These are early days in our consideration of the Bill. We have begun to identify the principles that will underpin the legislation based on an urgency for action, a clarity about the change needed and a robust mechanism to hold the Government to account on delivery. I look forward to the many debates ahead as we pursue those objectives line by line, and hope that together we can indeed deliver a different future for our planet.
Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait The Minister of State, Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park) (Con)
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I thank my noble friend Lord Lindsay for beginning this Committee. I note the support for his amendment from my noble friends Lord Cormack, Lord Caithness and Lady McIntosh, the noble Lords, Lord Rooker and Lord Young, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. In fact, a great many other speakers supported it as well and I will not continue to list them.

The amendments that my noble friend has tabled are, in effect, a summary of the Bill in its totality—it could not be a clearer summary, in a sense. The Environment Bill, as a manifesto commitment, sets a new and ambitious domestic framework for environmental governance. A resilient environment is essential for our own health and that of our planet. We recognise that the environment, unlike many areas of law where there are more clearly defined legal and economic interests, is often unowned. Environmental harms, including climate change, are necessarily, by their nature, more diffusely spread. That is why we have designed the Bill to create a comprehensive system of environmental governance that will put the environment at the heart of our policy-making and ensure clear and strong accountability.

The overall objective of the Bill is to deliver on the goals of the 25-year environment plan, and the environmental governance framework has been designed with the plan’s key objectives of environmental protection and the improvement of the natural environment at the forefront.

First, both targets and environmental improvement plans have the objective of delivering significant improvements to the natural environment—Clauses 6 and 7 being the obvious places for that. That objective provides certainty on the direction of travel; it will also drive long-lasting significant improvement in the natural environment. Clause 7 creates an ongoing requirement for the Government to have a

“plan for significantly improving the natural environment”.

The Government will be required to review that plan regularly and set out whether further policies are needed to improve the natural environment and achieve those targets.

Secondly, Clause 16 provides an objective for the environmental principles. It requires that the policy statement on environmental principles produced by the Secretary of State must contribute to the “improvement of environmental protection”, as well as “sustainable development”. When making policy, Ministers of the Crown must have due regard to the policy statement. These objectives will be integral to policy-making across government. This is the first time that Ministers across government will be legally obliged to consider the environmental principles in policy development wherever it impacts the environment.

Lastly, the OEP has the principal objective of contributing to environmental protection and the improvement of the natural environment. The OEP is able to undertake enforcement action against a public body’s breach of an environmental law that protects the natural environment, or to provide advice on a proposed change to an environmental law that improves the natural environment.

In summary, the Bill as a whole is designed to deliver the overarching ambition of our 25-year environment plan, which in many respects is reflected in the amendments tabled by my noble friend. The measures have been designed to legally work together with common statutory objectives to deliver the improvement and protection of the natural environment and to deliver the sustainable use of resources.

Before I come to the amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, I want to address some of the points made by noble Lords. My noble friends Lord Caithness and Lady McIntosh raised their concerns about the lack of clarity for the business community, particularly farmers, in relation to the big transition that is happening. There is no doubt that it is a massive and revolutionary transition. It is the first transformation of its kind and something that needs to happen all over the world if we are going to have any hope at all of closing the gap between where we are and where we need to be on biodiversity. I can say that officials in my department have been working closely, as have colleagues at ministerial level, with farmers’ organisations, from the very largest—the National Farmers’ Union—to smaller organisations, to ensure that the sector is very much walking in lockstep with us as we develop the proposals and as those proposals morph into an actual policy.

The principle is pretty clear: we are moving to a system where the things that are not currently recognised by the market but which are good will be paid for through subsidies. As noble Lords might expect, things that are paid for by the market, such as food, will therefore not be on that list. It is a straightforward principle, although of course the effects will differ from farm to farm, and that is the beauty of solutions when it comes to the natural environment.

I should add that farmers, as a whole, are among the most entrepreneurial and dynamic people in this country. They are for ever adapting to circumstance and acting in response to market signals. The discussions, exchanges and engagement that we have been having for months now with the farming community suggest, and give me a great deal of confidence, that they will respond extraordinarily well to these new signals that the Government are going to be providing.

My noble friend Lord Cormack described with great sadness the decline of butterflies in his garden, and I know that that situation is duplicated all around the country and indeed the world. I say that we can still find room for optimism; if you give nature half a chance, it comes back extraordinarily quickly. I have had the privilege of seeing for myself, in areas that have been intensively farmed not particularly carefully for decades but have then been treated in a different manner—with organic farming or even, in some cases, rewilding—that nature returns extraordinarily quickly. That is what the Bill will do: it will give nature not just half a chance but a chance.

My noble friend Lord Moynihan talked about the critical importance of access to nature. If he does not mind, I will not go into detail on that issue because we will be discussing and debating it when we come to the fifth group of amendments—that might even be today, if we make some progress.

The noble Lord, Lord Young, discussed the comparisons between where we heading with the Bill and what we are leaving with the EU. We repeat our commitment, as we have many times, that the environment will be at least as well protected after this transition as it was under EU treaties. Many noble Lords will agree that those protections greatly exceed those provided by EU treaties, and that too is reflected in the Bill in numerous ways.

Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, raised the Dasgupta review, which I am pleased about; it needs to be raised at every opportunity, because it is so important. I have had endless discussions with counterparts around the world as part of our attempts to raise ambitions for COP and the CBD, and the Dasgupta review was part of almost every one of those conversations. It is globally recognised for its importance but, despite its length and sometimes complicated language, it has a fairly straightforward message: that our economies and our livelihoods need to be reconciled with the natural world, and everything we have comes from nature. I part company with the noble Baroness on her thoughts on the Government’s response. The response is not exhaustive, but was never the end of the story; it is the beginning. We must do an enormous amount to take heed of and internalise the message of the Dasgupta review in the way we govern. That applies to this Government, and successive Governments. The response was an enthusiastic nod to the principles with examples of the kinds of things we are doing, but without going into the level of detail which a Government would find difficult at this point.

Moving to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for which I thank him, I can reassure him that the Government absolutely are taking climate change and environmental concern seriously. There is an absolute recognition, both at a domestic level and in everything we are doing internationally, that the two are inextricably linked; as he said, you cannot tackle one without the other. A good climate COP will have good implications for nature, and a good CBD will have good implications for climate. We absolutely recognise the extent of the crisis which he and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, relayed to us. There is no doubt that the facts on the ground tell us that we are in crisis territory, and perhaps we will part company here with the noble Baroness, Lady Fox. We debated the issue some time ago of whether or not we face a biodiversity crisis, and I will not repeat all the arguments I used, but she is right to be alert to the risk that any crisis can be used to justify authoritarianism and poor policy. It is therefore important that we get policy right but that does not take away from the facts, which paint a bleak picture of continued decline.

We have set out concrete steps towards reaching net zero by 2050, through the PM’s 10-point plan, which brought together £12 billion of government investment. The energy White Paper and industrial decarbonisation strategy will continue to demonstrate global leadership on climate change, and we will bring forward further bold proposals, such as the net-zero strategy, which will be published before COP 26. Again, nature is at the heart—although it is clearly not the only part—of our response to the net-zero challenge here in the UK, and is a critical part of our message globally. We have successfully changed the debate on the role of nature in tackling climate change internationally, such that most countries when they talk about their response to climate change talk about nature, in a way which they simply did not a year ago. It remains the case, however, that of all international climate finance, only 2.5% to 3% is spent on nature-based solutions. That really should be closer to half. That too is something which we hope to shift through our negotiations and discussions with other countries, and through our own example, where we have not only doubled our international climate finance but committed that nearly a third of it will be spent on nature-based solutions.

Of course, the Bill itself is a clear demonstration of our action to tackle the biodiversity crisis, including biodiversity net gain, local nature recovery strategies, and due diligence for forest risk commodities. I hope that this provides reassurance that the amendments, which have provoked a very valuable debate, are nevertheless not needed. I thank noble Lords for their contributions and suggest that the amendment be withdrawn.

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Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, for his amendment and his speech today. I will speak briefly on the amendment. We will come on to a separate debate about whether the environmental targets as a whole are adequate when we consider that matter later in the Bill. We will argue that the targets should be more comprehensive, and combined with legally binding interim targets, to ensure that real progress is made in the time agreed.

In addition to this amendment, the noble Duke has tabled others later in the Bill to address the issue of water quality and the pollution of rivers. We absolutely share his objective to clean up water and prevent sewage flowing into our rivers; he has been a great champion of this. We have tabled similar amendments which would also prevent the discharge of sewage into rivers. We believe that the Government’s proposals on this issue so far are inadequate and we look forward to the debate on this.

In the meantime, I have some concerns about the wording of this amendment. First, it narrows the scope of the long-term water targets to concentrate on water quality when there are much wider concerns to be addressed, for example about the role of water companies, the supply of water, drought and flooding safeguards, and sustainable urban development protection and maintenance. These points have all been made by other noble Lords in this debate and a number have given vivid examples of the challenges we face in these areas. Narrowing it down to water quality perhaps does not achieve what the noble Duke is aiming to do. Secondly, we do not accept that the issue of water quality should be a long-term target: it requires action more urgently, specifically with regard to sewage discharge. This is the subject of our later amendments, and those in the name of the noble Duke, and we look forward to returning to it.

Despite these reservations about this amendment, I agree with the noble Duke’s overall intention and will be supportive when we get to the more substantive debate, when we will have a great deal more to say on the issue.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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I thank the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, for tabling Amendment 4. I note the support that it has received from a number of noble Lords, including my noble friends Lady McIntosh, Lord Cormack and Lord Randall and the noble Lords, Lord Teverson and Lord Wigley.

The Bill will require the Government to set at least one legally binding long-term water target. I reassure the noble Duke that this of course covers water quality. The Government are currently considering water target objectives in relation to reducing pollution from agriculture, wastewater and abandoned metal mines, as well as in relation to reducing water demand. This approach encompasses water quality, but also allows the inclusion of broader objectives, such as reducing the impact of water demand on the water environment, which I know is of great interest to numerous Members of this House, including the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. This point was echoed and made well by the noble Baronesses, Lady Young of Old Scone and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb.

I will address some of the individual points that have been made. The amendment essentially relates to the outrage over raw sewage entering our waterways as a consequence of storm overflows. The noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, has pursued this issue relentlessly, and rightly so. To reiterate, the amendment that the Government have tabled does three things. It requires the Government to deliver a plan for tackling sewage discharge, and to report on progress, and it requires the water companies and the Environment Agency to be transparent with their data. In addition, my colleague in the other place, Rebecca Pow, said only last week that if water companies do not step up then we will use the drainage and wastewater management plans to force them to. I am happy to reiterate that commitment now. I hope that goes some way towards reassuring the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, Lady Bakewell and Lady Jones of Whitchurch.

In addition, the Government are already pursuing various measures to improve water quality over and above what has been mentioned. For example, the 2015 river basin management plans confirmed £3 billion of investment over the period to 2021 in England. This has led to over 11,000 kilometres of surface water being enhanced and a further 2,349 kilometres protected since the 2015 plans were published. We are encouraging best agricultural practice to prevent and reduce pollution through regulation, financial incentives and educational schemes for farmers. The shift to ELM, which has already been mentioned, is going to have a radical and profound impact on water pollution. A task force comprising the Government, the water industry, regulators and environmental NGOs is currently working to achieve the long-term goal of eliminating the harm from sewage discharge into our rivers and other waterways from storm overflows. We will, of course, take the recommendations of that task force very seriously. I hope that that also somewhat reassures noble Lords.

The noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, asked whether I would be willing to commit to a meeting with a number of noble Lords to discuss this issue further. The answer is yes, of course. I am very happy to do so and will make contact after today’s debate. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, also raised the fact that a mere 15% of our rivers enjoy good ecological status. He is right, but I want to put this in context. This is not to diminish the issue, because water pollution is clearly unacceptable, and we need to get to grips with it. However, it is worth pointing out that, to qualify for good ecological status, the waterway has to be close to a natural form. That means that waterways that have been canalised, straightened or modified—for example, for flood defences, transport or something similar—will be regarded as having been heavily modified. Those waterways cannot achieve good ecological status, no matter how clean the water is or how much biodiversity they have. It is worth putting that in context; while 16% of our waters do have good ecological status, that does not mean that 84% are in poor condition. I hope that we can get to grips with this and develop our own metrics at some point so that we can avoid confusion and have a clearer understanding of the actual situation in our waters.

The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, asked about enforcement. Defra works closely with the devolved Administrations on environmental issues across the board, particularly with the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales, covering water quality in their respective areas.

By setting a water target that focuses on the biggest pressures on the water environment, the Government will, we hope, make faster progress towards improving water quality. Although we appreciate the noble Duke’s aims, we do not think that focusing the water target priority area on water quality alone, as his amendment proposes, will be the best way of achieving those aims. I therefore respectfully ask him to withdraw the amendment.

Duke of Wellington Portrait The Duke of Wellington (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I am grateful to those noble Lords who have participated in this short debate. Of course, I understand the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that it is not just water quality that matters but water quantity as well. A number of noble Lords made reference to the River Thames. However, anybody who watched the BBC “Panorama” programme about two months ago would surely be left in no doubt that there is still much to do to clean up that river, which is in an embarrassingly poor state. Nevertheless, I understand that the quality of our rivers generally is much better than it was 20 years ago. I was very impressed by the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Randall, who clearly understands the problem well. He referred to an event in 1858, when there was general recognition of the appalling state of our rivers and the amount of sewage going into them. It is surprising that, in 2021, there is still quite the quantity of raw, or insufficiently treated, sewage flowing into our rivers.

I very much appreciated the support of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and quite understand his point that it is necessary to have co-operation between England and Wales over the rivers that flow between the two countries, and his acceptance that it would be entirely in order to establish a UK standard. I thank the Minister for his comments, and I was pleased to hear that, in the other place, Rebecca Pow has made a further commitment that the existing regulations will be enforced where required. But I again ask the Minister to consider whether it would be appropriate to establish a UK standard. He did sort of refer to that when talking about metrics, but if he has doubts about the existing European standard then we should surely try to devise our own.

I would be grateful if the Minister would be prepared to discuss with me a way of making targets for water quality a higher priority. There are many aspects of water that need to be improved, nevertheless I am surprised that improving water quality is not yet considered a higher priority than it currently is. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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I thank my noble friend Lord Blencathra for his amendments. It is a pleasure to follow the thoughtful speech on them by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. Like my noble friend, we want people to understand and engage in nature, but it is also important to increase recognition of and engagement with the term “biodiversity”. It is an internationally recognised term that is gaining popularity with the public, parliamentarians and beyond, not least as a consequence of the extraordinary work of Sir David Attenborough, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, pointed out. It confers a direction of travel toward greater diversity, which we want everyone to fully support and engage with.

As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, pointed out, and this point was echoed extremely interestingly and thoughtfully by the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett and Lady Ritchie, “nature” is a more expansive term than biodiversity, often taken to include non-living elements, and is potentially more open to interpretation. It is perfectly possible to enhance nature with limited or no value for biodiversity. Many monocultures—for example, a green grass valley; I am using a different example from the one that I used last time—are considered beautiful examples of a natural landscape, and “nature” can have a high amenity value. If we are to boost biodiversity, sometimes it will mean moving away from simplistic ideas of what nature should be, and thinking scientifically about how to improve the diversity of living things.

In response to my noble friend Lady McIntosh, I confirm on my noble friend Lord Blencathra’s behalf—if I may—that he is not proposing to renegotiate or replace the international conventions, as I understand it from his introductory speech. However, I want to provide a more detailed interpretation of what we mean by “biodiversity” and why it is important. I do this in response to a number of noble Lords, including my noble friends Lady McIntosh of Pickering, Lord Caithness and Lord Trenchard, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie and Lady Hayman. The Convention on Biological Diversity, which is being hosted in China at the end of this year and is a massively important moment for biodiversity, defines biodiversity as

“the variability amongst living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.”

It is important that variability and diversity should be conserved and the benefits for people secured. The UK is playing a leading role in negotiating an ambitious global framework for biodiversity under that convention, and setting targets and policies for biodiversity helps to demonstrate and further that alignment.

From a more technical perspective, the Bill applies the terms “nature” and “biodiversity” for specific purposes. Associated guidance and regulations will make that clear. We certainly want these measures to benefit all aspects of nature for wildlife and other environmental objectives. Substituting “nature” for “biodiversity” in the Bill would risk creating confusion about the purposes of the measures, especially where “biodiversity” is already a well-established term. Measures such as the biodiversity duty or biodiversity net gain are already established and understood policies, being strengthened through the Bill, and our aim should be to improve their functioning, not create confusion with new terminology.

I hope this does not sound facetious but there is an implied assumption within the amendment that people en masse are going to devour the Bill and base their understanding on the Act that we hope it will become. It feels to me that what really matters is delivering the measures in the Bill and the wider communications that will support it. I say to my noble friend Lord Caithness that I am not convinced it is the Act itself that will take people with us; rather, it will be the delivery of good policy, good solutions and the wider comms that we all—not just the Government—are going to have to engage in to advance this agenda.

I reassure my local friend Lord Blencathra that I share and understand his vision and the motivation behind his amendment, as I think does every noble Lord, but nevertheless I ask him to withdraw it.

Lord Blencathra Portrait Lord Blencathra (Con)
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I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken—

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Earl of Caithness Portrait The Earl of Caithness (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving a definition. He then said it was going to come in regulations. Would it not be better if it were in the Bill?

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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I am not sure it is necessary to add the definition to the Bill itself, but I will certainly consider my noble friend’s comment carefully as we move through the Bill’s various stages.

Lord Blencathra Portrait Lord Blencathra (Con)
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My apologies, Lord Deputy Chairman; I did not realise you would be calling the noble Earl, Lord Caithness.

I am grateful to all noble Lords and noble Baronesses who have spoken—those who have supported me, those who are sitting on the fence and those who are opposed. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that if he goes further and looks at the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel guidelines in detail, he will find that there is an instruction there to government departments to write in simple language, and what I am suggesting here follows that OPC instruction.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, made an important contribution that swayed a number of noble Lords. I looked at changing the word “nature” at the start of Clause 1 but then opted to change it in Clause 1(3). I was in two minds about that but then I thought that I wanted the debate on principle, so we should have it early on in the Bill. I accept what he said about the list in Clause 1(3) containing more specific examples of nature. He said that “biodiversity” was the right word to be used in the Bill but I am suggesting, and I have said so all along, that we can define “nature” to be the right word in the Bill and we can make it as specific or general as we wish.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Cormack for his attempt at a definition, “nature in all its diversity”. I am not sure it is right but he is simply making the point that it is possible to define this.

My noble friend Lord Caithness said that he was back to sitting on the fence. I am too; I have a leg on either side of it. I am not suggesting that we have “nature” only or “biodiversity” only; I am suggesting that in some parts of the Bill, where it is safe and sensible to do so, we have “nature” and in other bits we have “biodiversity”.

My noble friend the Minister has already pointed out to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering that I was not proposing to change our international conventions, not even the one that I negotiated myself. As a new Minister I was sent to Rio in 1992 with strict instructions: “You’ll be there for 16 days, Mr Maclean MP. You will not agree to anything until John Major comes out and signs up for everything that you’ve got to resist.” I had to sign, or was party to negotiating, the first Convention on Biological Diversity.

I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, that there is no need for confusion. It depends on how we define this, and I say to her that the word “nature” would strengthen the Bill.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Trenchard for his strong support. If Dasgupta sees the terms as interchangeable, we should change “biodiversity” in the Bill wherever possible.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge. He also said that we should make things simple. The next group of amendments but one is about connecting people with nature. The word “nature” does that but “biodiversity” does not.

The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, says that the Government need to define biodiversity. If the Government cannot define biodiversity in the Bill, how are the public to understand or relate to it? The Government are capable of defining “natural environment” in the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, quoted dictionary definitions. What does that dictionary say about “natural environment”? The phrase “natural environment” is not defined in the Bill according to the Oxford English Dictionary; it is defined in a way that the Government have decided. If the Government can define “natural environment”, they can define “nature”.

My noble friend the Minister said that “nature” can be a more expansive term. It can, and if it is not defined it will be much more expansive. The phrase “natural environment” could be a highly expansive term—indeed, some of us have suggestions to expand it a bit more—but the Government have defined it in the Bill and, if you can define “natural environment”, you can define “nature”.

As far as “biodiversity net gain” is concerned, my noble friend picked one example which might confuse business and industry, and developers may worry that “nature net gain” is not the same as “biodiversity net gain”. If that is the case and we cannot explain it, let us not change that bit. I have resiled from my initial position when I wrote to my noble friend two weeks ago that we can change every word. I know that we cannot; it would not be sensible. It could cause legal problems and confusion. Let us not try to change the word where it is not sensible to do so but change it everywhere else.

My noble friend seemed to conclude by saying, “Let’s use biodiversity in the Bill, but out there we will be talking about nature; it’s how we relate to it and how we deliver it”. It seems a bit odd to say, “Well, let’s just keep this among ourselves. We experts who know all about it and we boffins will use biodiversity in the Bill, but we won’t use it out there among the public. For that, we will use ‘nature’”.

I think there is still some merit in what I say, although it has not commanded the majority support of the noble Lords who have spoken today. I would like my noble friend to consider with me whether we can change the word in some instances where it is safe to do so. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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We have had a good debate that has allowed us to touch on many important features of what would make a good and sustainable environment. I hope that the Minister has listened carefully to the concerns and is able to reassure your Lordships that they will be taken on board during the course of the Bill. I look forward to his response.
Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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I thank noble Lords for their contributions, and I would like to clarify that the Bill gives us the power to set legally-binding long-term targets on any aspect of the natural environment, including the marine environment, soils and waste reduction. In further answer to the noble Earl, Lord Devon, we are not limiting our targets to four, nor are we binding the hands of future Governments. Developing targets is an iterative process where we should seek continuous improvements to strengthen our environmental outcomes. The Government will periodically review targets and can set more, especially if that is what is required to deliver significant improvement to the natural environment in England.

First, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for tabling Amendment 6. I reassure the noble Lord and others who have spoken on this issue that the initial round of targets is likely to include a target that covers the marine environment. I am pleased to confirm that we are collating evidence with a view to developing a new target on the condition of marine protected areas right now. We are aware that any marine-related target will need to complement and avoid duplication with the existing suite of targets set at UK level under the UK marine strategy. However, we do not want to prejudge where this evidence-based process will take us.

I want to comment on a number of points raised by noble Lords regarding marine targets and will touch on the “significant improvement test” for targets covered in Clause 6. A government amendment made in the other place clarified that both the terrestrial and marine aspects of England’s natural environment will be considered when conducting the significant improvement test. That has always been the ambition and there has never been any doubt about it, but that amendment removes whatever doubt might still linger. I hope that goes some way towards reassuring the noble Lord, Lord Young, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, talked about the importance of our domestic marine environment, highlighting the great story that is our blue belt programme around our overseas territories. She is right of course that we need to do much more to protect our domestic marine environment. We are at a stage now where we have 372 marine protected areas, that is about 38% of UK waters, but the focus now, having designated all those marine protected areas, has to be on ramping up protection. There is no doubt about that. I am pleased that the Government have accepted the central conclusions and recommendations of the Benyon Review Into Highly Protected Marine Areas and I believe the first designations are expected early next year. If that is wrong, I will be in touch, but I think it is early next year.

With regards to Amendment 7, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, our current target priority area is

“resource efficiency and waste reduction.”

The broader notion of “resource efficiency” in the Bill’s clauses, rather than “reduction of resource use” in the noble Baroness’s amendment, allows us to explore a target on resource productivity, which measures the economic value per unit of raw material use. This builds on the Government’s previous commitments to double resource productivity by 2050. Setting a target of resource productivity would allow us to reduce resource use, while helping to build the economy’s resilience to price volatility, increase resource security and enhance our international competitiveness. The concern is that the noble Baroness’s amendment would restrict our target development in this area.

Moving on, I agree very strongly with the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, that soil health is important. It is more than important, it is almost a pre-requisite for our survival, a point made by my noble friend Lord Caithness and the noble Lord, Lord Curry. This is why the Government are working collaboratively with technical experts to identify appropriate soil health metrics that can represent diverse functions and ecosystem services provided by soils across different land-use types. As she explained so well in her speech, it is a complicated business and an area where our understanding is perhaps not as complete as it should be.

These metrics will inform the development of the healthy soils indicator, as set out in the 25-year environment plan. We are also developing an evidence base, which could inform a long-term soil target and our understanding of soil health. Given our evidence-based approach to developing targets, I am sure that the noble Baroness appreciates the need to gather more data on soil health before pressing on and setting the actual target.

On Amendment 14 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, Defra modelling indicates that the action planned in the Clean Air Strategy to achieve existing legally binding targets will reduce the

“damaging deposition of reactive forms of nitrogen by 17% over … protected priority sensitive habitats by 2030”.

However, I scribbled my notes on that percentage in haste, and my writing is so bad that I might have got the percentage wrong. If I have, again, I will be in touch, but I think I can just about see what I have written here.

Moving on to the amendments tabled by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, I agree that increasing tree cover and improving tree health are, of course, important areas that require action, as many noble Lords have echoed. As noted in the policy paper on environmental targets published in August last year, the Government are considering a statutory target for trees in England. We will consult on a long-term tree target to help meet the Government’s commitments on climate change and biodiversity as part of a broader public consultation on targets expected early next year, based on recommendations of the Climate Change Committee. Again, we should not prejudge where this evidence-based process will take us. I also note that the Government have already committed, potentially as a first step, to at least 7,000 hectares per year in England by 2025, as announced in the recently published England Trees Action Plan, and have announced a Nature for Climate Fund of £640 million to increase planting in England.

I note the comments by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, on the potential role of natural regeneration over and above formal planting. I strongly agree with her there again. We have designed our incentives package in such a way that people can present plans for natural regeneration. If they are appropriate plans, the Government will provide the funding, just as they would in relation to other forms of tree planting. I hope we will see a significant uptake in the amount of land that is allowed to naturally regenerate.

I hope it reassures the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, to know that the Tree Health Resilience Strategy—published in 2018—outlined plans to protect England’s tree population from pest and disease threats. Tree health is continually monitored under Forest Research’s national forest inventory, providing accurate information about the condition of our forests and woodlands. The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, asked if we co-operated with Wales. The answer is that we absolutely do so very regularly on an issue which, as he rightly says, does not respect borders. Our evidence suggests that the right approach is to continue to use these measures to drive positive results for tree health.

Before I move off this issue, the noble Earl, Lord Devon, asked that we do not merely focus on new trees. He is right; the amount of existing woodland that is managed is far lower than it ought to be. I encourage him to look again at the England Trees Action Plan because there is a big emphasis throughout the plan on incentives for the better management of existing woodlands.

Moving on to the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge, based on the currently available evidence, artificial light is not identified as one of the main drivers of species decline, though I very much share his concerns on this issue. I agree, of course, that there is an urgent need for increased and further study in this area. The Government continue to take a broad approach to conserving insect pollinators, including in relation to artificial light. This includes measures such as controls in the planning system and the statutory nuisance regime.

As the designation of several of England’s national parks as International Dark Sky Reserves demonstrates, we are working to protect exceptional nocturnal environments, which bring huge natural, educational and cultural enjoyment to members of the public, a point made extremely powerfully by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell. I hope this goes some way to reassuring my noble friends Lord Taylor and Lord Trenchard, and the noble Lords, Lord Rooker and Lord Carrington, as well as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, that we take this issue seriously.

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Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I would be most grateful if the Minister could tell us what financial assessment has been made of the short-term benefit from these amendments, particularly the one on light pollution. There is a high cost to the NHS of the human health conditions that are aggravated by excessive light pollution exposure, especially in mental health disorders, and probably obesity and some cancers. There is also the financial benefit of decreasing the contamination of our marine waters, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, highlighted. That contamination seriously damages our seafood production. The financial benefit in the short term could therefore go hand in hand with a longer-term benefit from both these amendments of meeting our other targets.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for her question. On the first point about the cost assessments in relation to light pollution, I do not know whether that data exists. If it does, I have not seen it but I will ask the department whether it exists. If it does, I will make that information available by putting it in the Library—but I am not convinced that it does. On the broader point, in a sense this goes to the heart of the Bill. There are enormous cost savings in doing right by the environment. We know that if we do not use chemicals on our farms and allow them to wash into rivers, we will not have to spend money cleaning up our rivers downstream. If we manage land in a way that slows down the flow of water, we will need to spend less on concrete flood defences further downstream. It goes on and on. Perhaps the biggest saving of all relates, as the noble Baroness says, to human health. It is not an exact science; there is no data that we can point to and say, “This is exactly what we’re going to save by doing this or that”. But there is no doubt that if we take care of our environment in a way that, frankly, we have not for many decades, there will be an enormous saving to society in many different respects as a consequence.

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Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, this has been an extremely interesting debate on a very important issue. I will concentrate on Amendments 8 and 56, which are both in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, but also in the name of my noble friend Lady Quin, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. As we have heard, these would require rather than enable the Government to set legally binding, long-term targets to increase public access to and enjoyment of our natural environment.

First, however, I will say a few words about Amendment 58 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, which addresses the issue of motor vehicles driving for recreational purposes on unsealed tracks. I thank him for his introduction and for bringing this important issue to the attention of your Lordships’ House and of the Minister. I have been involved with the Green Lanes Environmental Action Movement, or GLEAM, and with Friends of the Lake District. Both are concerned about the deterioration of a number of these lanes due to the large increase in motor vehicle usage over the past 20 years or so. These lanes are an important part of the Lake District’s cultural heritage and were of course originally made for pedestrian and horse-drawn traffic. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, himself mentioned the problem in the national parks, and it is only getting worse.

Friends of the Lake District believes that there is a strong case for introducing traffic regulation orders, or TROs, to restrict motorised use of the lanes to preserve their natural beauty and tranquillity. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, also mentioned this and talked about how TROs could be used effectively. However, I was also interested to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, who believes that we need to look at other solutions. Will the Minister listen sympathetically to the concerns that have been expressed about the damage that is being caused? This may be quite niche but it has a big impact.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, introduced Amendments 9 and 57, which have the important aims of connecting people to nature. He also talked about getting their buy-in to the behaviour changes that may be needed. Perhaps we do not pay enough attention to this.

Amendments 8 and 56 were ably introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market. I was interested to hear her idea of creating a new national framework for access to open spaces and nature, so that we properly enable public access. She also made the important point that we need to make sure that we pull together different parts of policy and legislation. For example, ELMS, planning and health and well-being all need to come together. I was also interested in the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on this area.

I am very fortunate in that I live right on the edge of the Lake District National Park, so I have some of the most beautiful countryside in the UK right on my doorstep. I can regularly enjoy fell walking with my family and my dog. This means that I also know that our personal experiences with nature are powerful. As the Committee has heard, numerous studies have demonstrated how important being active and getting outdoors in the fresh air are for both our physical and mental health and well-being. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, focused on the public health elements and the importance of access to open space. This is especially true when we are young, with nature acting as both an active playground and a place for curiosity and learning. Whether children are active in nature or not links to childhood obesity and to their mental health and happiness.

The Covid pandemic has shone a spotlight on our need to be outside enjoying nature. For those who have been less able to get outside, for example people without gardens or with less access to parks, the impact on mental health can be severely detrimental. The pandemic has also highlighted the fact that, for many people, easy access to the great outdoors and enjoyment of nature is far from guaranteed. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, made the point that, if you want a fitter and healthier society, access is clearly important. On the subject of the pandemic, I refer to what the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, said about the need to enjoy the countryside responsibly. It has been pretty appalling in the Lake District, with a huge increase in litter, fires, trees being chopped down and campsites abandoned. It is very sad for local communities when that happens. I get so frustrated: they come here because it is beautiful, so why have they trashed it? This brings me on to the points made by my noble friend Lord Young of Norwood Green. We really need to educate people and teach them the countryside code. The noble Earl, Lord Devon, also mentioned the importance of education about our natural environment.

For many years, the connection with nature has been steadily declining for parts of our society. Fewer than a quarter of children regularly use their local patch of nature, compared to over half of all adults when they were children. This lack of access to nature is exacerbated by inequality. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, made an important contribution to the debate by bringing the Committee’s attention to the statistics in Natural England’s people and nature survey, which support this. He also made an important contribution on what we need to do to try to turn this around. We know that, in urban areas, the most affluent 20% of wards have five times the number of parks or general green spaces, excluding gardens, per person that the most deprived 10% have. Similarly, in areas where more than 40% of residents are black or minority ethnic, there is 11 times less green space than in areas where residents are largely white. The noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, talked about access for those who had difficulty in getting out and about in the countryside. He particularly mentioned people with disabilities, though there is no guarantee that we can all have this access.

Clearly, we need to address this. The Government’s 25-year environment plan, which is due to be incorporated, as we know, as the first environmental plan, includes a policy aim to ensure that the natural environment can be used by everyone. Why is the opportunity not being taken to address this more directly in the Bill? Does the Minister accept that these amendments would go some way to start to improve access to nature for everyone, not just those like myself, who are fortunate to live close to nature or who can afford to go out and enjoy green spaces.

The changes brought about by these amendments would ensure that access to nature is a core consideration in the development of future policy. I think that they are needed because, as published, the Bill fails to commit the Government to act. I urge the Minister to give these proposals serious consideration.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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I thank noble Lords for their contributions and agree that the Covid pandemic has underlined the important role of nature in our health and well-being in so many different ways. Before I go any further, I sincerely apologise to the House for not having been in my place when the debate began. I extend my apologies to everyone taking part.

Regarding Amendment 9, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lucas, and Amendment 8, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, on environmental targets, the Government considered adding enjoyment of the natural environment as a priority area for setting targets. However, there are substantial uncertainties, as numerous noble Lords have pointed out, over how to objectively measure these areas to be able to set a meaningful and achievable target now.

While there is evidence that engaging with nature can and does benefit people’s health and well-being in many ways, the evidence necessary to support setting a legally binding target for this area is still developing. For example, increased footfall may reflect not increased access but increased human population in an area. The Government are researching how to objectively measure this area and the best mechanisms to drive change. However, I reassure noble Lords that the Bill’s framework allows for long-term targets to be set on any aspect of the natural environment or people’s enjoyment of it in future, if the evidence base develops.

Before I move on to Amendments 56 and 57, I acknowledge the comments of my noble friend Lord Lucas, echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on the need to secure consent in relation to policy of any sort, particularly environmental policy. It is so important that, when we arrive at solutions, they are thought up in such a way as to bring people with us. If we fail to do that, the risk is always there that we exhaust the public appetite for environmental policy. I have seen that on numerous occasions, where good initiatives have met with public opposition because of the manner in which they have been introduced. It is so important that we get that right.

Amendments 56 and 57, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lucas and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, are on environmental improvement plans. Connecting people with nature to improve health and well-being is a core objective of the 25-year environment plan. We anticipate that the plan will set the benchmark for future environmental improvement plans, as outlined in Clause 7 and the Explanatory Notes. However, the primary purpose of the environmental improvement plans is to set out the steps that the Government intend to take to improve the environment. Therefore, we do not necessarily want to give equal prominence to people’s enjoyment in environmental improvement plans, although, in practice, future Governments are absolutely free to do so.

Public access to, and people’s enjoyment of, the natural environment can in some instances have negative impacts on it, as my noble friend Lord Randall and the noble Earl, Lord Devon, explained. For example, too many visitors to beaches can negatively affect wildlife and their habitats, including through the litter that is so often infuriatingly left behind. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, made this point in relation to the Lake District, and it is something that I have seen myself. When I was Member of Parliament for Richmond Park, I saw piles of fast-food packaging left in the most beautiful spots in the park, which were chosen precisely because they were beautiful. It is mind-boggling and tells us that there is a need for some form of education, combined with incentives or disincentives, when it comes to leaving litter in the natural environment. Our enjoyment of nature cannot take precedence over our stewardship of that environment for the future.

I turn to the point made compellingly by my noble friend Lord Trenchard about the tensions that can exist between different groups. It is worth emphasising that Defra’s work to improve access always seeks to balance the needs of users and landowners. The Government work closely with stakeholders, representing as many interests as we possibly can, and landowners can formally object to proposals to create national trails across their land. Rural communities—this is a point worth stressing because it is not always about people coming in from miles away—can benefit from improved access, according to our evidence. Recent surveys show that 51% of walkers along the coast are local people, not those coming from miles away.

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Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord McNicol of West Kilbride) (Lab)
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The time for the noble Lord to do that may be tight but let us try. The Minister will respond to the points already made by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, and we will then move on to the other speakers. If, at the end, we can get the noble Viscount reconnected, we will come back to him.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for half of his question. He got to the point of echoing some of the concerns which were raised by previous speakers. Because we did not get to the substance of his question, I would be happy to arrange to contact him tomorrow with a view to discussing the issue—whatever it is—with my officials.

Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his responses to my amendments, but if he wants an example of how a connection with nature could be measured, he need not look further than the Glover review. Proposal 8, as I remember, is a night under the stars in a national landscape for every child; that is a pretty good target to aim at, and one which would go a long way toward achieving what I would like to see achieved at least over the long term. Once a child has done that sort of thing, they tend to bring their parents back, if it is properly organised.

I understand the difficulties that my noble friend faces, but there are things that, given the incentive of something in the Bill, could be done. An information system, for instance—a decent national online database of parks—would be something which people could use, and would then be a vehicle for the countryside code and enable areas to be set aside during the nesting season or lambing season, so that the relationship between the rambler and the farmer could be better moderated. There are things which the Government could do in this area if they set their mind to it. I have been really encouraged by what Natural England has been saying in this area. If the Government have a change of heart, I shall be delighted.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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I can reassure my noble friend that it does not require the Government to have a change of heart, as we fully support access to nature for all the reasons which have been described so well by so many noble Lords. Indeed, just a few months ago the Defra Secretary committed £4 million for a project aimed at tackling mental ill-health through green social prescribing, which goes to the heart of some of the issues raised today. We want everyone to have access to a healthy, abundant and diverse environment, and the Environment Bill as a whole is an attempt to try to improve both our environment and access and enjoyment of it. Of course, we have much more to do and I am interested in the examples he has cited.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, in his response the Minister referred to the issue of littering, particularly personal responsibility for littering, but we were earlier talking about waste reduction targets. The people who profit from the production of that litter are of course fast-food companies and multinational food production companies. When it finally arrives, the bottle deposit scheme will be an important area of this. Will the Minister acknowledge that this is not just a personal issue but a case where we have to see system change, that multinational companies and fast-food outlets have to look at the ways their food is sold, and the packaging they produce, and that this needs to be seen as more than a personal problem?

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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I could not agree more. There is of course an element of personal responsibility; it is not always down to the Government, but the noble Baroness is absolutely right. That is the whole point of our approach to extended producer responsibility, and that can apply to anything. It is very much my hope that we will be at a point not too far off where fast-food companies are financially responsible for the waste generated by their activities. We would see, the moment one creates a financial dynamic of that sort, that companies will do anything they can either to design waste out of the way they do business or to minimise the amount of waste they know they will generate. I do not think there is a better way of doing it, but clearly having created the apparatus, which we will do through this Bill, we then must use it, and use it properly. If we do, we can get where we need to in relation to waste.

Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord McNicol of West Kilbride) (Lab)
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We shall have one more try at reaching the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman. If this does not work, the Minister has offered to contact him directly. Viscount Bridgeman?

Viscount Bridgeman Portrait Viscount Bridgeman (Con) [V]
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My Lords, thank you very much. I am most grateful and I apologise for the problems.

The advantage of this amendment is that it is easy for the general public to appreciate: quite simply, it requires the Secretary of State to institute a public consultation affecting unsealed tracks. “Unsealed” is an unqualified word, and it means all—I repeat, all—unsealed tracks. Here, I take issue with my noble friend Lord Trenchard. A lot of thought went into the framing of that amendment, and I suggest to your Lordships that “unsealed” is sufficiently definitive.

As the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said, it does not seek a change in the law and it does not aim to be confrontational against the users of off-road motor vehicles; it simply seeks to ensure that any proposal for the use of these green lanes by such users is as widely aired with the general public as possible. This is in line with the lead amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, about public access to and general knowledge of the countryside.

There is one beneficial effect which I hope the passing of the amendment will bring, and here I venture to disagree with my two noble colleagues. As the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said, the TROs are very divisive, costly and lead to unpleasantness and legal actions. But, at the end of the day, the general lanes of this country are a priceless part of our national heritage, and they are beautiful. However, it has to be faced that any use for recreational purposes by motorbikes, quad bikes, et cetera, renders them ugly. I have said that we do not wish to have a confrontation with those users, but compromise is always probably necessary, and I suggest that it is just a reasonable and small additional step to safeguard our precious inheritance.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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I thank the noble Viscount for his question. I certainly do not pretend to be an expert on this, but my understanding is that the use of motorised vehicles is already regulated and, therefore, limited to access routes classed as byways. My understanding—I think this is what the noble Viscount said—is that it is not about creating new laws or new restrictions; it is about implementing the rules already in existence. If he disagrees with that and thinks that it is a matter of tweaking the laws, I am very happy to hear from him after this debate—not tonight, I hope, but perhaps tomorrow.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market Portrait Baroness Scott of Needham Market (LD) [V]
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My Lords, this has been a fascinating debate. I am very pleased that I tabled these amendments because they have enabled the Committee to surface a number of almost apparently contradictory themes. There seems to be a general sense that access is a good thing, but only on certain terms and only if people do not do certain things. It has really highlighted the tensions involved, whether greater access or better access. In many ways, the debate has made the case for a more strategic approach on the part of government, because it is the only way some of these things can be resolved.

I am very grateful to the Minister for his broadly constructive response. I was slightly struck by the irony that it appears that all sorts of government initiatives and funds are being put into this, but they are not really being joined up in the way that they probably should be. I will bet that there is already a whole set of targets established in every one of these funds, because that is the way government funds always work. I think it is possible to set targets in this way, so I hope the Minister will give a little more thought about how he can work with user groups and other interested people to think about this.

Finally, for me, this is always about access to nature; it is not just about access to the countryside. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, made a really important contribution when he focused first on the financial and economic inequalities, but also on the importance of these smaller local green spaces. There are many people in our crowded island who, sadly, will never get out into the countryside. That does not mean we should not aspire to it, but they will find it difficult. It just makes it all the more important that they have access to good-quality space close to where they live. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.