As the Secretary of State has outlined, this will be the first comprehensive Agriculture Bill for five decades, providing a platform for our farmers to modernise agriculture, and to be able to produce, sell and export more food. The Bill also looks to ensure that our farmers are rewarded for their environmental work and the other public goods that they provide. I meet with our local NFU regularly to discuss many issues, including the Agriculture Bill, to ensure the Government is doing all it can to support British farmers.
Children's Health and Air Pollution
The government’s Air Quality Grant Programme provides funding to local authorities; funding projects in local communities to tackle air pollution and reduce emissions affecting schools, businesses and residents. Local authorities have a duty to monitor and assess air quality and to take action to reduce pollution where these breach statutory limits, and are best placed to determine local priorities.
Defra awarded a total of £2.4 million to local authorities in England from the 2017/18 air quality grant fund; £3.7 million was awarded in 2016/17, and £0.5 million in 2015/6. £3 million has been allocated for 2018/19.
While all measures which reduce air pollution will reduce exposure of children to these harmful pollutants, some projects have elements that are specifically targeted at children.
Details of further funding from the Air Quality Grant Programme, including funding specifically directed at children can be found on the Air Quality Grant Programme webpage: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/air-quality-grant-programme.
The Government has also put in place a £3.5 billion plan to improve air quality and reduce harmful emissions, which includes £495 million for councils to improve air quality. Councils with serious air quality problems may bid for a share of these funds. The Government has consulted on our new world leading Clean Air Strategy, which includes new and ambitious goals, legislation, investment and policies which will help us to clean up our air faster and more effectively.
The National Pollinator Strategy already includes commitments to improve, extend and connect pollinator habitats. For example, in 2015 we introduced a Pollinator and Wildlife Package to the Countryside Stewardship Scheme to provide a suite of habitats on farmland. Since 2011, management has been established on approximately 130,000 hectares of land to create new wildlife-rich habitat, principally through agri-environment schemes.
The 25 Year Environment Plan reaffirms the Government’s commitment to expanding and connecting wildlife habitats through a Nature Recovery Network, which will drive how we deliver action for bees and other wildlife in the future.
Mapping and high quality spatial information on the location and quality of existing habitats will be key to this. On 25 October, the Secretary of State announced new funding to develop and test pollinator habitat mapping and to help voluntary bodies and land managers to create pollinator-friendly landscapes.
I am in favour of fracking in principle and believe we should explore its potential as part of the UKs diverse energy supply. The government is consulting on the principle of whether non-hydraulic fracturing shale gas exploration development should be granted planning permission through a permitted development right, and in particular the circumstances in which it would be appropriate.
As noted in the consultation document:
Most permitted development rights are subject to conditions that seek to minimise their impact and to protect local amenity, others are subject to geographic exclusions to ensure environmental protections are maintained. All however, are subject to clearly defined restrictions to cover the specific nature and scope of the operation or quantum of development that would benefit from a permitted development right.
This is essential and I would oppose any inappropriate applications.
You can read about the consultation here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/permitted-development-for-s….
Brexit: The Environment
The Secretary of State has been carrying out excellent work in this area, setting out his plans to ensure we leave the planet in a better state for our children, with stronger protections for animal welfare, cleaner air and greener spaces. Earlier this month, our Ivory Bill had its Second Reading in the House. This legislates for one of the world’s toughest bans on ivory sales, covering ivory of all ages - with some narrow exemptions. The maximum available penalty for breaching the ban will be an unlimited fine or up to five years in jail. From consulting on a ban of plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton buds to introducing tougher sentences for animal abusers, the UK is leading on many environmental issues globally.
I have also received campaign generated emails regarding "Brexit's impact on the environment". As the Prime Minister said in January, Brexit provides an opportunity to strengthen and enhance our environmental protections—not to weaken them. This is why the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has launched a consultation on the development of a new independent statutory body to safeguard the environment alongside approaches to embed EU environmental principles in our own domestic law.