Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the amendment is in my name together with those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Bennett of Manor Castle.

The amendment replaces four amendments that we debated in Committee. It has the same intent as those four amendments: to ensure that the Secretary of State cannot amend the habitats regulations without due process and constraints.

Bearing in mind the admonition we recently heard, let me recap very briefly. The habitats regulations protect our most valuable conservation sites, habitats and species. While these sites account for only a modest proportion of our land and marine area, they certainly punch well above their weight when it comes to protection of species. Unlike the targets in Clause 3, which apply to the country as a whole, the habitats regulations refer to specific places. This is an important distinction.

Clauses 108 and 109 allow the Secretary of State to amend these regulations, and they do not give enough safeguards to ensure that our most valuable habitats will be protected in future. Amendment 99 would provide those safeguards, stating explicitly that any changes to the habitat regulations would not breach any of our international obligations, would contribute to enhancing the conservation of habitat sites and species and would not reduce current levels of protection. It would also require the Government to consult the appropriate statutory expert bodies and other relevant experts. In short, it places in the Bill the commitments that the Government have already made in debate in Committee, when the Minister reassured us on every point.

So what is not to like? The Minister told us that key reasons for Clauses 108 and 109 were contributing to “international obligations” and ensuring

“our protected sites can be restored to good condition”.

This is made clear in Amendment 99. He also told us that the powers in these clauses would be used only to strengthen environmental protection. However, as it stands this would be a test of the Secretary of State being satisfied that protections are not reduced. Although the Minister described this as a “high bar”, it is a subjective judgment. Amendment 99 would replace this subjective test, whereby Ministers mark their own homework, with an objective requirement. The Minister pointed out that the Secretary of State’s judgment could be challenged in the courts, but that seems to me to be setting up a system that would generate money for lawyers and take up large amounts of time with uncertain outcomes. Why not simplify with Amendment 99?

The Minister said that the Government would consult the office for environmental protection before making any changes to the habitats regulations. Amendment 99 extends the consultation requirement to include other relevant bodies. He also referred to a review led by the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, but did not tell us who was consulted in this review and what its impact will be. Perhaps he can expand on this in his reply.

As I have already mentioned, a crucial difference between the habitats regulations and the Clause 3 commitments is that the habitats regulations protect particular sites, habitats and species, while the Clause 3 targets do not. The Minister told us that Clause 108 is

“designed to allow requirements to specify … protections for habitats and species”.—[Official Report, 12/7/2021; cols. 1620-1.]

However, this does not guarantee those protections. The Minister also told us in Committee that the habitats regulations had not worked. I am not sure to which studies he is referring, but the evidence, as I understand it, from peer-reviewed literature, is that protected species fare better in countries where protection of the kind provided by the habitats regulations is most extensive and long-standing. This is not to say that things could not be improved. However, the Minister did not give us specific examples of how the powers of Clauses 108 and 109 would lead to an improvement. In fact, we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, that this was a post-Brexit opportunity to cut red tape and bureaucracy—hardly a reassuring message.

In summary, I have not heard any convincing arguments against the habitats regulations being maintained, and Amendment 99 will ensure that any changes in future will strengthen rather than weaken them. I very much look forward to what the Minister has to say in his reply but, as things stand, I would wish to test the opinion of the House on this crucial amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, your Lordships’ House will hear from me a great deal later on, so I will be very brief in this contribution. I have attached my name to this amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, which of course has full cross-party and non-party backing. The noble Lord has set out an overwhelmingly powerful case for why we should have this amendment.

I make two comments. We were promised non-regression with Brexit, and this would restore some of the protections that we lost with Brexit and, more than non-regression, we were promised improvements. This is simply standing still, so the Government really must commit to this amendment.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Hope of Craighead Portrait Lord Hope of Craighead (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I was very much in sympathy with similar amendments in Committee, but I have a feeling that this amendment presses the argument just a step too far.

Perhaps I can provide an answer to my noble friend Lord Hylton’s question. I sat on the committee that looked at the HS2 line to Crewe, and I can say to him that it would be impossible, because of veteran trees along the line, to carry out that development as was proposed.

One remembers that this amendment directs attention not only to ancient trees but to veterans. It also asks us to accept that every single tree

“must be retained within a development site, including a root protection area and appropriate buffer zone.”

One can think of development sites of great areas where that might just be possible, but there are many others where it would effectively extinguish the possibility of development. So I feel that this amendment, although very well intentioned—I am so much in sympathy with what the noble Baroness seeks to do—just presses it a little too far, with language that does not allow any latitude at all for exceptional cases.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I have to question the description given by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, of HS2 as affecting a

“small area of ancient woodland”,

given that the Woodland Trust says that 108 areas of ancient woodland are at risk of “loss or damage”. However, it will probably please your Lordships’ House to know that I will not restart the HS2 debate at this moment.

I will focus on Amendment 100, to which we in the Green Party would have attached one of our names, had there been space. We are talking about something very ancient and precious, and we can make comparisons with cathedrals and indeed with your Lordships’ House. I was on the site of what is supposed to be the Norwich western link, standing at the base of an oak tree that was a sapling when Queen Elizabeth I was on the throne. An ancient woodland containing trees like that is comparable to your Lordships’ House or a cathedral. Think about the protections we offer to those and all the money we are thinking about putting in to preserving this building; we are in a different place on that.

We often think of ancient woodland as being out in the countryside somewhere. I want to be a little parochial and point out that Sheffield has 80 ancient woodlands within its boundary. I want to think and talk about the benefits to human health and well-being of having these ancient woodlands—indeed, London has some of them, and, when I lived here, I used to walk in them as well. They have enormous human health benefits that we have to take account of.

Returning to the subject of walking through ancient woodland in Sheffield or the threatened woodland in Norwich, we are talking about not just trees here but crucial, utterly irreplaceable habitats for bats and insects. These woodlands would have a chance truly to flourish without air pollution and other factors. Lichens and mosses—crucial, complex organisms that are absolutely foundational to rich, healthy ecosystems—depend on those ancient trees to thrive and indeed survive. So I commend both these amendments to your Lordships’ House, and I encourage the noble Baroness to press Amendment 100 in particular to a vote.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I rise to speak in favour Amendment 100, in the name of my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone, and Amendment 101 in my name and those of the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Teverson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. We regard both these amendments as important.

As I said in Committee, the Bill is woefully lacking in any reference to a tree strategy and the need to protect our existing woodland stock as well as to increase the percentage of England under tree cover. The only such reference in the Bill is to felling street trees, and although this is an important issue, the crucial importance of preserving our ancient woodland and the need to deliver the protection and expansion of trees in woodlands in the future is not recognised.

As noble Lords have said, a comprehensive strategy is important not just to enhance biodiversity but in order to play a crucial role in carbon capture and sequestration. This has been emphasised by the Committee on Climate Change, which has pointed out that the UK tree-planting effort has “consistently fallen below” the target needed to achieve net zero by 2050.

Of course, we recognise that the Government have produced a tree action plan, but it is non-statutory and lacks the clarity and targets to deliver the necessary transformation of our landscapes and to tackle climate change. This is why we believe that a tree strategy with statutory and interim targets should be in the Bill. It should include measures to guarantee the preservation of ancient woodland, an emphasis on broad-leaf native woodland and greater powers to protect trees from disease and pests by encouraging domestic nurseries to produce more resilient saplings. It should also recognise the importance of smaller woodlands in creating biodiverse nature corridors and enhancing public enjoyment at a local level—a point made by my noble friend Lord Whitty.

Although we welcome the Government’s commitment to planting 30,000 hectares a year by the end of this Parliament, the Minister will know all too well that non-statutory tree-planting targets have come and gone in the past, as the earlier promise to plant 11 million trees demonstrates. So, I hope that, when he responds, the Minister can explain why a statutory tree strategy is missing from the Bill when there are already a number of strategies for other parts of nature development in it.

--- Later in debate ---
Earl of Dundee Portrait The Earl of Dundee (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Randall’s amendments, particularly Amendment 121. This would enable global footprint targets to be part of regulations. That in turn can give us much more confidence that we really will manage to stick to these necessary dates and deadlines.

In Committee, my noble friend the Minister pointed out that the Clause 1 power might be used to set a global footprint target. That is certainly helpful. However, the Bill is unclear about timescales. Within its current scope, long-term targets have to be for at least 15 years. As my noble friend Lord Randall just observed, the latter focus already becomes anomalous if, for example, targets cannot apply for a period less than 15 years, such as that until 2030, which is exactly by when we are told as a nation that we should reduce the United Kingdom’s global footprint by three-quarters.

Does my noble friend the Minister agree that while the implementation of Amendment 121 guards against slippage, putting these targets into regulations would also give a strong message internationally that, in this matter, the United Kingdom is committed to leading good practice?

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the three noble Lords who have already spoken on this group. They have given us a comprehensive explanation of why we need all these amendments. I shall speak chiefly to Amendment 121 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall, also signed by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on the global footprint timetable. It has already been clearly set out why this amendment needs to pass: we need drastic action now.

A large number of amendments in Committee addressed the broader issues here. There was the call to look at not just resource efficiency but cutting total resource use in Part 1. There was the call to move towards the Treasury managing our economy for the purposes of people and planet, not chasing after growth that we cannot have more of on a finite planet. Your Lordships have heard the Government’s cries about their desire to progress the Bill quickly, so many of these amendments have not been put. They have been boiled down to some very clear, simple essentials that need to happen. I offer support for all these amendments.

The questions that the noble Lord, Lord Randall, asked were very clear and important, but I will address a direct question to the Minister on Schedule 17. It is crucial that Schedule 17 covers the main commodities driving global deforestation, so can he confirm that it will cover beef and leather, cocoa, palm oil, pulp and paper, rubber and soy? They are not currently defined in the schedule, and there is concern that any limits to the approach would utterly undermine the intentions expressed in this provision and by the Government.

I also want briefly to address Amendment 107 on the rights of indigenous people. We know that many of the parts of the world that still remain relatively pristine rely heavily on indigenous people to protect them, and how often their rights to do so and to live their lives are threatened by mining companies associated with us—often large multinationals with close ties to the UK. When one considers that and our historic legacy, as well as the impact of colonialism on those communities, we have a particular responsibility to ensure, practically and morally, that they are being listened to.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Randall, on his speech and his due diligence on this issue, which is crucial in terms of deforestation. We have the frustration whereby we want extraterritoriality, which we do not normally have in the UK, but we can influence some of these matters only through supply chains and our own British corporates. The United States seems to get away with extraterritoriality in relation to more or less everything. We do not have that privilege.

As regards this approach, I also like the reference to recognising indigenous people. It is clear and obvious that it is so much more effective to keep forests rather than start to regrow them. That is the other side of the coin, as it were, to the previous debate and perhaps is even more important. That is why these Benches are very much in favour of the system proposed—although one of the big challenges that we have faced regarding environmental regulation and the Bill is enforcement and making sure that the regulations that we make can operate and are policed. We have the FSC, the Forest Stewardship Council, which works okay but all of us know of instances of duplicity in the system—not in the work of the FSC itself but among those copying and wrongly branding products. That challenge remains, but that does not mean that we should not move ahead in these areas.

I want also to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Randall, on his pioneering work on the global footprint. We have mentioned a number of areas but the Dasgupta review, sponsored by the Treasury, again stressed that in terms of natural capital we are extracting far more than we are putting back into the planet. I suspect that the noble Lord is not expecting the Minister to accept the amendment but I hope that the Government will do further work in this area. I agree strongly with a point that the noble Lord made: if we can become the leader of standards in this area, it would be incredibly important.

Lastly, I come to the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, on urgency. That is the word I hear from her and she is absolutely right. We have so little time in so many of these areas and here, through these amendments—which I hope the Government and the Minister will accept—we have an opportunity to wind up that urgency and start to make right what we need to do soon and so urgently.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Carrington Portrait Lord Carrington (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register.

I also want to speak about this interesting clause, which I have been scratching my head about for some time. The need for some top-down planning was clearly identified by Henry Dimbleby in the recent national food strategy report. However, top-down planning on its own and on the scale envisaged is not practical, as there is always a need for local factors to be considered at the same time. While there is some merit in the concept of focusing public funding on the right thing in the right place, it is neither realistic nor desirable to micromanage what happens right down to parish level. As food producers and environmental guardians, farmers and land managers should be at the core of any approach to developing a framework. A framework for land use should be about joining up policy on the ground, not dictating what is done on the land in a very prescriptive way. Any land-use framework should be positive and enabling—allowing land managers to deliver more from their land, whether for the environment, food or other economic activity—rather than negative and restrictive.

The most interesting objective of the clause recognises the need to consider agriculture and food production. Farmers and landowners have often asked for a more strategic approach to land use, particularly now that land may be taken out of production for carbon-offsetting purposes, housing or whatever, so a clause along these lines helps to deal with the issue. However, this clause has much wider ambitions that could greatly restrict the progression of farming and the diversification of farm businesses, let alone other rural businesses. Zoning would almost certainly make it harder or more expensive to get planning permission for a new or different enterprise.

A land-use framework can never succeed in circumstances where there are going to be changes in technology, climate conditions, consumer demand and business viability, to name just a few considerations, all of which could happen in very short order. Furthermore, there are also likely to be major, currently unforeseen implications for land values and tax considerations that need much more research. I therefore cannot support the amendment.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, in following the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, I have just tossed out more or less everything that I was going to say. I feel the need to respond to what he has just said, which I think is founded on the idea that each patch of land, each farm, is a discrete entity that has no real relationship to the entities around it. As is most obvious when we think about the climate emergency, the fact is that the carbon emitted from or stored on that land has global implications. That is very obvious in relation to flooding. I will not open up that debate, but certain land uses in this country are associated with large amounts of water runoff, and that has literally life-or-death implications for the communities downstream.

The noble Lord also referred to food production. We have to think about the food security of the UK in a world in which food security will become an increasing issue in the coming decades.

We have to think about systems holistically, and indeed we have signed up to do just that. Like all the nations in the world, we are a signatory to the sustainable development goals—a mix of economic, social and environmental goals—although we are not currently on track to deliver any single one of them. The question is: the Government have signed up to these goals, but how will they deliver them? Making sure that land is used well—not in a way that harms other people—surely has to be a foundational measure.