I am told that the Government is currently reflecting on concerns about the Bill raised by colleagues and interested parties during the Committee stage. I look forward to the Bill coming back to the House, at which point I will have the opportunity to vote on any amendments brought forward there.
The Environment Bill will place environmental ambition and accountability at the heart of Government. I am pleased that legislative measures will be introduced to address the biggest environmental priorities of our age, ensuring we can deliver on the commitment to leave the natural world in a better condition than we found it. These will include meeting net-zero by 2050, as well as wider long-term legally binding targets on biodiversity, air quality, water, and resource and waste efficiency which will be established under the Bill.
The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) will have the power to take public bodies to an upper tribunal if there are breaches of the law. I believe it is important that the OEP is independent and fully transparent in order to effectively hold the Government to account on its targets. I am therefore pleased by assurances from Ministers that the OEP will be operationally independent from Government, including from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. This means that Ministers will not be able to set its programme of activity or influence its decision-making. It is expected that the Office for Environmental Protection to have started implementing its functions by around July 2021.
The Bill will give the Secretary of State the power to set long-term, legally binding environmental targets on air quality, water, biodiversity, and resource efficiency and waste reduction that will be reviewed every five years. There will then be a published environmental improvement plan that will also be reviewed every five years, and a progress report will be published annually. I welcome the fact that the OEP will hold this and every future Government to account on these targets, and will report on the progress made to improve the natural environment.
I am also aware that if the Secretary wanted to lower or change a target, they would have to lay before Parliament, and publish, a statement as to why they had reached their decision. It would then be up to myself and other Members of Parliament to scrutinise this decision, before voting on a Statutory Instrument to change any necessary legislation.
The UK is committed to playing a leading role in developing an ambitious and transformative post-2020 framework for global biodiversity under the convention on biological diversity. Following agreement of this framework, Ministers will publish a new strategy for nature in England that will outline how they will implement the convention on biological diversity’s new global targets domestically and meet the 25-year environmental goals for nature at the same time.
I recognise the importance of setting legally binding targets to support these ambitions, so I am pleased that the Environment Bill includes a requirement to set at least one long-term, legally binding target in relation to biodiversity, as well as targets for air quality, water and resource efficiency, and waste reduction. I know that the Government will determine the specific areas in which targets will be set using the robust and transparent target-setting, monitoring and reporting process that the Bill legislates for, and will seek advice from independent experts. I am pleased that both Parliament and the public will have the opportunity to provide input to the development of these targets.
I am pleased that connecting more people from all backgrounds with the natural environment for their health and wellbeing is a key part of the 25-Year Environment Plan, which is the Government's first environmental improvement plan. Under the Bill, long-term targets can be set out for any aspects of the natural environment or people’s enjoyment of it. The Bill requires the Government to set out at least one target in four priority areas, air quality, biodiversity, water waste and resource efficiency, as well as the fine particulate matter target. I understand that there is also scope to set further future targets. That being said, it is important that our enjoyment of nature cannot take precedence over stewardship of that environment for the future.
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 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.
The Environment Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to amend two pieces of legislation regulating the use of chemicals in the UK. This will allow the Secretary of State to take further steps where necessary to ensure a smooth transition to a UK chemicals regime following the UK’s exit from the EU. I am encouraged that the Bill makes it possible to keep the legislation up to date and respond to emerging needs or ambitions for the effective management of chemicals.
Outside the EU Britain can develop global gold standard environmental policies. Having left the Common Agricultural Policy we can use public money for public goods, rewarding environmentally responsible land use. By leaving the Common Fisheries Policy we will be able to grant access and allocate quotas based on sustainability, allowing us to pursue the highest standards in marine conservation.