Lord Redesdale (LD)
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. He has raised some of the issues that are close to people’s hearts—especially whether the OEP will have the teeth that it needs. I also raise the issue that the Environment Agency has been cut to the bone so savagely that the idea that it will be able to enforce many of the measures is unlikely, which is a failing of many of the regulators at the moment.
This Bill is obviously a cornucopia. It has many good things coming out of it, but I raise one issue: the omission of heritage. This means that, under the Bill, monitoring and reporting and future environmental improvement plans would not be required to cover the historic features and structures in our landscape, which are inseparable from the natural world. Excluding them is to the detriment of both elements of our environment. It is also a particular concern in relation to the funding of heritage assets. We have lost half of our traditional farm buildings. Hundreds of thousands more are in decay, and almost half of all scheduled monuments are under threat, as are stone walls, parklands and historic field systems. As the 25-year environment plan says,
“our failure to understand the full value of …the environment and cultural heritage has seen us make poor choices. We can change that”.
Goal 6 of the current 25-year plan is
“enhanced beauty, heritage and engagement”
with the natural environment.
Similarly, the Agriculture Bill approaches the funding of all parts of the environment—natural and historic—on an equal footing but, in complete contrast, the Environment Bill does not follow this through. It ignores the 25-year environment plan’s lead. It excludes most heritage from its definition of “environment”, meaning that environmental planning would not need to take the holistic approach that is so effective in the current plan. This has implications for future heritage funding and the connections to the Agriculture Bill, as well as, in terms of data, annual reporting requirements for the Secretary of State and the office for environmental protection. It would not be difficult to reinsert “heritage” into the Bill. Obviously, the Defra officials will fight tooth and nail to stop any new elements being brought in, but it does not move very far from the present 25-year environment plan, which was of course brought in by the present Government.
I must declare an interest, having recently received a grant to restore an old stable block—a historic building that is over 200 years old. Since this was done with a grant, ensuring that the environmental aspects are adhered to, it now has house martins, swallows, greenfinches and even a red-squirrel feeder. I very much hope to talk to the Minister about his plans for the protection of red squirrels, mostly by the slaughter or contraception of grey squirrels. I ran a campaign a number of years ago in which we culled 27,000 grey squirrels in Northumberland to protect red squirrels. We sold them, and many were eaten in London restaurants.
The issue of water is covered in the Bill but there is a major omission in it as it is set out, in that it discusses water abstraction but not water use. In the water Bill, there is a specific duty for Ofwat to look at resilience, including water efficiency. I must declare an interest as CEO of the Water Retail Company, which works in the non-household sector. We set it up in the hope of selling water to people specifically on the water efficiency measures that we would produce. However, we have had no customers who actually look at water efficiency, and it has been a major failing that I cannot think of any examples, in any of the water contracts undertaken with all water retailers, of water efficiency being taken into account. As we are looking at running out of water in London in the next few years, the idea that we are not pushing water efficiency to the maximum extent seems short-sighted; also, of course, the more we use, the more we need to extract. I very much hope that the Government will look at including an element of water efficiency or making some provision for water efficiency. It is an area that should be covered by Ofwat, but Ofwat has failed to push this through as an element of its duties.
In such a short time there is little opportunity to raise other issues. However, one area that will need to be looked at carefully—and funded—is tree planting. I am looking to plant quite a substantial area. However, schemes that have gone before worry me. Farmers are paid for the first five years to plant trees and establish woodlands, but after that there is no ongoing support. We will end up with the situation we had with hedgerows, where people planted hedgerows, only for them to be grubbed up a few years later and not kept going. There is an opportunity to work with the private sector on carbon management to take this forward and I hope very much that this can be explored further in the Bill.