One of the Government’s landmark pieces of legislation passed its final stages in the Commons this week. There were many great contributions from colleagues and I was very pleased to hear from Ministers that they are taking onboard many of these suggestions and will continue to improve the Bill as it progresses through the Lords.
During my contribution, I firstly wanted to pay tribute to the work being done to help improve our air quality. As a London constituency, with heavy congestion, we know this more than most. Legislation such as this is the first step and helps give those such as local councils, who are responsible for driving up our air quality, the powers necessary to achieve this.
I was also very keen to praise the work of my colleague Chris Loder, whose amendment I had supported, has done to raise the issue of plastic waste. I am very conscious to the fact that there is a large disparity in how we recycle in this country and there needs to be a more national approach. The UK is also very rare in the sense that the councils, and so council tax payers, foot the bill for the vast majority of waste collection. We need to see manufactures taking far more responsibility for the waste they generate and as such contributing to cost of its disposal, this sort of arrangement is common place in lots of Europe. Similarly as a nation, we need to take far more responsibility for all of our pollutants, outsourcing to other countries to shift anything off our balance sheets does not help the global environment. That equally goes for plastic waste as it does carbon emissions.
The final area of my speech drew on the need to protect our waterways and the very diverse ecosystems which they house. Many constituents treasure the River Colne as a local beauty spot but the increasing rate of sewer discharge both locally and nationally is a huge concern. This should be an absolute last resort but has almost become standard practice for water companies and it is right that we take tough action to tackle this. I also support all the work my colleague Philip Dunne has done to help address this with his Private Member’s Bill, the Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill.
You can read my full contribution below:
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am a serving local councillor and a vice-president of the Local Government Association, which I will reference during my contribution.
There are many things to be welcomed in the Bill. The first, which is particularly important to my constituents, is that we will see some improvement in air quality as a result of the measures in it. It is clear that, in many respects, legislation is the start, not the finish of a process. Different Departments will issue a great deal of guidance to local authorities and other bodies to set out the mechanics of how the powers will be used and improvements brought about.
On air quality, I particularly highlight the need to ensure that local authorities and any others who are charged with responsibility for implementing the measures, achieving the targets and delivering the plans have meaningful powers that enable them to tackle sources of air pollution. In the context of London, where my constituency is—the capital, which has busy and congested roads—we need to ensure that local authorities have effective powers at their disposal to tackle issues such as vehicle idling, which contributes so much to air pollution, especially near schools, hospitals and other places where vulnerable people are placed at risk.
Let me move on to plastics. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder), who has been very active in bringing issues around plastics to the Government’s attention throughout the debates on the Bill. It is particularly important that local authorities ensure that in the provisions for producer responsibility, sufficient funding finds its way to those who will then be processing the plastic for recycling. Producers in the UK pay very little by comparison with those in most other developed countries in Europe towards the cost of recycling their products, and therefore that cost is heavily subsidised, if not entirely met in many places, by council tax payers. So we should ask those who are making these products that are then polluting our environment to ensure that they are providing the facilities and resources required to make that recycling happen in reality.
On the wider impact on recycling systems, a number of Members welcomed consistency around local authority recycling practices. We need to recognise that the sale of the recyclable elements of household waste already makes a significant contribution to the cost of household waste collections; it affects all our constituents, although there are different systems in use around the country. We need to ensure that programmes such as deposit return schemes do not hit council tax payers by removing so much of the recyclable material from household waste collections that a significant increase in council tax is needed to subsidise that difference. We need to make sure that when that guidance is issued to local authorities it reflects the discharge of their responsibilities on the ground.
I very much support the point made by a number of Members that we need to look at the whole picture for all kinds of goods and services so that we recognise the wider environmental impact, including the impact that might happen elsewhere. We are simply kidding ourselves and our constituents if we are offshoring pollution rather than dealing with it directly by ensuring that what we do in our behaviour and the way we deliver services is reducing the environmental impact.
I finally want to touch on a couple of issues that impact in particular on the natural environment and biodiversity. I very much welcome the work my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) has done in strengthening and making more robust the policy on sewage discharge. The River Colne, a beauty spot that abuts my constituency and is very popular with my constituents, is significantly affected by sewage discharge. Again, we need to ensure that there are effective measures that make a substantial difference.
On biodiversity net gain, I simply make a request to Ministers that when the guidance is issued about how that will be managed through the planning process, we ensure as far as possible that biodiversity gain through planning is maintained locally, so that the local communities that see the impact of the developments in their area also see the benefit of the biodiversity gain envisaged through the planning system.