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 all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. Beginning with Amendment 11, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, the Bill’s robust statutory cycle of monitoring, annual reporting and five-yearly reviews, combined with the OEP and parliamentary scrutiny, ensures that meeting interim targets is taken seriously, without the need for them to be legally binding. We discussed this in detail in Committee, but I would like to outline the Government’s position briefly once more.

The OEP will scrutinise the Government’s progress on targets, including those interim targets, and it can make recommendations on how to improve progress, to which the Government have a duty to respond. It would be both unnecessary and detrimental to our targets framework and our environmental ambitions to introduce legally binding interim targets, as the approach risks undermining the long-term nature of the targets framework, which we have designed to look beyond the political cycle of any one Government and to avoid action solely focused on short-term wins. As I mentioned in Committee, it is undoubtedly a natural temptation for any and every Government working to legally binding five-year targets to set eye-catching, short-term measures in their manifesto, even if those are not necessarily the most effective measures for meeting the longer-term targets.

However, everything we know about the complexity of the environmental targets—indeed, everything we know about natural systems—shows that they transcend any one Administration or five-year period. We are talking about living, non-linear systems, where there will be plenty of measures whose effects will take many years to bear out. For example, for certain habitats, such as peat bogs, native woodlands and elements of the marine environment, significant change is very unlikely to occur within a five-year period, no matter what we do now. We would not want to have to deprioritise key aspects of the environment with longer recovery times to meet a legally binding target in five years.

A number of speakers have made comparisons to the carbon—

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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I thank the Minister for allowing me to interject briefly. He makes the point that restoring and maintaining natural systems is a long-term process. I would agree with that, but does he not also accept that a key element of meeting the targets is to build resilience of natural systems—that is, their ability to withstand shocks and to recover from events such as extreme weather or infectious disease outbreaks? One can tell, from decades of ecological research, at an early stage whether the right steps are being taken to build the resilience of natural ecosystems. Therefore, that could be identified as a shorter-term target to achieve the long-term aims.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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I agree with the noble Lord; building resilience into our natural environment—into the natural systems on which, ultimately, we depend—is clearly a priority, and I think that is reflected throughout the Bill. It is certainly reflected in our soon to be newly introduced 2030 biodiversity target. But I do not think that takes us away from the fact that, if we are measuring progress on the basis of a longer-term plan, you would end up in some cases with a very dramatic hockey stick, which would be difficult for a Government to explain in the way that would be necessary in the context of legally binding targets.

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Division 1

Ayes: 203

Noes: 181

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Lord Khan of Burnley Portrait Lord Khan of Burnley (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Grantchester for his kind comments and for all his excellent advice and support on this issue.

This has been a very interesting short debate. I want to thank in particular the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, for speaking so passionately on soil health and management and for furthering the issue. From reading his contributions on this Bill and previously on the Agriculture Bill, it is evident that he cares deeply about this issue.

According to the Sustainable Soils Alliance, poor soil management releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere which contribute 21% of total UK agricultural emissions. In contrast, healthy soils sequester carbon rather than releasing it, while also increasing resilience to floods and droughts.

We hope that the Minister will have taken note of the earlier amendment on soil health and will use it as an opportunity to bring forward a wider soil management strategy. The Government need to note the strength of feeling in the House and give this important issue its due attention, rather than leave it as an afterthought, which seems to be their current strategy.

What does the Minister plan to do to reverse the currently fragmented approach to soil policy? I know it has been said that the answer lies in the soil, but on this serious issue of a soil strategy, the answer lies with the Minister. I look forward to his response and the joined-up approach, as suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this important debate regarding Amendment 18, tabled by my noble friend Lord Caithness. I thank him for his correspondence on this issue over the summer, for the discussions we have had and for his passionate speech earlier. I assure him that we of course remain committed to sustainably managed soils by 2030, as laid out in the 25-year environment plan and the action we are taking to get there. I will not repeat the case for soils, because we touched on that on Monday but also because we have heard some compelling speeches from the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, my noble friend Lord Caithness in introducing the amendment, and the noble Lord, Lord Khan, who made the critical point about the carbon values of soils.

I want to start by emphasising the actions I outlined in our debate on Monday which the Government are undertaking to improve soil health. We will produce a baseline assessment of soil health, which could inform a potential future long-term soils target. We are currently identifying soil health metrics to complement a future soil health monitoring scheme. The Path to Sustainable Farming: An Agricultural Transition Plan 2021 to 2024 sets out examples of the types of actions that we envisage paying for under the schemes, including soil management, such as the use of cover crops. I described in Monday’s debate the England Peat Action Plan, which we published in May. This sets out the Government’s long-term vision for the management, protection and restoration of our peatlands, which are crucial carbon stores, as well as—to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester—our commitment to end the use of peat in amateur horticulture by the end of this Parliament.

However, I would like to add to my remarks from Monday. The Government recognise both the strength of feeling expressed by many noble Peers from across the House and the critical importance of this issue. Soils matter of course in and of themselves, but they underpin, quite literally, the improvements that we will have to see right across the environment, as well as being critical for agriculture and, by extension, food security.

I am therefore pleased to announce that the Government will publish a soil health action plan for England. The plan will be a key plank in our efforts to halt the decline of species by 2030, as well as meeting our long-term legally binding targets on biodiversity. As we have heard from a number of noble Lords in this debate and in the debate on Monday, our soils are in a perilous position. The action plan will be crucial in driving progress across government to restore the health of our soils. We will set out further details of what the plan will contain by the end of this year.

I repeat my thanks to my noble friend Lord Caithness for having applied the pressure on this issue in the way that he did. To quote the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, campaigning works from time to time. I hope that this new announcement and my comments in our earlier debate reassure my noble friend and others in the House. I beg him to withdraw his amendment.

Earl of Caithness Portrait The Earl of Caithness (Con)
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My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken and given me support. It is always nice to have unanimous support when one moves an amendment, and on a subject such as soil it is also good to have at least three farmers supporting one. As the Minister said, the case for this amendment is very sound.

I need to answer the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. The reason I included only grades 1 and 2 is that those are the two soils most likely to be ploughed. The noble Lord is absolutely right to say that grassland is equally important, but there is less erosion on grassland, particularly pasture grassland. Given the amount that Defra has to do, if it starts with grades 1 and 2, it can go on to grades 3 and 4 afterwards. However, I take the noble Lord’s point.

What the noble Lord said has been overridden by the Minister, and I am extremely grateful to the Minister for his commitment to introduce a soil action plan by the end of the year. I noted with care what my noble friend Lord Deben, my fellow ex-Minister, said on Amendment 11. He said that if it was not in the Act it would not get done. I am going to back my Minister and not my noble friend Lord Deben; I shall trust my Minister to introduce the soil action plan by the end of the year. I am sorry that it is not in the Bill, because being able to wave that bit of paper at COP 26 would be good. However, if he could write a letter confirming what he has done, or at least wave Hansard in front of people at COP 26, we might get a little bit more. I am extremely grateful to my noble friend on the Front Bench and to all noble Lords, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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It has been a very interesting short debate with some excellent contributions. It is disappointing that the Government have not addressed this concern to date. We did not get an answer in Committee. The wide exemptions the remain in the legislation mean that policymakers are less likely to apply the policy statement to the policies on defence and financial matters without explicit instruction to do so. We need all government departments and public authorities to adhere to the statement on environmental principles consistently and comprehensively. I listened closely and with good focus, as I always do, to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, on the possibility of Defra accepting Amendment 20. However, if that is not the case and the Minister does not respond positively to what the noble Lord said, and if the noble Baroness tests the opinion of the House, we on these Benches will support the amendment.
Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this important debate. I know there is significant interest in this House in the environmental principles. Regarding Amendment 19, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Bird, and presented by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, in a typically compelling and powerful speech, the contents of which I fully agreed with, I reassure noble Lords that the concept set out in the amendment is already covered by the duty on the Secretary of State, and I shall explain why. Currently, the Bill states that the Secretary of State must be satisfied that the environmental principles policy statement will contribute to the improvement of environmental protection and to sustainable development. I want to clarify for noble Lords that this legal reference to “sustainable development” encompasses and includes the importance of meeting the needs of future generations. That is what it means.

As I explained in Committee, these are internationally recognised principles and consistent with those agreed through the EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement. This amendment is therefore unnecessary, as the existing principles are fundamentally about passing the natural environment on in a better state to the next generation. However, adding it would nevertheless require government departments to consider an additional principle that overlaps with the existing objective but is not as commonly understood. The fear is that that would cause confusion, resulting in poor policy outcomes. I hope I have adequately addressed the issue raised by the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Bird, and I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw it in his name.

I turn now to Amendment 20, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. First, I thank her for our discussions in the run up to Report. I understand the motivation behind the amendment, but the Government’s view remains that exempting some limited areas from the duty to have due regard provides vital flexibility in relation to finances, defence, and national security. I will take each of those exemptions in turn. Starting with the exemption on taxation, I understand the interest in removing this exemption, but Treasury Ministers want flexibility to alter the UK’s fiscal position and respond to the changing needs of, for example, the NHS, schools, the police and any number of other vital public services. Applying the environmental principles duty to taxation would be a constraint in cases where speed is required in altering the UK’s fiscal position, with limited environmental benefit. Nevertheless, the Government are committed to encouraging positive environmental outcomes through the tax system. An example of that in the Bill is our commitment to a new plastic packaging tax to encourage greater use of recycled plastic, which is estimated to achieve around a 40% increase in recycled plastic being used in 2022-23. The Treasury’s Green Book already mandates the consideration of natural capital, climate change and environmental impacts in spending. This applies to spending bids from departments, including at fiscal events.

Furthermore, the Government’s response to the Dasgupta review commits to delivering a “nature positive” future, ensuring that economic and financial decision-making, and the systems and institutions that underpin it, support the delivery of that future. I emphasise that the spending and allocation of resources exemption refers to central spending decisions only. In other words, once funds are distributed by the Treasury to other government departments, the principles will apply to how those funds are spent by departments. To be clear, even if we accepted this amendment, principles such as “the polluter pays” could not be applied to, for example, the allocation of overall departmental budgets. This is because allocating money between departments sits outside policy-making. In other words, this amendment would have no material impact in respect of the allocation of resources within government. To reiterate, however, the policy statement must still be considered at the level of individual policies that require spending, such as the design of new transport programmes or environmental subsidy schemes. This is where they can deliver real benefits.

Looking at the Armed Forces, defence and national security exemptions, as the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, noted, they are also excluded from the duty. That is to provide maximum flexibility in respect of the nation’s protection and security. However, I shall address some of the concerns raised in Committee about the management of defence land. The primary function of the defence estate is to support our operations and maintain military capability. It provides homes for those who defend our country, offices for work, space for training, and conditions to prepare to meet the ever-changing threats that the UK faces. Defence land cannot be practically separated out: it is part of the MoD and touches on decisions across the Armed Forces, national security and defence.

The MoD’s concern is that if we were to impose a consideration of environmental principles on defence policies, or on MoD land, it could result in legal challenges which could slow critical policies or expose sensitive decisions to the public domain, threatening national security. However, the MoD already has statutory duties to protect the environment and the enormous amount of land that the MoD owns, and these are not altered by this exemption. The MoD is subject to all the environmental legislation that other landowners are required to adhere to: the habitats directive, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act and others.

Under Clauses 98 and 99, the MoD will be subject to two strengthened duties: to take action to conserve and enhance biodiversity and then to report on the action it has taken. The MOD already reports publicly and regularly on its contribution to improving the environment and SSSI conditions, and showcases its conservation initiatives through the sanctuary awards. The MoD will fully comply with new reporting requirements in the Bill by building on its existing approach. Its SSSIs are managed through a partnership with Natural England, which jointly implements integrated rural management plans to improve and maintain them. The percentage of MoD SSSIs in a favourable condition in England is higher than the national average.

I recently met Minister Quin, who has responsibility for this area. Although I am not able to secure the amendment for this House, I am assured that the MoD takes its responsibilities to the environment seriously. I am confident in the wider arrangements in place to support environmental improvement. I hope, therefore, I have gone some way, at least, to reassure noble Lords and I beg them not to press their amendments.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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I thank all noble Lords who contributed to this short but very powerful debate and the Minister for his response. I particularly wish to thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford for reminding us so powerfully of how human health and planet health are interrelated and how the sickness of our planet has real impacts on people’s well-being, particularly that of young people. It is certainly part of the epidemic of mental ill health, from which our society and the whole world are suffering. I also thank the right reverend Prelate for mentioning one of my favourite books, Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics. I commend it yet again, as I am sure I have before.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, for her support for Amendment 19 and the noble Lord, Lord Khan, for his suggestion to the Minister. Indeed, I would extend that suggestion to all Members of your Lordships’ House. I take part regularly in Learn with the Lords, a chance to go out, through the mechanisms of your Lordships’ House, to speak to young people. It is a great opportunity, and it would be wonderful if more people took that up, particularly to speak about environmental issues.

I want to make one comment on the Minister’s response to Amendment 19. He suggested that “sustainable development” within the principles covers this. When we think about our current planning law and the way in which the term “sustainable development” is used in that and proposals for changes to our planning law, there is cause for grave concern about suggesting what sustainable development in our current legal framework might or might not achieve.

None the less, we have a lot to do and much pressure on our time. However, before I finish, I want to commend to your Lordships’ House the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Bird, has—one might call it fate—the number one slot in the ballot for Private Members’ Bills. The greater expanse of his Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill covers the issues that this amendment sought to address. I commend that Bill, engagement with it and support for it to all Members of your Lordships’ House. In the meantime, on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Bird, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 19.

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Division 2

Ayes: 184

Noes: 182

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Moved by
22: Clause 25, page 15, line 18, leave out subsections (3) and (4)
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on Lord Goldsmith’s next amendment to Clause 25.
Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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I am pleased to open this group and speak to the amendments I have tabled, which respond to many of the concerns raised by noble Lords in Committee regarding the independence of the OEP. I also notify noble Lords that I outlined in a Written Ministerial Statement yesterday the full range of provisions already in place to ensure the OEP’s independence. I hope that it is a useful reference point for noble Lords and that it offers reassurance on the Government’s commitment to the independence of the OEP.

These amendments will increase parliamentary scrutiny of any guidance that the Secretary of State wishes to issue under Clause 25. They will afford Members in both Houses the opportunity to review and make recommendations regarding the draft guidance, to which the Secretary of State must respond before final guidance can be laid and have effect. This will provide additional parliamentary oversight, not only of any guidance issued by the Government but any issued by future Governments.

For parity, Northern Ireland Ministers have decided also to bring forward amendments to Schedule 3 to give the Northern Ireland Assembly the same opportunity to scrutinise any draft guidance issued relating to the OEP’s Northern Ireland enforcement functions.

As I have said before, the OEP has an unprecedented remit, with the ability to take enforcement action against all public authorities. It is for this reason that the Government feel that a guidance power is necessary to help ensure that the OEP continues to carry out its functions as intended. However, I understand the concern about the use of this power and hope that these amendments go some way to reassuring noble Lords that there will be an additional check on its use.

There is no question that the OEP must be impartial and independent but it should also be accountable to Ministers who are ultimately responsible for its use of public money. Any guidance issued must respect this important balance and I hope that this additional mechanism for parliamentary scrutiny will allay these concerns.

Finally, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, and the other members of the Constitution Committee for their recommendations on this matter. I beg to move.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, Amendment 24 in this group is in my name and those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern.

In Committee, there was strong support from across the House for my amendment that would have removed the guidance clause from the Bill in order to ensure that the OEP was fully independent. In fact, I do not recall anyone making a coherent case for greater ministerial control over the OEP. I acknowledge and thank the Minister and the Secretary of State for their time in discussing this matter since Committee. I also thank the Secretary of State for his letter to my noble friend Lord Anderson of Ipswich and myself, dated 28 August.

I also acknowledge that the Government have made concessions in their own amendment to Clause 25 and that, furthermore, the importance of the independence of the OEP was reiterated by Minister Pow yesterday in a Written Statement and also by the noble Lord the Minister with the same Written Statement.

So why am I still pressing ahead with my amendment to replace Clause 25? It is simply this: if we must get one thing right in this Bill, it is the office for environmental protection. The OEP is the body that will ensure that the Government’s warm words about the environment are translated into action. The Minister himself could not have been clearer on Monday. When I asked who will hold the Government to account on the target of halting species decline, he replied that it was the office for environmental protection. Even with the government amendment to Clause 25, the OEP is not, in my view, sufficiently independent of Ministers for us to be confident that it will be able to do what is has been set up to do.

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I hope very much that noble Lords will support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and, if that is the case, that further dialogue will be forthcoming to find a genuine way through on this important issue. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. I begin with Amendment 24 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and will take each of the issues raised by his amendment in turn.

Clause 25 does not provide the Secretary of State with any power to direct the OEP or to intervene in decision-making about specific cases. Indeed, the Bill states that the Secretary of State must have regard to the OEP’s independence. In fact, more than that, the OEP is required by the Bill to act objectively and impartially. So, it is not a matter of micromanaging the OEP; indeed, that is not possible within the context of the Bill we have here today. The Government have confidence that the OEP will develop an effective and proportionate enforcement policy. However, as the Secretary of State is ultimately responsible to Parliament for the OEP, this guidance power is an important safeguard for accountability and to help ensure that the OEP continues to carry out its functions as intended. We have always been clear that the OEP should focus on the most serious, strategic cases and that this guidance power will not change that.

The Government have committed to provide a five-year indicative budget for the OEP, ring-fenced within each spending review period, to give the OEP greater financial certainty. This is an administrative matter and is not appropriate for primary legislation, but other bodies with multiannual funding commitments, such as the Office for Budget Responsibility, do not have this set out in legislation.

Regarding appointments to the OEP’s board, the Secretary of State is accountable to Parliament for the department’s public appointments. Therefore, Parliament can call on the Secretary of State to justify appointments at any time. The appointment of the OEP chair-designate, as noble Lords know, has already been made following a pre-appointment scrutiny hearing conducted by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Environmental Audit Select Committees. This process ensures fairness, accountability and independence, and I am happy to confirm our intention that future chair appointments will follow a similar process. All public appointees will ultimately remain accountable to Parliament.

Parliament may also choose to call a member of the OEP board to provide evidence of their suitability for the position after they have taken the post. However, as Ministers are accountable and responsible to Parliament for public appointments, it is appropriate that they retain the ability to make that final choice.

Amendment 30 was tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. I hope she is at least partially reassured that the Northern Ireland department will be subject to the same constraints as the Secretary of State when exercising the guidance power. Northern Ireland Ministers have decided to bring forward the parallel amendments that I have presented today, and we will continue to work closely with them to ensure the best level of environmental protection across the devolved nations.

The Government carefully considered your Lordships’ comments in Committee, as we developed the amendments we have tabled. We are confident that our current position will set the OEP up to be genuinely independent and effective. I suspect we will have to test the opinion of the House but, nevertheless, I beg noble Lords to withdraw their amendments.

Amendment 22 agreed.
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Moved by
23: Clause 25, page 15, line 21, at end insert—
“(6) Before issuing the guidance, the Secretary of State must—(a) prepare a draft, and(b) lay the draft before Parliament.(7) If before the end of the 21 day period—(a) either House of Parliament passes a resolution in respect of the draft guidance, or(b) a committee of either House of Parliament, or a joint committee of both Houses, makes recommendations in respect of the draft guidance,the Secretary of State must produce a response and lay it before Parliament.(8) The Secretary of State may prepare and lay before Parliament the final guidance, but not before—(a) if subsection (7) applies, the day on which the Secretary of State lays the response required by that subsection, or(b) otherwise, the end of the 21 day period.(9) The final guidance has effect when it is laid before Parliament.(10) The Secretary of State must publish the guidance when it comes into effect.(11) The “21 day period” is the period of 21 sitting days beginning with the first sitting day after the day on which the draft guidance is laid under subsection (6).(12) “Sitting day” means a day on which both Houses of Parliament sit.(13) The Secretary of State may revise the guidance at any time (and subsections (6) to (12) apply in relation to any revised guidance).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides for Parliamentary scrutiny of draft guidance under Clause 25.
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Division 3

Ayes: 180

Noes: 151

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Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, I add my voice in support of these amendments. We very much concur with the arguments put forward this evening. We agree that these proposals are quite modest. I think the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has been quite modest in his redrafting. I hope, as I said in the previous group, that if these amendments are passed this evening, the Government will use the opportunity to have a proper dialogue with those who have been working on these issues. I am sure the Minister has got the sense of the strength of feeling on this and we hope that we will not see these amendments in any shape or form coming back at a later stage. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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I thank all noble Lords for their brisk contributions. The noble Lord, Lord Khan, is looking hungry. I also thank the noble Lords, Lord Anderson of Ipswich and Lord Krebs, for their engagement throughout the various stages, including a number of discussions with me and separate discussions with officials. I have carefully considered the government position on these clauses and I hope I can persuade noble Lords that the approach we are taking is the right one.

First, on Amendment 26, the Government support the intention to ensure that the OEP’s enforcement procedures resolve issues as efficiently and effectively as possible. However, it is only right and appropriate that before the court is asked to examine issues in an environmental review, the OEP has given the public authority adequate opportunity to respond and to remedy the problem directly. This follows a similar principle to the pre-action protocols which must be followed for other types of legal proceedings, including, for example, judicial review, as well as personal injury and clinical negligence proceedings, where issues are set out in writing prior to court action.

Many issues will be resolved through constructive dialogue in the course of an OEP investigation and through the serving of an information notice. That is what we want. Where required, this would then be followed by a decision notice. This will ensure that potential failures are resolved at the earliest possible opportunity, avoiding the need for time-consuming and costly litigation in most cases, and better enabling the OEP to drive systemic change.

Turning to Amendment 27, I reiterate the importance of the existing provision under Clause 38(8). We have to recognise the unique context in which environmental reviews will be occurring, potentially many months after decisions were taken and outside normal judicial review time limits. Providing protection for third parties who may have acted in good faith on the basis of certain decisions is therefore essential to protect fairness and certainty, values that lie at the heart of our civil justice system.

As I have outlined before, judicial discretion alone would not be sufficient to provide this certainty, as the strict time limits to bring a judicial review themselves demonstrate. We do not solely rely on the courts to balance the impacts of delay against other factors in this context, as the resulting uncertainty would be too great and unfair on third parties. Environmental reviews will be taking place outside judicial review time limits, so alternative protections are necessary.

Furthermore, the provision in Clause 38 to protect third-party rights is not novel. Indeed, it is an extension of the existing position for challenges—for example, under Section 31(6) of the Senior Courts Act 1981. Some noble Lords have argued today and in previous debates that the provision in Clause 38(8) renders the OEP’s enforcement framework redundant but that is absolutely not the case. It is important to note that restrictions in Clause 38(8) are unlikely to be triggered in most cases that the OEP will take forward.

In response to comments by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, the Bill guides the OEP to focus on cases of national importance. Therefore, individual local planning decisions most likely to impact third parties are unlikely to be pursued. Even if they were pursued, the Bill sets out that the court is restricted from granting remedies only where to do so would cause “substantial” hardship or “substantial” prejudice to the rights of any person, or be detrimental to good administration. The court will have discretion to consider and apply the test as set out in the Bill, not Ministers or the Government.

Cases where remedies could require a change in policy or in the way in which legislation is to be interpreted would be unlikely to invoke those safeguards. Those are the cases that we expect the OEP to focus on. Take, for example, an alleged failure by government to meet a statutory environmental target. A court could consider granting a mandatory order requiring government action, and although that may have some impact on third parties such as local businesses, it is unlikely to amount to substantial hardship or prejudice. As I have tried to explain before, an individual or business must reasonably expect some changes in an evolving regulatory landscape. But that is different from the question of the status of an existing planning permission, for example, where there is a greater expectation of certainty. As such, the existing provision is appropriate, and this proposed amendment could cause damaging uncertainty.

Finally, I turn to Amendment 28. Clause 39(1) is vital to providing clarity when the OEP is considering enforcement action. The concern is that removing the urgency condition would create confusion and uncertainty as to which route the OEP should pursue for any given case. To enable the OEP to bring standard judicial reviews during the normal time limits would limit the possibility of the wider benefits that could have been delivered through the OEP’s bespoke notice stages.

By liaising directly with public authorities to investigate and resolve alleged serious breaches of environmental law in a targeted manner, the OEP will be able to drive systemic environmental improvements. This will lead to better outcomes for complainants, the public and the environment, wherever possible without the need to resort to costly or time-consuming litigation. Unlike judicial review, there are no time limits in which the OEP can apply for an environmental review. This is to allow the OEP sufficient time and opportunity to resolve the issue through its notice processes. It will give complainants the confidence to attempt to resolve matters through the internal complaints procedures of public authorities in the knowledge that, if the matters were not resolved, they could bring them to the attention of the OEP, who could bring legal challenge if necessary. The proposed amendment would therefore lead to unnecessary litigation, which would ultimately limit the OEP’s ability to effectively focus its activities on holding public authorities to account on serious breaches of environmental law and achieving long-term systemic change. I should again emphasise that the Government have taken considerable time to consider these matters, but we are confident in our position.

Before I conclude, I should emphasise that the OEP’s enforcement powers are different from, and will operate more effectively than, those of the European Commission. That point has been made by a number of noble Lords as a counterpoint. The OEP will be able to liaise directly with the public body in question to investigate and resolve alleged serious breaches of environmental law in a more targeted and timely manner. In environmental review, the OEP can apply for judicial review remedies such as mandatory quashing orders, subject to the appropriate safeguards, which will work to ensure compliance with environmental law. The EU Court of Justice cannot issue those kinds of remedies to member states.

I hope that I have at least gone some way towards reassuring noble Lords and I urge them to withdraw or not move their amendments.

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Division 4

Ayes: 153

Noes: 143