when she questioned the showering habits of the Speaker. It is amazing the things that people remember. I should be clear that she was referring to the microbeads in Mr Bercow’s shower gel. I do not doubt the passion that she feels for the marine environment.

That leads me to question, given that we all agree on this point, why it cannot be put in the Bill. I believe the Government intend to include it. If there is such resistance to putting it in the Bill, it is either because each side wants to defend its position and does not want to give way, or there is something a bit more sinister.

The Minister says no. She might want to think about that, maybe not this morning, but as the Bill progresses. I would have said that including that one phrase would strengthen the Bill from the Government’s point of view and not leave people wondering what other treasures close to our land mass some parts of Government organisations have their eye on.

I thank the shadow Minister for his very kind opening words. I also thank him for his interest in the clause, which is crucial to future environmental governance. I appreciate the sentiments behind the amendment, but I must disagree and say that it is unnecessary. I have thought about this matter a great deal myself, as hon. Friends and Members can imagine. I have also spoken to the Natural Capital Committee at length about this, and it is satisfied with what we have come up with after much discussion.

Hon. Members are aware that the marine environment is by far the largest part of the UK’s environment and, as such, is an enormous part of our natural world. It is therefore vital that we safeguard crucial marine ecosystems, and that is a core part of our environmental policy. One of the names I get in my portfolio is the marine Minister, so I say, “Leave water and the marine space out at your peril.”

That is why the marine environment is included within the existing clause, as is clarified on page 57 of the explanatory notes. I hear what everyone says about the explanatory notes, but the meaning of the natural environment explicitly covers “water”. This includes seawater, canals, lakes, the Somerset levels—which are seawater that has come inland, goes back out, and is then joined by inland water—and all the underground aquifers.

A very good point was made: where do we stop with these lists of things? That is important to remember. The definition also covers—I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Truro and Falmouth and for Keighley for mentioning this—the land that includes the seabed, the intertidal zones and the coastal plains. They are all part of the natural environment. Any plant, wild animal, living organism or habitat is also included in the definition, regardless of where it is physically.

Out of interest, I want to touch on the target-setting powers in the Bill. Targets can be set on any matter relating to the natural environment, which could include the marine environment. That means we can set long-term targets or legally binding targets that can help improve the marine environment. The Government must set out at least one target in their four priority areas, which include air, biodiversity, water and nature. The initial round of targets might include a marine environment target, and that could be one of the biodiversity targets. That measure is already in the Bill; it will actually bolster, protect and strengthen the myriad measures we already have in place for protecting the marine space. All of this will dovetail with the sustainability elements in the Fisheries Bill, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Newport West, so it is all part and parcel.

I hope I have provided some assurances. The marine environment is very much included within the definition and, as such, each element of the environmental governance framework—including the OEP—will apply to it. On those grounds, I propose that the amendment is unnecessary, and I respectfully ask the shadow Minister to withdraw it.

The Minister has given some good and solid assurances concerning what she thinks the clause could be interpreted to mean. Clearly, the fact that she has said that this morning suggests that it might be possible, should there be a dispute about this, to draw upon her words as underlining the Government’s good intentions. We have never disputed that. We are happy that the Minister thinks in that particular way.

I emphasise what my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge said, which is that it seems straightforward to us that this should be included in the Bill. There is such potential dissonance between the Minister’s warm wishes for the marine environment and what is actually in the Bill. We think overwhelmingly that it would be a good idea to accept the amendment and seek to divide the Committee.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Clause 41 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

I hope it is not impertinent of me to point out that we have now been at this for more than an hour and have achieved only clause 41, which is less speedy progress than other Committees I have chaired. It might be helpful to the Committee to seek to make speedier progress.

Clause 42

Meaning of “Environmental Protection”

I beg to move amendment 31, in Clause 42, page26, line 1, after “considering” insert “advising”.

Member’s explanatory statement

The fourth limb of the definition of environmental protection covers the functions of monitoring, assessing, considering or reporting on anything within the other three limbs. This amendment adds the function of “advising”, which was included in the equivalent provisions of the draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill (clause 31(2)(d)), and last session’s Environment Bill (clause 40(2)(d)).

Before I begin, it was terribly remiss of me that I omitted to mention the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith when discussing the previous amendment. I meant to do so, but I forgot to pick up my bit of paper. All the hon. Lady’s comments were welcome and duly noted, and added to the general discussion and debate that we had about marine matters. I apologise for that; I meant to do so and then it was too late.

Government amendments 31 and 65 insert the word “advising” into clause 42(d) of the Bill and make the same amendment to schedule 2 in respect of the Office for Environmental Protection in Northern Ireland. This is a technical amendment to ensure that our new environmental governance framework can operate fully and effectively.

Environmental protection is at the heart of what the Bill intends to achieve, and as such it is vital that we ensure that the meaning of environmental protection provided in the Bill is as effective as possible. Without the amendment, statutory duties for public bodies to advise on environmental protection, such as section 4 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006—which we all refer to as the NERC Act—which places a duty on Natural England to provide advice at the request of a public authority, would not be considered environmental law.

The OEP would not be able to monitor or enforce this kind of legislative provision and the Secretary of State would also not be obliged to make a statement about any new legislation in this place. Therefore, not including “advising” in this clause would place unnecessary and unhelpful limitations on our new environmental governance framework. This would limit the Government’s ambition to be a global leader in championing the most effective policies and legislation for the environment. I therefore commend the amendment to the Committee.

The Minister’s amendment does indeed clarify matters and enables a better definition for monitoring assessments and reporting. The Opposition are happy for the word “advising” to go into the clause, but I would like the Minister to reflect briefly on why that word, which she is now putting in as an administrative amendment, was in previous iterations of the Bill. It was in the original Bill two years ago and also in the current Bill’s immediate predecessor, which was unable to make progress because of the election. Why is it, then, that the word did not appear in the current Bill? Was it an accident? Did someone consider it inappropriate, and is the Minister now making up for that lapse? Unless it was an accident, could the Minister assure me that there was no underlying reason for leaving out the word, the reinsertion of which now requires a Government amendment, and that she has not mentioned anything that we ought to consider?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question and for saying that the Opposition are happy with getting the word “advising” into this clause. I think I am at complete liberty to say that it was just a technical correction. I am pleased that it has been spotted and thank the hon. Gentleman for having done so.

Amendment 31 agreed to.

Clause 42, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 43

Meaning of “environmental law”

I beg to move amendment 127, in clause 43, page 26, line 6, leave out “mainly”.

This amendment ensures that any legislative provision that concerns environmental protection is included in the definition of “environmental law”.

Clause 43 concerns itself with one word, but, as I think hon. Members will appreciate, it provides, as is the case with many Bills, the crucial underpinning of a particular part—namely, those clauses up to clause 43. In other words, it defines the words we have discussed this morning and on other occasions. Although it may appear that a great deal of debate is focused on very small parts of the Bill—on one or two words—it is important to pay attention to them and to get this right. I appreciate that we may appear not to be making the progress we would otherwise want to make, but this is essential for the overall progress of the Bill. I can reveal to the Committee that I have discussed with the Government Whip exactly how much progress we can make today, and we need to ensure that it is commensurate with getting the Bill through in good order overall. I assure hon. Members—and, indeed, you, Mr Gray—that we want to make good progress and get the Bill through in good order and in good time. I hope that what we do this morning will aid rather than impede that progress.

Clause 43 concerns itself with the meaning of environmental law. Subsection (1) states that it

“is mainly concerned with environmental protection, and…is not concerned with an excluded matter”.

Subsection (2) defines excluded matters. We are concerned about the word “mainly”. We think that legislation that defines the meaning of environmental law should be “concerned with” environmental protection, not “concerned mainly with” with environmental protection. The use of that word implies that a number of other things could be construed as not being concerned with environmental protection. Logic suggests that the inclusion of the word “mainly” admits the possibility and, indeed, the likelihood that there are things outwith that particular definition.

Subsection (2) refers to excluded matters and I think we will discuss some of those in a future debate. Nevertheless, assuming it stands, it defines what is outwith the concerns of environmental protection. The Bill itself puts forward the things that are excluded from consideration, while subsection (1) uses the word “mainly”, which adds another area of uncertainty regarding what is and what is not excluded.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the term “mainly concerned” is ambiguous, with no clear legal meaning? Indeed, Dr David Wolfe QC drew attention to this issue in his written evidence to the pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill.

My hon. Friend is a mine of carefully culled information from previous sittings of the Committee, including the evidence sessions, which underline the points we are making this morning. She has set out that this is not just our concern; it is widely shared outside this Committee Room, and for that reason it deserves additional consideration.

Our case is that the word “mainly” should be removed and that the definition of environmental law should be that it is “concerned with environmental protection”. Subject to concerns that we may have about some of the areas listed under excluded matters, the fact that subsections (1) and (2) sit together should provide a very clear line of discussion about the meaning of environmental law as far as legislative provision is concerned.

I support the broad approach to defining environmental law, which has always been our intention with clause 43. We also need to ensure, however, that the definition is practical and workable, particularly for the OEP. The definition must not give the OEP such a wide remit that it is unmanageable or intrudes into areas where it would be inappropriate for the OEP to act or to be expected to act.

The OEP’s principal objective is to contribute to environmental protection and the improvement of the natural environment, as we have said many times. We must have a definition of environmental law that safeguards that objective by making it clear to all parties that the OEP’s focus will be on legislation for environmental protection and improvement. Removing the word “mainly” could bring a large amount of legislation into the OEP’s scope—that is not unlike our discussions about heritage and the other legislation connected to that—and would risk diluting the OEP’s effectiveness or diverting its resources to matters that could be more adequately dealt with by another body.

Many areas of legislation can be considered to be concerned, to a small degree, with environmental protections, despite being mainly concerned with something else. That is a good point, and I will give one small example: road traffic speed limits are mainly concerned with road safety, but they also have implications for the environment. We do not think that the OEP should have a remit to enforce speed limits.

I think that is quite a good example, but the hon. Member for Cambridge might come up with another.

I will not come up with a counter-example, but I think many would draw a very different conclusion from the Minister’s example. I am not a lawyer, but we are advised that the term “mainly” is mainly ambiguous in law. Others have suggested that “related to” would be a better term. Why have the Government chosen “mainly” rather than “related to”?

Just like the hon. Gentleman, we have also taken a great deal of advice and have used “mainly” for the reasons that I have set out. Although the OEP could still prioritise, it would be unhelpful for stakeholders were the OEP to be concerned in a huge range of issues that have only minor or tangential links to environmental protection or improvement.

It is important to note that the definition is already broader than it might initially seem because it applies to individual legislative provisions, so it could be part of a wider Act or statutory instrument. That means that even if most of an Act or statutory instrument is not mainly concerned with environmental protections, any specific provisions that are considered environmental law would come under the OEP’s remit. It is also worth noting that the term “mainly” is not prescribed in the Bill. The OEP and public authorities will therefore be able to interpret it in accordance with its normal—another legal word—meaning.

I appreciate the intentions of the hon. Member for Southampton, Test, but the amendment is not necessary or appropriate because the existing definition is sufficiently broad and balanced with the need to maintain the OEP’s focus on the protection and improvement of the natural environmental. I therefore ask him to withdraw his amendment.

I thank the Minister for her response—she had a good go at it. We will not withdraw our concern, but as the Minister has given some reassurance about how the term “mainly” might be interpreted and has indicated that some thought was given to that prior to the Bill’s drafting, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move amendment 115, in clause 43, page 26, line 10, leave out paragraph (b).

This amendment removes the exceptions for legislative provisions relating to armed forces and national security matters from the definition of ‘environmental law’ for the purposes of the scope of the OEP’s functions.

I thank the Minister for her kind words and would like to correct myself slightly because I did not welcome her back to her place earlier. I am very pleased to see her and am glad that she has recovered.

The armed forces are potentially among the biggest polluters. The evidence from Scotland demonstrates that there has to be some oversight of the potential for environmental damage. I mentioned that previously in respect of the issues that have arisen. The nuclear bases on the Clyde do some work with SEPA—the Scottish Environment Protection Agency—and local authorities to alert them to some instances, but not all. Even those scant measures are the subject of voluntary agreements rather than obligations or regulatory oversight. No information is forthcoming, however, on the rest of the defence estate across Scotland. I imagine there is nothing about the estates across England either.

We know that the MOD does environmental assessments because it told me so in answer to written questions, but that information is kept secret. That is not good enough. We all have to play our part. As I have said, no individual Department should be completely excused from shouldering that responsibility. The phrase “so far as is reasonably practical” is used in a lot of legislation from which defence and our armed forces are exempt, and it could be too easily used as a get-out when that suited. It is time for that loophole to be removed, and for oversight to be in a place whereby such activities could receive independent and robust scrutiny that—while allowing for sensitivities around national security and similar matters—ensured that activities could be monitored satisfactorily. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

I thank the hon. Lady for her contribution. We heard something about the issue with respect to previous clauses as well, and we recognise the intention behind those. Protecting our country is fundamental, which is why exemptions for the armed forces and national security are maintained. Any legislation that could be covered by those exemptions would concern highly sensitive matters that were vital to the protection of our realm, so it is appropriate to restrict the OEP’s oversight of and access to information in such areas.

We want to make it clear, so that there is absolutely no doubt, that legislative provisions relating to these matters cannot be environmental law, and so cannot fall within the OEP’s remit. Legislative provisions concerning national security would cover matters such as the continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent and other policy areas vital to the protection and defence of the UK, which are of the utmost importance.

The single most important thing that we do is protect our people. It would not be appropriate for the OEP to have jurisdiction here, where its intervention could hinder vital work. We expect that such specialist matters would also be outside the OEP’s areas of expertise. As such, the OEP would not be appropriately qualified to enforce such issues. Legislative provisions concerning the armed forces would cover matters related to personnel and staffing that link to defence capability and matters such as the Armed Forces Act. It would not be appropriate for the OEP to have a role overseeing the legislation.

To be clear: the exemption does not mean that public authorities such as the MOD or any of the armed forces will be exempt from scrutiny by the OEP in respect of their implementation of environmental law—for example, a lot of MOD land has site of special scientific interest designation; it simply means that legislation concerning the armed forces or national security will be excluded from the OEP’s remit. Much of the defence land is protected land with SSSI designation. The OEP will still be able to hold public authorities accountable on that land for their statutory duties concerning the protection of the site, as the relevant legislative provisions will not be covered as regards national security or the armed forces.

The Scottish Government have, I note, taken a similar approach on the issue in section 10(3)(a) of the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill 2018. They also have a number of exemptions that are not unrelated to this. It is worth noting that the Ministry of Defence has its own environmental policies, and it went into that in some detail last week. It does a great deal of good environmental work. I should mention the stone curlew project I visited, but there are many others where it is doing excellent work for protected species and habitats. It prides itself on that, and has a strong record of delivering on those commitments. On the whole, its SSSIs are in pretty good condition, so all credit to the MOD.

I know that the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith has done a lot of work in this area, and it is something she has talked about from the beginning. I thank her for raising this, because it gives us a chance to make the argument. Given the sensitivities and existing environmental commitments, and given my clarification that the provision does not exempt from scrutiny public authorities that are concerned with national security, I hope she will consider withdrawing the amendment.

I remind the Minister again that the Scottish Government have no control over defence issues, so it is perhaps no surprise that they have had to exempt that in the continuity Bill. I hear what she says about some scrutiny being applied, but I still feel that there is too much of a blackout around the information relating to these areas. That is what I, environmental groups and members of the public have issues with.

I appreciate that there are sensitive areas that will have to be dealt with differently, but I am afraid I remain to be convinced that the exemptions are appropriate in this day and age, and that transparency across Government is not required by the public and various environmental groups that we have all dealt with. This is certainly a principle that is very important to me. With that in mind, I will push the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

I beg to move amendment 116, in clause 43, page 26, line 11, leave out paragraph (c).

This amendment removes the exceptions for legislative provisions relating to tax, spending and the allocation of resources within government from the definition of ‘environmental law’ for the purposes of the scope of the OEP’s functions.

You will be relieved to hear, Mr Gray, that I will not be pushing the amendment to a vote, although that is something I am keeping in my back pocket for the future. It seems to me that by fully exempting the main thrusts of Government policy, which are the biggest tools in the Government’s cupboard, the Government are not driving their policy towards the best possible environmental goals. By wholly exempting tax and spend from their thinking on such matters, the Government are missing a chance to engage their biggest public policy lever.

I would have thought that at least some consideration of these issues would have been useful for the Government. That would have shown real commitment to change, improvement, making a future unlike the past and putting the environment at the middle of decision making. As I have said in the past, I appreciate the Minister’s sincerity and her belief in these issues, but surely she does not want it to look as though the Government are merely ticking a box to say that the gap left by Brexit is being filled. Instead, she can show that there is an environmental heart to this legislation and this Government, not simply warm words. Here is an opportunity to prove that.

I am particularly keen to hear the Minister’s reasoning behind the exemption, because it seems that the Government are missing a trick by not showing their commitment to environmental issues on this particular point.

I thank the hon. Lady for tabling her amendment and for saying she will not push it to a vote. Although I recognise the intention behind the amendment, it is important that the exemption is maintained to ensure sound economic and fiscal decision making. It would be inappropriate for the OEP to have oversight of the implementation of legislative provisions that specifically concerned taxation, spending or the allocation of resources, as the OEP needs to keep its focus on the protection of the natural environment.

Legislation regarding taxation is developed by Treasury Ministers, as the hon. Lady knows, and it is important that they are able to set taxes to raise the revenue that allows us to deliver essential services, such as the NHS, policing, education and schools—all those things that we all need and want. It would not be appropriate for the OEP to have jurisdiction over this area or over the administration of taxation regimes by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

I want to give a bit of clarity on this, as I think there may be some confusion: the term “taxation” does not extend to legislation relating to regulatory schemes such as the plastic bag charge, which was particularly successful, or the imposition of fees to cover the cost of a regulatory regime. Therefore, legislation relating to these matters could be considered within environmental law, and the OEP could take enforcement action if the public authority failed to comply.

The words

“spending and the allocation of resources within government”

refer to decisions about how money and resources are designated within and between Departments. When specifically considering the exclusion or allocation of resources, it is important to note that it is only the legislative provisions on this subject that are excluded. It is just a matter of being very clear about that, as there are many other areas, such as the plastic bag charge, where the OEP will be able to engage.

If a public authority were to argue that it did not have adequate resources to implement an environmental law, that would not stop the legislative provisions in question being environmental law, although the authority’s comments on its resources could, of course, be considered during the OEP’s investigation. On those grounds, I ask the hon. Member whether she might withdraw her amendment, now that I have given her more clarity.

I thank the Minister for her comments, which have provided me with some clarity. As I said, I will not be pressing this matter to a vote, although I think I will pursue it in the future. We are all well aware of the Treasury’s track record in resisting attempts to constrain its activities in any way—I suspect there has been some arm twisting done behind the scenes on this one—and this is an issue I will revisit. I thank her again for her words and beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: 32, in clause 43, page 26, line 16, leave out

“the National Assembly for Wales”

and insert “Senedd Cymru”.

See Amendment 28.(Rebecca Pow.)

Amendment 33, in clause 43, page 26, line 21, leave out

“the National Assembly for Wales”

and insert “Senedd Cymru”.

See Amendment 28.(Rebecca Pow.)

Amendment 34, in clause 43, page 26, line 22, leave out “Assembly” and insert “Senedd”.

See Amendment 28.(Rebecca Pow.)

Clause 43, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 44

Interpretation of Part 1: General

Amendments made: 35, in clause 44, page 27, line 7, leave out

“the National Assembly for Wales”

and insert “Senedd Cymru”.

See Amendment 28.(Rebecca Pow.)

Amendment 36, in clause 44, page 27, line 17, leave out

“the National Assembly for Wales”

and insert “Senedd Cymru”.

See Amendment 28.(Rebecca Pow.)

We come to amendment 78. It was not moved previously by any member of the Committee, but if any member of the Committee wished to move it now, they would be welcome to do so.

I would like to. This amendment, as hon. Members will see, Mr Gray, was tabled by two previous members of the Committee. With the effluxion of time, however, they are no longer members of the Committee, for reasons of ascent—

Elevated indeed, to higher and more august posts in the Opposition ranks. They are therefore no longer on the Committee, but that does not mean that what they put forward should have less consideration by the Committee.

The fact that additional consideration should be given is underlined by the information that we received just before the Committee met, which was that the Government proposed to table amendments that will come up later in the Bill’s consideration, concerning illegal deforestation in supply chains and the due diligence to be carried out in connection with those supply chains. Hon. Members will see from the latest marshalled list of amendments that those amendments—a new clause, which we will debate later, and a defining amendment that will be debated a little earlier than that—have now indeed been tabled.

The amendments, in essence, adopt substantial parts of another amendment that was tabled by some hon. Friends and will appear as new clause 5, which we will debate much later. This concerns the question of due diligence in respect of overseas supplies of timber, for example, and various other elements such as that. I suggest that my amendment was an essential defining part of new clause 5, which has in effect been run with by the Government in the proposals they have just tabled. There is a complete chain of connection between all those.

In that context, what is missing from the Bill is a definition not just of environmental harm, whether direct or indirect, but of what is meant in that context by the global footprint of environmental harm or environmental activity. By tabling their amendments, the Government are strongly indicating that the global footprint of environmental harm is a key element of the Bill.

I am delighted that the Government have tabled their amendments, because they cover an area that a lot of people have been concerned about for a long time. We will debate the detail when we get to the new clause, but the fact that the Government have considered the issue, listened and looked at what is before us in Committee—

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is good to see the Government using the important proposal tabled by my hon. Friends the Members for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) and for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) as a stepping stone to improve the Bill? We should welcome the Government doing that.

Yes, indeed. My hon. Friend reminds me of the constituencies of our hon. Friends who tabled new clause 5, so I may now refer to them.

The amendments that the Government have tabled are important and we welcome them. We would like to add to our welcome the idea that the definition in the clause––which is, after all, as I have emphasised, an interpretation clause to ensure that we know the content, detail and background––should be placed so that it links not only to what we have already discussed in the Bill but to what is in the Government amendments. This will be our only opportunity to discuss this because, by the time we get to the Government amendments, we will have gone past this section of the Bill, so it is important that we decide this one way or the other today.

I apologise to the Committee. I had not spotted the fact that this amendment was debated on a previous occasion and that we therefore should not be having a second debate on it but should have moved it formally.

Amendment proposed: 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—

(i) greenhouse gas emissions;

(ii) ecosystem conversion and degradation;

(iii) deforestation and forest degradation;

(iv) biodiversity loss;

(v) water pollution and abstraction; and

(vi) air pollution.”—(Dr Whitehead.)

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Question negatived.

Clause 44, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 45 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 2

Improving the Natural Environment: Northern Ireland

Amendment proposed: 194, page 127, line 6, schedule 2, leave out sub-paragraph (4) and insert—

‘(4) An environmental improvement plan must set out—

(a) the steps that the Department intends to take to improve the natural environment;

(b) any steps that any other Northern Ireland department intends to take to improve the natural environment;

(c) long-term targets, setting a measurable standard which must be achieved by a specified date that is no less than 15 years after the target is set; and

(d) interim targets relating to each long-term target, setting a measurable standard which must be achieved by a specified date that is—

(i) no more than 5 years after the target is set; and

(ii) no more than 5 years after the most recent review of the environmental improvement plan.

(4A) It is the duty of the Department to ensure that all long-term and interim targets set in an environmental improvement plan are met and the Department must publish an annual report stating how it is meeting these targets.” —(Deidre Brock.)

The amendment will ensure that Northern Ireland has interim and long-term environmental targets, and places a duty on the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to ensure these targets are met.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Question negatived.

Amendment made: 65, page 132, line 1, schedule 2, after “considering” insert “advising”. —(Rebecca Pow.)

This amendment makes provision for Northern Ireland equivalent to the provision made by Amendment 31.

Schedule 2, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 46 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 3

The Office for Environmental Protection: Northern Ireland

Amendment made: 66, in schedule 3, page 133, line 33, at end insert—

“(2A) But the OEP must not monitor the implementation of, or report on, a matter within the remit of the Committee on Climate Change.

(2B) A matter is within the remit of the Committee on Climate Change if it is a matter on which the Committee is, or may be, required to advise or report under Part 1, sections 34 to 36, or section 48 of the Climate Change Act 2008.”—(Rebecca Pow.)

This amendment modifies the OEP’s duty to monitor, and power to report on, the implementation of Northern Ireland environmental law under paragraph 2 of Schedule 3. It provides that the OEP must not monitor or report on matters within the remit of the Committee on Climate Change, which is defined in sub-paragraph (2B) by reference to specified provisions of the Climate Change Act 2008.

I beg to move amendment 221, in schedule 3, page 146, line 24, at end insert—

“22A (1) Section (Guidance on OEP’s enforcement policy and functions) (guidance on OEP’s enforcement policy and functions) is amended as follows.

(2) At the end of subsection (1) insert ‘, so far as relating to the OEP’s Part 1 enforcement functions.’

(3) In subsection (2)—

(a) in paragraph (a) after ‘policy,’ insert ‘so far as relating to its Part 1 enforcement functions,’;

(b) in paragraph (b) for ‘enforcement functions’ substitute ‘Part 1 enforcement functions’.

(4) In subsection (5) for “enforcement functions” substitute ‘Part 1 enforcement functions’.”

Schedule 3 to the Bill confers on the OEP enforcement functions in relation to Northern Ireland, which are similar to its enforcement functions under Part 1 of the Bill. Guidance issued by the Secretary of State under NC24 is not to apply to the enforcement functions conferred by Schedule 3, which are devolved. This amendment ensures that when Schedule 3 comes into force, the guidance power under NC24 will be limited to the OEP’s enforcement functions under Part 1 of the Bill and will not include its enforcement functions under Schedule 3.

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government new clause 24—Guidance on OEP’s enforcement policy and functions.

That was a massive canter or, actually, a gallop. We have whizzed on. The amendment and new clause will provide a power for the Secretary of State to issue guidance to the OEP on the matters listed in clause 22(6) concerning its enforcement policy. The OEP will be required to have regard to this guidance in preparing its enforcement policy and in carrying out its enforcement functions. This is an important new provision, which will allow the Secretary of State to seek to address any ambiguities or issues relating to the OEP’s enforcement functions where necessary. We expect the OEP to develop an effective and proportionate enforcement policy in any event, but Secretary of State guidance can act as a helpful resource for the OEP in the process. For example, the Secretary of State may issue guidance to the OEP relating to how it should respect the integrity of other statutory regimes, including those implemented by regulators such as the Environment Agency. That could also be invaluable to resolve and clarify any confusion that may arise regarding the wider environmental regulatory landscape.

As the Minister ultimately responsible to Parliament for the OEP’s use of public money, it is appropriate that the Secretary of State should be able to act if the OEP were not exercising its functions effectively or needed guidance from the Secretary of State to be able to do so, for instance, if it were failing to act strategically and, therefore, not taking appropriate action in relation to major systematic issues. The new clause will not provide the Secretary of State with any power to issue directions to the OEP—that is important—or to intervene in specific decisions. Rather, the OEP is simply required to have regard to the guidance in preparing its enforcement policy and exercising its enforcement functions. Furthermore, the Secretary of State must exercise the power in line with the provision in paragraph 17 of schedule 1, which requires them to

“have regard to the need to protect”

the OEP’s independence. That is important as well.

May I just finish? Any guidance must also be laid before Parliament and published. That means that the process will be transparent, and the Secretary of State will ultimately be accountable to Parliament.

There are precedents elsewhere in legislation for this type of approach. For example, the Climate Change Act 2007 provides for the Secretary of State to give guidance to the Committee on Climate Change—a body that is considered to be highly effective and independent.

This is very important, and it came as a surprise to many of us that the Government are introducing it as an amendment. Will the Minister explain why it was not in the Bill originally? What was the process that led to the introduction of these amendments?

As usual, much debate and discussion went on. It is all about transparency and clarity for the OEP—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is raising his eyebrows. The Opposition are always seeking to suggest that there is something underhand going on, but I wear my heart on my sleeve, and this is all in the interests of transparency. There is a whole flowchart about how the OEP will remain independent. Schedule 1(17) sets out that the Secretary of State must be aware of the independence of the OEP. It is about giving much more clarity and focus to the way that the OEP will operate.

Amendment 221 is a consequential amendment to schedule 3, which provides an option to extend the OEP’s funtions to apply to devolved matters in the future. As the functions conferred by schedule 3 are devolved, the amendment ensures that, if schedule 3 comes into force, any guidance issued under new clause 24 will not apply to those devolved functions. Amendment 221 is therefore necessary to ensure that new clause 24 is compatible with the devolution settlement in Northern Ireland. It leaves the Government the flexibility to assist the OEP through guidance if ever necessary while ensuring that it remains an independent enforcement body. In the light of that, amendment 221 is essential to ensuring that new clause 24 is compatible with the devolution settlement for Northern Ireland.

I do not have any great objections to this clause, but we should reflect on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge. It is a bit shocking that this proposal was not in the Bill previously. This section is about ensuring that the OEP is set up and functions well in Northern Ireland, with all the issues that go with devolved government and the replication of its functions in the Province. Yet the ability to transfer functions on a devolved basis appears not to have occurred to the framers of the Bill before it was put before us. It is only after what in this context we might call the fortunate suspension of the Bill for quite a long time that it has been possible to reflect on that omission and this amendment appears before us. That is a bit concerning, in terms of what else in the Bill might not do justice particularly to the devolution settlements. That is a worry, but we are not worried about the actual content that has appeared. Therefore, we do not want to divide the Committee on this amendment.

Amendment 221 agreed to.

Amendment made: 67, in schedule 3, page 148, line 18, leave out

“the National Assembly for Wales”

and insert “Senedd Cymru”. —(Rebecca Pow.)

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

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.

Environment Bill (Thirteenth sitting)

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: † James Gray, Sir George Howarth

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

† Anderson, Fleur (Putney) (Lab)

† Bhatti, Saqib (Meriden) (Con)

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

† Browne, Anthony (South Cambridgeshire) (Con)

† Docherty, Leo (Aldershot) (Con)

Furniss, Gill (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) (Lab)

† Graham, Richard (Gloucester) (Con)

† Jones, Fay (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con)

† Jones, Ruth (Newport West) (Lab)

† Longhi, Marco (Dudley North) (Con)

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

† Moore, Robbie (Keighley) (Con)

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

Thomson, Richard (Gordon) (SNP)

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

† Zeichner, Daniel (Cambridge) (Lab)

Anwen Rees, Sarah Ioannou, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 10 November 2020

(Afternoon)

[James Gray in the Chair]

Environment Bill

Schedule 3

The Office for Environmental Protection: Northern Ireland

Question proposed, That the schedule, as amended, be the Third schedule to the Bill.

There are two things on which I want to reflect. We must remember that the schedule concerns the Northern Ireland function of the Office for Environmental Protection, and should effectively provide the devolved Northern Ireland Assembly with a reasonable replica of what is required to set up the OEP in England and Wales. At the same time, it should provide for substantial reporting and discretion to the Assembly by the OEP.

A particular concern, about which I hope the Minister will reflect and respond, is that that replication of the OEP’s operation for its Northern Ireland function is not as close as it could be. Amendment 194, which was tabled by the hon. Members for Belfast South (Claire Hanna) and for Foyle (Colum Eastwood), who both represent constituencies in Northern Ireland, was discussed earlier as part of a debate on a group of amendments, so we did not actually discuss its content. I draw the Committee’s attention to the effect that amendment would have on the OEP in Northern Ireland: it sought essentially to provide a mechanism for long-term and interim targets.

That mechanism was the same as the one for the OEP response to targets set out in clauses 1 to 6. Although there is reference to those targets in general, it is very different from clause 1. Indeed, it does not include, for example, achievement measures and does not specifically discuss interim targets. That could have been resolved with the amendment, as the formulation is different from the one for England and Wales. I wonder whether that has arisen by commission or omission. Was the Government’s intention that there should be different arrangements relating to targets and interim targets for England and Wales and for Northern Ireland? Was their intention that the OEP should have different responsibilities towards targets in Northern Ireland? That is the first concern.

The second concern relates to the formulation of the requirement for Ministers to lay before Parliament the notices and legal actions that the OEP has introduced in respect of environmental law and environmental protection. Hon. Members will see that there is a repetition of our earlier debate about what we characterised as a particularly egregious “may” and “must” issue. Clause 3(6), on page 134 of the Bill states:

“The Northern Ireland department concerned may, if it thinks fit, lay before the Northern Ireland Assembly— (a) the advice, and (b) any response that department may make to the advice.”

Hon. Members will recall that is exactly what we debated, and whether the Minister responsible might decide that he or she would lay something before Parliament or, on the other hand, they might decide that they would not lay something before Parliament, and that was the end of that. We expressed concern about what we thought was a very poor formulation, as far as the UK Parliament was concerned, when we discussed the relevant amendment.

In the first instance, it looks as if that formulation is simply being repeated as far as the OEP and the Minister are concerned, in Northern Ireland, but there is a difference: it is not the Minister who may lay something before the Northern Ireland Assembly if he or she sees fit, but the Northern Ireland Department. I am puzzled by that formulation. How it is possible for an entire Department to think that something is fit, or not? In the formulation used in the England and Wales version, there is a person—the Minister—who must decide whether or not it is fit. We criticised the potential actions of that person in not thinking that something was fit.

I am puzzled about how this will work. Someone, somewhere, may or may not decide to lay something before the Northern Ireland Assembly. That is okay as far as it goes, but we do not like the idea of “may or may not”. However, I do not think what we are considering is a particularly easy legal concept: not only an entire Department thinking fit, but an entire Department thinking at all. The formulation that the Department “thinks fit” would require an entire Department to decide something, and an entire Department then to decide whether what it thought fit would be laid before the Northern Ireland Assembly.

There is no identified person at any stage in this to whom the Northern Ireland Assembly say,  “We would rather you had put that in front of us. Why have you not, and why did you not think it was fit to put that in front of us?” Instead, they presumably have to knock on the door of the UK’s Northern Ireland Office and ask to speak to someone who could shed some light on that, then pursue how that thinking and fitness came about in the corridors of that Office.

That seems to be a very strange formulation. Can the Minister elucidate whether that means that an individual, one way or another, is responsible in the Northern Ireland Office and can be identified and can take the responsibility for thinking fit or otherwise? Or is it just a formulation that is so legally opaque as to make it virtually unworkable? If that is the case, would the Minister think about taking that away and thinking again about how the provision is formulated as far as Northern Ireland is concerned?

I want to be clear that, as part of our dual commitment to a strong Union and protecting and enhancing the natural environment, the Northern Ireland Executive have asked us to extend certain aspects of our new environmental governance framework to Northern Ireland, subject to affirmation from the Assembly. A great deal of discussion has gone into that, and the Executive asked for that. I want to be clear about that. They do not believe it is clouded in opaqueness, because they have been fully engaged.

Schedule 3 provides an option to extend the OEP’s functions to apply to devolved matters in Northern Ireland in the future, should the Assembly decide to do so. That is important. The shadow Minister touched on targets, but we voted on that earlier in schedule 2, so I do not think that is necessarily relevant to what we are talking about now.

The provisions in part 1 of schedule 3 will provide the OEP with powers in Northern Ireland broadly equivalent to those in England. For example, the OEP will be able to monitor and report on the implementation of Northern Irish environmental law, much as it would be able to do in England under clause 26. Similarly, schedule 3 provides for the extension of the OEP’s enforcement functions to Northern Ireland, taking into account the two nations’ different court systems. Part 2 will provide for the OEP to adapt its operating procedures appropriately if extended to cover devolved matters in Northern Ireland, and amends the general functions of the OEP so they may adequately apply to Northern Ireland. For example, part 2 ensures appropriate Northern Ireland representation on the OEP board and ensures that the OEP’s remit covers Northern Irish environmental law. Schedule 3 is essential to ensure the extension of the OEP to Northern Ireland should the Assembly decide to do that. I hope that I have made that quite clear.

I do not think the Minister has clarified what paragraph 3(6) of schedule 3 means. I offered a possible interpretation of what that clause meant—it appears to say that an entire Department is responsible for thinking, and for thinking something fit. I assume that the entire Department that is mentioned in the provision is the Northern Ireland Department concerned, so that, as the Minister said, should these matters proceed properly towards devolution, there will be—she said that there has been, as I anticipated there should have been— extensive discussion with the devolved Administration in Northern Ireland on how this will work and what it means, and that a substantial part of this process is at their request. It is important to understand, since we are making legislation here for that to work there, what this actually means. I assume that it does not mean that the UK Northern Ireland Office is responsible, if it thinks fit, for laying before the Northern Assembly—

First, I want to clarify the fact that the decision to commence provisions to extend the OEP to devolved matters to Northern Ireland is a matter for Northern Ireland Ministers and for affirmation by the Assembly. I also want to point out that it is common practice for Northern Ireland to confer powers on a Department. Departmental functions are exercised subject to the direction and control of the departmental Minister, as set out in the Departments (Northern Ireland) Order 1999.

I thank the Minister for that. That is very helpful. If it is the case that a Department, in Northern Ireland practice, effectively takes its cue for these things from the Minister in the Department that is responsible, that potentially answers my particular question. I have not heard that before, but it would be good if we could be assured that that is what will happen in practice once that goes into devolution—that there will be a person responsible for thinking fit, namely, the Minister in that Department.

I will intervene again and give those assurances. I send a great many letters to my counterpart in that Department. We have a lot of toing and froing, so the hon. Gentleman can be assured that there is a lot of communication. We want it to work for Northern Ireland the way that they want it to work

Absolutely, and that is what we want to do as well. That is why we want to ensure that it works as well as it should. It appears, I hope, that this formulation, strange as it looks, is capable of being operated in a sound way, as far as the Assembly is concerned for the future, and that people will not be running around corridors asking a building to think, but running around corridors asking the Minister to think, which is what I thought should have been in the Bill. If it works that way round, that is fine. I thank the Minister for her clarification. I have no intention of opposing the schedule.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule 3, as amended, accordingly agreed to.

Clause 47 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 4

Producer responsibility obligations

I beg to move amendment 16, in schedule 4, page 151, line 12, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

It is still a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray, even though we are not mentioning that. It is lovely to have the Minister back in her rightful place. The Environment Bill is very important and long overdue, as we have heard. I want to touch on the reason we are here, what we are dealing with, and how we can honour the pledges and promises made to the people of the United Kingdom, primarily in England.

The Bill, according to the Government’s published paper, comprises two thematic halves. The first provides a legal framework for environmental governance, which my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test so knowledgably touched on this morning and last week. The second half of the Bill makes provision for specific improvement of the environment, including measures on waste and resource efficiency, which we are discussing today. In the coming days, we will cover air quality and environmental recall; water; nature and biodiversity; and conservation covenants. They will all be discussed. We need to get the Bill right to ensure that we honour the promise to provide a once-in-a-generation piece of legislation—a promise that the Minister and many Government Members heralded at every opportunity, at least until the Bill disappeared back in March. It is so good to have it back.

That is why Her Majesty’s Opposition have tabled this amendment. We must not have a Bill that is made up of passive “mays” or “coulds”; we need “wills” and “musts”. Many in this House and across England, and those in the sector, have waited hundreds of days for the missing-in-action Bill. Now that it is back and we are here in Committee, we must not waste—I apologise for the pun—the opportunity to have the strongest possible legislation, so we have tabled the amendment.

I thank the hon. Member for proposing the amendment. I also welcome her taking up the cudgels—perhaps I should say something less aggressive.

Yes, taking up the baton on behalf of the Opposition. May I assure the hon. Member for Newport West that the Government have every intention of making regulations using schedule 4? The Bill creates producer responsibility obligations in respect of specified products or materials. That is one of a number of provisions that will enable us to take action significantly to improve the environmental performance of products across their entire life cycle—from the raw material used, to end-of-life management. Other powers in the Bill include our ability in schedule 5 to require producers to pay disposal costs for their products; our powers in schedule 6 to introduce deposit return schemes; and the powers in schedule 7 to set resource efficiency standards in relation to the design and lifetime of products.

The Government need the flexibility to decide what measures will best deliver the outcomes that we want. Imposing producer responsibility obligations in all cases may not be appropriate. The power is drafted in a way that gives us the flexibility to choose the appropriate measure or combination of measures for any product, and to decide which producers are obligated, the obligations on them, and the steps that they need to take to demonstrate that they have met their obligations.

In this instance, we will use these powers to introduce new regulations for producer packaging responsibility. That will increase the reuse and recycling of packaging and reduce the use of unnecessary and avoidable packaging. In 2019, we consulted with the devolved Administrations on proposals to reform the regulations, and we will consult again in 2021, so it is a lengthy process, but a lot of discussion has informed this. In the resources and waste strategy for England, we made commitments relating to updating our already up-and-running producer responsibility schemes on waste electricals, waste batteries and end-of-life vehicles; these powers are needed to implement those commitments. We also committed to taking action to address food waste.

Products vary. They have different supply chains, use different materials and have different impacts on the environment. That is why we need to be able to introduce product-specific regulations, using the appropriate powers. This power provides the flexibility to impose producer responsibility obligations where it is appropriate to do so, and that flexibility would be removed by the amendment. I therefore ask the hon. Member to kindly withdraw it.

I thank the Minister for her comments. I take the point about flexibility; in my previous job as a physiotherapist, however, we had both flexibility and control. Splints and corsets were very useful in ensuring flexibility in confined areas. That is why the “mays” should be turned into “musts”. The grammar is important to us. But I take the point, and this is a probing amendment, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move amendment 158, in schedule 4, page 151, line 16, after “waste” insert

“, reducing the consumption of virgin materials,”.

This amendment is about taking strengthened measures on tackling waste. It refers to virgin materials, which the Minister mentioned previously. For the benefit of those outside these walls who are maybe not as knowledgeable as the Committee, these are materials like new paper or plastic.

This amendment, although specific and focused in its approach, seeks to ensure the Bill includes the strongest possible measures to tackle waste. The wider focus on the obligations and responsibilities of producers is important—not because the Bill will directly impact those parts of the world outside the UK, but because of the need to get our own house in order in the UK, and in England specifically. We need to do this because it is important to set an example to others, and the Minister alluded to this in discussions about COP26 next year.

We want a strong Bill. If colleagues support this amendment, we will help deliver a strong Environment Bill with a strengthened schedule 4. It would make clear to the producers of materials used in everyday life that they have responsibilities and we are going to hold them to account.

I welcome the intention behind the schedule, which is to shift the burden of disposal costs from local authorities and the taxpayer to producers; the burden on them has historically been too low. I also welcome the shift in this Bill towards tackling food waste. I have been campaigning on this in Wandsworth borough for many years, and to see that it will be in the legislation and has to be addressed by the council is very welcome. However, in some ways, the drafting is too loose; as often in this Bill, it needs some tightening up, and I hope that these Labour amendments will be useful in doing that.

In terms of virgin materials, it is not good enough to focus on the end-of-life solutions for materials. The schemes introduced under this schedule need to incentivise producers to make the right decisions at the start of the process, as well as ensuring that they fulfil environmental responsibilities at the end. As the UK Environmental Law Association recommends, the Government need to clearly signal that extended producer responsibility covers the full life cycle, not only waste disposal. Reducing virgin material use is key to this, and to the Bill being as ambitious as we want it to be. Amendment 158 adds some words to ensure this.

Virgin materials include timber, plastic resin derived from the petroleum refining process and mined materials. This amendment would ensure that the producer responsibility scheme considers upstream measures that tackle consumption and production as well as waste minimisation. Although waste minimisation is important, it is not sufficient by itself to guarantee a reduction in virgin material use. Without adding this amendment, we cannot be sure the outcome will be the reduction that we need to see.

Manufacturing products with virgin materials usually requires much more energy and depletes more natural resources than using recycled materials, so when we reduce their use, there is also an offset for other processes. Action to reduce usage of virgin materials is essential to tackle overall depletion.

I thank the hon. Member for her interest in this provision and for this amendment. I reassure her and the Committee that the amendment is not needed.

Reducing the consumption of virgin materials is important; we all agree on that. In our 25-year environment plan, we stated our long-term ambition of doubling resource productivity by 2050. That is about maximising the value and benefits we get from our resources, and managing these resources more sustainably to reduce associated environmental impacts.

I can assure the hon. Member for Putney that we are tackling this issue in the Bill. We have powers in schedule 5 to require producers to pay the disposal costs of the products or materials they place on the market, and for these costs to be varied according to the design or consumption of the products. Through the costs that producers pay, they can be incentivised to design and manufacture products that use fewer materials, that include more recycled materials, and are much easier to recycle and break down, so that the parts can be reused elsewhere.

In my constituency, as in many others, I suspect, there is often difficulty getting recycling plants put in. I completely agree with the Bill’s intention to shift the cost to producers. However, what proposals are there to get recycling plants and places to process the waste, paid for by the producers, put in the right places? One could spend all the money one likes, but if there is nowhere to get the waste recycled, it cannot be recycled.

I thank my hon. Friend. He touches on the crux of the matter. This is all-encompassing. We are driving towards what we call a circular economy. That is the purpose of the measures on waste and resources. They will ensure consistent collections, though we have not got on to that yet, and require products to be more recyclable, but we will need them to be collected and recycled. That will drive the demand for those plants to be established in the right place. Things will join up much better than they do today. That is what the measures in the Bill are all about. I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important point. This should make the whole procedure a more complete circle.

Do the Government intend to invest in some of those recycling centres, or is the intention to leave it to the private sector to fill that need? That is a topic I have been pursuing lately and I am interested to hear the Minister’s views.

That topic is not referenced in the Bill. Those are issues relating to how the regulations will work when it comes to producer responsibility and deposit return. Local authorities will still play a huge role, but the great point is that they will not be responsible for all the costs any more. What is brilliant is that the costs will be shifted on to the businesses. They will then be forced to design products that are much easier to recycle. That brings us again to the circular economy. I thank the hon. Lady for raising another good point.

The measures will help us to tackle waste from the beginning of the life cycle, and complement measures elsewhere in the Bill that support the later stages of that cycle. There are also powers in schedule 7 that will allow resource efficiency requirements to be placed on specified products. Those requirements will relate to factors such as the materials from which the product is manufactured, and the resources consumed during its production. For instance, thinking off the top of my head, one could say that clothing or textiles must contain a certain amount of recycled fibre. There could be a requirement to use fewer virgin materials or more recycled materials in the manufacture of the product.

I am pleased that the hon. Member for Putney welcomes the schedule. It is great to have that positivity, and I applaud her work on food waste. It is very exciting that it will become law for food waste to be collected. That will be an important part of the Bill, because while some local authorities, such as mine in Taunton Deane, do collect it, loads do not. Much of it ends up in landfill, giving off emissions. We could make so much better use of it, and could focus attention on how much food waste is produced, which is frankly shocking.

Is the Minister’s example of requiring a certain proportion of textiles to include recycled materials now a policy?

I was just giving a random example, off the top of my head. I do not see any policies written here. Is the hon. Gentleman trying to catch me out?

If it is any comfort to the Minister, she was deviating slightly from the content of the amendment.

I was, and I thought the Chairman was going to interrupt me when I mentioned all the food.

Finally, schedule 4 allows us to set obligations on producers in relation to reuse, redistribution, recovery and recycling. All that will contribute to a more resource-efficient economy. For those reasons, I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment.

I am grateful for the Minister’s reassurance, in which she stressed the importance of the cyclical nature of the production of goods. We must break the cycle of new, new, new. I am risking the wrath of the Chair, but when I sat on the Environmental Audit Committee, we had an investigation and report into the throwaway nature of the fashion industry; that is very relevant to the Bill.

I thank the hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden, my hon. Friend the Member for Putney and the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith for mentioning the importance of recycling centres. There is no point in everyone sorting their recycling at home if there is nowhere to recycle things. That is an important part of the process, which is why we will press after the legislation is enacted to ensure that happens. Having received the Minister’s reassurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move amendment 159, in schedule 4, page 151, line 32, after “be” insert “prevented, reduced,”.

As you might notice, the amendment is very similar to others put before the Committee today. It focuses on the strength of the language that Ministers have chosen to use in the Bill. In recent days, my hon. Friends the Member for Southampton, Test and for Cambridge and I have said that we will hold Ministers to their promise to deliver a once-in-a-generation Bill. “Once in a generation” means it has to be big, bold and comprehensive. That is why we are calling on the Minister to use the strongest language in the Bill. I implore the Minister to be ambitious and bold in the text that is used.

I want to be helpful. I want the Minister to be able to sing from the rooftops about the Bill. I hope she will acknowledge the Opposition’s willingness to make it an even better Bill that really delivers for people across the whole UK. Let us not limit ourselves to moving things around, or shuffling deckchairs on the Titanic. Let us use this Bill to deliver real, long-term change.

The amendment would add “prevented” and “reduced” to the Bill, so that it does not just say “reused” and “redistributed”. We want the country to cut its reliance on plastics and paper, and to tackle waste in a meaningful way. Once again, the amendment will help deliver a strong Environment Bill with a strong schedule 4.

As my hon. Friend has described so well, the amendment would widen the powers, so that producer responsibility regulations allowed targets for waste prevention and reduction, not just reusing and recycling. That is absolutely vital to achieving real carbon reduction and real waste reduction.

Waste prevention focuses on reducing the amount of waste generated from the source. It involves looking at manufacturing, processing, packaging, storage, recycling and disposal processes, to identify opportunities to manage waste and minimise the impact on the environment.

Although this looks like a minor amendment, the two words to be added would create another dimension to the powers of the Bill and the impacts it covers. activities would include mapping packaging and production waste to inform and develop good practice, and developing recommendations and strategies for prevention, recovery and reuse. The words “prevention” and “reduction” are essential for doing that. An example from real life is utensils. The measures would look not just at plastic utensils and how to deal with them when they are thrown away, but reusing utensils from the start, so there is no re-packaging to look at. I have been campaigning about nappies, which form a huge part of our landfill. Preventing the use of disposable nappies would incentivise producers. “Prevention” could be a game-changing additional word in the Bill. A home composting scheme run by my neighbouring borough of Lambeth looks at the prevention of waste right from the beginning, in the home.

This provision would enhance the Bill. I endorse the addition of the words “prevented” and “reduced” .

I want to add a little bit of context to amendment 159. As my hon. Friends the Members for Putney and for Newport West have already mentioned, it increases the dimension within which these issues can be considered in terms of targets. It does so not by an accidental addition of words, but essentially by adding what is in the Government’s White Paper “Our waste, our resources: a strategy for England”, which was published in 2018.

In that White Paper, the Government fully embrace the notion of the waste hierarchy, and the document contains lots of good charts to illustrate it. At the bottom of the waste hierarchy are things such as landfill. Moving up the hierarchy, we find energy from waste, which is still pretty low in the hierarchy; after that, it is necessary to start recycling. From a policy point of view, measures should always drive waste as far up the hierarchy as possible. If it is possible to recycle waste, rather than putting it into an incinerator as an alternative to burying it in the land, that is what should be done. If, however, there is residual waste that cannot be incinerated or recycled—there is some of that in the waste stream—it should be put into landfill, but only on a residual basis. We would hope that over time, the amount of waste going into landfill will be virtually nil, because we have moved up the waste hierarchy in terms of how the system works.

In the waste hierarchy, there are two other categories above recycling: reducing and preventing. The best way to handle a waste stream is to make sure that there is less waste in it in the first place, and that it contains only things that cannot be reused or prevented from arising. At that point, we would be dealing, pretty much, with a residual waste stream when it came to volume and climate change energy considerations. In the whole waste stream, the only waste to be addressed would be residual waste from a largely circular economy, in which products are designed to come apart so that the parts can be put to other uses, and, through industrial symbiosis, products that one company views as waste are presented to other organisations as raw material.

That process is possible only if product design or articulation allows it to happen. For example, the expectation would be that a vehicle could be taken apart and all the components—even if they are made of different elements, and they are not all metal or plastic—would be sufficiently pure and reusable to be used as the raw material for something else straight away. As we will discuss later, that is particularly important with the coming upon us of electric vehicles. If electric vehicles cannot be taken apart—in particular, if their batteries cannot be taken apart to recover the rare earth elements, lithium and other materials for use in other batteries, so that they are not put into the waste stream in the first place—we are not very far down the line of recycling.

Reuse is immensely important in the waste hierarchy. It sits only marginally behind the reduction of packaging and the reduction of unnecessary elements in manufacture, by careful design, to ensure that a product uses the minimum amount of material that is compatible with that material’s life. If we do those things, we will have a complete waste hierarchy in operation. The two words that would be added by the amendment are essential components of that hierarchy. I am not saying anything particularly novel or different, because that is the process the Government have adopted in their waste strategy.

My hon. Friend speaks with passion and experience on this issue. This is not novel, so I have found myself wondering, exactly as he does, why those words have been excluded. Would he care to speculate on why the Government would choose not to have them in the Bill?

My hon. Friend, as always, makes an important point about what is and is not in the legislation. I would expect him to have similar views about other words. It seems plain to me that if the waste hierarchy is to be adopted, all the components of that hierarchy must be in the description. They are not there, and I cannot speculate on why not. It may be that those who drafted the Bill were not fully aware of the waste White Paper when they sat down late at night to write that passage. If they were not, they should have been. The amendment would offer an opportunity to rectify that omission. We are not suggesting that there was any malevolent intention; perhaps it is just an omission. I hope the Minister can oblige us by ensuring that the words sit proudly in the Bill, alongside Government policy.

I thank the hon. Member for Newport West for the proposed amendment. Although I recognise the intentions behind it, I must disagree with it. She pressed the Government to be as ambitious as possible, and I assure her that we are being ambitious. I am delighted that we think in the same way in wanting the highest ambition; I like to think that we are as one on that.

I do not believe we need the amendment. The power, as drafted, already allows us to place obligations, including targets, on producers to prevent waste or to reduce the amount of a product or material that becomes waste. Paragraph 2(2) gives examples of how targets may be set. They include, but are not limited to, the setting of targets to increase the proportion of a product or material that is reused, redistributed, recycled or recovered to prevent it from becoming waste. Those examples do not prevent the powers in schedule 4 from being used to set targets in relation to preventing waste from being produced, or reducing the amount of waste that is produced.

Producer responsibility obligations could be set as targets to incentivise producers to prevent or reduce waste, but they do not have to be set only as targets. We can all get a bit hung up on targets. Targets are important, but we could use the powers, for example, to require producers to take specific action to tackle waste, such as by requiring retailers to take back products. There is a lot of work in this space in the area of electronic waste, where department stores are expected to take back products. Another possibility could be single-use cups, once they have been used. Obligations such as this should create a strong incentive to create less waste in the first place: I think we are all agreed that that is what we are driving towards.

The hon. Member for Putney made a similar case about the circular economy. I applaud her work on nappies; I was one of those mothers. I have three children, and—this was a long time ago, when people were not talking about this sort of thing—with my first child, I used only washable nappies. Can you imagine, Mr Gray, how much work that was? Oh my goodness—not to mention the smell! I am not digressing, because this is all relevant. I was a news reporter at the time, and I interviewed a lady who had set up a business making these nappies, so I thought, “I am going to use those.” In fact, I think I used my child allowance support to pay for them. That was what I had decided I would do, but it was a labour of love.

The point is that through all these measures in the Bill, manufacturers of any product will be driven to think about what is in it. For example, are nappies made of recycled material? Do they have recycled content? Could they be reused? Are they washable? The Bill will drive everyone to think like that.

Did he?

The hon. Member for Putney also raised an important point about garden waste. We have now legislated for garden waste to be collected: that is in clause 54.

I also wanted to give a quick résumé about the life cycle issue that the hon. Member for Southampton, Test touched on. He mentioned the waste hierarchy, which is basically driving towards a circular economy. That is the driving force of the resources and waste strategy, and it is the intention behind the Bill. I will whizz through the related measures in the Bill, which are about raw material, extraction and manufacturing.

The resource efficiency requirement power enables standards to be set that relate to the materials and techniques used by manufacturers, such as specifying the minimum amount of recycled fibre in clothing, as we mentioned earlier. The resource efficiency information power will drive the market by providing consumers and businesses with the information they need to make sustainable choices. I can see my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester looking at me; in order for him to be able to make the right choices, he wants to know how sustainable a product is, so that he can buy that one as opposed to another one. There will be more information and more labelling.

On end of life, the resource efficiency powers can be used to specify that products are designed so that when they reach end of life, they can easily be dismantled—exactly as the hon. Member for Southampton, Test has outlined—and the materials can be recovered and recycled. Our powers for deposit return, extended producer responsibility and recycling collections would enable better management of products and materials at the end of life. That will increase reuse and recycling, and it will reduce the amount of material that is incinerated or landfilled.

Preventing waste from being created in the first place and reducing the amount of waste that is produced is a priority for the Government. That is why we have stated our ambition to achieve zero avoidable waste by 2050. We will do this though the measures set out in the resources and waste strategy—we seek the powers for some of those in this Bill—and through other initiatives such as the new waste prevention programme, which we hope to publish and consult on in the near future. On all those grounds, I ask the hon. Member for Newport West if she might withdraw her amendment.

What an enlightening debate we have had. In terms of one-upmanship, dare I say it, my hon. Friend the Member for Putney has managed reusable nappies for four children. This debate has been useful, and it is good to have all the ideas, because only by putting all our heads together can we make this Environment Bill ground-breaking. We want it to work, and that is why our amendments are designed to help, not to hinder.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test made the important point that as well as recycling, the reusing of goods, parts and components is crucial. People want to do the right thing. Since programmes such as “Blue Planet” have come along, people are much more aware of pollution and how they can play their part. They want to do the right thing, and this Bill must make it easy for them to do so.

The Minister mentioned garden waste. At the risk of blowing Wales’s trumpet, Wales already has a successful garden waste scheme—in fact, recycling rates in Wales are very high—so perhaps she can look across the border. She also mentioned targets. If we do not have targets, how do we know if we are getting to the end of the road? How will we know if we are improving unless we set targets in the first place? We should set targets not to be punitive, but to help us to assess our progress; that is why they are important. We believe that the amendment is also important, so we will press it to a Division.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

I beg to move amendment 160, in schedule 4, page 154, line 38, leave out “any” and insert “specified”.

This amendment is very similar to others that have been tabled. It focuses not on the strength of language, but rather on the choice of language that Ministers have opted for in this Bill. By leaving out “any” and inserting the word “specified”, we are looking to ensure that we deliver results, rather than a scattergun or “we hope” approach. The amendment is relatively straightforward, so the Chair will be pleased to know that I will not go on when I do not need to. I hope that Ministers will take the amendment in the spirit in which it is intended, because we want the Bill to have teeth and to be effective. Above all, we want it to be useful and to deliver, so this amendment seeks to ensure we are focused on results, not just on good intentions and misplaced hope. As I have said, “once in a generation” means that the Bill has to be bold, big and comprehensive, so we call on the Minister to use the right language. We believe that the amendment will help to deliver a stronger Environment Bill, with a strengthened schedule 4.

I thank the hon. Lady for the amendment, but I reassure her and the Committee that it is not needed. Paragraph 11(2) provides the ability to specify in regulations the activities that count as recovery. That means that the way in which energy is to be obtained from a product or material can be specified in regulations. The power is designed to be flexible, given the broad range of possible products on which we may decide to impose producer responsibility obligations. I reassure her that in making any regulations, it would be our intention to impose regulations on producers in relation to options higher up the waste hierarchy, such as prevention, reuse and recycling—all the things that we discussed earlier—as a first priority. In simple terms, it means that we will be encouraging the prevention, reuse and recycling of waste over energy recovery. I therefore ask her to withdraw the amendment.

Having heard the Minister’s words, I am somewhat reassured, but not entirely. We will therefore not press for a Division. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 4 agreed to.

Clause 48 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 5

Producer responsibility for disposal costs

I beg to move amendment 17, in schedule 5, page 157, line 9, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

Earlier this afternoon, I noted how important the Bill is and how we need to ensure that it receives thorough scrutiny, so that it is as strong and coherent as it can be. With that in mind, we need to do what I urged the Committee to do earlier: get the Bill right, so that we honour and meet the promise of a once-in-a-generation piece of legislation. I remind the Minister that she and her colleagues heralded that promise at every opportunity, until the Bill disappeared in March, only to return now.

That is why we are proposing the amendment. As I noted with amendment 16 to schedule 4, we must not rest on our laurels. We cannot have a Bill that is simply made up of passive and weak “mays” and “coulds”; we need the “wills” and “musts”. The fact that we have waited so long, listening to campaigners and those active in the sector, means that we cannot waste the opportunity to deliver a strong, wide-ranging and competent piece of legislation.

I thank the hon. Lady for her amendment, but I reassure her that we feel it is not needed. The Government need the flexibility—I have mentioned this before—to decide what measures will best deliver the outcomes we want to see achieved. Requiring producers to pay disposal costs in all cases might not be the appropriate option.

The power is drafted to give flexibility to choose the appropriate measure, or combination of measures, for any product. It also gives us the flexibility to decide for which products or materials producers must pay disposal costs, the producers who must pay the disposal costs, the costs that they must pay and what those costs should be.

At this point, I will take a step back to reflect on what the measures will actually mean. The powers will allow us to create a strong financial incentive for businesses to do the right thing. I have spoken with businesses, and of course they want strong signals, because without them they will not be inclined to invest, innovate or go in the direction that we want them to go. That is so important.

The measures will encourage producers such as supermarkets to reduce the packaging they use in their products, so that less waste is produced. Everybody will start thinking about their products and their packaging, because they have to be responsible for what happens to it at the end of the day. It would be in the best interests of manufacturers to make products that are more reusable and recyclable. Thinking back to nappies, if they are to be reusable or rewashable, they could contain recycled fabric—in fact, that is a jolly good idea, and someone is probably already doing it. That is just an example. Such decisions should all have sustainability in mind, and the customers will see that—with the new labelling and all the information—in the products that they buy.

I can therefore reassure the hon. Member for Newport West that the Government have every intention of making regulations using schedule 5. The resources and waste strategy also commits us to reviewing and consulting on measures, including extended producer responsibility for five other waste streams by the end of 2025. Those five include textiles, construction materials and fishing gear. Along with the other products in that list, they have all been highlighted as urgent areas that could do with this kind of focus.

We need to retain the flexibility to introduce product-specific regulations using the appropriate powers, and as drafted, this power provides the flexibility to impose extended producer responsibility obligations where it is appropriate to do so. I hope that is helpful, and I therefore ask the hon. Lady whether she might withdraw her amendment.

I thank the Minister for her words, and respectfully say that strong signals sometimes need to be backed up with strong words, which is why we wanted to amend the wording of the schedule to “must”, not “may”. However, that point having been made again, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move amendment 161, in schedule 5, page 157, line 13, leave out from first “the” to end of sub-paragraph (2) and insert

“social costs incurred throughout the lifecycle of the products or materials.”

As the Committee will know, schedule 5 allows the relevant authority to make regulations that require

“those involved in manufacturing, processing, distributing or supplying products or materials”

to

“meet, or contribute to, the disposal costs”

of those products. This is all about the journey, from start to finish, of the materials that we all rely on every day, even when we do not think about it. We have already had ample examples of the kinds of recyclable things we need to consider. I have to say to the Minister and her colleagues that the issues covered by this amendment will be mentioned both now and in coming days, because the Bill lacks foresight in a number of areas, but particularly when it comes to assessing the whole life cycle. That is particularly important, and it should be part of this Bill.

Thinking through this amendment and the background to it reminded me of recent events in Sri Lanka. That reminder was further reinforced when I received the answer to a written parliamentary question that I tabled to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—for those who may be interested, it was question 109651. I asked the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

“what discussions he has had with his Sri Lankan counterpart on the 21 containers of waste returned to the UK from that country in September 2020.”

The answer I received from the hon. Member for Taunton Deane was as follows:

“The Environment Agency (EA), as the competent authority for waste shipments for England, is proactively engaging with the authorities in Sri Lanka on these containers and is leading the response on this matter.

The 21 containers arrived back in England on Wednesday 28 October. The containers, which were shipped to Sri Lanka in 2017, were found by Sri Lankan authorities to contain illegal materials described as mattresses and carpets which had been exported for recycling. With the shipment now back on English soil, EA”—

that is, the Environment Agency—

“enforcement officers will seek to confirm the types of waste shipped, who exported it and the producer of the waste. Those responsible could face a custodial sentence of up to two years, an unlimited fine, and the recovery of money and assets gained through the course of their criminal activity.”

That was the answer I received from the Minister, and the issues it covers show why this amendment is so necessary. There are some parts that I will be following up on outside this Committee, but its arrival in my inbox was timely for today’s debate.

The Minister’s answer to the question demonstrates that waste and the issues that go with it simply do not disappear. Containers that left the United Kingdom in 2017 and travelled across the world are now coming back to cause trouble. This Bill can design out some of those issues if Ministers want it to, and this amendment would help to ensure that it does. We need to ensure that the life journey of the materials used is followed through by their producers from start to finish, focusing not just on the waste element but on the production and useful lifetime element of these issues. I urge the Minister to think about the social costs of the issues we are discussing, not just the environmental costs. Many of these issues require a cohesive and coherent approach that deals with a number of different factors, and I hope the Minister will give proper consideration to this.

As the Committee will know from the papers, this amendment is relatively self-explanatory, but it is important, and I hope the Minister will give it serious consideration. Once again, our amendment will help to deliver a strong Environment Bill with a strengthened and more comprehensive schedule 5.

We moved this amendment to urge the Government to go that bit further in their ambition for this Bill. We have gone this far—we have set up the office, and have put in place all of these schedules and provisions—and by going just a little bit further, we could achieve so much more. Including

“social costs incurred throughout the lifecycle of the products or materials”

in schedule 5 would make a great difference.

The Local Government Association also believes that this schedule does not go quite far enough. It is concerned that litter and fly-tipping of discarded packaging is not included in the schedule, and that greater clarity on what producer responsibility will cover is needed. It also questions why the Bill does not currently include the term “full net cost”. There is a commitment to pay local authorities, but it should set out clearly that producers will be required to pay the full net cost to councils. To achieve that, the schemes should seek to reduce consumption of materials in the first instance, reducing the full life cycle impacts arising from sectors and product groups.

That is why I urge the Minister and her Government colleagues to consider supporting amendment 161, which would address this omission by factoring social costs into the fees, alongside environmental effects. It would also ensure that fees are implemented across the full life cycle of products and packaging, rather than just, as we have said in previous amendments, the end of life impact. Such a change would incentivise responsible and sustainable design to minimise these costs in the first place and enhance the environment for us all.

Just to add to my colleagues’ excellent expositions, I draw the Committee’s attention to the wording of the schedule. It is headed “Producer responsibility for disposal costs”—fair enough. Paragraph 1(2) talks about

“the disposal costs of the products or materials”.

It is then as if the framers of the schedule thought, “Hang on a minute, is that what we really want to do?”, because paragraph 2(2) says:

“In this Schedule the ‘disposal’ of products or materials includes their re-use, redistribution, recovery or recycling.”

In order to continue with the way that the schedule is set out, the framers have had to mangle the English language to such an extent as to make it unrecognisable. A reasonable dictionary definition of “disposal” is “the action or process of getting rid of something”. The whole point about the circular economy and the waste hierarchy is to avoid doing that as much as possible in processing waste. Rather, one should try to recycle it, reuse it and keep it in life. It should go round the circular economy for as long as possible.

This schedule therefore looks like it is facing the wrong way in its whole outlook. The amendment goes some way to putting that right by emphasising that it is about the whole life of the product: what happens after it has been used the first time and how it can best fit into the circular economy definition of continuing with its use in the economy, so that new materials do not have to be brought in because the previous materials have been disposed of.

I suggest that the amendment is tremendously helpful, because it puts right the mangling that has gone on to get the schedule into existence in the first place. While paragraph 2(2) goes some way to un-mangle the phrase, the amendment completely un-mangles it. It emphasises what we should all emphasise—indeed, it is policy to emphasise—namely the whole life; the circular life of products that go round and round in the economy.

I hope the Minister will accept the amendment in the positive spirit in which it is intended. Among other things, it will restore to the Bill what most members of the public would consider to be the meaning of the word “disposal”. It is quite important that we ensure that legislation is not just intelligible to the general public, but can be received by them in the spirit in which it was put forward—that is, that they understand a particular phrase to mean what they think it means, not what someone somewhere in a building far away has invented it to mean because they could not get it right in the first place.

First, I thank the hon. Member for Newport West for withdrawing her previous amendment and not pushing it to a vote. I thank her for her consideration of this particular amendment, but I would like to reassure her and the Committee that I do not believe it is necessary.

The hon. Lady is absolutely right: it is important that as a society we monitor and address social issues relating to the manufacture of products and materials. In the UK, we address them through legislation, such as the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and the Human Rights Act 1998. Other initiatives, such as the United Nations’ International Labour Organisation and the Forest Stewardship Council, look to tackle those issues on a global scale.

However, the core focus of extended producer responsibility is to encourage producers to take actions that will help to protect and improve the environment, including paying the costs of managing products at the end of their life and improving the design of products to make them recyclable or increase the amount of recycled material that they contain—all the things that we have mentioned previously. Recycling rates will then increase and the supply of secondary material will increase.

I will quickly address the issue that the hon. Lady touched on about Sri Lanka. I just want to highlight that it is a manifesto commitment, which we will implement through this Bill, to ban all exports of plastic waste to non-OECD countries. That is in clause 59, I think—I cannot read my writing. I have terrible writing.

I am grateful to the Minister, because this is very important and the hon. Member for Newport West was right to raise it. Those of us who have responsibilities as trade envoys are very conscious of some of the damage done to relationships with overseas countries, particularly Commonwealth countries, where waste has effectively been dumped by local councils. That is partly due to the supply chain for waste disposal. Does the Minister agree that this Bill will make real steps forward in tackling that problem?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue. The hon. Member for Putney touched on litter, and I was going to say that this is a very wide subject—waste, hazardous waste, export of waste, litter—and clauses 60 to 68 deal with a whole lot of those issues, so we will discuss them at length when we get to them. However, we are mindful of what my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester says, and there are measures in the Bill to really get to grips with some of those things, which are rightly important, especially for our global standing, as he says with his trade envoy hat on. I know he does such great work representing us, so I thank him for that.

I must disagree with the hon. Member for Southampton, Test about words being mangled. The only thing that we want mangled is the waste, so that we can take it apart and turn it into something else. I completely disagree that the words have been mangled by those who have so carefully drafted the legislation. I will highlight the fact that the extended producer responsibility scheme and the requirements to cover the full net disposal costs of their products and materials when they become waste will encourage producers to make these changes that we all want to the design and the materials that will have an impact on the whole supply chain. That is the purpose of all this. That will then increase the supply of materials for recycling and the quality of material for recycling, by reducing contamination and the use of hard-to-recycle products and materials. The whole circular system will be dealt with, so I take issue with his mangling suggestion.

At the end of the day, our supply chains will be strengthened in secondary materials, which is so important that we will then give investors the signal and the confidence they need to invest in our UK recycling industry, so we can put the recycling units that my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden mentioned everywhere they are required and companies such as Coca-Cola can have all the PET plastic they want to make all the bottles they would like to make from good-quality recycled plastic. It is difficult to get hold of enough of many those things now, but when we get these measures in place, the idea is that it will all be sorted out. I can see the hon. Member for Cambridge smiling at me, but I know he knows that I am on the right track.

My hon. Friend the Minister made a good point about making sure that the costs to the private sector involved in helping us recycle more come to a level at which it is important for them to invest. The fringe benefits from that are massive. Many of the recycling centres that previously sent waste to landfill are now available for all sorts of green energy projects including solar, hydrogen and onshore wind. It will make a huge difference in my constituency of Gloucester, so I am grateful for what she says about how the Bill will help that.

I thank my hon. Friend for mentioning his constituency and for raising that important point about how we need to get business on board, and how we need to give the right signals and get the right things to happen to move us to the circular economy. At the end of the day, we want less waste landfilled or incinerated, less litter and a decrease in the use of virgin raw materials. These outcomes bring wider social benefits —touching on amendment 17—as they improve the environment for the public and for wildlife. They also reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For all of these reasons, the measures in the Environment Bill are strong enough as they stand, and it follows that social issues such as poor conditions for workers are considered outside the scope of extended producer responsibility. I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment.

I thank the Minister for her explanation and I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Putney for highlighting the issues of litter and fly-tipping, which really vex people. My inbox is full of complaints about such issues as are, I am sure, those of most Members here if their constituency is anything like mine. It is important that the quality of people’s environment is enhanced and made as good as possible. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test: as he points out, the wording is important. People outside these walls do not fully understand what the Bill is trying to say: the word “disposal”—as he says—is in the dictionary and it means getting rid of something, but we want to make sure that we have a cyclical economy. We come back to making sure that words matter.

I was pleased to hear the Minister highlight the manifesto pledge not to dump rubbish in non-OECD countries. It raises the issue of whether it will go to OECD countries, but that is obviously important. I was also pleased to hear COP26 raised. It is important that the UK sets a shining example to the rest of the world on that, and that is why we are pushing amendment 17: it is so important that we make sure we get it right at this stage so that, as has been mentioned, future generations look back on the Environment Bill with pride. We will be seeking to divide the Committee.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Schedule 5 agreed to.

Clause 49

Producer responsibility for disposal costs

Amendment made: 38, in clause 49, page 29, line 36, leave out “Assembly” and insert “Senedd”.—(Rebecca Pow.)

See Amendment 28.

Clause 49, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 6

Resource efficiency information

I beg to move amendment 18, in schedule 6, page 161, line 21, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

This is another “may” and “must” amendment. Hon. Members are familiar with the arguments, so I will not rehearse them at this late hour of the day. In moving the amendment, I am adding to the pile on the Minister’s desk. I ask her to consider whether, even at this late hour, it might be a good idea to start putting in a few more “musts” than was the case previously. I hope the Minister will look at that favourably in the future. I do not wish to push the amendment to a vote.

I thank the hon. Member for his amendment. He is trying at every opportunity to sneak in a “must”, but we share the sentiment and recognise the importance of taking action to improve the design of products—that is what this is all about—including by mandating the provision of information relating to resource efficiency on products. Given the pace of change and the need for flexibility in deciding where regulation is necessary, however, it is not appropriate to insert a requirement that we must take such action across the board for all products, nor to specify a list in advance. Our intention is to use this power to set resource efficiency information requirements where they will give the greatest impact. I can reassure the hon. Member that we are committed to doing that.

I am pleased that the first anticipated use of the information power will mandate labelling to show the recyclability of packaging, which I know is a source of stress for many households, including my own. In fact, I go absolutely berserk if I get home and find that my children have gone to a shop where everything is in packets, instead of buying it loose. Labelling and clear messaging about the damage that some packaging can do would get the message through.

The Government are considering how we should implement these measures beyond packaging, and we want to ensure that, where requirements for more information are introduced, it will have significant positive impacts on the environment. We expect that some industries will be motivated to proactively settle or improve their standards for products. Where industry does not, however, these powers will enable us to set mandatory requirements in future. It has to be said that lots of supermarkets are already looking at what they can do to reduce their packaging, which is to be welcomed.

For those reasons, it is appropriate to take regulation-making powers, rather than impose a duty on the Government to set standards. Primary legislation consistently takes such an approach to the balance of powers—what may be done; a duty is what must be done—and this power is no different. This approach will provide sufficient flexibility to implement or modify requirements at different times for different products, and within a reasonable timespan. Additionally, it will facilitate the making of separate provisions for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland should the devolved Administrations wish to exercise this power.

On those grounds, I ask the hon. Member whether she would kindly withdraw the amendment.

We now come to amendment 226, which the sharp-eyed will have seen is not on the selection list. That is because it is what is known in the trade as a starred amendment, which means that it was tabled after the cut-off date last Thursday. I have nevertheless taken the view that it is appropriate to debate it under schedule 6, which we have now reached. I call Alan Whitehead to move the amendment.

While he is finding his feet, it may help the hon. Gentleman if he looks at page 8 of the amendment paper, where he will see that amendment 226 amends schedule 6, line 7.

I beg to move amendment 226, page 162, line 7, schedule 6, after “product” insert

“and the expected total environmental impact the product will have throughout its life”.

This amendment requires manufacturers or sellers to evaluate the environmental impact of a product throughout its life cycle, alongside the expected life of the product.

The amendment speaks for itself. As the Chair has kindly reminded us, it concerns the overall life of the product, not specific moments in the life of that product. As hon. Members know from stories such as the 5,000-mile yoghurt pot, the overall life of a product includes a range of travel, processing and other activities before it gets on to the shelf. Modern arrangements mean that something that looks very simple will have been fabricated in one country, exported to another and further processed there, exported back to the original country and filled with another product, while the lid is added somewhere else during the refrigeration process and then it is back to where it started from. In my constituency, there are many instances of stuff leaving the port in a container, going to the other side of the world for processing and coming back for sale in roughly the place it started out from.

The lifetime of the product is about all the things that happen to it on its journey. The amendment recognises that that is the case and that, in moving towards a circular economy, we need to be mindful that the lifetime of the product is a theme that needs to be seriously taken into account so that we can ensure that it is as efficient, economical, low-carbon and resource-efficient as it can be. That is why we have tabled the amendment.

I am very happy to discuss the amendment in the circumstances outlined by the Chair, and I thank the hon. Member for Southampton, Test for tabling it. The Government recognise the value of providing consumers with information on the expected lifecycle and environmental impact of products. The amendment is not necessary, because the powers in the Bill already allow for that. Indeed, I hope that it is clear from everything we have been talking about that it is the whole lifecycle of the product that will be the key thing once the measures in the Bill are in place.

The resource efficiency powers set out in the Bill enable us to achieve the amendment’s goal. However, the current drafting allows us to provide greater clarity on the aspects of a product’s lifecycle that can be covered, in recognition of what it is practicable and feasible to require. The schedule covers the scope of the powers in relation to lifecycle impacts, including production processes, pollution impact during production, use and disposal, product lifetime and related aspects such as recyclability. There is a broad and comprehensive list of what consumer information could be about. It provides the scope for meaningful and specific provisions relevant to a product’s impact on the natural environment without placing overly complex or impractical requirements on manufacturers.

We want this to be simple for manufacturers and to help consumers make the right choices. It is a two-pronged attack: we want manufacturers to do the right thing, but they need to be able to do it, and we want to give the consumers the information to make the right choices. For example, we could require that items of clothing are sold with information about the resources used to make them, as well as about the pollution—for example, greenhouse gas emissions—arising from a garment’s production, use and disposal. All of those things could be possible. Customers, should they wish, could then use that information to choose products that have less impact on the environment across their life cycle.

I know from talking to people who watch the Attenborough documentaries, and others, that they know about the horrific impacts and consequences of the products they buy. They do not want that to happen, so the information and labelling will really help, as will the whole new life cycle approach that this Bill will introduce. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Southampton, Test to withdraw the amendment, given that the current provisions already do what it suggests.

I am encouraged by the Minister’s response, although I am not sure that the wording is exactly as it should be. I, like, I suspect, her, am very taken by the idea of a backpack on a product. For example, if a pen has a gold nib—unfortunately, my pen has a steel nib, but there we are—it would have a substantial backpack outlining the cost of mining that gold and the amount of resources used, such as oil, in getting the gold out. Everything would have a backpack: some products would have huge backpacks, while others would have smaller ones. I take on board the Minister’s comments. The aim is to start talking about those backpacks and how we relate to products. The life cycle information relates to not just what is in the backpack but how far the backpack has travelled.

This whole subject is interesting. “Product passport” is another term that could cover all that detail. The Bill will also allow us to introduce labelling requirements relating to water use and carbon footprint, so it will open up a wealth of opportunities in the space that the shadow Minister is talking about.

Indeed. That is absolutely right: “passport” is another good way to describe it, although only a limited number of things can be jammed in a passport, whereas rather more things can be jammed in a backpack. The principle, however, is exactly the same, and I am encouraged to hear the Minister speaking of it in that particular way. I do not, therefore, wish to push the amendment to a vote and hope that what the Minister has said is how the schedule will be interpreted in future. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 6 agreed to.

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

Adjourned till Thursday 12 November at half-past Eleven o’clock.