Neil was in the House of Commons this week to speak in the remaining stages of the Environment Bill.
Neil tabled two amendments to strengthen provisions in the Bill to tackle deforestation and ensure indigenous communities, in places such as Brazil and Malaysia, are protected from illegal land clearance.
Amendment 26 aimed to ensure the free, prior, and informed consent has been obtained from affected indigenous peoples and local communities, before lenders and investment firms can provide financial services to commercial enterprises harvesting forest risk commodities.
Amendment 27 sought to bar financial institutions from providing financial services to commercial enterprises that illegally deforest land.
Neil’s amendments were supported by a large section of Conservative MPs, opposition parties, and environmental organisations. While the amendments were not pushed to a vote, Neil welcomed the assurances given by Minister Rebecca Pow MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who said:
“On Amendments 26 and 27, I completely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish)… that deforestation must be tackled if we are to achieve our climate and biodiversity targets, and legality is at the heart of our requirements.”
The Bill will now proceed to the House of Lords.
You can watch Neil’s speech here or read it in full below.
You can also read an article published by Neil on why he tabled the amendments here: https://www.devonlive.com/news/news-opinion/hope-government-can-root-out-5458099
Neil Parish MP
“Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. It is a pleasure to speak in this debate.
I welcome the return of the Environment Bill and commend Ministers on bringing it back so quickly after the Queen’s Speech. Let me start by welcoming the recent publication of England trees action plan, which sets out ambitious targets for tree planting. I was pleased to see that it also includes plans to deliver what I have previously described as smart tree planting. What I mean by smart tree planting is not simply planting large numbers of trees, but planting the right trees in the right areas so that they can help to mitigate soil erosion and form natural flood defences. I welcome the fact that new woodlands are to be planted that will enhance biodiversity and have recreational benefits, but I emphasise that trees are also a living crop; we want to see them grow and mature, and we will use them for building our houses and will capture the carbon. I therefore want to see the right varieties planted to form the timber of our future buildings.
While we are rightly going to great lengths to deliver sustainable forestry policy in England, we must not miss the opportunity to send equally ambitious targets to protect forests overseas, many of which are very sadly facing an unprecedented threat. In 2020 alone, some 11,000 sq km of the Amazon were lost to deforestation—the most in 12 years. That is an area nearly twice the size of Devon lost in one year. Large-scale commercial agriculture accounts for a large proportion of that. We cannot allow this to go on.”
Steve Brine MP
“I am very happy to put my name to amendments 26 and 27, in particular amendment 27, on financial services. Many of our constituents will invest Toggle showing location ofColumn 391with and use UK financial institutions, banks and pension funds, and they will have very little sight of the investments that they make around the world that could assist deforestation of the Amazon. Is not the key point that we cannot just rely on transparency—that it is a duty of the House to act, and this legislation is a golden opportunity to do that?”
Neil Parish MP
“My hon. Friend is absolutely right, especially in terms of pension funds. People do not always know which companies their pension funds are investing in and what those companies are investing in—are they investing in Malaysia or in large cattle ranches in Brazil, where deforestation may be taking place? We need to tighten up on this, and I very much welcome his intervention.
Not only are rainforests a carbon sink, but they hold 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity. They help to maintain our delicate global ecosystem, so I am pleased that, as part of the Bill, companies that cause illegal deforestation will be held accountable. The requirement for large companies to undertake due diligence on their supply chains is an important step, but the Bill should go further in tackling the practice.
As Members will know, I have tabled two amendments to the Bill to ensure that the measures have the teeth to tackle the problem. First, amendment 26 proposes that we put into law protections for the rights of indigenous people, requiring that
“free, prior and informed consent has been obtained from affected indigenous peoples and local communities”
before big companies go in and develop land. That is important because, while the Government’s new provisions reference the need for companies to ensure that local laws are respected, they do not consider that the rights of indigenous communities are not always respected in law.
I have visited Brazil; I have seen the trucks going through the forest and the people in the back of them with sub-machine-guns. I can assure the Government that it is not easy for indigenous people to have rights in places where there is no real rule of law in parts. Indeed, 80% of indigenous lands do not yet have secure legal rights. In those places, local people are rightly defending their own land from aggressive development, but at great risk. In February 2019, I had the honour of meeting the chief of the indigenous population in the Amazon. He told me of the daily struggles that he and his people experience in protecting their homes from illegal land clearance. Research shows that more people than ever were killed in 2019 for defending their land. Over 200 were killed—an average of around four people a week. Not only are indigenous people being killed, but many are seeing the land on which their livelihoods depend being destroyed. Amendment 26 would not only save lives but would save livelihoods—something that I know the Government care greatly about. I ask them to look carefully at this issue.
The second measure that I would like the Government to implement to tighten up the Bill is amendment 27. I firmly believe that we must ensure that the legislation includes the financial sector, which is in many cases bank-rolling deforestation in places such as Brazil and Malaysia. If we do not include the financial sector in these measures, we are missing out one of the most integral parts of the supply chain and leaving a large loophole in the law.”