Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I have requests to speak after the Minister from three noble Lords, the noble Baronesses, Lady Boycott, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick and Lady Bennett of Manor Castle.

Baroness Boycott Portrait Baroness Boycott (CB)
- Hansard - -

I thank noble Lords who made kind comments about my knowledge of plastic. I do not in any sense pretend to be an expert on this subject, but I do know quite a bit about food and where it connects with plastics.

I am very pleased to support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and I am sorry I did not get onto the speakers’ list. I assumed that I would be on it as my name was on the Marshalled List, but even when I rang up yesterday to ask to come on it, they said I was not allowed because those lists were fixed. I realise I am still a newcomer. I thank the Minister for his response, which is extremely encouraging, and I thank all noble Lords who have made so many incredibly good points. I am only going to try to make some points which I think can still be made.

I feel our targets are still too low and we could outlaw single-use plastic. Some 69 countries currently have either partially or totally banned its use, particularly in Africa. Single-use plastic is very bound up with the way that food is sold by supermarkets, and in a lot of cases with fruit and vegetables you end up buying more than you want. There is a very direct line—say, when you have a large amount of grapes in a box with a single-use lid, when you actually wanted half the amount of grapes because you happen to be a single person, so some of those grapes are wasted. This suits the supermarket, but it does not suit the consumer and, obviously, it does not suit the planet.

It seems to me that supermarkets are getting away with murder at the moment. They are selling us single-use bags for 10p and also bags for life. Frankly, I am embarrassed by how many bags for life I have because I hate buying the 10p ones, which seem worse—I probably have about 15 bags for life now, which is way too many. This means that the supermarkets made at least £100 out of me on bags because of my laziness—but at least I reuse them.

The Minister and several other noble Lords raised a point about how we export plastic for recycling. Turkey is big on this list: 40% of our plastic now goes there—Greenpeace has been running a campaign on this—and it ends up incinerated or in landfill. I was very interested to hear the Minister say that it is the Government who are taking action, because it is my understanding that, from 1 July, Turkey is banning our waste. I would be interested to find out what the truth is, in this debate or at some point in the next few days.

I will mention the one group of people that of course wants using plastic to go on. There are different types of plastic—I have good plastic, such as plastic cups and picnic plates that I have had for 20 years—and there needs to be really good public education to make us understand that one type of plastic is okay and another is not. We could look at a complete ban such plastic. I am sorry—I have completely lost my train of thought.

Masks have shown that, a year and a half in, the Government are not taking the plastic issue completely seriously. They are allowing these things to be made, and we could have stopped this.

My final point is that plastic is obviously made from oil. The oil companies have one last throw of the dice, and that is in making more plastic. ClientEarth is fighting a huge case at the moment over the big new petrochemical company that is being set up on the Belgian border, which is primarily there to make plastic and flood the world with more of it, as we move towards banning fossil fuels. Please do not let us let this happen. I think we should move to a total ban on single-use plastic. As the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, wisely said, this is an issue where the public are really on side with the Government and will be urging them on for measures that are as tough as they can manage.

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

I thank the noble Baroness for her comments, and I echo those of many others. She is a person of great knowledge and expertise on this issue. I have a note on my phone to contact her tomorrow to talk about something that I assume is connected to what she was just saying—I very much look forward to that. I completely agree with her that we can go further on single-use plastics. We have the power to do so, and I am absolutely committed that we will. This is not a niche concern on my part, or even one that is limited to me; it is shared by all of my colleagues in Defra, without exception.

The noble Baroness said that supermarkets are “getting away with murder”, and that is certainly true of some of them. But it is worth acknowledging when they get it right; it is important that people recognise best practice. Since I am not constrained by BBC rules on impartiality, I can say that Iceland has done extraordinary things on plastic. So far, I have seen that it is delivering on its commitments—for example, getting rid of every single one of those plastic trays beneath its frozen food, and so much more besides. It is worth celebrating that—it shows us what can be done. If its best practice today becomes the norm for everyone tomorrow, we will see real progress.

On the issue of the OECD, Turkey is bringing in restrictions, but I am not sure that it is a full ban—that may be wrong, but it is my understanding. Nevertheless, we are committed to banning the export of waste to non-OECD countries, and obviously Turkey is an OECD country. We have the power within the legislation to extend that ban, should the case be made. Of course, we are looking very closely at the information that Greenpeace has collected in relation to very bad waste treatment in Turkey, but this is not something that I am able to comment on in detail at the moment because I do not know enough about it—I do not think that any of us do.

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

My Lords, I wish to speak in support of the amendment, Amendment 17, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. As he explained, it aims to ensure that the Government commission the relevant research so that they understand what they are doing when they aim to meet environmental targets.

If we take biodiversity targets as an example, it is one thing to set a target of halting the reduction in biodiversity but it is quite another to figure out how to achieve the target. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, entertained us a few minutes ago with stories of lapwings and curlews, and the research carried out by what used to be called the Game Conservancy Trust but, I believe, now operates under a different name. If noble Lords will forgive me for a short digression, I will complement the noble Earl’s story about lapwings and curlews with the narrative of the large blue butterfly.

That butterfly was extinct in this country by 1979, despite over 50 years of effort to halt its decline. Today it thrives in 33 different sites in south-west England. This is one of the classic cases of how restoring a species and increasing its abundance depended on detailed research. The secrets of success lay in the complex life history of this species, the caterpillars of which are taken into ants’ nests and tended and protected by a particular species of red ant, called Myrmica sabuleti. In return, the caterpillars secrete a nutritious liquid for the ants to feed on—an example of a mutualistic relationship. Professor Jeremy Thomas, then at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, discovered that the ant species is sensitive to temperature, which, in turn, depends on the length of the grass in the ants’ habitats. Changes in agricultural practice, combined with the decline in rabbit populations due to myxomatosis, had resulted in a small increase in grass length sufficient to cause the ants to disappear and, hence, the butterflies to die out. As a result of his research, slight changes in agricultural practice allowed us to maintain the grass at the right height and successfully restore butterfly populations.

Unfortunately, that conservation success story is the exception rather than the rule. As Professor Bill Sutherland of Cambridge University has documented, many, if not most, government-led initiatives to enhance biodiversity and restore nature have failed because they were based on hunch rather than proper scientific evidence. This includes the CAP Pillar 2 environment schemes. I know that from my own experience. My research group at Oxford was funded by the Ministry of Agriculture, as it was in those days, for many years to work out how to alter arable farming practice to support winter populations of farmland bird species. Although we discovered simple and effective remedies, they were never implemented.

Therefore, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is absolutely right to emphasise the importance of evidence on which to base the targets. However, in closing, my question for the Minister is: who will commission and pay for the necessary research to underpin the ambitions of the Bill and ensure that we do not blunder blindly, as we have done all too often in the past? The major research funding body in this country is UK Research and Innovation, whose website I checked this morning. Although the environment is one of eight priority themes, if one looks within that theme, no mention is made of biodiversity, habitats or conservation. Furthermore, UKRI is facing a £539 million cut in its funding this coming year, which will mean that all its research programmes are likely to be reduced. If not UKRI, who is going to fund the research that we will need if the Bill is to achieve its high ambitions?

Baroness Boycott Portrait Baroness Boycott (CB)
- Hansard - -

It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. I loved that story about the blue butterfly, because I have been to one of those sites, beside a railway line, outside Somerton, so I know about that brilliant ant. The noble Lord is absolutely right and I would also like to know the answer to the question he asks the Minister: who is going to fund this? After all, we all know that the Aichi targets have been more or less a total failure and nobody knows quite why. I also support the proposals on health from the noble Lord, Lord Addington; it could not be more important.

Primarily, I want to support the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and her Amendment 34. The Secretary of State has to seek advice from the OEP. Over the years, we have seen how advice can be handed in by cronies or the local person you know on the end of the telephone. Think of some of the really bad things that have happened: advice about how particulates in the air do not matter to health, advice that smoking is fine, or advice that fossil fuels will not cause damage. We have to make sure that when, say, you want to put an endless chicken farm on the bank of the River Wye, you get advice from someone who has been passed and guaranteed by a body such as the OEP. Of course the Minister does not have to take this advice but, if this amendment is passed, he will at least have to explain why he took the advice that he did and, if it is found wanting, he can be challenged.

Lord Hope of Craighead Portrait Lord Hope of Craighead (CB) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. I am going to speak about something a bit different and refer back to Amendment 41A, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, with which I am very much in sympathy.

As the noble Lord pointed out, the amendment has to be read in the light of Clause 138, which defines the extent of the Bill. We are told in that clause that Chapter 1 of the Bill, of which Clauses 1 and 2 form part, applies to England and Wales only, except for Clause 19, which deals with statements about Bills. At first sight, therefore, the Secretary of State would not have power under these clauses to make regulations that would be applicable to Scotland or Northern Ireland, to which the amendment refers. That must be so, in so far as regulations might seek to make directions as to what may or may not be done there. So it might be said that the amendment is directed to something that in those parts of the United Kingdom could not happen.

However, these targets relate to the natural environment itself, which is not capable of being divided up or contained in that way. Its effect, for good or ill, spreads across borders. Rivers flow, winds blow, and birds and animals move about, irrespective of whether national borders are being crossed. Measures taken in one part of the country may affect what happens in another, because that is the way the environment works. Just as no man is an island, because we all depend on each other in one way or another, so it is too with the environment which we enjoy in the various parts of the United Kingdom.

In its report on this Bill, which has just been published, the Constitution Committee, of which I am a member, stated that

“Close co-operation between the UK Government and the devolved administrations … will be important in improving environmental protection across the UK.”

That makes obvious sense, for the reasons I have just been giving, and, it could be said, is really what this amendment is about.

I would prefer it if the words

“if they are, or may be, applicable in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland”

were expanded, so that they said “if they have effects which are, or may be, applicable” to them. That is what this amendment is really talking about. The message it conveys to the Secretary of State is that targets that he may set for the natural environment in England and Wales may affect other parts of the UK too. That is something to which he should have regard; it is not just sensible, but a matter of courtesy. I also agree with the suggestion in the noble Lord’s amendment that, where appropriate, consents should be obtained.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Garden of Frognal) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the Committee will now resume. I ask Members to respect social distancing.

Baroness Boycott Portrait Baroness Boycott (CB)
- Hansard - -

I much appreciated and enjoyed the previous speeches and I think we have made a very good case for the amendments that propose to set targets. I speak in support of Amendment 202 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, which I believe is the most comprehensive of all the amendments as it takes in the vast scope of what we are collectively trying to do. Like many people, I applaud the Government for both the ELMS and the steps they have taken to start to even think about trying to quantify biodiversity and to set targets.

Biodiversity is, as we all know, fantastically difficult; its loss is as much of a threat to mankind as climate change, but it has only a fraction of the public profile. It is incredibly difficult because it is not a thing you can quantify like electricity or transport. It is complicated and messy but, at the end of the day, it is the thing we all care about. I have just a couple of points to make, as many others I wanted to make have already been raised.

The first is the food system which, despite the excellent recent contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Curry, is neglected across the Environment Bill. It is factually established that food contributes 30% to climate change. It is and has been the driver of biodiversity loss. While the noble Lord, Lord Curry, is absolutely right that no farmer wants a farm that is devoid of wildlife, if you go into certain areas of Norfolk or parts of England with really industrial farming, it is like being in a factory; it is not like being in the countryside.

It worries me that, throughout the Environment Bill, the question of what to do with food is being left at the door of the food strategy. I am an adviser on the food strategy and have seen a lot of what will come on 15 July. I assure the Committee that it is absolutely fantastic and has a huge section on the relationship between climate, biodiversity and the food system. But it still worries me that we do not have more on that in the body of the Bill.

I also support Amendment 202 because it makes the point that everyone must be responsible for this. I have talked about it before in this House, but the Knepp rewilding estate in Sussex is, at this moment, at threat of having 3,500 houses plonked on its perimeter. It is ironic because, just recently, Natural England—the Government’s own body—designated Knepp a national nature reserve. The Government have said in the 25-year environment plan that:

“New development will happen in the right places, delivering maximum economic benefit while taking into account the need to avoid environmental damage.”

Many noble Lords have made the point that we cannot just settle with what we have, we must increase it if we are to turn the tide and increase the amount of biodiversity. Knepp has done some extraordinary things: it has 2% of the country’s nightingales, an extraordinary quantity of purple emperor butterflies and has reintroduced storks, not to mention that you can go there and understand how the interaction of the grazer, browser and habitat really work.

It seems absolutely illogical that planning permission should be given to that estate. However, as Isabella Tree has said, it is a question of the odds, and the level is “build, build, build”. She said:

“As usual nature is shouldered out of the ring.”

For its local plan, Horsham District Council is expected to meet a staggering target of 1,200 new houses every year from 2019 until 2036. That is within one small council. Obviously we must have homes, but can we not have a little more thought?

It is worrying that we do not have enough joined-up thinking, because if we do not have that, all the gains that we make will come back and bite us. The great brilliance of the Dasgupta review is that it has looked across the board at the economic value of nature. If we undermine it at this early stage, in the year of the CBD and the COP, taking one of our “national treasures” of rewilding and wildlife, and, in effect, destroying the corridors around it that enable the animals to keep moving would be a deep irony.

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

My Lords, I thank the Minister, who is now in his place, for his introduction of the Government’s amendment on the state of nature target. As other noble Lords have said, expectations were high but a word that has been used in response in this Chamber by Members from right across the House is that there has been a level of “disappointment” in the resulting amendment.

I shall speak on Amendment 24, which I co-signed, and was ably introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Randall, but I want to give a nod to my noble friend Lord Chidgey and his championing tonight of chalk streams, and on many occasions. He is right to raise the issue and I am sure that when a target eventually appears, it will look to address the need to protect the creatures in our rivers and habitats. We are right to raise the issue tonight.

I also thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle and Lady Jones, for proposing targets that look not just to halt the decline but to improve the quality or our species. They made important points on which I hope the Government will reflect.

I was struck by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, when he said that the road to extinction was paved with good intentions. That is what we are talking about. We are already seeing extinctions of British species and while we do not quibble with the Government’s, indeed the Minister’s, intention to put our wildlife on a stronger footing for the future, we have to make sure that the footing is the strongest possible. It is clear that the state of nature target proposed in Amendment 22 is not that.

As I said, the noble Lord, Lord Randall, gave a brilliant exposition of what our amendment seeks to do and I am not going to tire the patience of the Committee by repeating it. I shall add just one point about why the target is important and it relates to the upcoming CBD conference in October. As the Minister will know, the committee that I chair, the House of Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee, is looking at the outcomes that we want to see from the CBD and what the Government need to do. I am grateful for the evidence that he gave to the committee last week.

Yesterday, we took evidence from a panel of four witnesses, ranging from the green groups to business representatives and economic experts. We had witnesses from the World Economic Forum, the RSPB, Unilever and the International Institute for Sustainable Development. We asked them what they wanted the Government to do to help ensure that we get the best possible outcome at the CBD in October. They were in agreement—the economists, the business representative, the green groups and the international sustainable development experts—that they wanted to see the Government leading from the front with a strong, legally binding target in domestic legislation in order to drive up other people’s and other countries’ ambition.

We know that this is important because of the climate change situation. This is a bottom-up target, not a top-down target, with countries coming together, being inspired by each other and levelling up, respecting the sovereign authority of individual countries working collectively. We need a strong domestic target in this piece of legislation which says to other countries “Come with us on this journey; come with global Britain and let’s leave the world in a better place.” The strongest possible target needs to be in the Bill. That is why Amendment 24 is critical, and why the Government need to act on it.

In conclusion, I pay tribute, as other noble Lords have done, to the work of the many Green charities, both large and small, right around the country which have mobilised the voice of people who are passionately concerned about species and want something done. These charities have done a great job and a service to our democracy in mobilising that support. The Government now need to listen, and I look forward to what the Minister has to say.