Lord Randall of Uxbridge Portrait Lord Randall of Uxbridge (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I start by declaring my interest as in the register, particularly in relation to this amendment, as the president of the Colne Valley Regional Park, where we have had a lot of issues over water quality and the streams. Over the weekend, I was asked to join the advisory board of River Action UK, to replace, I think, my noble friend Lord Benyon, who as a Defra Minister cannot hold that position. I look forward to joining that group and working on this.

This is a very useful debate on a subject close to my heart, and I congratulate the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, and my noble friend Lady Altmann, on supporting him and signing the amendment with him. We have a lot of problems—and, as we have heard, they are not just around water quality, though we do have a real problem with that. We have heard about sewage discharge and run-off, and we have heard about the River Wye and the run-off from battery chicken farms. Those are all incredibly important and worrying things. But we also have problems around abstraction. The problems of abstraction and river quality have affected us locally in the Colne Valley, with the aquifer that has been compromised, seemingly, by HS2. As I said at Second Reading, that has only recently been admitted and made public—thanks, particularly, to a local campaign.

We also have an issue around Heathrow, which is not mentioned very often. I can remember many years ago, when I was the MP for the area, being asked to have a look at where the settling pools are. The run-off comes from washing aircraft with very highly toxic chemicals to de-ice the planes, and it goes into the settling pools just on the edge of Heathrow. Unfortunately, from time to time, they overflow in times of excessive rain and flow into local river courses. I understand from a recent discussion I had that that is no longer happening—but these are always risks, and things that we do not always think about.

The problem of sewage has been mentioned. We have had problems whereby a hotel or housing development has been misconnected and sewage has run, untreated, straight into our local rivers. It is also worth mentioning that before she was a Minister, the Minister in the other place, Rebecca Pow, raised with me the question of where hairdressers put all the chemicals that they use in their basins. She referred in particular to ladies’ hairdressers, I think—as noble Lords can see from my appearance, I am somewhat hirsute and not too bothered about hair; I just get a quick trim. These are all very important issues.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, has just said, we are aware of the state of the water in rivers, but actually it does not matter how far up the Thames you go because any river can have these sewage discharges. What concerns me is the wild swimmers, kayakers, fishermen and, as happened locally last weekend, children in low-level water filling up their water pistols—they are more like water sub-machine guns these days—and firing them happily at each other, probably ingesting some of the water. It would be no surprise to me if some of them come down with gastroenteritis or even worse. I hope that that does not happen.

With regard to fishermen, I have to pay a tribute. In the Colne Valley, the Colne Valley Fisheries Consultative and its chairman Tony Booker, as well as Paul Jennings of the River Chess Association, have really pushed on this and made everyone aware of it.

There is a problem: the Environment Agency is vastly underfunded these days, I am afraid to say. I am sure that, when the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, was in charge, it had more funds and was more able to deal with some of these incidents. There almost seems to be a lack of interest now, or perhaps it is just a lack of resources, which means that it does not follow up some of these cases.

We have got to take these things seriously. I entirely understand that there is probably a better set of amendments, including the Government’s own later, but I wanted to put down a marker to show that I consider this to be extremely important. If we were sitting here in 1858, with the Great Stink going on, before Joseph Bazalgette came in with his plans for the sewerage of London, we would all be taking this a great deal more seriously.

Lord Wigley Portrait Lord Wigley (PC) [V]
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My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, not down the road of the Great Stink but certainly on his references to his river experiences. I am delighted to support this amendment and thank the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, for tabling it. He spoke eloquently at Second Reading on the issue of the cleanliness of our rivers; I was pleased to support him then and do so now with enthusiasm.

The need to keep our rivers clean, as part of environment policy, is self-evident. Persistent reports of pollution impacting on river life, killing off fish stocks, affecting surrounding lands and environments and even causing health problems to people—particularly children, as has just been mentioned—swimming in rivers are a worrying feature of our contemporary world.

Obviously, there may be implications for landowners, particularly farmers, whose land abuts our rivers—but the overwhelming majority of such people also want to secure clean rivers. If the necessary steps are properly negotiated, they can surely be agreed. The Government should not steer shy of dealing with this issue in the mistaken belief that they will face severe opposition from countryside interests.

Equally, industrial interests must not stand in the way of cleaning up our rivers. Let us reiterate without equivocation that the polluter pays principle must be applied with such force that it becomes a real deterrent. Our water companies must equally be held to account. I want to learn from the Minister what new, effective action to reduce such pollution will emanate from this Bill and who will be responsible in practice for enforcing its provisions in this regard.

As the Minister might expect, I invite him to clarify how he and his department will co-operate with the Welsh Government in relation to rivers that run across the border. Most of them run from Wales into England, but not all and, as river pollution is no respecter of political borders, we must have an agreed approach that respects the wishes of Governments on both sides of the border but also ensures that we work coherently to reduce and, we hope, eliminate the tragic pollution of our rivers.

Incidentally, I have no problem whatever with having UK, or at least GB, standards for these purposes, provided that those targets can be achieved by constructive negotiation by the three, or possibly four, Governments with responsibility for various aspects of environmental policy in Britain.

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Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to take part in this debate, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, for initiating it. I think it has been very useful and I truly appreciate the passion with which he desires to see public engagement with, and understanding of, this Bill. I very much appreciate that. A number of noble Lords have said we need this Bill to be both precise and intelligible, and when we draw on the legal side of things I am very much influenced, as I often am, by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, who suggested that in legal terms “nature” would not achieve what “biodiversity” would.

I am going to bring a biological consideration, that being my intellectual foundation to this, and may complicate this debate further by pointing out that where we sit right now at this very moment is, in one definition, a part of nature—we are human animals and the rest of the animal species on this planet are non-human animals—as it is something we created. It is an ecosystem we have created. However, I am not going to go too far down that road, as I fear that may be a debate more fit for the Bishops’ Bar when it re-opens than this Chamber today.

I want to raise the issue that the noble Lord’s amendment brings to the fore, which is the definition of “biodiversity” and, specifically, to explore further what the Government’s understanding of biodiversity is. I can address some questions that have been raised about where this term come from. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, suggested that some things are called “biological diversity” and some things are called “biodiversity”. The term “biodiversity” was coined in 1985, and it is a contraction of “biological diversity”. Without being a lawyer, I do not think there is a legal contradiction between using those two terms interchangeably.

What is not always sufficiently understood is that biodiversity is not just having lots of species. There is sometimes a feeling that we are protecting diversity when there is this really rare moth, and there are three reserves where we are saving it, so that is all right because we are saving biodiversity. If we look at what biodiversity is in a much broader sense, it starts at the level of genes. If you look at a magnificent, enormous murmuration of starlings, should you still be lucky enough to have such a thing, or a wonderful flock of sparrows—ditto—then, although it cannot be seen, in the depths there is great genetic diversity. It is something that keeps that species healthy, and if you get population numbers down to a tiny level a very important part of biodiversity is lost. The interchange of genes is lost if you have a series of isolated populations.

It is really important to have the species to have the genes, but biodiversity is also complete ecosystems. These are systems, such as savannah and woodland, that have developed over billions of years, have complex interrelationships and interrelate to their physical environment. That is all biodiversity as well. This is what has made the earth habitable over billions of years and is what some people call Gaia. To look at this in a way that those of a more literary bent in your Lordships’ House might find familiar, this is a library of life. It a library of ideas and a library of ways of interrelating. It has been said that what we are doing by destroying biodiversity is burning through the library of life. So, I would really like to see, perhaps in the Minister’s answer, or perhaps later in writing, a lot more from the Government about their understanding of what protecting biodiversity means. They must make sure that the target for biodiversity—assuming the Bill goes through in its current form—really addresses the different levels and ways in which we need to understand biodiversity, and does not boil down to “Well, we have three reserves for this rare moth and that will do.”

Lord Randall of Uxbridge Portrait Lord Randall of Uxbridge (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I support my noble friend’s Amendment 5, to which I added my name. It is always good to follow my noble friend in his wise words. I have to say, though, that I rather feel out of my depth in this debate. I thought that it was going to be quite a simple subject, but I should have thought that we have such experts in your Lordships' House. I have been listening to the legal side of things, which I have little understanding of, while making law, and the excellent speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, on a much more scientific, biological aspect.

I come at this with a view that we want to make things simple. We are going to come, in the group following the next, on to a connection with nature. That is my biggest concern. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said that the word “biodiversity” arrived in 1985. I was not a young man, necessarily, when it first appeared, and I had been used to using other words. I have been involved in this environmental field as an amateur for all my life, and I accept “biodiversity”—I use it myself—but I am not sure that the people we want to connect more with nature do understand it. I would say to those noble Lords who have mentioned international things that the European Union introduced Natura 2000; it did not call it “Biodiversitas 2000” or anything else. “Natura” and “nature” have their place. I would regard myself as an amateur naturalist; I do not know how you would say I am an “amateur biodiversity person”.

I think this has been a very useful debate. I end up more confused, though that is a position I often find myself in, listening to debates. But I have to say that there is a real need for us to make sure that our fellow citizens understand that the environment is about what they hold dear—and that is nature. When I was at school, we had nature study; we did not have biodiversity study. But I admit that I am not in the first flush of youth.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB) [V]
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My Lords, one could argue that what is good enough for Sir David Attenborough is good enough for this Bill. Sir David’s 2020 TV programme “Extinction”, in which he talked about biodiversity, was watched by 4.5 million viewers on its premier. Those people, and the millions more who have watched it subsequently, will have some idea of what biodiversity is.

Although I do not support this amendment for the reasons that my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead so clearly articulated, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, for tabling the amendment, because it provides me with an opportunity, following the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, to ask the Minister to clarify precisely what the Government mean when they talk about biodiversity. As my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead said, words do matter. If the Government are to maintain the term “biodiversity” in this Bill, which I hope they will, please could they explain what it actually means?

I am now going to get a little bit technical. Ecologists recognise a number of different, but interrelated, meanings of the word “biodiversity”. At its simplest, it refers to what is called “species richness”—simply the number of species inhabiting a defined geographical area, such as England. A more sophisticated variant of species richness takes into account the relative abundance of different species. On this measure, an area populated by one extremely common species and, say, five very rare ones will be less biodiverse than if all six species were roughly equally abundant.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, has already said, biodiversity can also include genetic diversity within a species. For instance, one might be particularly interested in preserving subspecies that are unique to this island, such as the native pied wagtail, motacilla alba Yarrelli. Furthermore, biodiversity might encompass the genetic distinctiveness of species, by placing a premium on species with no close living relatives on the planet, or on endemic species, such as eudarcia Richardsoni, a micro-moth found only in Dorset.

Finally, biodiversity might encompass the diversity of habitats, such as woodland, heath, peatbog and intertidal marshes, found within a geographical area. Many ecologists distinguish between what they call alpha diversity—species richness within a habitat—and beta diversity, which is diversity between habitats.

I hope that the Minister, in his response, or afterwards in writing, will explain what the Government mean when they talk about biodiversity. At the same time, it would be helpful if he could explain the difference between biodiversity and species abundance, as introduced in Amendment 22, which we will debate later.

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It would be incredible if the biodiversity targets within this clause did not include a terrestrial target. I cannot imagine that the Government would just have a maritime biodiversity target and ignore the whole of terrestrial England. The amendment is quite straightforward: let us not make the choice here between two critical biospheres—ecological systems—that are different but equally important. Quite simply, let us make sure that we have a maritime biodiversity indicator as well as that terrestrial one, which I welcome and is bound to come forward as part of the Bill. I beg to move.
Lord Randall of Uxbridge Portrait Lord Randall of Uxbridge (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I will speak to my Amendment 10. I am grateful to my noble friends Lord Carrington and Lord Taylor of Holbeach, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, for signing it.

It is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. We spent quite a long time on the Fisheries Act, as it now is. I think I would say “marine” rather than “maritime” as a concept—“maritime” has more connotations to do with ships and so forth. But “marine” and “terrestrial” also join together, and of course, there are the shores. This issue could be solved, quite frankly, by my noble friend the Minister making it quite clear exactly what is covered by this.

Amendment 10 deals with light pollution, which has increased from a variety of sources, including domestic residences, public infrastructure—particularly lighting along roads and motorways—and industrial activity, such as energy infrastructure. Much of the earth’s population is affected by light pollution. Some 80% of the world’s population now live under sky glow and nearly every European cannot experience a natural night sky from where they live. I have not seen the night sky properly where I live—except possibly in a power cut—but when I occasionally go up to Norfolk, along the coast I am blessed to be able to see the night sky in all its glory.

In recent years, evidence of the impact of light pollution on species and ecosystems has grown and consolidated. Increased artificial light at night is directly linked to measurable negative impacts on energy consumption, obviously, human health and wildlife such as bats, birds, insects and plants. Unnecessary artificial light increases financial costs and contributes to greenhouse emissions. Light pollution should be treated with the same disdain with which we treat all other forms of pollution.

Among other organisations that I belong to, I am a member of Buglife, a charity devoted to the protection of insects. I am pleased to say that this week is National Insect Week. Studies from Germany suggest that a third of insects attracted to street lights and other fixed light sources will die. This results in the death of an estimated 100 billion insects in Germany every summer. Light pollution is reducing nocturnal pollinator visits to flowers by 62%, in some areas. Again, to show my slightly nerdy side, from time to time I put out a moth trap, but mine is not as successful as those of some of my friends elsewhere, who do not have the same light amount of light coming in from other sources. We know that moths are attracted to light, but that it confuses some.

Glow-worms use luminescence to attract prey and mates. Artificial light can affect their ability to do both. Evidence shows a decline in the abundance of glow-worm populations with increased proximity to artificial light.

Birds that migrate or hunt at night navigate by moonlight and starlight. Artificial light can cause them to fly towards lit areas. Recent research shows more birds migrating over urban, rather than rural, areas. This deviation from traditional routes can have a significant impact on energy levels during migration and lead them to stop in suboptimal habitats.

The US recognises bird strikes against high-rise buildings as a real problem. In Texas, the former First Lady Laura Bush heads a lights-out campaign, twice a year, to encourage high-rise buildings to switch off their lights, so that they do not kill all these migratory birds. Some of the photographs you see of the carnage caused underneath these high-rise buildings are disturbing.

Artificial lighting can cause many problems for bats, including disrupting roosting and feeding behaviour and their movement through the landscape. In the worst cases, it can directly harm these protected species. As all bats in the UK feed on insects, loss of food sources is also a considerable threat.

For us humans, light pollution is negatively impacting astronomy and our ability to observe the stars. To look up on a cloudless night and see the stars is one of the more uplifting pleasures that we can have from childhood onwards.

Many marine species such as crabs and zooplankton are attracted to artificial lights near the shore, from ports or gas facilities, which can disrupt feeding and life cycles. Many noble Lords will have seen, in one of the more recent David Attenborough programmes, the disturbing sight of turtles coming to shore when they are hatched instead of going out to the sea. They are designed to be attracted to moonlight, but are going towards cafes and restaurants, with all their lights, crossing roads and perishing. This is a real problem.

The British Astronomical Association estimates that 90% of the population of the UK are unable to see the Milky Way from where they live. Evidence shows that light exposure at the wrong time has profound impacts on human circadian rhythm, affecting physical and mental functions. Artificial lighting has been linked to trees bursting their buds more than a week early, a magnitude similar to that predicted for 2 degrees centigrade of global warming.

My amendment aims to set a commitment to act on matters that relate to light pollution currently omitted from the Environment Bill. I hope it ensures that the Government produce targets to reduce levels of light pollution in England. The evidence is clear that light pollution has a significant impact on the normal activity of invertebrates, birds, bats and plants, and that these impacts are more than sufficient to require action. It would be a failure not to address this before we have long-term data and doing so would go against the Government’s draft environmental principles, in particular the precautionary principle, but also the prevention and rectification-at-source principles.

The UK does not yet report on light pollution levels. However, measuring light pollution is simple. Satellite images can be used to establish pollution levels and the CPRE has developed a nine-band classification system that could form the basis for monitoring change. Existing policy on light pollution does not provide sufficient guidance and is not strong enough to tackle its increasing impact. Several countries have introduced national policies on light pollution, such as Germany, France, Mexico, South Korea, Croatia and Slovenia. When I was last in France, I noticed that some villages have the designation “village étoile”, which they relish, because people go to them specifically to see the night sky.

The UK’s Environmental Protection Act 1990, as amended, provides local authorities with statutory nuisance powers to address light pollution, but only when harmful to humans or if it “unreasonably and substantially” interferes with the use or enjoyment of a home or other premises. I am afraid this has not resulted in a reduction in general light pollution. The National Planning Policy Framework offers little consideration of light pollution. The only reference states:

“Planning policies and decisions should … limit the impact of light pollution from artificial light on local amenity, intrinsically dark landscapes and nature conservation.”

The last comprehensive consideration of the issue by the Government was the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution’s 2009 report, Artificial Light in the Environment. However, I am afraid that almost none of its recommendations has been implemented.

On national targets, Clause 1 of the Environment Bill provides power for the Secretary of State to “set long-term targets” by regulation, in relation to

“(a) the natural environment, or (b) people’s enjoyment of the natural environment.”

Subsection (2) requires the Secretary of State to set long-term targets in the four priority areas of air quality, water, biodiversity and resource efficiency and waste reduction.

I strongly believe that light pollution should be considered a priority area too, so that the Government are required to set a long-term target to reduce its impact on nature and people’s enjoyment of it. This amendment is designed to achieve that outcome. A national plan intended to prevent, limit and reduce light pollution must include a series of targets and a programme of monitoring. National targets should be set to include no net increase in light pollution and an ambition to increase the number of dark sky reserves.

Finally, I support Amendment 11 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I have my own amendment later in the Bill, Amendment 112, on soil quality, which is as fundamental as anything in the Bill.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I have two amendments in this group. The later one, Amendment 31, concerns the health of our trees and the first, Amendment 12, planting new trees. It requires the Government to put before Parliament an annual report on the progress made towards achieving the initial target of planting new trees.

The extent and health of what is left of our forests, woodland and trees is a matter of deep concern. We all know the essential role trees play in absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, thereby making a vital contribution to slowing down climate change. A mature tree absorbs carbon dioxide at the rate of 48 pounds per year. In one year, an acre of forest can absorb twice the CO2 produced by the average car’s annual mileage. We know in our personal lives how fundamental our trees are for physical health, aesthetic satisfaction and our spiritual well-being.

The Committee on Climate Change has said that we need to raise our current 13% forest cover to 17% by 2050 if we are to have any chance of meeting our climate goals. At the moment, the Government are missing their tree-planting targets by 40 years. If we continue at the current slow rate of tree planting, the Government’s own 2050 targets will not be met until 2091. As those figures show, the number of trees planted each year needs to be very significantly increased.

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Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Watkins of Tavistock) (CB)
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I call the noble Baroness, Lady Quin. She is not here, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge.

Lord Randall of Uxbridge Portrait Lord Randall of Uxbridge (Con) [V]
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Trenchard. I agree with nearly everything he says. That may surprise some noble Lords but, as I think he will understand, I have a great connection with nature. At the age of nine, in 1964, I was made a member of the RSPB by my grandfather. I am still a member—in fact I am a member of the council of the RSPB. Wildlife and nature have virtually become my religion, in the sense of being where I find solace.

However, there is a lot that can still be done on access for those people who cannot get it. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, mentioned public transport. Certainly I have been active in trying to get access for those with disabilities. I am not sure that it is the Government’s job. A lot of the NGOs, including the RSPB itself and the National Trust, are trying their best but it is difficult. As my noble friend Lord Trenchard said, if all people were responsible, more access for walking and so on would be desirable. However, I am afraid that I have seen too many examples—not just in the last year although it has been accentuated—of people who do not know the countryside code and, quite frankly, do not want to know it. I live not in the country but in suburbia. We have some very pleasant walks around our local lake, Little Britain Lake, but it is constantly ruined by picnics and barbecues and so forth. The litter is appalling and ruins the enjoyment of the many people who go there to just wander around and enjoy nature.

Another point I think relevant is that unfettered access is not necessarily good for the natural environment. Again, as my noble friend Lord Trenchard mentioned, where wildlife is concerned, you have to make sure there are some areas without access. You will see it in in reserves and in other places, certainly at breeding times. Again, responsibility comes into it. I am a dog owner myself but I would not let my dog off the lead if there were ground-nesting birds, whether on the shore or indeed on heath-land. Heath-land is another example where you see many paths cut through, where people have just walked all over it—not to mention the dreaded portable barbecues.

Although I want to make sure that people have that connection to nature, we cannot force people. I think there is a role for education, and I have certainly noticed more people being interested—that perhaps goes back to the first debates we had about biodiversity and nature—but it would be unwise to just have unfettered access. I feel extremely sorry for landowners and farmers, and say that I regard the majority of them as custodians of the natural world; there are one or two exceptions but normally they are not individuals that I have come across. We have to be very careful. The idea of getting more people connected with nature is a good one. I am not sure that it should be in the Bill, but I am prepared to see what comes forward.

Lord Young of Norwood Green Portrait Lord Young of Norwood Green (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, as I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Randall, I could not make up my mind—I do not think he could either —about exactly what he wanted. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Scott. She has a point about getting public buy-in, the principle of well-being, and people enjoying the countryside. It is a shared environment. I live next door to the Grand Union Canal and across the road I have access to farmland and so on. Yes, there are people who do not respect that environment; that was one thing on which I agreed with the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard—it is a question of teaching young people the countryside code. However, the basic principle of including a reference to this in the Bill is worth while. I probably agree in this instance with the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, that the Government ought to consider exploring the principle of the right to roam. It is as though we imagine that, as soon as we open up these places, they will be terrorised by people who have no respect for the environment. The reality is that the vast majority of people have, and appreciate it.