Welcoming the Environment Bill

This week I was to delighted to speak in the landmark Environment Bill debate. The case for tackling biodiversity loss, climate change and the environmental risks to public health is clear. The accelerating impact of climate change in this country and around the world is of profound public concern, as is the damage to nature with species loss, habitat erosion and the disappearance of cherished wildlife.

The Government has already taken action to address climate change by setting a target to reach net zero emissions, leading the way amongst major economies as the first to do so.  This Environment Bill is part of the government response to the clear and scientific case, and growing public demand, for a step-change in environmental protection and recovery.

I welcome the new tools the Environment Bill provides to help manage the impact of human activity on the environment, creating a more sustainable and resilient economy, enabling nature recovery and enhancing well-being and quality of life.

The new statutory cycle of target setting, monitoring, planning and reporting will help deliver significant, long term environmental improvement and ensure government can be held to account for its actions.  CAP payments to farmers need to be replaced with more straightforward financial payments to landowners, incentivising carbon sequestration and improving water management. Focussing on these two areas will lead to healthier soils, better quality food and nature recovery.  I have seen from my visits to many farms in Cornwall that nature recovery goes hand in glove with producing more high-quality food.  Stewardship of the land undertaken by farmers can be as important as that undertaken by our much-valued Cornwall Wildlife Trust.

While Parliament has been taking world leading action on the climate and nature recovery, too few people know where to go to find out what is actually going on and what they can do to help.  This needs to change as, all too often, I see misrepresentation of the facts or even lies being spread. People are missing out on vital information that would enable them to make a positive difference.  It’s not just our air, our water and soil that’s being poisoned – it’s our politics too. The Government needs to invest in easily accessible, independent and expert information on what action is being taken across all sectors of our society to deliver our net zero and nature recovery targets – a detailed road map for each year.  Information is power and I want to enable everyone and every workplace to make informed choices and take action as well as have clear visibility about what the Government and all parts of our society is doing.

After the General Election, we need a unifying national endeavour to bring us all together, and I believe this is it.  But today, this lack of easily accessible, accurate and impartial information is poisoning debate and risks destroying the radical political consensus that currently exists that we must leave our environment in better condition than we found it.

First published in the West Briton 30/10/19

Tackling Climate Change

The case for tackling biodiversity loss, climate change and environmental risks to public health is clear. The accelerating impact of climate change in this country and around the world is of profound public concern, as is the damage to nature with species loss, habitat erosion and the disappearance of cherished wildlife. The Government has already taken action to address climate change by setting a target to reach net zero emissions, leading the way amongst major economy as the first to do so. 

This week the Government brought the Environment Bill to Parliament. This is part of the government response to the clear and scientific case, and growing public demand, for a step-change in environmental protection and recovery. 

The Environment Bill provides new tools to help manage the impact of human activity on the environment, creating a more sustainable and resilient economy, and enhancing well-being and quality of life. It will engage and empower citizens, local government and businesses to deliver environmental outcomes and create a positive legacy for future generations. 

It will transform our environmental governance by creating a new system which is built on international best practice and tailored specifically to a UK context. It embeds environmental principles in future policy making and takes the essential steps needed to strengthen environmental oversight and improve on the way things have been done in the past. The new system will be clear and accessible, providing certainty to businesses and citizens. Environmental principles will work together to protect the environment from damage by making environmental considerations central to the policy development process across government, local and national. The Bill legally obliges policy-makers to have due regard to the environmental principles policy statement when choosing policy options, for example by considering the policies which cause the least environmental harm. 

A new statutory cycle of target setting, monitoring, planning and reporting will help deliver significant, long term environmental improvement and ensure government can be held to account for its actions. Statutory Environmental Improvement Plans (EIPs; the first being the 25 Year Environment Plan) and a new framework for setting long term legally binding targets will be integral to this cycle. The government will set new legally binding targets in four priority areas of the natural environment: air quality; waste and resource efficiency; water and nature. The EIPs and legally binding targets will be reviewed on a five-yearly basis and together they will drive action to significantly improve the natural environment and provide much-needed certainty for businesses and stakeholders. 

In order to strengthen environmental accountability, the Environment Bill will establish a new public body – the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) – as our own independent, domestic watchdog. Through its scrutiny and advice functions, the OEP will monitor progress in improving the natural environment in accordance with the government’s domestic environmental improvement plans and targets. It will be able to provide government with written advice on any proposed changes to environmental law. 

I am pressing the Government to invest in easily accessible digital, independent and expert information on what action is being taking across all sectors to deliver our net zero and nature recovery targets, including a detailed road map for each year. Information is power and I want to enable everyone and every workplace to take action and to hold the Government to account. The U.K. is taking world leading action to ensure we leave our environment in better condition than we found it. Too few people know where to go to find out what is actually going on, what they can do to help and what support is available to help with transition. This needs to change as, all too often, I see misrepresentation of the facts or even lies being spread. People are missing out on vital information that would make a positive difference. 

Post Brexit, we need a unifying national endeavour to bring is all together, and I believe this is it. 

First published in the Falmouth Packet 30/10/19

Update on Brexit

As you might imagine, as we approach the 31st October deadline to resolve Brexit, much of my time in Parliament over the last week has been dominated by this challenge. 

This week the EU Withdrawal Bill was published and set out how we will leave the EU.  This Bill turns the years of negotiated agreements between the UK and EU into legislation.  We also considered the Future Political Declaration that sets out the negotiating parameters for our future relationship with the EU.  Over the past three years, Parliamentarians and Parliamentary Committees have considered these negotiations. 

The Bill and the agreement that it seeks to implement represent a compromise, one that I believe delivers the commitments I made at the last General Election.  I want to ensure that, as we leave the EU, we have a close and special relationship with our neighbours and allies. While we are leaving the EU we are not leaving Europe. 

We need to take account of the shift we are seeing in attitudes among other Governments in the European Union. Those Governments are no longer hanging on, hoping somehow that the United Kingdom is going to change its mind.  They are impatient.  They are increasingly exasperated with all political parties and at the inability of the UK political system to take a decision on this matter. 

I believe EU Governments want Brexit brought to an orderly conclusion as soon as possible in a way that does as little harm as possible to the interests of the EU member nations.  That interest includes the future constructive and close relationship that they, like most people here, want to see. 

There are strategic challenges that face our country and every other European democracy.  Climate change, terrorism, serious and organised crime and the mass movement of people.  As European democracies, we are having to confront those challenges in the context of a shifting balance of world power, with a Russia that is aggressive and actively seeking to divide democratic European states, a China that is assertive and offering economic opportunity but championing a model for government and society at odds with that embedded in our own democratic and liberal values, and a United States whose unquestioning support for European security and a rules-based international order can no longer be taken for granted.  

While we need to get on with the task of trying to build a different but close and enduring partnership with our European neighbours and allies, we also need to work together to meet the challenges that confront us all as fellow democracies on a shared continent.  

Passing the necessary legislation will enable us to take one step closer towards starting on that task. I am pleased that the legislation cleared the first hurdle but frustrated that it is now stalled. 

It is not clear what will happen next, but there will be further delay to our departure from the EU. I will continue to work with MPs of all parties for a resolution. 

First published in the West Briton 23/10/19

Welcoming landmark Environment Bill

The UK leads the world on tackling climate change. We have decarbonised faster than any major economy, reducing our emissions by 38% since 1990. Yet we know we need to go further and faster, which is why Parliament supported the world-leading net zero target.

Now the Government must outline a strategy, concrete policies and a road map on how we are going to get there. Climate change and decline of our nature is the most serious threat we face. Unchecked, it will lead to more extreme weather events such as floods and droughts, damage precious natural habitats, and cause sea levels to rise. The response must therefore be similarly comprehensive, and action must be taken across our whole economy.

I am confident that we can do this. Why? Because there is comprehensive concern and support for action. We are an imaginative, creative, innovative nation and have what it takes to rise to this challenge. It’s an opportunity to grow our economy more sustainably. What’s good for nature is good for human health and wellbeing.

Every week I have meetings with people from a wide range of organisations – all fully invested in seeing us succeed in meeting our net zero target. In every meeting, there is agreement on what the challenge is and why we need to take action and the conversation moves onto the how and when they can play their part.

If we are to harness this enthusiasm and expertise, we will first and foremost need to provide more information about the Government’s plans. Not everyone will read the 277-page Committee on Climate Change (CCC) net zero report, or even the 630-page Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on the impacts of 1.5 degrees of global warming, or the daily announcements on action to reach net zero coming from different government departments.

It’s hard for businesses, public sector organisations or individuals to find impartial, accurate information about how they can make an impact by making changes. In going for net zero, we need to bring people with us, and that means empowering them to make different choices. The Government can provide that information by sharing its data and expertise on, for example, the smartest way to get to work or school, what local British food is in season and sustainably grown, and the suppliers of the cleanest forms of electricity and heating.

This should be provided in one place, where any individual, councillor, business or student can find out all they need to know to reduce their carbon footprint. Information for business and public sector organisations about how to access support to innovate too.

We have world leading universities and tech companies and I would like the Government to set up an Eco Tech Innovation Fund so we can harness this expertise to create user friendly and accessible apps and websites that seamlessly compile impartial and accurate data and explain what people can do and how they can access support.

Businesses also have an important role to play. It has been great to see businesses come forward with their own net zero targets, such as the water industry which has committed to carbon neutrality by 2030. To give hope to the citizens who are so worried about climate change this information should also be captured so people can see what all sectors of our society are doing. To level up the expectation on all businesses to take action, the Government should require goods for sale to include climate impact on their labelling. The requirement could cover items of food, electronic goods, and so on. It would help consumers make smarter choices when shopping and get companies measuring the carbon footprint of individual products. This will add a cost to business and that is why we must create a level playing field by insisting it is provided. We don’t want to see businesses doing the right thing undercut by those that don’t.

Information is power and will enable every workplace and home to make smarter choices. All this activity needs central coordination and I would like the government to introduce a new ‘net zero test’ for every Budget and Spending Review, to ensure all new government spending and investment is aligned with the target or at least isn’t harming decarbonisation efforts. The Government could ask the independent Office for Budgetary Responsibility (OBR) to scrutinise whether the test was being met.

All the businesses I speak with want some clarity and certainty about what the government wants them to do, so they can start pricing in the changes they will need to make. Many see this as an opportunity not only to do the right thing but to innovate and reach new markets. Government departments and their arm’s length bodies should lead by example by making their buildings more energy efficient and switching to low emission transport. This will save money as well as carbon.

The climate change movement fails when it fails to bring people with it. As we saw in France, we have to make it clear why action to tackle climate change matters and ensure people aren’t left behind as we transition to new cleaner industries. It can’t just be about distant international summits with acronyms that few people understand. When the UK hosts the international UN climate summit in Glasgow next year, it must ensure that every sector of society, everyone is involved in the conversation. With an issue as big as climate change, we need everyone’s collective brainpower to find the right solutions and we must have everyone on board if we hope to implement them.

Post Brexit we need a unifying national purpose and I believe this is it. By enabling comprehensive action across the whole of society, with everyone involved, we can now start rebuilding a truly United Kingdom. One we can all be proud of.

First published in the Falmouth Wave November 2019 edition

Welcoming the new Environment Bill

The case for tackling biodiversity loss, climate change and environmental risks to public health is clear. The accelerating impact of climate change in this country and around the world is of profound public concern, as is the damage to nature with species loss, habitat erosion and the disappearance of cherished wildlife.

The Government has already taken action to address climate change by setting a target to reach net zero emissions, leading the way amongst major economies as the first to do so. This week the Government brought forward the Environment Bill. This is part of the government response to the clear and scientific case, and growing public demand, for a step-change in environmental protection and recovery.

The Environment Bill helps to manage the impact of human activity on the environment, creating a more sustainable and resilient economy, and enhancing well-being and quality of life.  It will engage and empower citizens, local government and businesses to deliver environmental outcomes and create a positive legacy for future generations. The Environment Bill has been prepared through consultations with the public on numerous measures in the Bill, including: environmental governance; the clean air strategy; biodiversity net gain; trees; conservation covenants; extended producer responsibility for packaging; recycling; deposit return schemes and water.

These joined up measures will help us manage the environmental challenges we are facing together. It will transform our environmental governance by creating a new system which is built on international best practice and tailored specifically to a UK context.  The new system will be clear and accessible, providing certainty to businesses and citizens.  The Bill legally obliges policy-makers to have due regard to the environmental principles policy statement when choosing policy options, for example, by considering the policies which cause the least environmental harm. A new statutory cycle of target setting, monitoring, planning and reporting will help deliver significant, long term environmental improvement and ensure government can be held to account for its actions.

Statutory Environmental Improvement Plans (EIPs; the first being the 25 Year Environment Plan) and a new framework for setting long term legally binding targets will be integral to this cycle. We will set new legally binding targets in four priority areas of the natural environment: air quality; waste and resource efficiency; water and nature. The EIPs and legally binding targets will be reviewed on a five-yearly basis and together they will drive action to improve significantly the natural environment and provide much-needed certainty for businesses and stakeholders. In order to strengthen environmental accountability, the Environment Bill will establish a new public body – the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) – as our own independent, domestic watchdog. Through its scrutiny and advice functions, the OEP will monitor progress in improving the natural environment in accordance with the government’s domestic environmental improvement plans and targets. It will be able to provide government with written advice on any proposed changes to environmental law.

First published in the West Briton 16/10/19

Ending domestic abuse

Last week in Parliament I joined the debate on a new Bill that aims to make significant changes in the law and access to services so that preventable suffering and harm caused by domestic abuse and violence ends.

I don’t doubt the collective determination in the House of Commons to stop women and men being killed by their intimate partners or family members.

This Bill starts in the right place. To prevent these deaths and suffering we have to change our culture about relationships. Too many children are growing up in homes (about 1 in 5) where they are witnessing coercive controlling behaviour, abuse and even violence.

This is what love looks like to these children and it’s little wonder that many will go on to be either victims or perpetrators themselves. So ensuring healthy relationships education is given to all children and that many more professionals that come into contact with children are properly trained in domestic abuse and violence, is essential.

So too is access to services to support these children so the cycle can be broken. This will require cross government working and the spending review provides the opportunity for each department to secure the necessary funding to enable this.

In the debate, I highlighted people that I feel are too often ignored when this issue is debated, that is older people and those with disabilities. Age U.K. produced a good report for this debate and it backs up what I have seen in Cornwall. At a recent meeting with the excellent Women’s Centre, we discussed “The 2018 Safer Cornwall Domestic Violence needs assessment update”. It highlighted the underreporting and lack of services for older people and disabled people, living in our remote rural communities.

The report concludes that for people over 81, over half of domestic abuse reported and a fifth of all “violence with injury” offences were committed by the victim’s grown up children. Two of the four homicides committed in the last five years were committed by family members. Clearly more work needs to be done to identify vulnerable adults and support struggling families.

For many years, starting when I was a Director of Age Concern England, I have worked hard to raise the issue of financial and economic abuse of older people by family members and intimate partners. I am delighted that for the first time this type of abuse is included within the legal definition of domestic violence and abuse.

But it’s not just family members committing abuse but trusted, non-paid carers. People who deliberately befriend elderly or vulnerable people so they can abuse them, often economic abuse.

I asked the Home Office Minister to launch a call for evidence to ascertain the prevalence of this abuse and consider including it within the definition of abuse within the Bill. Professional carers are regulated by the Care Quality Commission.

I am grateful for to the many victims and survivors who have worked with me to help bring in this Bill forward.

First published in the West Briton 10/10/19.

Raising the issue of climate change

The UK leads the world on tackling climate change. We have decarbonised faster than any major economy, reducing our emissions by 38% since 1990. Yet we know we need to go further and faster, which is why Parliament supported the world-leading net zero target. Now the Government must outline a strategy, concrete policies and a road map on how we are going to get there.

Climate change and decline of our nature is the most serious threat we face. Unchecked, it will lead to more extreme weather events such as floods and droughts, damage precious natural habitats, and cause sea levels to rise. The impacts could be irreversible. The response must therefore be similarly comprehensive and action must be taken across our whole economy.

I am confident that we can do this. Why? Because there is comprehensive concern and support for action. We are an imaginative, creative, innovative nation and have what it takes to rise to this challenge. It’s an opportunity to grow our economy more sustainably. Every week I have meetings with people from a wide range of organisations fully invested in seeing us succeed in meeting our net zero target.

In every meeting, there is agreement on what the challenge is and the conversation moves onto the how and when they can play their part. If we are to harness this enthusiasm, we will first and foremost need to provide more information.

Not everyone will read the 277 page Committee on Climate Change (CCC) net zero report – or even the 630 page Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on the impacts of 1.5 degrees of global warming – or the daily announcements coming from different government departments. It’s hard for businesses or individuals to find accurate information about how they can make an impact by making changes. In going for net zero, we need to bring people with us, and that means empowering them to make different choices.

The Government can provide that information by sharing its data and expertise on, for example, the smartest way to get to work or school, what local British food is in season and sustainably grown, and the suppliers of the cleanest forms of electricity and heating.

This should be provided in one place, where any individual, council, business or student can find out all they need to know to reduce their carbon footprint. Opportunities for business to access support to innovate.

We have world leading universities and tech companies and I would like the Government to set up a Eco Tech Innovation Fund so we can harness this expertise to create user friendly and accessible  apps and websites that seamlessly compile impartial and accurate data and explain what people can do and how they can access support.

Information is power and will enable every work place and home to make smarter choices.

I would like to see a new role created in the Cabinet Office that coordinates all Government policy and plans to reach net zero. Government should lead by example and each department has a role to play from making their buildings more energy efficient to switching to low emission transport.

Businesses also have an important role to play. It has been great to see businesses come forward with their own net zero targets, such as the water industry which has committed to carbon neutrality by 2030.

The climate change movement fails when it fails to bring people with it. As we saw in France, we have to make it clear why action to tackle climate change matters and ensure people aren’t left behind as we transition to new cleaner industries.

It can’t just be about distant international summits with acronyms that few people understand. When the UK hosts the international UN climate summit in Glasgow next year, it must ensure that every sector of society, everyone is involved in the conversation. With an issue as big as climate change, we need everyone’s collective brainpower to find the right solutions and we must have everyone on board if we hope to implement them.

First published in the House magazine 09/10/19.