Recycled Plastics

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Tuesday 13th February 2024

(2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

No, we want this to be a United Kingdom scheme. The noble Baroness will be aware of complications in Scotland, and we want to make sure that we are introducing this in conjunction, so that we do not have booze cruises from Scotland to England to buy drinks that will not fall within that scheme. We now think that we can work with this. In the context of the whole piece, with our plastics packaging tax, and recycling increasing dramatically over the last decade, we are now requiring households right across the country, uniform across the local authorities, to recycle all six waste streams by 2027. With the bag charge, which has seen a 98% reduction in the use of those, and the introduction of the banning of single-use plastic straws and a whole range of other single-use plastics, I think even the noble Baroness would admit that we are doing our best.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

My Lords, my noble friend the Minister will be aware that Wales led the way in introducing a charge for single-use plastic bags. It was so successful that it was followed in short order by Northern Ireland, Scotland and then England. However, in respect of the ban on single-use plastics, on which, again, Wales is trying to lead the way, I am not quite so sure of the evidence. Will the Minister say what his opinion is of what the effect of banning single-use plastics might be?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Our restrictions on straws, stirrers and cotton buds have had a big impact. These items used to appear on the top-10 littered items lists but no longer do so. According to estimates in our impact assessment, England used 1.1 billion single-use plates and 4.25 billion items of single-use cutlery per year, most of which were plastic but only 10% were recycled, so banning these items will have a significant impact on reducing plastic waste.

United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 (Exclusions from Market Access Principles: Single-Use Plastics) Regulations 2022

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Monday 18th July 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 9 June be approved. Considered in Grand Committee on 12 July. Relevant document: 5th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, I beg to move the Motion standing in his name on the Order Paper.

Motion agreed.

United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 (Exclusions from Market Access Principles: Single-Use Plastics) Regulations 2022

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Tuesday 12th July 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Grand Committee
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. Although the instrument that we are discussing is fairly narrow, the topics covered have been very broad, and rightly so. Pollution does not recognise borders, and co-operation between the four nations is key.

There was some criticism that the SI does not go far enough. I would make the point that it is specifically focused on the Scottish regulations; that is its purpose. A broader, very valid question was raised about whether the policy package on plastic itself goes far enough. I do not think that is directly relevant to this SI, which does a particular job. I think most people have agreed in their speeches that the job is necessary and that this needs to happen.

Before I come to that broader question, I will try to address a few specifics. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, made the point that Scotland is in many ways leading the way on plastic pollution. Although I do not think it goes nearly far enough, it is leading the way among the four nations and it can be proud of the trail that it is blazing. However, we work incredibly closely across the four nations on these issues. Maybe every now and again there is a bit of competition, but that is a good thing as long as the competition is upwards, not downwards, which is always a risk in politics, as we have seen today in some of the interventions that have been made by potential leaders of the Conservative Party. I will come to that point too in a few moments.

I will rise to the challenge from the noble Lord, Lord Jones, who asked me the Minister’s name, which is, of course, Lesley Griffiths. However, we have our own Welsh Minister in the environment department, Victoria Prentis. I think she is Welsh.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Very good, thank you. She works very closely on the issue we are discussing. I am merely her mouthpiece in this Room, because the domestic part of this is not directly part of my remit.

The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, asked about wet wipes, and she could have named any number of other products that have come under the spotlight. This goes to the broader question from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, about whether the policy goes far enough. I can tell the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, that there was a call for evidence in relation to wet wipes and we are analysing its results. It seems inconceivable to me that at the end of this process we would not take the view that the noble Baroness and pretty much everyone who has spoken has taken on the issue of plastic waste over the few years that I have been here debating these issues. We recognise that this is a very serious environmental problem that needs to be resolved and can be resolved only as a consequence of government intervention. That is true in relation to a lot of other single-use plastic items.

The frustration that I have felt many times in exchanges with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, on the piecemeal approach is one that a number of my colleagues share. It is necessary for us to go through a certain process; you cannot just, at the stroke of a pen, destroy a particular business model by banning something that is key to it. However, we do need to get to a point where we are simply not using, and where it is not permissible to use, single-use plastics when alternatives are there. There will be medical exemptions and certain other uses where single-use plastics are unavoidable, but as a rule it should be our intention to move as quickly as possible to the wholesale removal of avoidable single-use plastics. There are countries around the world—including Rwanda, which has been in the news a lot recently—which are ahead of us in relation to adopting a more comprehensive approach to tackling single-use plastics. The UK has done a lot of the running on this internationally, but we have a long way to go.

In answer to the noble Baroness’s specific question, yes, we would need separate SIs for additional bans that come after the bans that have already been announced, but I hope that we would be able to cluster as much as possible to avoid endless debates about specific things and, instead, to get on and really take a bite out of this problem in the limited time we have in Parliament. I very much share her concern about that, but this is not a consequence of reluctance on the part of Defra. I hope she understands that.

At both ministerial and official level, this is something that we are very keen to do, not least because getting our own house in order allows us to have a bigger voice internationally, as UK negotiators. I would like to take the credit as a Minister, but it is UK negotiators, who are always nameless in these things, who are responsible, more than those of any other country, for negotiating an agreement at UNEA for a global treaty on plastic pollution. They worked 24 hours a day. I spoke to the negotiators from many other countries who made a point of thanking me for the UK’s contribution. I cannot name them—you are not meant to do that; it breaks protocol—but it was UK negotiators who did that and we are now part of the process of pushing for the highest possible ambition.

If noble Lords do not mind, I shall branch out a little to address the questions on leadership, because this matters so much. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and others expressed concerns about where we are going. I share those concerns and have expressed them, probably a little too noisily, in recent days. My appeal to anyone who might happen to be listening to this debate and to friends at the other end of the building is that we should not be focusing just on net zero.

There is so much focus on whether candidates are saying the right stuff on net zero, but it is a bit of a red herring. That is not because climate change is not an issue—clearly, that is not my view—but because we are already seeing the wheels spinning in terms of market action driving us towards a low-carbon future. We know that more money is flowing into clean energy today than into fossil fuels; that has been true for about six years. We know that the market has made that decision and that it is miles ahead of the politics. The United States under Donald Trump poured billions into trying to keep coal use going, but it fell faster on his watch than under President Obama, who was very keen to see the back of coal.

It is almost irrelevant what the next leader does in relation to net zero over the next 18 months. We have a law. Parliament is not going to delegislate net zero; we all know that. It is simply not going to happen. It will remain our law until the next election. Were a party to enter that election promising to scrap the net-zero laws, that party would not and should not be elected. I do not think anyone would argue with that. The risks around net zero have been massively exaggerated by commentators. The real risk—it is huge—relates to the natural environment. There is no momentum behind protecting the natural environment. There is no market driving the reparation, restoration and protection of nature. That will happen only if Governments intervene; there is no other dynamic there. Yes, communities around the world are fighting to protect their environments, often against evil forces, but the pressure is one way and it is not the right way. Unless Governments write the rules and intervene, we will see absolute devastation.

To those who are tempted to see these as peripheral issues—as I know that some people in politics, perhaps including even some who are standing to be leader of the Conservative Party, do—I say that that is an absurd proposition. I have just come back from the Congo Basin. Science does not really know the value of the Congo Basin. We know some of the value—we know about its biodiversity, its carbon storage and all that kind of stuff—but we also know that it provides rainfall for most of the continent of Africa. We do not know exactly how much but we know it is pretty blooming important in terms of rainfall. Wipe out the Congo Basin—this peripheral thing, according to some of my colleagues—and you lose rainfall across the entire continent of Africa, or at least a very large proportion of it; you have hunger on a scale never seen before; you have a humanitarian crisis that we simply could not deal with in Europe. Look at the problems we have with a few regional areas sending their refugees our way—this would be on a scale the likes of which we have never seen before.

Look at the ocean: 250 million families depend on fish for their survival. What happens if we continue to deplete the world’s oceans in the way that we will if we do not see Governments intervening? We will have 250 million destitute families; we will have 1 billion people losing the fish on which they depend for their sustenance. These are really not peripheral issues. They are absolutely central.

Queen’s Speech

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Wednesday 18th May 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
- Hansard - -

I am sorry, my Lords, but there is an advisory speaking time of five minutes and the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, is well over.

Water and Sewerage Undertakers (Exit from Non-household Retail Market) (Consequential Provision) Regulations 2021

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Tuesday 19th October 2021

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Grand Committee
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. If nothing else, it has highlighted the complexity of the water industry and the legislation which governs it.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh takes a very keen interest in this issue, as I have discovered since taking part in these debates. The right to connect is an issue that she has raised before and which has been discussed at length in connection with the concerns raised during the passage of the Environment Bill over storm overflows, in particular the right to connect surface water drains to foul sewers. This is outside the remit of developer services and these regulations, which concern only the construction of new sewers and the connecting of new homes to wastewater sewer services. However, in providing developer services, water companies will often proactively discuss with the developer how they will drain their sites, suggesting ways to avoid connecting surface water drains to foul sewers.

The issue of possible failure is being considered as part of the post-implementation review, and Defra is reviewing SuDS as part of our review of Schedule 3. My noble friend raised the issue of retailer involvement. Some retailers have been involved with the new connections but mainly with retail developments. Most retailers are referring developers to water companies.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, raised issues around network capacity. Amending the duties to reference capacity would effectively be a new duty on water companies and would therefore also be out of the scope of these regulations. Also, reapplying Section 98 would also reapply Sections 99 and 100, which concern the financial arrangements regarding any new public sewer. Section 100(4) enables the water company to include in the costs charged to the developer the costs reasonably incurred in providing new public sewers and any reasonable proportion of costs incurred to provide additional capacity in existing sewers that have been constructed in the previous 12 years.

My noble friend also raised the issue of drainage and sewerage plans. Plans are currently being produced now for drainage and sewerage management. Draft plans will be consulted on in April next year, and these are currently non-statutory. My noble friend asked whether the Consumer Council has responded to the consultation. The answer is yes. We also spoke at length with Water UK, which agreed with the changes.

Many of the hugely important issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, were debated during the passage of the Environment Bill. She raised the case of Southern Water, whose pollution of our waterways has been met with a reaction from the courts, leading to fines and so on. The regulatory regime that governs water companies and the pollution of waters and rivers is an issue that has been raised effectively by my noble friend the Duke of Wellington through various amendments. There is no doubt that the water companies will have to step up and that Defra will have to take a more robust approach to dealing with them. I do not think that anyone in the country regards the pouring of raw sewage into our waterways as a routine matter, as opposed to an emergency situation for the prevention of deaths. It is not acceptable, and that is our view in Defra.

We have been working closely, and discussions will continue, with my noble friend the Duke of Westminster —the Duke of Wellington. I can only apologise to my noble friend, for the fourth time; it is becoming a tick that I cannot rid myself of. Someone is playing games with me.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is my noble friend Lady Bloomfield.

I look forward to meeting my noble friend the Duke of Wellington shortly to discuss progress on some of the issues that he raised.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, raised the devolved nations. Scotland has its own process; Wales does not have a retail system in place. We are exploring the Scottish process with it, as part of the post-implementation review.

The noble Baroness also raised the issue of water companies providing the developer services. Water companies have provided services, in discussions with developers, and ensure that discussions about connections to sewers and SUDS provision occur to reduce surface water being sent to public sewers.

I think that I have answered the questions that were raised, so I will close there. All the changes introduced by this instrument, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, noted, are technical, operability amendments required to ensure that we are able to continue to operate the regulations and the retail market appropriately. They make no changes to water retail policy for developer services; they just enable us to refine our legislative approach to how we deliver them. I therefore commend the draft regulations to the House.

Environment Bill

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Relevant documents: 3rd and 5th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee, 4th Report from the Constitution Committee
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, before we begin proceedings, I remind noble Lords that the Bill needs to conclude today, and we have 12 groups to get through. I do not propose to outline all the rules of engagement again; suffice to say that only the mover of an amendment may speak after the Minister. Other Members speaking after the Minister may do so only to ask short questions of elucidation. I remind noble Lords that brevity is king in all things and please could they try not to repeat arguments already made in the same debate.

Amendment 99

Moved by
--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I do not have an American spouse to declare and I am certainly not a landowner, so maybe I bring more of a working-class approach to this. But I do declare an interest as a member of the South Downs National Park Authority, where conservation covenants are already becoming a live and slightly perturbing issue. I speak in support of Amendments 109, 110, 112, 113, 114 and 115 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, to which I have added my name. I also thank the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, for his amendments, which echo our concerns about the current wording of Part 7 of the Bill.

As the noble Earl, Lord Devon, said in Committee and again today, conservation covenants are a new and radical concept. They could bring great benefits to our landscape and to improving our biodiversity, but they are long-term agreements with huge implications for the landowners, so it is essential that we make the wording watertight from the start. The noble Earl’s Amendments 109 and 110 would require any conservation covenant to be underpinned by a deed. We believe this provision is essential. It would ensure that the landowner received appropriate legal advice before locking in the land to agreements that could last 100 years or more, committing their family for generations.

In the noble Lord the Minister’s letter following the debate in Committee, he made it clear that the covenants would not require a dominant and servient tenement. The implication was that this would be an equal agreement between the landowner and the responsible body, but we know this is not necessarily how it will work in practice. We are talking about public bodies or large institutions with huge resources compared to a single landowner, who may be a small farmer. So it is crucial that they get the best legal advice, which a deed would deliver. There would then be clarity for all on what the conservation requirements are.

As I mentioned in Committee, the concept of environmental stacking is also taking hold, where a landowner might have multiple conservation obligations to different bodies, with all the legal complexities that that would ensue. Could the noble Baroness clarify how it would work if a covenant existed for a piece of land? For example, would the landowner also be able to claim additional financial support through the sustainable farming incentive scheme?

We are also concerned about the implications of individual farmers being approached to sign covenants that are at odds with the wider plans for the landscape. How would we ensure that the covenant was in keeping with, for example, the strategic plans for the protected landscapes in the national parks? As I mentioned in Committee, farmers in the South Downs are already being approached to provide carbon offsets for developments elsewhere, and the new biodiversity offsets will complicate matters further. All of this underlines the need for a land-use framework for England, which my noble friend Lady Young will be debating in the next group.

I also agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, that the advice on conservation may turn out to be wrong, over a period of time, so we need a simple mechanism to adapt and sign off new amended conservation agreements.

Finally, we agree with the noble Earl that the responsible bodies that determine the basis of the covenant, if they are not public bodies or charities, should be organisations focused solely on conservation —we all had a great deal of sympathy with his example of Southern Water, which did not quite tick the box of being a trustworthy conservator—otherwise, there is a danger of the covenants being traded by for-profit institutions with no interest in the biodiversity outcome and no direct engagement with the landowner. In the worst case, it is possible to imagine all these covenants bundled up into packages and traded internationally, with the UK losing control of its land use. I hope noble Lords see the sense of these amendments and agree to support them, if the Minister is not able to adequately address these concerns.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate and especially the noble Earls, Lord Devon and Lord Caithness, for their amendments. I also thank the noble Earl, Lord Devon, for taking the time to discuss this important topic with the Secretary of State last night, and with Defra officials and the Law Commission. I start by emphasising that the Law Commission concluded that a regime for statutory conservation covenants is needed because there is currently no simple legal tool that landowners can use to secure conservation or heritage benefits when the land is sold or passed on.

Amendment 111, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, risks limiting crucial flexibility in the design of covenants. The Government strongly support the Law Commission’s approach of keeping the content and procedural requirements for conservation covenants simple and proportionate. We want to avoid unnecessary complexity and cost—and cost might dissuade landowners from entering into conservation covenants, leading to important conservation opportunities being lost. It is also vital that parties have the flexibility to design conservation covenants to suit their needs, given the wide range of conservation purposes they could be used to secure. We expect to see a range of different covenants created, from preserving small-scale heritage work done on a Tudor house through to securing long- term landscape-scale conservation management.

Amendment 109, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, seeks to prevent landowners inadvertently signing up to agreements, but I think this scenario is unlikely. The agreement must show that the parties intend to create a conservation covenant. A conservation covenant cannot be validly created unless the agreement clearly shows that the parties intended to create it. The Government have been working closely with stakeholders, including the NFU, CLA and the National Trust, to develop guidance, to be published, that will set out in more detail the process for creating conservation covenants and encourage both parties to take legal advice before entering into such an agreement.

On Amendment 110, I will first clarify something I said to noble Lords during the debate on the eighth day of Committee. To confirm, it is not necessary for a conservation covenant to be executed by deed for it to be registered as a local land charge. I also reassure the noble Earl, Lord Devon, that his concerns were carefully considered by the Law Commission: Clause 113 adheres to its final recommendations. His proposal that the agreement must be created in writing and signed was well received. In practice, those who prefer to execute their agreement as a deed may do so, and of course executing an agreement by deed does not guarantee that the parties will seek legal advice on the terms set out in the agreement—although, as I said, our guidance will encourage parties to take legal advice.

A perpetual agreement might be desirable to some; equally, a fixed-term conservation covenant could be appropriate to others. The proposal for flexibility on duration had the clear support of consultees and the Law Commission saw no sensible alternative. Where consideration forms part of an agreement, the clauses already allow for that to be captured. Requiring agreements to include provisions on duration and consideration risks rendering otherwise helpful agreements invalid if they fail to mention them, as consideration in particular may not be relevant to all agreements.

On Amendment 112, regarding responsible bodies, I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Devon, that for-profit bodies have a role to play in ensuring the success of conservation covenants. The Government’s 2019 consultation found broad support for allowing for-profit organisations to apply to be responsible bodies: 58% of respondents agreed, with only 26% against. The Government will closely check approved responsible bodies. Regulations on annual returns may require responsible bodies to provide an update on their eligibility. As part of the application process, we will also require organisations to notify us if conservation is no longer their main purpose or activity.

Environment Bill

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Wednesday 15th September 2021

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Khan of Burnley Portrait Lord Khan of Burnley (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I rise to speak briefly to the amendment introduced so eloquently and passionately by my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester. I, too, congratulate him on his work on heritage rail.

Some interesting points have been made across the House today. If I understood right, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and others questioned the true pollution levels of steam engines and railways. Perhaps the Minister can give us some facts. Is it true that heritage steam engines may have a negligible impact on the environment? I invite noble Lords across the House to visit my home town, Burnley. We have the Queen Street Mill and, in it, the heritage steam engine that powered the biggest cotton mill in the town. It would be great to see noble Lords there. As the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, said, heritage steam railways are a huge part of our culture, especially for young children. They are a massive tourist attraction. We must make sure that we get the balance right. I understand that discussions are ongoing—indeed, I have had discussions with experts and researchers —about the true impact of heritage steam engines.

Finally, for my sake and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, please do not kill off Thomas the Tank Engine. It will destroy my childhood memories.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
- Hansard - -

The noble Lord can come and see Thomas the Tank Engine, who lives in Didcot, at any time.

I understand the concerns raised by noble Lords. As I said in Committee, the Government are very much aware of the important contribution that the heritage sector makes to the culture of this country, particularly the rural economy. We engaged with heritage bodies during the inquiries of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Heritage Rail, and we listened to their concerns during consultation. As I made clear in Committee—I am pleased to confirm it again today—there will be no direct impact on the heritage steam sector as a result of this Bill and the Government are not looking to introduce policy that would have a direct impact on it. I reiterate that nothing in the Environment Bill covers the heritage steam sector and putting it in scope would require a vote in both Houses of Parliament.

Clause 73 of and Schedule 12 to this Bill will make it easier for local authorities to enforce the Clean Air Act 1993, which, among other things, regulates smoke emissions from the chimneys of buildings. The smoke control area provisions in the Act, and the amendments to them in this Bill, do not and will not apply to smoke from steam trains. Indeed, Section 43 of the Act clearly indicates that the smoke control area provisions do not apply to any railway locomotive engine. I reiterate that this will not change. Nothing in the Bill will have an impact on the burning of coal for steam traction. Any powers that exist in other Acts of Parliament would require a vote in both Houses, but I can confirm that the Government do not intend to bring forward any restrictions on these uses. As noble Lords have set out, steam trains are a tiny source of pollution and carbon, and we have much larger sources of pollution to be worrying about. I hope this reassures noble Lords that the Bill will not have an impact on the heritage rail sector and that an exemption from the Bill is therefore not required. We cannot exempt from the Bill a sector that is already exempt.

On historic buildings, I can confirm that local authorities already have the power to exempt specific buildings, or classes of buildings, when declaring a smoke control area under Section 18 of the Clean Air Act. This means that they could exempt specific historic houses, or historic houses in general, from the requirements applying to the smoke control area. That will not change under this Bill. I want to clarify something I said to noble Lords on the fifth day in Committee. To confirm, I am aware that there may be a potential impact on canal boats in the heritage sector, as the Bill will enable local authorities to bring moored inland waterway vessels into the scope of smoke control areas should they have a specific issue in their area. However, we will consider the practicalities of implementation and will set out further detail in statutory guidance, which will be published next year.

Once again, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, for the discussion on this issue that he and others, including my noble friend Lord Forsyth, had with my noble friend the Minister earlier this year. I can reassure noble Lords that we are all very much still here. I, for one, am relieved because, had the Minister been called out during the course of this afternoon, I would have had to deal with all the groups of amendments on day 4 of Report.

I should like also to reiterate that my noble friend the Minister and his officials are happy to continue to engage with noble Lords as guidance is developed, and I hope that I have been able to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, that the Government share his views about the importance of the heritage sector and that nothing in the Bill will impact on historic houses or the heritage rail sector. Thomas the Tank Engine is truly safe. I hope that with those assurances, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Portrait Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Perhaps I may ask my noble friend about her reference to canal boats. I should declare an interest as I spent the weekend on a canal boat in Wales. She implied that they might be at risk. Can she be absolutely clear that they will not be at risk because they are also an important part of our tourism industry and are very important to a number of rural areas?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
- Hansard - -

I brought up canal boats because, if they are moored in an inland waterway, they may be caught by the scope of smoke control areas brought in by local authorities in an urban area. That is why I particularly mentioned that they might be brought into scope, with reduced capacity to burn coal, if the canal boats are on an inland waterway in the smoke control area of a local authority.

Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Can I ask a question of the Minister again before she sits down? There are at least two types of canal boat. There are those that run on diesel engines, which may or may not pollute and be subject to some sort of regulation in the future. But then, of course, there is the odd steam canal boat. They are as much part of our heritage as steam trains, fixed steam engines or my noble friend’s big steam engines in Burnley. Just because a canal boat is moving on water rather than on rails or road, perhaps the Minister could look at that matter and perhaps help us.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
- Hansard - -

Perhaps I may clarify that the measure relates only to coal, not diesel, and only when moored up—not when moving.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Portrait Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know that we are on Report, but this matter is important. The Government at a previous stage of the legislation indicated that heritage steam vehicles and, indeed, the amendment as broadly drafted would not be affected. As the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said, on canals there are steam boats that have an important heritage. The assurance that I thought my noble friend had given was that they would not be covered. Given the assurances, if there is a loophole that would enable local authorities to include steam boats, it needs to be closed.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
- Hansard - -

This is not about propulsion but the heating system in a boat.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait Lord Faulkner of Worcester (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The House is a little confused by that exchange. I have to say that if my Amendment 127 were to be agreed to, there would be no question of local authorities being able to bring in by-laws or other restrictions on heritage organisations from burning coal, whether on canal boats, steam boats, railway engines or historic houses. It would be a lot easier for the Minister if she were willing to accept these amendments so there would be no doubt at all that the assurances she has given can be fulfilled.

However, the hour is late and there is still a number of groups to go. I do not intend to delay the House further. I should, however, like to thank all noble Lords who have spoken—particularly those who have done so from their own experiences with heritage railways or steam boats. I thank the Minister, too, for her attempt to get us to somewhere where we certainly were not when we started on the Bill. We are close to the sort of assurances that I was looking for, which is a guarantee that the introduction of a ban would require primary legislation. If she were able to say exactly that, it would help considerably. Perhaps I may give her the opportunity to do so before I ask the House to allow me to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
- Hansard - -

I am afraid that I am unable to make that commitment at the Dispatch Box.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait Lord Faulkner of Worcester (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am disappointed by that. I will seek an opportunity to discuss this matter further with the Minister before we finish the Bill. However, as far as this evening is concerned, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I will not repeat what I said in our previous debates on this, but I very much support the noble Baroness’s amendment. We agree that the Government should take action to encourage reusable nappies, including, where necessary, incentives for the low paid to be able to access them in the first place. The sooner we use innovation to encourage alternatives to single-use nappies and that whole industry, the better. On that basis, as the late hour is descending on us, I look forward to hearing what the Minister says.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I know the hour is late, but this is a very important subject, just because of the quantity that goes into landfill. I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate and my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe for a very informative meeting yesterday. I know that she is passionate about this issue and is keen to see progress, but it is also important to ensure that our policy-making is evidence-based. That is why the department has commissioned an independent environmental assessment of the relative impact of washable and disposable nappies, the most recent study having been done some time ago. This research is being carried out by Giraffe Innovation Ltd and will cover the waste and energy impacts of washable and disposable products, disposal to landfill and incineration, and recycling options. We expect to publish the final report later this year, following peer review, and I am very happy to write to my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe and the Nappy Alliance about our plans once we have the results of the research.

We will use an evidence-based process to consider what, if any, action is appropriate. This could include backing voluntary initiatives or introducing measures such as standards and consumer information and labelling. I also confirm that existing powers in the Bill, in the schedules on resource efficiency and information, will allow us to, among other things, set standards for nappies and introduce labelling requirements.

We are delighted that some local authorities currently operate reusable nappy schemes as part of a local decision on how to prioritise funding, which may be available from a number of sources. However, we do not need primary legislation to develop a strategy or support a scheme on reusable nappies. In relation to the landfill tax specifically, reducing the number of nappies sent to landfill through reusable nappy schemes should save local authorities money over time by reducing their landfill tax bill. The amount of money saved can be spent according to local priorities. I know that certain charitable funds are available from landfill taxes. I cannot comment specifically on those, but, as we discussed yesterday, that is an avenue well worth exploring by local authorities.

Once we have the results of the independent assessment, expected later this year, we will be well placed to prioritise and develop a plan if appropriate, so I beg that this amendment be withdrawn.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my noble friend for her words and beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and other noble Lords who signed this amendment, for bringing forward the interesting concept of ecocide. I am sorry that I missed the debate in Committee.

It was the use by the United States of Agent Orange as a means of destroying the Viet Cong’s forest cover in northern Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos which brought to the attention of the international community the devastating environmental harm that it causes and the ensuing refugee crisis. When Saddam Hussein burned 600 Kuwaiti oil wells, the resultant atmospheric pollution spread as far as the Himalayas and caused a severe threat to the surrounding fragile desert ecosystem. There have been many other examples of armed conflict causing environmental destruction.

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court deals with the four core crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. Article 8(2)(b)(iv) of the statute specifies that, within the scope of international armed conflict, the following actions could constitute a war crime:

“Intentionally launching an attack in the knowledge that such attack will cause … widespread, long-term and severe damage to the … environment which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated”.


As part of the review of the genocide convention in 1973, a draft international convention on the crime of ecocide was prepared for UN consideration by Professor Richard Falk. He outlined an offence, including the use of chemical herbicides to defoliate and deforest natural forests for military purposes and the use of bulldozing equipment to destroy large tracts of forest or crop-land. This was all within the concept of military conflict. Of course, it is a precondition of a war crime that there is a war, or at least armed conflict, and that there is a commander who can be made responsible for his conduct. This amendment might be appropriately considered as a military offence in the Armed Forces Bill currently before the House. But I suspect that the noble Baroness is more ambitious and would wish to include in her definition of ecocide deliberate destruction of the environment outside a war setting.

The problem then becomes twofold. What is the actus reus and what is the mens rea? If President Bolsonaro were to decide, as a matter of policy, to destroy the rainforest to increase open grazing land for cattle, he does not do so merely out of a malign desire to destroy but with the intention of increasing the economic prosperity of his country. He may be right, or he may be completely mistaken, but has he caused widespread, long-term and severe damage to the environment which is clearly excessive in relation to the economic advantage anticipated? Would a court question his political decision?

To bring the matter nearer to home, if Prime Minister Boris Johnson or Nicola Sturgeon were to agree to the exploitation of the new Shetland oil field, many would argue, including me, that it would do immense damage to the environment and contribute significantly to climate change. Even if the members of the International Criminal Court agreed with that assessment, they are hardly likely to lock up the Prime Minister or the First Minister of Scotland.

Rachel Killean, of Queen’s University Belfast, has thoughtfully gone in a different direction. She seeks to develop the concept of a separate chamber of the ICC with a jurisdiction to deal with environmental destruction. She believes in “‘greening’ the Rome Statute” and argues that

“the reparation framework adopted by the International Criminal Court”

for war crimes—the payment of compensation—

“offers an opportunity to … respond to environmental destruction”.

She postulates that the court could have jurisdiction in respect of states as well as individual politicians, and could award

“reparations that explicitly recognise the harm caused by environmental destruction”.

It would be difficult to expand the jurisdiction of the court from its existing concern with genocide and war crimes—

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, forgive me for interrupting, but I fear the noble Lord is making a Second Reading speech. He was not here for earlier stages of the Bill, and the hour is late. Perhaps he could bring his arguments to a close.

Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have one sentence further.

The pressure of climate change and its effect on world populations will give the concept much more resonance. Ecocide may lead to genocide. Wanton destruction of habitat, as in Myanmar, causes a flood of refugees, and that is a crime against humanity. I look forward to further developments in the future.

Environment Bill

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, in my opinion this is quite an important set of amendments because they focus on some specific causes of air pollution. The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, ably introduced her Amendment 51, on the impact of speed on air quality, as she did in Committee, and spoke passionately about why we need to reduce speed limits to reduce PM2.5. We have heard about research on the impact of road traffic, and the fact that it is responsible for up to 80% of particulate pollution in the UK, but it is also likely that this is an underestimate. The noble Baroness explained how particulates arise from the friction between tyre rubber and road surfaces and the impact of speed on climate change.

Amendment 51 in particular considers a 20 miles an hour speed limit. It is worth noting that the UK default speed limit of 30 miles an hour is 60% higher than that in most continental European towns, where 30 kilometres an hour, or 18.6 miles an hour, is the norm. Imperial College has reported that, at 20 miles an hour, brake and tyre wear is significantly reduced. When the 30 kilometres an hour zones were introduced in Germany, in the 1980s, car drivers changed gear less often, braked less often and required less fuel.

Congestion is also a factor in air pollution, as emissions from a standing vehicle are higher than those from a moving one; this was demonstrated during the debate we had on idling engines. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, also referred to the fact that lower speeds improve traffic flow through junctions and can actually help to reduce congestion.

I turn to Amendment 55, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and others, and Amendment 57, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I will talk to them together, because they both propose air quality improvement areas. In the introduction to his amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Tope, talked about why local authorities are an important part of tackling air pollution, and why they need the powers to make a genuine difference. He spoke particularly about the issue of combustion plants in this context.

Amendment 57 builds on Amendment 55, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, explained very clearly. The need to include PM2.5 when setting a national air quality target is critical. We have previously debated the importance of meeting the WHO targets for this, and we also know that, next week, there is likely to be an announcement that the guidelines will be tightened even further.

The noble Baroness then talked about how her amendment would give metro mayors powers to designate air quality improvement areas. This is important, because it helps to avoid a patchwork of different emissions standards in our larger cities, and the noble Baroness talked about how important that is.

The noble Baroness spoke next about the third part of her amendment, which seeks to end the sale and use of wood-burning stoves in urban areas. Again, we have heard in the debate how important this is in helping to reduce PM2.5 emissions in our cities. The Climate Change Committee has also made it clear that wood-burning stoves should not be counted towards either low-carbon heat targets or renewable targets.

Finally, on Amendment 56, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Tope, idling creates air pollution and is really unnecessary. An idling engine burns fuel less efficiently than when the vehicle is moving, and so it produces more emissions than when it is travelling. Additionally, the toxic gases produced by idling are emitted in the same place, which means that localised air pollution is higher. This is particularly important near schools, because research shows that exposing children to high levels of air pollution can stunt lung growth and cause behavioural and mental health problems. Those of us who are drivers have a personal responsibility here; whether we are parked outside a school, picking someone up from the station or waiting in a car park, we all must do our bit by switching off our engines to reduce our emissions.

As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, reminded us, idling is an offence in law, but there are clearly issues around enforcement and penalties. My noble friend Lord Whitty talked about the difficulties that Westminster Council is having, for example, and this was mentioned by other noble Lords. As I said at the beginning, this is an important group of amendments, focusing on things the Government can do to act quickly to reduce air pollution. I await the Minister’s response with interest.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
- Hansard - -

I begin by thanking noble Lords for the quality of their contributions on the important issue of air quality throughout these proceedings, including in Committee. I agree that ambitious action is needed, which is why the Bill requires the Government to set two targets on air quality, including for fine particulate matter, the particulate most harmful to human health. These will be supported by a robust set of measures in the Bill which enable the action required to meet those targets. I can confirm to the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, that the department will organise a meeting for her and the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, with the Minister, if this has not been organised already. In light of her point about the impact on electricity demand from the speeds of electric vehicles, we will write to the Department for Transport for clarification on that issue.

Turning to Amendment 51 in the name of the noble Baroness, the Government support the use of 20 miles per hour speed limits or zones in the right places, depending on local circumstances. Local authorities have the power to set these limits, and I am confident that it is better for these decisions to be taken locally, taking a balanced account of the full range of impacts of changing speed limits, including economic and environmental effects. The Air Quality Expert Group report into non-exhaust emissions from road traffic concluded that the most effective traffic pollution mitigation strategies reduce the overall volume of traffic, lower the speed where traffic is free flowing—for example, on motorways—and promote driving behaviour that reduces braking and higher-speed cornering. We agree that we need to reduce PM2.5 emissions from tyre and brake wear. In towns and cities where traffic is not free flowing, the best way to do this is by encouraging fewer vehicle journeys rather than slower journeys. We do not want our recovery from this pandemic to be car-led. That is why the Government are continuing with our ambitious plans to increase active travel, with a long-term vision for half of all journeys in towns and cities to be walked or cycled by 2030, backed by £2 billion of investment over five years.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asked a number of questions. I believe she is mistaken about what I said in Committee. We have now checked Hansard, but I would like more time to go through it in detail. If what she said about casualty rates is relevant to that we will, in any event, write to clarify the point I made. She also asked some other questions, which I will come to later. We want to encourage more people to make sustainable, healthier travel choices that help improve air quality for local communities.

I turn to Amendments 55 and 57. Through the Bill, we are strengthening the local air quality management framework to bring in a broader range of partners to work with local authorities to improve air quality, and to make it easier for them to use their powers to tackle, for example, domestic solid fuel burning, a key source of PM2.5. I take the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, about the cumbersome processes that local authorities have to go through and we are aware of the issues with procedures for making these orders. In 2020, we published a report, Traffic Regulation Orders, identifying improvements to the legislative process in England, and we plan to consult later this year on potential legislative reforms to make it easier and quicker to make orders. There are already controls in place for many of the sources of pollution of concern that noble Lords have cited, for example through environmental permitting.

I set out in detail in Committee the many levers that local authorities already have to improve air quality in their areas, so I do not propose to repeat them here, but for tackling non-road emissions, specifically non-road mobile machinery, there are already emissions standards that non-road mobile machinery must comply with before it is sold, and the Government recently agreed to increase the stringency of these standards. Our existing regulatory regime also already sets emissions controls targeting medium combustion plants. This regime requires all plants in scope, such as the plants referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, to be registered or permitted, and sets limits on the levels of pollutants that these plants can emit. Going forward, our clean air strategy committed to consider the case for tighter emissions standards for medium combustion plants to those already introduced and to consider how to tackle emissions from smaller plants which do not fall within the scope of these regulations or eco-design regulations. I believe it is better to continue to strengthen the existing approaches than to create a new framework which would add to an already complex regulatory picture. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, is aware that Defra officials recently met representatives of the City of London, and other local authorities, to understand how to tackle the specific issues that this amendment intends to address, using our existing powers.

On the noble Baroness’s Amendment 57, which would introduce a ban on wood-burning appliances, we recognise that many people rely on wood-burning stoves and open fires, which use natural fuel. Because of this, our recent domestic fuels legislation does not introduce an outright and indiscriminate ban. Instead, we have taken action through the Air Quality (Domestic Solid Fuels Standards) (England) Regulations 2020, which came into force in May, to encourage people to move away from using more polluting fuels, such as wet wood, to less polluting fuels, such as dry wood. The proposals are therefore aimed at protecting health by phasing out the most polluting fuels used for domestic combustion in England and encouraging people to burn less. This work is supported by an information campaign to encourage people to burn better and to reduce harmful emissions.

The regulations require that wood sold in smaller units must have a moisture content of 20% or less, phase out the supply of traditional house coal for domestic burning, and require that all manufactured solid fuels meet sulphur and smoke emissions limits, to tackle the most harmful emissions from domestic burning. However, we need to be mindful of the contribution that wood burning makes in areas where particulate levels are already high, such as in city and town centres. That is why local authorities already have the power to declare smoke control areas. We continue to undertake regular monitoring of emission sources to inform our work to tackle human health risks robustly, and in setting and working towards the new air quality targets we will consider whether stricter measures are needed.

Turning to Amendment 56 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, while this amendment would increase penalties for drivers idling unnecessarily, the priority must be to change motorists’ behaviour. With or without the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, we must encourage them not to idle—which is, after all, wasting expensive fuel—and instead push motorists towards using the technological solutions now available, rather than penalise them. Vehicle technology has moved on significantly and can play a part in addressing idling, including stop-start technology and low or zero-emission vehicles. If needed, however, powers are already available to local authorities to tackle unnecessary idling. Local authorities, as the existing guidance makes clear, should utilise a range of methods to encourage motorists to change their behaviour, including public information campaigns.

Although it seems a very simple idea to increase fines, the Department for Transport undertook a study on fines and concluded that increasing the level was not the best way of addressing the issue. Higher fines of up to £1,000 on conviction may also be issued if the police carry out enforcement against idling where a driver refuses to stop running their engine. This, of course, is rather more than the noble Lord’s suggested penalty, although I acknowledge that this is on conviction, rather than an on-the-spot fine. So, although I agree with the intended outcome of the noble Lord’s amendment, the Government’s position is that higher penalties are not the best approach to address this issue, so I beg noble Lords not to press their amendments.

Baroness Sheehan Portrait Baroness Sheehan (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister. I have one quick question for her. She said that the Government do not want slower traffic, they just want fewer cars on the road, but that flies in the face of what public opinion says on slower traffic. Wherever 20 miles per hour limits have been introduced, they have been very popular. Will she quickly address that? Is it in order for me to ask her to elucidate?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
- Hansard - -

I am happy to elucidate. I do not believe I said I want just to reduce traffic; I said that both solutions will produce the desired outcome—both fewer vehicles and slower traffic.

Baroness Sheehan Portrait Baroness Sheehan (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
58: Clause 74, page 65, line 10, leave out “negative” and insert “affirmative”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides for regulations under Clause 74 to be subject to affirmative procedure.
--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, this is an interesting issue. The question, of course, is: where does the blame lie? Sewage spills happen and they are intensely damaging for humans and for ecosystems, yet we have heard some explanations that almost seem conflicting. We can argue that it is we who cause the problem because of the way that we dispose of our own waste, or that it is the fault of the water companies, which are clearly incompetent at times—I shall be supporting the noble Duke’s amendment. As I argued in the debate on the office for environmental protection, we have to penalise them for these spillages. In many cases it might be the developers’ fault for building on land they should not have built on, or it might the local authority’s fault for allowing developers to build on, for example, flood plains where they should not be building. At the moment, however, it is the water companies, and we really have to take this seriously.

I am supporting all the amendments as they all seem perfectly acceptable. The Green Party’s view is that all new developments should have a proper, sustainable drainage system so that the sorts of spillages that we are hearing about simply do not happen. However, this has clearly not been achieved and it is a big problem. I have signed the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, on chalk streams. I was going to eulogise about them, but I think I was given the same briefing, as other people have covered more or less the same territory.

I thank Feargal Sharkey, who was the lead singer in a punk band, the Undertones—I am afraid I have never heard of it. He is apparently a lifelong fly-fisherman, but is now dedicating his life to chalk streams and he sent an excellent briefing. Chalk streams are very precious and special, and we do not treat them very well. If not one of our chalk streams currently achieves a good overall environmental health status, that is quite shocking; we really need to do something about it.

I was incredibly impressed by the PR machine of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. I have had dozens of emails supporting his amendment. I admire that; perhaps he could share with me exactly how he got it to work.

This is, again, clearly an issue that the Government should have put in the original Environment Bill. This is an old Bill in the sense that it was originally written in 2019. It was pathetic then and it is pathetic still. Can the Government please do a little rethinking and include this issue in the Bill?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
- Hansard - -

The arguments have been very well and fulsomely made, building a consensus. Will noble Lords who still wish to speak make their speeches as short as possible and introduce some new arguments?

Earl of Caithness Portrait The Earl of Caithness (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Indeed, I have a new point to add, which has not been made—there is no point in frowning, I say to my noble friend.

I thank the Minister for bringing forward the government amendments and for his commitment to reviewing Schedule 3. That was something that I asked for in Committee and I am delighted that he is going to do it. Has he been briefed on the latest research from the University of Manchester, which has demonstrated a direct link between poor wastewater management and high levels of microplastic pollution in the United Kingdom? When we have these overflows, the microplastics go out into the water system—not only the rivers, but the sea, thus negating a whole lot of good that the Government have been trying to do in reducing microplastics. If this were not enough of a bad situation before, it is now really bad.

My noble friend’s Amendment 63 proposes including a report

“on elimination of discharges from storm overflows”.

I merely ask, what next after subsection (3)? It is good to have a report and lay it before Parliament, but what action will be taken? That is the only thing that matters now. I support these amendments, and support very strongly what my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern said: we should be aiming to separate the sewage from the wastewater. No new developments should be allowed to discharge automatically into the current sewerage system unless agreed by the water authority; there must be other alternatives.

I have one final comment for my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering. If she expects a developer to make a commitment towards future expenditure on one of these systems, I am afraid she is whistling in the wind. The developers will not do so; if necessary, they would go into bankruptcy and set up a new company to avoid any liability.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Tackling storm overflows in England is a government priority, and the Government are acting decisively through this Bill. I am grateful to the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, my noble friend Lady Altmann and many others for the pressure that they have exerted on the issue of storm overflows. These new government amendments, which the Rivers Trust has welcomed as a

“significant victory for river health and ... river users”

are a credit to their work.

I am pleased to bring forward government Amendments, 61, 62 and 63, to add further duties on water companies and the Government. This strengthens the package of government amendments brought forward on this issue in Committee. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, we have secured the agreement of the Welsh Government to these amendments.

Amendments 61 and 62 are designed to increase the accountability on water companies and to provide greater transparency for the public on the frequency and impact of storm overflows. Companies will be required to report on storm overflows in near real time, meaning within an hour of them occurring, in a way that is easy for the public to access and understand. They will be required to monitor continuously the water quality upstream and downstream of both storm overflows and sewage treatment works. This will give regulators and the public crucial indicators of the health of our waters, including dissolved oxygen, ammonia, temperature and pH values, and turbidity. The information obtained from these two duties, along with the annual reporting required by the amendment that I introduced in Committee, will finally require full transparency from water companies about their impact on our waters. We have made this expectation clear in our draft strategic policy statement to Ofwat. For the first time, the Government will be telling the industry’s economic regulator that we expect water companies to take steps to “significantly reduce storm overflows”. Therefore, with respect to the noble Duke, the Duke of Westminster—

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am so sorry—Westminster, Wellington. I meant the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. My apologies; it has been a long session.

With respect to the noble Duke, it is not right to say that the Government are reluctant to influence investment decisions of the water companies. That is exactly what we are doing. We will also make it clear in the guidance that we will shortly be giving to water companies regarding the preparation of their drainage and sewerage management plans. These are a statutory requirement under the Bill and we expect them to include considered actions for reducing storm overflows and their harm. I am confident that this action, driven by the Bill, is the right approach. However, as I said in Committee, if those plans are not sufficiently ambitious, the Government will not hesitate to use our direction-making power under Clause 79 to require them to take more action. This is a direct power over the water companies and, as I said, we will not hesitate to use it.

Very briefly, in response to the comments from the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, he is right in what he says, but the operation of overflows during emergencies is covered separately through permits for emergency overflows or through defences under the environmental permitting regulations—so, for example, to avoid damage to human health or even human life. It is extremely rare and covers events such as asset failure.

None the less, I know that the noble Lord and many others are keen to see a road map towards the complete elimination of storm overflows, as am I and my colleagues in Defra. I want to be clear that in the government plan, we will absolutely commit to pushing as far as it is possible to go. The reality is that, as our actions to considerably reduce overflows are successful, the remaining overflows are likely to be much more challenging to resolve and may therefore involve greater costs, with marginal, slight benefits. That is why the initial assessments suggest that elimination could cost more than £150 billion, which we foresee would likely mean increased customer bills and trade-offs against other water industry priorities.

We need better evidence to be certain of that—a point made by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. To this end, Amendment 63 requires the Government to investigate and map out the actions needed to eliminate storm overflows and to report to Parliament, before 1 September next year, on how elimination could be achieved and the corresponding benefits and costs. The point about the report is that it will provide the public, Parliament and the water industry with up-front, clear and comprehensive information on the feasibility and cost of elimination. It will tell us what we can do. Between that government plan on storm overflows and the new elimination report, we will set out transparently and precisely how far we can then go. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, that this issue is taken extremely seriously by all my colleagues in Defra. Whatever the outcome of that report, it will inform our next steps and the commitments we make.

In the meantime, in addition to the action I have already set out, I am pleased to confirm today that the Government will undertake a review of the case for implementing Schedule 3 to the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 in England. This schedule would set mandatory build standards for sustainable drainage schemes—or SUDS—on new developments. We agree with noble Lords and others about the importance of using SUDS to reduce rainwater going into sewers, which in turn reduces the frequency of storm overflows, as well as providing multifunctional benefits for reducing flood risk and enhancing nature. Schedule 3 would allow us to do this, but we need first to ensure that it is still fit for purpose.

Commencing in October this year, Defra officials will work closely with MHCLG, local planning authorities, developers and SUDS experts as we assess the current situation with regard to the construction of SUDS and the potential for the schedule to improve this, as well as implementation options and the benefits and costs of those options. This information will also feed into the development of the Government’s plan on storm overflows, on which we will also consult in spring next year. The Government believe that this is the appropriate and best approach towards reducing the volume of rainwater entering combined sewerage systems, which is rightly a concern of both Amendment 59 in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, and Amendment 82 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt.

Regarding Amendment 82 specifically, I am grateful to the noble Lord and to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, for conveying his message to us and for taking the time to meet me recently on this issue. The importance of sustainable drainage for managing surface water on new developments is made clear in planning policy. A hierarchy for the management of surface water on new developments is also included in the building regulations of 2010, and Schedule 3, once we have reviewed the case for its implementation, would make the connection of surface water to foul sewer conditional on local planning approval of the developer’s proposed SUDS. The noble Baroness asked why we need another review. I simply say that the Government have to understand the possible options, benefits and costs for implementing any policy and legislation. While there is a wide range of evidence on the issue of Schedule 3, since 2010 there have been a lot of changes in the planning systems and advancements in SUDS technology. The review will enable us to understand the current landscape and the issues properly and to make an up-to-date and informed decision on implementation.

In response to the noble Baroness’s questions on SUDS maintenance, Schedule 3 sets out that the maintenance body is a SUDS approval body as part of a local planning authority. The review will consider whether this continues to be the most appropriate and the right approach, as well as looking at other options.

Environment Bill

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Monday 13th September 2021

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for the introduction to his various amendments. As he said, Clause 84 removes the need, from 2028, to pay compensation to the holders of environmentally damaging abstraction licences when those damaging licences are amended or revoked. Although we have listened carefully to the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, we believe that we should put the needs of the environment first.

The requirement to pay compensation has been a barrier to action to protect waterways, including vulnerable chalk streams, which we considered earlier today and which in some cases have dried up completely, from the impacts of unsustainable abstraction. Over the years, a number of schemes have been introduced to identify and amend the most damaging and unsustainable licences, but the need to pay compensation to licence holders when those damaging licences are amended or revoked has been a significant barrier to progress.

The Water Act 2003 removed the requirement to pay compensation to the holders of licences causing “serious damage”, but this is an extremely high bar and is therefore rarely invoked, so in practice has provided little protection to our vulnerable waterways. The Water Act 2014 recognised this and removed the requirement to pay compensation for water company licence changes altogether. This has set a clear precedent for the removal of damaging licences without compensation. It is also important to recognise that 5% of surface water bodies and 15% of groundwater bodies are at future risk, where existing licence holders not currently using their licences in full could legitimately increase abstraction, thereby causing further damage to the environment.

The timescales proposed by the Government for this change provide ample time for catchment solutions to be identified and implemented wherever possible, with licence changes considered as a last resort. We must not curtail the ability of the Environment Agency to take action to protect and improve our rivers and wetlands, but instead should increase its ability to do so effectively.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, hit the nail on the head when he said,

“the days when you can be compensated for not causing environmental degradation have, in my view, long since gone”.—[Official Report, 7/7/21; col. 1313.]

We on these Benches could not agree more; we cannot support the noble Lord’s amendments, but instead believe that the Government have got it right in Clause 84.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
- Hansard - -

I am grateful for both contributions and for the support of the noble Baroness opposite. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for his amendments, and for not only meeting with my noble friend Lord Goldsmith and officials over the summer to discuss his concerns but for this constructive engagement.

The measures which we are introducing in Clause 84 are absolutely necessary to protect the environment from further damage and from over-abstraction. Members of this House have spoken of the necessity of protecting our water environment, including the fish and invertebrates which live within it, as well as of the need to protect our internationally important chalk streams, on which we have already heard from the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and others. Ending unsustainable abstraction is essential if we are to achieve this. But as I said in Committee, we also know that abstraction is vital for food production.

The Government recognise the impacts that these changes will have on permanent abstraction licence holders and are taking all steps possible to implement the changes fairly. The changes will not take effect until 1 January 2028. This will allow time for the full implementation of our 2017 water abstraction plan and for the Environment Agency’s catchment-based approach to become embedded, working with stakeholders, including permanent licence-holders potentially affected by these new powers, to voluntarily solve issues of access to water and unsustainable abstraction.

I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that, by contrast, water companies can already have their extraction licences varied or revoked without the payment of compensation. I hope I can also reassure him when I say that this is not, as he termed it, an arbitrary or undefined process. Excess headroom will be assessed over each year of a 12-year period, to allow for weather variations and crop rotations, and to align with the abstraction licensing strategy timeframe. The Environment Agency will assess licences within scope on a case-by-case basis, considering all relevant factors including business needs and existing and future water resource needs, as the noble Lord mentions in his Amendment 73, before deciding what action is proportionate, as the noble Lord raises in Amendment 65.

We expect the Environment Agency to use this power as a last resort, once all other options have been exhausted. But if those options have been exhausted, it is simply not right that unsustainable abstraction and environmental damage should be allowed to continue. That is why this power is necessary. Should that decision be taken, the licence holder will have a right of appeal to the Secretary of State, as is currently the case. They can put forward expert evidence should they wish to do so, which was also a concern raised in Amendment 64.

The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, asked about timing. We are working with partners, including the National Farmers’ Union, on the guidance and will publish this guidance as soon as possible. The Government have worked, and will continue to work, extremely hard to ensure that these new powers are reasonable, proportionate and just. We will continue to work closely with a wide range of stakeholders to ensure that their implementation is a smooth and fair process.

I hope that the noble Lord recognises that the Government have endeavoured to put in place necessary safeguards. We can go no further without undermining the very purpose of this clause, which is to protect the environment. I acknowledge his comments about the long-term planning for the necessity of new reservoirs. I am afraid that I have no further details and can only acknowledge that this is a long-term solution. I hope that he agrees with the necessity of that purpose and will withdraw his amendment.

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

My Lords, I thank the Minister very much indeed for the very considered response. Although I do not totally agree on the compensation issue—but I was never going to—I accept all the assurances and the work that has been done by Defra to help ease our concerns. I have no hesitation in withdrawing my amendment, although I will continue on the compensation issue in future discussions. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Environment Bill

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Relevant documents: 3rd and 5th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee, 4th Report from the Constitution Committee
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, before we begin proceedings today, I think we can all agree that we did not make as much progress as we had hoped on Monday. May I make a few points about the rules of engagement for Report in the hope that we can make things a little swifter today? I remind the House that on Report, apart from the mover of an amendment, who may reply to the debate on the amendment, Members should not speak more than once to an amendment, save with the leave of the House to explain some material point in their speech. Only the mover of an amendment may speak after the Minister. Other Members speaking after the Minister may do so only to ask short questions of elucidation. I should be very grateful if we could all adhere to these rules.

Clause 5: Environmental targets: reporting duties

Amendment 11

Moved by
--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for tabling these important amendments. Cultural and historical landmarks and environments bring recognised value to our environment. As such, this debate has raised important concerns about their omission from the Environment Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, said, after our debate in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, assured your Lordships that the historical environment will be considered when the Government prepare their environment improvement plans for the natural environment.

The Minister also referred, as have many noble Lords here today, to the 25-year environment plan, which, as we know, is to be adopted as the first statutory environmental improvement plan. It has a commitment to safeguarding and enhancing the beauty of our natural scenery, and improving its environmental value, while being sensitive to considerations of its heritage. However, because this Bill explicitly excludes the historic environment from the provisions of Part 1—as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said—this potentially excludes it from future versions of the EIPs. The 25-year plan also recognises the importance of the environment for people. This is something else that is not explicitly carried forward into the Bill. It is all very well for the Minister to talk about what is in the 25-year plan, but that is not the same as actively improving the quality and conservation of these environments, and increasing people’s opportunity to appreciate and enjoy them, by putting them inthe Environment Bill.

Many noble Lords have talked about the need to ensure that the goals in the 25-year plan will be taken forward into future versions. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, among others, talked of the disconnect between this Bill and the 25-year plan. We have also heard many noble Lords eloquently describe how the natural and historic are tied together, their importance to our society and that what impacts one aspect may well have an effect on another. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, spoke passionately about parish churches; the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, talked about the importance of our archaeological sites; and the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, mentioned the particular concerns of Historic England. I am sure we are all aware that the National Trust has also expressed its deep concerns.

We have also heard much in recent months and weeks, highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic, of the importance of us getting outside into nature. However, the Bill fails to afford equal priority of access to and enjoyment of the natural environment. Again, this is another disconnect between the Bill and the Government’s ambitions in their 25-year environment plan, which included a policy aim to ensure that the natural environment could be used by everyone. Amendment 17 brings people’s enjoyment of the natural environment into the EIPs.

This Bill needs to be brought into line, I believe, with the 25-year plan and the plan needs to be brought in line with legislation, so that when the Bill gets Royal Assent, these provisions are part of what we will take into the future. As published, the Bill fails to commit the Government to act on this. As we emerge from the worst of the pandemic, during which the importance of getting outside and connecting with nature—and understanding our historic environment as part of that—it becomes very clear that this is something that society wants and needs. The Bill presents us with a rare opportunity to ensure that everyone can benefit from that.

Why are the Government so reluctant to explicitly include some of the really good and welcome provisions that are in the 25-year plan in the Bill? This would secure these ambitions for the future. It would continue to protect and improve our important landscapes and to encourage and facilitate equitable access for everyone to enjoy.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
- Hansard - -

I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this interesting debate. In particular, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, for tabling these amendments and for speaking with me earlier. I stress that this Government consider the protection of our heritage a crucial issue.

The threats posed to the setting of the Bevis Marks synagogue are matters to be considered through the planning system, but I emphasise that in taking relevant decisions the local planning authority should have regard to the heritage policies within the National Planning Policy Framework. Certainly, in the case of Stonehenge, the recent decision is going through redetermination by the Department for Transport, National Highways and other relevant partners to protect the outstanding universal value of Stonehenge as much as possible. The state of conservation report will be submitted to UNESCO by February 2022 for the World Heritage Committee’s consideration.

On our commitment to heritage, in response to the Covid pandemic, in just the last year this Government have established an unprecedented £2 billion Culture Recovery Fund to support hundreds of heritage organisations, demonstrating our ongoing commitment to this country’s heritage. Furthermore, Defra’s new planning and protected landscapes programme will provide additional investment, allowing farmers and land managers to deliver better outcomes. I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, that this can include projects that provide opportunities for people to discover, enjoy and understand the landscape and its cultural heritage.

The new ELMS will allocate money for heritage as part of the list of public goods and will be focused on delivering against priority environmental outcomes. We are exploring our scheme offer with regard to heritage outcomes, as well as the potential for delivery on heritage through other available mechanisms. In the meantime, Defra’s countryside stewardship programme has proven very successful in delivering outcomes for heritage and the historic environment. Countryside stewardship is open to new applications until 2024, with agreements running throughout the agricultural transition period. I think my noble friend Lord Blencathra asked for a meeting with Historic England. I confirm that the Minister has agreed to that meeting.

I turn first to Amendment 15, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. I emphasise that the primary purpose of the EIP is to improve significantly the natural environment. Amending the Bill to make express provision in relation to the historic environment risks eroding this important focus. However, I can reassure noble Lords that, where appropriate, the Government will consider the historic environment when preparing EIPs for the natural environment. Indeed, in the 25-year environment plan, the Government committed to:

“Safeguarding and enhancing the beauty of our natural scenery and improving its environmental value while being sensitive to considerations of its heritage”.


I turn to Amendments 16, 17 and 25. I reassure noble Lords that the Government’s annual reports will already include a description of the steps taken to implement the EIP, as well as an assessment of environmental improvement and progress towards Bill targets. The Government will also obtain data for the purpose of monitoring improvement to the natural environment in accordance with the EIP. These requirements are broad in scope, allowing the Government to consider all aspects of the EIP in their monitoring and reporting. This includes measures expressed as targets, goals or objectives, as well as any measures included to improve people’s enjoyment of the natural environment. Therefore, we feel that these amendments are unnecessary. Likewise, the OEP’s monitoring functions allow it similar breadth, monitoring progress in improving the natural environment in accordance with the EIP.

Turning to Amendment 29, Clause 44 is a bespoke definition created to underpin the new environmental governance framework provided for in the Bill. Not only does this clause define the purpose and scope of EIPs, it also defines the scope of the OEP’s enforcement function. This amendment could therefore result in provisions concerning the protection of specific historic sites falling within the enforcement remit of the OEP. This is not and should not be the OEP’s role. In drafting this clause, the Government have taken into account that heritage stakeholders, including the Heritage Alliance, are not seeking this effect. The OEP’s remit should be focused on its principal objective: to contribute to environmental protection and the improvement of the natural environment. This amendment would only dilute the focus of the OEP and therefore weaken its effectiveness.

I must stress to all noble Lords, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and my noble friend Lord Trenchard in particular, that the Government take heritage seriously. But the raison d’être for this particular Bill is the improvement of the natural environment, which is why its focus should always be the natural environment. However, while I will not be able to accept these amendments, I would like to confirm for the noble Lord that we are planning to engage with a wide range of stakeholders to inform the EIP review and refresh process through specially organised round tables and by bringing the subject to existing stakeholder forums throughout 2022. In addition, there will be various subject-specific consultations, such as the nature recovery Green Paper, which are likely to inform the EIP’s development.

I should touch on the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. As he rightly said, and as was agreed in the meeting between him and the Minister—at which I understand my noble friend made a strong case—officials will, with Natural England, explore opportunities to develop further guidance for churches to help them mitigate problems caused by bats. I am sure these conversations will be ongoing. I confirm that we will consult heritage stakeholders as we develop the next EIP, and I look forward to their inputs in the design of the plan.

Lastly, the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, mentioned the cultural sector in Afghanistan. Across government we are closely monitoring the situation and stand ready to provide whatever support we can to help protect the rich Afghan cultural heritage for future generations and those involved in the sector. We obviously urge all parties in Afghanistan to protect the cultural heritage of their country, including the museums and cultural institutions. I hope I have been able to reassure noble Lords and I ask the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, to withdraw his amendment.