Lord Redesdale debates involving the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office during the 2019 Parliament

Wed 23rd Jun 2021
Mon 7th Jun 2021

Environment Bill

Lord Redesdale Excerpts
Wednesday 8th September 2021

(8 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Moved by
15: Clause 8, page 5, line 39, at end insert—
“(5A) It may also set out steps Her Majesty’s Government intends to take to improve the conservation of land environments of archaeological, architectural, artistic, cultural or historic interest, including improving people’s enjoyment of them (and if it does so references in this Part to improving the natural environment, in relation to that plan, include conservation of land environments of archaeological, architectural, artistic, cultural or historic interest, including improving people’s enjoyment of them).”
Lord Redesdale Portrait Lord Redesdale (LD)
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My Lords, I will also speak to Amendments 16, 17, 25 and 29 in my name. this amendment is looking to include heritage as one of the requirements of EIPs.

The Government stated clearly in Committee that they are committed to heritage through the 25-year plan, but it seems to have been neglected in the EIPs. The problem is that if it is not on the face of the Bill there is no compulsion for heritage to be looked at in this provision. There is an issue here, because while we talk about environment, there is a read across to many historic landscapes where heritage has led to the conservation and preservation of species. In the summer I was working on hedgerows. You can tell the age of a hedgerow by the number of species incorporated in it, and if you say, “we’ll replace it with a modern hedgerow”, you will end up with just one species and a degradation of the landscape. Preserving the historic heritage could save many parts of the environmental landscape that could be at risk.

It was clear in Committee that the Government are not going to place this on the face of the Bill, but can the Minister state clearly before the House today that while they are not placing it as a duty under the EIP, they see it as a fundamental area that should be brought into an EIP going forward?

I would love to make a long Second Reading speech on the joys of heritage but obviously, in the interest of haste I am not going to. In return, I would like the Minister to make a very strong statement. However, I will raise a second issue. While this is not part of this Bill, the heritage sector in this country has been very worried about what has been going on in Afghanistan. Those working in the heritage sector in Afghanistan are particularly at risk and were on a bus ready to go to the airport to be taken to a safe country. Unfortunately, the bomb went off and those people have not been able to leave. I hope that the Minister will raise this with the DCMS. I know that the DCMS has been doing a lot of work on this, but there is a long-standing and strong link between those in the heritage sectors in this country and in Afghanistan.

I beg to move.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. I support all these amendments. As an ex-archaeologist I feel strongly that this is something we must take notice of. We cannot keep trashing our heritage. I will try to be brief, if not as brief as last time, but will give two examples of where we have absolutely blundered.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, mentioned “historic”, but my area of study was prehistoric. For example, the way Stonehenge has been treated, with plans for a tunnel and a road, is absolutely outrageous. Why is there no understanding that these monuments contribute not only to wildlife, the landscape and the soil in lots of ways but to human happiness? Luckily, the plans for the monstrous Stonehenge road have been turned down by a British court.

That is a prehistoric example. An historic example is Bevis Marks Synagogue, which has just celebrated its 320th anniversary of continuous use, which is absolutely incredible for a building in London. However, an application has been made to build three high-rise tower blocks around it, which would plunge it into darkness for most of the day. This will impact on the people who go there, and it will be a tragedy to degrade this stunning monument in this way. It seems that, with ambition, development and building, people lose sight of what is good for us all. The local community is, of course, absolutely up in arms and trying to stop the City of London Corporation’s planning committee.

The Green Party is incredibly keen to support these amendments. I am astonished that the Government do not understand rather better the need for our heritage. They make a lot of fuss about statues at Oriel College but somehow, these other wonderful monuments do not seem to play any part in their thinking.

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Lord Redesdale Portrait Lord Redesdale (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her response and thank all who took part in the debate. That was quite a detailed reply, with a number of assurances that the heritage sector will be consulted. I thank the noble Baroness for that because I know there is a degree of concern in the sector.

It was also good to hear that stewardship and ELMS will include heritage. I know that that has had a marked effect on preserving elements of the historic environment which could have been obliterated because of the lack of funding. There is a great deal in the reply, which I am sure people will scour over, but the noble Baroness has gone a long way to mitigate some of my concerns. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 15 withdrawn.

Environment Bill

Lord Redesdale Excerpts
Wednesday 23rd June 2021

(11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Moved by
59: Clause 7, page 5, line 17, at end insert—
“(5A) It may also set out steps Her Majesty’s Government intends to take to improve the conservation of land environments of archaeological, architectural, artistic, cultural or historic interest, including improving people’s enjoyment of them (and if it does so references in this Part to improving the natural environment, in relation to that plan, include conservation of land environments of archaeological, architectural, artistic, cultural or historic interest, including improving people’s enjoyment of them).”
Lord Redesdale Portrait Lord Redesdale (LD)
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My Lords, in moving Amendment 59, I will speak also to Amendments 61, 72, 102 and 111, which are in my name.

Before I go through each individual amendment, let me start by saying that these amendments were brought forward by the Heritage Alliance, which is made up of all the bodies that are involved in heritage. There is a very close link between heritage and the environment. The Minister has talked a number of times about the environmental plan. I also listened to a speech about the problem of overgrazing in the New Forest through cattle and ponies; having lived in the New Forest in the past, I can quite see that that is a major problem.

However, there is also a link between well-managed heritage sites and important habitats, especially for things such as bats and other flora and fauna. Having been on many archaeological sites where there are digs—I speak not as a trained archaeologist but as somebody who took an archaeological degree; there is a difference—I can say that you can see a preponderance of species that are not on many other sites that have been under the plough or suffered a great deal of intensive agriculture. So the purpose of these amendments is to look at how heritage can be included in the Bill.

The rather depressing fact is that, when we looked at the Bill, we saw that the only mention of heritage was to exclude heritage from it, in the environmental improvement plans. That seems to be the wrong way round. Although I know that the Minister and his officials will fight tooth and nail not to add a single sentence to the Bill if it is avoidable, I believe that there is a problem here with the fact that heritage is often seen as the responsibility of DCMS rather than Defra. I believe that, if there had been discussions between DCMS and Defra at an earlier stage, heritage would have been included in, rather than excluded from, the Bill.

This is a massive Bill, of course. It has a number of excellent clauses, but drawing a narrow position without including heritage could pose problems. In the amendments, we are looking as much as anything at how to include heritage in the environmental improvement plans rather than excluding it. The Government undertook to include heritage in the environmental improvement plans in goal 6, but the problem is that, by excluding heritage specifically, the environmental improvement plans will have major effects on funding and monitoring. If a scheme comes forward and needs funding or monitoring going forward, heritage could—indeed, will—be excluded, because there would be a cost implication in doing so.

I very much hope that the Government could look at these amendments. We have set them out at this stage to test whether the Minister is minded to look at accepting them. I would, of course, after 30 years in this place, fall over at that point, because I have never had a Minister accept any of my hundreds of amendments —but one can only hope. And I hope the Minister could think about maybe having a meeting with us to discuss whether it is possible that these proposals could be included, because they have cross-party support, and I think it would enrich the Bill.

Amendment 59 invites the Government to consider heritage in the environmental improvement plans. Amendment 61 includes heritage in line with goal six of the 25-year environmental plan, and Amendment 111 widens the definition of “natural environment” to include heritage. I ask the Minister if it would be possible to talk to his officials and see whether we can move forward on this. I have no intention, of course, of pressing these amendments tonight, but that is the assurance I would hope he can give. I beg to move.

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Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Garden of Frognal) (LD)
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I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale.

Lord Redesdale Portrait Lord Redesdale (LD)
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My Lords, I always find it slightly worrying to make a speech at this—

Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Garden of Frognal) (LD)
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I am sorry, the noble Earl, Lord Devon, wants to speak. That has not reached me yet. Is the noble Earl there? No? Perhaps we shall continue with the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, then.

Lord Redesdale Portrait Lord Redesdale (LD)
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My Lords, it is always—

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Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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The examples the noble Earl provided are areas where there is a direct biodiversity value. Not all the examples we have been given today have a direct biodiversity value. I am not suggesting that they have no value; of course they do. But, if we were to squeeze into ELM all the concerns, priorities and projects that have been listed today, it would need to be significantly expanded from what it is, and it is just not practical or possible.

Lord Redesdale Portrait Lord Redesdale (LD)
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My Lords, it is always an indicator when the doorkeepers are standing looking at you purposefully that a speech must be very brief at this point. But I will make just one point. The purpose of the amendments was not to open a massive income stream towards heritage; I do not think that was the intention of the amendments in any form. I quite agree about ELM: it is a pot that, however large, will be spent. I should declare an interest as a landowner who has had HLS and ELS funding, which went to my tenants. Some of that was to deal with access to heritage sites.

I would like to raise the point that we are moving into a different form of agriculture from the European system of funding. In the discussion with the Minister and his officials, I would like to talk not about a new form of funding, or Defra taking on the responsibilities of DCMS, but about making sure that, in any monitoring going forward, heritage could be included, as was set out in the 25-year plan. The problem is that we are ending up with silos.

I finish on the fact that I received a grant from the Northumberland National Park for doing up a stable to retain as an agricultural building. The importance of that for biodiversity is that holes were left in the walls, specifically so that birds could nest—they have been nesting this spring. It is bat friendly, and two types of bat have returned; we have a red squirrel feeding station in one of the last woodlands in Northumberland still to have red squirrels; and I had to get rid of a rather belligerent hedgehog. That is a rather clear example of how a building which has been renovated in accordance with environmental principles can be a haven for biodiversity. If there had just been a DCMS grant, it would have been done but many of those features would have been removed. I think that noble Lords around the House support the idea, not of opening a new funding stream but of looking at how we can, without cost, or without significant cost, look at including heritage in certain aspects of the Bill. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 59 withdrawn.
Lord Redesdale Portrait Lord Redesdale (LD)
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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.