All 11 Baroness Young of Old Scone contributions to the Environment Act 2021

Read Bill Ministerial Extracts

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
Mon 6th Sep 2021
Environment Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage & Report stage
Wed 15th Sep 2021
Tue 26th Oct 2021
Environment Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments & Consideration of Commons amendments

Environment Bill

Baroness Young of Old Scone Excerpts
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I declare my interest as chairman of the Woodland Trust and my involvement in a range of environmental charities, as listed in the register.

Ministers must quail when they hear noble Lords welcome a Bill as an okay Bill and then go on to say that it will need substantial amendment to become a better one. I welcome this Bill, at long last, but it needs amendment to do the job. I thank the Minister for meeting me to discuss some necessary amendments.

The species abundance target that the Government have indicated they will come forward with needs to provide clear, measurable statutory targets and interim targets for biodiversity, to match the statutory targets we already have for climate change and to enshrine in law a commitment to a 2030 target to halt and reverse biodiversity decline—a commitment that the Government have already made. We look forward to seeing the detail of this addition to the Bill, and I hope that the Government welcome and act on the recommendation of the Delegated Powers Committee that the publication and any subsequent amendment of the biodiversity metric should be subject to parliamentary scrutiny.

The Bill also needs to provide long-overdue statutory protection for ancient woodland. Noble Lords have heard me go on about that before. We need similar protection to that accorded to sites of special scientific interest. We need a statutory basis for the England tree action plan to ensure that it is indeed action, gives proper priority to native woodland and does not end up overfocusing on commercial forestry as part of the dash for trees.

But perhaps the most important thing as we see the Bill through our House is to help the Government join up two pieces of important legislation. The planning reform Bill is not yet published, and I have big suspicions about it. Rumours abound that it will designate land, in a top-down way, as either suitable for development or to be protected, and leave local communities powerless. As other noble Lords have highlighted, if the planning reform Bill is not to counteract completely the protection provisions of the Environment Bill, we need in statute measures to link and harmonise these two pieces of legislation. The Environment Bill needs to give a legal status to local nature recovery strategies so that plans, planners and developers have to take account of them.

We also need to enshrine in statute a land-use framework for England. I tried to do this during the passage of the then Agriculture Bill and was told that the Environment Bill was a much more suitable place to put it—well, here we are, now at the Environment Bill. The planning Bill sounds like it will have an oversimple, binary approach to land use: worth protecting or worth developing. The reality is that we need a much more nuanced approach to land use, as it needs to deliver multiple benefits: biodiversity, conservation, climate change, food, flood risk management, water quality, health and mental health, to name but a few. Land needs to be multifunctional and to deliver a whole range of public and private benefits, and we need a land-use framework to do that.

A number of other changes to the Bill will be necessary. The Government’s commitment to a much-enhanced tree planting programme will be fruitless if imported tree and plant stocks do not have to be disease free and conform to a single clear plant and tree health standard, with UK and Ireland-sourced and grown planting stock being an absolute requirement for all planting supported by public funding. A much wider network of safe nurseries should be established now in preparation for the future, creating jobs as well as safeguarding tree and plant health and preventing future decimations of newly planted stock by the introduction of tree and plant diseases.

There are many other amendments which noble Lords will want to see, and we have heard about some of them already. This is a big Bill, which risks getting even bigger. The Minister will no doubt threaten that if we attach too much to it, it will be further delayed, or even collapse under its own weight. I am always rather mystified when Governments say that; there is one simple way of getting a Bill to go through quickly, and that is to accept some sensible amendments rather than resisting them at all costs. If the Government did that, the Bill would progress more quickly, the environment would be better protected, and we would all be happier. I hope the Minister will confirm that he will do just that.

We need not just an amended and stronger Bill but action. We are striding the global stage right now, with the G7, with COP 15, and especially when we host COP 26 in Glasgow. We need domestic action at a scale and pace which inspires global action and encourages leaders to tackle climate change and promote biodiversity across the world. The Government are going to find providing global leadership jolly hard to do if back home they have been resisting every sensible improvement to this Bill.

Environment Bill

Baroness Young of Old Scone Excerpts
We will return to these issues later in Committee, but I should be grateful if my noble friend would confirm that he would be willing, over the course of Committee and before Report, to have a detailed discussion on what progress we might make to protect those who want to enjoy swimming in our rivers and children who may wish to play in them. I would like to discuss how we can make sure that rivers are fit for human and aquatic life in the future, and, as we have an opportunity to set our own regulations, to make sure that they are strengthened in practical ways that will identify improvements in the measurement and management of the quality of our water.
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I support the sentiment of Amendment 4 in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, but water quality is not the only issue to do with water. I would not want that to be to the particular focus, because with increasing climate change and growing demand, water quantity is also important.

The noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, is rightly exercised about sewage pollution into our rivers, as is the Minister. I look forward to saying more when we debate Amendments 161 and 162 on reducing and eliminating sewage discharges into rivers, which importantly go into detail on the programmes and actions needed to get this to happen.

I declare an interest as a former chief executive of the Environment Agency. I think it is quite clear that, although it has brought only 174 prosecutions over the last 10 years, there could have been more than 2,000 breaches in that period and a vastly greater number of legal discharges under the current regulations. That is a source of considerable public concern.

In support of the considerable work done by the Environment Agency and the water companies, I should say that river water has improved dramatically over the last 20 years. We should not relax in that, because the current situation is totally unacceptable. Nevertheless, a major amount of river water has been cleaned up. Most of our waters were completely dead and highly polluted 20 years ago and they are now in a much better state, but we still have more to do.

We had EU regulation to rely on in the past, which was needed to drive the Government to do something about exactly this problem in the River Thames, by creating the Thames super-sewer. At that stage, we had the dirtiest river of any capital city in Europe. I am delighted that action was taken, but it needed the full weight of environmental regulation coming from Europe and a considerable and hefty programme of fining of the Government to get action taken. We need to ensure through the mechanism of the Bill that we move forward and tackle this running sore—if noble Lords will pardon the phrase. I welcome the creation of the storm overflow task force and look forward to its findings. I look forward to debating the government amendment to tackle this issue and strengthening it in the appropriate place in the Bill.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, is right to talk about the Thames. I remember the Thames half a century ago, when I first came to Parliament, and what an utter disgrace it was. But that should not lead us to be in any way complacent. Although my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering referred to this as a small amendment—and it is in terms of words—it is absolutely crucial. Unless we clean up our rivers, the Environment Bill—the Act, as I am sure it will become—will fail. It is as simple as that.

Not so long ago there was a great campaign about our coastal waters, and there is still much to be done. One of my most vivid memories of the other place was an Adjournment Debate at 10 pm one night, introduced by the late Sir Reggie Bennett, about swimming off the coast. I remember he said, “Mr Speaker, you cannot swim off the coast, you can only go through the motions”. I fear that that is the case with many of our rivers today. I hope the Minister will endorse that it is crucial that we get this right, because how clean our waterways are will be a test of the success of the Environment Act.

We have some glorious rivers in this country and some wonderful chalk streams. I think one of the saddest pictures that I have seen in the last 12 months was of a stretch of perhaps the loveliest river of all, the Wye, which had been so contaminated by the effluent from intensively reared battery chickens—something else we need to tackle. We are all in debt to my noble friend the Duke of Wellington, not only for bringing this amendment forward but for introducing on the very day of Second Reading, his own Bill on cleaning up our inland waterways.

This is a vital issue, but I cannot sit down before saying what a joy it is to see my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern in the Chamber. We have seen him many times appear on the Zoom screen, and it is wonderful to have him here in person among us.

--- Later in debate ---
So, where they go is extremely important, but there is a wider issue: the planting of new trees has to have regard to the effect that this will have on the surrounding environment. A balance needs to be struck. Moorland and meadows have their place too. Where trees are planted, their character and all the ecology that goes with it will be changed. I do hope that the environmental targets that Amendment 31 refers to will take all of that into account. That said, the noble Lord has raised a very important issue about trees which I entirely support.
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I declare my interests as chairman of the Woodland Trust—I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, for his positive remarks about that organisation—and as a commissioner on the Commission on Food, Farming and the Countryside.

I will speak to Amendments 11, 12 and 31. Amendment 11 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and my noble friend Lord Whitty indicates that soil quality is a priority area for environmental improvement; that is absolutely the case. Soil has for many years been the poor relation as regards environmental media and priorities yet, as the noble Lord, Lord Curry, outlined so clearly, we are now recognising the importance of our soils and their complex ecosystems for a whole variety of things, such as climate change, agriculture, biodiversity, and reducing runoff and erosion to maintain water quality. So, it would be highly appropriate for soil to be highlighted as a priority; I support that amendment.

On Amendment 12 in the name of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, as chairman of the Woodland Trust, I would commend tree planting, of course, but not just planting. If we are to reverse biodiversity decline and tackle climate change, we need to ensure that existing woodlands are effectively managed to maximise their impact on both of those challenges. We know that existing woodland is for the most part not in good condition, particularly native broadleaf woodland. We also need to ensure that our much-threatened ancient woodlands are properly protected so that, after 300 or 400 years of existence, they can continue their vital task of sequestering carbon and fostering biodiversity for another 100 years or more. We also need to see more natural regeneration of trees. But let us be in no doubt: trees are an important priority and this amendment should be supported. If any noble Lords are in any doubt or need further information, I commend to you the State of the UK’s Woods and Trees, recently published by the Woodland Trust.

Amendment 31, also in the name of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, introduces a new target on tree health. I very much support the spirit of that amendment. I am looking out of my study window on a dying 80-foot ash tree, which is protected by a tree protection order but not from tree disease. I am not sure that targets are the right way forward for tree disease, but I support the need for an annual report from government on action on tree health. Because of the importance of this issue, I have laid Amendment 259, which is about the “how” of biosecurity, and preventing importation of tree disease can help. I do hope that I will have the support of the noble and right reverend Lord when we reach that amendment.

Duke of Wellington Portrait The Duke of Wellington (CB) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I had put myself down to speak in this group to support the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, little realising that I would be following the chairman of the Woodland Trust, therefore making it difficult to add much in support of these two amendments. I had thought that the Government’s policy on planting more trees was already in a piece of legislation, but if it is not, it seems sensible to include it as a priority area, and, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, has also tabled, to strengthen the regulations on tree health. As a number of noble Lords have mentioned, we have in recent years been blighted by diseases in elm, ash, chestnut and larch, to mention just some of the trees which we have lost. Research into these disease-resistant varieties must also be a sensible suggestion. I should be very grateful to hear from the Minister why tree planting should not be a priority area.

I also wish to support introducing for discussion the question of light pollution for inclusion in the Bill as a priority. This amendment has been tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Randall, who is clearly knowledgeable on this subject, as on so many others. He is completely right about how difficult it is nowadays to have a good view of the night sky. Again, on this I should be most interested to hear the Government’s response to what appears to be a very sensible amendment. I also understand why a number of noble Lords have spoken about soil quality, which is clearly a fundamental element of all aspects of the environment and of biodiversity, and should surely be considered as another priority area.

I am sorry that like the noble Lord, Lord Curry, I am unable to support Amendment 32, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I should hear declare my agricultural interests. As others have said, and as the noble Baroness acknowledges, there is a huge difference between livestock fed on grass pastures in the United Kingdom and meat produced in feed lots amounting to thousands of animals on each lot, fed largely on concentrates, in North and South America, and in Australasia.

In this very diverse group of amendments, there are so many issues to which I look forward to hearing the Government’s reaction, but I also understand the excellent point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that if there is too much in the Bill, there is less likelihood of action.

Environment Bill

Baroness Young of Old Scone Excerpts
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I support Amendment 43, which places a statutory duty on the Secretary of State to meet any interim targets. I am merely a pale shadow compared to the previous speaker who put it very eloquently. I share exactly the same position as him and, indeed, the position of the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Parminter, my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch and the noble Lord, Lord Randall, in putting forward this amendment. It is important that interim targets are just as legally binding on the Government as any other targets.

Interim targets have a huge benefit. They keep up the momentum. They give certainty to businesses and, indeed, several business groups have already called for legally binding interim targets. They would also give certainty to local government and the public. The process of setting interim targets under Clause 3(2) means that they can be met, so there is no impediment to the Government accepting that meeting interim targets should be a legal requirement if they have already determined that the targets are able to be met in the process of setting them. It will also have an added benefit that the office for environmental protection will be able to take enforcement action if the Government do not meet interim targets, which I believe it could not do if the targets are not legally binding.

We only have to look at climate change efforts in the past to see how statutory interim targets can really drive change. The Climate Change Act introduced statutory interim targets and they do drive change, as opposed to the non-statutory early programmes which, quite frankly, wallowed and did not get cross-government buy-in in any way. Ministers and Governments come and go, but legally binding interim targets march on and will provide certainty for all. I hope the Minister can accept this amendment.

--- Later in debate ---
I will make one more important point. I suspect that the Government will set national targets as part of the Bill. However, the environmental challenges vary significantly from region to region and parish to parish. Each river catchment is unique, so measures that are introduced need to be targeted in each area to address specific environmental issues, whether of water quality or individual species decline. This carries a risk of introducing complexity into a scheme that the Government have committed to reducing and simplifying as part of their promise, having left the EU with its burdensome bureaucracy. Let me restate what I said earlier: in light of these concerns, the Government will need to consider the setting of targets very carefully. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us.
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - -

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)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Earl, Lord Devon.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Russell of Liverpool) (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, have all withdrawn from this debate, so I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I am sorry that I have not withdrawn yet as it might have hastened the business, but I want to support Amendment 52, in the names of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch, the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Randall. I welcome the requirement in the Bill for the Government to have rolling statutory plans in place to improve the natural environment. In fact, I am mystified by the extent and detail of this section of the Bill. It rather makes a meal of the review and renewal process. Can the Minister give us a clue as to why the Bill has to go into such paroxysm? Being a suspicious human being, methinks the gentleman doth protest too much. It would be useful to know why from the Minister.

I want to make two comments. First, the current 25-year plan for the environment is to be regarded as the first environmental improvement plan. That made my heart sink, as the 25-year plan is inordinately long and mostly narrative. It has a scatter of actions; many are unmeasured and some are not even measurable. It is a loose and baggy monster. There is no logical thread of targets to be achieved, what policies and actions are needed to achieve them and who should be responsible for implementing the policies and actions, so that they achieve their targets. I would very much like to see that sort of structure going into the requirement for environmental improvement plans.

My second point is that Clause 7 sets out the required contents of the EIPs. I agree with the amendment that these need to be strengthened to ensure that the EIPs have time-bound specific measures, which are explicitly linked to the delivery of long-term targets and interim milestones. I very much support Amendment 52, but also Amendment 53, in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Boycott, which mirrors the wording of the 2008 Climate Change Act and requires the Government to set out the proposals and policies, not just steps, to meet all the targets and deliver environmental improvement.

Environment Bill

Baroness Young of Old Scone Excerpts
Duke of Wellington Portrait The Duke of Wellington (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I will briefly speak to Amendment 76 tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Young of Old Scone. The whole Bill legislates on the way in which we look after, and improve where possible, the environment, both natural and manmade. I looked at the government website over the weekend and saw that, currently, it lists 20 non-ministerial departments and no fewer than 414 agencies and other public bodies, plus 13 public corporations. These public authorities—I assume that we must add to them the local authorities in a certain sense—control almost every aspect of our lives.

The Bill is, in a certain sense, a framework Bill, from which will come many pieces of secondary legislation and various policy decisions. Clause 18(1) requires a Minister, when making policy, to

“have due regard to the policy statement on environmental principles”.

Given the large number of public authorities that make policy, it seems to me both logical and necessary that they should also have regard to the statement on environmental principles. Having listened to the debate this afternoon, I am not sure that the words “must adhere” are not better than “have due regard”, but that is a matter on which I am sure the Minister will comment.

However, the point of Amendment 76 is to add “public authorities” to the organisms of government that must take account of these principles. Therefore, I look forward to the response of the Minister on why this amendment is not one that the Government could and should accept.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I note that—and am honoured to be—listed twice on the speakers’ list for both this and a future group today. I assure the House that I will not speak twice.

I support much but not all of Amendment 73 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Boycott. It certainly increases rigour by adding a requirement that

“the Secretary of State and all public bodies ... must adhere to the environmental principles”,

rather than just having

“due regard to the policy statement on environmental principles”.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, rightly doubts the efficacy of “have due regard”.

Environment Bill

Baroness Young of Old Scone Excerpts
Baroness Henig Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Henig) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, has withdrawn from this amendment, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I support Amendment 103 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. Clause 27 attempts to delineate the OEP’s scrutiny and advice functions, but it is too tightly drawn. It is much to be welcomed that the OEP can monitor and report on environmental improvement plans and targets, and on the implementation of and changes to environmental law, but, for the avoidance of doubt, the amendment is necessary to enable the OEP to give advice on any other matter relating to the natural environment. It is a sweeping-up amendment so that if there is some environmental ghastliness that otherwise would not be within the OEP’s ambit, this provision would allow it to take up the issue and give advice. It is a sensible provision which enhances the OEP’s independence and flexibility, and I hope that the Minister can simply accept it.

I also support the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, requiring the Secretary of State to report to the OEP anything he used to report to the European Commission. I know that the Government do not want to carry on as if Brexit had never happened, and unnecessary reporting could be ceased provided that it was reviewed by the OEP and an adequate reason was given. However, several areas of data and reporting have already been lost as a result of their no longer being reported to the Commission, including issues of ambient air quality, pollutant emissions and the implementation of some key fisheries rules.

The issues lying behind Amendment 114 have already been aired in the debate on Amendment 78, so I shall not labour them. Environmental protection is indeed as vital as defence and security to our well-being and our very existence. The importance of issues of taxation and spending or the allocation of resources for the environment has already been demonstrated. The exclusions listed in Clause 45 cannot go forward without the OEP being debarred from some key areas. Subsection (1) must also be challenged. Environmental law is there defined as

“legislative provision … that … is mainly concerned with environmental protection”.

Many laws would be not be considered to be

“mainly concerned with environmental protection”,

but they have a big impact on the environment. There is a huge list—I think immediately about planning legislation, transport legislation, energy, agriculture, fisheries, housing and food. I could keep on listing, but your Lordships would be here all day. We need to press the Minister on whether he truly believes that the OEP should be able to consider these issues and not just what is in the tightly prescribed provision in the Bill.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I was pleased to put my name to the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lady Parminter. It seems obvious, as many noble Lords have said, that for the OEP to have the stature that the Government want it should be able to give advice as it sees fit without constraint. Clearly, it will be constrained anyway in terms of its budget, its resources and its capacity so, like any similar authority, it is going to be careful about what it concentrates its resources and time on. That is quite a sufficient constraint on the OEP’s work and what it does. As the legislation says, if the Minister or the Secretary of State want advice in certain areas, it can give it, whatever that area is, yet it is strongly constrained in terms of reports on its own initiative. The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, laid out that long list of areas where it would invaluable for the OEP on occasion to give its own opinion unprompted by the Secretary of State. As we have said many times before, the Climate Change Committee, which is respected nationally and internationally, is able to do that, and it uses that power well, responsibly and to effect. I see no reason why the OEP should not be able to do that as well.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Although she is in her place, I understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, is not participating in this debate, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, when amendments are supported by noble Lords of the calibre of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, a renowned scientist and environmentalist in the shape of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and a former Minister—the noble Lord, Lord Duncan of Springbank—if I were the Minister, I would roll over and accept them. I hope he will do just that. I cannot add to the lucid case made in support of Amendments 105 to 108 by those noble Lords I have mentioned, other than, in layman’s terms, to add my voice of concern about the proposed restrictions on judicial discretion to grant remedies when it is found that there has been a breach of environmental law on an environmental review and the limitations on the OEP’s powers to bring judicial review proceedings.

The proposed statement of non-compliance is risible, since the public body can publish a response but carry on regardless, with whatever it has done wrongly remaining valid and in place. This is not a toothless remedy; it is no remedy at all and will bring the OEP immediately into disrepute. To make matters worse, a judge cannot issue a stronger remedy if it would

“be likely to cause substantial hardship to, or substantially prejudice the rights of, any person”

or

“be detrimental to good administration.”

We have heard cases from across the environmental spectrum from previous speakers. Can the Minister tell the Committee how this provision can possibly work, as there is bound to be an individual or group who could be shown to have suffered some adverse impact? It is called life, I think.

Environmental review is supposed to complement rather than replace judicial review, but the Bill allows the OEP to use judicial review only where an urgency condition has been met:

“to prevent or mitigate serious damage to the natural environment or to human health.”

Other similar bodies have access to judicial review at their discretion, and that cannot be denied to the OEP without it becoming ineffective in its enforcement role.

Amendments 106 to 108 would enable the OEP to exercise at least some effective powers to hold government and public bodies to account for compliance with environmental law. Personally, I would also give the OEP whacking great powers, as outlined in Amendment 105 from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. There is nothing like an eye-watering fine of the scale that the European Commission used to apply as a last resort to change the mind of a government department or an agency that has gone off-piste.

I have chaired a regulatory body that attempted to regulate government bodies and the Government themselves, and I tell the Committee that it is not easy. If you do it with rigour and toughness, the Government hate you and take revenge. If you do it in a toothless way, the public lose confidence in you and take revenge. It is difficult enough with a full set of tools in the toolkit. Unless these amendments are passed, the OEP’s toolkit will be significantly bare.

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I add my voice in support of Amendments 105 and 107, and I shall speak to those amendments together. My right reverend friend the Lord Bishop of Oxford would have spoken to them, but is unable to be here, so I am glad to be able to speak and endorse what other noble Lords have said.

From this Bench, we welcome much of the content of the Bill, and we believe deeply in the importance of the good stewardship of creation. We recognise the need for global solutions to an international challenge and that any solutions will take leadership and require harmonising regulation on a global scale. As others have said, it is essential that the new OEP be given the appropriate teeth—not dentures, perhaps jaws—to hold business and government at all levels, national, regional and local, to account.

As drafted, the Bill centralises power and control into the Government’s hands rather than entrusting the powers to the regulator. If we truly want to be taken seriously as an international trailblazer for environmental legislation, we ought not to be afraid of creating a robust regulator. It would be a signal of confidence by the Government in their own programme to equip the regulator with the powers it needs to be properly effective. Although I recognise and applaud the passion with which the Minister has championed the Bill so far, if the Government are not prepared to support these amendments, I should like to hear more from him about how the OEP will be so equipped. Simply stating that it will be independent does not make it so. Given that the new OEP’s resources will be significantly less than its predecessor body, the new regulator will need to be more targeted and strategic about its activities. However, Clause 37 will significantly restrict the power of the courts to grant remedies, and I believe that the powers detailed in Amendment 107 will be essential for the OEP to do its job effectively.

In the year we are hosting COP 26, we should be showing the world that, even if we are to miss our climate goals, as the Committee on Climate Change has suggested we will, we have put in place a body that can genuinely help us to get the rest of the way to the target and beyond—especially when facing the tricky balance between competing commitments made in trade deals, environmental protection and agricultural production.

We know that the window to make a meaningful impact on climate change is closing. We need the Bill to be as fit for purpose as possible from the very beginning. I hope that the Minister will agree that an independent and effective OEP needs to have proper powers to hold to account, and I hope that the Government will support these amendments.

--- Later in debate ---
I hope that my noble friend, who has not been terribly good at accepting amendments, will turn over a new leaf this afternoon and show that he really, desperately cares about what we care about and accept at least the spirit of these amendments.
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I declare two interests—one as a member of the Commission on Food, Farming and the Countryside, and the other in the mental well-being of the Minister. We are picking on him and I feel deeply sorry for him, because he is between a rock and a hard place. This is another example of an amendment that, in a normal world, he would simply accept and we could all go home happy.

I support Amendments 110 and 112, which rightly specifically include “soil” in the definition of the natural environment. As other noble Lords have said, we have already touched on the importance of soils during our debate on a previous amendment. Indeed, many of our older Members of the House will remember Kenneth Williams who, in character, used to say in response to any question at all, “Arr, the answer lies in the soil.” He was right. However, for a period, with the exception of the organic movement, soil came to be regarded as nothing more than a handy medium for holding plants up, especially crops. It was nothing more complex. Of course, the pendulum has now swung and it is generally acknowledged that soils are complex ecosystems with huge importance for a whole range of things such as carbon storage, flood alleviation, crop health, biodiversity and water quality. Other noble Lords have gone through these.

It is true to say—the Commission on Food, Farming and the Countryside very much supports this—that agroecology and restorative agriculture, which focus on the importance of soils, are going to be vital components of the future of farming and food production. Of course, the mycorrhizal elements of soils are the telegraph systems for trees and plants and are capable of warning colleague trees and plants many metres away of attack by something nasty, so that they can prepare to repel boarders. Basically, soil is pretty cunning stuff. However, it has been the poor relation in terms of environmental action and safeguarding in the past, and more than one-third of the world’s soils are degraded. That is no less the case in this country, with factors such as erosion, sealing, compaction and contamination causing this deterioration.

I very much welcome the 25-year environment plan highlighting the need to manage all the UK’s soils sustainably by 2030. Signalling the importance of soils in environmental protection ought to be the purpose of including soil in the definition of the natural environment in this Bill. It is not just a practical step; it is a signalling step of the fundamental importance of soil.

The noble Lord, Lord Curry, reminded us that one of the reasons given by the Minister for not including soil was that to include it would require a target and the science was not there yet to do that. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, said that we need a soil metric now and it does not need to be perfect. I very much agree with that. Indeed, that has been endorsed today by the report from the Environmental Audit Committee in the Commons, which stressed the need for the rapid development of soil indicators and for a shadow target to be established urgently in the meantime.

We are going to need soil metrics for a whole variety of purposes, not least because soil is going to be fundamental to the environmental land management schemes. Let us get on with it and establish a metric. It will not be right but it will be something, and it will be a huge signal of the importance of soils in this section of the Bill.

Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Duncan of Springbank) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is not taking part in the debate so I call the noble Duke, Lord Wellington.

Environment Bill

Baroness Young of Old Scone Excerpts
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, this is a rather substantial group of amendments, and I am a very insubstantial person right at the end of list. Nevertheless, I will have a go, because it is a very important group.

Climate change has an increasing impact. We are seeing lower flows in rivers, more intense rainfall flowing rapidly off land and hard surfaces into watercourses and more occasions when storm overflows are spilling untreated sewage into our rivers. We need to take swift action to ensure that less rainwater and surface run-off gets into the foul water spill-off system. Noble Lords have previously remarked on that; it is a very ridiculous way of managing a drainage system to put clean water with dirty water.

Some 50% of our storm overflows that are in the firing line tonight are in fact probably okay and operating within acceptable limits. However, 30% have unknown impact: we do not know what harm they are causing and there is an urgent need for better understanding of that impact. Meanwhile, 15% are already known to have totally unacceptable impacts and need either engineering or catchment base solutions, so that they do not spill. This means bigger storm tanks, conveyance by pipes to alternative treatment works, increasing the capacity of some sewage treatment works and possibly UV treatment, as well as reducing the amount of surface water that goes into the foul water system.

Currently, drainage from roads can automatically be discharged into the foul water system. Can the Minister assure us that the Government will make it mandatory for all major new roads to have substantial drainage systems with sufficiently large tanks in flood conditions to ensure the foul drainage systems are not overloaded with unacceptable resulting spillages?

For all these reasons I support Amendment 161 in the names of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb—one can never have too many Baroness Joneses—and my noble friend Lady Hayman of Ullock. It inserts the provisions of Philip Dunne’s Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill, which has been praised already by several noble Lords. In my view, this lays out a fairly comprehensive and effective strategic approach with a menu of options. That is very different from the Government’s rather limp and inadequate Amendment 165, which is all about monitoring and publishing and not about doing.

I also commend the spirit of Amendments 166, 167 and 168, tabled by the noble Duke, Lord Wellington, the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and the noble Lord, Lord Oates, which seek the elimination, not just the reduction, of untreated sewage. These amendments talk about using “all reasonable steps”. I suspect that the Government’s judgment of what is reasonable—if we can take their woolly, wishy-washy amendment as a yardstick—would be different from what may be judged reasonable by noble Lords.

I also support Amendment 172A, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, which seeks to ensure that CSOs are discharged on a temporary basis only in agreed, genuine storm conditions in terms of volume and duration of rainfall. Too many CSOs regularly discharge in conditions that are far from storm conditions.

I also comment on and commend my noble friend Lord Whitty’s Amendment 161B on reducing domestic and non-domestic water consumption. As he noted, it appears rather oddly in this group since it is concerned with water quantity rather than quality. We simply cannot live with the fact that a rising population could be allowed to lead to a rising demand for water, as increasingly erratic weather patterns could mean more frequent periods of low rainfall and consequent drought and the current over-extraction from rivers and aquifers for agricultural industry use is already a problem.

There are some fascinating statistics in this area, and we may well rehearse them again when we get to clauses covering water quantity. Currently, the average Brit uses 142 litres per day, while the average German person uses 121. The gradient is even more marked between London and Berlin: the average Londoner uses 150 litres per day, and the average Berliner uses 110. To my certain knowledge, using a scratch-and-sniff test, I have not yet detected any difference in the hygiene levels of Berliners, who are using almost a third less water than Londoners. Added to that, customers with a water meter use 129 litres per day, while those without one use 171.

There is clearly big scope for increased water efficiency, and the amendment of my noble friend Lord Whitty would require the Secretary of State to set targets to reduce both domestic and business consumption, which would drive a long-overdue change.

Lord Oates Portrait Lord Oates (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am pleased to support the amendments in the names of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, to which I have also put my name. As we have heard, they seek to strengthen the new clauses that government Amendment 165 introduces. As the noble Duke said, it is completely unacceptable that, in the 21st century, we are discharging raw, untreated sewage so regularly—or indeed at all—into our rivers. I also welcome the amendment in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Hayman, which has similar objectives and, as we have heard, takes up the initiative of Philip Dunne’s Bill in another place.

There are other important amendments in this group, including Amendment 161A, in the name of my noble friend Lord Chidgey, who made a powerful case for the amendments as a whole, but particularly for his, on the issue of septic tanks and rural connections to mains sewerage, which is a very important issue. He mentioned that, in continental Europe, septic tanks are progressively being phased out. I am lucky enough to have regularly visited a village that is beside the River Charente in south-west France, and I can confirm and attest that, some six or seven years ago, they phased out all septic tanks there and put the whole village on the mains sewerage system. The beautiful cleanliness of the Charente is testimony to the effectiveness of that: it is a great place to swim—unlike some of our own rivers, I fear.

Amendments 170A and 188D, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, and my noble friend Lord Teverson, need to be addressed by the Minister. As the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, explained, they highlight the important role of catchment partnerships and the need for their key role to be recognised in the Bill. I also strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, on the need to reduce domestic demand, but, as he said, that issue will be dealt with in other groups that we will come on to.

It is welcome that the Government have at least acknowledged that the existing Bill was substandard in the important area of discharges into rivers, and have brought forward an amendment to tackle that. However, from the debate that we have had this evening, it is abundantly clear that the amendment put forward by the Government falls woefully short. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, said, it is a very pale imitation of Philip Dunne’s Bill, which it is supposed to take the place of, in some way. As we have heard, it does not impose a duty on water companies to take all reasonable steps to prevent sewage outflows; it aims only to reduce the frequency, duration and volume of discharges and has no ambition to eliminate them. It also does not set any specific targets for reductions.

It does require the Secretary of State to prepare a plan, but, as the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, said, it provides only that that plan “may” include proposals to reduce

“the need for anything to be discharged by … overflows”

or to treat “sewage that is discharged”, or “monitor water courses”, or “obtain information”. It is all “may”—there is no requirement that the plan must include these critical elements. In the previous group we were speaking on, I was not convinced at all by the Minister’s explanation, nor indeed by the explanation in the letter that we received ahead of this Committee stage, on “must” and “may”. We know that “may” puts the power in the hands of Ministers, and they may decide not to do any of the things that we wish them to do. So, that “must” is very important.

Environment Bill

Baroness Young of Old Scone Excerpts
We need—in this legislation and otherwise—to do things to get water straight in terms of supply, what we do with wastewater and, in particular, avoiding the levels of river pollution we have seen over recent years. I am delighted that the Government are moving in this direction but I am convinced, as are many others in this debate, that they need to do more.
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, wastewater infrastructure in England is a bit of a mess, as many noble Lords have said. I remember that when I came down from Scotland to live in England 40 years ago, I was amazed because in Scotland surface water and foul water were strictly separated. Discovering with horror that the casual intermingling of surface water drainage and sewerage systems was almost the rote in England—a curious mix of some legal stuff and some illegal arrangements—just staggered me.

We have not made much progress in those 40 years. There has been insufficient investment in drainage and sewerage infrastructure, and Ofwat does not always take the consequent environmental problems seriously enough in its price determinations. I welcome the requirement in the Bill for sewerage undertakers to prepare and, hopefully, implement drainage and sewage management plans, but I support Amendment 162A, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington. It would give these plans an environmental objective, which, hopefully, would encourage Ofwat to agree more investment for environmental purposes.

Amendment 164 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, would end the automatic right to connect, and it has been supported by a number of noble Lords. Water companies need to be able to say no to connecting developments where sewerage systems are already overloaded. The amendment would also kick-start discussions well in advance to ensure that adequate sewage treatment could be provided in appropriate time, at the point where developments can be flexible, and prevent future environmental damage. Amendment 192, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, would have a similar effect, although in the more restricted ambit of major new housing developments.

I am reminded of a dreadful face-off that had to take place between the Environment Agency and the developers of Corby when I was the agency’s chief executive. My noble friend Lord Rooker, who I am deeply grateful is not in his place, was Minister at the time and very keen on the redevelopment of Corby in the interest of jobs. Frankly, he beat me up severely to try to persuade the Environment Agency to provide the necessary licences for that development. Corby was going to increase in size massively but was perched on the top of a tiny, failing Victorian sewerage system that simply would not have coped. The face-off went on for months but eventually resulted in funds being found to improve the sewerage system. The development went ahead, but I must admit that I only ever enter Corby incognito since they appear to have quite long memories in those parts.

I have a particular question for the Minister. On the implementation of drainage and sewage management plans, what assurances can he give that the successive water price rounds, as determined by Ofwat, will provide the right level of funding for drainage and sewage management plans over a reasonably short space of time? Price rounds come round only periodically, and stretching that over several cycles would mean that we were still waiting a very long time for the improvement to our sewerage and drainage systems that needs to be delivered.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, this is an important group of amendments dealing with the improvement of drainage and sewerage systems, and it raises similar issues to the previous group that we debated on Monday evening. I have added my name to Amendments 162 and 163, tabled by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, and also signed by the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann.

At Second Reading we heard from various noble Lords across the Chamber about the devastating effect that the discharge of untreated sewage is having on our rivers, waterways and coastal waters. Amendments 162 and 163 seek to ensure that sewage treatment plants are improved and that there is separation of surface water drainage systems and sewerage systems, an issue that the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, has just raised.

Water companies must ensure that they are operating within the law, and their priority should be to ensure that no foul water is discharged into rivers and waterways. That must take precedence over shareholder dividends. Apologies to any Members here today who hold shares in the water companies, but cleaning up the state of our waterways has to move higher up the agenda. The noble Duke has also referred to a deferral of dividends.

Water companies have management plans, and it is time that the safe and effective treatment of sewage had equal status with drinking-water quality. The rest of the world, especially the USA, thinks of our country as a green and pleasant land with flowing gentle rivers and streams, when the reality is very different, with raw sewage and waste floating in our rivers and clogging up our streams.

Ofwat has a role to play here, alongside the Treasury and the Secretary of State, in imposing a legal duty on the water companies to clean up their act. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, has spoken about the new drainage and sewage management plans. He encourages sewerage authorities to look positively to nature-based solutions instead of using SUDS. Nature-based solutions must be designed before development begins. The noble Lord also gave graphic details of rubber particles and road oils, which often run off our roads and end up in our rivers. Sewage treatment works are not capable of dealing with these pollutants, so yet another toxic substance enters our waterways.

My noble friend Lord Teverson has spoken of the need for all new buildings to be fitted with greywater systems. This is a far better use of water and reduces the actual demand for freshwater. I too remember the BREEAM standards for all new buildings, promoted by Jonathon Porritt when we were both on the South West of England Regional Development Agency many years ago.

Water is a finite resource and we should reuse it where possible. The housing shortage is acute but so is the need to increase the quality of our rivers and waterways. Conserving and reusing water is all part of ensuring that the country meets its targets on all fronts. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has spoken eloquently about blue-green flood risk management, the collection of rainwater and preventing it from entering the sewerage system.

We all realise that the water authorities are under pressure, but it is time the capacity issue of clean water and sewage disposal was tackled in a cohesive and overarching way. It cannot be acceptable for raw sewage to be discharged into rivers, often where children will swim and play in the summer holidays. If there is insufficient capacity at treatment plants then it is time for infrastructure investment. The Government want to build more much-needed housing. If investment is made in water treatment and sewage disposal then there should be no block on housing development.

The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, has also spoken about the capacity of water treatment plants and the connection of new housing estates. The noble Baroness is correct to identify that there should be a legal obligation to respond for statutory consultees on major new housing developments. They cannot later then say that they do not have the capacity to cope. They must flag this at the start of the process and work with local authorities to ensure that no housing development takes place where the result will be raw sewage discharged into waterways.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has supported ending the automatic right of connection to the sewerage system, and developers should take more responsibility for their actions. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has spoken about the need for resilience in our water management. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, has spoken about the using rainwater instead of fresh water.

I look forward to the Minister’s response to this group of amendments, the subject matter of which has been raised several times during our deliberations on this Environment Bill. It is time that we resolved it.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am delighted to follow the noble Earl. I would like to lend my support in particular to Amendment 176 and others in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. I commend his preparation and the detail he has given us this afternoon on this group of amendments and on what he seeks to achieve.

I am nothing other than a farmer’s friend, a fisherman’s friend and a friendly eco-warrior—I speak as a lay person in this regard. But I recall that, when chairing the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in the other place, for five years, there were two opportunities for our then Government—the coalition Government of my own party, the Conservative Party, supported so ably by the Liberal Democrats, when we had Ministers in each department from both parties—to consider abstraction policy. The first was in the context of the water management Act, which was adopted in 2010, and the second was in the Water Act 2014. Despite enormous efforts from the cross-party members of that committee, we were told that that was not the right time to come forward with an abstraction policy. The Government wished to take time, quite rightly, to consider a proper, well thought-out abstraction strategy and policy.

I look at the Bill and Explanatory Notes before us and I do not think we are quite there yet. That is why these well thought-out amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, serve a useful purpose in that regard. We have to accept that none of us wants to damage the watercourses, large or small, in any way, shape or form, and that we want to protect our aquifers and water, and particularly the fish and other habitats that are served by our watercourses. But we also have to accept that there are many competing uses of water.

From what I have seen and experienced, the farmers seem to be left as the last thought-about in that list. The mover and supporters of the amendment have explained that it is often the water companies and then industrialists who are considered. For example, it could be a brewery or a manufacturer; on a number of occasions I have visited Wilkin’s jam manufacturer—I admit to having a sweet tooth, and it is always a joy to visit. Many companies such as that are users of water and responsibly control its use. I urge my noble friend Lady Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist to look carefully at ways in which farmers can have adequate provision of water supply.

The grace period should remain until 2028, for all the reasons that those speaking in support of the amendments have given. As the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, requested, there should be a licence plan, a formal appeal system and clarification of a new agreement—in fact, I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, who suggested it. I entirely agree with what he signed up to, but moving that proposal forward to 2023 would be extremely ill advised.

I shudder for the future of farmers and their use of water at certain times of the year. I am concerned because, when one considers North Yorkshire, as one of the most rural counties in the country, there are times when there could be a flood in one part of the county and severe stress in its north-east. We must be mindful of the fact that there may be a need to abstract water in the summer months. I urge my noble friend the Minister in her response to express a note of caution, and I hope that the Government will take this opportunity to come forward with a proper, well thought-out abstraction policy within the context of the Bill.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the pressure on our wetlands, rivers and aquifers is huge and growing. Demands for water from domestic and business customers, and from agriculture, are increasing. Climate change is reducing the supply and reliability of rainfall, as well as increasing our demand on water resources. I cannot believe that it is 20 years since I started campaigning for the withdrawal of damaging abstraction licences; it is a sad state of affairs that the argument has not yet been completely won.

I cannot support Amendment 176 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. Water is a resource that we all must share. Historic abstraction rights are just that—historic happenstance—and can be inequitable in their impact on the environment and other water users. Overabstraction of water from low-flow rivers can have long-lasting damage; it can cause fish and other wildlife to be lost for ever, particularly in chalk streams. None of that will help with the Government’s biodiversity target if overabstraction continues. It can also result in salt water contamination of water resources, including groundwater, which is difficult to remediate.

In the Water Act 2003, we made some progress with the right to compensation for holders of licences that were causing serious damage being withdrawn, but that was a small provision, and rarely used. The Water Act 2014 removed the requirement to pay compensation for water company abstraction licence changes, which was another step forward.

Many farmers already farm under sustainable abstraction licences and have developed innovative solutions for reducing the amount of irrigation water needed, and developed more on-farm reservoirs, as outlined knowledgably by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington. We need to pay farmers under ELMS for developing innovative solutions in adapting to a changing climate. Amendments 176A, 180A and 187ZA, tabled by the noble Lord and outlined so eloquently by him, are highly reasonable, practical and fair, and would enable an acceleration of the deadline by which abstraction should cease. His amendments are based on a lifetime of practical agricultural experience and gain much stature from that. There can be no argument at all about removing compensation for variations to licences to remove excess headroom, where historic licences with unused headroom are hampering the more flexible allocation of water.

I also support Amendment 179A—again, one of the splendid amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington of Dillington—which would correct the narrow definition of ecological health and enable changes to be made in licences that are preventing the effective conservation management of sites of special scientific interest and where abstraction is causing damaging low flows in chalk streams and the main salmon rivers.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. I always remember with great gratitude when she came to my constituency to help with a particular problem, and went to infinite trouble so to do. She speaks with knowledge and authority.

I have never heard a debate in your Lordships’ House that has been opened with two more impressive speakers, who illustrated the expertise we have here. A powerful case was made by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and I was almost totally persuaded by it—until I heard the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington. They both made powerful points, but what has emerged from the debate for me, as a pure lay man in these discussions, is that the prime purpose and overriding concern of an environment Bill—as underlined by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, who has an extremely sensible amendment in his name—must be the health of the environment, and you cannot have a healthy environment unless you have healthy rivers. The noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, made a perceptive point when he underlined his support for the Chidgey amendment.

Where do we go from all this? Of course there has to be fairness at the end of the day, and an appeal procedure that can be respected by all concerned. I very much hope that, in the discussions that take place between now and Report—we say that again and again on this Bill—there can be an agreement on an appeal process whereby people do not feel that they have been harshly dealt with and, when following practices that they have followed over the years, they are not abruptly penalised. That is the direction in which we must go because—I come back to the prime point—the health of our rivers is fundamental to a healthy environment, and nothing must be done that further damages them. We referred in earlier stages of the Bill to the crucial importance of clean waterways—the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, has his own Private Member’s Bill in that regard—and we are a long way from achieving the cleanliness that is, I hope, the desire of us all.

--- Later in debate ---
I congratulate the Government on announcing that they will support labelling on the water usage of appliances. I also, once again, congratulate my noble friend and my honourable friend in the other place, who are clearly committed to doing their utmost to getting this landmark Bill right and making a real difference to the future of our environment and the planet.
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I put my name to Amendment 189 of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, on domestic water efficiency. I understand that the Government are committed to water efficiency standards and labelling, as signalled in their recent ministerial Statement on reducing water demand. The Government’s helpful brief on the water issues in the Bill says that they are currently considering the most suitable and effective mechanism for water efficiency labelling. This amendment does the job for them. I hope the Minister accepts it and makes swift progress to tackle the demand side of the supply-demand balance.

For too long, the water products industry has dug in, dragged its heels and resisted labelling. I remember being involved in endless discussions on water efficiency and labelling products 15 years ago. We are drinking in the last-chance saloon—if that is not a pun in the context of water.

As I said earlier on the Bill, our average water consumption has barely changed over the last 15 years. The Government have a target of at least 125 litres and preferably 110 litres per person per day. The national average is currently 142 litres, so we have a way to go. Reducing water use, both cold and hot, reduces greenhouse gas emissions created by water processing and heating, so there is a double benefit. Voluntary schemes have not worked. Research and evidence from schemes already in place have shown that mandatory water efficiency standards and labelling water-using products could reduce household consumption by as much as 20%. It is a no-brainer and has been for 15 years or longer. Pushback from the manufacturers needs to be put in its box and there needs to be better join-up between Defra and BEIS. I ask the Minister to just do it.

Smart water metering is in that category too, having been shown to deliver significant water savings of around 17%. Meters can help water companies to detect and fix leaks, and customers to understand and manage their water use and reduce their carbon impact. At the current rate of water meter rollout, we will reach only 83% of homes by 2045, which is not exactly speedy; we need 1 million smart meters a year. Reducing water demand means avoiding environmental damage and the high cost to consumers from major water infrastructure, such as reservoirs. You know it makes sense, Minister; accept this amendment and just go for it.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I can be very brief because I have great sympathy with most of the amendments before us. The amendment that the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, spoke to briefly but eloquently should commend itself to my noble friend. I hope he will be able to give some encouraging comments on that. Water metering is clearly essential and must be brought into effect as soon as possible. In the context of this Bill, I think the Parminter amendment has a great deal to commend it.

--- Later in debate ---
This is real progress: it is a real sign that campaigning works and that work in your Lordships’ House does make a difference, but we still clearly have a lot of work to do in this area. The Government are going to get a very clear message,, looking at the size and length of this list of amendments that noble Lords are very passionate about making this part of the Bill the best that it can be.
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, making biodiversity net gain a mandatory requirement for most development is a good thing, though it will need several safeguards. Extending the net gain provision to nationally significant infrastructure is welcome, and I congratulate the Minister on that amendment. However, I believe that we need Amendment 194C in the name of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch, to also include major infrastructure projects consented in other ways, including hybrid Bills, Transport and Works Act orders and whatever the new consenting mechanisms are that the Government invent in the new planning Bill. It is a pity that we have not yet seen the proposals arising from the consultation on planning. Can the Minister give us an indication of when we will see the Government’s proposals for planning? It would be extremely disappointing if major projects such as HS2 and East West Rail were not required to deliver biodiversity net gain.

I know that, latterly, HS2 has opted voluntarily to deliver biodiversity net gain on some of its later sections, if you can call being frog-marched into this by the NGOs, local protest groups and the Government a voluntary agreement. These big government-sponsored, taxpayer-supported and highly controversial projects should be like Pharaoh’s wife and be obligated to deliver the highest standards of biodiversity net gain. Of course, HS2 can never deliver biodiversity net gain as long as it is damaging ancient woodland, which is an irreplaceable habitat and therefore represents an irreplaceable biodiversity loss.

The Minister kindly wrote to noble Lords last week about HS2 in response to issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham. His letter, alas, fuelled my concerns about the potential misuse of the term “biodiversity net gain.” He indicated that HS2 phase 2b—Crewe to Manchester—would deliver biodiversity net gain, but he then went on to say that, because ancient woodland could not be replaced, it would simply be out of the scope of the net gain objective for HS2. Therefore, HS2 will be able to boast publicly of being a net gain project, while still being the single biggest cause of damage to our declining and irreplaceable ancient woodland. This is, frankly, misleading if not mendacious. Defra, we understand, is planning a consultation, expected to start this summer, on the development of regulations and guidance on irreplaceable habitats. Can the Minister assure the House that the regulations and guidance will not allow projects that are, in reality, not delivering net gain to portray themselves as net gain projects?

Biodiversity net gain needs other safeguards. Amendment 198A in my name would make sure that existing and possibly long-standing nature sites and habitats were not simply regarded as tradeable for newly created sites elsewhere—as the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said, possibly quite far elsewhere—under the net gain provisions. My amendment would ensure that the mitigation hierarchy had been followed. I am sure that noble Lords read the mitigation hierarchy every night before they go to bed, but I shall explain.

The mitigation hierarchy is part of the National Planning Policy Framework and outlines a set of principles that local planning authorities should work through in determining whether to approve a planning application impacting on biodiversity. It is a sort of stepwise, catechism approach. First, developers would be asked to seek to avoid impacts on biodiversity and, if that was not possible, to minimise them and then take onsite measures to rehabilitate or restore biodiversity, before finally resorting to offsetting residual, unavoidable impacts offsite. Can the Minister assure the Committee that the mitigation hierarchy will remain a requirement of the planning system and that there will be sufficient safeguards to ensure that offsite net gain is a last, not a first, resort under the net gain and planning provisions? It is on both the net gain and the changes in the planning system that the Minister needs to assure us.

A further strengthening of the net gain provisions is required. This is pointed out by my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch, supported by the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, in Amendments 196 and 201AZB. They would require habitats created under net gain to be maintained in perpetuity rather than only for 30 years. Previous speakers have debated this. The reality is that some created habitats will only just get going in 30 years; they certainly will not have reached the richness, complexity and resilience of long-standing habitats. The Government’s carbon scheme requires woodland sites created for carbon storage to persist for 100 years, so if it is possible to get that sort of longevity for a site despite changes of hands and ownership and the length of the policy, why can we not do it for biodiversity net gain?

We must not get into the crazy position that arose in south Wales with the extension of the M5 over the sensitive wetland sites in the Gwent Levels. Compensation habitat was created but, when the M4 relief road proposals came forward 20 years later, they planned to go straight through the compensation habitat. Mercifully, the Welsh Government reacted magnificently and rejected the plans. We do not want serial decimation of net gain habitat. Can the Minister assure the Committee that habitat created in the interests of net gain will not be allowed to disappear after 30 years? Will he accept the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch?

Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I have four amendments in this group. Amendment 201AA is about setting standards for the quality and content of information about biodiversity gain. This is an area where there are currently considerable problems. You are supposed to be able to get an expert to judge, for instance, the quality of a grassland. If you ask four different experts, you will probably get four different answers. There are no standards. There are no benchmarks.

Since we are moving to a situation of knowing what quality we are starting with and what quality we wish to end up with, we have to do this in a way that is measurable and verifiable. Therefore, I am keen that the Government should set objective and usable standards and have them in public so that people can refer to them and argue with them at the time when planning permission is being discussed and so that, 20 years down the road, we can judge whether what has been agreed is being maintained and do so consistently without having to wish for the luck of having chosen the right expert. In this context, I am keen that the state of a particular environment should be judged in the right season. It is obviously impossible in January to know what the quality of a particular bit of chalk grassland is; it has to be judged at a time of year when the plants and insects are in evidence.

Amendment 201AB is about how biodiversity gain should be audited. If we are to require something to be kept going for 30 years, somebody has to keep an eye on it. If we want that to happen, we have to provide the funds up front so that it can. I am not at all clear how the Government envisage an obligation to maintain a site being checked up on in practice.

Amendment 201AC comes back to a subject discussed previously by the noble Baronesses, Lady Young of Old Scone and Lady Bennett of Manor Castle: how we secure that these obligations are enforceable in practice. To my mind, the obligations have to stick to the land. It has to be something that is enforceable against whoever owns the land at that particular time, whether that be a freeholder or a leaseholder, so that there is always somebody with sufficient interest that they will notice that they have to do something, be aware of the consequences of a notice to improve and take action. I cannot see anything in the current arrangement that will make sure that biodiversity gain sites, particularly those that are part of the land being developed—that is, small local sites, which are not part of major biodiversity gain trading sites but little local things tucked away that will be hard to notice—are kept going. We need something that will do that. I hope that somewhere in the Bill is a requirement that biodiversity gain on those sorts of local sites should be congruent with the local nature recovery strategy. I have missed that; I have not tabled an amendment about it, but I would love to have the Minister confirm to me that that will be the case.

I very much support what has been said about making biodiversity gain exist in perpetuity. I do not think of it as unchangeable but, if something happens that damages that gain, the system should swing into action again and the person doing the damage should be required to provide additional gain elsewhere or on the same site in much the same way as if they were doing an original development. I cannot see the point in things ending in 30 years. It is pointless. It is not what we are talking about; we are talking about changing things for ever, so let us say that.

I know that my noble friend the Minister has been sent a copy of a paper by my honourable friend Bim Afolami; I hope that he will find the opportunity, now or in correspondence, to comment on it. Mr Afolami is concerned that the Government’s plans for introducing biodiversity gain are much too slow and that opportunity should be given to those authorities that want to move faster to get going straightaway. Not everyone will be in a position to do that, but some of us will be ready. I do not see the point in holding back for two years just because not everything is ready. If the Government let those of us who are ready move early, a lot will be learned from our experience that can then be built into the procedure that opens up for everybody after the initial two years.

In particular, to pick up on an amendment which we will not see, because it went down too late, from my noble friend Lord Ridley and myself, I think there is a lot to be said for enabling—authorising—the automated creation of biodiversity gain statements and suggestions for small developers. If we do not do something to really help small developers, they will be hit by very large costs relative to the size of the development in getting a biodiversity gain statement together. We need to make it easier for them, but if we are making it easy for them, we need quality, and I think the suggestions in my right honourable friend’s letter address that. I hope the Minister will be able to reassure us that small sites will not end up being low quality or we will not end up deterring small builders by imposing on them obligations which are not proportionate to the size of their development.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to reopen this debate in the confident conviction that the entire nation of England is glued to our deliberations this evening. As a reminder, we are covering the group comprising Amendments 205A, 253 and 257D, all in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who did a very clear job of introducing them before the break.

However, I am not quite as convinced as the noble Lord about the ease of plant reintroduction. I think about tree planting on the edge of the moors outside Sheffield, hacking through thigh-high bracken and its accompanying roots. I have not yet been back to see how those new trees are, but we are talking about animals here and these amendments, particularly Amendments 205A and 257D, address the exciting development of what is being called “recovery through reintroduction”. This excites individuals and communities. The focus is often on larger, charismatic species, such as large herbivores and some carnivores, but excellent work has also been done on red squirrels and pine martens in an interrelated way. Perhaps, however, these two amendments are most relevant to the smaller and the more local, such as insects and maybe small mammals—recovery and reintroduction efforts that might be taken up by a small local group. In Sheffield, when we were deep in the controversy over felling street trees and a great deal of time and effort went into preserving the Chelsea Road elm—on its own terms and for one of the UK’s most threatened butterflies, the white-letter hairstreak—many people came up to me seeking schemes to see how they might be able to preserve it.

There have been so many success stories of reintroduction over the past 30 years: the red kite, the bittern, the pool frog, the natterjack toad, the sand lizard, the smooth snake, the chequered skipper butterfly, the enigmatic ladybird spider and, of course, the beaver, about which I spoke previously. However, to truly restore our ecosystems, our biodiversity, our nature—as the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, prefers—we need much more. We live in one of the most nature-depleted states on this planet. From the Tudor age onwards, when a war on so-called vermin was launched, there has been a war on wildlife in these islands, which was then explosively accelerated through the destruction of the 20th century. Turning it around requires enlisting the support of what is also a nation of animal lovers.

I am interested to hear the Minister’s response to the sentiment behind these amendments, which certainly deserves to be supported and encouraged. Again, this is not something that can be centrally controlled by Westminster. It needs local initiatives and local and regional action. A sentence in Amendment 253 optimistically looks forward to a partially rewilded island, where nature can be allowed to operate its natural cycles of energy and resources. This also raises an important issue.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I speak to Amendment 253, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I used to hate the EU forms’ DoC requirements and regarded them as one of the more pernickety impacts of EU membership, which is quite a thing for someone who is very anti-Brexit. However, they were vital to deal with issues such as the mule pits that used to be a horror on the edge of most Spanish villages, where you could go and fling your donkey when it died. They were probably a bit overengineered for the UK, but across Europe these regulations had a big impact on big scavenging birds such as kites and vultures.

We can tell from Shakespeare that it is not new for hygiene and biodiversity to come into conflict. In Shakespeare’s time, kites lurked on street corners in London picking up carrion and rubbish. I would quite like to see kites back on every street corner in London, but I do not think I will ever see that in my time.

I support the modest amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, which would mean that dead farm animals could be left uncollected in rewilding areas to allow necrophagous—don’t you just love that word?—bird populations to take their proper place in these naturally rewilding ecosystems.

It has been a long day today on the Environment Bill so I would like to introduce a more frivolous moment into the Committee. If I had my way, I would like to see this provision of letting stock lie where they die extended to all upland areas, not just rewilding areas. I have always fancied a sky burial, where I could be useful food to some of these necrophagous birds, including even corvids, though I would prefer a more magnificent kite to clean my bones. Who knows? In spite of there being no fossil record of vultures in the UK, climate change might well mean that the UK could become suitable, in climatic terms, for vultures. They are already moving north in France. However, that would need a sufficient supply of carrion to be left lying around. I am sure the Minister would agree that being picked clean by a vulture would be really something, but that is probably a bird too far so I will restrain myself and simply support the noble Lord’s Amendment 253.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am not sure I can follow that.

I believe the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has laid out the case extremely well for all three of his amendments in this small group. Amendment 205A would give power to relevant civil society organisations attempting to regenerate populations of extinct insects and other animals, especially those that may have had a regional presence. This is a very worthy aim and one that I support. However, I urge caution over the reintroduction of some insects that, when they were alive, had an adverse impact on the countryside, wildlife or humans. I am sure the noble Lord does not wish to reintroduce an insect that was a persistent pest and had no useful purpose.

Amendment 253 relates to allowing fallen stock to remain on land for the consumption of flesh-eating birds and insects—noble Lords will note that I have gone for the easy pronunciation here. I support this with the proviso that the fallen stock has not died from a disease that might spread to other stock or to humans; we need to be careful about that. To ensure the survival of many insects and birds, it is really important that they have something to feed on. Fallen stock and, indeed, fallen trees should be left not only to feed birds and insects but to provide essential nutrients to the soil. I have read Isabella Tree’s book on rewilding and she makes a very powerful case for letting things be. In the past, if an oak tree was in danger of falling or was rotten at its core, the answer was to fell it and take away the remains. It is now recognised as far better for it and for other dead trees to be left for beetles, insects and fungi to feed on. That increases our much-depleted biodiversity.

Amendment 257D relates to the captive breeding of wild animals and their subsequent release back into their natural environment. We have seen beavers returned to the wild in Cornwall and Devon and Scottish wildcats bred in captivity now living in a safe reserve in the Highlands. I support these programmes but accept that they are not always universally welcomed. There has been discussion and nervousness about the possible release of wolves into Scotland. I accept that care will need to be taken over just what is released and where, but captive breeding programmes have helped many animals and birds. Ospreys and sea eagles—magnificent birds—are making a significant return, the latter right across the country from Scotland down to the Isle of Wight. If you are lucky enough to see one soaring overhead or diving down to catch prey out of the water, it is a sight that you will never forget.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, has spoken about conserving pine martens, red squirrels and butterflies, and reminded us that our biodiversity is in a very poor state—one of the worst in Europe. The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, has spoken about donkey cemeteries and the time when kites scavenged on the streets of London, and reminded us of the role of vultures. I think it was the bird sort that she was referring to.

This is a niche group of amendments but one that deserves to be taken seriously. I hope the Minister will agree.

--- Later in debate ---
If we have a nature recovery strategy for Eastbourne, and we say, “We want these fenlands full of life and we want that to include curlews”, how do we get the Environment Agency to come on side with that? It must be bound in as part of the strategy, perhaps as part of making the strategy too, but once it is made, it must be part of it. If we want these things to work, we need those big, powerful institutions—local authorities, the Environment Agency, drainage boards and, doubtless, others—to be part of the process of making them work. I hope these amendments will be a contribution to that.
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, what I am hearing around the House is that everybody is feeling rather anxious about a lack of join-up between a whole load of mechanisms that are being invented or pre-exist, so that they run the risk of nullifying each other, or at least making life very difficult for each other. So I feel justified in speaking to my Amendment 293, and I thank the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, for his support. Some noble Lords will recognise that this is a revamp of an amendment to require the Government to draw up a land-use framework which I raised during debates on the Agriculture Bill. The Government indicated that the Environment Bill would be a much more appropriate place to deal with it, so here it is. The Government may possibly now say that the planning Bill would be a more appropriate place, in which case I shall raise it there too, because the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, is right that I have been banging on about this for a long time, and I intend to continue banging on about it until I get it.

There are huge pressures on land, and they are growing. There is pressure for increased food security, carbon storage, biodiversity, flood management, trees, increased timber for self-sufficiency, recreation, health, built development, housing and infrastructure—there are multiple pressures on land. The University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership conducted demand and supply analysis and found that, to meet a growing UK population’s food space and energy needs while increasing the area needed to protect and enhance the nation’s natural capital, the UK would need to free up an additional 7 million hectares. The land for that is simply not there. The UK as a whole is only 24.25 million hectares, so about one-third more land would be needed to meet imminent pressures, and we simply have not got it.

As we tackle these multiple pressures for land, we are hampered by the lack of a common framework within which to reconcile these competing needs. I have been going around trying to prompt a debate on the need for a land-use framework for England, because Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland already have such frameworks and are using them, with greater or lesser effect, to guide policy on these competing areas of need. Many countries across the globe have land-use strategies—even China, as we heard at our Select Committee last week—so, it is long overdue that England should develop and use such a framework. This issue was identified by the Select Committee on the Rural Economy two years ago: it recommended that there should be an England land-use framework. The Commission on the Future of Food, Farming and the Countryside—I declare an interest as a member—has identified this as a major issue and is conducting a pilot land-use framework for Devon, which may encourage the Government to see whether they could adopt it on a national basis.

Since we debated this issue during the passage of the Agriculture Bill, several other spatial planning issues have arisen. The Government have made a commitment, in the England Trees Action Plan, to major expansion of woodland. Where are the best places for trees to go that do not undermine the other valuable land uses, such as agriculture? What is the answer to that? We need a land-use framework to tell us. The new farming support regime, as the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, outlined, will result in substantial land-use change. Local nature recovery strategies already have a quasi-land-use planning role but could well raise major challenges to local development plans, as has already been outlined. The changes to the planning system heralded in the Government’s White Paper will impact on the use of land, but traditionally, the planning system does not cover, in any real way, rural agricultural land. Net biodiversity gain will require land to achieve that gain. Can the Minister clarify how all these mechanisms are to be integrated and not bang into each other?

Land is a finite resource—we are not making any more—and we desperately need a strategic land-use framework to maximise the value to wildlife, development, the economy and people. If the Minister disagrees, will he outline how the Government intend to reconcile the increasing competition for land? The risk is that these separate systems will encourage particular land uses in particular places, with decisions taken in silos without a more strategic view on how to get the right use in the right place and maximise the benefit of the precious resource that land represents.

I also support Amendments 209 and 210. I have put my name to Amendment 209 in the name the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. It makes the vital link between local nature recovery strategies and other land use decisions by public authorities. It was put vividly by the noble Baroness. The Knepp example is being replicated over the country. Our local version in Bedfordshire is that the local native recovery strategy is beginning to identify, from rigorous scrutiny of the data, that the North Bedfordshire Wolds is probably the most important area of open countryside left in Bedfordshire, but the local plan has been developing new town proposals to put new settlements of 6,000 to 10,000 inhabitants right in the middle of the North Bedfordshire Wolds—so not much join-up there then. I therefore support the need for local nature recovery strategies to have legal status, so that planners and developers have to take account of them. Amendment 210, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, aims to make a statutory link between local planning decisions and biodiversity in all the decisions that public authorities make.

My last point is a practical one. Local authorities have, almost universally, reduced the number of ecologists they employ; two out of three local authorities do not have an ecologist on their staff. We need proper integration of all these new and existing mechanisms for land use, and ecologists will be vital to that task, so we need to ensure that local authorities are properly funded to be able to do this job.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is a delight to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. I completely agree with her about leaving out one’s body for the birds to pick over the bones. Personally, I would not mind corvids; they are very bright, so I would not have a problem with that at all.

For all those who would like to know about the footy, it is 1-1 at the moment. Denmark scored first.

While we are talking about corpses, I will throw in my own story. In Norway, in 2016, a herd of wild reindeer were electrocuted. There were 232 animals—calves, parents, everything—who all died simultaneously. Rangers in the area decided to leave the corpses and watched for several years to see what would happen. The biodiversity explosion was huge; it was not just predators, birds, insects and everything that fed off them, but the plants and fungi that were a by-product of all this activity. Biodiversity is aided by corpses. This is probably not an option for most local authorities, but it is something that individual gardeners could use when they find dead animals, if they can stand the smell.

The amendments in this group are part of the wider task being undertaken by your Lordships’ House to insert the strong legal mechanisms that will give effect to the ambitions of this Bill. The Bill should be a watershed moment for the conduct of government and public administration, but we are missing loads of opportunities to have any sort of impact. Amendment 205B, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, would be a turning point for public authorities. We need public servants to recognise their roles as stewards of the environment and the natural world, and this amendment would do that. Every function and decision should be made with the environment and ecosystems at the forefront of the decision-maker’s mind. In the 21st century, that should be a fundamental principle of good governance.

Amendment 232 of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, then ensures these new powers and duties on public authorities are properly resourced, so they can be delivered. We all know about the massive cuts to local authorities that have been happening over the past 11 years and, honestly, I am staggered that local authorities can carry on with all the services they manage to, but we cannot allow a situation where ever more duties are placed on local authorities, while they still struggle with the effects of austerity. The Government have to invest in good-quality local services and invest massively in a transformative programme to repair our natural world. The two cannot be put into conflict; the Government must make resources available to local authorities to deliver both with excellence. I hope we will revisit these two points on Report, because they are important to delivering the ambition of the Bill.

I have been watching today’s business from my office, trying to get on with other work, and the stamina shown by noble Lords still in the Chamber is absolutely staggering. I admire your fortitude and energy. Let us all hope that we do not have to do this again too often, because the Government will accept loads of our amendments.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I will be brief as well because I would like to get home to see extra time.

As in the previous group, these amendments would strengthen the Bill by giving it powers and mechanisms to make it work well. Amendment 212 would give new powers to local authorities to protect and enhance nature in the planning process. I know that the Green Party’s 450 or so councillors sitting on over 140 local authorities, along with thousands of other environmentally aware councillors from other political parties, would be able to achieve a huge amount with these new powers—in particular, the ability to prohibit inappropriate activities that would be detrimental to biodiversity. At the moment, there is little more that can be done other than protesting and campaigning against this sort of environmental destruction, which of course we all do extremely well but too often it is, sadly, completely useless. So this would be an important tool with which to defend communities and nature.

Amendment 231A would do the important work of tying the Bill in with the recently passed Agriculture Act. Both Bills have similar objectives—to protect and enhance the environment—but somehow there are no explicit links. This amendment would provide them. The two Acts could well end up pursuing parallel objectives rather than delivering joint action. Something that I think was missing from the Agriculture Act was that large-scale landscape-level planning that goes beyond individual farms and parcels of land. Amendment 231A would definitely help to ameliorate that by tying individual landholdings into the larger scheme of the nature recovery strategy. I hope the Minister will address that point specifically.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 231A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. I am slightly concerned that the noble Lord appeared to suggest that I go to the Isles of Scilly, fling myself in front of a moving vehicle and then lie on a hillside to allow a vulture to eat me. That would be delightful but to be honest it would be a bit premature, so I am not sure I am going to take up his offer. There will be other vultures—other vultures are available, as I think the phrase goes.

The noble Lord’s amendment would require any environmental land management scheme project to comply with the local nature recovery strategy. This is absolutely the joining-up of agricultural and nature purposes of land use, which is vital, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, laid out. The fact that the noble Lord has felt the need for agriculture and biodiversity uses to be joined up reinforces the need for an overarching land-use framework, as I outlined in my previous amendment, combining not only agricultural and nature purposes but development and a variety of others, such as climate change mitigation and floods—multiple purposes that a limited land supply has to achieve. However, if I cannot have a land-use framework from the Minister, I would be very grateful if he would give way to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson and let us at least have agriculture and nature joined up.

Baroness Boycott Portrait Baroness Boycott (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I support Amendment 212 and all amendments that join ELMS and nature recovery plans. Farming, as we know, is responsible for practically all biodiversity loss, and all the intensive farming that is going on has to cease.

My worry about ELMS was reflected at the Groundswell conference, where this year there were nearly 5,000 farmers. There were many talks going on and many people were extremely concerned about when ELMS would come in, how it was going to work and how they were going to be paid. As far as I know, only one of the pilot schemes has actually started to deliver any sums of money. A sum of £47 per hectare for better soil was being proposed through the Landworkers’ Alliance, at which most farmers turned round and said: “That’s simply not enough. How can I refigure my entire future to make my land biodiverse and nature-friendly when I don’t know what kind of support I’m going to have?” It seems crucial for us to have the sort of joined-up thinking that is in the amendment. I urge the Government to say when there will be clarity for farmers about what kind of support they can have so that they can shift their farming mechanisms to protect biodiversity.

On the question of local authorities, what is happening a lot in our area is that people are creating driveways and putting up barns in the middle of the countryside. These then become stalking horses—a cattle barn then needs a house for someone to live beside it. We have one of these very close to where we live. We have all been objecting because there is a problem with the stream: there is runoff. They are proposing to have 300 cows in there but they do not need it as there are brownfield sites and disused farms around that could be used instead. Everyone seems to be powerless and not have a leg to stand on. This is an important amendment and I hope the Government will be able to incorporate it when the Bill comes back to us again.

Environment Bill

Baroness Young of Old Scone Excerpts
Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Russell of Liverpool) (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have received two requests to speak after the Minister, from the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, and the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I was not intending to speak to this group of amendments, especially as I was keen to keep the Minister sweet for my tree amendments in the next group, but I have become increasingly worried and suspicious. I support the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and want to ask the Minister about the Government’s intentions.

Why the Government would want to put their head into this particular lions’ den mystifies me. Why were the clauses to weaken the habitat regulations introduced without consultation, late in the day in May? The habitat regulations, with protections for SACs and SPAs, are one of the jewels in the crown of EU environmental legislation. Even for Brexiteers there are such things, one of them being the habitats regulations. They give protection for the very small number of the most important priority sites and species, and there are only about 900 across the whole four nations of the UK. Quite a lot of them are in Scotland and out to sea, so it is not as if you would be falling over SPAs and SACs on every street corner and being prevented from doing anything as a result. We know that their protections are much valued by the public. They are also a bit of a coup for the UK. The UK led on negotiating these protections into EU law originally. It was the Prime Minister’s dad who played a substantial role in that, so threatening the habitats regulations is tantamount to a declaration of war. Why would the Government invite this sort of conflict? That is what is worrying me.

Clause 105 says that there will be no diminution of the habitats regulations’ requirements, but the judgment on this is left to the Minister, and, although he will consult and bring proposals to Parliament, he will to some extent mark his own homework—so noble Lords can see why I am suspicious. Speeches like that of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, stir up that suspicion even further. The government proposals could quite easily be set alongside and be complementary to the habitats regulations’ requirements. The requirement to meet the Environment Bill targets and the environmental improvement plan targets could be additional and not instead of the habitats regulations’ requirements. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, very clearly pointed out that they are not the same requirements.

In fact, of the targets that we discussed earlier in Committee, the one that the Government are prepared to move on is on species abundance, which is about species numbers, rather than habitats or sites. So the habitats regulations’ protection for these most important habitats and sites is still required. Why do the Government want to junk one of the decent pieces of EU legislation? Is it simply because it is a European law? Is the Minister being forced into sweeping the ground for a set of planning proposals that have not been seen across government yet, let alone by your Lordships or the public?

In these circumstances, Clause 106 ought to be deleted from the Bill—it is a pig in a poke, and we do not know enough about what is going to come in its wake. Above all, I would like to hear from the Minister why the Government are stepping into this maelstrom—because it will be one—and how the changes that they plan to make could be made more transparent so that your Lordships could be enabled to decide whether or not to be suspicious. I would also like to hear why we cannot have what the Minister is proposing as an addition to the existing habitats regulations’ requirements, rather than instead of them.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sorry that I have raised the noble Baroness’s suspicions. I have described the safeguards that are in place, and I will not repeat them because she will have heard what I said. It is wrong to imply, as I think she did, that we are scrapping the habitats directive or that it is deemed to have no value by government—that is not the case, and I hope that I made that clear in my speech. However, it is equally wrong to pretend that it is unimprovable; clearly, it is improvable and clearly we need a better or improved set of rules to deliver on the ambition that we have set ourselves. The facts make that unarguable.

However, I will go further and say that describing what the Government are doing as a “declaration of war” against nature is very hard to reconcile with an Environment Bill that has unprecedented targets. I challenge the noble Baroness to find any other country with ambitions that come even close to those that we are setting out here in relation to peat, water, waste, species, tree planting, et cetera. I challenge her to find any other country that has as ambitious an approach in relation to land-use subsidies. Indeed, I can tell her that we are the only country to have attempted, let alone achieved, the transition from the kinds of subsidies that dominate worldwide to the subsidy system that we are replacing them with, based on the condition of the delivery of public goods. Through the Bill, we are the only country to legislate to clean up our international footprint. I believe that we are introducing a world first in net gain. I could go on with many other examples. The idea that the Bill represents a declaration of war on nature is frankly absurd.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Kerslake Portrait Lord Kerslake (CB) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I first declare my interest as the recently stood-down president of the Local Government Association. My other interests are as listed in the register. I take this opportunity to apologise that a technical problem prevented me from speaking to my Amendment 201D last week. I plan to return to this on Report.

I shall speak today to two amendments in my name. Amendments 257E and 257F seek to require the Secretary of State to understand the impact of the new duty of consult residents on the felling of street trees on councils before the duty is set out in guidance and to allow a local highways authority to create a local exemption to the duty to consult. I am very conscious that I am tabling these amendments remotely from the city of Sheffield where the origins of Clause 108 probably lie. Although not directly involved, my family home is some 15 minutes’ walk from where some of the most contentious issues arose. Suffice it to say that the tree-felling debacle in Sheffield has been a particularly unhappy episode in the life of the city. I hope that the new Labour and Green Party administration can finally lay this issue to rest.

I can therefore well understand the desire to bring in greater requirements on councils to consult before trees are felled. However, I am concerned that, in addressing an issue particularly related to the actions of one council, we do not inadvertently create a whole set of other problems for other councils. Local authorities are responsible for the management of many thousands of trees, so this will not be a small issue. Councils generally work hard to protect and maintain the natural environment, including urban trees. That is why a lot of councils have set out their long-term vision for trees and are seeking ways to increase tree-planting, for example by working with local volunteer groups to promote trees and woodlands.

Tree preservation orders provide an established route for protecting trees as part of the local environment. Trees in conservation areas also benefit from protection in law. However, decisions on the felling of trees should ultimately remain a matter of local determination. There is a risk that the new duty will be bureaucratic, and a lot of care must be taken that it does not clash with the existing duties—for example, the statutory duty to consult if street trees are to be removed as part of a housing development.

As a whole, this Bill relies significantly on secondary legislation. We have seen quite a bit of detail on proposals to be enacted by regulation in other areas such as waste, but less in this case. My amendment would require the Government to consult fully with local government and others on the impact of the guidance before it is taken forward. It may be that the Minister can provide greater assurance today on this issue, which would make such an amendment unnecessary. I do not of course intend to push my amendment to a Division. However, it is an important issue: when we put forward legislation, we should have a clear understanding of how it will impact on individual areas up and down the country.

My second amendment, Amendment 257F, would allow local authorities to set exemptions locally, in addition to the reasons for exemptions set out in the Bill. Councils must have a workable set of exemptions, so that they can protect the public from harm and act quickly to prevent the spread of pests and diseases. I am concerned that the areas for exemption on the face of the Bill may be too narrowly defined and again have unintended consequences in their implementation.

These are two practical amendments about the delivery of policy that do not challenge the intent. I beg to move.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, this is the tree group of amendments: we seem to have quite a large number of them clustered together. I declare my interest as chairman of the Woodland Trust.

My Amendment 258 would give protection to ancient woodland equivalent to that already provided for sites of special scientific interest. Ancient woodlands are at least 400 years old. By their very age, they are one of our most rich and complex communities of biodiversity, both above the ground and below in the soils and mycorrhizal communities. Many of them are also historically and socially important. They have the added value, these days, of continuing to sequester carbon every year that they continue in place. They are known as the cathedrals of the natural world. They are irreplaceable—if you plant a new wood, it will not be an ancient woodland for 400 years at least—yet over 1,200 ancient woodlands across the UK are currently under threat from development: mostly housing, roads and railways. Over the last 20 years, nearly 1,000 ancient woodlands have been permanently lost or damaged. Many of the remaining fragments are small and incredibly vulnerable to pressures from surrounding land or the built environment. They are often much loved, and trampled excessively out of love by dog walkers. They are damaged by fly-tippers and subject to drift from agricultural operations. They currently have inadequate protection, hence the 1,200 currently on the threat list.

Planners and developers are warned away from developing on ancient woodland in the National Planning Policy Framework, except in “wholly exceptional” circumstances. But the NPPF is not always observed and does not apply to major infrastructure projects—and who knows what will happen to the NPPF under planning reform? Developers and planners are supposed to consult the ancient woodland inventory in order to avoid trashing ancient woodland through their development. They can see where there is ancient woodland and try to avoid it. However, the inventory is pretty out of date, it was always geographically patchy, and it does not list a large number of small sites. Very late in the day, it is now slowly being updated.

My amendment seeks to use a well-known, long-standing and comparatively easy and effective model, the system used for protecting sites of special scientific interest, to protect ancient woodland. Planners and developers have been working with SSSI rules for 70 years. SSSI status was part of the post-war settlement introduced in 1949. It is a well-known process, so we would not be inventing new bureaucracy, simply adding gently to existing regulations. I am not saying by my proposal that ancient woodlands should meet the biodiversity standards outlined in SSSI regulations, but that all ancient woodlands entered on the ancient woodland inventory would be protected from development, would be monitored in respect of their condition and would be required to be managed to reach and maintain ecological status, under the same processes that are in place for SSSIs.

I hope the Minister will seek to assure me that the England trees action plan has lots in it to help protect ancient woodland by bringing in measures to support long-established woods—woods established before 1840—for example by bringing in schemes to increase buffering around the smaller fragments, and by the removal of inappropriate conifer overplanting on ancient woodland sites. We may see targets for ancient woodlands, but there is nothing quite like statutory protection on existing highly threatened sites, and it could be so simply achieved by my amendment to stop the rot. Otherwise, our children and their children will judge us harshly for our record of destruction of these very English cathedrals of the natural world. SSSIs were an iconic part of the post-war settlement. Let us have ancient woodland protection as an iconic part of the post-Covid settlement.

I turn to my Amendment 259 on a biosecurity standard when planting trees using public money. Tree disease resulting from importing seeds, young plants, and more mature stock from abroad has been disastrous for the health and existence of our woodlands, their biodiversity and our landscapes. There is now a pest or disease for virtually every species of native tree. Many noble Lords will remember Dutch elm disease and how dramatically it changed the nature of our landscapes. We now have oak diseases, oak processionary moth, and, of course, with ash dieback we will lose millions of ash trees and change the face of the countryside and its wildlife dramatically. The incidence of new pathogens entering the UK mirrors exactly the rise in plant imports.

Amendment 259 would require the Government to draw up and implement a biosecurity standard which would apply to all planting of trees and shrubs by Governments, their agencies and contractors. The standard would include a provision that all native tree stock would be “sourced from UK growers” and be certified as having been grown within the UK for its entire life. At the moment, stock moves backwards and forwards between the UK and Europe for stages of its rearing, with all the risks of tree disease importation. The amendment would be good for woods, trees, nature and landscapes, and would represent a major opportunity for job creation in an expanded UK tree nursery industry.

The Woodland Trust’s UK and Ireland sourced and grown assurance standards will have produced 27 million home-grown trees between 2014 and 2024. More and more nurseries are taking part. We applaud the Government’s commitment to an exponential uplift in the number of trees planted, in the interests of climate change and biodiversity, and major taxpayer money is going to be invested. So there is no time to lose. We need more than a voluntary scheme; we need a statutory basis for the standard. We need a clear future estimate of the number of trees required, so that nursery businesses can grow in the UK and get on with confidence to develop a UK-based capacity to meet the demand for safe trees.

My Amendment 260 places a duty on the Government to prepare, maintain and report on a tree strategy for England and to produce targets for the protection, restoration an expansion of trees in woodlands in England. I welcomed the Government’s recent England trees action plan, which is, to all intents and purposes, a tree strategy. But it is non-statutory and, as we all know, Governments come and go and Ministers come and go. I hope that the Government are going to be consulting on tree targets of the sort I have touched on. So, if there is to be a tree action plan and tree targets, why not just make them statutory? Can the Minister tell us why he is not keen on a statutory basis for these two issues?

I support Amendment 260A in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, to which I have put my name. We will be planting 30,000 hectares of trees a year to meet our carbon and biodiversity targets. This will be severely compromised if damage, not just by disease, but by deer in particular, is not reduced to below its current level. The standard proposed would need to be based on clear evidence on tree losses following proper assessment and to be set in a framework of landscape-scale deer management plans across multiple owners. As the noble Earl will no doubt say, part of the current problem is landowners who do not undertake control and who could wreck the efforts of others around them to control damaging pests such as deer. I therefore hope that he receives support for his amendment.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I am conscious of the hour. I thank the Minister for the initiatives that he spoke of on ancient woodland but ask that, when he continues to look at ancient woodland protection, he also raises the effectiveness of the implementation of the current planning guidance with the MHCLG, because it is clear that, if we have 1,200 cases of ancient woodlands at risk, the implementation simply cannot be working. I would be grateful if he would agree to raise that with the MHCLG and, while he is there, he could ask them about the planning reforms and get some guarantee that they will not reduce the level of protection for ancient woodland below the current NPPF and, preferably, improve it.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I have had commitments from the MHCLG that our protections for trees will be improved and enhanced, and will not move backwards, but I will continue to press home that case. I am seeing the Secretary of State in a matter of days to talk about this and a number of other issues, and I will raise the points that the noble Baroness raised in her speech today.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I very much welcome the Government’s commitment to requiring businesses to ensure that the forest risk commodities they use to have been produced in compliance with local laws, but it is only a start, as other noble Lords have pointed out. I particularly support Amendment 293B in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge. What we have in the Bill does not deliver on the commitment in the 25-year environment plan to ensure that

“our consumption and impact on natural capital are sustainable, at home and overseas.”

The Environmental Audit Committee’s recent biodiversity report called for

“a target to reduce the UK’s global environmental footprint”,

as does the amendment, and I support that idea.

Commitment to a target would set an ambition to do more over the next few years and allow the Government to develop further measures covering issues such as illegal deforestation, as raised by the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and financial issues, as raised by the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. I know that the Minister has a personal commitment to this issue, and I hope he can respond positively.

On a particular case which the noble Lord, Lord Randall, raised just now and previously, every year, an area of forest and biodiversity bigger than the New Forest is sacrificed to feed biomass-based electricity generation in the UK. The replacement forests take decades to mature and cannot be regarded as equivalent in either carbon or biodiversity terms. The people of Britain pay through the nose for this: they pay more than £2 million per day to subsidise those large biomass power plants. In view of the damage to forests and biodiversity caused by the wood pellet industry in the USA and Estonia, can the Minister use the Bill to review the dubious sustainability claims made by Drax, end public subsidy and ensure that the performance of a large biomass power plant is not compared with hugely polluting coal but with other green technologies such as wind and solar?

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, and to express my support for nearly all the amendments in this group, except Amendments 263 and 265.

We should start by acknowledging that this is yet one more sign that campaigning works. Schedule 16 represents amendments brought by the Government in the other place which reflect the campaigning of a great many NGOs and other groups and, as other noble Lords have said, the conclusions of the independent Global Resource Initiative Taskforce. However, as multiple briefings that we have all received show, it still needs improvement to deliver on the recommendations of the GRIT and the expectations of UK consumers and businesses.

I shall not go through each amendment, but I shall start with Amendment 293B in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, because it is in many ways the most far-reaching and crucial. This is the one that calls for a global footprint target. I shall start with the benefit for the UK, before looking more broadly. It would reduce the risk of future pandemics; I do not really need to say more than that. It would help safeguard against the economic costs of biodiversity decline and climate change. The WWF Global Futures report calculated that that will cost the world at least £368 billion a year, with the UK suffering annual damage to its economy of £16 billion a year by 2050. It would also support the resilience of UK and global businesses. It would help businesses to manage risk proactively. Coming back to the Government’s desire, of which we so often hear, to be world-leading, it would mean that the UK was the first country to embed the latest pledge for nature into its legislation. It is crucial.

It is worth noting that this amendment is another way of addressing the issue I addressed in the amendment I moved to Clause 1, many days ago, on reducing resource use rather than making it more efficient. We need to reduce our ecological footprint by around 75% to fit within ecological limits. The WWF global footprint report looked at some of the key issues: our material footprint needs to come down by 38%, biomass by 48%, nitrogen—for which I tabled a specific amendment earlier—by 89%, and phosphorous by 85%.

The most basic amendment that I would surely suggest the Minister has to adopt in some form is Amendment 264A, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. She has already made many powerful arguments, in particular that if we do not introduce this amendment there will a perverse incentive to encourage the legalisation of deforestation. UK businesses could also benefit from this amendment. Currently, in many parts of the world laws relating to land use, forests and commodity production are numerous, uncertain, inconsistent and poorly implemented. It is very difficult to determine legality, and companies can be trapped in a regulatory, paperwork minefield from which the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, could free them. Of course, 2.1 million hectares of natural vegetation within the 133 Brazilian municipalities that currently supply the UK with soya could be legally deforested.

I come now to Amendment 264ZA in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, which calls for the recognition of customary land ownership and membership systems. Some 80% of indigenous and community lands are held without legally recognised tenure rights. We know that in indigenous and tribal territories, deforestation rates are significantly lower. Ensuring respect for customary tenure rights is an efficient, just and cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions. Noble Lords who have been reading The House magazine might know that I have some recommendations for summer reading in there. I would like to add an extra one: Imbolo Mbue’s second novel, How Beautiful We Were, which is set in a fictional African village and shows how it was depleted by centuries of the activities of fossil fuel companies, forest exploitation and rubber plantations, going back to slavery. We really cannot allow this kind of relationship with the world to continue.

I come now to Amendment 265A in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. What we are doing here is the reverse of what your Lordships’ House achieved in the Financial Services Bill. After a lot of wrestling, we finally got a reference to climate—although, unfortunately, not biodiversity—into the Finance Bill. What we also need to do is to get recognition of the damage the financial sector does to the rest of the world, and we need to see finance addressed in all the other Bills. The UK is the single biggest source of international finance for six of the most harmful agribusiness companies involved in deforestation in Brazil, the Congo basin and Papua New Guinea, lending £5 billion between 2013 and 2019. These UK banks included HSBC, Barclays, and Standard Chartered. We simply cannot allow this to continue.

Noble Lords may not think so, but I am really trying to be brief, so I will turn to some very short concluding thoughts. If deforestation was a country, it would be the third largest emitter of carbon, behind China and the US. Some 80% of deforestation is associated with agricultural production, yet figures published this afternoon from five major UN agencies show that the number of people without access to healthy diets has grown by 320 million in the last year. They now number 2.37 billion in total. A fifth of all children under five are stunted because of lack of access to the most basic resource of all: food.

We have to stop wrecking other people’s countries. We have to ensure that our lives are lived within the limits of this fragile planet, and that everyone else has access to that same basic level of resources that is their human right.

Environment Bill

Baroness Young of Old Scone Excerpts
Report stage
Monday 6th September 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 43-II Second marshalled list for Report - (6 Sep 2021)
Earl of Caithness Portrait The Earl of Caithness (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I would just like to get clarification on this. Since it is now so difficult to table an amendment at Third Reading, it needs my noble friend to say that he would consider it before Third Reading. As I understand it, that would allow the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, to bring it back at Third Reading. If my noble friend is point blank saying that he will not even consider it, then the noble Lord has no alternative but to divide the House.

As I said, I like subsection (1) of the proposed new clause but not the rest of the amendment, which puts me and indeed quite a lot of us on the Benches behind my noble friend in an extremely difficult position. I think it is essential, as my noble friend Lord Deben said, that we get subsection (1), but we would have to vote for the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, in order to get it into the Bill.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
- Hansard - -

Could I summarise what I think I have heard the noble Lord say?

Earl of Courtown Portrait The Earl of Courtown (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am afraid the noble Baroness cannot summarise. The rules in the Companion are quite clear that interruptions on Report are solely for points of clarification. I think we should let the Minister move on with this.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Randall of Uxbridge Portrait Lord Randall of Uxbridge (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I added my name to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and I was pleased to do so because I, like others who have spoken, realise the importance of soil. In fact, I doubt that there is anyone in this Chamber today who does not appreciate that.

The question is whether we should put this where it is on the face of the Bill. As has already been said, my noble friend Lord Caithness’s amendment about a soil strategy will come later. I am very taken with the idea of putting this in the Bill. However, I have one note of caution. The next amendment, which I will speak to, will put in something else that I think is a priority, and I dare say that there are plenty of, or quite a few, others that people could put forward as priorities—we have our own pet subjects. I really want to hear from my noble friend the Minister—I know that he believes in this—what Defra and the Government are taking seriously about this and how they will deal with it. This may not be the way to put it forward in the Bill, but at the moment it seems like the best way. I am very taken with my noble friend Lord Caithness’s amendment that we will come to later, which might be a better alternative. That said, I shall listen to what my noble friend says.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I urge the noble Lord, Lord Randall, to be of good cheer and believe that this is the solution—because it seems to me that we have heard, from many noble Lords of high esteem, just how important soil is as a fundamental part of the environment. Indeed, two of the Government’s priorities in Clause 1(3), “water” and “biodiversity”, are crucially dependent on soils, apart from anything else. It is true to say that, as well as very many noble Lords being able to lay down the case very clearly for soil being part of the Government’s priority list, the Government themselves have said that: in their 25-year environment plan, they mentioned soil quality 17 times, so it does not seem to me to beyond the wit of man to believe that that looks like a bit of a priority and probably ought to be in this list.

I know that, in Committee, the Minister said that the science will not let us measure soil health, but there has been research on soil quality for the last 50 years, and lots of measures have been put forward as indicators of soil health, ranging from microbes to organic matter to earthworms. The Government just need to make a stab at a basket of indicators and get on with measuring and incentivising improvement.

Although I have banged on for many years about government needing to incentivise people to produce outcomes, in this particular case I want to recant from that and ask for the reverse practice, which is to incentivise practices that have a proven effect for good on soil health. If we can get farmers, land managers and others who have an impact on the soil to do the right things, good soil quality will result.

The noble Lord, Lord Deben, talked about a few of those things, such as minimum tillage, crop rotations, applications of manures and composts, use of cover crops and effective management of field margins. If farmers and land managers were incentivised to do all of those, we would be almost absolutely guaranteed to be improving the health of the soil. As such, I urge the Minister: soil health is too important to say, “It is too difficult” and to leave it out of the Government’s priority list.

Earl of Caithness Portrait The Earl of Caithness (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I rise to support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Randall for pointing out that my Amendment 18 is coming up, complementing this amendment in that it asks the Government to “prepare a soil … strategy”. No one could have put it better than the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, just now, and much of what she said is reflected in the wording that I have in Amendment 18, which we shall come to.

However, the Government must include plans for the integration of soil management with environmental objectives, such as climate mitigation, flood-risk minimisation, water-quality measures and policies relating to food production. All of this is so integrated that, unless one has a comprehensive approach to it, one will fail. In my view, it is very sad that the Government have got policies for air and water but no statutory policy for soil. My Amendment 18, which I will not speak to at length because I am speaking to this amendment, is equally as important as this amendment.

My noble friend Lord Deben mentioned that soil is a great sequestrator of carbon. Indeed it is, but saying “soil” is like saying “fruit”—there are so many different types of soil that a different approach will have to be taken on most farms, probably, because the soil varies so much. Some of the sandy soils are not terribly good sequestrators; they could be made much better with improved farm management, but, if you have a heavy clay soil, you have an inbuilt advantage for sequestration from day 1.

The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said how little Defra spent on soil. It is rather frightening that only 0.4% of the environmental budget is spent on soil—that is a catastrophically low amount of money, which is why this amendment is so important and why my Amendment 18 is equally important. The whole question of soil and research needs much more expenditure and we need to be clearer on it, but let us have one basic fact in mind: about 25% of our biodiversity is in our soil. That is why we need to get this amendment—and mine —in the Bill.

Environment Bill

Baroness Young of Old Scone Excerpts
Report stage
Wednesday 15th September 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 43-IV Fourth marshalled list for Report - (13 Sep 2021)
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, it was very long ago and far away that the birth of the habitats regulations took place, but it was something on which the EU was led by the UK. Since then, the impact in terms of improved protection for habitat sites and species has been huge. The SACs and SPAs that they created are the very jewels in the crown of UK nature and the countryside.

Clauses 108 and 109 as they stand state that any changes to the habitats regulations should not reduce the level of environmental protection provided, but the judge on whether a change represents a reduction in protection is left to the Secretary of State—he is going to mark his own homework. This would be after consultation of course, but the clauses do not say who he will consult.

Let us face it: we know that, in some quarters, the habitats regulations have long been a post-Brexit target for pulling their teeth. There is a unique hatred of the habitats regulations in some quarters. They are seen as getting in the way of development, but that is usually inappropriate development. There is an antagonism that is in the same camp as the sweeping zonal proposals in the planning system changes, which we hear the Government have been forced to abandon. The Secretary of State has asked the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, who was briefly in his place, to chair a habitats regulations assessment working group, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said. It is described as a small and informal group, but I think it is a bit of a giveaway that one member of this four-person group is also working with the Government on their planning reforms. It is so small and informal that it has not yet published any outcomes of its review. Can the Minister tell us when it will report and who it is consulting?

The Government say that they need to amend the habitats regulations to meet the Environment Bill targets and the environmental improvement plans, but measures to meet those could easily have been in addition to, not instead of, the habitats regulations. We should be rejoicing in what the UK-inspired habitats regulations have achieved in reducing annual damage to and loss of our key wildlife sites—from 17% each year before the regulations were introduced to 0.17% after their introduction.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, assured us that the proposed new powers were to improve the condition of our sites. The amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, would set these good intentions in law.

Lord Deben Portrait Lord Deben (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I hope that the Climate Change Committee will be one of the appropriate organisations to which this amendment applies; I declare an interest in that sense. There is nothing in this amendment that the Minister has not committed himself to already. All it would do is make sure of the advantages that we have in the habitats directive, which was taken into our own law. The Climate Change Committee has taken to it very strongly because of the additional advantages of sequestration and the treatment of land, which this helps in a significant way. I find it very difficult to see why the Government cannot accept it, unless there is somebody hidden away in No. 10 who has a plot.

I therefore hope that my noble friend realises what will happen if the Government do not accept this: he will have to whip the Conservative Party to vote against the very things that he says he will do. All this amendment would do is to make sure that any successive Minister would also have to do those things. That is, after all, a legacy that he would no doubt like to leave.

--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
100: After Clause 110, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty to implement an enhanced protection standard for ancient woodland in England
(1) The Government must implement an enhanced protection standard for ancient woodland, hereafter referred to as the “ancient woodland standard” in England as set out in subsections (2), (3) and (4) and this must have immediate effect.(2) The ancient woodland standard must set out the steps necessary to prevent further loss of ancient woodland in England.(3) The ancient woodland standard commits the Government to adopting a standard of protection which must be a requirement for all companies, persons or organisations involved in developments affecting ancient woodlands in England.(4) This standard must be that— (a) any development that causes direct loss to ancient woodland or ancient woodland and ancient and veteran trees must be refused unless there are wholly exceptional reasons and, in addition, a suitable compensation strategy must be in place prior to development commencing,(b) any development adjacent to ancient woodland must incorporate a minimum 50-metre buffer to provide protection, reduce indirect damage and provide space for natural regeneration,(c) any ancient or veteran trees must be retained within a development site, including a root protection area and appropriate buffer zone.(5) This buffer zone must be whichever is greater of—(a) an area which is a radius of 15 times the diameter of the tree with no cap, or(b) 5 metres beyond the crown.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is intended to address the more than 800 ancient woodlands in England that are currently threatened by development. As a large number of these threats result from indirect effects of development next to ancient woodland, these changes will improve the weight afforded to protecting these irreplaceable habitats in planning policy.
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, my Amendment 100 seeks proper protection standards for ancient woodland. I am sure noble Lords have heard me bang on about ancient woodland enough, but I will bang on one more time. I thank my noble friend Lord Whitty, the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, for putting their names to this amendment and declare my interest as chairman of the Woodland Trust—sorry, chair; I am not allowed to call myself chairman.

Ancient woodland is important. It is one of our most precious habitats. By definition, ancient woodlands are more than 400 years old, and they have developed over that long time a huge richness in biodiversity, communities and indeed history. They sequester much carbon and will continue to do so into the future. Over the next 100 years, they will double the amount of carbon stocks that they sequester.

The public love these woods. They make them feel good. They are the cathedrals of the natural world, so they are important. They are also irreplaceable. A new wood will not have the richness of an ancient woodland for 400 years at least. I had a bit of a laugh with the Public Bill Office, which challenged the word “irreplaceable” in the Member’s explanatory statement as that might be too subjective and campaigning, but before I could object and explain that “irreplaceable” was factual, they came back and said that, yes of course, I was right: ancient woodland is irreplaceable. Well done, Public Bill Office.

Ancient woodlands are important and irreplaceable, yet 800 ancient woodlands in England are under threat right now, mostly from housing and infrastructure development. Over the past 20 years, nearly 1,000 ancient woodlands have been permanently lost or damaged. We are down to the last fragments of what would have been extensive tree cover in England. It is ironic that the Government have a strong and much-welcomed policy to increase tree cover, but the invaluable remains of what we previously had as tree cover do not have any effective level of protection.

The National Planning Policy Framework advises planners and developers not to develop on ancient woodland except in “wholly exceptional” circumstances, but the NPPF is not always observed and does not apply to major infrastructure projects—hence the 800 ancient woodlands currently under threat. I was grateful for the Minister’s assurances that the planning reforms that the Government are contemplating will not dilute the modest protection given in the NPPF, but we have not yet seen the planning reforms.

I tabled an amendment in Committee based on giving protection by using the well-trodden SSSI process. I was very grateful to the many noble Lords who agreed that ancient woodland needs enhanced protection, but I recognise that some were uneasy about the SSSI route. My Amendment 100 is much simpler and lays a straightforward requirement on Government to implement an enhanced protection standard for ancient woodland, which would have as its objective the prevention of further loss and damage, and would apply to all developments affecting ancient woodlands in England.

The amendment specifies some simple components of a standard. First, developments should be permitted only in wholly exceptional circumstances and, in those cases, a suitable compensation strategy should be in place. Secondly, there should be a requirement for buffer strips in any development adjacent to an ancient woodland, since much of the damage is caused by adjacent development. Thirdly, any ancient or veteran trees within a development site should be protected, with proper buffering again and with root protection. I hope noble Lords find this simple amendment much more supportable.

In Committee, the Minister helpfully outlined the Government’s commitment, through the England Trees Action Plan 2021-2024, to additional support for long-established woods, which are defined as woods established before 1840, and to support measures to remove inappropriate conifer overplanting on ancient woodland sites. But these measures will not stop the threat from developments to our existing important, wonderful and irreplaceable ancient woodland sites. These sites need statutory protection, which they currently lack. I hope the Minister accepts my amendment.

Without statutory protection, we will see the remaining fragments diminish, afflicted by continued development and climate change, and being too small to survive. Our children and their children will weep at our neglect. I beg to move.

May I also say a few words about Amendment 101?

None Portrait Noble Lords
- Hansard -

Order!

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Turning to Amendment 101, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, I thank her for her amendment and for her ambition to see more trees planted and protected. It is an ambition that she knows I share. As I mentioned in Committee, we are taking steps to plant more trees and protect woodlands. This was set out in the England Trees Action Plan which was published in May. The Government have already committed to at least treble planting rates in England over this Parliament and to increase tree planting across the UK to 30,000 hectares per year by the end of the Parliament, which is broadly in line with the 75,000 hectares that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, mentioned. In the England Trees Action Plan, the Government also took the significant step of committing to consulting on a new, long-term tree target through a public consultation on Environment Bill targets, expected in early next year. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, such a target would be legally binding, not just aspirational. This amendment is therefore not needed.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for her amendment on ancient woodlands. Ancient woodlands are protected under the National Planning Policy Framework. The Government also have standing advice for local authority planners which is to be used as a material consideration when making planning decision proposals affecting ancient woodland, ancient trees and veteran trees. We think that the majority of the proposals suggested in this amendment are already covered under the National Planning Policy Framework and the Forestry Commission and Natural England’s ancient woodland standing advice. The Government will keep under review cases where loss or deterioration of ancient woodland has been or is justified on the basis of “wholly exceptional” circumstances and will encourage them to be brought to our attention at Defra at an early stage. That message has gone out. We will also revise guidance to planners making decisions on what is considered wholly exceptional to avoid some of the circumstances that the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, mentioned.

As recently committed to in the England Trees Action Plan, we will build on these protections, including by introducing a new category of long-established woodland—they are woodlands that have been around since 1840—and we will consult on the protections they are afforded in the planning system. We also committed within the action plan that the Government will update the ancient woodland inventory to cover the whole of England, including smaller ancient woodland sites of one-quarter of a hectare. As I mentioned in Committee, our England Trees Action Plan also includes new steps to protect and restore ancient woodlands through management and restoration. Our new England woodland creation offer will fund landowners to buffer and expand ancient woodland sites by planting native broad-leaf woodland, and the Government will update the Keepers of Time policy on the management of ancient woodland, veteran trees and other semi-natural woodland.

In addition, the Secretary of State and I have been in regular discussions with colleagues in MHCLG to explore further measures that can be included in the upcoming planning Bill to build on the protections that are there to avoid the kind of outcome that the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, fears. This will also be high on my list of issues to discuss with the new Secretary of State for MHCLG, Michael Gove, who shares this House’s interest in ancient trees and their protection.

I hope I have reassured the noble Baroness, Lady Young, about the action the Government are taking and will take to protect ancient woodland and of the importance of the such precious environments. I beg her to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate for their comments and support, and thank the Minister for his response. I was particularly taken by the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, and the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, who basically said that we would not play as fast and loose with heritage buildings as we do with ancient woodland. I think the anxieties of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, about how the additional protection would work can be met by saying that the amendment gives considerable leeway to government to design the protection measure, and many of his points could be addressed during that design effort.

As the Minister said, the current protection is enshrined in the National Planning Policy Framework and standing advice, but I am not reassured by that, because, with 800 cases of imminent damage on the books at the moment, it is clear that the NPPF and the standing advice are not working. No amount of revising guidance to planners will bring the level of statutory protection that is required.

I very much welcome all the changes that the Minister said, as he did in Committee, that they are hoping to make to the woodland inventory, management schemes and the Keepers of Time policy, but they do not really address the development issues. I would not want to hang my hat on measures in the planning Bill until we see the Bill and the colour of the new Minister’s coat, now that he will be running MHCLG.

Having heard considerable support around the House for my amendment, I should like to test the opinion of the House.

--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
117: After Clause 136, insert the following new Clause—
“Land use framework for England
(1) The Secretary of State must, no later than 31 March 2023, lay a land use framework for England before Parliament.(2) The framework must set out—(a) the Secretary of State’s objectives in relation to integrated land use within a sustainable land use framework;(b) principles to guide decisions by government and public authorities on the most effective use of land;(c) proposals and policies for meeting the objectives; and(d) the timescales over which those proposals and policies are expected to take effect.(3) The objectives, principles, proposals and policies referred to in subsection (2) must contribute to—(a) achievement of multifunctional land use, balancing the range of needs for land, including agriculture and food production;(b) achievement of objectives in relation to mitigation of and adaptation to climate change, including achieving carbon budgets under Part 1 of the Climate Change Act 2008;(c) sustainable development including the use of land for development and infrastructure;(d) the achievement of objectives of the 25 Year Environment Plan for halting the decline of biodiversity.(4) Before laying the framework before Parliament, the Secretary of State must publish a draft framework and consult with—(a) such bodies as he or she considers appropriate, and(b) the general public.(5) The Secretary of State must, no later than—(a) 5 years after laying a framework before Parliament under subsection (1), and(b) the end of every subsequent period of 5 years,lay a revised framework before Parliament under the terms set out in subsections (2) to (4).(6) The Secretary of State must, no later than 3 years after the laying of a framework before Parliament under this section and at three year intervals thereafter, lay before Parliament a report on the implementation of the framework and progress in achieving the objectives, principles, proposals and policies under subsection (2).”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would provide a land use context to enable the Secretary of State and public authorities to make optimal decisions about the multifunctional uses of land to achieve the targets, plans and policies for improving the natural environment and other purposes.
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, my Amendment 117 requires the Secretary of State to create a land-use framework for England. I am conscious of the hour and the fact that this was also raised during debates on the Agriculture Bill and in earlier stages of this Bill. I am also conscious that it is extremely cold in the Chamber and dinner looms, so I will be brief.

I have had considerable support from noble Lords from all parts of your Lordships’ House on this issue. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle and Lady Boycott, who have also put their names to the amendment. It has become even more important since we last discussed it. Pressures on land from all sides continue to grow, and that is reflected in land prices, which are rocketing up. In particular, the pressures that are really growing and coming into focus include the need for more land for carbon sequestration, for food production and increasing our food security, for tree planting and for forestry, to reduce our reliance on imported timber. There is also pressure for land to halt and reverse the decline in biodiversity, provide green open spaces post Covid and help communities and people protect their health and their mental health.

There are other pressures as well: by 2050, we will need land to house 7 million more people in this country, if the population estimates are correct. That will also mean land for development and infrastructure to support the jobs for this population increase. If we add together all of those things, plus other land uses, the calculation shows that, to meet all of society’s needs for land over the next two decades, we will need a third more land than we have. We desperately need a framework to allow land to be used in the most effective way, for multiple functions—both public and private—to be met by the same piece of land and for decisions on competing land-use pressures to be made on a rational basis, at national, regional and local levels. The three other nations of the UK have all seen sense and have land-use frameworks—England does not.

In addition to all that, the list of land-use schemes that the Government are introducing is growing. Noble Lords have heard about many of them during the course of the Bill: local nature recovery strategies, Nature4Climate and other carbon schemes, biodiversity net gain, the new range of agricultural support schemes in ELMS, major tree-planting initiatives and whatever designations of development land that will come out of the Government’s planning changes, when we see them. There are lots of government schemes. A land-use framework would set all of these in an integrated and logical framework that would act like the glue between them to allow them to operate successfully together, rather than in their current silos. In Committee, the Minister said that local nature recovery strategies would do that job, but they do not include planning and development land uses.

More and more organisations are advocating the need for a land-use framework. I have previously mentioned the Climate Change Committee, the House of Lords Select Committee on the Rural Economy and the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, on which I should declare an interest as a commissioner. Since we last discussed this topic, another bunch of folk have decided that a land-use framework would be a good idea: the food strategy report that Henry Dimbleby produced for the Government called for such a framework, and the forthcoming Royal Society report will do the same. So I believe that the case for developing and implementing such a framework is undeniable and pressing. For example, it is crucial that the Government’s forthcoming planning reforms are informed by such a framework.

What we are faced with is like trying to do one of these awful jigsaws that well-meaning people give you for Christmas. It is a complex land-use jigsaw where there is no picture on the box and you have a third more pieces than will actually fit into the jigsaw. I do not know about noble Lords’, but I hate those offerings —they are impossible to do—and that is what we are trying to do with land use at the moment. I hope that the Minister will hear the rising tide of support for a land-use framework and accept my amendment.

Earl of Caithness Portrait The Earl of Caithness (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I have put my name to this amendment. I have supported the noble Baroness in her cause of a land-use framework for England for many years. Indeed, if I remember rightly, one of the recommendations of the House of Lords Committee on the Rural Economy was that we needed a land-use framework. That was some years ago and, as the noble Baroness has said, the case is even more pertinent now. The Bill increases the need for one with the conservation covenants. There is no limit to what land these covenants could be on. If they are going to be in perpetuity and they take all the best agricultural land, then we might well be doing ourselves a disservice in the long term when we need that land to grow food for a starving population.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, has set out all the points. It is desperately important for the Government to integrate all their policies; at the moment, the pieces of the jigsaw are all over the place. Their strategies, including the new soil strategy, would work so much better if there were a structured plan for them to work under. I just cannot understand why the Minister and Defra are so reluctant to do this when the devolved Administrations have seen the logic of it.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate for their contributions. Perhaps I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that this is not intended to be a top-down micromanagement to parish level but is about setting broad frameworks that would give local communities, people and landowners more security in making decisions about their land for the future. It is not intended to be prescriptive in any way. The experience in Scotland and Wales, where they have these frameworks, is that it does not cramp farmers’ style. You can imagine that farmers in Wales and Scotland are not exactly pushovers, so if they are not complaining, it probably means that there is not too much resistance to it.

I absolutely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Deben, that this needs to be cross-government. Alas, the convention in Bills is that when you say “the Secretary of State”, in reality you mean the Government. This is not intended to be a Defra proposal; it is supposed to be a cross-government initiative, because it will need not only land in rural uses but the involvement of the Transport department, housing, the planning system and the Treasury—a whole variety of different government departments. The amendment is very much what the noble Lord is calling for. Indeed, the text I have used is the text that the Scots used in their climate change Act, which is where this provision is enshrined in Scottish law. He will be glad to hear that, as the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, suggested, I took out some of the overenthusiasm that Scotland has evinced on certain issues, which I thought probably would not go down a bundle in England.

I absolutely accept that Defra is trying to keep a strategic approach to all the things happening in rural land use, but I am proposing that we need a strategic approach that covers rural and urban development. Both are looking for the same land these days and, unless we get a cross-government approach at strategic level, taking account of all land use pressures, we will continue to see not only potential conflict at a national level but the conflict we have seen on individual planning and other proposals, where there is lack of clarity regarding the comparative priority of housing, infrastructure, agriculture, forestry, nature, et cetera. We all know about them; we are all part of them; we have all fought them on our local patch.

At this stage in the game, I will say simply that I thought a little bird had told me that we were reaching the tipping point whereby the Government would embrace this as something really required. Of course, we now have a new Secretary of State at MHCLG, so my little bird may have been shot and buried somewhere.

We have the opportunity of the planning Bill. I hope that I get my special Select Committee agreed to but, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 117 withdrawn.

Environment Bill

Baroness Young of Old Scone Excerpts
Consideration of Commons amendments
Tuesday 26th October 2021

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 57-I Marshalled list for Consideration of Commons Reasons and Amendments - (25 Oct 2021)
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I will give way to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who has tried about 20 times to stand up.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, at this stage, I know that the only thing noble Lords want is to get on with the vote or non-vote, so I will be very brief. I just want to say a huge thank you to the Minister and his wonderful team for the finagling they did with DLUHC—I call it the department of luck—in getting the concessions on ancient woodland protection. I am also delighted with what the Minister said tonight in association with that about the rigour of the reviews, the need for action following reviews and support for the ancient woodland inventory. How can we expect local authorities and developers to avoid ancient woodlands if they do not know where they are? The ancient woodland inventory is far from complete at the moment.

I will make two points before I sit down—my Front Bench is giving me hate mail. First, I hope the Secretary of State for DLUHC will take his new call-in duty seriously, because that is one of the most important parts of these concessions. Secondly, we really need to find a way of enfolding national infrastructure into the provision so that the majority of damage, which is now caused primarily by national infrastructure, does not continue. I was bemused, as were many other noble Lords, by the reason for the Commons rejecting my amendment:

“Because the National Planning Policy Framework and the Forestry Commission and Natural England’s standing advice already make provision to protect ancient woodland”.


Clearly, they have not seen the 290 cases that have arisen in the last 12 months alone.

I very much thank the Minister, his team and all noble Lords around this House, including the noble Lord, Lord Randall, who reminded me very firmly of the little kid who ran between Alan Bates and Julie Christie in “The Go-Between”, as he did shuttle diplomacy with his party at the other end.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I will speak on my own behalf now. First, I am absolutely horrified at the abuse that the Minister has received. I do not know about the practices in this House, but the other Member should be disgusted at his behaviour. I have not seen it all. I would check up, but he has blocked me. I think I offered a tiny amount of criticism once and he blocked me. The first person to block me was President Trump—so, you know.

The amendment from the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, is absolutely necessary. We have seen a vast public outcry over this. The whole point was that the Government swept aside our amendment without really understanding just how much the public cared. That was a huge mistake on their part and I hope that they now go all the way to meeting the noble Duke. He has in fact amended the amendment slightly, making it much more reasonable.

Quite honestly, if any Conservative Members at the other end vote against this again, they will have to explain themselves. I thank Feargal Sharkey, the punk star, and Professor Jamie Woodward, who have given me huge amounts of information. I do not believe in abuse on social media, but if I see Tories being virtuous on this subject, I will highlight what is happening in their constituencies.

If we are going to fix the sewage discharges, we can also fix the discharges of plastic and microplastics. Apparently, we could do this all together. That is something we clearly have to do.

I was absolutely horrified by Conservative Central Office, which put out all that nonsense about how much this was going to cost. If the Minister wants to correct the record on that, I would be absolutely delighted, but I understand if he does not have the figures to hand. The issue of cost was not raised at the other end, because I am sure the Ministers did not want to mislead Parliament. Perhaps the Conservative Party’s office might just draw in its fangs occasionally and start to tell the truth.