10 Lord Krebs debates involving the Cabinet Office

Climate Change

Lord Krebs Excerpts
Monday 24th July 2023

(10 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Moved by
Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs
- View Speech - Hansard - -

That this House takes note of the level of preparation by His Majesty’s Government in adapting to the impacts that climate change will have on health, the economy, food security, and the environment.

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

My Lords, I declare my interest as a member of the advisory board of the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit. I am most grateful to the Cross-Benchers who chose this topic for one of our two debates today, and I am delighted that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, has chosen this debate for his maiden speech. I welcome him to the Chamber and very much look forward to hearing his contribution later on.

This debate could not be happening at a more appropriate moment. On the one hand, we are seeing record-breaking heatwaves across the world, in Europe, the US and China. We know with a high degree of confidence that the likelihood of these events has increased already as result of manmade climate change. Professor Fredi Otto of Imperial College said to me last week: “The bottom line is that these events in the US and Europe are not rare today—about one in 10-year events—but would have been extremely rare if it was not for climate change”.

Against this backdrop, last week the Government published their third national adaptation plan—or NAP3 for short—which sets out how the UK will prepare itself for the inevitable impacts of climate change that will result from the greenhouse gases humanity has already pumped into the atmosphere. As we all know, the global response to climate change has two strands: there is the commitment, starting with the Paris Agreement in 2015, to try to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees; at the same time, there is the need to prepare for the inevitability of climate change to which we are already committed, however good we are at cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

This debate is about the second of these two strands: adaptation rather than mitigation. The UK has an excellent process for developing an adaptation plan. The adaptation sub-committee of the Committee on Climate Change, of which I was the chair between 2009 and 2017, prepares an independent evidence report on the present and future risks to the UK from climate change: the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment evidence report. Based on this risk assessment, the Government then publish a national adaptation plan, or NAP, which aims to set out how the country will respond to the risks identified in the Climate Change Risk Assessment. This process is repeated on a five-yearly cycle.

Unfortunately, up to now, this excellent process has not been matched by action. The first two national adaptation plans were woefully inadequate. In March, the Climate Change Committee said that England is not prepared for climate risks and we have lost a decade to inaction. For no adaptation outcome—of the 45 examined in the progress report—do we find evidence of good progress in the delivery and implementation of adaptation policy on the ground. This is a truly shocking assessment of the failure of the Government to take climate adaptation seriously.

We know that climate adaptation is not a priority for this Government, because when the Prime Minister set out his five key priorities for 2023, climate change was not among them. The press is now reporting that the Prime Minister is being urged to ditch or dilute green policies, and today the Prime Minister himself appeared to confirm this.

The Climate Change Committee also said in its report last March:

“The next National Adaptation Programme”—

that is NAP3, published about a week ago—

“must make a step change”.


“it risks another lost five years of ineffectual adaptation action – which the UK’s people, ecosystems and infrastructure cannot afford”.

The Met Office’s most recent fine resolution projections for the UK climate in 2050, called UKCP18, indicate that we will have

“hotter, drier summers and warmer, wetter winters”.

There will be more extreme events, such as flooding and drought, and sea level will continue to rise. The more the average global temperature rises, the more extreme these effects will be.

This means that, with no effective adaptation, which is the path we are on now, it will be like this in a few decades. People will more frequently overheat in their homes, hospitals, care homes and workplaces. We are not retrofitting old buildings, nor are we designing new buildings, to be resilient to overheating. Houses built in flood plains will be inundated more often due to extreme weather. We are continuing to build new homes in high-risk areas, we are allowing paving over of surfaces in urban areas which leads to surface water flooding, and we are not retrofitting homes to make them more resilient.

Rail and roads will be more likely buckle or melt in hot weather while power infrastructure will be damaged by extreme events. We are not retrofitting our infrastructure to allow it to function under a changed climate. Coastal towns will be inundated by rising sea levels. We are not planning managed retreat from low-lying coastal towns and villages. We will be chronically short of water in many parts of the country. We are not managing demand by domestic users, farmers and industry.

Growing our own food may become more challenging. According to analysis commissioned a few years ago by Defra, much of the most productive farmland in the UK may become unsuitable for agriculture in the second half of this century. Finally, ecosystems and habitats and the services they provide will suffer because they are in poor condition now.

This sounds like a grim scenario for future generations but, unless the Government start serious action now, these are not unrealistic scenarios. Although the Times this morning warns us not to be too apocalyptic about future risks, it would be foolhardy to ignore them.

Does NAP3, the third national adaptation plan, give us a glimmer of hope? In her introduction, the Secretary of State says that NAP3 is the “step change” that the Climate Change Committee has called for, and, indeed, there are some positive features: the Government commit to establish a new climate and resilience board of senior officials to work across government; the NAP3 attempts to respond to all 61 climate risks and opportunities in the third Climate Change Risk Assessment; it announces £15 million more for more research from UKRI and Defra. Clearly, we need to know more—we have to have a strong evidence base—but we must not be seduced into paralysis by analysis.

The NAP3 says that the Department for Transport will publish an adaptation strategy and the Department for Business and Trade will publish a new strategy on supply chains, including the impacts of climate change. And NAP3 says that various nature recovery initiatives will take into account the impact and need to adapt to the consequences of climate change. So these are positive aspects of the latest national adaptation plan.

However, the Climate Change Committee says in its assessment that while NAP3 is better than its predecessors, it still falls well short of a plan to ensure that the country is properly prepared for the impacts of climate change. When I started reading it, I was delighted to see on pages 9 to 11 a summary of the actions that the Government will take to prepare us for the future impacts of climate change.

As noble Lords will know, actions come in three categories: inputs, outputs and outcomes. In the end, it is outcomes that count. Unfortunately, none of the actions listed on those pages of the third national adaptation plan are outcome actions, nor is it explained how the impact of the actions listed will be measured or over what timescale. In short, NAP3 will not tell us whether or not the Government are effectively adapting this country to climate change. The words used to describe those actions, such as “take into account”, “update”, “work with”, “survey” and “explore” do not give much confidence that the actions are directly linked to outcomes. Furthermore, although the NAP appears to announce new initiatives, at least some of those are simply reheated existing policies and funding commitments, such as the £5.2 billion for flood and coastal defences, the tripling of ODA adaptation funding, and the adverse health and weather plan.

My final point about the third national adaptation plan is that the so-called adaptation reporting power remains voluntary. The power requires organisations that have key functions, such as local authorities and providers of infrastructure and healthcare, to report on their adaptation plans. Surely it should be mandatory that they have to report, not simply voluntary if they care to do so. In short, my reading of NAP3 is summarised as “could do better”.

Before I finish my introduction to this debate, I address my comments to those noble Lords who are sceptical about the need to take any action to adapt to climate change. On July 11, at col. 1636 of Hansard, a Member of your Lordships’ House claimed that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group II says in its sixth assessment report that

“there is not expected to be, nor is there any sign so far of, any increase in droughts, floods, landslides or fires”.—[Official Report, 11/7/23; col. 1636.]

As that statement is in Hansard, I wish to correct it. Here is what IPCC Working Group II says in its summary for policymakers:

“Human-induced climate change, including more frequent and intense extreme events, has caused widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people, beyond natural climate variability … Global warming, reaching 1.5°C in the near-term, would cause unavoidable increases in multiple climate hazards and present multiple risks to ecosystems and humans”.

In the working group’s category of how confident it is, it has very high confidence in that statement.

There are also those who critique the notion of adaptation to climate change because of the costs. They ask whether it is worth spending money now to prepare for an uncertain future. It is worth pointing out that the third climate change risk assessment includes an analysis of the benefit-to-cost ratio of adaptation for different risks. As with any such analysis, there are inherent uncertainties, and the CCRA presents a range of values; it does not anchor on a single value. However, the modal value for many cases is that investing now has a benefit-to-cost ratio of between two and 10—in other words, every pound invested today could yield benefits of between £2 and £10 in future. So although some people argue that it is not worth spending the money now, I think the evidence is against them.

I look forward to the contributions of noble Lords to this debate. I close with some questions for the Minister. First, the national adaptation plan announces a climate and resilience board. Who will be on it, what are its terms of reference, to whom will it report, how often will it meet and will its minutes be made public? Secondly, as I have explained, a problem with the latest national adaptation plan is that it does not set out specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound outcome actions so that it would be possible to measure progress in adaptation. Could the Minister tell us whether the Government have any intention of setting out such specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound outcome actions? If so, by when? Thirdly, could the Minister confirm that the Government do not intend to roll back on their green agenda, including climate adaptation, in spite of reports to that effect in the press in the past few days? I beg to move.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, I will not detain the House for very long, bearing in mind the late hour. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate; we have had some fantastic contributions covering a wide variety of topics. I thank the Minister for his wide-ranging responses to the points raised. I also join others in congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Russell, on his truly excellent maiden speech. I look forward to many future contributions from him on matters to do with the environment and, no doubt, other topics of importance.

I also acknowledge the noble Lord, Lord Deben. I had the honour of serving on the Climate Change Committee under his chairmanship for a number of years. I do not know which of us was more alarmed when we found that on many occasions, perhaps even on most occasions, we tended to agree with each other—but we were always on the right side when we agreed. I acknowledge his tremendous contribution to the Climate Change Committee and the pleasure I had in serving under his chairmanship.

I just want to very briefly refer to three points mentioned in the debate. One—which I think many noble Lords including the Minister effectively responded to—is this notion that it is either mitigation or adaptation. I am sorry to say that the noble Lords, Lord Frost and Lord Lucas, seemed to feel that you could do one but not the other, and that is clearly not the case. They are both needed.

The second point again has been dealt with by a number of speakers, including the noble Lords, Lord Deben and Lord Teverson: the deaths from cold and heat. It is a peculiar kind of levelling-up argument to say, “More people are dying from cold. Therefore, we can allow the heat deaths to go up”. Perhaps one way of emphasising the bizarreness of that assertion is if you consider that last year 1,675 people died as a result of being killed on our roads. Compare that with the 86,000 deaths that arose as a result of bad diets in this country, according to the Global Burden of Disease study. Does that mean we should allow road deaths to increase and not worry about them, maybe deregulating to allow people to drink and drive and drive too fast in speed-limited areas? Clearly not: we bear down on all causes of death because every death, as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said, is a tragedy for the families whose loved ones have gone away.

My very final point is about this figure of a cost of maybe 1% to 2% of GDP by 2050 for mitigation. When I was on the Climate Change Committee and it produced this figure, I almost asked, “Is it a big or a small number? How do we know?” One way of expressing it is this: if we reckon we ever get back to a trend of 2% growth per year in GDP, a cost of 1% by 2050 means we will delay until June 2050 being as rich as we would have been in January 2050—a tragedy for all of us: six months of being that bit poorer. When we throw out numbers as a percentage of GDP, we have to be careful about what they actually mean.

Having said that, I reiterate my thanks and wish all noble Lords, as others have done, a very relaxing and pleasant summer break.

Motion agreed.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Finlay of Llandaff) (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I must inform that House that, if Amendment 48 is agreed to, I will not be able to call Amendment 49 due to pre-emption.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, I will speak to the cross-party Amendment 48 in my name and those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Hayman of Ullock, and the noble Lord, Lord Duncan of Springbank. As always, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Caithness; he gave me a namecheck in his speech which I hope to add to my CV, so that for my next job application I can say, “As quoted by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness”.

I support in large part what he said about the importance of rigorous scientific evidence to underpin policy—he referred to the environment, but I would say more broadly. I will add a note of caution from my personal experience. As many noble Lords will know, I was responsible for instigating the randomised badger culling trials, the so-called “Krebs trials”, which were meant definitively to determine whether killing badgers was a good way of controlling bovine tuberculosis. The trial was probably the largest ecological experiment ever done in this country; it did produce results, but it did not settle the arguments or the policy. So science has an important role to play, and I support the noble Earl’s amendment, but we must recognise that political decisions come in as well.

I turn now to Amendment 48. I want to keep it brief so I will say what it is not and what it is. It is not an attempt to block any change. It is also not an alternative to the earlier proposals that came from my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead to involve Parliament in future decisions. It is not either of those. It supports the Government in their declared ambitions for the environment and for food. In doing so, it also ensures that the Government make good decisions rather than bad decisions. The amendment is about protecting the environment and consumer interests in relation to food.

These two areas—food and environment—are crucial to the REUL Bill, as between them they account for approximately half of the 4,900 regulations that come under REUL according to the current dashboard. At its board meeting in December 2022, the Food Standards Agency noted 800 items related to food and feed. The REUL dashboard reports about 1,700 items related to Defra, most of which concern environmental protection. These two areas are also crucial because of public concern. You have to think only of sewage in rivers, outbreaks of food-borne illness or GM foods to realise that these areas—environment and food—resonate with the public. These two areas also attracted a great deal of debate from your Lordships in Committee.

The amendment that I have proposed has three elements: first, non-regression—which we have already heard about from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. Any future changes, according to Amendment 48, should not reduce or water down current levels of environmental protection or food safety standards. Nor should they contravene any international agreements to which the UK has committed.

My second point is expert input. This resonates with the amendment in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. Regulations should not be changed without consulting the relevant experts. These should include the Office for Environmental Protection, the Food Standards Agency and their cognate bodies in Scotland.

The third element is transparency. The amendment would require the Government to publish a report showing how any changes do not reduce environmental or food protections and what advice was received from the experts consulted. As a further transparency measure, the amendment also requires the Food Standards Agency, together with Food Standards Scotland, to report on the impact of any changes resulting from the implementation of this Bill on food safety and other consumer interests in relation to food.

The proposals in these three areas—non-regression, expert advice and transparency—are totally in line with the Government’s own commitments. They have said over and over again that they do not want to weaken environmental protection or compromise food safety and standards. The noble Lord, Lord Benyon, who I am delighted to see is going to respond to this grouping, has himself said that on more than one occasion in your Lordships’ House. This amendment simply formalises these commitments in the Bill. As we heard earlier, Clauses 13, 14, 16 and 17 leave Ministers a great deal of discretionary power. While, of course, we totally trust current Ministers to keep their word, who knows who will be in charge in future? This amendment will ensure that, in the future, Governments will build on the good work that has been done up to now and the promises that have been made.

Outside this House, who supports this amendment? Let me give noble Lords some examples. I asked the Food and Drink Federation whether it supported the food parts of this amendment. The FDF, with more than 1,000 members ranging from global brands to innovative start-ups, represents the UK’s largest manufacturing sector. It says in writing that it is happy to be quoted as supporting this amendment. If the Government wish to be business friendly—and I have heard that said—here is a good place to start: accept an amendment that has the weight of nearly half a million jobs behind it.

Equally, non-regression of environmental protections is supported by the Government’s statutory advisers, the Office for Environmental Protection and the Climate Change Committee, which both said in recent written statements that it is important that the REUL Bill includes a non-regression clause.

The amendment applies to the whole of the UK, and in that context it is noteworthy that the Scottish Government have also written to express their support for Amendment 48.

I hope that in this brief introduction I have said enough to convince your Lordships that this amendment is sensible, proportionate and fully supportive of the Government’s declared commitments on the environment and food. Indeed, I cannot see why on earth the Government would not accept it, and I very much look forward to the Minister agreeing with me. However, if that agreement is not forthcoming, and recognising from Committee that there was widespread support from across the House for the areas of environmental and food protections, I will wish to test the opinion of the House.

Lord Whitty Portrait Lord Whitty (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I have the third amendment in this group, Amendment 49. Colleagues will have detected that there is a considerable overlap with the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and I was proposing to withdraw my amendment formally in favour of his. He has moved that very ably, and therefore I need not repeat most of the arguments he made.

It is very important, now we have the Joint Committee procedure and all the other changes that the amendments in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, have built into the Bill, that we give some guidance as to how they are to proceed. In relation to issues of the environment and food, the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, would make it clear how in part they are to receive guidance on carrying out that function.

I will add just one point to the considerations your Lordships have already heard from the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. These areas are very important for our trade agreements. Environmental standards increasingly appear in our trade agreements, particularly with the EU but with other countries as well. Therefore, any regression of those standards needs to be clear not just from an environmental but from a trade point of view. It is absolutely clear that this must be the case for food. We have an important food manufacturing and agricultural industry, which needs to ensure that the standards to which it produces are the same as or equivalent to those of our trading partners. If that is not the case, some of our best trade agreements will be precarious. The references to international standards and international bodies of advice are very important for the proposed Joint Committee to follow. I therefore hope that those considerations can be taken into account by the House and that the Government will accept the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs.

--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
48: After Clause 17, insert the following new Clause—
“Environmental protection and food standards(1) Regulations may not be made by a relevant national authority under section 13, 14, 16 or 17 unless the relevant national authority is satisfied that the regulations do not—(a) reduce the level of environmental protection arising from the EU retained law to which the provision relates;(b) reduce the level of protection of consumers in relation to the safety, composition or labelling of food arising from the EU retained law to which the provision relates;(c) conflict with any relevant international environmental agreements to which the United Kingdom is party.(2) Prior to making any provision to which this section applies, the relevant national authority must—(a) seek advice from persons who are independent of the authority and have relevant expertise,(b) seek advice from, as appropriate, the Office for Environmental Protection, Environmental Standards Scotland, a devolved environmental governance body or another person exercising similar functions, the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland, and(c) publish a report setting out—(i) how the provision does not reduce the level of environmental or consumer protection in accordance with subsection (1), and(ii) how the authority has taken into account the advice from the persons referred to in paragraphs (a) and (b) of this subsection.(3) In section 4 (annual and other reports) of the Food Standards Act 1999, after subsection (1) insert—“(1A) The report prepared under subsection (1) must include a detailed assessment, drawn up after seeking advice from such other persons or bodies with relevant expertise as the Agency considers appropriate, of the impact of the implementation of sections 13, 14, 16 and 17 of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023 in the areas of food safety, composition, and labelling and other relevant areas of concern to consumers related to food.”(4) In this section “relevant international environmental agreements” means—(a) the UNECE Convention on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters (Aarhus, 25 June 1998);(b) the Council of Europe’s Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern, 1979);(c) the UN Convention on Biodiversity (Rio, 1992);(d) the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (Bonn, 1979);(e) the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (1992);(f) the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar, 1971).”Member's explanatory statement
This new Clause creates additional conditions to be satisfied before the powers in Clauses 13, 14, 16 or 17 can be exercised where the subject matter of their exercise concerns law relating to environmental protection or food standards. It would also require the Government to seek the advice of the relevant independent expert statutory bodies, and the Food Standards Agency to include in its annual report to Parliament an assessment of the impact of the implementation of these provisions in areas of concern to consumers related to food.

Heatwave Response

Lord Krebs Excerpts
Thursday 21st July 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

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

As ever, the noble Viscount speaks wise words. I shall take back what he said. The reality is that, despite the pressures that there were in various places, the NHS emergency call handlers dealt with record numbers of calls to 999. All those public servants involved have done an outstanding job. One thing that helped was that the advance warning process worked very well, and people were able to prepare. Indeed, the weather forecasters take a bit of a pasting in this country—it is a favourite pub conversation—but I think that they did pretty well on this occasion, enabling everyone to be put on the right footing. However, I agree with the noble Viscount that there are issues that do not necessarily always come to the forefront, and all of them must be swept in and considered as we prepare for future similar events. I have no doubt about that.

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

My Lords, according to climate change risk assessment evidence produced by the Climate Change Committee every five years, up to 90% of hospital wards in this country are at risk of overheating, because they are not designed for the kind of weather that we are going to get in future. Could the Minister tell us how many of the 40 new hospitals that the Government have committed to build by 2030 will be built in a way that is resilient to extreme heat?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I can hear some chuckling about the 40 new hospitals, but I have no doubt that those facilities will be built and must be built. Setting the chuckling aside, the serious question put by the noble Lord is one that I shall take away and seek advice on. Obviously, it is not my department that is supervising that, but the noble Lord makes an important point, and I shall report back to him on it.

We must be responsive to the challenge of climate change. However, we must not forget that there are other challenges at the other end of the spectrum. We also need to continue to protect elderly people against the effects of cold in winter. It is very easy to obsess about extreme heat now, and rightly so, but other dangers also lurk in the natural world that we inhabit.

EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement

Lord Krebs Excerpts
Friday 8th January 2021

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the Prime Minister has told us that his Brexit deal will leave us

“free to turbocharge our ambition to be a science superpower”.

Along with my fellow research scientists, I have been struggling to understand what this means, particularly in light of the fact that, as the Royal Society has reported, our decision to leave the European Union has already done serious damage to our science base in terms of attracting funding and young talent. Please can the Minister explain precisely how the deal will enhance, rather than diminish, our science base? Before the deal, I could participate fully in EU programmes and collaborate freely with scientists in all other countries in the world. In what way will things now get better?

The Prime Minister also referred specifically to enhancing our research in climate science, through participation in the Copernicus programme, for example. However, our bid to host Copernicus was deemed ineligible, and instead it will be based in Bonn. It is likely that the next major EU programme on climate science, Destination Earth, will also go to Bonn. We are losing, not enhancing, our expertise and reputation in climate science. As a result, one of our major research centres for climate and weather, the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, currently in Reading, may eventually leave the UK. Five other countries in Europe have produced highly professional short films to advertise their aim to host ECMWF. We have done nothing more than produce a tweet. Quite frankly, that is pathetic. Can the Minister explain how the Government intend to secure the future of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts in the United Kingdom?

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

Lord Krebs Excerpts
Tuesday 30th January 2018

(6 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I had been intending to talk exclusively about the impact of this Bill on the environment and climate change, but earlier the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds reminded us that the process that this Bill supports is about a broader matter than translating legislation and instrumental processes. It is about what kind of country we want this to be and what kind of Europe we want to see in the future.

I hope noble Lords will indulge me for a moment if I recount a piece of my family history. My father was a refugee from Nazi Germany, who came here in 1933 and was lucky he survived—many of his relatives did not. One individual in the family who survived, remarkably, was his sister, who survived throughout the war in Germany and still lives there. I went to see her just before Christmas and we had a conversation about Brexit. I asked, “What do you think of what our Government are doing?”. She looked at me and said, “In March 1945, my mother and I hid in the cellar of our home because there was an allied bombing raid. We came up in the morning, our house had disappeared completely, the street had vanished completely, the centre of our city had vanished completely”. She went on to describe how, in the subsequent weeks, she and her mother tried to move across Germany with no transport—no railways, no roads, no petrol, nothing. Even to get a bar of soap, she had to sell the carcass of her pet dog. She said to me, “Any Government who want to begin to take apart the structure that we put in place to prevent this happening again must be mad”.

I shall switch now from a broader issue to the rather narrow issue of environmental legislation. We are told that the Bill is about continuity. It is to enable things to operate as they did before on the day after Brexit. As noble Lords will be aware, almost all the legislation that protects our environment, including air quality, marine and freshwater quality, protection of species and habitats, waste disposal, noise pollution and soil quality, comes from the European Union. Defra estimates that there are more than 1,100 pieces of EU legislation within its ambit. At the moment, the enforcement of environmental law is overseen at European level and it is acknowledged, including by the Government, that after Brexit there will be a governance gap.

Take our beaches as an example. Under the bathing water directive, the UK originally designated fewer areas as bathing waters clean enough to bathe in than did Luxembourg. Even Blackpool beach did not make it on to the UK’s list. As a result of Commission enforcement, the UK has increased the number of bathing waters designated from 27 in 1987 to 362 today. The Institute for Government reports that some 29 of the 63 judgments—that is 46%—handed down by the ECJ on UK infringements since 2003 related to the environment. So enforcement by the European Commission and the ECJ has been crucial to our transition from the dirty man of Europe to the place that we are today.

The Government, as I say, have recognised this governance gap and are consulting on the nature of a new body to ensure that environmental standards are maintained and enforced after Brexit. Yesterday, we had a very good debate in this House in which the Minister the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, said that this would be a statutory body, which I think we all very much welcomed. I hope that that will be confirmed by the Minister at the end of this debate. The crucial thing for this Bill is that the new statutory body will be in place, ready to take action, immediately after Brexit. We do not want to say that it is six months or a year until it comes into place; it has to be there on the day we leave.

Other concerns need to be explored in Committee, and I do not intend to elaborate on those now. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, said earlier that it is not clear in the current drafting that all EU law will be fully transposed. Clause 2 saves transposed directives; Clause 3 converts regulations; and Clause 4 saves other rights and obligations if they have been recognised by case law. We need some explanation of what the implications of that are. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, said, the principles of environmental law such as sustainable development, the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle may be lost, as these are currently in the preambles; they should be retained. If they are not, future decision-making by public bodies or by government may result in weaker protection of the environment.

In closing, I turn to energy and climate change. We have our own national legislation on climate change, the Climate Change Act 2008; nevertheless, some of our energy security and decarbonisation depend on our relationship with the rest of Europe, the EU Emissions Trading Scheme and the internal energy market. As far as I can see, these are not covered by the withdrawal Bill. In fact, in the Select Committee that I sit on—excellently chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson—the Energy Minister told us recently that, although we were going to leave the internal energy market,

“our top priority is to be as near as possible to the current arrangements”.

That makes you wonder whether the simplest way to achieve this is not to leave in the first place.

Government-commissioned Research

Lord Krebs Excerpts
Wednesday 28th June 2017

(6 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The responsibility for publication does not rest with the Treasury, it rests with the individual department that has commissioned the research. The protocol makes it quite clear that research should be published as soon as possible. A number of the recommendations are being taken forward by the Government Digital Service and by relevant departments. But I will certainly bear in mind the noble Lord’s suggestion that there might be a fresh initiative by my immediate boss, the First Secretary of State at the Cabinet Office.

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

My Lords, the June 2012 Civil Service Reform Plan, in a section on the components of open policy-making, set out the ambition to have a:

“Shared, transparent evidence base from all sources in accessible format for all to interpret”.

Is the Minister satisfied that, five years on, this reform has been effectively implemented? If not, he may wish to refer to another section of the reform plan, which says of the Civil Service that,

“its culture can be cautious and slow-moving”.

Higher Education and Research Bill

Lord Krebs Excerpts
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I declare an interest as chancellor of Cranfield University, a truly global university in science and technology, with almost two-thirds of its students coming from outside of the UK. In looking at the Government’s Green Paper on industrial strategy, it is clear that what we want to try to forge for a post-Brexit UK is a vibrant industrial sector that is truly multinational in its businesses. That depends on being truly global in our approach to research and in recruiting the best and brightest students from across the world.

I know that we are in a particularly overheated moment in terms of immigration, and the Government are quite understandably nervous as a kitten in that respect. However, the reality is that we cannot regard international students as people who are coming here as supplicants to us. We are going as supplicants to them, because they have many choices. What international students want is to go somewhere where they will be able to study as an undergraduate, and then potentially as a postgraduate, at the cutting edge of whatever their discipline is, where they feel that their families are welcome to come and stay with them because they might be here for many years, and where they have the opportunity of moving seamlessly into employment with a company or organisation that they might have had contact with during their university years. That is what they want, and that is what we are preventing from happening if we are not careful.

The signal has gone out that Britain is not open for business for international students, whether or not that is true. The time has come, after all of these reports from other committees saying that we should change this very important signal, for the Government to ponder on that. The reality is that we are not going to see any diminution in the heat and steam around immigration in the next few years: we are going to see it getting worse and worse as we exit from Europe. The time has now come to make sure that the by-product of that heat and steam is not that we failed to deliver for our high standards of education, our high standards of research or our place in the global business community.

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

My Lords, in supporting Amendment 150 I declare an interest as having, for many years in the past, led a large research group at Oxford University that was heavily dependent on international students, not just from the European Union but from all over the world, from Argentina to the far eastern corner of what was then the Soviet Union.

I want in particular to refer back to one of the many Select Committee reports. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, referred to the fact that this whole question of overseas students has been examined in recent years by many Select Committees. One such committee was the Science and Technology Select Committee when I was the chair; in 2014 we produced a report on STEM students—science, technology, engineering and mathematics students—in relation to international students and immigration rules. In the summary of our report, we concluded:

“Above all, we are concerned that Government policy is contradictory. The Government are simultaneously committed to reducing net migration and attracting increasing numbers of international students”.

Echoing what my noble friend Lord Bilimoria said, certainly in 2014, the Government had a target of increasing international students by 15% to 20% over the next five years. We went on to say, as other noble Lords have said during this debate:

“This contradiction could be resolved if the Government removed students from the net migration figures”.

Will the Minister, in his reply, tell us whether he recognises this target that the Government certainly had two or three years ago? Does it still exist and, if so, does he recognise that government policy is currently contradictory?

Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I will speak briefly to oppose Amendment 150. I am sure that noble Lords will listen very carefully to the arguments that have not yet been made. I should make it clear that I speak as someone who is firmly in favour of foreign students. I agree with much of what my noble friend Lord Hannay had to say, and it is hard to disagree with most of the contributions that we have heard this afternoon from people who run universities and colleges, who know students and who are absolutely clear about the benefits of foreign students. I agree with that.

However, that is not the issue. The issue is whether there is a problem here in relation to immigration—a massive issue for the public—and, if so, what should be done about it? Is it sensible, viable or feasible to make immigration policy by legislation? I rather doubt that, and if your Lordships look a little more carefully at this amendment, you will see that there are matters in it that do not square up with the reality of how the immigration system works and really go beyond legal matters in terms of trying to suggest what policies should be.

The first, most incredibly obvious, point to make—and it has not been made yet—is that any student who comes here, does his course, maybe works for a while and then goes home, does not contribute to net migration. They are counted in and they are counted out: they do not make any difference to net migration. What is more, all of our competitor countries mentioned today—Canada, the United States, and Australia—include, by the way in which they calculate their immigration figures, their students who stay on. There is no question about that. Therefore, the issue for public policy is, surely, how many do stay on illegally, not how many stay on legally. As my noble friend Lord Bilimoria mentioned, that is a matter, at the moment, of intense scrutiny by the ONS and the Home Office, and rightly so. That issue needs to be resolved. If there is a serious degree of overstaying, that has to be dealt with. If the statistics are weak, then we need to change our tune and perhaps change our policy.

It is not clear to me what, in practice, this amendment is intended to achieve; in the real world, the ONS will continue to use the international passenger survey in order to assess the flow of students in both directions—exactly the same definitions used by all of our competitors. If the amendment is intended to mean that students should be ignored, both on their arrival and on their departure, there is simply no measure whatever of whether they contribute to net migration or not. As international students from outside the EU now contribute 46,000 a year to net migration, it is a significant number. We do not know whether that is accurate, but it is a significant part of the case and needs to be considered.

Therefore, this proposed new clause will not clarify matters: it will only add to confusion over the numbers. If its only purpose is, as some noble Lords have suggested, to require the Government, when all the numbers are put together, to put into a separate paragraph those who are students, that is fine, but that is a political decision, not a matter for legislation. Whoever takes that decision is going to have to say, “Now wait a minute: what happens if we actually do that?”. I can think of one or two newspapers that might add them straight back in and then accuse the Government of fiddling the figures. That needs to be borne in mind.

Lastly, subsection (3) of the proposed new clause seeks to legislate to prevent any tightening of conditions for foreign students. Surely that is a matter for policy and not law. The House will be aware, I hope, that there are very strong pressures on our immigration system and, in particular, that there has been widespread abuse at the college level. The National Audit Office estimated that in one year, to 2010, about 50,000 students from the Indian subcontinent came here to work rather than to study. That largely explains the drop in students from India, which has been referred to once or twice. The House certainly knows that 900 bogus colleges have lost their licence to bring in foreign students. That is a massive number. This has been a scandal that has gone on for years and I very much regret that from the academic lobby, which should be powerful, accurate and on the case, hardly a word have we heard. I sometimes wonder whether some of the stuff put out by Universities UK gives a negative impression of our universities. These are the people who have been complaining and complaining for six years—of course foreign students are going to think that something is up and they are not terribly welcome.

I turn now to the university level, which I think is what most noble Lords have been talking about. We cannot preclude the possibility that there will, in future, be scams that apply to universities. Noble Lords will remember, I hope, that in 2011-12 the highly trusted sponsor licences were suspended from Glasgow Caledonian University, Teesside University and London Metropolitan University. Why? Because they had been on the fiddle. What will happen in the future if this amendment is passed and a raft of smaller, less distinguished universities than those mentioned by my noble friends start fiddling the system, one way or another? The Government’s hands will be bound by law. That cannot possibly make any sense.

In my view, these amendments do not amount to scrutiny nor to holding the Government to account. Rather, they are an attempt to make policy by legislation. I suggest to the House—and I am not in a majority tonight—that that is wrong both in practice and in principle.

Lobbying: Government Grant Agreements

Lord Krebs Excerpts
Tuesday 19th April 2016

(8 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Bridges of Headley Portrait Lord Bridges of Headley
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I heed what the noble Lord is saying. I have certainly received concerns, as have other Ministers, from the research and academic community. Clearly, the implementation of this clause as regards science and research is a matter for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Let me tell your Lordships that it is not the department’s nor the Government’s intention for research councils, the Higher Education Funding Council or the national academies to be covered by this clause. Ministers in BIS are continuing to engage with the academic research community and they will outline more detail by 1 May.

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

My Lords, could the Minister tell this House at what point in the process the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Mark Walport, was consulted about the impact on scientific research? Could the Minister also inform the House of Sir Mark’s response?

Lord Bridges of Headley Portrait Lord Bridges of Headley
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sorry to say that I cannot go into great detail on that, as I am not furnished with that information. However, obviously there have been conversations with Sir Mark and others in the scientific community.

Housing and Planning Bill

Lord Krebs Excerpts
Wednesday 23rd March 2016

(8 years, 2 months ago)

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

My Lords, I am grateful that we have the opportunity to discuss these amendments this evening. While my name is to both of them, I shall speak only to Amendment 119.

The Government have rightly launched a national flood resilience review, which is due to report in the summer, but that review will come too late if the Bill paves the way for 1 million new homes without due regard for their flood resilience. New homes increase flood risks for developments and for surrounding communities. Concreting over a catchment speeds up run-off, increasing the likelihood of flooding. After the 2007 floods, the flooding review by Sir Michael Pitt recommended sustainable drainage as a way forward, which moved the Government to bring forward the Flood and Water Management Act. It was suggested in the Act that there should be further use of SuDS, with soakaways such as swales, ponds and other natural means to ensure that sewer networks were not overwhelmed during periods of heavy rainfall. We all know that well-designed SuDS can contribute to water quality, to coping with overheating and to biodiversity. But this Government delayed implementation and then abandoned that approach altogether, in favour of an “expectation” that major planning applications would include SuDS.

This was not because of the costs. Defra recognised, in its own consultation document, that,

“sustainable drainage systems are generally cheaper to build; and maintaining them will be cheaper (or need be no more expensive), than the … cost … required”,

in conventional drainage. The result of this expectation that the SuDS approach would work is that last year Barratt Homes, the UK’s leading housebuilder, included no provision whatever for sustainable drainage in a third of its developments. The Committee on Climate Change has analysed 100 planning applications in areas of flood risks and found that fewer than 15% proposed SuDS. If the Government wish to challenge that evidence, what monitoring are they doing at a national level of the uptake of SuDS?

The National Policy for the Built Environment Committee of the House of Lords, on which I and other noble Lords sat, has looked at this issue. In its report last month, it argued that the Government should take a more proactive approach to the provision of SuDS. In legislating to provide for new homes, we must seek to contain the time to plan for them—absolutely. But we need a process ensuring that new homes are built to a standard that will protect them from flood risks and not exacerbate risks for established communities. I shall not list the many organisations which have written to the Minister in support of this amendment, because we do not have time. I will merely beg to move and hope that other Members might pick up some of the points that I know need to be raised.

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

My Lords, I shall speak briefly to this because the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, has made most of the points that I would want to make. My name is also on Amendment 119 and I would like to go on to refer to Amendment 120, on which my name comes first. But to add briefly to what the noble Baroness has said, the real problem is that developers still have the automatic right to connect to the existing sewerage system. We know from estimates that more than half the existing sewers are already overloaded. While developers have the automatic right to connect, they are not incentivised to look at other ways of managing surface water flooding. Furthermore, when SuDS are installed, there is no clarity in the current regime about who should pay for the maintenance once they have been built. In any case, the current guidance applies only to developments of 10 homes or more, so small urban infill developments which could be creating some of the biggest long-term problems are not covered. Around 100,000 minor planning applications are approved each year which are not subject to the new safeguards.

So the aim of this amendment is to ensure that SuDS are the default option in new developments and to help achieve this by removing the automatic right to connect to existing sewerage systems. Connecting new developments to existing sewers should be the absolute exception, once other options have been exhausted.

I turn to Amendment 120 on developer liability. This amendment focuses on the long-term costs for society arising from continuing development in the flood plain and presents a simple, workable proposal to address the current lack of incentive for developers to make new properties safe and resilient to flooding. We know that, at the moment, more than 100,000 homes have been built in the flood plain since 2008—28,000 of these in areas at a greater than one-in-100 annual chance of flooding, taking into account the protection provided by any flood defences. The consequences are that, in the long run, owners of new homes are being exposed to unnecessary flooding risk.

A one-in-100-year chance sounds very small. We have to remember that this is the chance of flooding in a particular place. If there are 100 such places, then there is the likelihood that someone will get flooded every single year. In fact, in this century, we have already had 12 significant flood events in 15 years. If we carry on as at present, we can more or less guarantee that someone, somewhere, is going to suffer the trauma of flood damage each year.

Data are not collected on whether or not new homes that are built in flood plains are made resilient. I declare an interest as the chairman of the adaptation sub-committee of the Committee on Climate Change As has already been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, our data suggest that fewer than 15% of new homes have been built with sustainable urban drainage systems.

Are we putting too much faith in flood defences to protect new developments, when they are typically built to a one-in-100-year standard? There is evidence that developers and planners are taking what might be called a compliance approach to flood risk— following the process but putting too much faith in limited protection from flood defences and not taking into account the uncertainty in even the best flood models.

A recent example, of which I am sure noble Lords are well aware, is Bridge End Court, a residential care home and sheltered development in Cockermouth. It was built in the meander of the River Derwent, on land that had flooded badly in 2009, on the very edge of a flood zone 3, where it would not have been deemed appropriate development. After the 2009 flood, the local authority had the chance to require the development to go elsewhere but it allowed it to go ahead in the same place. In spite of the ground floor supposedly being set above the height of even a one-in-1,000-year flood, the care home was flooded in December and the residents had to be rescued.

What constitutes a one-in-1,000 standard is highly uncertain. This is where developers come in. Developers are required to produce a flood risk assessment for a site, but they bear no liability if they take risks or simply get it wrong. The assumptions in the flood models that underpin a flood risk assessment can be selected either to increase the assessment of flood risk or to make it appear lower than reality. I should emphasise that I have seen no evidence that developers are manipulating flood risk assessments but, in principle, they could.

It is worth noting some Environment Agency figures. The Environment Agency has to be consulted on developments and it objects to about 3,000 applications per year on grounds of flood risk. In a sample of nearly 1,700 objections between 2009 and 2013, 20% of those objections were because the developer had produced no flood risk assessment whatever and 54% of them were objected to because the flood risk assessment was unsatisfactory. Among the reasons they were unsatisfactory were that they did not take into account future sea level rise, future increases in river flows or future increases in surface water flooding.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Porter of Spalding Portrait Lord Porter of Spalding
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I do not know how to add this new interest into the debate, but at some point, I will have another company set up that will put me back into doing small-scale development with my son-in-law. The accountants are working on it now, and I am going to put this in the register as soon as it is done, but noble Lords need to know it now, because I am going to speak specifically from a developer’s point of view—even though, technically, I am not yet a developer. I am also going to speak as the leader of South Holland District Council, which covers an area that, if we were not allowed to build on flood plains, would become a ghost town, because we are on a flood plain. We would build nothing anywhere in my patch if we followed the idea that, notionally, the designation of a flood plain by the Environment Agency was true and accurate.

We have not flooded since 1947; adequate flood management schemes can deal with it. Amendment 120 would create companies set up to build one development that would then go bankrupt—and, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, said, on that basis we would have to insure against that, so that would add more expense in some areas disproportionately to others.

If I remember rightly, where we are sitting now is also on a flood plain, so all of the people around this area would also be moved out of town if we applied that. We cannot be frightened by water; we have to manage it properly. We cannot retreat from it. We are people and we can deal with it, and we cannot deal with it just by saying, “You can’t build anything anywhere”, which Amendment 120 would have us do; or create perverse incentives to get people to set up businesses that are going to go out of business every time they earn some money.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs
- Hansard - -

My Lords, perhaps I may respond briefly to that last comment. I do not think that Amendment 120 in any sense precludes building on a flood plain. It simply asks—and provides a possible answer—to the question of who should bear the liability if somebody buys a house that has just been built in a flood-risk area and that house floods. While it might be true that, in the noble Lord’s particular area, there has not been a flood since 1947, that does not mean to say that there will not be a flood next year. The people who bought homes that were built recently in those areas should have some form of protection. That is what the amendment is trying to provide.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I shall deal first with some of the latter remarks. Following December’s floods, it was clear that the rules that we thought applied did not apply, and that what we thought were blip events were becoming trend events. Therefore, there were lessons to be learned from both last year’s floods and the previous one-off-event floods. Following the December events, we established the National Flood Resilience Review, led by Oliver Letwin, to assess how the country could be better protected from future flooding and increasingly extreme weather events. This review will identify any gaps in our approach and pinpoint where our defences and modelling need strengthening, allowing us to take prompt action.

I understand the intention behind Amendments 119 and 120, but Amendment 119 seeks to place unnecessary provisions into the Bill, as national planning policy has already been strengthened to deliver sustainable drainage systems, and there would be problems with implementing the second proposal.

On Amendment 119, following enactment of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010, proposals to implement the provisions under Section 32 and Schedule 3 were put out to public consultation. The response to that consultation gave rise to a number of issues. These included the potential impact on the delivery of new development under a system that required the approval of sustainable drainage systems under a consenting regime separate from that for approving planning applications. There were concerns that this could add undue delay to the consenting process and impact on the speed of planning decisions.

The coalition Government listened to that response and in the autumn of 2014 put forward for consultation a new proposal to make better use of the existing planning system to deliver sustainable drainage systems, otherwise known as SuDS. In the light of the response to that consultation and a subsequent government announcement in December 2014, national planning policy was strengthened with effect from April 2015. The strengthened policy makes clear the expectation that SuDS will be provided in all major new developments, such as developments of 10 dwellings or more, unless demonstrated to be inappropriate, and it ensures that clear arrangements are in place for ongoing maintenance over the lifetime of the development.

This strengthened policy applies alongside the existing policy expectation that SuDS will be given priority in new developments in flood-risk areas, as well as the drainage requirements of building regulations. Despite the strengthened planning policy, the amendment would require provisions for a new consenting regime for sustainable drainage systems to be brought into effect before important provisions in the Bill could come into force.

We need to give these new arrangements time to show that they can work effectively. We are meeting key stakeholders to gauge their views on how the changes are bedding in, and we will undertake similar reviews at intervals in the future. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, asked where the reviewing process had got to. As I said, we have taken the views of key stakeholders and we intend to have a more in-depth review in a year’s time, which will be two years post change.

Behaviour Change: Science and Technology Committee Report

Lord Krebs Excerpts
Wednesday 11th July 2012

(11 years, 11 months ago)

Grand Committee
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I, too, wish to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, for chairing the committee and for leading us to produce an excellent and important report.

The idea of using insights from behavioural science to affect public policy is by no means new. Back in the middle of the last century, the influential American psychologist, BF Skinner, wrote a utopian novel, Walden Two, in which he described a society in which, to use a phrase often quoted by the Prime Minister, everyone was persuaded to do the right thing through what Skinner called behavioural engineering. So we are not talking about new territory but about a different approach to the territory of using insights from behavioural science to affect public policy.

As has already been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, a traditional approach, apart from banning activities, is to use financial incentives, taxes or subsidies to persuade people to do the right thing—carrots or sticks—or to use information campaigns to appeal to our sense of reason. If we are told it is bad to smoke or bad to drink and drive, the reasoning human being will perhaps stop doing so. Certainly taxation, in the right setting, has an effect; information campaigns have a rather limited effect, as has already been said.

However, the newer approaches that we looked at, as the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, said, draw on insights from disciplines such as marketing—how companies persuade consumers to buy more of their products—insights from behavioural economics and insights from psychology, all of which converge on tapping-in not to our thinking mind but to our reflexive, semi-automatic responses and inbuilt biases. For example, all of us in this Room have a bias discount into the future: rewards now are more valuable than rewards in the far distant future. All of us are more averse to losses than we are to gains. It is more painful to have someone take £100 away from you than to have someone never give you £100 in the first place.

All of us are influenced by social mores. Why did I buy an iPhone two or three years ago? It was not because I needed an iPhone but because all my friends had an iPhone—apart from my noble friend Lord May—and I felt that I had to have one.

Another aspect on which this new area of research into human behaviour has focused is identifying barriers. We live in a society in which we are confronted with choice, but choice is often illusory. Going back to mobile phones, how many noble Lords in this Room know whether they have the best phone tariff? The answer is that none of them does. There are estimated to be at least 7 million possible tariff combinations, so how can you possibly make an informed choice? We therefore use simple rules of thumb such as opting for a brand that is familiar. The question is whether these insights into human behaviour are effective in influencing public policy.

At lunchtime, I went over to talk to David Halpern, the head of the Behavioural Insights Team at No.10, informally known as the “nudge unit”. There are two bits of good news that I have to convey. First, the nudge unit is carrying out proper, randomised control trials through different government departments. One point that we drew out in our report on lack of good evidence is beginning to make progress. Secondly, there are some clear successes using these insights into human behaviour, such as increasing the proportion of court fines paid and positive responses to requests for income tax, as well as encouraging people to relicense their cars and take up loft insulation. So there are some success stories as a result of using these new insights into human behaviour.

I want to talk about one of our two case studies to which the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, has already referred, on obesity. Will the softer approaches using our subconscious biases, preferences and rules of thumb help to tackle this massive health problem? I do not need to repeat the facts, but I will. It is estimated by the Government that 40% of adults in this country will be obese by 2025; the estimated cost to the NHS, already referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, is £2 billion a year by 2030. Of course, the reason for that is that many non-communicable diseases are influenced by obesity, and in the United States it is considered the second largest cause of preventable premature death after smoking. So it is an immense public health problem, not just in this country.

Our report highlights two things. First, not just this Government but successive Governments have made little or no progress in tackling this major health problem at the population level. So it is a huge challenge, which we have not yet managed to conquer. Secondly, on a point that has already been summarised by others, we saw little or no evidence that the softer approaches—the nudges—will really have an effect on their own.

I refer to two examples that have been alluded to by the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger—traffic lights and advertising to children. When I was chairman of the Food Standards Agency, I was involved in trying to persuade the Government and industry to behave responsibly on food labelling and advertising food to children. The mere fact that the food industry was averse to traffic lights gave me the answer. If the industry does not like traffic lights, they must tell consumers something that consumers would like to know but that the industry does not want consumers to know about its food. We did a review at the Food Standards Agency into the impact of advertising and promotion of food to children, and the food industry commissioned its own review to show that advertising has no effect. I said to people in the industry, “Then why on earth are you spending all this money doing it if it has no effect whatever?” I rest my case.

So what does work with obesity, if it is not going to be nudging and the softer approaches? There are three recent reviews in the British Medical Journal. One is on the effectiveness of different kinds of nudges, or providing information. One that may have some effect is the one that we have alluded to—simple nutrition labelling. Another that may have some effect is portion sizing. There is good evidence that if you serve smaller portions people eat less. Since part of the obesity problem is eating too much, that would be a good thing to do. There is some modest evidence on positioning, and that if you put sweets low down at the checkout counter, as Marks and Spencer does in Oxford, it encourages young children to eat sweets. There is some evidence that priming, or giving people alerting signals before they start to eat in a restaurant on what their dietary goals might be, can have modest effects. But all these are relatively modest.

Another review looks at a measure that does have a significant effect and is exactly parallel to a measure alluded to by previous speakers on alcohol—namely, taxation. Eleven countries have now introduced taxes on fattening foods that contain a lot of sugar or fat. These include Denmark, Hungary, France, Finland and 23 states in the United States. The review in the BMJ suggests that a tax level of at least 20% is required to have an effect, rather like the minimum price for alcohol to which the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, referred. One advantage of taxing unhealthy foods is that it would drive the industry to reformulate foods to avoid the taxes, just as the campaign that the Food Standards Agency started and the Department of Health has taken over to reduce salt in food has caused companies to reformulate their processed food to take salt out of it. Is the taxation of unhealthy foods a regressive tax? After all, those who consume these high-fat, high-sugar foods tend to be the poorest in our society. One could argue that if it dissuades them from eating such food, we are helping the less well off and furthermore, the Government could use the revenue to support the poorest in society. So measures could be taken to tackle the obesity crisis but they are tougher than nudging.

The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, referred to smoking. The change of prevalence in smoking in this country has been brought about by a combination of taxation, legislation and education. There are two other success stories of government policy in changing behaviour in the population, the first of which is drink-driving. When I was a student at Oxford University we would go to a pub in the country and the landlord would say, “Would you like to have one for the road, sir?”. That is inconceivable today. Why has our drink-driving culture changed? It is because of the introduction of legislation and the breathalyser as part of that legislation. The third example, on top of smoking and drink-driving is the wearing of seat belts. It was not just “Clunk Click, Every Trip” from Jimmy Savile, but people could be fined or penalised for not wearing a seat belt. Now most people when getting into a car wear seat belts without thinking about it.

Does the Minister consider that stronger measures will have to be taken to deal with the problem of obesity and would the Government consider following the 11 other countries in introducing a tax on unhealthy foods as an instrument to achieve change? Nobody has yet talked about transport but that is the other case study in our report. Does the Minister agree that softer approaches such as nudging will not really move people out of their cars on to public transport, their bikes or their feet? Success stories from other countries show that Copenhagen spent £40 per person year on year to achieve a modal shift in transport to get people on to bikes or walking. The average local authority in this country spends one-fortieth of that—£1 per person per year in providing alternative forms of transport. I hope that the Minister will answer those questions for us.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I take the noble Lord’s point that perhaps the government response should have taken more care with the question of data. There is another debate to be had—I encourage all Members of the Committee to participate in it more actively—about government data collection, government data sharing and access to government data which relates to the census and questions of privacy. We all need to engage in that debate because government is now collecting a great deal more data, as are private actors. Government behaves with much more caution about the use of that data than Tesco or Marks and Spencer. As with obesity, there are important questions as to how far we lower privacy issues in government in order to gain benefits in public health and elsewhere.

I mentioned the White Paper Test, Learn, Adapt, which has been recommended by Ben Goldacre and Tim Harford. That suggests to me that there are those in the media who recognise the importance of government data and at least think we are attempting to move in the right direction.

The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, talked about corporate power and how to confront it. That is also part of a much larger issue. We are left with business and the media setting a large amount of what becomes the social norm. The power of advertising—and advertising is absolutely about covert nudging as opposed to overt messaging—is an issue that again we cannot answer here. It is fundamental to our debate about the balance between government, society and market, in which that we all need to engage. I look forward to the noble Lord’s next written contribution on that fundamental issue.

The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, talked about the international dimensions of behavioural influence and cultural change and whether we should be following US research. There is a fair amount of independent research in this area. The German Marshall Fund does some very good research, which I follow. There are some mildly puzzling outcomes. From the surveys that I have seen, the most pro-Western public in the entire Middle East is the urban population of Iran. Whether or not that suggests that the behavioural impact you should be having is to impose sanctions on the regime, it raises some very large questions about what policies and interventions you pursue and what you get back in return. I will feed that back in.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, raised a number of questions about transport, which I have touched on. Government studies have shown that cost, time and reliability are clearly very important factors. There is some evidence for providing better, simple information. The new signs at bus stops which tell you when the next bus will arrive increase the number of people who wait for the bus. That is another nudge if you like. Information helps.

David Halpern, the head of the Behavioural Insights Team, is very interested in the built environment and how far it impacts upon behaviour. That is a really difficult, long-term issue, the sort of thing that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, was talking about. Redesigning public spaces and how you design footpaths and cycle ways help with this, but part of the answer to improving the urban environment and encouraging people to walk rather than use cars is persuading them to live more closely together and not to wish to live 10 to 20 miles from where they work.

Another area in which the provision of information would help—and here government has a great deal further to go—is on the concreting of front gardens, which over the past 20 or 30 years has contributed very substantially to the problems of urban flooding. The provision of information about the utility of digging up your front garden again and providing green spaces through which the water can drain is clearly something that government can do without enforcing it.

I love the term “cognitive polyphasia”. We are all stuck with that. As someone who, when in opposition, campaigned for the pedestrianisation of further squares in London and, in particular, of Parliament Square, I am conscious that there are a number of people who think that it is very good to have pedestrianisation so long as they can still get their limousine to take them to St Margaret’s for weddings and do not have to spend two to three minutes longer in their taxi from Smith Square. Individuals often resist things that in the long run will be to their advantage.

This is a broad initiative of government—I stress of government because it is not a partisan move from this Government. We all want to find ways in which the range of government interventions—from information through to pressures and financial disincentives to tighter regulation and, in some cases, prohibition and penalties, as in seat belts and some areas of health—will help to change behaviour. That is not something that the Government can do alone. We have to work with publics whose attitudes are often highly contradictory and whose willingness to accept evidence when presented as mediated through the media is sometimes relatively limited.

What I hope that the Committee is persuaded of, into which the report provided a useful insight, is that this is one of the many tools available for government which helps government to be more self-conscious. The Behavioural Insights Team is in the Cabinet Office to provide a resource across government and its many departments to encourage them to use more of those interventions to affect behaviour. On that basis, I give way to both noble Lords.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs
- Hansard - -

Will the Minister respond specifically to my question about the 11 countries that have introduced taxes on foods that specifically contribute to obesity—high sugar, high fat foods? Might the Government follow the lead of other countries in tackling the obesity crisis by that measure?