Robert Largan – 2021 Speech on Disposable Barbecues on Moorland

The speech made by Robert Largan, the Conservative MP for High Peak, in the House of Commons on 17 November 2021.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit the use of disposable barbecues on open moorland; to give local authorities the power to prohibit the sale of disposable barbecues in their area; and for connected purposes.

This year alone, at least two wildfires have been caused by disposable barbecues in High Peak, destroying hectares of farmland and environmentally significant peatland. In 2019, a fire in Marsden Moor near Huddersfield raged for four days and damaged more than 700 hectares of moorland. A similar fire in April 2021 caused an estimated £200,000 worth of damage. Alongside that crude financial cost lies an environmental one. This is damage that will take hundreds if not thousands of years to repair, with peat accumulating at a rate of only about 1 mm per year. Distressed sheep farmers have conveyed to me the pain that they have experienced in being forced to clear up the charred remains of their own livestock.

Every year, from spring to summer, communities across the country live in fear of wildfires that are entirely avoidable. A local gamekeeper once told me that there were three main causes of wildfires—men, women and children—but more specifically, a large number of fires are caused simply by people not disposing of their barbecue properly, leaving it unattended on the ground where its residual heat or a stray spark is enough to start a fire.

The aims of this Bill are simple. They are to reduce the risk of wildfires and protect our beautiful countryside, to protect local communities faced with the threat of wildfires, to protect hard-pressed farmers’ livelihoods, and to protect carbon-capturing peatland, which is so vital in our fight back against climate change. That last point is particularly important, especially given the recent climate change agreement in Glasgow. The Glasgow agreement is an important step forward: 65 countries have committed themselves to phasing out the use of coal power, some of the world’s largest car manufacturers have agreed to make all new car sales zero-emission by 2040, and the leaders responsible for 90% of the world’s forests have pledged to end deforestation by 2030.

However, when we speak of international co-operation, we should not forget the importance of nature-based solutions to climate change. Peatland restoration is an essential part of that. Wet, healthy peat soils absorb and trap carbon dioxide. It is estimated that, worldwide, peatland contains more than 550 gigatonnes of carbon—more than is stored in all the world’s forests put together. Since it regulates the flow of groundwater, restoring peatland also reduces the risk of flooding, improves water quality and enhances biodiversity.

Since being elected, I have actively campaigned for the restoration of our local peat moors. I asked my very first question in this House on this subject and I am proud to have secured a significant increase in funding for this vital work. I wholeheartedly welcome the Government’s England peat action plan to restore, sustainably manage and protect peatland, as well as the increase in the nature for climate fund to £750 million by 2024-25, with the aim of restoring 35,000 hectares of peatland across England.

I have seen first-hand the fantastic work that funding makes possible. On Rushup Edge and Brown Knoll, one of the highest hills in the Peak District, the Moors for the Future Partnership has been hard at work restoring peatland. Recently, I took the farming Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), to meet Hope Valley Farmers and to see the work on Brown Knoll. I am encouraged by the leadership that the Government have shown in this issue.

That work is meaningless, however, if we are to continue to allow a reckless few to destroy this precious resource by wildfire. I did not come into politics to tell people how to live their lives, and this Bill certainly does not set out to do that, but, as a conservative, I firmly believe that we hold a duty to future generations not only to conserve what we have today, but to provide them with an inheritance greater than our own.

While this Bill represents only a modest change to the law, it would be a mistake to overlook its significance. The aims of the Bill are not new, but build on work that a range of organisations have already undertaken. The New Forest and Peak District National Park Authorities, for example, have already banned the use of disposable barbecues within their boundaries and called for local retailers to stop their sale. I have had considerable success in convincing retailers to remove them from sale within High Peak; I pay tribute to responsible businesses such as Morrisons, which has removed them from sale in its Buxton store, while the Co-operative Group has also removed displays of disposable barbecues in 130 of its stores that border national parks.

The National Fire Chiefs Council, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, the Moorland Association, the Moors for the Future Partnership and the National Trust, among others, have all warned of the danger that disposable barbecues present and have called for tougher regulations on their use. This Bill provides just that.

While the countryside code already sets out an expectation that visitors should only barbecue where it has been deemed safe to do so, there is no law to enforce that guidance. Without one, there is widespread confusion and ignorance, sowing the seeds for future wildfires. The Bill seeks to clarify the law, banning the use of disposable barbecues on open moorland.

I am incredibly grateful to colleagues on both sides of this House for the positive, cross-party support that the Bill has received. I have worked hard with a range of partners to ensure that it is fit for purpose, and I will keep working in a bipartisan spirit to do so. I am aware that, as a ten-minute rule Bill, there is little chance of this Bill progressing into law at this stage. None the less, I seriously urge the Government to listen to the concerns raised in the Bill, to act on disposable barbecues and to redouble their efforts to promote, and to educate people on, the countryside code. To prevent wildfires, to protect farmers’ livelihoods and to build up our existing defences against climate change, this Bill offers a small but significant way forward. With that in mind, I humbly request that the Bill be given due consideration and be passed into law.