All 7 Baroness Watkins of Tavistock contributions to the Environment Act 2021

Read Bill Ministerial Extracts

Mon 21st Jun 2021
Environment Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage & Committee stage
Wed 23rd Jun 2021
Wed 30th Jun 2021
Mon 5th Jul 2021
Wed 7th Jul 2021
Mon 12th Jul 2021
Wed 14th Jul 2021

Environment Bill

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Excerpts
Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Watkins of Tavistock) (CB)
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We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 8. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in the debate.

Amendment 8

Moved by
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Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas (Con) [V]
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My Lords, my two amendments in this group are Amendments 9 and 57. Amendment 9 adds “connecting people with nature” to the priority areas in Clause 1(3), and Amendment 57 looks at the environmental improvement plans and adds “understanding” and “participation” to “enjoyment” in Clause 7(5).

Clause 1(3) lists the priority areas of air quality, water, biodiversity, resource efficiency and waste reduction. If we are giving priority to all those areas, we will be asking people to make substantial changes to the way they behave: to use less water; to drive less; to drive slower cars; to make fewer demands on the environment and the food they eat; to spend much more time recycling than they do at the moment; and doubtless other changes too. People need a motivation to do that, and the underlying motivation surely has to come from reconnecting people with nature, so that they value it and feel part of it, and it will therefore come into the equation when they are considering whether to go along with and support the changes the Government are proposing. There have been a number of changes recently where those proposing them have not chosen to take people with them. There is growing opposition to low-traffic neighbourhoods, for instance, because people were never involved, consulted or taken with them, and there was no underlying motivation for the improvement of the common environment.

It is silly to make those entirely desirable changes in a way which conjures opposition. Stonewall has done this with trans rights. It does not have to be this way. It means that those proposing change must take long steps to involve people in the reasons for those changes, and the underlying motivations. In the case of subsection (3), the underlying motivation is a love of and connection with nature. We know that people are capable of that because we can see it all around us, in those people who are connected. We know from that, and from research, how much well-being and how much joy and pleasure—at a very low cost to the environment—comes from having a deep love and understanding of nature. It really ought to be the underpinning value in subsection (3), and it ought not—coming to the environmental improvement plans—be just about the enjoyment of nature. This is not a passive thing, like a television show, but something which people need to be part of. I hope that the changes I propose will find favour with the Government. They will make everything else they are trying to do much more effective when it comes to putting it into practice.

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Watkins of Tavistock) (CB)
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We will return to the noble Lord later. We now move to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and after her the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, as the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, have withdrawn.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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I rise to speak to Amendments 8 and 56, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, to which I have attached my name, though I will also offer my support to Amendment 9, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, about connecting people with nature. It is clearly much connected to Amendments 8 and 56.

In introducing this amendment, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, focused on the need to win support for the Bill by allowing people to access nature. I will also focus on the public health elements, and the fact that we now have increasing awareness—with particular credit to many campaigners over the years, and to many researchers who have helped us understand this—that for the human microbiome, mental health or general well-being, exposure to, involvement in and being in nature is good for people’s health. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, was talking about access to small spaces. I will talk much more broadly, and I fear that perhaps I will scare the horses a little here, but I want to draw noble Lords’ attention to the degree of the desire for access to nature that exists out there. I put it to your Lordships’ Committee that we very much need to create more space because there is a push for very great openness.

In talking about that, I will refer, and offer my support, to something known as the Right to Roam campaign. It highlights that, in England, 92% of the countryside and 97% of rivers are not accessible to the public. We often talk about “these overcrowded islands” and how difficult it is for people to get to open space. But some parts of these islands are not very crowded at all. The Right to Roam campaign is calling for an extension to the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, so that people will have much broader and easier access to open space, including hundreds of thousands of acres of woodland, meadows, rivers and their banks. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 gave access to 8% of England. That is mountain, moorland, commons and some downland heath. By the very nature of those spaces, they tend to be very remote. They are not easy to access, particularly with our extraordinary lack of public transport in rural areas—in fact, they are almost totally inaccessible to people who do not have access to a car. There is a real postcode lottery, and a clear inequality and unfairness in our current arrangements.

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Viscount Trenchard Portrait Viscount Trenchard (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I think that farmers and landowners welcome the public’s enjoyment of and responsible access to the countryside. Of course, one of the joys of the countryside is that few people are there. If the whole of our urban population walked in the countryside for all their free time, it would be wrecked. There has been an enormous increase in recent years in public access to the countryside. Unfortunately, public understanding of and respect for nature and the countryside environment have not developed commensurately.

The noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, in Amendments 8 and 56, seeks to add targets in respect of public access to and enjoyment of the natural environment. I am not quite sure how public enjoyment of the countryside can be measured. It depends in part on the weather. Ironically, the increased, and in many cases unauthorised, public access which has occurred during the past year or more has been the single greatest cause of damage to the land and to nature. There has been a massive increase in fly-tipping, littering and trespassing. All this has produced unexpected costs for farmers and landowners in the very year in which they suffer the first big cut in the direct payments scheme, and this before they are able to compensate their loss of earnings through enrolment in the new ELM schemes.

Natural England has launched a new countryside code, which should be taught in schools, as the CLA has recommended. Farmers and landowners welcome responsible visitors, but it is vital that the increased numbers enjoying the countryside stick to footpaths. They must also understand the risks around livestock. There are many areas where wildlife habitats need protection and should be left undisturbed. So I would not support an unfettered right to roam, and any measures that the Government take to encourage increased public access must be balanced by measures to improve public understanding of, and respect for, the countryside.

Some people believe that agriculture is the enemy of environmentalism, but surely the opposite is true: sustainable agriculture and the recovery of nature can and must coexist. I very much hope that the ELM schemes under development will encourage that. For these reasons I prefer Amendments 9 and 57 in the name of my noble friend Lord Lucas: they presuppose improved public understanding of the countryside. I am not convinced, however, that the countryside needs, or can easily cope with, any accelerated increase in public access beyond that which increased prosperity and improved work/life balance is in any case already enabling.

Amendment 58 from the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, is interesting. Illegal use of motor vehicles on private roads and tracks, whether sealed or unsealed, should be prevented by better enforcement, but I do not think that the state should distinguish between driving on sealed and unsealed tracks. Furthermore, many tracks which were sealed years ago are now indistinguishable from unsealed tracks.

The last amendment in this group is Amendment 284, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. It is probably otiose, in that the Bill already gives the Secretary of State the powers to set targets for the people’s enjoyment of the natural environment. There are already 140,000 miles of public footpaths and other rights of way in England and Wales, and landowners are busy considering what additional paths they might open to the public. Can the Minister confirm whether ELMS will provide the opportunity for land managers to receive grants for allowing permissive access, similar to those which were offered under countryside stewardship schemes?

The noble Baroness suggested that a review should compare public access rights in England with those in other parts of the United Kingdom. Is she not aware how great the differences are? The population density of England is 279 people per square kilometre, more than four times that of Scotland at 67 people per square kilometre, and nearly twice that of Wales at 151 people per square kilometre. The vast difference between England and Scotland in typical terrain and density suggests that a comparison of access rights would be irrelevant, even if interesting. I regret therefore that I cannot support this amendment either.

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

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

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

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

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

Environment Bill

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Excerpts
Committee stage
Wednesday 23rd June 2021

(2 years, 12 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)
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, there was much wrangling over the “state of nature” amendment in the other place. Of course the noble Lord, Lord Randall, also drew the attention of the House to the public petition on this issue, which has now reached almost 200,000 signatures. It is clearly an important issue. I welcomed the Government’s intention to come forward with their own amendment on it but it is a bit of a disappointment. It fails to deliver the Government’s own commitment to reverse, not just halt, the decline of biodiversity by 2030. Other noble Lords outlined the basis of that, but I will simply recap: the Government promised targets that were equivalent to net zero for biodiversity, but these amendments simply do not deliver that.

All this is rather strange because the Prime Minister has played a leading global role in the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature and, most recently, the G7’s nature compact. Both those initiatives aim to halt declines by 2030. This welcome ambition needs to be firmly secured in the legislation and in this element of the targets. If we do not set an ambitious target in the Bill, we will look rather foolish at COP 15 and COP 26.

Government Amendment 22 has some wonderful weasel words in it. It talks of furthering

“the objective of halting a decline in the abundance of species.”

We need an unequivocal statement. The Climate Change Act has the 2050 net-zero target; we need something equally clear and unequivocal for biodiversity. That is one element but the other is that it needs to be a target that refers to not just halting decline but starting to reverse it. In his letter of 8 June, following Second Reading, the Minister said the Government would not set the final target until after COP 15, when global targets are going to be set. In keeping with global Britain, the UK should be leading, not following—not waiting for the global conference but setting the pace and ambition.

After all, for many years we have been fiddling while Rome burns. The noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, talked about 70 years’ worth of agricultural impact on biodiversity, regrettably. When I was chief executive of RSPB in the mid-1990s, NGOs drove—and the Government eventually endorsed—the Biodiversity Action Plan, which aimed to halt and reverse declines in species and habitats. It was a very worthwhile and inclusive initiative but, by 2020, government commitment to that excellent process had evaporated and it was left without any resources. Let that be an object lesson on the commitment, energy, resource and, in today’s case, the statutory backing required if we are to reverse biodiversity decline. We cannot afford to fail this time, as the rate of species decline and habitat loss increases, irrespective of the noble Lord collecting insects on his windscreen.

A chilling statement was made about species decline and extinction, and I do not think it overdramatic to say that every extinction foreshadows our own. It is that important. I support Amendment 24 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Randall and Lord Krebs, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, which

“would set a clear requirement for a target to halt the decline in the abundance of species by 2030.”

I also support Amendment 25, in the name of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch, which talks of not just halting the decline, but ensuring the abundance of species then increases.

I also commend Amendment 202, in the name of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch. It restates the need for a target to not just halt but reverse biodiversity decline. More importantly, it lays out the parameters of a target to be more rounded than simply species abundance—a true “State of nature target”. It adds to abundance and distribution of species

“the extent and condition of priority habitats”.

I too would like to see habitats as part of the target.

My colleagues in the green NGOs advise me that we should grab a species target while the going is good, and that a well-designed target in species abundance could, as the noble Lord, Lord Randall, said, serve as a proxy for the overall state of the natural environment. I want the Government to be more ambitious and adopt a habitat component to the target, as well. Species and habitats are mutually dependent. Without habitats, species are a bit like the old Morecambe and Wise joke about Eric’s piano playing; all the notes are there, but not necessarily in the right order. The habitats bring the assemblages of species together.

I hope the Minister will consider embracing the spirit of these amendments. As the Minister knows and regularly tells the House, the Government have launched a large range of initiatives which have the potential, if properly delivered and co-ordinated, to halt and reverse the decline of biodiversity. The Government should have the courage of their convictions and establish a much more ambitious and robust state-of-nature target.

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Watkins of Tavistock) (CB)
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The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Earl, Lord Devon.

Earl of Devon Portrait The Earl of Devon (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I rise to consider, as a number of other noble Lords have, the definition of species abundance, and to ask what such targets might mean for land management, particularly at a local level. I echo and endorse the excellent earlier comments of the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, and others, on Amendments 36 and 45, noting the unintended consequence of worthy targets. I remind noble Lords of my interests as listed in the register.

I particularly want to speak about the Exminster marshes, a SSSI Ramsar and RSPB nature reserve, traditionally famed and farmed for its early spring lamb—the earliest in England and a staple at Easter Sunday lunches before subjugation of New Zealand’s native ecosystems allowed us to have lamb year-round. The Exminster marshes are now renowned for overwintering wildfowl and waders, as well as ground-nesting birds and much else. I knew the marshes well as a child, which was not yet so long ago, and there is now nothing like the diversity of bird species there was when it was traditionally farmed, even if the abundance of certain species may have increased dramatically.

Since the RSPB acquired part of the marshes, the increase in birdlife has, for the most part, been seen in the non-native Canada goose, traditionally well controlled. Likewise, there has been an increase in the abundance of foxes, badgers and other marauding mammals, as noted by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, which has caused the RSPB to surround its field with electric fences to protect the few nesting peewits that remain. In the surrounding hills, the quantities of wild deer are now so high that young tree plantations all fail and Kenton’s allotments are surrounded by deer-proof fencing that makes them look like a prison camp. Meanwhile, the mitigation cost for one pair of cirl bunting on those same south Devon hills is set at £75,000—yet I have never even seen a cirl bunting.

Species abundance, as many noble Lords have commented, is very complex, and interventions to improve it can have dramatic and unforeseen consequences. Indeed, I have heard the Minister’s brother extolling the virtues of rewilding when launching the Devon environment fund last year. He spoke with particular passion on the introduction of carnivorous wild cats to Dartmoor. I hope he consults with the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, if he ever considers such a target, as the Dartmoor hill ponies would likely object to becoming their prey.

The Minister has already said there will be consultation and impact assessments completed before any targets are introduced, but could he please expand on the extent of that consultation? In various places in the Bill, notably in relation to local nature recovery, species conservation and protected site strategies, there are explicit consultation requirements set out. But nowhere do I see an obligation to consult with local land managers—the very people who will be most impacted by the targets and are most responsible for achieving them. Land use is a particularly local issue, as the noble Lord, Lord Curry, has explained. Each of our landscapes has been developed by local communities over centuries, for particular purposes sympathetic to that specific landscape and those who live and work within it. Centralised target setting, or target setting by national agencies alongside local planners, will not be sufficient.

I also note that the date for meeting the proposed species abundance target is December 2030. While I applaud the Government’s desire to set ambitious nature targets and be seen to be taking action now, I would note that this is only a year or two after the end of the agricultural transition period prescribed by the Agriculture Act. Therefore, at exactly the same time as farmers and land managers are wrestling with the largest upheaval in agriculture regulation in generations, they will be required also to meet as yet ill-defined species abundance targets about which they will not be consulted.

If we are not very careful, we will have dead ponies, no trees and wetlands full of Canada geese—until the badgers get their eggs, too. That is not nature recovery.

Environment Bill

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Excerpts
Committee stage
Wednesday 30th June 2021

(2 years, 11 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)
Before I end, I will directly address the challenge laid down by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. Although I do not have a copy of the letter in front of me and therefore cannot repeat it word for word, I assure him that it is the Government’s view that the OEP’s complaints and enforcement functions would not affect the rights of other persons to bring legal challenges against public authorities by way of a judicial review. However, it is within the court’s jurisdiction to hear and decide cases as it sees fit. I hope that addresses his final challenge. I hope this reassures all noble Lords, and I therefore beg them not to press their amendments.
Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Watkins of Tavistock) (CB)
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I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh.

Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley (Lab)
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My Lords, I have listened very carefully to this debate, particularly to the many noble and learned Lords who gave very powerful arguments in support of the amendments we have been discussing. I certainly believe that they have made some very strong cases. I was particularly interested in the comment from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, about the two levels of law, environmental and other ones. That is pretty fundamental. We have had a lot of discussion about penalties, enforcement, fines and the relationship with the ECJ, and whether fines are important or whether reputational damage is perhaps worse. There is also judicial review, which I will not go into now.

I am sad that it appears that the Minister has rejected all the arguments in these amendments. If they get through in Report, they will make a much better Bill than we have at the moment. I was really impressed with the suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, that there needs to be much more round-table discussion on this before the next phase. If not, I foresee big problems on Report. The most important thing is that the House and Members from all sides achieve something that we can all be proud of. From listening today, I certainly am not proud of it at the moment, but I hope that the Minister will reflect on this and organise something before the next stage.

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Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Watkins of Tavistock) (CB)
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We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 108A. Anyone wishing to press this, or anything else in this group, to a Division, must make that clear in debate.

Clause 42: Confidentiality of proceedings

Amendment 108A

Moved by
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Amendment 109 not moved.
Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Watkins of Tavistock) (CB)
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We come to the group beginning with Amendment 110. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in the group to a Division must make that clear in debate.

Clause 43: Meaning of “natural environment”

Amendment 110

Moved by

Environment Bill

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Excerpts
Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait Lord Faulkner of Worcester (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I shall speak to my Amendment 279, which is grouped with the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. I tabled it with noble Lords from across the Chamber, the noble Lords, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean and Lord Bradshaw, and the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, because we believe that the members of the heritage steam alliance—heritage railways, steam boats and ships, steam road vehicles, engineering museums and historic houses—are entitled to have confirmed the guarantee given by the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, in a private meeting on 25 May and repeated by him at Second Reading on 7 June, that they will be permitted to continue to burn coal. That guarantee should be placed in the Bill and enshrined in the Act when it finally passes.

At Second Reading, the noble Lord said:

“The Government are very confident, as am I, that heritage railways will continue to operate, because although our electricity systems will no longer rely on coal, it can still be used by a range of industries that need it”.—[Official Report, 7/6/21; col. 1306.]


In our meeting a fortnight earlier, he said that banning heritage coal use would be a disproportionate response to the clean air and climate change agendas and would damage the great cultural and economic value of the steam sector to our tourism economy. There is no need for me make again my Second Reading speech about the value of the heritage rail sector and other aspects of the heritage steam alliance to tourism and the regional economy in particular. I simply make the point that all Amendment 279 does is to put it beyond any doubt that the assurances Ministers have repeatedly given us that the heritage steam sector will remain in being have the force of law and cannot be reversed without fresh primary legislation.

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Watkins of Tavistock) (CB)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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My Lords, like all noble Lords, I support this Bill in the round. Having said that, it contains hints of an ugly intolerance; it sometimes gives the impression that those responsible for it know all the answers. A more open attitude would pay dividends and avoid error. After all, a short while ago, some of the same people were confidently and wrongly demanding that we all switch to diesel engines. The truth is that science evolves and new discoveries are made all the time. Humility in scientific matters is essential.

My concern in this group is with a small matter, economically speaking, where I fear an error could be made. It matters because this Bill could bring about the death of Thomas the Tank Engine and his or her nautical steamboat equivalent. Noble Lords will recall my repeated requests for cost-benefit analyses and my concern about the perverse effects of legislation, however important and well intentioned. I rarely receive a satisfactory answer, but that does not mean the request was not valid.

By making it impossible in practice to use British coal for heritage trains, boats and steam engines, we would, I fear, be consigning them in time to the scrap heap. This is unjustified. It is not in the spirit of reuse and recycle, which some of us supported earlier in Committee. Without a small exemption for the use of coal sourced in the UK, we will be importing coal from elsewhere. This would be worse for climate change, as you would have travel emissions as well as the impact of coal use. Also, as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, explained to me this morning—we often agree across the political divide—we are talking about small and often impecunious operators who need one or two suppliers to source, pay for and distribute this coal. What supplier would think of taking that risk if it had to be imported from Russia?

Alternatively, of course, we will be consigning these heritage vehicles to a sad death. That would lead to a loss of tourist engagement and income as travellers move elsewhere, often overseas by air. The rotting of the vehicles and railways would create its own waste pile, and the whole dismal process would be a wholly unnecessary and self-inflicted harm and error. As is often said by our Green colleagues—I am sorry that they are not here this evening—we must look in the round at these resource issues. I am very hopeful that my noble friend the Minister will listen to the concerns expressed by me and others and propose a suitable amendment on Report. Like others, I support Amendment 279.

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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.

Environment Bill

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Excerpts
Clause 92 agreed.
Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Watkins of Tavistock) (CB)
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We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 194B. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.

Amendment 194B

Moved by

Environment Bill

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Excerpts
I support this amendment very strongly, but may I ask Hansard just to stop reporting for a minute? I have an environmental confession to make. I used to be in the freight industry and I operated a transport depot very near to where my noble friend Lady Bakewell lives at the moment, on the Somerset Levels in a place called Bridgwater—that is Bridgwater in Somerset, where you do not have an “E” in the middle of the word; if you put one in, it is very bad. One thing that I used to transport was cut peat for horticultural purposes out of the Somerset Levels. I apologise to my colleague that I ever did that; it was before such things were even realised. But now we have no excuse for that sort of commercial activity. On that basis, I give complete personal backing to Amendment 283 from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch.
Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Watkins of Tavistock) (CB)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, has withdrawn from this set of amendments, so I call the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard.

Viscount Trenchard Portrait Viscount Trenchard (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, that decisions on the felling of roadside trees should remain a matter for local determination, and I support Amendment 257E. It is right that the Secretary of State should have to consult extensively with local authorities before he issues guidance on a public consultation, as provided for in Clause 108, which adds a new section to the Highways Act 1980. There is a risk that the new duty will be too bureaucratic, and care should be taken to ensure that any guidance issued does not encourage that.

I also support the noble Lord in his Amendment 257F, which allows local authorities to decide which exemptions there should be to the new duty to consult before felling any roadside trees. Councils should be free to take quick action to protect the public from harm, including against the spread of pests and diseases. Councils do not always get these things right, however, and the Committee may remember the outcry when South Tyneside Council cut down six horse chestnut trees to prevent children gathering conkers in 2004. At the time, my noble friend Lord Callanan was MEP for the north-east, and he described the pruning as

“the nanny state gone mad.”

He said that:

“In years gone by people didn’t try to rule lives in quite the same way as this. I wonder if the council will follow this to its natural conclusion and cut down all the trees in South Tyneside so that children won’t hurt themselves climbing up them.”


I hope that any guidance issued by the Secretary of State with regard to the felling of trees would aim to discourage councils from taking such disproportionate action to prevent the citizen from each and every risk he undertakes when he passes his garden gate.

As for Amendment 258 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, I think it may be unnecessary, because ancient woodland sites worthy of protection are already included within the category of sites of special scientific interest. I cannot see any sufficient reason to create a separate category of land— ancient woodland—which, as the amendment is drafted, does not even need to be of special scientific interest to qualify for Natural England’s protection.

I am not sure that I can support Amendment 259, also in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I understand that they think that a policy of diversity and freedom of movement, as far as flora and fauna are concerned, could introduce unwanted tree diseases, but could it not equally prevent the importing of other tree species with genetic resistance to diseases? What would Capability Brown and Humphry Repton have achieved without the exotic cedar of Lebanon or the magnificent Wellingtonia? I confess that I am sceptical about whether the Secretary of State’s adoption of a “biosecurity standard” would actually have a positive impact on the natural environment.

I have some sympathy with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in her Amendment 260, because the tree strategy is perhaps too modest in its aim to raise England’s woodland cover from 10% to just 12% by 2050. The Conservative Party’s manifesto commitment was to plant 30,000 hectares of trees a year across the UK by 2025. It is therefore impossible to measure the extent to which the tree strategy meets the manifesto commitment, which sadly shows yet another instance where the devolved authorities will not, but should, co-operate together to agree on a single national tree strategy.

Sir William Worsley, chairman of the Forestry Commission, has said that it will work with the devolved Administrations to deliver a UK-wide step change in tree planting and establishment. I am not sure whether the England trees action plan is exactly the same as the proposed “Tree Strategy for England” from the noble Baroness, but given the number of statutory targets proposed in the Bill, the absence of one for trees seems to stand out. I look forward to hearing my noble friend the Minister’s views on this.

I also sympathise with Amendment 260A, in the names of the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, my noble friends Lord Colgrain and Lord Caithness, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young. However, I am not quite sure how the standard would actually work. As the Committee is aware, deer and grey squirrels, among other species, can cause great damage to young trees. I worry that the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, now before your Lordships’ House, may become a medium for increasing restrictions on the control and culling of animals that cause damage to young trees. Does my noble friend the Minister recognise that the entire countryside and farming community would applaud him if he and my noble friend Lord Benyon were to make the sensible decision to withdraw that Bill and use the available parliamentary time to better effect?

Lastly, I will comment on Amendment 283, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and others. First, its heading refers to the burning of peat, but the text of subsection (1) refers to the burning of vegetation on peatland. As has been pointed out, the two are very different. The prohibition of the rotational burning of heather is likely to increase the burning of peat because old, dry heather is very susceptible to uncontrolled wildfires in the summer months, which are much more likely to lead to the burning of peat. My experience of assisting my father in managing moorland in Angus, in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, showed that the rotational burning of heather is hugely beneficial to biodiversity. Moorland where this is practised sustains much greater numbers of butterflies, caterpillars, hen harriers, golden plover, black game and short-eared owls, besides the obvious higher numbers of red grouse.

Could the Minister confirm his remark on 18 March, that the Government will

“continue to listen to the science and keep our policy and our minds open”?—[Official Report, 18/3/21; col. 529.]

In any event, I cannot support this amendment, which I think would have an effect that is the reverse of its mover’s intent.

Environment Bill

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Excerpts
I hope I have reassured noble Lords that the Government are committed to making serious progress in relation to the remote electronic monitoring of fishing vessels. I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Watkins of Tavistock) (CB)
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I call the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, who wants to ask a question before proceeding.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson (LD) [V]
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I thank the Minister for that good reply. I will sum up in just a second but I have a specific question. He said, and I take some encouragement from this, that he wanted to “move at pace”. When will we next hear back from the Government about what they are going to do specifically on REM and, hopefully, how they are going to apply the method of data collection?

--- Later in debate ---
Schedule 16 agreed.
Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Watkins of Tavistock) (CB)
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We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 266. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in the debate.

Clause 110: Conservation covenant agreements

Amendment 266

Moved by