Neil Parish MP has spoken in the Queen’s Speech debate, welcoming the Government’s commitment to a green recovery as we build back from the pandemic.
Neil set out his support for the Environment Bill in particular, ahead of its return to Parliament, but outlined several steps he wants to see the Government take to strengthen the Bill and make it truly world-leading. This includes 'smart' tree planting - ensuring the right trees are planted in the right areas to maximise the benefits - as part of a joined up approach to the agriculture sector and environmental protection.
Neil also outlined his amendments to the Environment Bill on measures to tackle global deforestation, and he urged the Government to reconsider their air quality targets, calling for the UK to implement the WHO's stringent limits on the pollutant PM2.5.
Watch Neil speak here, or read in full below.
"It is a pleasure to speak in the Queen’s Speech debate, and I very much welcome the Government’s commitment to protect the environment and invest in our new green industries to help us to reach net zero by 2050. I am very fortunate to represent a very green constituency. My constituency starts in Exmoor, goes down through the Blackdown hills, and down at Seaton we reach the sea on the south coast of Devon. It is a very beautiful constituency, which relies on a lot of farming, a lot of growing and a lot of tourism, so a green recovery is so important, and as we come out of covid, I look forward to the Government pursuing that.
In particular, I look forward to the return of the Environment Bill to Parliament. It will set a range of binding targets to be enforced by a new world-class Office for Environmental Protection. An interim OEP is expected to be operational by July. It is essential that we get that up and running as soon as possible so that it can lay the groundwork for the full body to be established.
The Bill also sets out ambitious targets for tree planting, which I welcome. I am keen to see what I describe as smart tree planting, which means planting the trees in the right places to maximise the benefits. For example, trees can not only capture and store carbon, but they also keep soil from eroding, and in the right places can form natural flood defences. We can achieve this by making sure we properly reward farmers for tree planting. It has to be financially attractive to them to ensure that take-up is strong and that we can deliver the trees we want to plant in this country. If we can properly join up agriculture and environmental protection, we will be able to protect and enhance biodiversity while maintaining a good level of food production.
It is not just action here in the UK that we need to take; we must look at our global footprint. It is right that the Environment Bill includes measures to protect the world’s forests and to hold companies accountable for illegal deforestation they cause. The measure can be even stronger in two key ways. First, it must ensure that financial companies are also held to account and are not excluded from carrying out due diligence. The UK global deforestation footprint is coming not only from the products we buy as consumers, but from UK banks providing money to companies driving illegal deforestation in places such as Brazil and Malaysia. Secondly, indigenous peoples are often being exploited by corporations and in many cases are seeing their lands and livelihoods destroyed. I want us to protect these people by ensuring that their consent is obtained before any development takes place. Taken together, these measures will ensure that the UK has robust deforestation laws that we can be proud of and that set a high bar for the rest of the world to follow.
The final point I want to make is on air quality. Tackling climate change and cutting our carbon emissions is rightly a Government priority, but poor air quality is affecting people’s day-to-day lives and has serious impacts on their health. Poorer air quality is linked to an estimated 64,000 premature deaths a year. It was earlier this year named in a coroner’s report as directly contributing to the loss of life for the first time. We need to improve air quality across the country, but it is a particular issue in our cities and big towns. I know that the Government have laid out targets for air quality in the Environment Bill, but I would like to see that go further. I would set more stringent targets, including, for example, bringing limits to the pollutant PM2.5 into line with World Health Organisation standards.
Overall, the Government are taking great steps to protect the environment and ensure a greener recovery from the pandemic. In hosting COP26, we have a prime opportunity to show global leadership on these issues. We can also move forward with ensuring that we have a good agriculture sector and a good horticulture sector and that we are producing high-quality, environmentally sound and animal welfare-friendly food. We can balance that with producing a very clean and green environment. I hope that the Government will take this opportunity to make our environmental laws as robust as possible."