I am very much supportive of the Environment Bill and the opportunities it presents for Teignbridge, the South West and the country as a whole.
I met recently with the Agriculture Minister to discuss a range of issues relating to both the Environment Bill and the Agriculture Bill currently before Parliament. I found the meeting both engaging and productive while, at the same time, also pushing the minister on issues relevant to our community. This included the need to ensure and secure long term future funding for the sector. As a long term industry, farmers need certainty over the funding available if they are to engage in any future policy with confidence.
I have also had chance to speak in Parliament during debates on the Environment Bill. I raised several points regarding the Bill’s provisions, including welcoming the new Office for Envrionmental Protection. This is conceived of as a new, world-leading independent regulator which will be established in statute to scrutinise environmental policy and law, investigate complaints and take enforcement action when necessary. I made the point that it must have the necessary powers to enforce new regulations, including via significant fines.
I also spoke up for improved water quality testing, which is an issue that has impacted us here in Teignbridge with the dumping of silt at Sprey Point that went on to impact the beaches at Teignmouth. I also welcomed the new, strengthened air quality testing regime proposed in the Bill, and argued for greater clarity around how this will be implemented. This will be a vital step to improving air quality in our area, which in some parts of the constituency is still not good enough.
Leaving the European Union offers a once in a lifetime opportunity for us to reform our agriculture and fisheries management, and also a chance to look at how we restore nature, and care for our land, our rivers and our seas. Therefore, I very much welcome the Government's ambitious 25-year environment plan. Like a number of other colleagues, I have reminded ministers in Defra that rural and farming are not the same thing and it is important not to view them as such. To take one example in the 25-year plan, it is important that we safeguard and enhance the beauty of our natural scenery and improve its environmental value while being sensitive to considerations of its heritage.
It is vital that the Environment Bill enables everyone to have access to high quality natural green space where they live, to contribute to their wellbeing and mental and physical health. This includes educating people on the benefits of being able to access nature and the opportunities that it provides. It should place an overarching duty on all public bodies to secure the maintenance, recovery and restoration of the environment so that the environment is healthy, resilient and sustainable for the benefit of people and wildlife.
I am pleased that Teignbridge District Council have biodiversity off-setting measures in place which ensures that when a development damages nature (and this damage cannot be avoided or mitigated) new nature sites will be created. An example of biodiversity off-setting is the establishment of a Cirl Bunting reserve. The Council has funded the purchase of land, to be managed by the RSPB, as a Cirl Bunting reserve as part of the charity’s long term work to secure the future of the nationally rare bird. The purchase is funded by building developers as compensation for the impact of forthcoming development on Cirl Buntings.
I know that many constituents are keen to see further action on plastics. I am very pleased that the Resources and Waste Strategy sets out Government plans to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste throughout the lifetime of the 25 Year Environment Plan. However for the most problematic plastics the Government will rightly go faster, working towards all plastic packaging placed on the market being recyclable, reusable, or compostable by 2025. In 2019, consultations ran on a number of key policy measures set out in the strategy: reforming existing packaging waste regulations; exploring the introduction of a deposit return scheme for drinks containers; increasing consistency in the recycling system; I am pleased that the Environment Bill includes powers to enable Government to deliver these measures.
On deforestation, I am very pleased that last year the Government set out its approach to tackling deforestation linked to UK demand for products such as cocoa, rubber, soya, and palm oil. Combined, the new package of measures will ensure that greater resilience, traceability and sustainability are built into the UK’s supply chains by working in partnership with other countries and supporting farmers to transition to more sustainable food and land use systems. The measures include the introduction of a new law in the Environment Bill which will require greater due diligence from businesses, and make it illegal for UK businesses to use key commodities if they have not been produced in line with local laws protecting forests and other natural ecosystems. The final, operational details of the proposal will be implemented through secondary legislation, which will be subject to further consultation. This will consider which commodities will be prescribed, the thresholds that determine which businesses will be subject to the requirements, the precise information businesses will be required to report on and the level of fines.
Finally, on animal testing, I am pleased that the UK has been at the forefront of opposing animal tests where alternative approaches could be used. This is known as the "last-resort principle", which will be retained and enshrine in legislation through the Environment Bill. I am also pleased that Ministers are determined that there should be no need for any additional animal testing for a chemical that has already been registered, unless it is subject to further evaluation that shows the registration dossier is inadequate or there are still concerns about the hazards and risks of the chemical, especially to human health.
Please be rest assured that I will continue to make representations to both the Secretary of State and ministers to ensure we use the opportunity of Brexit to create an Environment Bill that will benefit our environment for generations to come.
Thank you once again for taking the time to contact me.