Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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We have had a really interesting debate—it has covered quite a lot of areas. I offer our strong support for Amendment 241 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey.

I am enjoying our Committee debates, particularly last week’s. Many concerns have been raised about the condition of our chalk streams. We know that they have particularly pure, clear and constant water from the underground chalk aquifers, and they flow across gravel beds, which makes them absolutely perfect sources of clean water and ideal for lots of wild creatures to breed and thrive in. However, we also know that too many have been overused and undervalued, drained almost dry in places and polluted in others. Research shows that a third of the water that we take from our rivers is wasted. The Angling Trust has said:

“The fate of England’s chalk streams is the litmus test in terms of how this country treats its environment.”

So we thank the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for tabling this amendment for better protections for our chalk streams, which are so badly needed. Again, I offer our strong support.

We also strongly support Amendment 235, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, which would ensure that the primary purpose of species conservation strategies is to support the recovery of nature, rather than to facilitate faster development. As the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, said, the debate today has shown huge support for his amendment. A strategic approach to species conservation is essential to preserving biodiversity and enabling nature’s recovery. This should include protecting, restoring and creating habitat over a wider area to meet the needs of individual species. Strategic approaches to species conservation are clearly essential. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, talked about her experience of bats, for example. It is vital that we enable this recovery of nature. Between 2013 and 2018, 46% of conservation priority species in England declined. We know that many of these species would benefit from a strategic plan resulting in all relevant public bodies taking appropriate actions to save and restore them. The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, asked for clear objectives to be set out, and this is clearly important.

The proposal for species conservation strategies must also be understood in the context of the net-gain offsetting that we already discussed in Committee last week. Our fear is that there could be unintended consequences. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, outlined his concerns that, sadly, the overall result could be to allow the destruction of habitats and protected species in return for new habitat creation elsewhere. A developer could be licensed to proceed with activities that destroy habitats and species in return for contributing to habitats that support the wider population of that species. We share the noble Lord’s concern that this could allow a developer to proceed without protecting every specimen of a protected species and without always undertaking the appropriate site-specific survey work. We do not want to speed up development and reduce costs, which would ultimately do the opposite of what the Bill is trying to achieve.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, mentioned the importance of planning authorities having a clear understanding of what is required, and this will be needed if these proposals are to be implemented well. We need to contribute to the conservation of certain species but, if that is managed badly or applied inappropriately, we could end up with it being nothing more than a shortcut to getting around some of the protected species obligations. Can the Minister confirm that, where species conservation strategies are used in cases of development planning, species’ needs will dictate the outcome, with the overriding presumption and priority being for on-site or local, rather than off-site, mitigations? Will he also confirm that biodiversity net gains will be additional to meeting the legal and policy requirements within the species conservation strategies?

We are looking for some serious reassurance from the Minister that the species conservation strategies will not lead to perverse outcomes. We need to ensure that they are delivering gains for nature rather than gains for developers. Can he also confirm that site-specific impact assessments at the time of planning or of other consent applications will still be carried out to ensure that all impacts are identified and addressed? We need assurance that each strategy will be framed around the conservation objectives of the sites concerned, as well as any other conservation considerations.

I will now move on to the amendments tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, who made some very important points in his introduction. I am sure that noble Lords will support his important aim; all we want to do is to make this part of the Bill work better, and his amendments ably try to do that. We need to look to wider concerns that encompass all factors, not just habitats. The noble Earl made an important point when he talked about management being a forgotten activity that will help deliver success to our conservation strategies, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, supported him in that. The noble Earl, Lord Devon, also asked for assurances from the Minister about support for farmers and rural businesses. Again, this is an important area that must not be forgotten.

Turning to Amendment 293A, in the name of my noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton, I thank him for his very detailed introduction. I also thank the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, for sharing his extensive knowledge and experience of this matter. As the EU proceeds towards a ban on all lead ammunition, UK policy is lagging significantly behind the practices and organisational policies of many ammunition users. As my noble friend Lord Browne said so eloquently, there are no safe levels of lead—it affects all major body systems of animals, including humans. As the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, said, regulation has ensured removal of lead from petrol, paint and drinking water. The last largely unregulated release of lead into our environment is from lead ammunition. We have heard that non-toxic ammunition is widely available, and guidance on its use is provided on the website of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation—BASC.

We have also heard in this debate that the UK shooting community is preparing for change, which is coming, but voluntary efforts to move away from lead shot have always failed. We need leadership from government, with legislation, if this change is going to happen. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, said, this amendment is deliverable. Finally, I ask the Minister: what progress is his department making in bringing this legislation forward and ending this practice?

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 will start with Amendment 234, tabled by the noble Lord, Chidgey, and Amendment 235, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, but first I will offer some words on the overall objectives of species conservation strategies. The strategies will be developed by Natural England for species that are under threat and would benefit from a more strategic and focused approach to improve their conservation status. They will identify priorities for the species and bring together relevant public authorities, ENGOs and any other interested parties to identify the bespoke solutions needed to tackle the threat each species faces.

I understand the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, to ensure that the strategies contribute to nature’s recovery, but Clause 102 already guarantees this. In line with the intention behind the measure, subsection (1) specifically defines the purpose of a strategy as:

“for improving the conservation status of any species of fauna or flora.”

Subsection (4) elaborates on the elements that the strategy may contain, including creating and enhancing habitats with the explicit purpose

“of improving the conservation status of the species”.

The mitigation hierarchy is also set out in subsection (4), as we are clear that each species will require a bespoke approach to avoidance or mitigation of harm or the creation of compensatory habitat. It is important that Natural England is given a power in the Bill to create strategies where they are likely to have the biggest possible impact. Changing “may” to “must”, as suggested by Amendment 234, would therefore change that power into a duty to create strategies, and this would place an unreasonable obligation on Natural England to create a very large number of strategies, including for species which would see little or no benefit. We think that it makes more sense for Natural England to focus its resources where strategies can provide the most benefit for key species in decline.

Natural England is already working with relevant conservation groups to develop the first strategies; others are in the pipeline, including—to answer the noble Lord, Lord Krebs’s question—for the dormouse and water vole. I think he said that it is also the case that the district-level licensing approach is not considered to be something that would work for bats. That is our view as well, so we will not be using that approach.

On Amendment 241, I share the determination of the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, to protect our chalk streams, as many noble Lords do. Restoring our internationally recognised and important chalk streams is already a government priority. Species conservation strategies, however, are bespoke, targeted measures to help protect specific species at risk. Although they will by their nature and design help restore the habitats and ecosystems without which those species cannot flourish, they are not the best mechanism for achieving that specific aim. While activities to help a particular species may involve necessary actions to improve habitats such as chalk streams, the focus needs to remain on the species itself.

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Lord Randall of Uxbridge Portrait Lord Randall of Uxbridge (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I heard what my noble friend the Minister said regarding the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton. Does he not agree that even if we banned the use of lead ammunition in killing wild birds and animals, although it would not address target and clay pigeon shooting, surely that would set the whole thing off? Would it not be a great first move to make?

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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I am very keen for us to make progress as quickly as we can. I understand frustrations with the REACH process. My understanding is that that process is best placed to deliver the change we need despite the time that it takes. If it is possible to move more quickly, given that we know that the science is pretty clear and that alternatives exist, I would certainly be open to pursuing those opportunities. If my noble friend would like to join me in my meeting with my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury, he would be very welcome.

Lord Chidgey Portrait Lord Chidgey (LD)
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I thank all noble Lords and noble Baronesses who have spoken in support of my amendment. The vigour of the debate was very encouraging for me and my fellow Hampshire men and women who are trying to do something to protect our environment and the habitats that we have lived with and cherished throughout our lives.

I also thank the Minister for his remarks. It is encouraging that the Government are taking this issue seriously and are already debating with the proprietors of the chalk stream restoration strategy report, which I understand will be submitted to government in September. That being the case, I look forward to going with colleagues and friends into discussions with government beyond then to see whether we can address these issues, which are so important to our native land. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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It has been a very interesting debate. The Minister really needs to listen to people’s concerns, particularly regarding Clause 106, and I look forward to his response.
Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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I thank all Peers for their contributions to this debate, and I share the strong feeling in this House that we need to protect our precious species and habitats, and ensure that our laws and regulations enable us to do that. This Bill creates a new ambitious domestic framework for nature. We have brought forward a suite of legally binding targets, including two for biodiversity, put environmental improvement plans on a statutory footing and created a range of powerful new policy levers, including biodiversity net gain. The Government’s intention is to capitalise on this new framework and, to enable us to do so, we must be able to update our conservation laws. So it is right that those laws should be updated to meet our new heightened ambition for nature restoration in this country, even while we must be clear—as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, emphasised— that whatever changes are brought in do not reduce existing protections for our most vulnerable sites and species.

Earlier in Committee, I brought forward a new clause to require the Government to set a further legally binding target aiming to halt the decline of nature. Ensuring that our protected sites can be restored to good condition to provide a safe haven for our most vulnerable habitats and species is a key part of this. That is why we are introducing a power to amend Part 6 of the habitats regulations. The twin climate and biodiversity crises present long-term challenges that threaten our future if left unchecked, so we need to ensure that we have the means to act, if we need to, to adapt some of our principal nature conservation rules to address these pressures.

The Government want to see a more nature-rich Britain, with a fit-for-purpose regulatory framework that drives the delivery of our ambition and reverses the decline of nature. A Green Paper in autumn this year will seek views on any proposed changes within the context of the Government’s approach to nature recovery. The paper will be informed by the habitats regulations assessment working group, led by my colleague, my noble friend Lord Benyon. Stakeholders will have the opportunity to influence how we can improve our wildlife laws to deliver on these ambitions. Noble Lords will know that the clause includes a number of safeguards that are designed to retain our existing protections. I will set them out here, as it is important to demonstrate that the Government do not treat this casually.

The power to amend Regulation 9 cannot be used before 1 February 2023, after the Government have set our biodiversity targets and reviewed the environmental improvement plan. In addition, Ministers will have to be satisfied and explain to Parliament that any change would not reduce our existing environmental protections, and Parliament will have a vote on any use of the powers. In addition, Ministers must consult before the powers are used. We have committed to consulting with the OEP, in particular, before these powers are used. Moreover, we will of course ensure that consultation on any proposals is comprehensive and appropriate to deliver our environmental ambitions.

In response to Amendment 257AA in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, I stress that the test that the Secretary of State must “be satisfied” that protections are not reduced is a high bar. It requires certainty on his part that there have been no reductions in protections from the existing habitats regulations. The Secretary of State will also have to demonstrate this by making a statement to this House and subjecting that statement to scrutiny. If the judgment of the Secretary of State is proven, or even thought, to be wrong, it can subsequently be challenged in court.

Looking slightly more widely, I will also address the noble Lord’s Amendments 255 and 256. I hope I have demonstrated that we want to enhance the regulatory framework to improve outcomes for nature in this country. I understand the concern that this power might substitute the protections offered by the directives with more general requirements. However, it is designed to allow requirements to specify particular protections for habitats and species. For example, we could require specific species to be strictly protected to ensure delivery of our new species abundance target. It will also provide greater clarity for public authorities on the precise requirements they are required to meet. These amendments would not allow us to reconsider existing requirements in the directives. This would deprive us of the scope potentially to clarify or improve the requirements and would therefore remove the opportunity to tailor and improve the existing legislative framework to support our domestic ambitions and international obligations.

To address some of the points raised by my noble friend Lady McIntosh, the UK, probably more than any other country, is playing a central role in reversing biodiversity loss—for example, in negotiating the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, which commits world leaders to urgent action by 2030, and goes far beyond that. I encourage anyone who has not read it to do so; it is a very ambitious document, to which 86 countries have signed up so far.

At home, we are committed to protecting 30% of our land for nature and have come forward with a duty to set a legally binding target on species abundance, which we have already discussed in Committee. We are also publishing a Green Paper later this year, which will provide the first opportunity in a generation to draw together the evidence for change to update and modernise our current patchwork of wildlife legislation, which has been developed in a somewhat piecemeal manner over many decades. We can then build a coherent system of protection to ensure that our most precious habitats and species thrive across England. But time is critical. Where the evidence is clear that amending the regulations could improve the natural environment and make the processes clearer and more legally certain to help improve the condition of our sites, we will have the means of doing so.

In response to a question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, we will provide a full impact assessment of any regulations made under the powers, when bringing them forward, in line with the approach taken to delegated powers across the Bill. My understanding is that we cannot use those powers until the metrics are in place and the targets have been set.

In response to a number of noble Lords and as I mentioned earlier, the Secretary of State has asked my noble friend Lord Benyon to form a small informal group to oversee consideration of how the habitats directive amendments proposed in the Bill, in relation to these regulations, might be progressed. This thinking will feed into the Green Paper planned for autumn this year. If the evidence suggests that amending the regulations can help improve the condition of our sites and contribute to our 2030 ambition, we will have the means to do so swiftly.

I add one further point to the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. Her compelling speech described the habitats directive as having worked, but the reality is that it has not. We have experienced a dramatic collapse in our biodiversity over recent years and decades, despite the rules that are in place. It is wrong to hold them up as some kind of gold standard. That is not to say they are without value; they have been an extraordinarily important framework that, I suspect, has prevented even more damage being done to our nature and biodiversity, but it would be wrong if the extent of our ambition were to end with the status quo, which is not delivered. I reiterate to noble Lords my assurance that the Government will not do anything to undermine existing protections and will take a measured, inclusive and consultative approach to reform. In light of this, I beg that Clause 106 stands part of the Bill.

I recognise the importance of the proposal of my noble friend the Duke of Montrose, in his Amendments 257A and 257B, to encourage sustainable development and betterment. Our farmers play an enormously important role as custodians of our natural environment—a point made well by the noble Earl, Lord Devon. They play an enormously important role and their contribution will be critical to delivering nature recovery. Nature recovery and our ambitions will not be possible without them. It is not a choice of farmers versus nature, farmers versus biodiversity or farming versus beauty. As is already happening all over the country, we have to find a way to reconcile these ambitions. We are already working on guidance to support our ambition of modernising on-farm infrastructure, a vital part of the agricultural transition to improve productivity and efficiency, and to protect the environment.

Clause 105 offers the opportunity to ensure legacy EU legislation can protect and enhance our natural environment as effectively as possible. The Green Paper, which will be published later this year, will provide an opportunity to explore these issues further. I welcome discussion with noble Lords and stakeholders as part of this.

I hope I understood the question from my noble friend the Duke of Montrose. He asked me to reconfirm that the UK will adhere to those international agreements to which we have signed up. If that is what he asked, I would be happy to do so, as any of my colleagues would.

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Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I was not intending to speak to this group of amendments, especially as I was keen to keep the Minister sweet for my tree amendments in the next group, but I have become increasingly worried and suspicious. I support the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and want to ask the Minister about the Government’s intentions.

Why the Government would want to put their head into this particular lions’ den mystifies me. Why were the clauses to weaken the habitat regulations introduced without consultation, late in the day in May? The habitat regulations, with protections for SACs and SPAs, are one of the jewels in the crown of EU environmental legislation. Even for Brexiteers there are such things, one of them being the habitats regulations. They give protection for the very small number of the most important priority sites and species, and there are only about 900 across the whole four nations of the UK. Quite a lot of them are in Scotland and out to sea, so it is not as if you would be falling over SPAs and SACs on every street corner and being prevented from doing anything as a result. We know that their protections are much valued by the public. They are also a bit of a coup for the UK. The UK led on negotiating these protections into EU law originally. It was the Prime Minister’s dad who played a substantial role in that, so threatening the habitats regulations is tantamount to a declaration of war. Why would the Government invite this sort of conflict? That is what is worrying me.

Clause 105 says that there will be no diminution of the habitats regulations’ requirements, but the judgment on this is left to the Minister, and, although he will consult and bring proposals to Parliament, he will to some extent mark his own homework—so noble Lords can see why I am suspicious. Speeches like that of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, stir up that suspicion even further. The government proposals could quite easily be set alongside and be complementary to the habitats regulations’ requirements. The requirement to meet the Environment Bill targets and the environmental improvement plan targets could be additional and not instead of the habitats regulations’ requirements. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, very clearly pointed out that they are not the same requirements.

In fact, of the targets that we discussed earlier in Committee, the one that the Government are prepared to move on is on species abundance, which is about species numbers, rather than habitats or sites. So the habitats regulations’ protection for these most important habitats and sites is still required. Why do the Government want to junk one of the decent pieces of EU legislation? Is it simply because it is a European law? Is the Minister being forced into sweeping the ground for a set of planning proposals that have not been seen across government yet, let alone by your Lordships or the public?

In these circumstances, Clause 106 ought to be deleted from the Bill—it is a pig in a poke, and we do not know enough about what is going to come in its wake. Above all, I would like to hear from the Minister why the Government are stepping into this maelstrom—because it will be one—and how the changes that they plan to make could be made more transparent so that your Lordships could be enabled to decide whether or not to be suspicious. I would also like to hear why we cannot have what the Minister is proposing as an addition to the existing habitats regulations’ requirements, rather than instead of them.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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I am sorry that I have raised the noble Baroness’s suspicions. I have described the safeguards that are in place, and I will not repeat them because she will have heard what I said. It is wrong to imply, as I think she did, that we are scrapping the habitats directive or that it is deemed to have no value by government—that is not the case, and I hope that I made that clear in my speech. However, it is equally wrong to pretend that it is unimprovable; clearly, it is improvable and clearly we need a better or improved set of rules to deliver on the ambition that we have set ourselves. The facts make that unarguable.

However, I will go further and say that describing what the Government are doing as a “declaration of war” against nature is very hard to reconcile with an Environment Bill that has unprecedented targets. I challenge the noble Baroness to find any other country with ambitions that come even close to those that we are setting out here in relation to peat, water, waste, species, tree planting, et cetera. I challenge her to find any other country that has as ambitious an approach in relation to land-use subsidies. Indeed, I can tell her that we are the only country to have attempted, let alone achieved, the transition from the kinds of subsidies that dominate worldwide to the subsidy system that we are replacing them with, based on the condition of the delivery of public goods. Through the Bill, we are the only country to legislate to clean up our international footprint. I believe that we are introducing a world first in net gain. I could go on with many other examples. The idea that the Bill represents a declaration of war on nature is frankly absurd.

Duke of Montrose Portrait The Duke of Montrose (Con) [V]
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I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for expressing concern for the rural economy and farming, but the only question is whether, without this amendment, it is a continuing commitment. It was interesting to hear him thread together his arguments about the habitats directive and how it is safeguarded under the Bill.

I asked about the position on permitted development rights for farmers—perhaps he would like to write to me.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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I apologise to the noble Duke if I did not answer all his questions. I will scan Hansard and write to him to fill in any gaps that I left.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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I thank all Peers for their contributions to this very interesting and well-informed debate, and I thank the Minister for his reply. I listened very carefully to what he said, and he certainly made some encouraging noises. He reiterated that the Government wish to ensure that we do not reduce existing protections and that we want to create a more nature-rich Britain. I understood, I hope correctly, that there will be some Green Paper consultation on changes to the habitats regulations and that, in making any changes, the Secretary of State will consult the office for environmental protection. The Minister did not mention the other bodies that I listed—Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee—but I hope that the Secretary of State will also consult them. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, he also confirmed that there would be some form of impact assessment related to any proposed changes.

In spite of that, having listened to what the noble Baroness, Lady of Young of Old Scone, just said, I think that a number of us are not totally convinced and wonder why, if the Government’s intentions are so genuinely for nature, they are not prepared to make some relatively modest changes to Clause 105 and, possibly, if not remove Clause 106, certainly change its wording to give us in the Bill the reassurance that the Minister is prepared to give us at the Dispatch Box.

I will also comment on a few points that were made by various contributors to the debate. Many Peers, including the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, my noble friend Lord Devon, the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Lady Hayman of Ullock, and the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, spoke about the balance between the needs of nature and the needs of people. None of us doubts that there is a balance to be struck, and we do not know exactly what that balance is. But what we do know, without any question—I do not think anybody in this Chamber or elsewhere could deny it—is that, in the past, the balance has been in favour of human exploitation, wealth and economy, and against nature. Otherwise, if we have not got it wrong in the past, why are we living in one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world? Whatever balance we seek, it must be a balance where the needle shifts from the past towards a position on the dial where nature is given higher priority. That is what I and many other Peers who have spoken in this debate and previous debates in Committee firmly believe. I think the Minister shares that belief.

The second point is about the combination of trust, consultation and non-regression. My noble friend Lady Boycott gave a compelling example of why we should not take things on trust—why we have to look at what is happening on the ground rather than honeyed words that we might hear. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, also referred to the Government’s commitment to non-regression, which the Minister did not actually repeat but I think he implied. It is not that we do not trust the Minister, but trust is something that has to be borne by future generations of Governments and many of us would like to see some tweaking of the Bill to underpin that trust.

The final point that came up in the debate, which the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, mentioned, was the question of whether this is really all about cutting red tape. The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, gave us the impression that, in her view, there is a need to cut excessive bureaucracy that we have inherited from the European Union.

I will take away and reflect on what the Minister has said, but I end with one final comment, picking up on something that the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, said, about the biodiversity metric. Yesterday, I read a very powerful criticism of the biodiversity metric by Professor Katherine Willis, a member of the Natural Capital Committee until it was disbanded. She argues that the metric, as currently developed by Defra and Natural England, is absolutely not fit for purpose. Among the many other meetings that he is now committing himself to, is the Minister prepared to meet me, Professor Willis and perhaps some other interested Members of this House to review these criticisms of the biodiversity metric and, perhaps at the same time, to discuss any changes in wording to Clauses 105 and 106? In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw.

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Moved by
257: Clause 105, page 106, line 15, at end insert “or (Environmental targets: species abundance)”
Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanatory statement for new Clause (Environmental targets: species abundance).
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We have had a wide-ranging debate, and it is a late hour. I hope the Minister is persuaded by these arguments and will be prepared to take some of them forward. I therefore look forward to hearing his response.
Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions on this important topic. The best time to plant a tree was, of course, years ago; the second-best time is now, so I am glad that we have committed to doing so at scale. The Government committed in May through our new England Trees Action Plan to action in this Parliament to support unprecedented levels of tree planting to deliver the many benefits that trees can provide. The action plan was widely and warmly welcomed by NGOs, conservation groups and stakeholders. This Bill includes measures which will update our tree protection laws, including by increasing fines and attaching restocking orders to land rather than landowners, who could sell their land without restocking trees.

I want to start by addressing Amendment 260. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for championing trees through her support for the Woodland Trust. I have enjoyed talking to her on many occasions about this issue in recent months. I share her ambition to see more trees planted and our existing woodlands protected. It has been positive to see such support from charities and the public for our plans and ambitions, as these ambitions can be delivered only with the support of the country.

That is why the Government committed to at least trebling tree-planting rates in England over this Parliament and to consulting on a new long-term tree target under the Environment Bill. We have committed in this Bill to producing regular statutory environmental improvement plans, beginning with our 25-year environment plan. This will regularly update our natural environment policies, including for trees. Therefore, we do not need another separate, individual strategy for trees; we have a strategy for trees.

Amendment 258 proposes an amendment to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, introducing an additional differentiation between sites of special scientific interest and ancient woodland. Ancient woodlands established before 1600 are some of our most precious habitats and many are already designated under the SSSI series. The definition of ancient woodland is also already clearly established in the Forestry Commission and Natural England standing advice. However, we need to update the ancient woodlands inventory to map where they are and we are doing so, as the noble Baroness knows, alongside the Woodland Trust. Our England Trees Action Plan includes new steps to protect and restore ancient woodlands through management and restoration. Our new England woodland creation offer will fund landowners to buffer and expand ancient woodland sites by planting native broadleaf woodland. We will update the keepers of time policy on management of ancient woodland, veteran trees and other semi-natural woodlands, and we are also expanding the ancient woodland inventory to better map those ancient woodlands. The action plan announced our intention to establish a new category of long-established woodland, in situ since 1840. The Government will consult on the protections that these critical woodlands are afforded in the planning system. I also confirm that our upcoming planning reforms will not weaken our strong protections for trees but rather enhance them, with many more trees planted as well. As such, I reassure the noble Baroness that we are taking significant steps to protect and restore ancient woodlands. That said, I will look closely at her proposal. As she said, ancient woodlands are irreplaceable and need our maximum protection.

Turning to the noble Baroness’s Amendment 259, I also assure her of our commitment to increasing UK biosecurity. I know that I do not need to lecture your Lordships’ House about the devastating impact of ash dieback or Dutch elm disease, or the importance of vigilance against other threatening diseases. The Government already support the plant health management standard and certification scheme, which is an independent, industry-backed biosecurity standard available to all market sectors and it covers international supply chains.

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Lord Marlesford Portrait Lord Marlesford (Con) [V]
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My Lords, we have rightly heard much about the importance of protecting ancient woodland in Britain for global reasons. Is it not as important, and perhaps more urgent, to halt and prevent the loss of tropical rainforests, such as the Amazon? Has my noble friend considered the proposals that I made at Second Reading for the relief of national debt, both interest and capital repayment, equal to a multiple—possibly a high multiple—of the commercial value of the rainforest that we want to protect? Only if the rainforest were interfered with would the debt be reinstated.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. We will talk a bit about similar issues in the next debate on due diligence, but it is certainly the case that, if we want forested countries to protect what they have, implement the laws that are in place and help us to turn the tide on deforestation, there will need to be an incentive. In some part, that means financial transfer from other countries. The UK is leading efforts, with the development of a new programme called LEAF, which has already raised in excess of a £1 billion, in theory at least. We hope to continue to attract partners from the private sector and Governments, with a view to working with the main forested nations to protect the forest that they have. This is just one of many initiatives; we are working on a number of initiatives between now and COP, with a view to making a meaningful intervention, we hope, at that event.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I am conscious of the hour. I thank the Minister for the initiatives that he spoke of on ancient woodland but ask that, when he continues to look at ancient woodland protection, he also raises the effectiveness of the implementation of the current planning guidance with the MHCLG, because it is clear that, if we have 1,200 cases of ancient woodlands at risk, the implementation simply cannot be working. I would be grateful if he would agree to raise that with the MHCLG and, while he is there, he could ask them about the planning reforms and get some guarantee that they will not reduce the level of protection for ancient woodland below the current NPPF and, preferably, improve it.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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My Lords, I have had commitments from the MHCLG that our protections for trees will be improved and enhanced, and will not move backwards, but I will continue to press home that case. I am seeing the Secretary of State in a matter of days to talk about this and a number of other issues, and I will raise the points that the noble Baroness raised in her speech today.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull (CB) [V]
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I am also sorry to delay matters. I thank the Minister for his response, but I am afraid he did not address my point about refuges and safe areas caused by governmental bodies not controlling the problems of squirrels and deer. They were listed in subsection (3) of my proposed new clause. To save time, I wonder whether he might add to his lengthy list of things a meeting to discuss that, because it is a very serious area. If we do not address that problem successfully, as I and many others pointed out, we will not be allowed to do the forestation we need.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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I am very happy to meet and will be in touch.

Lord Kerslake Portrait Lord Kerslake (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I first thank the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Neville-Rolfe, Lady Bakewell and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for their comments. I also welcome the Minister’s response on the consultation. I am concerned about the need to get the practicalities right and, in particular, to have a workable model. That will require the extensive involvement of local government before it is finalised.

On exemptions, I still feel that the Bill is too narrowly drawn to cover eventualities when local authorities will need to move quickly. I wonder if that can be entirely covered by the Bill, in any event. I recognise the risks that local authorities will abuse such a power but, nevertheless, we have not quite got it right yet. Recognising the hour, though, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, this is a really important group of amendments and I am pleased that, despite the late hour, we have managed to have a good debate around them. I will speak to Amendment 264ZA, in the name of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch and the noble Lord, Lord Oates, but we also support other amendments in this group and thank noble Lords for tabling them. There are some very important points that need to be addressed.

In his introduction to his amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, talked about the Government’s 25-year environment plan and their commitment to ensuring that

“our consumption and impact on natural capital are sustainable, at home and overseas.”

It is therefore a bit disappointing that the Environment Bill does not currently reflect this commitment adequately.

The Global Resource Initiative task force recommended back in March 2020 that the Government

“urgently introduces a mandatory due diligence obligation on companies that place commodities and derived products that contribute to deforestation”,

whether legal or illegal under local laws, on the UK market. It also recommended that, since not all businesses have begun to commit to and implement sustainable supply chains, a legally binding target to end deforestation —as we have heard from other noble Lords—would provide the “necessary signal” for a shift in industry behaviour. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, did, we welcome the Government’s amendment that was tabled in the other place following campaigning, and the fact that Schedule 16 now includes a new prohibition on the use of certain commodities associated with illegal deforestation and requirements for large companies to undertake due diligence and reporting. However, as we heard in the debate, the provisions simply do not go far enough in progressing either the GRI recommendations or the level of action that is demanded.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, mentioned the lack of attention to human rights in Schedule 16. NGOs such as Global Witness and Forest Peoples Programme have highlighted that there is currently no mention of human rights or of indigenous peoples and others who live in forests and rely on them for their livelihoods and survival. The Bill must be strengthened to tackle the growing problems caused by deforestation and to drive action to significantly reduce our global footprint. The noble Lord, Lord Oates, talked about the appalling impact of this country’s role in deforestation. This really does need to be better recognised. Due diligence legislation is only part of the comprehensive approach that will be needed to deliver deforestation-free supply chains and to significantly reduce global footprint impacts more broadly.

Land conversion for agricultural purposes is often associated with negative human rights impacts. Beyond local laws, it is therefore critical to ensure that the UK requires businesses to have evidence that the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples and forest communities was obtained in relation to the production of forest risk commodities on their land and in the local area. Our amendment does this, although I am aware that some indigenous communities see this as just the starting point. We thank the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich—as others have done—for his support; he was unable to speak in the debate today.

We offer our support to Amendments 260B and 260C in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge. Schedule 16 introduces an important requirement that regulated businesses must not use certain forest risk commodities in their UK commercial activities unless relevant local laws are complied with in relation to that commodity. This is an important first step, but it does not go far enough since 30% of tropical forest destruction is defined as legal under local country laws. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, expressed her concerns that this could create a loophole, and the noble Lord, Lord Oates, also mentioned this. This loophole could risk limiting the effectiveness of the legislation and, as the noble Baroness said, could even incentivise Governments in countries such as Brazil to roll back forest protections in order to access UK markets. As deforestation is more prevalent where local laws are not enforced or upheld, this also poses challenges as to how the UK will interpret exactly what is meant by “legal”. So, we support the very important Amendment 264A in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, which addresses this. This amendment also provides for an exception for forest risk commodities produced by indigenous peoples, as the noble Baroness spelled out so clearly.

We also support Amendment 265A in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, on finance. Schedule 16 does not address the financing behind deforestation. The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, talked about the huge amount of financing that comes from the UK and the lack of due diligence. I have to say, I learned an enormous amount from her introduction to the amendment, and I thank her for it. In March 2020, the Global Resource Initiative task force recommended that the UK should require companies to undertake checks on deforestation risk in their supply chains and that similar measures should apply to finance. But the Government chose to cover supply chains only, responding that UK finance institutions can use the new information gained from companies undertaking due diligence reports to inform their decisions. However, experience has shown that this is likely to fail and that they are likely not to do so unless required to by law. This is very important as broad-based measures on finance, such as the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures, or similar efforts on nature or biodiversity, are really not suited to the specific issues around deforestation and are unlikely to curb financing. The Bill needs to specify that UK finance institutions must not provide financial services to commercial enterprises linked to deforestation and human rights abuses, so we strongly support the noble Baroness’s amendment.

We also support Amendments 265B to 265D in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, which seek to introduce a requirement that the Secretary of State must take the steps identified through a review to improve the effectiveness of Schedule 16. Amendment 293B in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, would require the Secretary of State to set a target to significantly reduce the global footprint, and we support this amendment as well. In his introduction to this amendment, the noble Lord referred to the Biodiversity in the UK: Bloom or Bust? report that was published in June by the Environmental Audit Committee, which recommended that the Government should set such a target.

We also welcome Amendment 263, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, talked passionately about global biodiversity, but it is important that we are all very aware of our own impacts on this. The production of forest risk commodities is linked to the conversion and degradation of natural ecosystems other than forests; noble Lords have mentioned savannahs, wetlands, peatlands, grasslands, and mangroves. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, talked specifically about the production of palm oil, and other noble Lords have mentioned soya as well. There is no policy justification for limiting provisions to forests when other natural ecosystems are under the same pressures from commodity production and provide the same or even greater biodiversity and climate benefits.

A large number of amendments have been discussed in this group, and it has been an important debate on an important issue. I hope that the Minister has listened carefully to the many amendments that have been debated. It is clear that noble Lords have some very serious concerns and believe that it would not take a lot to improve the Bill quite significantly on this aspect. I await the Minister’s response with interest.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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I have a number of amendments to address, but before I do, I will take a step back and emphasise what these measures are designed to achieve. Worldwide agricultural expansion drives almost 80% of deforestation. A significant proportion of deforestation is illegal—in some of the world’s most important places, it is closer to 90%. Decades of voluntary action have failed to end our contribution to deforestation through the products that we buy. Our measures will change that. Businesses will be required to ensure that the forest risk commodities that they use are not produced on illegally deforested land. We will consult on the commodities to be included soon, but these could include beef, cocoa, leather, palm oil, rubber, soya and so on.

It has been said in a number of contributions today that we are lagging behind and need to catch up, but it is worth reiterating that we are not only the first country in the world to introduce anything like this legislation but the only country to do so. Of course, we must do much more, but we are doing much more. No one would pretend that this is our sole, single answer to deforestation, but it is an extraordinarily important part of our answer to tackling global deforestation.

To address one further point before I go into the details of the amendment, the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett and Lady Hayman, suggested that we reluctantly accepted this amendment on the back of campaigning. It was the Government who initiated and commissioned the GRI report which made this recommendation, and we have been working for many months to get this right. It is not something that just popped in as a last-minute concession in Committee in the other place.

I shall start by speaking to Amendments 264, 264A and 264ZA, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lucas, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. Given the fundamental role of producer countries in protecting their forests and ecosystems, and the huge proportion of illegal deforestation, our due diligence requirements are based on legality, and I want to explain why. Our experience has shown that we get the best results for both people and the environment when we work as closely as we can with producer country Governments and communities —something which is crucial in this year of COP 26 and COP 15 on biodiversity. Working in partnership with timber-producing countries on implementing the timber regulation and the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade action plan has contributed to increased natural resource governance in those countries. We want to replicate this approach for forest risk commodities.

In response to comments made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher and Lady Sheehan, adopting these amendments would be a departure from the Government’s approach and would come at a cost. The UK is a big market in global terms, but on our own we are not big enough to cause the shift globally that we need in the way that commodities are grown. We can have an impact but not a huge impact. To have that kind of shift, we need other countries to join us, and we know from the extensive diplomatic outreach that we have already done, and which I have been involved in, that we can only build that coalition using the approach that we have adopted, based on legality. That has been very clear in the discussions that we have had.

We are working hard right now to build a global movement of consumer and producer countries committed to working with us to tackle this problem, and we are making enormous headway. If other countries are beginning to consider doing something similar, that is because of UK leadership. Incidentally, the EU has not yet decided what it is going to do; it has announced an intention to tackle due diligence but has not committed to any particular form. But if Japan, New Zealand and even the USA—we heard—are looking favourably at doing something on due diligence, that is because of the work that the United Kingdom has done. I do not believe it would be happening without the leadership that the UK has shown. There is a tendency to self-flagellate and always see the worst in our country, but there are certain areas—and this is one of them—where I think we can be proud of the leadership that we have shown.