Thank you to everyone who has contacted me about the Environment Bill in recent weeks.
I agree we need a gold-standard Environment Bill with bold, swift action to cut carbon, safeguard habitats and protect declining species. However, at present, the Bill is nowhere near bold enough to match the scale of the environmental and ecological crisis that we are facing.
I supported efforts to strengthen the Bill at Committee Stage, where a Bill is considered line by line. Disappointingly, the UK Government voted against Opposition amendments that sought to improve the Bill, including on the points you have raised.
I am concerned that the environmental watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection, lacks independence and that the UK Government has actively weakened its powers and scope. It is vital that all targets within this Bill are legally binding and set to be achieved as soon as possible.
This once-in-a-lifetime Bill must show real ambition and deliver on restoring our natural environment, including air quality. The link between coronavirus deaths and air quality means that action to improve our air is more critical than ever. The Opposition proposed setting a clear and coherent target in the Bill in line with internationally recognised World Health Organization guidelines on air quality, however, it was rejected by the UK Government.
Tree planting will need to play an important role in reaching net zero through locking in carbon. Yet, the UK has some of the lowest forest cover in Europe. I believe the UK Government should be required to publish a tree strategy for England and to set a target of achieving 19% forest cover across the UK.
The climate emergency demands faster and bolder action to cut emissions and save precious biodiversity and habitats. The Opposition voted for amendments to put parts of the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill into law, but this was voted down by UK Government MPs. I will continue to press the UK Government to put its promises on climate into law and to require Ministers to report on these targets.
I will support strong and effective Opposition amendments at Report Stage and in the House of Lords, taking every opportunity to improve this Bill and deliver the policies that will preserve our planet and protect our environment.