I have always believed that everyone should have access to nature. Access to green spaces and the outdoors should not just be for the privileged few. We must support the rights of all to access the countryside.
In my view, the Environment Bill needs to be strengthened significantly to deliver the environmental improvements we need to see. Although this Bill will enable regulations to be introduced which set long-term targets relating to enjoyment of the natural environment, there are no specific targets within the Bill on public access. Moreover, it only requires one long-term target to be set for each priority area of air quality, water, biodiversity and waste.
When the Environment Bill was being scrutinised by a Public Bill Committee in the House of Commons last year, the Opposition proposed setting out a range of targets within these areas, but this amendment was voted down by the Government.
The Opposition also moved an amendment to strengthen the Agriculture Bill to make it a statutory requirement that financial assistance be provided for public goods such as public access to the countryside, farmland or woodland. Unfortunately, this amendment was also defeated.
The Environment Bill had the first day of its Report Stage on 26 January. My Opposition colleagues and I voted in favour of Amendment 21 (clause 1), which would have required the Government to set legally binding, long-term targets to improve access to, and enjoyment of, the natural environment. However, unfortunately, the Government voted down this amendment.
Amendment 28 (clause 7), which would require the Government to include steps to improve people’s enjoyment of the natural environment in its Environmental Improvement Plans, was not debated on 26 January and is expected to be put up for a vote on a future day of the Bill’s Report Stage.
I can assure you that I will continue to stand up for nature and access to green spaces by continuing to press for a much improved Environment Bill at all future stages, including what remains of the Report Stage. I will also continue to champion rights of way and the right to roam so that everyone can access nature, whoever they are or wherever they live.