Debates between Baroness Parminter and Baroness Jones of Whitchurch during the 2019 Parliament

Mon 4th Sep 2023
Wed 13th Oct 2021
Environment Bill
Lords Chamber

3rd reading & 3rd reading
Wed 15th Sep 2021
Mon 13th Sep 2021
Wed 8th Sep 2021
Wed 7th Jul 2021
Wed 30th Jun 2021
Mon 28th Jun 2021
Wed 23rd Jun 2021
Thu 17th Sep 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage:Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Debate between Baroness Parminter and Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I have two amendments in this group, which have been kindly supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Willis of Summertown, who cannot be here this afternoon, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for which I am extremely grateful.

I do not wish to detain the House long by explaining what local nature recovery strategies are; we have been through that in Committee. They are an important new initiative created by this Government to find a mechanism to ensure that we can bring forward the nature recovery we need. However, they will not work unless they have a firm purchase in the local plans and spatial plans and various other constraints of the planning system. That is what the arguments we made throughout Committee were about. Presently, local authorities do not have to sufficiently have regard to them. The amendments we proposed called upon the Government to bring forward legislation which would incorporate the policies and proposals of local nature recovery strategies in local plans.

I am pleased that, over the summer, following much consultation with Ministers and their civil servants, while we may not have come to an accord we have come to a position where the Government have certainly moved more than half way. They are now proposing seven amendments, whereby local authorities “must” take account of local nature recovery strategies in their various plans and proposals. That does not mean they have to incorporate the policies and proposals, but to my mind—and indeed to legal minds—if the local authority plans were to go, for example, to an inspector, the local authority would have to show how they had taken the local nature recovery strategies into account.

I think we have made demonstrable progress. It has not gone as far as I would have liked but I am a politician and I know you do not always get what you want. However, we have in this House made the arguments and the Government have been prepared to listen in a way that they have perhaps not been prepared to, and are not going to be prepared to, on other environmental arguments.

I thank Ministers and their civil servants, who have gone to the trouble of putting together seven amendments to make the intentions of the Government crystal clear. I hope that, when the guidance comes forward to local authorities on how they should implement this new legislation, it is crystal clear that they “must” take account, as the Government’s new wording says, and that we can therefore do what I think both sides of the House want and ensure that local nature recovery strategies have a firm footing in the planning process. We know that without that we will not deliver the environmental gains that we all want. I beg to move.

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

My Lords, I will speak briefly to the amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, has set out extremely well why we are keen to make local nature recovery strategies an effective tool for helping the Government hit their legally binding 2030 nature targets.

The noble Baroness quite rightly said that we did not believe that the current requirements for local planning development plans to simply “have regard to” their local nature recovery strategies would be an effective delivery mechanism. A planning authority could disregard all the spatial recommendations of the local nature recovery strategy and still be compliant with the duty. They could simply write that they “had regard to” the local nature recovery strategy without providing any evidence of how it had shaped the substance of their plans.

When we debated this in Committee, the Minister extolled the virtues of the guidance, and the noble Baroness made reference to the forthcoming guidance. But we did have a very good debate, led by the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, which highlighted the many omissions of the guidance already published. I will not go over all of that, but there is still a concern about the detail of it, and I hope that it will now reflect this new wording in the Bill.

As I said, and like the noble Baroness, I am grateful for Ministers having had subsequent meetings and for the further consideration of our arguments that has now taken place. The Government’s proposals make it much clearer that all tiers in the planning process must take account of local nature recovery strategies when they make their plans. It is not perfect, but it is a welcome concession. I therefore share the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, that we should not pursue Amendment 182 at this stage.

Environment Bill

Debate between Baroness Parminter and Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, it is appropriate that we have the Third Reading today as we see the close of the high-level segment of COP 15 and the publication of the Kunming Declaration, which makes it clear that setting nature

“on a path to recovery is a defining challenge of this decade”.

This House has done its usual proper job of scrutiny of the Bill and has proposed measures to strengthen it that are definitely needed. I thank the ministerial team and the Minister’s colleagues for accepting some of those amendments, including the legally binding target for species abundance for 2030, and for including major infrastructure projects in the biodiversity net gain regime. Those are welcome measures that the Government have accepted. While we are thanking people, those on these Benches, like others, thank the ministerial Front-Bench team and the Bill team for their unfailing good humour, clear commitment and engagement with us throughout this process.

But, as others have said, many outstanding amendments remain. As we send this Bill down to our colleagues at the other end, be assured that we will work with them and with others around this House, as we have done so constructively through this process, to ensure that it is strengthened, in the way we all know it needs to be, for the future of our country, our people and our environment.

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

My Lords, I too add my thanks to the Bill team for its patience and courtesy in responding to our concerns and for facilitating so many meetings over the summer. We have all been on a steep learning curve, and it has certainly helped to put us more in tune with the facts behind the thinking on the Bill.

I very much thank the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, for staying the course. I am sure there were times when he wished to be somewhere else, perhaps even somewhere sunnier. Despite occasionally giving the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, kittens when he went walkabout, he was assiduous in being here, doing the heavy lifting on the Bill and giving us all his attention and his very detailed and thoughtful contributions. On that basis, I thank the Minister for listening, because we received a number of concessions along the way and we are really very appreciative of that.

As other noble Lords have said, of course, we do not think that is quite enough. I hope the Minister recognises that the 15 amendments which we have passed make serious and important improvements to the Bill—and, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and others have said, they have widespread support across the Chamber. I hope this is not the end of the road for the Bill. I hope that the Government have used the recess to reflect on our amendments and will feel able to support their key principles when the Bill goes back to the Commons next week.

We are of course aware that COP 26 is looming but, as we have always said, this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for us to put the environment on the right course for the future. We still hope that we can reach consensus with the Government to achieve the ambition that I know we all share on this, so that we can reach agreement in the very near future on the final outcome for the Bill.

Environment Bill

Debate between Baroness Parminter and Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I add the support of our Benches for this important regulation on day four of Report. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, said, the habitats regulations are the jewel in the crown in terms of protecting our sites of most special protection for our wildlife and our birds, our bitterns and our nightingales.

It has not been mentioned in this debate so far today that the proposals from the Government to amend these regulations were smuggled in on Report down the other end. These are incredibly important regulations. No one is saying that things must be set in stone for ever, but if they are to be changed, it should be done with full and clear consultation and for the right purpose.

The Minister said in Committee, “They’re not working.” I live in Surrey, which is one of the most densely populated areas, and they are working there. With the Thames Basin initiative of 11 planning authorities, we are managing to build the houses and protect the sites at the same time. If there are going to be changes, the Government should ensure that there is no regression, which this amendment would guarantee, and that there is consultation with experts. As the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said, that might be a slightly broader list than that suggested in the amendment so far but certainly there needs to be that expert consultation.

If this amendment is not accepted, it will leave the impression that there are other reasons why the Government are prepared, at a time when we are facing a nature crisis, to sweep aside these most important protections. That will make people feel that perhaps it is because they want to ensure that planning regulations are given a light touch, which, frankly, is not appropriate given the environmental challenge and crisis that we face.

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

My Lords, I am pleased to support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, to which I have added my name.

The noble Lord has set out in detail why we have concerns about Clauses 108 and 109 and why the safeguards in our amendment are so important. There is real concern that the government clauses will weaken the protection of our most valued species and habitats which the habitats directive conferred. There is also concern that the clauses give the Secretary of State undue discretionary powers to change the rules in the future.

The Minister will no doubt argue that there is no need to worry and that the wording in the clauses give sufficient protection that the conservation and enhancement of biodiversity will be assured. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and others have explained, there is a difference between a general commitment to biodiversity and the specific protection of individual habitats and species. The new objectives are simply not a substitute for those of the nature directives, which have provided the first line of defence for our most precious habitats over many years.

If we are not careful, these new powers could be used to deconstruct the strict protections for the UK’s finest wildlife sites by referencing other enabling clauses in the Bill. This is why we believe that the general commitment to enhanced biodiversity and to halting species decline, which is elsewhere in the Bill, need to go hand in hand with the more specific guarantees set out in our amendment. This would ensure that any regulations made under these clauses delivered compliance with international obligations, and, crucially, improved the conservation status of species or habitats. It would also deliver the non-regression promises that the Government made when we left the EU.

In response to the debate in Committee, the Minister spelled out that the Government are planning a Green Paper in the autumn with the aim of providing a “fit-for-purpose regulatory framework” to deliver the Government’s ambitions for nature. However, we know that historically, the Government’s idea of “fit-for-purpose regulation” is less regulation and less protection, and we also know that a Green Paper could take a very long time to reach conclusions that can be enacted. We are being asked to put our faith in a process which is stepping into the unknown, and it is quite likely that by the time that process is completed, a different set of Ministers will be in play, with a different set of priorities. Therefore, the proposal for a Green Paper simply adds to our concerns.

Over the summer, we were grateful to have a meeting with the Defra officials dealing with this issue, who sought to reassure us that this was about improving nature recovery rather than watering it down. But of course they do not yet know the content of the Green Paper or its likely outcome. In the meantime, all we have before us is the wording in Clauses 108 and 109 and the rather amorphous phrase that the Secretary of State must “have regard to” the importance of furthering conservation and enhancement of biodiversity.

As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, made clear, it should not be for the Secretary of State to make that call, or to be satisfied that the regulations do not reduce environmental protection for what my noble friend Lady Young rightly described as the jewels in the crown of the countryside. This decision needs to be authenticated by objective scientific bodies such as those set out in our amendment. I hope that noble Lords, having listened to the debate, will understand the strength of our concerns and will agree to support the amendment.

Environment Bill

Debate between Baroness Parminter and Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
Monday 13th September 2021

(2 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, says, but I still think the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, raised some real concerns that this House deserves answers to, and I hope the Minister, in his summing up, can give the reassurances the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has asked for. I wanted to briefly add my voice to the others in support of Amendment 87, which deals with the issue of perpetuity versus the 30 years for the biodiversity net gain.

I will not add to the other arguments people have made, but I just wanted to remind noble Lords that in Committee, in response to a question from the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, the Minister said that the Government wish to introduce biodiversity net gain

“in a way that requires developers … to bear as little cost as possible.”—[Official Report, 7/7/21; col. 1377.]

It seems to me that overriding constraint is as much relevant in terms of this debate, because this is not about worrying that there will not be enough landowners coming forward to provide the amount of nature conservation that we need. It is really about limiting the liability of developers. That is at the heart of this, and that is why I support the amendment.

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

My Lords, I am speaking in support of Amendment 84A of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. I will then speak to my Amendments 85 and 87. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for adding their names to my amendments.

First, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has raised important points about the quality of the metric currently being developed to implement biodiversity net gain. Over the summer he was kind enough to share the paper to which he referred by his colleague Professor Katherine Willis. I have to say that it shocked me, as it shows that we are in danger of drifting into a new system which, far from being a positive asset, could be highly detrimental to the environment. This is why I am not reassured by the use of words such as “progressing”, “virtuous” and “improving” by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra. We could be going backwards if we do not get this right.

We therefore support the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, that would set up a process of review of the metrics within six months, taking into account the broad range of factors that determine the ecological importance of sites. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has been in dialogue with the Minister about these concerns, and I hope that, in his response, the Minister will provide sufficient reassurance that this matter is being addressed.

My Amendments 85 and 87 address the length of time that any habitat enhancement agreed through the planning process should be protected. As it stands, Schedule 14 to the Bill defines this period as 30 years. After that, the habitats could be destroyed, losing any ecological gains or carbon storage benefits. This goes against the grain of ecological best practice, which emphasises the need to let nature recover for the long term.

In recent advice, Natural England has said:

“Mitigation measures will need to be secured for the duration over which the development is causing the effects—generally 80-125 years.”


The building developments on the land where the displacement takes place will clearly be expected to last more than 30 years. For example, MHCLG has issued advice on property that makes it clear that a long lease is usually 125 years. So it is right that the creation of any new habitat, in compensation, should also last a lifetime. Our view was echoed in the recent Environmental Audit Committee report, Biodiversity in the UK: Bloom or Bust?, which stated:

“Nature recovery does not happen overnight and must be maintained and built upon for generations. The proposed 30 year minimum to maintain biodiversity net gains will achieve little in terms of delivering long-lasting nature recovery.”


In Committee, we tabled an amendment that would have protected habitats in perpetuity. There was considerable support for our position, but there were also questions about how perpetuity could be measured. So in our new amendment, we have now defined this period as 125 years, which was the only legal definition of the concept, as set out in the Perpetuities and Accumulations Act 2009. We believe that this is the right length of time to create and maintain long-term species-rich habitats to compensate for the destruction of existing established habitats elsewhere.

In Committee, the Minister made it clear that the provision of 30 years was a minimum requirement. He has now tabled further amendments in this group that would give the Secretary of State a power to increase the 30-year period and keep that duration under review. However, we do not believe that this gives the guarantees of long-term habitat protection that we need. There is no indication in the Government’s amendment of the criteria that would be used to vary the duration. I am also grateful to the Bill team for their recent advice that this variation, if introduced, would apply at a policy-wide level and not on an individual project basis. However I do not see where in the Bill this would be assured, since the Government’s amendment just gives a general power to vary the time period and could therefore, in my reading, apply to particular building developments.

The Minister has also raised concerns about whether sufficient landowners would make their land available for a longer term period, but surely landowners who contract to create these new habitats would have to be there for the longer term, otherwise our very fear that the habitat would be destroyed after 30 years becomes a reality. We believe that the long-term timescale of 125 years, as set out in Amendment 85, gives landowners certainty and would ensure that habitats which are destroyed could be recreated for the long term on a like-for-like basis.

This is an important principle which is necessary to legitimise the process of biodiversity net gain. Otherwise, the truth is that it would just be delayed damage. On that basis, I hope the Minister is able to give further reassurances, and I look forward to his response.

Environment Bill

Debate between Baroness Parminter and Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I will not detain the House for long because the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has made a compelling case for his amendment, to which I was very happy to add my name. I just want to add a reflection on the point which I think all of us feel very strongly about. There will sometimes be occasions when the OEP will have to take Ministers to task. There has to be not only a degree of separation between the OEP and the Government but also public confidence in that degree of separation.

I ask the Minister to reflect on the fact that the public will see what is happening in Scotland, where the body they are setting up has no such curtailment of its powers. Indeed, Environmental Standards Scotland has the powers to take the steps it considers appropriate to secure public authorities’ compliance with environmental law. The public need to see that there is independence between the Executive and this body. If they look to Scotland and see what is happening, that is another reason to support the case that the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has made so compellingly. Therefore, I support him and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie. If they should be pushed to a vote, our Benches will support them.

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

My Lords, I am pleased to support Amendments 24 and 30, to which I have added my name. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, as ever, has set out persuasively why we think Amendment 24 is so important. As he said, a strong, effective and trusted OEP is essential to underpin all the other measures in the Bill. As the OEP will be scrutinising the Government’s compliance with environmental law, it is vital that those points of separation, as well as interface, are set out clearly from the start. We cannot afford to fudge the relationship, which, I am sorry to say, the government amendments attempt to do.

Our amendment would take out Clause 25, which allows the Secretary of State to issue guidance to the OEP, and replace it with one that sets out that the OEP has “complete discretion” in its enforcement policy, exercising its enforcement functions and preparing a budget. It would also make it clear that the non-executive appointments must be approved by the relevant parliamentary committees.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I added my name to this amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, and we wholeheartedly support it. My particular concern is around the planning issue, which the noble Lord, Lord Duncan of Springbank, has rightly articulated. My worry is that the Government have introduced the provisions they have because they fear that there is currently too much weight given to environmental protection in the planning system. That is something we must oppose. In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said that it

“biases the scales of justice”—[Official Report, 30/6/21; col. 810.]

and changes the balance away from the environment. That is the problem and that is why we on these Benches support this amendment.

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

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

Environment Bill

Debate between Baroness Parminter and Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
Monday 6th September 2021

(2 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, government Amendment 6 is truly world-leading. Here in the UK it will be pivotal in delivering the Government’s ambitions through the Environment Bill, and indeed it could be pivotal globally—as the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, said—by ensuring that, in the run-up to the CBD next year, other countries deliver the level of ambition that we have.

I am grateful to be one of the co-signatories of Amendment 5, which the noble Lord, Lord Randall, so eloquently introduced. I hope he helped apply a little pressure, as this House did, to ensure that this state-of-nature amendment was strengthened. It was not just us four—we would never dream of thinking we were that influential. The House of Lords Environment and Climate Change Select Committee, which I am privileged to chair, made a strong case, I believe, to the Secretary of State to do likewise. I pay tribute to the many hundreds of small charities and organisations and thousands of individuals who have been part of the state-of-nature campaign and who put pressure on the Government to deliver this amendment. As I say, it is a truly world-leading amendment, and the Government are to be congratulated. I will come back to that in my final remarks, but I want to say two brief things about Amendments 7 and 9.

As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, says, it will be enough of a stretch to achieve the target outlined in Amendment 6, let alone that in Amendment 7. For my money, Amendment 7 has served its purpose. We created a strong pincer movement to ensure that the Government felt the full weight of pressure, and Defra was perhaps able to persuade other departments that there were far worse pressures out there if they did not acquiesce to Amendment 6. While I accept the case, I think it has served its purpose.

On Amendment 9, with apologies to the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, with whom I rarely dare to disagree, on this occasion I again feel that there are times in politics when you just have to stop, look the opposition in the eye—in this case it is the Government—and say thank you, recognising the enormity of what has been done in Amendment 6. Therefore, we will make no further requests on this issue. There will be plenty more on many other issues, as I know the Minister will expect, but it is time to stop and say thank you.

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

My Lords, I am speaking to Amendment 7 in my name, and to support Amendments 5, 6 and 9. We had an extensive debate in Committee on the Government’s new clause setting out the need for species abundance targets, and many of the arguments have been reiterated today. It followed the excellent work of my colleagues in the Commons, who set out proposals for setting out and meeting a state-of-nature target, which we still believe is a clearer and less ambiguous concept than species abundance.

The flaws in the Government’s new clause were clear for all to see when it was published—in particular, the lack of determination to meet the new target and instead only a requirement to

“further the objective of halting a decline in the abundance of species.”

It also remained unclear which species would be covered by the target and whether they would be given equal weight. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, quite rightly raised those questions today, as well as asking about the baseline, metrics and monitoring. Those questions still remain to be answered, and I am sure the Minister will address them.

However, since the debate, we have been grateful to Ministers for meeting with us and discussing whether the commitment in the Bill could be tightened up. We are obviously pleased that the Government have now tabled a further amendment to the Bill, making it clear that they now commit to halting species decline by 2030. But unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, I regard this as only a partial success. I very much thank my noble friend Lady Young, the noble Lords, Lord Cameron and Lord Krebs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for sticking with me on Amendment 7 and continuing to support it. The government amendment is a far cry from the action that is really needed and from the Government’s promises on this issue.

I will not rehearse it all again but, in Committee, we heard about the Secretary of State’s Delamere Forest speech, in which he made it clear that this is about not just halting the decline of nature but stemming the tide of the loss and turning it around. We know that the G7 communiqué states

“our strong determination to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030”.

So my question for the Minister is this: if not in this Bill, when will we see the actions necessary not just to halt the decline in species but to begin to reverse it? Surely our credibility at COP 26 will rest not just on the pledges and promises of our leaders but on their determination to make the commitment a reality. This is why we tabled Amendment 7, which would make it clear that the objective is to halt, and then begin to reverse, the decline.

In Committee, the concept of bending the curve was raised several times; it has been repeated again this evening. This is what our amendment seeks to address. Regretfully, we are still on a downward spiral of biodiversity decline. We cannot halt the decline overnight, but we can begin to slow and reverse that trend so that the curve begins to go in a positive direction by 2030. Indeed, the Minister confirmed in his response at the time that

“We are on a downward trajectory both here and elsewhere in the world. That is why our challenge and our objective is to bend that curve.”—[Official Report, 23/6/21; col. 339.]


That is what our Amendment 7 will deliver, with nine years to halt and begin to reverse that downward trajectory. The alternative, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said, would be a state of nature destined to be much worse than it is now, with no way back. This is why we think that our amendment is simple and modest, and why it is the logic of everything that the Minister has argued up to now.

Nevertheless, we accept that the Government have listened on this issue. As I said, we welcome their Amendment 6 in the spirit of compromise, because I know that it was not an easy decision. We all know that the target to halt the decline of species abundance, although vital, is a stretched target and will not be easily reached. We pledge to do everything that we can to support the Government in delivering this commitment and begin the reversal of the decline, so we will not put our amendment to a vote. But we sincerely hope that such a reversal is the ultimate outcome of the pledge that the Minister has given today.

I want briefly to say something in support of my noble friend Lady Young’s Amendment 9. As ever, she set out the arguments with huge authority and clarity, and I will not attempt to compete with her. She rightly made the point that species recovery and habitat protection should go hand in hand. Individual species need suitable habitats to thrive. What we need are equivalent targets for habitats, also to be delivered by 2030, which would contribute to a positive state of nature by then. Whether it is hectares in the national site network or sites of special scientific interest, we need stronger measures to enhance and preserve them. I hope that, in his response, the Minister will be able to assure my noble friend that this is the Government’s intention and that these two strands of nature recovery will work in parallel and to the same timeframe.

On that basis, I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Environment Bill

Debate between Baroness Parminter and Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, in moving Amendment 205B, I will speak also to Amendment 210 in my name and add my support to the other amendments in this group. This group returns to the application of biodiversity but in a different context from the previous debates that we have already had. Amendment 205B would require public authorities to act to further the general biodiversity objective and to conserve and enhance the species and habitats that are important to our biodiversity. This would underline biodiversity as a critical factor in all authority decisions, including planning and spending decisions.

The amendment builds on the concession made during the Commons consideration of the Bill, in which it was made clear that public authorities have a responsibility to enhance, as well as conserve, biodiversity. Our amendment takes this one step further by seeking to ensure that biodiversity is integrated into all decision-making.

Our Amendment 210 adds a specific obligation on public authorities to support biodiversity growth through planning decisions. This is a crucial issue that has been touched on several times during the consideration of this Bill. As noble Lords will know, there is a huge concern about the impact of the planning White Paper on biodiversity net gain at a local level, and we would like to understand more about how these two policy initiatives will interact.

The planning proposals are of course aimed to fast-track housebuilding in development areas without the normal local involvement, so it is still not clear how individual schemes will be assessed from an environmental and sustainability point of view. With sustainability appraisals scrapped and environmental impact assessments not carried out at outline stage, how will a developer’s green footprint be judged?

These are real concerns that have been echoed by the recent report of the Environmental Audit Committee, Biodiversity in the UK. It makes clear that it feels that there is a “series of deficiencies” in the policy, and recommends that

“The Government should explain how and when it will move to embedding environmental net gain in the planning system, with clear actions and milestones”.


It also recommends that

“The Government should strengthen local authority capacity and enforcement mechanisms to deliver biodiversity net gain”


on the ground. Our Amendment 210 is a first step to achieving this. This is very much in line with Amendment 209, from the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, which we heartily endorse. These are critical issues for making the reversal of biodiversity loss a reality. I beg to move.

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

In introducing Amendment 209, I am grateful for the support of the noble Baronesses, Lady Young of Old Scone and Lady Boycott, and my colleague and noble friend Lord Teverson, who have added their names to it.

I very much welcome the Government’s introduction of the local nature recovery strategies—I see them as a really critical tool in capturing the value of the natural environment and ensuring that local communities can have their priorities reflected. But as they stand, the problem is that local authorities only have to “have regard to” the local nature recovery strategies; they do not have to act in accordance with them. My amendment seeks to reverse that, so that all the good work done by local authorities in producing them can be utilised, ensuring that they can be effectively integrated with other local plans and programmes.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, just highlighted, the biodiversity net gain and the other biodiversity requirements put on local councils, including the local nature recovery strategies, will be incredibly resource intensive. These new local nature recovery strategies will be data-driven, map-based and about identifying protected sites and other areas that make a real contribution towards delivering environmental and biodiversity aims. They will require a lot of conversations and consultations with relevant stakeholders—landowners, farmers, local people and businesses—and we want to make sure that all that consultation, of working locally on the ground to identify sites that are important to people and that people feel need protecting, is valued and respected.

Once these strategies have been developed, they will then be able to link up all the various other things such as biodiversity net gain, the environmental land management schemes and the nature for climate fund. They will be a really important tool for bringing all of these together. But if the local authorities and other bodies do not have to act in accordance with them, all that good work of consultation, and all the resources put into them, will go to waste.

Environment Bill

Debate between Baroness Parminter and Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, we on these Benches thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, for these amendments, which expose the fundamental flaws in the proposed enforcement powers of the environmental watchdog. We support all the amendments, particularly Amendment 107. As others have said, lawyers in this Chamber have eloquently made the case, so I will merely reflect on two points.

First, the Government have said that they want the OEP to be world-beating in its role. Yet a cursory review of its remit, as opposed to that of the body in Scotland, Environmental Standards Scotland, suggests that that is absolutely not the case and that the powers of the OEP are far more prescriptive than those of Environmental Standards Scotland, which has the power to take the steps that it considers appropriate—I repeat, the steps that “it” considers appropriate—to secure public authorities’ compliance with environmental law and how it is implemented or applied. So, if the Government want the OEP to be a world-beating watchdog, they need to look at the options rather more carefully in order to ensure that that is delivered.

Secondly, on Amendment 107, which seeks to remove the restriction on the ability of the court to grant remedies, such as squashing orders, where that could cause severe hardship, we agree very much with the noble and learned Lord, Lords Thomas of Cwmgiedd, who said that we should trust the judges. As it stands, the Bill fetters the discretion of the judiciary and radically alters the balance of power in favour of the Executive.

The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, asked: who bears the brunt of this weight in the change in the balance of power? He rightly reflected that it is nature—but, equally, it is the people of our country. It has been a fundamental cornerstone of British democracy that people have a right to environmental justice and to hold the Government to account. It is also a right guaranteed to the British public, given that we are signatories to the Aarhus convention. Therefore, as it stands, unless these amendments are accepted, we the British public will have weaker rights to environmental justice than we had previously under the European Union. We therefore urge the Government to accept these amendments and to ensure that the OEP has the robust powers that it needs in order to be—and, as the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, said, to be seen to be—an effective and robust environmental watchdog.

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

My Lords, first, I am grateful to the noble Lady, Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, for tabling Amendment 104. It enables us to have a discussion about what penalties are appropriate to ensure compliance with environmental law and to ensure that breaches are dealt with appropriately.

We agree that, as the Bill is currently worded, issuing decision notices has nothing like the impact that we previously enjoyed in the EU, whereby Governments could incur substantial fines. As the Bill stands, decision notices are not binding and it is not clear that these would be an effective way in which to remedy failures to comply with environmental law. We believe that the OEP should have much broader powers to make judgments, case by case, about what an appropriate remedy should be, including making amends and repairs and, in some cases, paying a financial penalty. I rather liked the rather creative proposal of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that the revenue from those fines could then go to the NHS.

A more substantial point about financial penalties is made in the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. She gave an excellent insight into why these are necessary. We also agree with her that these decisions need to be enforceable and to send a clear message that would dissuade other public bodies from similarly breaching the law. The remedy should also require the public body to make a public declaration of the steps that it will take to put the matter right.

I know that the Government have consistently argued that financial penalties are not appropriate within the UK, as that would simply transfer money from one government pot of money to another. But we have to face the fact that it was a considerable deterrent in EU law and that nothing yet proposed in this Bill has anything like the same deterrent effect. As the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said, penalty fines concentrate minds. Meanwhile, he and other noble Lords have all, in a powerfully co-ordinated way, taken apart the judicial processes in the Bill and exposed their weaknesses. They have made the case much better than I ever could. I am grateful to the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law and the legal analysis offered from ClientEarth for setting out in some detail the failings in the judicial clauses of the Bill.

Environment Bill

Debate between Baroness Parminter and Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I will be brief. After what was a fruitcake of amendments, we are now on a fairly simple Madeira cake—but it is no less welcome. I am grateful to be noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, for his forensic approach and for tabling this probing amendment. We need to be absolutely clear what is the purpose of this clause if we are to ensure that the Bill helps parliamentarians in future—including Select Committees, as the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, mentioned—properly to scrutinise the effects of proposed legislation to ensure that it is compatible with the Government’s environmental goals. So we welcome the approach of this probing amendment.

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

My Lords, I, too, shall be quite brief. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, for tabling this amendment. As he says, it is probing and, as ever, he set out very eloquently the reason why it is important. I have listened carefully to his analysis and very much agree with what he said.

As we discussed in the previous group, throughout consideration of the EU withdrawal Bill, we were reassured that environmental protection would be at least as good as that which we enjoyed in the EU. However, it is already clear that the wording in this Bill on environmental principles is a weakened version of what has gone before, particularly in the need to have only “due regard” to the policy statement. The academic experts giving evidence on the pre-legislative scrutiny of the previous version of the Bill concluded that

“the Bill does not maintain the legal status of environmental principles as they have come to apply through EU law.”

Now the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, is rightly raising the issue of making new environmental law, as set out in Clause 19. His amendment would require that the level of environmental protection under existing environmental law should be clearly spelled out before it is possible to say, in Clause 19(3), that any new legislation will not reduce the level of environmental protection under existing law. It would remove any ambiguity and provide a double lock on protections for future environmental legislation.

At the same time, we should acknowledge that regression often happens by stealth, and can occur at a number of levels, not just in primary legislation. For example, it could appear in secondary legislation or in the detailed policy proposals that precede it. Therefore, ideally, the scope of this provision should include secondary legislation as well. It would also make sense for a statement of this nature to be published at a much earlier stage, as part of any consultation or before a new Bill was introduced. As we have discussed in other contexts, we need accurate baseline evidence, including about the impact of existing legislation, before we can assess the effectiveness of any measures proposed in any new legislation.

So we share the concerns that the noble and learned Lord has raised in this amendment and very much hope that the Minister will feel able to take these issues on board and give a positive response.

Environment Bill

Debate between Baroness Parminter and Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I will be brief, particularly as I understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, will be able to come in after the Minister, so let us leave it to the experts.

I add my thanks to my noble friend Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville for her eloquent and comprehensive introduction of her amendment and the issue of plastics and single-use items. Like the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, I think that while there are many issues that we in this House will be touching on in the next few weeks that the public may not be quite so familiar with, plastics and single-use items is one that they understand and on which they will expect fast action. They will therefore, rightly or wrongly, judge the Government on how they address the issue, so we on these Benches welcome the amendments from my noble friend Lady Bakewell and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, on the Labour Front Bench.

Other noble Peers have touched on the implications and impacts of plastics, so I will be brief and say only that I echo the comments of my noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, on the impacts of plastics on litter, and the comments by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, on the appalling impacts on wildlife. I am not sure that I caught anyone saying—if I did not catch it and have not mentioned them, I apologise—that we need to reflect on the greenhouse gas emissions from the disposal of plastics, which are such a major contribution and which we have to tackle if we are going to meet our greenhouse gas obligations.

The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, rightly identified a number of the steps that the Government have taken on the plastics issue—she referred to straws and microbeads—and no one would deny that they are welcome, but they are very low-hanging fruit. Given the scale of the challenge and the need for fast action, I thank that all of us in this Committee, from all sides, would agree that we need faster action from the Government.

These three amendments all share the same sentiments; they tackle the issue in slightly different ways. I hope that, from the debate, the Government have realised that the Committee wants them to set targets for plastics pollution and for addressing the scourge of single-use plastic items. If the Minister is not prepared to accept the amendment today, I hope that he will listen carefully to the suggestion from my noble friend Lady Bakewell that he meets her and others, before we get to Report, to look at how we can come to a realistic amendment to address this issue, which is rightly of huge significance to the public and absolutely critical if we are to get the environment that we need in future.

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

My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 13 and 30 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and to Amendment 28 in my name and those of other noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott—I am very pleased to hear that she will make a contribution shortly.

A number of your Lordships have spoken with passion about the scourge of plastic in our environment and the damage it causes to our wildlife and marine environment. That all results in huge waste mountains created in landfill. The environmental scarring that occurs happens at all sorts of levels: the plastic clogs our oceans and rivers; it blights our landscape; and it is in the food that we eat and the air that we breathe. We are yet to discover the full impact that living with plastic is having on our long-term health. I completely understand the analogy with asbestos that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, made; because it is a relatively new product, we do not yet know exactly what it is doing to our health.

The public are increasingly aware of the environmental damage that plastic is causing, with 81% of British people now wanting the Government to introduce refillable products to end the plastic crisis, and more than two-thirds saying that the plastic crisis is getting worse. From this debate, I think we would all concur with that. And yet, we know that just 10 plastic products—including plastic bags, bottles, food containers and fishing gear—account for three-quarters of global ocean litter. So the problem is intense, but it is also very specific in terms of what we have to tackle.

Plastic bottles and beverage litter alone contribute 33% of plastic pollution in our oceans, yet we know that alternative drinks containers already exist. I agree with the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Scott, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and others, that plastic litter is the scourge of our urban and rural landscapes. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, made an important point that extended producer responsibility really should ensure that manufacturers take responsibility for the litter that results from their products. I echo what the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, said in praise of litter pickers: we have all done our bit, and we all have great admiration for the people who do it on a more regular basis, including those in my own locality who regularly on a Sunday go picking litter up from the beach.

Several years ago, Coca-Cola sent to my office here a large sack and some plastic gloves, and I was encouraged to go and do some beach-picking. I thought that it had rather missed the point really, because it should be the company’s responsibility to clean up the litter in the first place rather than expect me to do it. I still have the gloves, and they are very useful on the allotment, although they are not being used for quite what they were intended. My point is that extended producer responsibility is important. Companies such as Coca-Cola—I know that it has got better, and I hope that it would not still do something like that—and other drinks manufacturers are trying to cut down on the amount of plastic, but we still have a long way to go.

Incidentally, I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that the blue plastic masks are just adding a new layer and source of pollution. We all understand why it was expedient to introduce them at very short notice, but the Government have now had time to come up with a better solution than the regular use of plastic masks, which we are all still encouraged to wear.

We believe that the solution is within our grasp, if only we had the determination to restrict the production of new plastics, to capture all that waste plastic for reuse and to charge manufacturers the full disposal cost of any discarded plastic. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, that we already have the experts who can measure and monitor our plastic output; it is not that difficult. We are in a position to capture the statistics and properly report on progress.

We need a concerted effort from the top to drive down the use of plastic and replace it with reusable alternatives. As a number of noble Lords have said, the Government have known this for some time, and they have engaged in the debate and taken some action. I am sure that the Minister will remind us of the steps already taken, for example on banning microbeads and increasing plastic bag charges. All of this is of course welcome, but it is dealing with a fraction of the problem. As the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, said, it is in effect picking the low-hanging fruit. Meanwhile, the Minister himself in the debate on single-use plastics on 19 April said:

“action is needed to curtail the use of single-use plastics and their release into the environment.”

He went on to say that it is

“the Government’s intention to clamp down on single-use plastic pollution and protect our environment for future generations.”—[Official Report, 19/4/21; col. GC 245.]

I do not doubt his commitment, but the real challenge is action, which seems to be lacking.

We were provoked to table our amendment by the endless delays in tackling the more fundamental challenges that remain. I have lost track of the number of consultations that have taken place or are in progress without a credible ultimate deadline for action. Our Amendment 28 addresses this need for a deadline. It follows the same format as the Government’s own wording in their “abundance of species” amendment, so we know that it meets the criteria of being acceptable to Government, flexible, legal and politically deliverable. It also mirrors the wording in Clause 2 on the setting of air quality targets, emphasising that it should be a short-term, rather than long-term, target.

Our plastic reduction targets cover plastics and other “non-essential single-use products”. The amendment is worded in that way to ensure that a ban on plastic does not incentivise the use of other single-use materials. This is at the heart of the problem, because these can also be damaging to the environment. One noble Lord mentioned paper bags, and there are other things which are a substitute, but not a sufficient one, when we can just use the same product again and again if we turn our minds to it. I can confirm to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, that our proposal is also intended to cover wet wipes and ear buds.

Our amendment works in tandem with Amendment 139—which seeks to amend Schedule 9—in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, to which I have also added my name, and which we will debate later.

Subsection (2) of the new clause proposed in Amendment 28 sets the plastic reduction target of 31 December 2030, which, again, aligns with the Government’s own “abundance of species” target. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, that this is a very modest proposal, and if the Minister is able to tell us today that the Government have an earlier deadline in mind, we would very much welcome hearing it. We believe that this is a credible deadline that would enable production and retail businesses to adapt to the new recyclable or biodegradable materials that they would have to use as substitutes.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, said that plastic bottles are rarely recycled into new plastic bottles, and she is absolutely right on that. But the annoying thing is that we have had the technology to do that for years—it already exists; it does not have to be created. Manufacturers just have to find that the cost of using virgin plastic is prohibitive compared to recycled plastics, and then they would switch. But at the moment, it is easier for them to use new oil and chemicals, rather than use the materials that are already in circulation. We can change that only if the Government use market interventions to make this happen, at least in the short term.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
- Hansard - -

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.

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

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction and all noble Lords who have spoken so passionately and eloquently in this debate. I have added my name to Amendment 24 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall. As other noble Lords have said, he made such a compelling case that we do not need to repeat all his arguments. I will comment also on Amendments 25 and 202, standing in my name.

As I said at Second Reading, what set out to be a landmark Bill two years ago now seems to be behind the curve in content and ambition. Nowhere is this more obvious than in this debate. The truth is that the Government are running to catch up on this issue—and they still have some way to go.

Noble Lords have given a number of stark examples of the crisis we face in biodiversity decline. Reference has been made to the RSPB report, which describes a lost decade in the UK in which 41% of our species are declining and 10% are threatened with extinction. They include red squirrels—a particular passion of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh—water voles, ghost orchids and meadow clary. A third of wild bees and hoverflies have now been lost. A total of 97% of our wildflower meadows have gone since the 1930s. This crisis is caused by agricultural practices, pollution, urbanisation, habitat loss and climate change. It needs action now.

At the same time, globally, WWF’s Living Planet Report shows that we are losing forests and habitats at an alarming rate, with a species decline of 68%. The UK is adding to this problem through its huge consumer appetite for commodities, which is adding to global deforestation.

Meanwhile, despite all previous government commitments and targets, biodiversity decline has deteriorated further. As has been said, the Government have missed 17 out of the 20 agreed UN biodiversity targets. The Government’s progress report on the 25-year environment plan shows an alarming number of downward arrows for issues such as species abundance and the distribution of priority species. These are important for conserving biodiversity. It seems that all the trends are going in the wrong direction. Something has to change, and it has to change now.

So we are debating today the government amendment on their species abundance target. Of course, we begin by welcoming the target date of 31 December 2030. But, beyond that, it leaves much to be desired.

I will follow up on the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, at Second Reading, and which he raised again today. He asked for a definition of “species abundance”, which the Government now seem to favour. He and other noble Lords have raised this issue. I share that query, so can the Minister give a precise reason why this phrase was used? Will there be a clear definition of what it means in regulations or guidance? By what means can we be assured that proper metrics will be produced and that there will be proper measurement? Can you measure a phrase such as “species abundance”?

Agriculture Bill

Debate between Baroness Parminter and Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
Report stage & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 17th September 2020

(3 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 View all Agriculture Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 130-III(Corrected) Third marshalled list for Report - (17 Sep 2020)
Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Hodgson of Abinger and Lady Fookes, for tabling these amendments and enabling these important animal welfare issues to be debated tonight. I shall speak on Amendment 71 first, prior to taking on Amendments 72 and 73.

On Amendment 71, I accept the scientific evidence that the practice of killing by throat cutting, without pre-stunning, compromises animal welfare. This is also the view of the BVA. However, I respect the arguments of those who believe that the animal welfare concerns do not outweigh the rights of our own communities to religious freedom.

Government trade policy should refuse to look at exporting our livestock to other countries for slaughter without pre-stunning, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, so powerfully articulated. It is possible to take advantage of new trading opportunities that we are told will open up post Brexit without agreeing to export animals slaughtered without pre-stunning. New Zealand exports huge quantities of sheep to the Middle East, and all are pre-stunned with halal certification.

In supporting the aims of this amendment, I ask the Minister to confirm that when the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, said earlier today, in response to a question, that the UK is at

“the cutting edge of free trade agreements”

this does not include the Government seeking to increase trade through increasing our exports of farm animals which are not stunned before slaughter.

I absolutely support the principles of Amendments 72 and 73. In fact, when I joined the RSPCA in the 1990s my first campaign, and one of the proudest I have worked on, was on the issue of live transport. I echo all the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, about the number of animals who suffer and the quite unnecessary levels of suffering that go on, given that this is all about profit. While I support the aims of these amendments, I understand what the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said about concerns over the WTO complications. Equally, I think I am correct that live transport is a devolved matter and, as such, the Bill cannot make provisions concerning it for another Government. My personal understanding is that the Scottish Government oppose a ban on live exports.

The Minister might therefore say to us at the end that the Government are not able to accept this amendment. However, he can outline how they intend to tackle the economics that drive this trade. The Farm Animal Welfare Committee report, which the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, reported to, was commissioned by this Government and the devolved nations back in 2018. It recommended improvements to transport journey times, ship and lorry standards and possible maximum journey times, once we leave the EU’s regulatory orbit. This approach would be WTO-compatible and achieve the same results as stopping the live exports, as it raises costs, and live exports only happen because of the economics.

When will the Government release the report from FAWC—now known as the Animal Welfare Committee —and, at the same time, undertake alongside it a consultation on live transport and exports? I would like to hear that it is an imminent consultation because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, mentioned, during Brexit we heard a lot about how Brexit was going to be about improving animal welfare, and live transport was an issue that was trumpeted. We have had that FAWC report since 2018. If we do not see something imminently—and I would expect that to be in the next few months—we can only assume that this is just another hollow promise from the Government on their commitment to animal welfare.

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

My Lords, I intend to speak briefly, but in doing so I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Fookes and Baroness Hodgson, for these amendments. As the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, reminded us, she has been a lifelong campaigner on these issues and I pay tribute to her infamous doggedness and determination.

Noble Lords will recall that I spoke in favour of similar issues in Committee, and nothing I have heard then or since has dissuaded me from my view that exporting live animals is cruel and unnecessary. The noble Baronesses have once again illustrated the appalling animal cruelty that occurs in long-distance transport, whether through accident or deliberate neglect. It is clear that the occasional stories which appear in the press are symptomatic of a much deeper and endemic problem.

In Committee, the Minister reassured the House that the Government are actively considering how to take forward their manifesto pledge to end long journeys for animal slaughtering and fattening, whether in the UK or abroad. We welcome that commitment and look forward to receiving more details. The Minister also warned that the issues were complex, and we acknowledge that. But I sincerely hope that this will not be used as a reason for inaction, as he can be assured that the British public have high expectations in this regard. So I hope he is able to reassure us tonight that progress is being made and that the Government do now have a plan to deliver that manifesto commitment.