All 12 Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist contributions to the Environment Act 2021

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Mon 7th Jun 2021
Environment Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading
Mon 21st Jun 2021
Environment Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage & Committee stage
Wed 23rd Jun 2021
Mon 28th Jun 2021
Wed 30th Jun 2021
Mon 5th Jul 2021
Wed 7th Jul 2021
Mon 12th Jul 2021
Wed 14th Jul 2021
Wed 8th Sep 2021
Mon 13th Sep 2021
Wed 15th Sep 2021

Environment Bill

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Deputy Speaker (The Earl of Kinnoull) (CB)
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I call the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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Lord Sheikh, you need to unmute.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Deputy Speaker (The Earl of Kinnoull) (CB)
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I regret that we are having connection problems with the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, so we move to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw.

Environment Bill

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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Could I suggest a five-minute adjournment while we just look for the Minister?

Environment Bill

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Committee stage
Wednesday 23rd June 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 16-III Third Marshalled list for Committee - (23 Jun 2021)
Lord Young of Norwood Green Portrait Lord Young of Norwood Green (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I apologise for using this vehicle to make a contribution; I had intended to put my name to these amendments. As I explained to the EU Environment Sub-Committee, ably chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, my knowledge of farming was gained mainly from listening to “The Archers”, watching “Countryfile” and growing a bit of fruit and veg in my garden. However, those programmes educated me considerably, and as I look around the Chamber and on the screens, I see that most of our committee seem to be present in this debate.

I do not dispute the genuine concern of the noble Lord, Lord Randall. However, rather like the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, I feel that the indefatigability of the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett and Lady Jones, cannot be denied; it is the hyperbole and, sometimes, the extrapolation and the certitude that give me concern. As someone once said, “Think you in your bowels you could be mistaken?”

Malthus predicted the end of the world through population explosion, which proved wrong. The Chinese experience to control their population is now taking an about-turn. Never underestimate the ability of the human species to react—not always in the right ways. During the pandemic, surely the vaccine development has shown what we can do globally when we work collaboratively. Innovation will play an important part in combating species extinction.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for reminding us of that seminal work by Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, and his warning of a third silent spring. Before I come back to that, the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, accused me of optimism: damned with faint praise, in this debate. Actually, I wanted him to give a holistic analysis of the steps the Government were taking to combat air pollution—which, fortunately, he did.

To return to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and his warning of a third silent spring—

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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Can the noble Lord, Lord Young, please get to his question for elucidation?

Lord Young of Norwood Green Portrait Lord Young of Norwood Green (Lab) [V]
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I will do in a minute. I just want to make this point. Surely the fact is that we have changed farming considerably: 30,000 miles of hedgerow are not being destroyed, fertilisers are being more accurately applied and there is no tilling.

The Minister has answered most of my concerns. My question is: does he feel confident that the totality of the Government’s approach, whether it is ELMS or the other policies, will indeed enable us to set what he said will be evidence-based targets?

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Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, the Minister suggested that my proposed amendments and my approach were perhaps too ambitious, and that bending the curve was very difficult. He also said that interventions cannot be made in isolation, but does he agree that over decades and centuries, we have made many interventions that could be stopped?

I refer specifically to the issue of predators. The noble Earls, Lord Devon and Lord Caithness, the noble Lord, Lord Curry, and the Minister, referred to the problem of predators and the impact on populations of waders, for example. Until at least 2019, one of the interventions being made was the release of 4 million captive reared pheasants and 9 million red-legged partridges, which, inevitably, is essentially laying out a feast for predators. Stopping that intervention would have an immediate and strong impact; indeed, Wild Justice has already had such an impact.

Again, there is also No Mow May, a hashtag that many may be aware of. I think it was the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, who referred to all the insects hitting the windscreen. We are seeing big changes happening already, so did—

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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Could the noble Baroness get to her question of elucidation?

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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Is the Minister taking sufficient account of the fact that some interventions that are causing damage now could be stopped, and that other things like No Mow May could be introduced very simply?

Environment Bill

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
It is obvious that we need to have a last resort. I do not disagree with some of what the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, says, but we are trying to minimise the incidences of animal testing there are now and will be in the future. I look forward to hearing from the Minister, particularly about how we can make this situation far better through how we diverge—if we still intend to diverge—and how we share information between the two systems to makes second tests unnecessary.
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, this debate was always going to raise great passions and I understand the different views on each side of the debate. I thank noble Lords for their contributions, and reassure the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman of Ullock and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, that the Government agree that the operation of UK REACH should be transparent and accountable.

This is why under Clause 29(3) the OEP may give advice to a Minister on any proposed changes to environmental law, including any relevant amendments to the REACH regulation. This advice would be published and the OEP could comment if it thought the Government were seeking to inappropriately amend a protected provision. The Bill protects key provisions relating to the fundamental principles of REACH. I urge noble Lords to look at the very long list in Schedule 20 on page 250 of the Bill. I am sure they have done; this is explicitly outlined.

The Government will not change what REACH sets out to achieve, including a high level of protection of human health and the environment, which is set out in Article 1. Any breach of these provisions’ protected status could be subject to legal challenge, including by the OEP. In addition, any proposed amendment to the REACH regulation must be consulted on, ensuring transparency in the process. Therefore, the Government do not consider this amendment to be necessary.

I turn to Amendment 289, also tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. I hope it reassures the noble Baroness to know that the aims of this amendment are already achieved in Article 117 of REACH, which sets up a rolling programme of reports. Although it is not a protected provision, it is part of UK REACH and it requires reports from the Health and Safety Executive and the Secretary of State in the operation of REACH every five years, starting in 2022 and 2023 respectively. The Health and Safety Executive must publish a report on the operation of UK REACH by April 2022. The Secretary of State must then publish a general report by April 2023. These duties then recur every five years. The Secretary of State’s report must cover the Health and Safety Executive, as the UK agency, and progress towards the development of alternative test methods, including funding provided for that purpose.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, asked about the duplication of testing—as indeed did a number of noble Lords. The Government are very keen to avoid the need for duplication or repeats of animal tests carried out for the purposes of EU REACH. That is why we will recognise the validity of data generated by any animal testing already done. Industry and the Health and Safety Executive must follow the “last resort” principle, so any proposal to carry out an animal test must be given rigorous scrutiny before it goes ahead. Before developing a new alternative for testing for a particular hazard, it is necessary to see whether one is even feasible. An alternative then needs to be developed and scientifically validated. This is done through the OECD to encourage the widest adoption.

On the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, the Government share her aim of avoiding unnecessary animal testing, which is why we have enshrined the “last resort” principle as a protected provision in Schedule 20 to the Bill.

On Amendments 277 and 282 specifically, the concept of “read across” from one chemical to a similar one is already encouraged and widely practised in REACH, but it needs to be considered in each case whether it is appropriate and not applied in a blanket manner. For example, reading across from a less to a more dangerous chemical could result in risks to human health or the environment going unidentified. The Bill ensures that amendments to UK REACH are carefully considered through consultation, drawing on the scientific expertise in the Health and Safety Executive and acting with the consent of the devolved Administrations on devolved matters. The Government believe that we should follow those good practices right from the beginning.

On Amendment 281, the powers in Schedule 20 to the Bill to amend UK REACH would enable such targets to be built if that was felt to be appropriate. Any amendments would have to be consulted on and consistent with the aims and principles of UK REACH, as set out in Article 1. The Government consider that this would be the better route if we concluded that targets were desirable.

There is also an important practical issue. There is an accepted scientific process for developing new test methods. Before developing a new alternative for testing of a particular hazard, as I said, it is necessary to see whether one is even feasible. The alternative then needs to be developed and scientifically validated. This process is done through the OECD to encourage the widest adoption.

On Amendment 296, the Government agree that the HSE, as the UK REACH agency, must operate in a transparent manner, including on matters connected to animal welfare. That is why the general duty in Article 109 to adopt rules about transparency has been included among the protected provisions listed in this schedule. But the Government do not believe it would be appropriate to use the protected provisions to freeze the detailed processes that REACH lays down, such as the publication and consultation arrangements contained in Article 40(2).

Similarly, on Amendment 294, Article 13 already contains the powers we need to amend the REACH annexes to replace animal tests with alternatives where appropriate, and the Government do not think it would be sensible to freeze those processes by fixing them in primary legislation.

On Amendment 295, the Government agree with the aim that companies should share data on chemicals to avoid duplicate animal testing and to reduce costs. However, the articles affected by this amendment contain prescriptive detail, such as the speed at which companies should pass information to each other. Again, the Government believe we should continue to be flexible and not remove that possibility by including them as protected provisions.

Finally, regarding Amendment 297, while it may be appropriate to amend the REACH annexes in the future to follow evolving scientific consensus on animal testing, the power to amend them is already contained within REACH itself. It is therefore unnecessary to add an overlapping power in the Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, asked me about the resource adequacy of the HSE. It has 130 extra staff and the Environment Agency has had considerable increases in its resources. Defra continues to add resources to both. Probably one demonstration that that resource is adequate is that 9,000 grandfathered registrations have already been notified on to the UK system and 5,000 chemical substances are on it so far. The next deadline is 300 days, which is 28 October, when chemicals not manufactured in Great Britain would come on to the system. I think the consensus is that progress has been even better than we expected.

On enforcement and oversight, UK members of the European Chemicals Agency’s committees frequently pressed the agency to be more rigorous in avoiding the use of animal tests, and we shall work with the Health and Safety Executive to ensure good enforcement of that principle within UK REACH. I add that the use of cell cultures has grown hugely in the past few years and taken over some of the primary testing of animals. Most animal testing is now restricted to medical research and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, stated, it is a strongly regulated market; you no longer see beagles forced to smoke cigarettes. Also, the cost of keeping animals, fortunately, makes keeping them for testing almost prohibitive, in many circumstances.

It always makes me anxious coming to the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, because I know what a specialist he is in this field and have read a number of his contributions to SI debates in the past. On his first point, although EU REACH still applies to Northern Ireland, and he is absolutely right that the domestic REACH system regulates the Great Britain market, it also contains some provisions that apply to Northern Ireland businesses to facilitate their access to Great Britain.

On chemicals and the EU trade and co-operation agreement, the Government welcome the friendly co-operation the EU and UK have had on chemicals regulation, which the chemicals annexe will support. The UK’s proposal for a chemicals annexe included an arrangement to share REACH registration data. We worked closely with industry in the UK and EU in developing this proposal but, unfortunately, it was not possible to reach agreement in this area. As the noble Lord will understand, the EU was not prepared to discuss the UK’s data-sharing ask.

UK REACH will retain the fundamental approach and key principles of EU REACH, and the Government are keeping the transition as simple as possible. We have extended the deadlines for businesses to provide all the registration data needed to comply with UK REACH. In trying to minimise the costs and burdens on chemicals businesses, we have developed these grace-period provisions, grandfathering and downstream user import notifications to minimise disruption to businesses and supply chains. We will keep all these timeframes under review. On the TCA, we asked to share information between companies, but this was not included, as the noble Lord will know. On that basis, I ask noble Lords to withdraw or not move their amendments.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Finlay of Llandaff) (CB)
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I have received one request to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson (LD)
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I thank the noble Baroness for that excellent reply and information but, as we are in Committee, I would like to press the Government on their current view of divergence in regulation, because it has a huge effect on this industry. I also want to take this time to correct myself, in that the cost to the industry is £1 billion and not £10 billion—so we have already saved £9 billion this evening.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I think the current estimate of costs is actually significantly less than £1 billion. I have come to the exhaustive end of my notes on that specific question so, if the noble Lord does not mind, I will write to him.

Environment Bill

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Committee stage
Wednesday 30th June 2021

(2 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 16-V Fifth marshalled list for Committee - (30 Jun 2021)
Lord Khan of Burnley Portrait Lord Khan of Burnley (Lab)
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My Lords, I shall speak to all the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, which we support. I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. There were some very interesting reflections and some very disturbing realities that people have been reflecting on. Those who produce pollution should bear the cost of managing it to prevent damage to human health or the environment. The polluter pays principle is part of a set of broad principles to guide sustainable development worldwide. This principle should extend to farmers and landowners.

I want to talk about some statistics now. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, said it costs farmers £47 million a year to clear fly-tipping. I have some more data. As the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, mentioned, more than half of the 800-plus respondents to that Environment Agency survey, the national waste crime survey, suggested that large-scale fly-tipping had increased over the last 12 months, with 15% of landowners making an insurance claim to clear dumped waste. Nearly 50,000 people have signed an open letter demanding immediate action to tackle fly-tipping in the countryside, following the surge in waste crime during the Covid-19 lockdown—a point that the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, made in relation to the increase in fly-tipping.

Following the theme of easy wins for the Government, this, as the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, said, is an easy win. I hope the Government will hear what everyone has said today, support the amendment, go back, and improve their track record on this issue. It is a really important point: landowners and farmers need that support and tougher penalties for fly-tipping. That is the request being heard from the Committee today, and also across the country from the wider public. We have had a theme of dentists, teeth and dentures today: the Government need to show some teeth and bite back at fly-tipping. In wishing the Minister a happy birthday, I just hope I can politely request that she does not let off any balloons tonight.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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It is quite rare that we have virtual unanimity around the Committee on something being a major problem, so I thank noble Lords for taking part in the debate.

On Amendments 123, 136, 137 and 138, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Harlington Mandeville, fly-tipping is a crime that affects all of society, including rural communities—perhaps mostly rural communities—and private landowners. We are committed to tackling this unacceptable behaviour. We appreciate the difficulties and costs that fly-tipping poses to landowners, as outlined by the noble Baroness and by my noble friend Lord Ridley. We are working with a wide range of interested parties, through the national fly-tipping prevention group, including with the NFU, to promote and disseminate good practice, including how to prevent fly-tipping on private land. I do appreciate the noble Lord’s suggestion on birthday balloons. I can assure him that I have not received any today—but my noble friend Lord Randall is absolutely right to mention the serious harm that Chinese lanterns can do to livestock.

In essence, we expect all local authorities to exercise their power to investigate fly-tipping incidents on private land, prosecuting the fly-tippers and recovering clearance costs where possible. As a number of noble Lords mentioned, with more people enjoying the outdoors than ever before with Covid, we have recently published an updated version of the Countryside Code in order to educate and help people enjoy the countryside in a safe and respectful way. I know how difficult it was, during Covid, when a number of local authority tips were closed, and I am sure that this increased the incidence of fly-tipping, particularly of large items.

In the Budget of 2020, we allocated up to £2 million to support innovative solutions to tackle fly-tipping. In April 2021, we commissioned a research project considering the drivers, the deterrents and the impacts of fly-tipping. This research project is due to be completed before the end of this year and will support informed policy-making. We are exploring additional funding opportunities and priorities, including considering the role of digital solutions, obviously including CCTV.

The measures in the Bill will grant greater enforcement powers and the ability to increase penalties in the future, which should help to reduce the incidence of both urban and rural fly-tipping. I should say here that Defra chairs the national fly-tipping prevention group, working with the NFU and others to share advice, and this group met in the spring.

My noble friend Lord Randall asked about fines. Local authorities have legal powers to take enforcement action against offenders. Anyone caught fly-tipping may be prosecuted, which can lead to a fine, up to 12 months’ imprisonment, or both, if convicted in a magistrates’ court. The offence can attract a fine, up to five years’ imprisonment, or both, if convicted in a Crown Court. I appreciate the difficulties of identifying some of the perpetrators of this crime. Instead of prosecuting, councils may choose to issue a fixed-penalty notice, an on-the-spot fine. Local authorities can issue fixed penalties of up to £400 to both fly-tippers and householders who pass their waste to an unlicensed waste carrier. Vehicles of those who are suspected of committing a waste crime, including fly-tipping, can be searched and seized.

As the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, suggested, waste transportation is in urgent need of an update. Waste tracking is still largely carried out using paper-based record-keeping. This makes it really difficult to track waste effectively, as it provides organised criminals with the opportunity to hide evidence of the systematic mishandling of waste, leading to fly-tipping. The Bill will tackle this by introducing a new electronic system for tracking waste movements through Clauses 57 and 58 and will provide enforcing authorities, including the regulator, with enhanced powers to enter premises. We will be consulting on the detail this summer.

In addition, powers in the Bill also allow for the “polluter pays” principle to cover costs associated with the unlawful disposal of products or materials, as set out in Schedule 5, Part 2. This includes the cost of removing littered or fly-tipped items, including from private land.

Measures in the Bill on deposit return schemes will also allow the deposit management organisation to use moneys received under a scheme for the protection of the environment, including to cover costs associated with the removal of littered or fly-tipped items currently borne by farmers or private landowners. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, mentioned the dreaded term “planned obsolescence” and made a very good point. Notable initiatives have recently got into the public vernacular, such as “The Repair Shop” and other ways of recycling, reusing and restoring materials. The “polluter pays” principle in Schedule 5 includes powers to make producers pay for managing products at the very end of their life, and the disposal vernacular should become “recycle and reuse”.

The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, also asked about costs of disposal. Waste disposal authorities may make only reasonable charges for waste disposal. We will review HWRC services and the Controlled Waste Regulations and, subject to consultation, we will amend them to ensure that they remain fit for purpose and that charges are fairly applied.

In conclusion, I thank the noble Baroness for bringing forward these amendments. I am afraid that I am unable to answer her point on illegal storage, but I will write to her on that specific issue. In the meantime, I hope I have reassured noble Lords that these amendments are not needed, and I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, and I thank the Minister for her response. I am encouraged that the Government are working with the NFU and other bodies to find solutions. Fly-tipping, as we have heard, is on the increase, and we have heard some very graphic descriptions of how this has affected landowners and farmers. It is, as the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, has said, a great inconvenience as well as very costly.

During the pandemic, the household waste recycling centres were indeed closed. When they reopened, there were huge queues around the corner. Unlike the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, householders in our area do not have to book a slot, and you can see what the queue is like on the website so that you can choose your time: usually a good time is about half an hour before it closes at 5 pm. So it is possible to access the HWRCs, but it is not easy.

The situation with CCTV signage is exceedingly unhelpful, and I ask the Government to look into this. It is a bit like having a sign for a speed limit: we get the sign saying that there is a speed camera, and by the time traffic reaches the camera, everybody has slowed down. If we are to have CCTV to prevent fly-tipping, I do not think we need signage to alert the perpetrators that it is on the way. As the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, said, there is an issue of natural justice here, and the need to crack down on criminals, especially organised criminals.

I was very concerned when the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said that he had had asbestos dumped on his land. That is an extremely toxic substance, and if householders find that they have some asbestos, perhaps on their roof, or in an extension, it costs them quite a lot to get rid of it at the household waste recycling centre. I wonder whether local authorities could think about reducing some of those costs, so that asbestos is not dumped but disposed of safely. It is outrageous that it should be dumped in the countryside, where it is a threat to animals and humans.

We have all made the point that there must be a shift from the landowner paying to the polluter paying. That has to happen as a matter of urgency. I welcome the Minister’s reassurance that there will be publicity around the Countryside Code. It could do with a bit of a relaunch, because I am sure people are not aware of how to behave in the countryside. More needs to be done to encourage local authorities to go for the maximum fixed penalty notice, instead of some derisory sum. I am grateful for all the contributions, and I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, in moving Amendment 133 I will also speak to Amendment 133A in my name. I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, for adding their names.

These amendments would accelerate to 1 January 2023 the introduction of deposit return schemes and set minimum criteria for the composition and size of the containers to be included in such schemes. These criteria are the equivalent of those already being introduced in Scotland and supported by the Welsh Government. This would make it easier for businesses, retailers and consumers to access consistent and compatible schemes, which would result in improved take-up. It would incentivise consumers to take their empty drinks containers to return points hosted by retailers. The technology already exists for reverse vending machines that can collect empty bottles and return deposits, as well as sell the original filled bottles. Trials are already running of refill schemes to ensure the same bottles can be reused.

Schedule 8 already includes outline proposals for a deposit return scheme. As ever, the weasel word “may” is in the provision, as in:

“The relevant national authority may by regulations establish deposit schemes”.


We know that the Government’s resource and waste strategy supports the idea of deposit return schemes. As the Minister said in his letter of 10 June, such a scheme will

“help reduce the amount of littering in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, boost recycling levels, and allow high quality materials to be collected in greater quantities.”

We agree with this analysis, but once again we are concerned that the Government’s timetable for action will slip. Already, by their own admission, the scheme has been delayed. They are now saying that the scheme will not be introduced until late 2024 at the earliest—in other words, in the next Parliament. This means that they will break their pledge in the 2019 Conservative manifesto to introduce a deposit return scheme. It also means that six and a half years will have passed since it first became policy.

Meanwhile, Scotland is pushing ahead and, once again, England is being left behind. This is why Amendment 133 proposes an introduction date of January 2023, to avoid further delay, and why Amendment 133A would introduce consistency across the four nations. There has never been a greater need for such a scheme. The Government’s own figures show that every year across the UK, consumers use an estimated 14 billion plastic drinks bottles, 9 billion drinks cans and 5 billion glass bottles. Meanwhile, fewer than half of plastic bottles in the UK are recycled, and we know that much of the remainder end up as litter or landfill. In contrast, as the Government concede in their fact sheet, Germany, Norway and the Netherlands have achieved collection rates, including recycling rates, of 98%, 92% and 95% respectively for plastic bottles through the introduction of deposit return schemes.

We also know that the most effective bottle return schemes include all the major sizes and material types, not just plastic. This was confirmed by the Government’s own impact assessment in 2019, which found that the most comprehensive schemes offered the biggest financial benefits. But we also have to ensure that the introduction of such schemes does not have perverse consequences. For example, deposit schemes should complement existing collection schemes and build on the success of the glass and aluminium recycling schemes already in existence. This is why we welcome the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, which would vary the deposit fee depending on the size of the container. We also want to ensure that there is not a switch from glass to plastic bottles, given the efficient closed-loop systems already in place for recycled glass, which is collected separately from kerbsides and bottle banks. Our aim in all this should be to cut down on single-use plastic and develop closed-loop recycling for all materials captured through a deposit scheme. I hope noble Lords will see the sense in these proposals and I beg to move.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I beg to move that the debate on this amendment be adjourned.

Debate on Amendment 133 adjourned.

Environment Bill

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Lord Khan of Burnley Portrait Lord Khan of Burnley (Lab)
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 148A, 148B and 148C in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. To reinforce what other noble Lords have said, I agree with all those who have spoken on this important issue. In fact, we have been talking about the scourge of plastic throughout the debates on the Bill. We support these amendments wholeheartedly and we recognise the frustration expressed by a number of speakers. I will not go on for too long; I just want to reinforce some important points.

Some 61% of plastic packaging for recycling was exported in 2019 because of the lack of a domestic processing capacity. That lack of capacity is not a new problem; investment has been needed for many years, and the lack of progress calls into question the Government’s dedication to transitioning the UK to a circular economy. While the UK has continued to export its plastic waste, other countries, as noble Lords, and the noble Baroness in particular, have mentioned before, have become less willing or able to accept and process it. China closed its doors in 2017, Malaysia has tightened up regulation and just last week, as other speakers have said, Turkey—the biggest single recipient of UK waste—ended imports of most forms of plastic waste.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, made a very pertinent point about the exposure of illegal dumping. She talked, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, about the Greenpeace investigation and our 5.2 million tonnes of plastic waste; we are just shifting our plastic problem. The point she made was very touching: if we do not want our own children to play on these dumping sites and look for plastics, why should we expect people in other countries to allow that? It is a global problem: we cannot just end it by passing it on to other countries.

In recent years, a number of case studies have highlighted how carefully sorted plastics from the UK have ended up being fly-tipped or burned in other countries rather than being turned into new products. This highlights an important ethical case for change, on top of practical arguments about creating new jobs and transforming the economy.

While we may not be able to end our reliance on export overnight, it should be an ambition. The British Plastics Federation estimates that with the right drivers in place, the UK could eliminate low-quality exports entirely and reduce the overall volume of exports to just 9%. Additional investment and an export ban such as that proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, could improve the situation further.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I, like many of your Lordships, find the news reports showing plastic waste from the UK being dumped and burned abroad very disturbing. It is illegal activity and we are working hard with partners abroad to find a resolution. As outlined in our manifesto, the Government are fully committed to banning the export of plastic waste to non-OECD countries, using the powers in the Environment Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, brought up the Greenpeace campaign, which claimed that all UK plastic waste is exported to be dumped and burned overseas. That is false. It is illegal to export waste from the UK to be burned or dumped overseas. Any UK operators found to be illegally exporting waste can face a two-year jail term and an unlimited fine.

Waste exports need to be made in accordance with the legislation, which implements our obligations under the Basel convention and the OECD decision on waste, and we have a system of inspections in place to verify compliance. Over the last 12 months, monitoring by the Environment Agency has had a particular focus on preventing illegal plastic waste exports. In 2020, the Environment Agency prevented the illegal export of 46 shipping containers of plastic waste to Turkey, and this year it has already prevented the illegal export of 122 containers of plastic waste to Turkey.

Defra officials and the UK waste shipment regulators have been liaising with the Turkish authorities to forge better working relationships. The Environment Agency has developed a good relationship with the Turkish Ministry of Environment, which has expressed its thanks for the UK’s collaborative approach in preventing illegal exports of waste to Turkey.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering mentioned ghost ships. I reiterate that ships which reach the end of their lives must be recycled in accordance with the relevant legislation. As with any waste that is exported from the UK, it is illegal to export waste for disposal except in exceptional cases.

A number of noble Lords mentioned capacity, including my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, the noble Lord, Lord Khan, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. Certainly, implementing a ban on exports of plastic waste to non-OECD countries will have wide-ranging effects on local authorities, our domestic waste infrastructure and businesses. It is important that delivering the manifesto commitment does not result in unintended consequences such as plastic waste being diverted from recycling operations to landfill or incineration. Defra has commissioned research looking at the available reprocessing capacity in the UK and the OECD, which will inform policy development ahead of a consultation in 2022. However, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, for her amendments.

Clause 61 provides full powers to update our existing regulations on waste shipments as necessary, now that we have left the EU, including prohibiting the import and export of waste to any country in the world, so we could, for example, put Turkey on that list. Although the intention behind the noble Baroness’s amendment is welcome, unfortunately it would narrow the available power’s effect so that it could be used only very strictly to make regulations connected with prohibiting waste imports and exports. That could preclude us from making additional reforms that I know the noble Baroness would welcome: for example, to update reporting and monitoring requirements in connection with the regulation of waste imports and exports in future. It is appropriate to provide the Government with flexibility in this case as to when and how such provisions and regulations are made. This will ensure that regulations can be updated and revised as needed to crack down on the harmful export of polluting plastic waste to developing countries.

A number of noble Lords raised the question of the incineration of plastic waste. In particular, my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering mentioned an innovative scheme from, I think, the University of York. A number of small firms are evaluating myriad scientific methods of reusing and recycling all forms of plastic, in particular those that cannot be got rid of in any other way. They include one which breaks down the plastic in question’s relevant chemical components, which then can be made into an oil that can be used to provide power. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, will be reassured that these are not processed for incineration. I do not have enough lines to satisfy the noble Baroness on the question of general incineration, so I commit to write to the House about other ways in which we can prevent plastics ending up being incinerated.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate and to the Minister for her response. I am aware that it is illegal to export waste for it to be dumped; nevertheless, that is what is happening. I am aware too that the Local Government Association does not support this amendment as it believes that the cost of dealing with plastic waste will fall on local authorities, at a time when their budgets are under severe strain. I sympathise with that viewpoint. However, as I have said, I do not believe that householders who are taking the trouble to separate their waste for it to be recycled understand that their plastic waste is being sent to countries where it is not being treated in an approved manner. More investment is needed in infrastructure. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, mentioned in-house recycling plants. I have also visited such plants and know how effective they can be. In some cases they can convert waste to energy, which is very useful.

I am grateful for the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. Deposit return schemes are an important part of the answer but the Government need to be proactive on their behalf. There are many instances where each one of us can take steps to reduce the amount of plastic we buy and use, and publicity will be key to ensuring that this is a success. I regret that neither the LGA nor the Government are taking reducing the production and use of plastic seriously enough, and I may return to this issue on Report. However, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, previously in Committee we have discussed the fact that polluted air is a growing national health emergency, and many noble Lords have talked about the terribly sad death of Ella Kissi-Debrah. The Bill provides an opportunity to improve people’s lives, which we must not miss. We support these amendments, which seek to do so.

On Amendment 150A, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, regarding the number of fine particulates released into the air from non-exhaust emissions and the role that speed reduction can play, noble Lords have spoken strongly in support of 20-mph speed limits and the wider benefits to society that those could bring. The noble Baroness talked particularly about the findings of the air quality expert group’s report. I also mention the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants, which has made a statement on the evidence for health effects associated with exposure to non-exhaust particulate matter from road transport. These emissions currently comprise just under 10% of UK primary particulate emissions, but they are expected to become proportionately more important as vehicle exhaust PM emissions from road transport are expected to decrease over the coming years.

The committee said that as non-exhaust particles have a different composition—for example, higher metal concentrations—and a different size distribution from those emitted in vehicle exhausts, they may have different toxicological properties and health consequences. As this component of traffic emissions will become proportionately more important in future years, the recommendation from the committee is that new epidemiological and toxicological research should be undertaken to further understand the potential health risk of this aspect of vehicle pollution and to improve a basis for further policy. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas talked about the importance of carrying out research so that we have better understanding. Does the Minister’s department have any plans to undertake or commission such research? Are the Government considering speed reduction in areas of highest pollution?

I turn to Amendments 151A and 151B in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. As we have heard, all local authorities have a duty to review and assess air quality within their district. The aim is to identify all areas where air quality is exceeding, or is likely to exceed, the air quality objectives. We agree with the noble Baroness that monitoring air quality standards at schools, hospitals and major roads is critical. In 2019, over 8,500 schools and almost 3,000 health centres were in areas with levels of PM2.5 above that recommended by the WHO, putting at risk the health of millions of children, patients and health workers.

The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, mentioned the funding of local authorities, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. The burden of monitoring is on the shoulders of local government. If monitoring and compliance are likely to be increased, and given the chronic lack of funding for our local authorities, how do the Government intend to resource monitoring in order to ensure a sufficient degree of data integrity? My noble friend Lord Whitty spoke about the importance of this.

Amendments 153, 154 and 155, all in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, consider the duties of the Secretary of State, local government mayors and the Committee on Climate Change, and how the monitoring of air quality and availability of related data to the public can be improved. She stressed the importance that this information must be accurately collected. But the need for improvements to the monitoring and assessment regimes should not be used as a reason to avoid setting the direction of travel now. As I have already said, we should use this Bill to start driving much-needed action, as soon as possible. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, rightly reminded your Lordships’ House about the increased impact on deprived neighbourhoods if we do not take action.

I come to Amendments 156A to 156M in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff. This series of proposed new clauses covers the control emissions from combustion plants. The noble Lord reminded your Lordships’ House that it is the anniversary of the Clean Air Act 1956. It would seem that the problem has not gone away; it has just changed. Combustion plants are a chief source of the power that lights and heats our homes. With a growing population of almost 70 million people, there are understandably tens of thousands of such facilities across the country. According to the latest figures collated by government, there are estimated to be between 30,000 and 35,000 medium combustion plants. As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, rightly says, we must have a focus on those emissions—but also local authorities will need the power to take appropriate action to tackle this area of poor air quality.

Finally, I pay credit to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, who has done so much work in this area. I believe that she made the critical points in the debate about the cost to our health and the number of avoidable deaths. The seriousness of this discussion cannot be underestimated, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister what further action the Government intend to take through this Bill to start to resolve these problems.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I start by thanking all noble Lords who have spoken with such passion, interest and informed intelligence on this subject.

I start with Amendment 150A, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan. I am sure the noble Baroness knows that local authorities already have the power to set 20 mph speed limits where local needs and conditions suggest that it is required—for example, in a built-up area or near a school. The Government agree with her that 20 mph speed limits can be a useful tool to improve road safety and reduce air pollution, as acknowledged in the Department for Transport’s guidance for local authorities on local speed limits, but they may not be the solution everywhere. Imposed in the wrong places, lower speed limits may increase congestion and journey times, which may in turn increase PM2.5 emissions.

The noble Baroness is right to focus on non-exhaust emissions; we accept the need to reduce them and have legally binding emission reduction targets, including for particulate matter. Non-exhaust particulate matter emissions have become more significant, as emissions from exhausts and other sources, such as coal power stations, have decreased—and this is a phenomenon identified by a number of noble Lords.

The Government are also working with their international partners to develop procedures to test and evaluate emissions from tyre and brake wear, with the potential to produce future regulatory standards. To reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, and my noble friend Lord Lucas, in February, the Department for Transport commenced a significant research project to understand better the measurement techniques, materials, properties and control parameters of brake and tyre wear emissions from road vehicles.

On the general subject of more research needing to be done, I shall write to the noble Baroness, because I think that there is more that we can say to both noble Lords about what the department is doing in this area.

It is therefore appropriate to allow local authorities, working with air quality partners such as Highways England, to determine whether lower speed restrictions are appropriate locally. Schedule 11 to this Bill strengthens the local air quality management framework by increasing joint working between local authorities and relevant public authorities for precisely this purpose. The Government will shortly consult on designation of the first of these relevant public authorities, Highways England.

In addition, last year, the Government announced their plans to implement the moving traffic enforcement powers in Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004. This will enable local authorities in England with civil parking enforcement powers to take responsibility for enforcement of moving traffic offences. This can include enforcement of no entry, banned turns, access restrictions, box junctions and cycle lanes, but also includes idling. Although we encourage local authorities to make use of the powers available to them, which include issuing fixed penalty notices, this issue will not simply be resolved through fining. Local authorities, as existing guidance makes clear, should utilise a range of methods to encourage motorists to change their behaviour, including public information campaigns. The Government continue to invest in infrastructure for active travel, including a £2 billion fund for cycling and walking. An additional £200 million was allocated in the previous financial year as part of the Covid-19 active travel fund.

I think the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, was a little churlish about Boris Johnson’s initiatives while he was mayor. He did introduce the Routemaster bus and Boris bikes, and he also introduced potted plants, which may have had a little bit of an effect. I just defend him on that front.

We hope that this investment will enable and encourage people to switch from polluting methods of transport such as private cars to cleaner, greener and healthier transport modes such as cycling and walking, which we hope that all noble Lords will welcome. The solution to less air pollution from traffic is less traffic, not just slower-moving traffic.

On Amendments 151A and 151B, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and Amendment 155, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, we need to be careful not to be too prescriptive. Local authorities are required to review and assess local air quality and decide what action to take based on local needs. The Government already have a national network of 533 air quality monitoring sites across the UK, which measure air pollutants, operated by the Environment Agency. I hope that that gives some reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. It is not possible to monitor in every location, as this would be prohibitively expensive, so modelling enables assessment of air quality in locations without monitoring stations, allowing more effective investment on implementing policies that will deliver air quality improvements. Local authorities are already required to make their air quality action plans freely available, and they are advised in statutory guidance to do so on their website, as requested by the amendment from the noble Baroness. Specifically on Amendment 155 from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, my noble friend the Minister has previously set out the Government’s action on provision of air quality information, including our daily air quality index.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for also tabling Amendment 154. The Government agree that action is needed on air quality, and I reassure noble Lords that the Bill includes several measures to achieve this. In this Bill, the Government are committing to set a new national concentration target for PM2.5 under Clause 2, as this is the pollutant that has the most significant impact on health. We will also set a second ambitious target to reduce the exposure of the population to PM2.5 on an ongoing basis through our long-term air quality target, which must be set under Clause 1.

As my noble friend the Minister has already set out in this Committee, we are taking account of the World Health Organization’s guidance on this matter when setting air quality targets, and will continue to do so, but we simply do not yet know the policies that will be required to meet the WHO’s guidance level for PM2.5, especially in London. Therefore, we do not believe it is appropriate to set such a target, which would affect millions of people’s daily lives, without first levelling with them about the choices and changes that will be required as a result.

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Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I would be very grateful if the Minister—in writing if not immediately—could let me know what steps the Government have taken or intend to take to enable local action in this area? My particular concern, as ever, is the town of Eastbourne. We are told from time to time that our air quality is bad; we are never told why. What support can the Government offer for properly testing the air pollution we are said to have, so that we can have a proper diagnosis of where it is coming from and therefore direct our local efforts accurately at dealing with it?

Similarly, the current system for trying to get speed limits moved to 20 miles per hour is very time-consuming and difficult and imposes a lot of burdens on the higher county authority. Is there not some simpler way in which an expression of local will might convert into something happening without the need for deep, long consultations? This is a matter of policy and of the direction we want to take a community in. It really should not have to justify itself at every cobblestone.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I am grateful to my noble friend. I think I answered in general terms how much the Bill enables greater local action on air pollution by improving local air quality management frameworks and ensuring that responsibility for addressing air pollution is shared across local government structures and other relevant public authorities. If I can offer him more detail, I commit to writing to him. On that last subject, the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, asked two questions that I failed to answer: traffic management in Northern Ireland is a devolved issue and I would of course be very happy to meet the noble Baroness to discuss further matters.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) [V]
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My Lords, reflecting on the Minister’s response to my noble friend on the current Prime Minister’s record on air pollution, would she acknowledge that it was the then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, who in February 2008 unveiled the plans for the London cycle hire scheme? Will she also acknowledge that the New Bus for London, commonly known as the “Boris bus”, had complete battery failure in 80 models, meaning that they only ever operated in diesel-only mode and emitted 74% more harmful particles than the old diesel buses they replaced?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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Ken Livingstone may well have had the original idea, but it was certainly Boris who breathed life into the whole project. I think the new buses were much better than the old Routemaster, and I do not think one can blame him for trying to reduce emissions in London.

Baroness Sheehan Portrait Baroness Sheehan (LD)
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My Lords, I start by thanking all noble Lords who have spoken in support of 20’s Plenty. It has been much appreciated. I know it has not been discussed in this House much before, if at all; it is a new concept but I think it is a really worthy one. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, did not feel able to express his support, but I hope in time to convert him to the cause.

I found the Minister’s response disappointing and complacent. Air pollution is such a devastating killer, and it is not a pleasant way to pass away—particularly in light of the compelling and chilling evidence from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, who speaks with huge knowledge in these matters. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, had already asked about the Minister’s assertion about 30 mph limits being in place and the opportunity for local authorities to change that to 20 mph. That is exactly the situation we are trying to reverse; it is complicated and costly, et cetera, and it would be far better to have a default limit of 20 mph and for local authorities to have the power to change it to 30 mph or whatever speed limit they think appropriate.

The Minister also asserted that we are looking for less traffic, not slower traffic. The point is that all the evidence shows there is less traffic in areas with 20 mph speed limits, because people are more willing to switch to walking and cycling when traffic around them is calmer. These 20 mph limits are really popular. The national attitude survey on transport shows that substantially more than two thirds of the public are in favour of this. The Atkins report also showed the public were in favour.

I think the Minister was referring to the Atkins report when she said there was evidence that, in some areas, 20 mph limits can lead to higher casualty rates. That report has been challenged extensively, and I believe the 20’s Plenty campaign group wrote to the Government to say it was concerned about some of the report’s findings and to ask what evidence the Government could provide on the use they made of the various comparators in particular. The group has yet to have a reply from the Government; maybe this is an opportunity for it to receive that reply, which would be much appreciated.

The 20 mph limit is popular, practical, cheap and affordable, and there are numerous bodies of evidence to support the social and environmental benefits it would bring. It would be a bold step; it would help tackle climate change and public health issues at a single stroke. I hope the Government will take the amendment seriously, but, for now, I beg leave to withdraw it.

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Lord Khan of Burnley Portrait Lord Khan of Burnley (Lab)
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My Lords, I shall speak briefly to Amendments 157 and 159, in the name of my noble friend Lord Berkeley, and Amendment 279, in the name of my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester. As has been outlined, the amendments in this group have different intentions, but, nevertheless, they allow us to reflect on the fact that, when we consider emissions, it is not just cars that we need to worry about.

Amendment 279 focuses on heritage vehicles and buildings, which have already been the subject of some debate. I listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and other colleagues across the Committee speaking on this very important point. We need to make sure that we recognise the great value of the heritage vehicles sector. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to add on this particular point.

My noble friend Lord Berkeley’s amendment speaks to other transport modes, including aviation, where progress towards cleaner technologies has been slow compared to the car market. Indeed, when the sector asked for dedicated support during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government missed an opportunity to strike a deal with airlines and airports to improve environmental performance. The Government also have a somewhat questionable record on rail modernisation. While HS2 is going ahead, Ministers have cancelled the electrification of certain rail lines, meaning that older diesel-powered trains will continue to run.

My noble friend Lord Berkeley touched upon aviation and recognised that it is an area that we have to do a lot more about. I ask the Minister specifically about the discussion around the sustainable aviation fuel concept that the Biden Administration in America are looking at. I know that this is not the focus of these amendments, but it has been mentioned by speakers. What discussions are the Government making in this particular area?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for his amendments, and I thank other noble Lords who have participated in this debate. Regarding Amendments 157 and 158, I assure the noble Lord that the Government’s intention in Clause 73 is to ensure that polluting vehicles and non-road mobile machinery not meeting environmental standards will be taken off our roads and brought back into compliance. The policy was designed for motor vehicles, their components and non-road mobile machinery, and it was designed in line with the regulatory framework governing their environmental standards.

In response to the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, this is analogous to an equivalent power in relation to safety standards—so, yes, vehicles can be recalled by manufacturers long after they have been on the road if we find that they are not compliant with the relevant environment regulations. Specifically to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, this power could be used to recall vehicles that do not meet the standard that they should have met when they were originally authorised for sale, not standards that have since come in. However, I shall write on the detail of what we should put in those regulations.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, I should say that all recalls will be fully funded by the manufacturer, and there will be provision for the Government to compel the manufacturer to pay compensation to the owner. I am also pleased to confirm that train engines, as outlined in the amendment, could be recalled under the legislation as drafted without these amendments.

The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and others mentioned the incentive to cheat. Increasing the scope to include aircraft and ships would add significant complexity to this regime. These would also be outside the remit and expertise of the intended enforcement authority, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, and would not be within the scope of the Bill nor necessary to achieve the wider policy aims. I reassure noble Lords that there are already robust systems in place to ensure that aircraft and ships comply with environmental standards. Compliance for marine engines already exists through our enforcement of requirements under the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships. Civil aircraft are required to meet the environmental certification standards of the International Civil Aviation Organization before they are allowed to operate. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, that biomass may not be the way forward to fuelling aircraft but, as the noble Lord, Lord Khan, said, we must encourage research into alternative fuels.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, brought up something that is really rather out of scope of the Bill—cement. It is indeed a heavy carbon emitter, but I am aware of really innovative and attractive solutions being worked up in the private sector that could in time transform heavily carbon-emitting cement.

I move on to Amendment 159. The legislation specifically enables the Government to recall the engine of non-road mobile machinery if it is found not to comply with environmental standards. Again, I want to be clear for the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, that his amendment would fall within the definition of non-road mobile machinery, termed “machinery that is transportable” in the Bill, and would already be subject to the proposed recall regime. I thank the noble Lord for his contributions, and I agree with him that it is important to ensure that all vehicles are properly regulated, especially in relation to emissions in air quality. I hope that I have provided reassurance that this is the case such that he will not press his amendments.

I turn to Amendment 279 from the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner. The Government understand the important contribution that the heritage sector makes to our national culture, and I appreciate the concerns raised by the noble Lord and others who have participated in this debate. I can confirm for noble Lords that heritage vehicles are not within the scope of the legislation, and that includes trains and boats. As for historic buildings, I confirm that local authorities, when declaring a smoke control area under Section 18 of the Clean Air Act 1993, have the power to exempt specific buildings or classes of buildings under Section 18(2)(c) of that Act. They could exempt specific historic houses or historic houses in general from the requirements applying to the smoke control area. The Bill will not impinge on that ability. We listened to the concerns raised by the heritage bodies during consultation on the measures, as well as engaging with the inquiries of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Heritage Rail. I can confirm that there will be no direct impact on the heritage steam sector as a result of this Bill. The Government do not intend to bring forward policy that would have a direct impact on it.

I reiterate that I understand the concerns raised by the noble Lord. I thank him for the recent discussion that he and others, including my noble friend Lord Forsyth, had with my noble friend the Minister on this issue. The Minister and his officials are happy to continue to engage with him as guidance is developed. I hope that the assurances that I have set out at the Dispatch Box are persuasive and that I am able to reassure noble Lords about the Government’s view about the importance of the heritage sector and that nothing in this Bill will impact on it. I hope that the noble Lord withdraws his amendment.

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Watkins of Tavistock) (CB)
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I have had one request to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Portrait Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con)
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My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for her assurances in respect of the amendment concerning steam-powered vehicles. I declare an interest as president of the Steam Boat Association of Great Britain and as the owner of a steamboat. Can the Minister explain why she is not prepared to put in the Bill the exemption for historic vehicles of the kind to which she says the Government are committed?

I was very grateful to my noble friend Lord Goldsmith for agreeing to a meeting with the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, myself and others where he gave that assurance. However, Ministers are here one day and gone the next—indeed, they can be here one afternoon and gone by evening. It is not enough, despite Pepper v Hart, just to have an assurance from the Dispatch Box. We are dealing here with a major industry. I was on a steam train on Friday, the Jacobite Steam Train that runs from Fort William to Mallaig. It was absolutely packed with people—and not all of them were tourists; there were also people from the UK. At every point along that journey where it was possible for people to gather, they did so in order to wave at the steam engine; you could see the smiles on their faces. It is not a lot to ask of the Government to make it absolutely clear that there will be an exemption for these important vehicles.

There are some 400 steamboats in the country that regularly go to events and gatherings. They support an industry and skills that would otherwise die. We are the leading makers of steam engines in the world, with people such as Roger Mallinson and others. The costs of operation are enormous, many of them supported by volunteers for heritage railways and their kind. There are hundreds of thousands of pounds invested in steam traction engines, which we see at every country fair, and in their maintenance. It is important that people have the assurance of primary legislation, especially when we see so much legislation that contains powers for Ministers under Henry VIII clauses, pretty well to do as they like, and which this House can do nothing about by tradition because we do not vote against secondary legislation. Will the Minister say why the Government are resistant to putting a clear commitment in the Bill that heritage vehicles not only are not within the scope of the Bill but are protected from the whims of any Minister?

After all, it was only a few years ago when Michael Gove announced that all coal was going to be banned in households, which has wiped out both coal merchants and the distribution system. It meant that, on Friday, when I asked the driver of the steam engine that I was on where he got his coal from, he said, “We’re having to get our coal from Russia now. That is where we get it from.” I asked, “How much coal does your steam engine burn?” and he said, “Three and a half tonnes a day, and there are two of them and there are many like them.” I find it very difficult to understand how it is protecting the environment to bring coal in on ships and then trying to find a new distribution system to those vehicles. I urge the Minister, as was put so eloquently, to recognise the cultural importance of this and not throw the baby out with the bath water.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I understand the passion that I could detect in my noble friend’s voice. However, I repeat that we cannot list everything that the Bill does not apply to. I can reassure my noble friend that the Government are not doing anything that would impact on heritage vehicles, nor would they plan to do anything that would. An exemption is just not needed because these are not caught within the scope of the Bill. Again, I say that the Minister and his officials are happy to continue to engage with him and others as this guidance is developed.

Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken on this group. We have had a really good discussion, especially about older steam engines. I certainly would support an amendment that put this in the Bill, because it is a really serious issue, and it does affect stationary engines as well as moving ones, as noble Lords have said.

I shall also read with interest and in detail the Minister’s response to my three amendments. I find it odd that we are not looking at legislation that applies to all machines—if you can call them that—that emit emissions. Whether they are air, sea, river or road-based, they all emit emissions, and so to me, they should all be treated in the same way in this legislation.

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Lord Khan of Burnley Portrait Lord Khan of Burnley (Lab)
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My Lords, I speak to Amendments 160A, 160B and 160C in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington. This is the first of a number of debates on water. While they cover different aspects, they are all important and we hope that the Minister will have detailed responses to the questions asked this evening. This set of amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, is relatively straightforward but could have a significant impact on the success of the various plans envisaged under this chapter of the Bill.

Consultation is an area that has been raised repeatedly thus far, with many colleagues feeling that the requirements throughout the Bill—whether on targets, environmental improvement plans, waste or water—are insufficient. The Minister may well say that water companies are already subject to a variety of requirements around consultation and community engagement, but current arrangements clearly are not working. Environmental performance is not good enough, and neither is customer satisfaction.

I totally agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Oates, said about tightening the language. As the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, said and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, later agreed, nature-based solutions will play a big part. I totally agree that “opportunity” is vague. We need to have stronger and more definitive language to ensure that the process of consultation and working with stakeholders in relation to this landmark Bill does not end up being a process of post hoc rationalisation of predetermined decisions.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, for tabling these amendments. Before I turn to them, the noble Lord made a point about the use of “may” versus “must” in legislation, which I hope is helpful to touch on in a general sense before I go into the specific use of “may” in relation to his amendment. The Environment Bill, as with other primary legislation, provides powers for the Secretary of State to make some regulations by using the word “may” and others using the word “must”. I assure the noble Lord that where we have used “may”, it is because we want to regulate effectively, allowing for effective consultation and proper consideration. The term “must” is used to impose a statutory duty to take a specified action—for example, to make regulations—as soon as it can reasonably be achieved; the term “may” provides a power to take that action while preserving some flexibility to make regulations as and when appropriate.

On Amendment 160A and the specific use of “may” here, the Government understand that water undertakers need certainty about the requirements for fulfilling their duties when preparing water resource management plans, drought plans and joint proposals. However, when exercising these powers, Ministers will need flexibility to be mindful of when to introduce new water planning requirements. This is to avoid causing unnecessary impacts on the preparation of water companies’ plans, which are revised every five years and prepared by water companies at different times within their own five-year cycle.

On Amendments 160B and 160C, the Government recognise that planning for water resources is strengthened by the involvement of a range of stakeholders. It is the Government’s intention that these stakeholders are involved in the preparation and delivery of these plans in England. Clause 77, as drafted, enables Ministers to set out in regulations who should be consulted. Under existing powers, Ministers have set out a long list of relevant consultees in the Water Resources Management Plan Regulations 2007 and the Drought Plan Regulations 2005. The clause as drafted will enable the Government to set out in regulations all existing statutory consultees—including, for example, water companies, the Environment Agency and Ofwat—as well as a range of other stakeholders to be consulted. Therefore, I am pleased to confirm that the intent of the noble Lord’s amendment is already delivered by the clause as drafted.

A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Khan and Lord Cameron of Dillington, mentioned reservoirs. These measures will support ongoing work to improve regional water resources planning, as set out in the Environment Agency’s national framework for water resources. They will help to improve the assessment and selection of water resources, such as water transfers or shared new reservoirs, which will provide shared benefits.

I thank all noble Lords for their contributions and hope that I have provided enough reassurance for the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Cameron of Dillington Portrait Lord Cameron of Dillington (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who took part in this very short debate. These amendments were very much probing amendments that were designed, I hoped, to provoke a robust declaration of intent from the Government—which, if I understood the noble Baroness’s remarks correctly, we actually got, so I am pleased to thank her for that. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, for his remarks on nature-based solutions, and I will save my remarks on those for a later grouping, if I may. So, again thanking all those who took part, and in the hope of further positive statements on water from the Government, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I beg to move that the debate on this amendment be adjourned.

Debate on Amendment 162 adjourned.

Environment Bill

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, and I have listened carefully to the informed and thoughtful contributions from all sides. They have well represented the two sides of the dilemma. On the one hand, we recognise that water abstraction plays a vital role in the economy, generating power, driving industry and helping our farmers to grow food. On the other hand, we recognise that unsustainable abstraction can do serious environmental damage, particularly by changing the natural flow of water, with lower water flows and reduced water levels, and ultimately contaminating water resources, thereby affecting fish and wildlife and in some cases contaminating by allowing salt-water intrusion.

I think that we all accept that an abstraction licence should not give an automatic right to extract water whatever the environmental consequences. As my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone said, water is a shared resource. The actions of one individual or business can have devastating effects on another farm or community downstream, so we have to manage it on a collective basis. In this regard, I welcome the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, which would require a licensee to measure water quality in an aquifer and share that information publicly. That is all part of that collective management of a very scarce resource.

We also have to recognise that climate change has already varied the supply of water since many licences were granted, and all the Government’s indices point to looming water shortages. We accept the point made by several noble Lords that the rights experienced by a water company are of a very different scale and impact from those experienced by farmers. It is on this latter group that we are focusing today.

The Government place great emphasis in their proposals on the Environment Agency managing the changes to licences through local consultation. In his letter to us of 10 June, the Minister said that

“we expect the Environment Agency to work closely with the affected licence holders before using these measures.”

But when I visited Norfolk with the NFU a couple of years ago, this was far from the case. Their licences, which underpinned a thriving horticultural sector producing fruit and vegetables for the UK market, were under imminent threat and, despite numerous requests, there was no dialogue with the Environment Agency—indeed, at one point, I even got the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, involved to persuade for some consultation to take place. As we discussed in the earlier debate, the Environment Agency is struggling to meet all its statutory obligations because of the funding crisis. I hope that the Minister has received sufficient assurance that the Environment Agency has the resources to manage the renegotiation of all the licences so that we can have more sustainable licences in the future.

Ultimately, we agree that we have no choice but to withdraw a licence if the evidence shows that the environment is being damaged. We agree with the premise of Clause 82 that there should be a negotiated settlement, with a reasonable compliance period for changes to be introduced rather than an automatic right to compensation. We also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, that the new agreements should be for a minimum of 12 years. As he made clear, we should take a catchment-based approach and look to introduce the best techniques available for water efficiency in parallel with the negotiations.

We agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, that an operative date of January 2028 is far too long a time. I was alarmed to hear the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, talk of deadlines as far ahead as 21 years. The current timescale does not appear to grasp fully the severity and immediacy of the problems facing our waterways. We need to move all farmers on to sustainable abstraction licences as soon as possible. We cannot wait until 2028 to start revoking licences.

If compensation remains payable until 2028, there is a danger that budgetary constraints will limit the scope of the Environment Agency to act to protect the environment in the interim. There is also the danger of perverse outcomes whereby people start to behave in their short-term interest just to protect their rights and potential access to compensation. As we have heard, the Government are already beginning to address this issue through the 2017 abstraction action plan, so there is even more reason for bringing the date forward from 2028, since presumably action on many of these areas is already in hand.

This has been a difficult debate, and I understand the arguments on both sides but, ultimately, we think that a date of 2028 is too long away and we therefore support the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, and look forward to the Minister’s response.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I thank all noble Lords for another interesting discussion on this Bill. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, has just observed, the Government are endeavouring to perform a careful balancing act by delivering on their manifesto commitments to improve the environment through addressing the consequences of unsustainable abstraction and modernising the licence system while minimising the impact on farmers.

To put things into context—I was grateful for the balanced comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone—I say that we expect that, out of the 13,000 permanent abstraction licences, there may be up to 1,200 that are unsustainable and to which these measures may apply. However, the Environment Agency expects that the number of licences will reduce in any case before the need for the measures to be applied following local site investigations and discussions with licence holders.

I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for his Amendments 176 and 177 to 179, and understand his concerns about the effect of the proposals on licence holders. My noble friend the Minister and I were grateful to be able to meet the noble Lord alongside my noble friend Lord Colgrain the week before last to discuss this issue further.

As we have heard from other noble Lords, unsustainable abstraction can have very negative impacts on the aquatic environment, including causing low flows. Low flows can lead to reduced levels of dissolved oxygen, harming fish and insects. It can also lead to increased temperatures and impede the migration of fish species, which may not be able to reach spawning grounds. I say in response to the concern expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, about salmon stocks—an interest of mine, of course—that Defra, the Environment Agency and partner organisations have committed to the salmon five point approach to restore the abundance, diversity and resilience of salmon stocks, ensure that river flows are adequate for the habitats they support and increase spawning success by improving water quality.

Of course, low flows have a knock-on effect on other parts of riverine ecosystems, including specialist species which rely on the aquatic environment. Low flows can also lead to dire consequences for internationally important chalk streams, 75% to 80% of which are found in the UK.

However, we also know that abstraction is vital for food production, as farmers provide drinking water for livestock or abstract water to irrigate their crops. I hope that my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering is reassured that I put that firmly on the record.

As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, with respect to his potatoes, skin finish is vital, and the Government recognise the importance of maintaining the high quality of British produce. We must therefore balance the needs of agricultural and other abstraction licence holders with public water supply demands and the need to protect the environment. That is why the Environment Agency is using a catchment-based approach and trialling innovative approaches in priority catchments with a range of local stakeholders, including water companies, the National Farmers’ Union, local abstractor groups, environmental groups and navigation interests to solve issues of access to water and unsustainable abstraction.

As we have discussed in our conversations to date, the Government want the Environment Agency to continue to work closely with abstractors to explore all voluntary solutions to unsustainable abstraction. I do not agree that this is a blunt regulatory process; rather, it is the last resort in a collaborative process.

On removing compensation rights, which a number of noble Lords mentioned, we want to protect licence holders’ ability to abstract where it is fair and right to do so. Unless a licence risks damaging the environment or is underused, we believe that licence holders should be eligible for fair compensation for any loss if licences are revoked or varied.

Farmers hold more abstraction licences than any other sector and so a higher number of farmers may be affected than other sectors. However, the Government expect the Environment Agency to work closely with affected licence holders to find alternative solutions which balance the needs of the environment and the needs of farmers. We expect these powers to be used by the Environment Agency only after all other options have been exhausted.

The Environment Agency, as the statutory environmental regulator, has the relevant expertise to determine which licences may be affected by the changing of the threshold from “serious damage” to “damage”. The Environment Agency grants licences and proposes their revocation or variation based on monitoring of abstraction and the water environment from which the water is being taken.

To reassure my noble friend Lord Cormack and the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, who appealed for an appeals process, as currently, an abstraction licence holder will be able to appeal to the Secretary of State in respect of a proposed revocation or variation of their licence, as well as to put forward any additional evidence from other experts, if they wish to do so. Therefore, the Secretary of State is already required to consider relevant expert evidence when using this power as it is an intrinsic part of the existing process. Furthermore, I reassure noble Lords that the Environment Agency has already started conversations with a number of farmers, which I hope will reassure the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, who asked about the ability of the Environment Agency to undertake all these powers.

We should expect that these measures will be used only after other solutions have been exhausted. Partly for this reason, they will not be available until 2028. In the meantime, we expect the Environment Agency to work closely with affected licence holders on a case-by-case basis, to provide data and evidence for why a licence needs to be varied or revoked, to consider the type of abstraction when making decisions, and to take a risk-based approach and consider what the abstraction is being used for.

On the noble Lord’s Amendments 180 to 187, I hope he can see that the Government have designed these provisions to make more water available to other abstractors and to reduce the risk to the environment. These measures will be focused on permanent licence holders who consistently abstract much less water than they are licensed to take, but the Government are well aware that not all licence headroom indicates a lack of need. It is appropriate to safeguard licence headroom in some cases—for example, to manage higher demands during dry weather as well as the planned future growth of a business. The 12-year period specified in the Bill allows for weather variations and crop rotations and fits with the current abstraction licensing strategy timeframe.

On Amendments 176A, 180A and 187ZA from the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, I hope that the arguments I have given have convinced him that introducing these measures from 2028 strikes the right balance between protecting the environment and recognising their impact on abstractors.

As I think the contrast between the amendments in this group illustrates, the Government have worked hard to reach a fair compromise on this issue. As well as allowing time to find voluntary solutions, the 2028 date will give time for licence holders to adjust. We understand that this is particularly important for business certainty and continuity. Furthermore, it will allow time for the catchment-based approach to water resources to produce solutions. In the abstraction plan, published in 2017, the Government committed to update abstraction licensing strategies for all catchments by 2027, and a 2028 date aligns with this.

Regarding Amendment 179A, also tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, the Government simplified Clause 82 following feedback received during our consultation in 2019 that our original proposals were far too complex. Licences can be varied or revoked without the Environment Agency being liable to pay compensation where the Secretary of State considers the licence change necessary, having regard to the relevant environmental objectives under the water framework directive or to protect the water environment from damage. As such, I am pleased to confirm for the noble Lord that the clause can already apply to licences that may affect all sites designated under existing legislation, including sites of special scientific interest and Ramsar sites.

The Environment Agency also already considers the impact on flow when assessing the environmental impact of an abstraction licence, including when it is considering whether to revoke or vary a licence. The Environment Agency will continue to do so when these new powers are available on or after 1 January 2028.

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Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, this debate very much follows on from the previous one, so I will be brief. Amendment 212 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Oates, looks to give local authorities and planning authorities new powers, so they can meaningfully fulfil their duty to conserve and enhance biodiversity, by allowing them to designate sites at risk of biodiversity loss. Local authorities need to consider and integrate biodiversity conservation throughout their policies and strategies—for example, waste, transport and education. Cross-departmental consultation, ecological expertise and the support of a wide range of partners will be crucial in achieving this.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, spoke in his introduction to his Amendment 227A of the importance of co-operation between public authorities. We support the aims of this amendment, but we have some concerns the proposed powers could risk duplicating those provided by local nature recovery strategies, which have the potential to allow authorities to build and maintain ecologically coherent networks of nature recovery sites. It may be that these aims are better fulfilled by Amendment 209 to Clause 95, which we have discussed and was tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter.

We support Amendment 231A, also in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on ELMS and local nature recovery strategies. The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, has just clearly expressed her concerns, which reflect those of many others, about the introduction of ELMS and the lack of clarity at the moment. Amendment 231A would tie projects funded by ELMS to the local nature recovery strategy. This is important, because this alignment would ensure that gains for nature from ELMS would complement, and further gains from other policies, such as biodiversity net gain, would be co-ordinated by, the appropriate local nature recovery strategy. That would help local nature recovery strategies to fulfil their critical directional role to build and maintain ecologically coherent networks of nature recovery sites.

The Secretary of State has previously expressed his belief that ELMS projects should align with the local nature recovery strategies. Earlier, my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch, mentioned the work of the Environmental Audit Select Committee. In January, the Secretary of State said he wants ELMS

“to be conscious of and dovetail with local nature recovery strategies”,

so there is that support in Government. But as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone have said, we need to consider the ambitions of the Agriculture Act and this Bill, and make sure they are joined-up, saying the same thing and working together. We therefore hope the Government will consider taking this amendment forward. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, it is clear that we cannot finish the whole group this evening, so I beg to move that the debate on these amendments is adjourned.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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I am happy to go on. I only have a short speech, beginning with Amendment 212 from the noble Lord, Lord Oates. I start by reiterating that local authorities are vital in protecting biodiversity and improving nature at a local level, so I sympathise with the noble Lord’s intention. However, powers already exist that could be used to conserve and enhance biodiversity on specific sites.

National planning policy already directs local plans to identify and map areas of substantive nature conservation value. They should include policies that secure the protection of these areas from harm or loss and help to enhance them and their connection to wider ecological networks. Local authorities can create local nature reserves under Section 21 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, designating these sites based on local importance for wildlife. In addition, the Bill already allows for a local authority to enter into a conservation covenant. I therefore assure the noble Lord that powers suggested by this amendment are already covered elsewhere.

I turn to Amendments 270, 273 and 275, also in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Oates. A principle underpinning the Government’s proposal for conservation covenants, which we will be debating in more detail later, is their voluntary nature. There is no compulsion on anyone or any organisation to enter into them. It is important that this principle extends to organisations that may become responsible bodies. That is because the role of responsible bodies, which will be integral to the delivery of covenants, requires a good level of resourcing and expertise to be performed properly. Organisations must decide for themselves if they have the capacity to perform the function of a responsible body. It is also possible that some local authorities may not wish to become designated as responsible bodies. If local authorities choose to apply, like other organisations they will be assessed against our published suitable criteria and designated where they are considered suitable to fulfil the role.

Environment Bill

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for, as ever, giving us an excellent explanation of why he has tabled these amendments and for raising these very important issues. I also thank the Minister for confirming in the earlier debate that net gain will be extended to major projects in the marine environment in the future, once a suitable approach has been developed. This is certainly a step forward.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, rightly made the point that our coastal territorial waters are in urgent need of protection and recovery, and, if we do not use this Bill to make that happen, what other opportunities will we have? The latest Committee on Climate Change adaptation report has highlighted concerns about the quality of our terrestrial waters. It says:

“There is clear evidence that warming seas, reduced oxygen, ocean acidification and sea-level rise are already affecting UK coasts and seas … with effects seen in seabed-dwelling species, as well as plankton, fish, birds and mammals.”


It also reports that there has been a decline in the overall condition of protected coastal sites.

So, on the one hand, we need to tackle the hazardous pollution, including plastic waste, that has led to the failure to meet the environmental targets to which the noble Lord referred. On the other hand, there is an opportunity to harness the power of nature in our coastal waters to sequestrate carbon through the growth of seagrasses and seaweed, such as at the innovative kelp farm being developed in Shoreham. But a strategy is needed to provide a framework for the change, which is why preparing and publishing a nature recovery strategy for the UK exclusive economic zone seems such a good idea. It is also why linking our coastal waters into local nature recovery strategies will ensure that those initiatives do not end at the shoreline.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, rightly referred back to our consideration of the then Fisheries Bill and our frustration that sustainable fishing was not allowed to be at the heart of the Bill, despite all our efforts. As a result, it seems that fishing quotas are very much business as usual, and overfishing—above the recommended scientific limits—remains rife. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, that this continues to be unacceptable and needs to be addressed by the Government. A nature recovery strategy would allow the opportunity to revisit that strategy, taking different criteria into account.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, that we need a joined-up strategy between the Agriculture and Fisheries Acts and the Environment Bill. We have said that all along; every time a Bill comes along, we ask, “How come these pieces of legislation do not speak to each other?” She is right to raise again today our need for a joined-up approach.

Finally, I am pleased that the noble Lord has given us the opportunity to implement the recommendations of the Benyon Review into Highly Protected Marine Areas. The limits of the current standard marine protected areas are all too obvious, as damaging human activities are still allowed to destroy the marine habitat. Therefore, we very much welcome the definition of highly protected marine areas as those that allow the recovery of marine ecosystems while prohibiting “extractive, destructive and depositional” human activities. We welcome the amendment that sets out that the proposals for the initial locations should be published within six months of the Bill passing. The noble Lord said that he felt that the Government had caught up with his amendment; he might be on to something, but I feel that there are great advantages to having this spelled out in the Bill just to make sure that that progress is followed through. These are indeed key amendments, which could help to transform the quality of our marine environment. I hope that the Minister agrees and will feel able to turn these into government amendments, which I am sure would receive widespread support.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for his powerful advocacy for the marine environment throughout these proceedings and, indeed, last year throughout the proceedings on the Fisheries Act, in which he knows I had some involvement.

I will focus first on Amendments 226, 227 and 229. I sympathise with the intention behind this group of amendments, but the Government do not agree that this is the right approach. Local nature recovery strategies build on the important role that local authorities play as local leaders and decision-makers within their areas, as the noble Lord will know from his time spent on the Cornwall pilot. Clearly, actions taken on land can affect the marine environment and vice versa, and we should not create false barriers to nature’s recovery.

As such, our intention is that local nature recovery strategies should integrate with existing spatial plans of marine areas. This is in order to understand the area’s current uses and its potential in adjacent marine areas. It is something that we have explored through recent pilots, which, as I said, the noble Lord has kindly supported. However, local authorities are not best placed to produce marine strategies, as these areas are largely beyond their remit and authority. I believe that requiring this would lead to significant complications and potentially unhelpful duplication with existing processes. It would include duplication with the Marine Management Organisation, which is England’s main marine regulator and manages the licensing of marine activities, recreation and fisheries beyond six nautical miles. The inshore fisheries and conservation authorities also manage fishing out to six nautical miles and any marine nature restoration strategies should include their input.

Amendment 233 would require the Defra Secretary of State to create a nature recovery strategy for the United Kingdom exclusive economic zone for England. The Government already have a strong framework in place to ensure ocean recovery through the UK marine strategy. Its goal is to ensure that all UK seas are of good environmental status, exactly as the noble Lord’s amendment would require.

In March this year, we published the updated UK Marine Strategy Part Two, setting out the monitoring programmes that we will use to assess progress towards our updated good environmental status targets. This will be followed by the update to our programme of measures, which will set out a comprehensive list of measures to help to achieve good environmental status. As the UK already has a strategy for ocean recovery, this well-intentioned amendment is not needed.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, generously welcomed the Benyon Review into Highly Protected Marine Areas. The Government published their response to the review on World Oceans Day 2021 and accept the majority of its recommendations. In answer to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, about when we will designate HPMAs, that will be done in 2022. We do not agree that HPMAs should be only within existing marine protected areas, which was recommendation 13 of the report, and we will consider designating HPMAs outside the current MPA network to ensure that we can maximise nature recovery. Existing governance structures of ALBs were beyond the scope of the Government’s response to this review.

I note that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, also asked about joined-up thinking, which I know has concerned a number of noble Lords throughout the passage of this Bill, the Agriculture Act and the Fisheries Act. A number of measures in all three Acts will have benefits for the marine environment. The Fisheries Act will benefit the environment, as will the Agriculture Act. They have all been put together at a policy level and have been thought about comprehensively.

Amendments 246, 247 and 251 aim to create highly protected marine areas. The Government have committed to designate HPMAs by the end of 2022, using the definition of the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, as set out in his review, which was carried out before he joined the Government Front Bench. The Government will work with their arm’s-length bodies and stakeholders to identify a list of potential pilot sites for highly protected marine areas. On 5 July, we published the ecological criteria that we will use to identify highly protected marine areas and we will create a list of potential sites this year. We plan to designate pilot sites in 2022 as marine conservation zones, with higher levels of protection than existing zones, using powers under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.

I note that the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, had a number of concerns about controlling harmful marine activities. Introduced under the Marine and Coastal Access Act, marine licensing is a process by which those seeking to undertake certain activities are required to apply for a licence. The requirement for a licence extends across much of our territorial seas, including the foreshore, and covers a diverse range of activities, from depositing a marker on the seabed through to large-scale developments. Authorisation or enforcement decisions must be taken in accordance with the appropriate marine plans.

In answer to the noble Baroness’s other question about drilling for oil and gas and refusal of future licences, I refer her to the Ten Point Plan and to the energy White Paper, which address her questions on oil and gas exploration. The Government have had to tread a careful dividing line and balance between keeping energy costs as low as we can while fulfilling our commitments to the net-zero target.

I assure the noble Lord that the requirements of the amendments are already covered, as the Government have committed to identifying potential sites this year and pilot sites designated as marine conservation zones in England will be covered by the protected site strategy clause. I thank the noble Lord for raising this important issue, which I know is close to his heart, and I hope that he is reassured by the Government’s commitments in this area. I ask him to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall) (Lab)
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My Lords, I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, would like to ask a question of the Minister before he decides how to dispose of his amendment.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson (LD)
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My Lords, I will sum up in just a moment but I have a question for the Minister. I am very disappointed by her reply. It seems to fly in the face of what nature recovery networks are all about. However, I will come on to that later.

The Minister said that local authorities are not competent to deal with these issues—for example, the six-mile limit. However, she mentioned in particular IFCAs, which are the inshore fisheries and conservation authorities. They are nominated partly by the Marine Management Organisation—I agree with that—but appointments to them are also hugely influenced by local authorities. Local authorities are already hugely engaged in the first six-mile limits; they already have duties in that area. When it comes to the Marine Management Organisation and its licensing, which is within that same area as well, it has to talk to a number of statutory organisations before it can make decisions—for example, Natural England and the Environment Agency—and it has a concordat with local authorities to discuss those developments with them as well. Local authorities are already hugely involved in that area. Why not make it so that there is some structure to that within at least the six-mile limit, so that those decisions become coherent and make more sense—they are also probably more quickly made by the Marine Management Organisation and IFCAs—and so that the whole system becomes better and more efficient, and works for the environment as well? That is my question to the Minister.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I take the noble Lord’s point, but the three coastal pilot areas that we considered—Cornwall, Cumbria and Northumberland—all took very different approaches to voluntarily including adjacent marine areas in their pilots. There will be a sense of duplication in what the noble Lord is suggesting, because the spatial assessments of a marine area, capturing current uses and signalling future potential, are led by marine management organisations. To go further than that, I would like to take this back, consider it and perhaps write to the noble Lord if I can add any more flesh on those bones.

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Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, I wanted to return to the question of sustainable fishing, which was mentioned by, among others, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. On 22 February, I asked a Question for Written Answer on what the Government’s strategy is for reducing quotas is fish stocks fall below their maximum sustainable yield. The Answer, which was rather long-winded, ended up saying:

“Where appropriate, they will set out actions to improve data collection and ways to establish sustainable harvest rates.”


My question for the Minister today is: is now the appropriate time and, if so, what action will the Government be taking to ensure that fish stocks are harvested at or below MSY?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I am sorry, my briefing does not include that sort of detail. May I write to the noble Lord with an update on the maximum sustainable yields and how we are faring?

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Finlay of Llandaff) (CB)
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I call the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and apologise again to him.

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Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak in support of Amendment 251A in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, to support the protection of our national parks.

National parks are havens for birds, animals, fish and humans seeking respite from the cares of daily life. They exist all over the world, from Chile up through North America and across Europe. We are exceptionally lucky to have a wide variety of national parks sprinkled across the whole country, from Cornwall to Wales and up to the Cairngorms in Scotland. Each has its own individuality and beauty, sometimes gentle but often rugged and wild. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, mentioned their role in tourism.

These national parks are currently protected by the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, but this should not allow us to take them for granted. Amendment 251A inserts a new clause into the Bill to provide some protection for the parks when public authorities are making decisions which could affect neighbouring national parks. The duties under the 1949 Act are supported by guidance from Defra, but this guidance is out of date and was last updated in 2005—it is not available on the Natural England website and refers to the now extinct regional development agencies and government regional offices. The current duty provides a backstop when conflict arises between competing interests. However, national parks see this as a last resort.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, laid out the reasons why the duty should be strengthened and gave excellent examples of lack of forethought on the part of public bodies. National parks have management plans; these should be promoted with public bodies, which should have due regard to them. The protected characteristics of national parks should be preserved and public bodies should have regard to both the characteristics and management plans, but this is very weak in terms of compliance and protection.

I fear I will go off on a tangent for a moment. During the passage of the ill-fated Housing and Planning Bill, there was discussion about affordable housing for those working in the parks and young people. This was in reference to Exmoor National Park, which the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, referred to. There were agricultural workers, farmhands, firefighters and other essential workers who worked in the park but could not afford to live there. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, referred to the pressure for housing but suggested that it should be on the edge of the parks. While protecting national parks, I urge them all to have provision for affordable homes included in their management plans to enable those working in them—those who would like to—to be able to live nearer to their place of work. Unnecessary travel adds to climate change and pollution. Living close to your place of work on a national park means you may be able to cycle or walk to work.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, supported the argument that the current protection measures are not strong enough, and I agree with her. This amendment gives reassurance and provides the mechanism for local authorities and other public bodies—such as the MoD, which operates on Dartmoor and on the borders of other national parks—to take account of how their actions may affect the park, access to it and those living or working in or visiting the park in future. It should be remembered that people live in the parks. National parks should not be wrapped in cotton wool as anachronistic relics. They should be assisted to be fit for purpose today but protected from harmful developments. I fully support this important amendment.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I welcome Amendment 251A from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and the contributions of all those who spoke about the importance of our national parks, on which I think we are all agreed. From the meres and hills of the Lake District to the chalk of the South Downs—and a lot of Wales, I must add—they are some of our most valuable landscapes.

That is why the Government commissioned the independent Landscapes Review, which set out a compelling vision for more beautiful, more biodiverse and more accessible national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. The panel’s report recommended strengthening the duty on public bodies to have regard to the purposes of the national parks and to support implementation of management plans. This would have a very similar effect to the proposed amendment from the noble Baroness.

In a Written Ministerial Statement of 24 June, the Government committed to address the review’s recommendations in full and consult on draft proposals later this year. Those draft proposals will address this recommendation. This has been an unprecedented year for the country, so work since the review was published has indeed been delayed, but the Government are working very closely with partners on their response to it. We have committed to address its recommendations in full and to consult on draft proposals later this year. I am of course very happy to meet the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, as part of the consultation, or we can discuss it earlier if that would be helpful.

The Government support the intention of the noble Baroness to ensure that our public bodies work together more effectively in our national parks. We all agree there has been a problem here. We are currently working closely with partners, including the national park authorities, to consider how best to achieve that aim through our response to the review. However, we cannot accept this amendment, as it is important to work with our partners and consult on any such changes before changing the law, particularly to understand potential implications for those public bodies likely to be affected. The Landscapes Review found strong evidence that public bodies are failing to have adequate regard to the statutory purposes of the national parks. It also found that the effectiveness of the management plans is limited by poor implementation by local partners, including public bodies. The Government take this finding seriously and are working with partners to consider carefully how to address it.

A number of noble Lords raised the question of infrastructure plans in the national parks. The 2010 National Parks Circular and the National Planning Policy Framework are very clear that national parks, the Broads and areas of outstanding natural beauty are not appropriate locations for major development. I will look into the specific cases that they raised and provide more detail on those if appropriate.

I also assure the Committee that, since the Glover review was published, the Government have been supporting important work in our protected landscapes through our nature for climate fund and green recovery challenge fund to restore nature, tackle climate change and connect communities with the natural environment. The Government have also recently announced their new farming in protected landscapes programme, which will provide additional investment to allow farmers and other land managers to work in partnership with our national park authorities to deliver bigger and better outcomes for the environment, communities and places.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked a number of questions, particularly on ELMS. This funding will help to drive forward delivery of the Landscapes Review on people, access, nature and job creation, responding to the public appetite from Covid-19 for better access to nature. Specifically, the fund should help to support delivery of the Landscapes Review recommendations on connecting more people to protected landscapes, delivering the new environmental land management schemes, increasing the diversity of visitors through tourism, creating landscapes which cater for health and well-being, expanding volunteers and rangers and providing better information and signs. Specifically, this funding will help farmers to shift towards delivering environmental benefits which, in the future, could be supported by environmental land management, particularly the components that support local nature and landscape recovery.

I thank the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for his contribution. Sadly, I have not been able to receive divine intervention quite in time to respond to his specific questions, particularly about earlier legislation, but I will write to him and put a copy in the Library. I hope that I have now provided assurance to the noble Baroness that we share her aims for national parks: we just need a bit more time to work with public bodies, including national parks themselves, to get this right. I therefore hope she will agree to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this short debate. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, that we are blessed with very special national parks, each one unique in its own way. As we have heard from the contributions, everybody has their favourite and the particular one that they are a cheerleader for. We sometimes take the national parks for granted, but the experience over the last 18 months has ensured that they are back in the front line and are rightly seen as the national treasures that they really are. They have played an important part in people’s sanity, and mental health, over the last period.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, that the national parks have to be integrated into the work of the Agriculture Act—an issue that we addressed earlier when we talked about joined-up policies—and it is important that they play a rightful role in the rollout of ELMS. We welcome the Government’s proposals for farming in protected landscapes and the additional investment that will come from that, because the farming community in the national parks has to work in a way that is properly sympathetic to the landscape that we are hoping to develop there. There are special challenges, but also great benefits if we get this right.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, mentioned the South Downs ambition of 33% to protect our landscapes. I agree that we should be ambitious: every national park is unique and will have different constraints. South Downs has an awful lot of people living there and a lot of businesses already operating there. Obviously, we need to push to the limits of our capacity in order to make sure that nature recovery takes place in the widest possible area. We will obviously do that.

Environment Bill

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the South Downs National Park Authority. I am very grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Devon, for tabling these amendments and introducing them with such clarity. As the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, said, he was very persuasive. On that subject, we welcome the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, back to his seat—he made his own very persuasive and silver-tongued contribution. I listened very carefully to what he was saying, but I am afraid that, like other noble Lords, I was not totally persuaded. Perhaps it is just because we have not had enough time to consider what seemed, the more we talked about it, to be a more and more complex issue. Forgive me if I do not dwell on that, because I feel I am out of my comfort zone in understanding the implications for the use of common land. Perhaps we can return to that issue at some point when we have more time to debate it in detail.

I return to the amendment proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Devon. We welcome the essential principle of the conservation covenants in the Bill, which the noble Earl said was a result of the Law Commission’s recommendations. As a number of noble Lords have said, there are real concerns as to how these covenants will be applied in practice. The noble Earl said that it was particularly important that smaller farmers understood the full implications of entering into these covenants and are protected from exploitation. He has given some examples of the perverse consequences of historic covenants in the past, and I suspect that they will become more common in future. Already we are hearing in the south downs about farmers being approached by public bodies that want agreements to provide a home for their carbon offset obligations. I have no doubt that those sorts of pressures are only going to increase.

As the noble Earl says, it is in danger of becoming a bit of a wild west situation. It is likely that biodiversity net gain will create a new swathe of developers, public and private, looking to do deals with farmers to offset the damage that they are doing to the environment elsewhere. Already we are hearing talk of environmental stacking, whereby farmers have multiple obligations to different bodies to deliver environmental benefits, with all the legal complexities that would ensue if that became commonplace. Incidentally, this once more underlines the case of my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone that we need a land-use strategy so that growing food, carbon offsetting and enhancing biodiversity all develop into a coherent policy whole, and we know where the priorities lie.

Of course, these developments could be an advantage to farmers and the environment if they were managed properly, but these agreements need to be managed with care to ensure that farmers are not exploited by big corporate players and their lawyers. That is why the noble Earl, despite being a lawyer, is quite right to pursue these amendments. They would make it clear that the covenant was a formal legal document, signed as a deed, which one hopes would ensure that the farmer received appropriate legal advice.

The noble Earl is also right to probe, in Amendment 274, what organisations that are not public bodies or charities can be defined as responsible bodies for the purpose of this clause. We agree that there are real concerns about for-profit organisations entering this market, with the potential lack of responsibility and knowledge that many of these organisations will have. We need to be assured that all the organisations described as responsible bodies have expertise in conservation. Since many of these agreements will be for the long term, we need to be clear about what happens if a responsible body holding a covenant subsequently becomes insolvent or ceases to exist, or simply sells that covenant on. A number of noble Lords have probed the consequences that could occur from applying those covenants in perpetuity, and the impact that that could have on the individual.

It seems to me that we need answers to this, and the noble Earl’s amendments go a considerable way to addressing it. I also agree with the amendments laying greater duties on the Secretary of State to manage the covenants in those circumstances, particularly in the longer term. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, said, what is the point of having the stopgap of the Secretary of State if he is not required to do anything, as is the case under the current provisions?

In conclusion, I very much believe that the noble Earl has made a powerful case for these amendments. Alarm bells are ringing about the actions we need to take to get this right. I hope that the Minister has heard the concerns from around the Chamber. It would be helpful if, as a matter of urgency, she was able to meet the noble Earl—and I hope that we will be able to find a solution and a revised wording of the Bill.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their consideration of this part of the Bill. I also take this opportunity to thank the Law Commission, as this part of the Bill is based on its work and the draft Bill that it prepared. Its ongoing support as the Bill has moved through the various parliamentary stages has also proved invaluable.

Conservation covenants are an important and flexible tool for the environment’s conservation and improvement—and I know that there is some frustration that this was not drafted as a specific Bill, but it is right that we legislate for them now rather than waiting. They complement other measures in the Bill, such as biodiversity net gain. Conservation covenants are private agreements entered into voluntarily to deliver long-term conservation outcomes for the natural and heritage features of the land—and I welcome the broad support of noble Lords from around the House, particularly that of the Green Party. Importantly, the legislation allows for covenants to bind successor landowners, which ensures that they can deliver lasting conservation for future generations; the legislation also allows for them to be modified or discharged to cater for changing circumstances.

Amendments 266, 267 and 268, tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, seek to ensure greater formality in the process for creating these covenants. Before I get into the detail, I emphasise again that these agreements are voluntary, and a covenant needs to be exercised as a deed to be entered as a land charge, which I hope goes some way to reassuring noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. Conservation covenants cannot be imposed—rather, the parties will need to work together to set them up in line with the requirements set out in the Bill. As these are legally binding agreements, there needs to be a degree of formality, and the Bill’s provisions ensure that there is.

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Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I am comforted, to some extent, by what my noble friend has said, but I very much hope that I might be included in the meeting that she proposes between officials and the noble Earl.

It is extremely important to get the practical application of this system right. In particular, I remain extremely cautious about broadening the ambit of responsible bodies to include organisations which are fundamentally commercial. What is needed here are bodies that are fundamentally ecological—that have an established long-term interest in getting the ecology of an area right. National parks obviously come within that—that is not a problem, as far as I can see—but something with a more commercial bent, however ecologically expert it is, seems a very questionable road to go down and likely to result in a great deal of heartache.

When it comes to my own meeting with officials, I will certainly be interested in the way in which perpetuity is so comfortable to them here but is such a problem when it comes to biodiversity gain. I cannot see the logic that goes through here. Biodiversity gain is, by and large, negotiated with people who are well informed, well set up and, in particular, stand to make a large amount of money from a transaction where the costs of the biodiversity gain are not going to be substantial. Here, we are dealing with people who are in a very different relationship with the responsible body.

Perpetuity seems to me to be right, because we are trying to do something for the very long term—but it has to be perpetuity with flexibility. To have perpetuity without flexibility, as we have here, or flexibility without perpetuity, as we have with biodiversity gain, seems the wrong road to go down. I very much hope that we will make some progress on that between now and Report.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I believe that the Government and my noble friend are in agreement on the criteria for selecting a responsible body, whose main purpose or function must relate to conservation. I would be delighted to include him in a future meeting with the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and officials and perhaps we could address some other concerns at that meeting.

Earl of Devon Portrait The Earl of Devon (CB)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have participated and voiced, in general, considerable support for the amendments that I have proposed. It is particularly pleasing to hear support from the Green Party—despite the aristocratic proposer of these amendments—and from other Benches; it is much appreciated. I am pleased to hear that the Government take these amendments seriously and are willing to meet me; I look forward to that meeting.

A number of points were raised. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, raised the issue regarding landlords and tenants. As I read the legislation, tenants will be able to enter into conservation covenants so long as they have at least seven years left on their tenancy. Of course, what happens on reversion of the tenancy once they have converted a farming field into a bog is yet another complexity that I did not have time to get to in my hypotheticals.

I also appreciate the support from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, but, contrary to him, I think there is a role for for-profit companies within this marketplace. It is an exciting opportunity for environmental land management to bring in private finance but, if we are to do that, we absolutely must control and manage it, which is what these amendments are designed to do.

I thank the noble Baroness for the Government’s reply; she suggested that covenants can be easily modified or discharged in sites in application to the lands tribunal. In response to the Law Commission’s inquiry, the Bar Council pointed out that even the most modest application to the lands tribunal costs at least £50,000, and I am not sure that a small farmer would be willing to spend that to modify a covenant. She says that, to be registered as land charges, they must be executed by deed. I do not see that in the legislation and, as I understand it, they have effect as land charges even if they are not registered, so they still have this quasi-governmental function. As I understand it, they also continue to permit the responsible body to enforce exemplary damages, whether they are registered or not. Those are very significant impacts.

I am afraid that the noble Baroness may have misunderstood my Amendment 274, because it did change. The amendment is to the provision that applies to the for-profit, non-charitable, non-local authority entities. My aim is to ensure that any entities designated thereunder have conservation as their core function because, at present, the legislation does not permit for that. It is absolutely important that, if we are to have private enterprises involved, they need to be conservation enterprises; they cannot be banks that are just seeking to make a profit in developing an ecosystems services arm.

Finally, as to Amendment 276, while it is right that conservation covenants should be preserved, the reason why large payments will be made under them is because the landowner—the farmer—has to spend a lot of money maintaining the land in that way. If no payments can be made by the Secretary of State when that person takes responsibility for the covenant, there will be income for the land to be maintained in the way that it is meant to be. If payments are not made, the conservation purposes will necessarily fall away or the farmer will once more go bankrupt. There are a huge number of issues to be dealt with here. I do not think it is enough that this can just be packed in at the back end of Committee; we have a lot more work to do and I look forward to meeting the Minister and the Bill team. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I offer our strong support to Amendment 293E in the name of my noble friend Lord Whitty. I thank my noble friend for his detailed and knowledgeable introduction, explaining why it is so important we do not have non-regression in chemicals industry regulation. Plans as to how the Government intend to regulate the UK chemicals sector following Brexit and our departure from EU REACH have been of significant concern for the UK chemicals industry for some time. This amendment would remove the possibility that a Secretary of State might lower current standards, while enabling them to easily meet or exceed new EU protections and standards. It would also oblige the Government to transparently justify any decision to deviate from EU control on chemicals—noble Lords have talked about the importance of transparency.

Concerns were raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, that provisions in the Bill give the Secretary of State the power to alter the UK REACH system, including through deregulation, which is causing instability. Concerns have also been raised about the potential for a reduction in protections and standards. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, also talked about the potential for a toxic mix of chemicals, as we have heard in other debates during the progress of the Bill. The UK is already falling behind EU protections. Divergence is set to widen over time, despite assurances that the UK would not diverge for the sake of it, and this brings with it considerable associated economic and political costs. I would be interested to hear from the Minister the Government’s perspective on this divergence and how they will manage it. The current regulatory processes for GB controls lack transparency and do not match the pace of EU action. They also do not appear to consider or attempt to mitigate the effects of divergence. My noble friend Lord Whitty mentioned the issue of new chemicals in particular, and how that is being managed.

Going back to our negotiations on Brexit, it was hugely disappointing that the Government ruled out what we believe would have been the best outcome for both the environment and human health, as well as for industry: for the UK to remain within the world’s most advanced system for regulating hazardous chemicals, the EU REACH system. The decision instead to set up UK REACH will substantially increase costs and bureaucracy for UK companies, while bringing real danger through the reduction in protection for the public, workers and the environment from hazardous chemicals. But we are where we are, and the priority now has to be for UK REACH to be the best it can possibly be.

The provisions in the Bill present an opportunity to ensure that UK REACH reflects available scientific evidence and allows for a regulatory environment which is fit for purpose. The noble Earl, Lord Dundee, said we now have an opportunity for higher standards, and I agree with him. Schedule 20 gives the Secretary of State wide-ranging powers to amend the UK REACH regulation and the REACH Enforcement Regulations 2008. Such amendments would have to be in line with Article 1 of REACH, which outlines its aim and scope. Several provisions are protected from modification by SI under these powers. However, we are concerned about granting the Secretary of State such a sweeping power to amend the main UK REACH text, which could then be used to reduce the level of protection for the public and the environment from hazardous chemicals. My noble friend Lord Whitty talked about the potential for huge damage if we do not manage our chemicals industry correctly.

There are many concerns from industry about access to data and divergent sources of data: different data can mean different decisions. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, talked about a lack of data undermining HSE’s ability to do its job properly. Now that we have left the EU, the UK does not have access to the same EU databases and the 98,000-plus dossiers of commercially sensitive safety and technical data for more than 22,000 substances. I have spoken many times in this House and the other place about my concerns about the risk of duplicate animal testing, and I know other noble Lords are concerned about this. We have had assurances from the Government, but no real explanation about how it is going to be prevented. When scientists and technical review panels cannot see the same scientific data and cannot discuss this data with scientific counterparts in the EU, inevitably we could find that different decisions are being drawn.

My noble friend Lord Whitty talked about his concerns around divergence by default. In a divergent regulatory system, the Government must be careful to avoid any lowering of our current high standard of environmental protections and increasing risk to public health, solely for the purpose of quick, short-term economic international trade wins or rapidly rolled-out innovations. I ask the Minister for her reassurance that this will not happen. Furthermore, a divergent chemicals regulatory system in the UK will bring additional cost burdens to business and, if standards are lowered or untrusted, will bring consequences to the ability to trade products with the EU. The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, talked about the burdens on business if we do not get this right. We have to put safety first and consider the impact on the environment.

Significant divergence giving the UK a competitive advantage risks triggering rebalancing measures by the EU, such as retaliatory tariffs, under the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement. Remaining closely aligned with EU REACH would ensure that UK consumers and the environment continue to benefit from the EU’s relatively high protections as they continue to improve, and would also avoid unscrupulous manufacturers dumping products in the UK that fail to meet EU standards. The amendment we have been debating would provide important benefits and protections from damaging divergence that could lower standards. I urge the Minister to consider the benefits of supporting it.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for his Amendment 293E. As I have outlined in previous groups, the Bill will enable the Government to update our REACH regulation to ensure it keeps pace with the latest scientific developments and to prevent our chemicals regulation becoming frozen. I start by reassuring the noble Lord that there are already several safeguards included in the Bill. Changes to the REACH regulation have to be consistent with Article 1 of that regulation, including ensuring a high level of protection for human health and the environment. The Secretary of State must publish an explanation of why he considers that to be the case before making any changes.

I know the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, was particularly concerned about the powers that the Secretary of State is taking to amend this. An ability to make supplementary, incidental, transitional or saving provisions is a standard provision in legislation. The aim is to make sure that we avoid inconsistencies, discrepancies or overlaps developing in the statute book, but it would not enable us to make wholesale changes to the protected provisions. To take an example, Article 35 of the REACH regulation is a protected provision which gives workers the right to access information that their employer receives under other provisions of the REACH regulation, Articles 31 and 32, concerning a chemical substance or mixture they use or may be exposed to. If we were to extend the scope of those other REACH provisions to also cover information about substances in articles, we would want to amend Article 35 to reflect these changes.

I should say at the outset that both the UK and the EU recognise that EU REACH is part of the single market. Access to EU REACH or associate membership of the European Chemicals Agency are tied to the single market, and the EU insisted on this. The Government have already made it clear that we would not accept being subject to the European Court of Justice, and associate membership would mean just that. However, the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement still provides for co-operation between the EU and UK chemicals agencies.

I should also stay at this juncture that, while I take the point about the larger resources that EU REACH has, Defra has asked HSE to work on two restrictions to date. I know that, normally, the EU would probably do five or six a year, but we have a significant time advantage: even with the Secretary of State asking the devolved authorities’ consent, we still have a speed advantage because we do not have to get agreement from 27 countries, which, in chemicals terms, can actually take many years.

We have also provided over 20 provisions relating to the fundamental principles of REACH, listed in the table in paragraph 6 of Schedule 20. They include: the “no data, no market” principle; the last resort principle on animal testing; the aim of progressively replacing substances of very high concern through the authorisation process; the effect of restrictions; the importance of communicating information to the public on the risks of substances; and various provisions to ensure that UK REACH will be properly transparent.

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Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I rise to ask two questions, which I think have been answered. One is about microplastics and how they are covered by REACH; in writing to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, it would be extremely helpful if the Minister could copy me in too. They are a genuine area of concern. Secondly, I want to pursue the idea of a business-led review of REACH, not to undermine environmental standards but to make sure that the nonsenses of this area are tackled. I would be very happy to talk to my noble friend about that.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I am very happy to take both issues back to the department.

Lord Whitty Portrait Lord Whitty (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, which attempted to reassure me—I am not sure it did entirely. I also record my thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Bennett, and my noble friend Lady Hayman for their support for this amendment.

The Minister attempted to be reassuring, but the wording of Schedule 20, introduced by Clause 133, does not give the cast-iron guarantee that she appeared to be giving. I appreciate that there are other developments in this Bill and elsewhere which would restrict her or any future Minister’s freedom of manoeuvre in this area, but an explicit requirement to report to Parliament if they intend not to follow the EU level of protection is important. I do not think that the combination of Schedule 20 and the text of the Bill delivers that. I ask the Minister to get her officials to have another look at it, but if she were forthcoming with an alternative amendment herself I would certainly have a look at that.

Chemicals have been a great boon to mankind. The chemicals industry is one of our great successes in industrial life, but it has also been shown to be quite damaging in a number of serious respects. The misuse of chemicals, the wrong disposal of chemicals, the wrong combination of chemicals and the wrong application of chemicals to humans, products, the landscape and the environment have caused a large number of problems. It was therefore important that Europe, when we were members, developed an effective system of regulating chemicals; effectively, if there was no data indicating their safe use, they would not be given access to the market. That is the basis of REACH.

I was interested in the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and I know that she reflects serious concerns from parts of industry. On this one, I think she is slightly out of date. It was certainly true when REACH started to be established, from 2007 roughly, that there was considerable concern throughout the chemicals industry that the regulations and the data required would be too burdensome, prevent innovation and cause difficulties for the sector. That concern continued for a number of years, but two things have happened since.

First, public concern about the impact of chemicals on human health and the environment has seriously grown, and so likewise has the industry’s recognition that it needs a robust system of regulation to which it can be party. Secondly, the REACH system has bedded in across Europe. As I said in my speech, we must recognise that the European chemicals industry is pretty pan-national, in terms of both large companies and small companies with which they have a supply chain or a contractual arrangement, as well as importers and exporters. There is a lot that the industry has had to get used to, some of which it did not initially like, but it has now proved a rather more effective system of regulation than some others in the armoury of the European Commission, I would argue, and certainly much more accepted, both scientifically and by those who are concerned, and by the industry itself. It was therefore a bit of a surprise to hear the noble Baroness express such concerns—there may be some companies still upset by it, but in general it has been accepted.

I also think that the decision to duplicate on the same basis, in effect, as the European system has caused some frustration to industry but it is that duplication, rather than the essence of the European regulatory structure and regulatory process, that is causing any irritation now. That may also settle down. What I hope for in terms of those who are looking for protection from the impact of chemicals is that the HSE, Defra, the Environment Agency and everybody else who is involved in this area develop a speed of reaction that matches that of Europe. If they do that, then duplication ceases to be quite so important.

At the moment, that is not the case and we therefore potentially have three different sorts of divergence. We have a divergence because Europe has moved on but we have not got round to doing it—I call that divergence by default. We have divergence because the UK has decided explicitly that it wants a rather different system that would be less restrictive than Europe. We have divergence because the UK has decided that it wants better regulation. Both of those are possible under my amendment but they have to be explained to Parliament and justifiable in the terms of the original REACH proceeding. I do not think that the wording of Schedule 20 gives that degree of certainty. We need more clarity, not less. We need more understanding of what we are trying to protect in the chemicals regulation in terms of its impact on human health, animal health and welfare, wildlife and everything else this Bill is concerned with before we try to change the system significantly.

Therefore, this is an attempt to ensure that there is no regression, that any divergence is beneficial and that it is clearly explained to Parliament. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and others who might oppose this amendment recognise the importance of that. However, I take comfort from the support around the rest of the Committee for at least the principle of this amendment. In the meantime, I will withdraw it and we will, no doubt, come back to something like this on Report.

Environment Bill

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Report stage
Wednesday 8th September 2021

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 43-II Second marshalled list for Report - (6 Sep 2021)
Relevant documents: 3rd and 5th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee, 4th Report from the Constitution Committee
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, before we begin proceedings today, I think we can all agree that we did not make as much progress as we had hoped on Monday. May I make a few points about the rules of engagement for Report in the hope that we can make things a little swifter today? I remind the House that on Report, apart from the mover of an amendment, who may reply to the debate on the amendment, Members should not speak more than once to an amendment, save with the leave of the House to explain some material point in their speech. Only the mover of an amendment may speak after the Minister. Other Members speaking after the Minister may do so only to ask short questions of elucidation. I should be very grateful if we could all adhere to these rules.

Clause 5: Environmental targets: reporting duties

Amendment 11

Moved by
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Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for tabling these important amendments. Cultural and historical landmarks and environments bring recognised value to our environment. As such, this debate has raised important concerns about their omission from the Environment Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, said, after our debate in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, assured your Lordships that the historical environment will be considered when the Government prepare their environment improvement plans for the natural environment.

The Minister also referred, as have many noble Lords here today, to the 25-year environment plan, which, as we know, is to be adopted as the first statutory environmental improvement plan. It has a commitment to safeguarding and enhancing the beauty of our natural scenery, and improving its environmental value, while being sensitive to considerations of its heritage. However, because this Bill explicitly excludes the historic environment from the provisions of Part 1—as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said—this potentially excludes it from future versions of the EIPs. The 25-year plan also recognises the importance of the environment for people. This is something else that is not explicitly carried forward into the Bill. It is all very well for the Minister to talk about what is in the 25-year plan, but that is not the same as actively improving the quality and conservation of these environments, and increasing people’s opportunity to appreciate and enjoy them, by putting them inthe Environment Bill.

Many noble Lords have talked about the need to ensure that the goals in the 25-year plan will be taken forward into future versions. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, among others, talked of the disconnect between this Bill and the 25-year plan. We have also heard many noble Lords eloquently describe how the natural and historic are tied together, their importance to our society and that what impacts one aspect may well have an effect on another. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, spoke passionately about parish churches; the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, talked about the importance of our archaeological sites; and the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, mentioned the particular concerns of Historic England. I am sure we are all aware that the National Trust has also expressed its deep concerns.

We have also heard much in recent months and weeks, highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic, of the importance of us getting outside into nature. However, the Bill fails to afford equal priority of access to and enjoyment of the natural environment. Again, this is another disconnect between the Bill and the Government’s ambitions in their 25-year environment plan, which included a policy aim to ensure that the natural environment could be used by everyone. Amendment 17 brings people’s enjoyment of the natural environment into the EIPs.

This Bill needs to be brought into line, I believe, with the 25-year plan and the plan needs to be brought in line with legislation, so that when the Bill gets Royal Assent, these provisions are part of what we will take into the future. As published, the Bill fails to commit the Government to act on this. As we emerge from the worst of the pandemic, during which the importance of getting outside and connecting with nature—and understanding our historic environment as part of that—it becomes very clear that this is something that society wants and needs. The Bill presents us with a rare opportunity to ensure that everyone can benefit from that.

Why are the Government so reluctant to explicitly include some of the really good and welcome provisions that are in the 25-year plan in the Bill? This would secure these ambitions for the future. It would continue to protect and improve our important landscapes and to encourage and facilitate equitable access for everyone to enjoy.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this interesting debate. In particular, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, for tabling these amendments and for speaking with me earlier. I stress that this Government consider the protection of our heritage a crucial issue.

The threats posed to the setting of the Bevis Marks synagogue are matters to be considered through the planning system, but I emphasise that in taking relevant decisions the local planning authority should have regard to the heritage policies within the National Planning Policy Framework. Certainly, in the case of Stonehenge, the recent decision is going through redetermination by the Department for Transport, National Highways and other relevant partners to protect the outstanding universal value of Stonehenge as much as possible. The state of conservation report will be submitted to UNESCO by February 2022 for the World Heritage Committee’s consideration.

On our commitment to heritage, in response to the Covid pandemic, in just the last year this Government have established an unprecedented £2 billion Culture Recovery Fund to support hundreds of heritage organisations, demonstrating our ongoing commitment to this country’s heritage. Furthermore, Defra’s new planning and protected landscapes programme will provide additional investment, allowing farmers and land managers to deliver better outcomes. I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, that this can include projects that provide opportunities for people to discover, enjoy and understand the landscape and its cultural heritage.

The new ELMS will allocate money for heritage as part of the list of public goods and will be focused on delivering against priority environmental outcomes. We are exploring our scheme offer with regard to heritage outcomes, as well as the potential for delivery on heritage through other available mechanisms. In the meantime, Defra’s countryside stewardship programme has proven very successful in delivering outcomes for heritage and the historic environment. Countryside stewardship is open to new applications until 2024, with agreements running throughout the agricultural transition period. I think my noble friend Lord Blencathra asked for a meeting with Historic England. I confirm that the Minister has agreed to that meeting.

I turn first to Amendment 15, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. I emphasise that the primary purpose of the EIP is to improve significantly the natural environment. Amending the Bill to make express provision in relation to the historic environment risks eroding this important focus. However, I can reassure noble Lords that, where appropriate, the Government will consider the historic environment when preparing EIPs for the natural environment. Indeed, in the 25-year environment plan, the Government committed to:

“Safeguarding and enhancing the beauty of our natural scenery and improving its environmental value while being sensitive to considerations of its heritage”.


I turn to Amendments 16, 17 and 25. I reassure noble Lords that the Government’s annual reports will already include a description of the steps taken to implement the EIP, as well as an assessment of environmental improvement and progress towards Bill targets. The Government will also obtain data for the purpose of monitoring improvement to the natural environment in accordance with the EIP. These requirements are broad in scope, allowing the Government to consider all aspects of the EIP in their monitoring and reporting. This includes measures expressed as targets, goals or objectives, as well as any measures included to improve people’s enjoyment of the natural environment. Therefore, we feel that these amendments are unnecessary. Likewise, the OEP’s monitoring functions allow it similar breadth, monitoring progress in improving the natural environment in accordance with the EIP.

Turning to Amendment 29, Clause 44 is a bespoke definition created to underpin the new environmental governance framework provided for in the Bill. Not only does this clause define the purpose and scope of EIPs, it also defines the scope of the OEP’s enforcement function. This amendment could therefore result in provisions concerning the protection of specific historic sites falling within the enforcement remit of the OEP. This is not and should not be the OEP’s role. In drafting this clause, the Government have taken into account that heritage stakeholders, including the Heritage Alliance, are not seeking this effect. The OEP’s remit should be focused on its principal objective: to contribute to environmental protection and the improvement of the natural environment. This amendment would only dilute the focus of the OEP and therefore weaken its effectiveness.

I must stress to all noble Lords, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and my noble friend Lord Trenchard in particular, that the Government take heritage seriously. But the raison d’être for this particular Bill is the improvement of the natural environment, which is why its focus should always be the natural environment. However, while I will not be able to accept these amendments, I would like to confirm for the noble Lord that we are planning to engage with a wide range of stakeholders to inform the EIP review and refresh process through specially organised round tables and by bringing the subject to existing stakeholder forums throughout 2022. In addition, there will be various subject-specific consultations, such as the nature recovery Green Paper, which are likely to inform the EIP’s development.

I should touch on the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. As he rightly said, and as was agreed in the meeting between him and the Minister—at which I understand my noble friend made a strong case—officials will, with Natural England, explore opportunities to develop further guidance for churches to help them mitigate problems caused by bats. I am sure these conversations will be ongoing. I confirm that we will consult heritage stakeholders as we develop the next EIP, and I look forward to their inputs in the design of the plan.

Lastly, the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, mentioned the cultural sector in Afghanistan. Across government we are closely monitoring the situation and stand ready to provide whatever support we can to help protect the rich Afghan cultural heritage for future generations and those involved in the sector. We obviously urge all parties in Afghanistan to protect the cultural heritage of their country, including the museums and cultural institutions. I hope I have been able to reassure noble Lords and I ask the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, to withdraw his amendment.

Environment Bill

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Report stage
Monday 13th September 2021

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 43-IV Fourth marshalled list for Report - (13 Sep 2021)
Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, in my opinion this is quite an important set of amendments because they focus on some specific causes of air pollution. The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, ably introduced her Amendment 51, on the impact of speed on air quality, as she did in Committee, and spoke passionately about why we need to reduce speed limits to reduce PM2.5. We have heard about research on the impact of road traffic, and the fact that it is responsible for up to 80% of particulate pollution in the UK, but it is also likely that this is an underestimate. The noble Baroness explained how particulates arise from the friction between tyre rubber and road surfaces and the impact of speed on climate change.

Amendment 51 in particular considers a 20 miles an hour speed limit. It is worth noting that the UK default speed limit of 30 miles an hour is 60% higher than that in most continental European towns, where 30 kilometres an hour, or 18.6 miles an hour, is the norm. Imperial College has reported that, at 20 miles an hour, brake and tyre wear is significantly reduced. When the 30 kilometres an hour zones were introduced in Germany, in the 1980s, car drivers changed gear less often, braked less often and required less fuel.

Congestion is also a factor in air pollution, as emissions from a standing vehicle are higher than those from a moving one; this was demonstrated during the debate we had on idling engines. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, also referred to the fact that lower speeds improve traffic flow through junctions and can actually help to reduce congestion.

I turn to Amendment 55, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and others, and Amendment 57, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I will talk to them together, because they both propose air quality improvement areas. In the introduction to his amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Tope, talked about why local authorities are an important part of tackling air pollution, and why they need the powers to make a genuine difference. He spoke particularly about the issue of combustion plants in this context.

Amendment 57 builds on Amendment 55, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, explained very clearly. The need to include PM2.5 when setting a national air quality target is critical. We have previously debated the importance of meeting the WHO targets for this, and we also know that, next week, there is likely to be an announcement that the guidelines will be tightened even further.

The noble Baroness then talked about how her amendment would give metro mayors powers to designate air quality improvement areas. This is important, because it helps to avoid a patchwork of different emissions standards in our larger cities, and the noble Baroness talked about how important that is.

The noble Baroness spoke next about the third part of her amendment, which seeks to end the sale and use of wood-burning stoves in urban areas. Again, we have heard in the debate how important this is in helping to reduce PM2.5 emissions in our cities. The Climate Change Committee has also made it clear that wood-burning stoves should not be counted towards either low-carbon heat targets or renewable targets.

Finally, on Amendment 56, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Tope, idling creates air pollution and is really unnecessary. An idling engine burns fuel less efficiently than when the vehicle is moving, and so it produces more emissions than when it is travelling. Additionally, the toxic gases produced by idling are emitted in the same place, which means that localised air pollution is higher. This is particularly important near schools, because research shows that exposing children to high levels of air pollution can stunt lung growth and cause behavioural and mental health problems. Those of us who are drivers have a personal responsibility here; whether we are parked outside a school, picking someone up from the station or waiting in a car park, we all must do our bit by switching off our engines to reduce our emissions.

As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, reminded us, idling is an offence in law, but there are clearly issues around enforcement and penalties. My noble friend Lord Whitty talked about the difficulties that Westminster Council is having, for example, and this was mentioned by other noble Lords. As I said at the beginning, this is an important group of amendments, focusing on things the Government can do to act quickly to reduce air pollution. I await the Minister’s response with interest.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I begin by thanking noble Lords for the quality of their contributions on the important issue of air quality throughout these proceedings, including in Committee. I agree that ambitious action is needed, which is why the Bill requires the Government to set two targets on air quality, including for fine particulate matter, the particulate most harmful to human health. These will be supported by a robust set of measures in the Bill which enable the action required to meet those targets. I can confirm to the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, that the department will organise a meeting for her and the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, with the Minister, if this has not been organised already. In light of her point about the impact on electricity demand from the speeds of electric vehicles, we will write to the Department for Transport for clarification on that issue.

Turning to Amendment 51 in the name of the noble Baroness, the Government support the use of 20 miles per hour speed limits or zones in the right places, depending on local circumstances. Local authorities have the power to set these limits, and I am confident that it is better for these decisions to be taken locally, taking a balanced account of the full range of impacts of changing speed limits, including economic and environmental effects. The Air Quality Expert Group report into non-exhaust emissions from road traffic concluded that the most effective traffic pollution mitigation strategies reduce the overall volume of traffic, lower the speed where traffic is free flowing—for example, on motorways—and promote driving behaviour that reduces braking and higher-speed cornering. We agree that we need to reduce PM2.5 emissions from tyre and brake wear. In towns and cities where traffic is not free flowing, the best way to do this is by encouraging fewer vehicle journeys rather than slower journeys. We do not want our recovery from this pandemic to be car-led. That is why the Government are continuing with our ambitious plans to increase active travel, with a long-term vision for half of all journeys in towns and cities to be walked or cycled by 2030, backed by £2 billion of investment over five years.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asked a number of questions. I believe she is mistaken about what I said in Committee. We have now checked Hansard, but I would like more time to go through it in detail. If what she said about casualty rates is relevant to that we will, in any event, write to clarify the point I made. She also asked some other questions, which I will come to later. We want to encourage more people to make sustainable, healthier travel choices that help improve air quality for local communities.

I turn to Amendments 55 and 57. Through the Bill, we are strengthening the local air quality management framework to bring in a broader range of partners to work with local authorities to improve air quality, and to make it easier for them to use their powers to tackle, for example, domestic solid fuel burning, a key source of PM2.5. I take the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, about the cumbersome processes that local authorities have to go through and we are aware of the issues with procedures for making these orders. In 2020, we published a report, Traffic Regulation Orders, identifying improvements to the legislative process in England, and we plan to consult later this year on potential legislative reforms to make it easier and quicker to make orders. There are already controls in place for many of the sources of pollution of concern that noble Lords have cited, for example through environmental permitting.

I set out in detail in Committee the many levers that local authorities already have to improve air quality in their areas, so I do not propose to repeat them here, but for tackling non-road emissions, specifically non-road mobile machinery, there are already emissions standards that non-road mobile machinery must comply with before it is sold, and the Government recently agreed to increase the stringency of these standards. Our existing regulatory regime also already sets emissions controls targeting medium combustion plants. This regime requires all plants in scope, such as the plants referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, to be registered or permitted, and sets limits on the levels of pollutants that these plants can emit. Going forward, our clean air strategy committed to consider the case for tighter emissions standards for medium combustion plants to those already introduced and to consider how to tackle emissions from smaller plants which do not fall within the scope of these regulations or eco-design regulations. I believe it is better to continue to strengthen the existing approaches than to create a new framework which would add to an already complex regulatory picture. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, is aware that Defra officials recently met representatives of the City of London, and other local authorities, to understand how to tackle the specific issues that this amendment intends to address, using our existing powers.

On the noble Baroness’s Amendment 57, which would introduce a ban on wood-burning appliances, we recognise that many people rely on wood-burning stoves and open fires, which use natural fuel. Because of this, our recent domestic fuels legislation does not introduce an outright and indiscriminate ban. Instead, we have taken action through the Air Quality (Domestic Solid Fuels Standards) (England) Regulations 2020, which came into force in May, to encourage people to move away from using more polluting fuels, such as wet wood, to less polluting fuels, such as dry wood. The proposals are therefore aimed at protecting health by phasing out the most polluting fuels used for domestic combustion in England and encouraging people to burn less. This work is supported by an information campaign to encourage people to burn better and to reduce harmful emissions.

The regulations require that wood sold in smaller units must have a moisture content of 20% or less, phase out the supply of traditional house coal for domestic burning, and require that all manufactured solid fuels meet sulphur and smoke emissions limits, to tackle the most harmful emissions from domestic burning. However, we need to be mindful of the contribution that wood burning makes in areas where particulate levels are already high, such as in city and town centres. That is why local authorities already have the power to declare smoke control areas. We continue to undertake regular monitoring of emission sources to inform our work to tackle human health risks robustly, and in setting and working towards the new air quality targets we will consider whether stricter measures are needed.

Turning to Amendment 56 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, while this amendment would increase penalties for drivers idling unnecessarily, the priority must be to change motorists’ behaviour. With or without the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, we must encourage them not to idle—which is, after all, wasting expensive fuel—and instead push motorists towards using the technological solutions now available, rather than penalise them. Vehicle technology has moved on significantly and can play a part in addressing idling, including stop-start technology and low or zero-emission vehicles. If needed, however, powers are already available to local authorities to tackle unnecessary idling. Local authorities, as the existing guidance makes clear, should utilise a range of methods to encourage motorists to change their behaviour, including public information campaigns.

Although it seems a very simple idea to increase fines, the Department for Transport undertook a study on fines and concluded that increasing the level was not the best way of addressing the issue. Higher fines of up to £1,000 on conviction may also be issued if the police carry out enforcement against idling where a driver refuses to stop running their engine. This, of course, is rather more than the noble Lord’s suggested penalty, although I acknowledge that this is on conviction, rather than an on-the-spot fine. So, although I agree with the intended outcome of the noble Lord’s amendment, the Government’s position is that higher penalties are not the best approach to address this issue, so I beg noble Lords not to press their amendments.

Baroness Sheehan Portrait Baroness Sheehan (LD)
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I thank the Minister. I have one quick question for her. She said that the Government do not want slower traffic, they just want fewer cars on the road, but that flies in the face of what public opinion says on slower traffic. Wherever 20 miles per hour limits have been introduced, they have been very popular. Will she quickly address that? Is it in order for me to ask her to elucidate?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I am happy to elucidate. I do not believe I said I want just to reduce traffic; I said that both solutions will produce the desired outcome—both fewer vehicles and slower traffic.

Baroness Sheehan Portrait Baroness Sheehan (LD)
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I thank the Minister and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Moved by
58: Clause 74, page 65, line 10, leave out “negative” and insert “affirmative”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides for regulations under Clause 74 to be subject to affirmative procedure.
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Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords, this is an interesting issue. The question, of course, is: where does the blame lie? Sewage spills happen and they are intensely damaging for humans and for ecosystems, yet we have heard some explanations that almost seem conflicting. We can argue that it is we who cause the problem because of the way that we dispose of our own waste, or that it is the fault of the water companies, which are clearly incompetent at times—I shall be supporting the noble Duke’s amendment. As I argued in the debate on the office for environmental protection, we have to penalise them for these spillages. In many cases it might be the developers’ fault for building on land they should not have built on, or it might the local authority’s fault for allowing developers to build on, for example, flood plains where they should not be building. At the moment, however, it is the water companies, and we really have to take this seriously.

I am supporting all the amendments as they all seem perfectly acceptable. The Green Party’s view is that all new developments should have a proper, sustainable drainage system so that the sorts of spillages that we are hearing about simply do not happen. However, this has clearly not been achieved and it is a big problem. I have signed the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, on chalk streams. I was going to eulogise about them, but I think I was given the same briefing, as other people have covered more or less the same territory.

I thank Feargal Sharkey, who was the lead singer in a punk band, the Undertones—I am afraid I have never heard of it. He is apparently a lifelong fly-fisherman, but is now dedicating his life to chalk streams and he sent an excellent briefing. Chalk streams are very precious and special, and we do not treat them very well. If not one of our chalk streams currently achieves a good overall environmental health status, that is quite shocking; we really need to do something about it.

I was incredibly impressed by the PR machine of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. I have had dozens of emails supporting his amendment. I admire that; perhaps he could share with me exactly how he got it to work.

This is, again, clearly an issue that the Government should have put in the original Environment Bill. This is an old Bill in the sense that it was originally written in 2019. It was pathetic then and it is pathetic still. Can the Government please do a little rethinking and include this issue in the Bill?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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The arguments have been very well and fulsomely made, building a consensus. Will noble Lords who still wish to speak make their speeches as short as possible and introduce some new arguments?

Earl of Caithness Portrait The Earl of Caithness (Con)
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Indeed, I have a new point to add, which has not been made—there is no point in frowning, I say to my noble friend.

I thank the Minister for bringing forward the government amendments and for his commitment to reviewing Schedule 3. That was something that I asked for in Committee and I am delighted that he is going to do it. Has he been briefed on the latest research from the University of Manchester, which has demonstrated a direct link between poor wastewater management and high levels of microplastic pollution in the United Kingdom? When we have these overflows, the microplastics go out into the water system—not only the rivers, but the sea, thus negating a whole lot of good that the Government have been trying to do in reducing microplastics. If this were not enough of a bad situation before, it is now really bad.

My noble friend’s Amendment 63 proposes including a report

“on elimination of discharges from storm overflows”.

I merely ask, what next after subsection (3)? It is good to have a report and lay it before Parliament, but what action will be taken? That is the only thing that matters now. I support these amendments, and support very strongly what my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern said: we should be aiming to separate the sewage from the wastewater. No new developments should be allowed to discharge automatically into the current sewerage system unless agreed by the water authority; there must be other alternatives.

I have one final comment for my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering. If she expects a developer to make a commitment towards future expenditure on one of these systems, I am afraid she is whistling in the wind. The developers will not do so; if necessary, they would go into bankruptcy and set up a new company to avoid any liability.

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Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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Tackling storm overflows in England is a government priority, and the Government are acting decisively through this Bill. I am grateful to the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, my noble friend Lady Altmann and many others for the pressure that they have exerted on the issue of storm overflows. These new government amendments, which the Rivers Trust has welcomed as a

“significant victory for river health and ... river users”

are a credit to their work.

I am pleased to bring forward government Amendments, 61, 62 and 63, to add further duties on water companies and the Government. This strengthens the package of government amendments brought forward on this issue in Committee. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, we have secured the agreement of the Welsh Government to these amendments.

Amendments 61 and 62 are designed to increase the accountability on water companies and to provide greater transparency for the public on the frequency and impact of storm overflows. Companies will be required to report on storm overflows in near real time, meaning within an hour of them occurring, in a way that is easy for the public to access and understand. They will be required to monitor continuously the water quality upstream and downstream of both storm overflows and sewage treatment works. This will give regulators and the public crucial indicators of the health of our waters, including dissolved oxygen, ammonia, temperature and pH values, and turbidity. The information obtained from these two duties, along with the annual reporting required by the amendment that I introduced in Committee, will finally require full transparency from water companies about their impact on our waters. We have made this expectation clear in our draft strategic policy statement to Ofwat. For the first time, the Government will be telling the industry’s economic regulator that we expect water companies to take steps to “significantly reduce storm overflows”. Therefore, with respect to the noble Duke, the Duke of Westminster—

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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I am so sorry—Westminster, Wellington. I meant the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. My apologies; it has been a long session.

With respect to the noble Duke, it is not right to say that the Government are reluctant to influence investment decisions of the water companies. That is exactly what we are doing. We will also make it clear in the guidance that we will shortly be giving to water companies regarding the preparation of their drainage and sewerage management plans. These are a statutory requirement under the Bill and we expect them to include considered actions for reducing storm overflows and their harm. I am confident that this action, driven by the Bill, is the right approach. However, as I said in Committee, if those plans are not sufficiently ambitious, the Government will not hesitate to use our direction-making power under Clause 79 to require them to take more action. This is a direct power over the water companies and, as I said, we will not hesitate to use it.

Very briefly, in response to the comments from the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, he is right in what he says, but the operation of overflows during emergencies is covered separately through permits for emergency overflows or through defences under the environmental permitting regulations—so, for example, to avoid damage to human health or even human life. It is extremely rare and covers events such as asset failure.

None the less, I know that the noble Lord and many others are keen to see a road map towards the complete elimination of storm overflows, as am I and my colleagues in Defra. I want to be clear that in the government plan, we will absolutely commit to pushing as far as it is possible to go. The reality is that, as our actions to considerably reduce overflows are successful, the remaining overflows are likely to be much more challenging to resolve and may therefore involve greater costs, with marginal, slight benefits. That is why the initial assessments suggest that elimination could cost more than £150 billion, which we foresee would likely mean increased customer bills and trade-offs against other water industry priorities.

We need better evidence to be certain of that—a point made by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. To this end, Amendment 63 requires the Government to investigate and map out the actions needed to eliminate storm overflows and to report to Parliament, before 1 September next year, on how elimination could be achieved and the corresponding benefits and costs. The point about the report is that it will provide the public, Parliament and the water industry with up-front, clear and comprehensive information on the feasibility and cost of elimination. It will tell us what we can do. Between that government plan on storm overflows and the new elimination report, we will set out transparently and precisely how far we can then go. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, that this issue is taken extremely seriously by all my colleagues in Defra. Whatever the outcome of that report, it will inform our next steps and the commitments we make.

In the meantime, in addition to the action I have already set out, I am pleased to confirm today that the Government will undertake a review of the case for implementing Schedule 3 to the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 in England. This schedule would set mandatory build standards for sustainable drainage schemes—or SUDS—on new developments. We agree with noble Lords and others about the importance of using SUDS to reduce rainwater going into sewers, which in turn reduces the frequency of storm overflows, as well as providing multifunctional benefits for reducing flood risk and enhancing nature. Schedule 3 would allow us to do this, but we need first to ensure that it is still fit for purpose.

Commencing in October this year, Defra officials will work closely with MHCLG, local planning authorities, developers and SUDS experts as we assess the current situation with regard to the construction of SUDS and the potential for the schedule to improve this, as well as implementation options and the benefits and costs of those options. This information will also feed into the development of the Government’s plan on storm overflows, on which we will also consult in spring next year. The Government believe that this is the appropriate and best approach towards reducing the volume of rainwater entering combined sewerage systems, which is rightly a concern of both Amendment 59 in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, and Amendment 82 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt.

Regarding Amendment 82 specifically, I am grateful to the noble Lord and to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, for conveying his message to us and for taking the time to meet me recently on this issue. The importance of sustainable drainage for managing surface water on new developments is made clear in planning policy. A hierarchy for the management of surface water on new developments is also included in the building regulations of 2010, and Schedule 3, once we have reviewed the case for its implementation, would make the connection of surface water to foul sewer conditional on local planning approval of the developer’s proposed SUDS. The noble Baroness asked why we need another review. I simply say that the Government have to understand the possible options, benefits and costs for implementing any policy and legislation. While there is a wide range of evidence on the issue of Schedule 3, since 2010 there have been a lot of changes in the planning systems and advancements in SUDS technology. The review will enable us to understand the current landscape and the issues properly and to make an up-to-date and informed decision on implementation.

In response to the noble Baroness’s questions on SUDS maintenance, Schedule 3 sets out that the maintenance body is a SUDS approval body as part of a local planning authority. The review will consider whether this continues to be the most appropriate and the right approach, as well as looking at other options.

Environment Bill

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Report stage
Wednesday 15th September 2021

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 43-IV Fourth marshalled list for Report - (13 Sep 2021)
Relevant documents: 3rd and 5th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee, 4th Report from the Constitution Committee
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, before we begin proceedings, I remind noble Lords that the Bill needs to conclude today, and we have 12 groups to get through. I do not propose to outline all the rules of engagement again; suffice to say that only the mover of an amendment may speak after the Minister. Other Members speaking after the Minister may do so only to ask short questions of elucidation. I remind noble Lords that brevity is king in all things and please could they try not to repeat arguments already made in the same debate.

Amendment 99

Moved by
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Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, I do not have an American spouse to declare and I am certainly not a landowner, so maybe I bring more of a working-class approach to this. But I do declare an interest as a member of the South Downs National Park Authority, where conservation covenants are already becoming a live and slightly perturbing issue. I speak in support of Amendments 109, 110, 112, 113, 114 and 115 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, to which I have added my name. I also thank the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, for his amendments, which echo our concerns about the current wording of Part 7 of the Bill.

As the noble Earl, Lord Devon, said in Committee and again today, conservation covenants are a new and radical concept. They could bring great benefits to our landscape and to improving our biodiversity, but they are long-term agreements with huge implications for the landowners, so it is essential that we make the wording watertight from the start. The noble Earl’s Amendments 109 and 110 would require any conservation covenant to be underpinned by a deed. We believe this provision is essential. It would ensure that the landowner received appropriate legal advice before locking in the land to agreements that could last 100 years or more, committing their family for generations.

In the noble Lord the Minister’s letter following the debate in Committee, he made it clear that the covenants would not require a dominant and servient tenement. The implication was that this would be an equal agreement between the landowner and the responsible body, but we know this is not necessarily how it will work in practice. We are talking about public bodies or large institutions with huge resources compared to a single landowner, who may be a small farmer. So it is crucial that they get the best legal advice, which a deed would deliver. There would then be clarity for all on what the conservation requirements are.

As I mentioned in Committee, the concept of environmental stacking is also taking hold, where a landowner might have multiple conservation obligations to different bodies, with all the legal complexities that that would ensue. Could the noble Baroness clarify how it would work if a covenant existed for a piece of land? For example, would the landowner also be able to claim additional financial support through the sustainable farming incentive scheme?

We are also concerned about the implications of individual farmers being approached to sign covenants that are at odds with the wider plans for the landscape. How would we ensure that the covenant was in keeping with, for example, the strategic plans for the protected landscapes in the national parks? As I mentioned in Committee, farmers in the South Downs are already being approached to provide carbon offsets for developments elsewhere, and the new biodiversity offsets will complicate matters further. All of this underlines the need for a land-use framework for England, which my noble friend Lady Young will be debating in the next group.

I also agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, that the advice on conservation may turn out to be wrong, over a period of time, so we need a simple mechanism to adapt and sign off new amended conservation agreements.

Finally, we agree with the noble Earl that the responsible bodies that determine the basis of the covenant, if they are not public bodies or charities, should be organisations focused solely on conservation —we all had a great deal of sympathy with his example of Southern Water, which did not quite tick the box of being a trustworthy conservator—otherwise, there is a danger of the covenants being traded by for-profit institutions with no interest in the biodiversity outcome and no direct engagement with the landowner. In the worst case, it is possible to imagine all these covenants bundled up into packages and traded internationally, with the UK losing control of its land use. I hope noble Lords see the sense of these amendments and agree to support them, if the Minister is not able to adequately address these concerns.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate and especially the noble Earls, Lord Devon and Lord Caithness, for their amendments. I also thank the noble Earl, Lord Devon, for taking the time to discuss this important topic with the Secretary of State last night, and with Defra officials and the Law Commission. I start by emphasising that the Law Commission concluded that a regime for statutory conservation covenants is needed because there is currently no simple legal tool that landowners can use to secure conservation or heritage benefits when the land is sold or passed on.

Amendment 111, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, risks limiting crucial flexibility in the design of covenants. The Government strongly support the Law Commission’s approach of keeping the content and procedural requirements for conservation covenants simple and proportionate. We want to avoid unnecessary complexity and cost—and cost might dissuade landowners from entering into conservation covenants, leading to important conservation opportunities being lost. It is also vital that parties have the flexibility to design conservation covenants to suit their needs, given the wide range of conservation purposes they could be used to secure. We expect to see a range of different covenants created, from preserving small-scale heritage work done on a Tudor house through to securing long- term landscape-scale conservation management.

Amendment 109, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, seeks to prevent landowners inadvertently signing up to agreements, but I think this scenario is unlikely. The agreement must show that the parties intend to create a conservation covenant. A conservation covenant cannot be validly created unless the agreement clearly shows that the parties intended to create it. The Government have been working closely with stakeholders, including the NFU, CLA and the National Trust, to develop guidance, to be published, that will set out in more detail the process for creating conservation covenants and encourage both parties to take legal advice before entering into such an agreement.

On Amendment 110, I will first clarify something I said to noble Lords during the debate on the eighth day of Committee. To confirm, it is not necessary for a conservation covenant to be executed by deed for it to be registered as a local land charge. I also reassure the noble Earl, Lord Devon, that his concerns were carefully considered by the Law Commission: Clause 113 adheres to its final recommendations. His proposal that the agreement must be created in writing and signed was well received. In practice, those who prefer to execute their agreement as a deed may do so, and of course executing an agreement by deed does not guarantee that the parties will seek legal advice on the terms set out in the agreement—although, as I said, our guidance will encourage parties to take legal advice.

A perpetual agreement might be desirable to some; equally, a fixed-term conservation covenant could be appropriate to others. The proposal for flexibility on duration had the clear support of consultees and the Law Commission saw no sensible alternative. Where consideration forms part of an agreement, the clauses already allow for that to be captured. Requiring agreements to include provisions on duration and consideration risks rendering otherwise helpful agreements invalid if they fail to mention them, as consideration in particular may not be relevant to all agreements.

On Amendment 112, regarding responsible bodies, I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Devon, that for-profit bodies have a role to play in ensuring the success of conservation covenants. The Government’s 2019 consultation found broad support for allowing for-profit organisations to apply to be responsible bodies: 58% of respondents agreed, with only 26% against. The Government will closely check approved responsible bodies. Regulations on annual returns may require responsible bodies to provide an update on their eligibility. As part of the application process, we will also require organisations to notify us if conservation is no longer their main purpose or activity.