Environment Bill DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Earl of CaithnessMain Page: Earl of Caithness (Conservative - Excepted Hereditary)
(1 month, 1 week ago)Lords Chamber
In conclusion, this is a critical amendment because it provides the means to achieve the end that the Bill seeks. It is critical because it would show that, in this House, we understand that we simply cannot go on imposing more and more duties on local government without providing the mechanisms by which it can discharge them. Finally, it is critical because, without these powers in the hands of local authorities, as the front-line defenders of nature, biodiversity destruction will continue, notwithstanding the many laudable intentions of this Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, whose passion for improving the Bill from the government Back Benches is evident even at this hour. I commend him for that. I declare my role as a vice-president of the LGA and the NALC.
I shall deal with Amendments 90, 91 and 94 together. Amendment 90 appears in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, and is also signed by the noble Lord, Lord Oates, while Amendment 94 is also signed by the noble Lord, Lord Oates, and my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. They all deal with the fact that the people who know best about a local natural environment are local people. We confront again, as we do in so many different areas, the fact that the UK—and England in particular—is one of the most centralised polities on this planet. That has many negative effects for people, but it also has negative effects for nature.
On Amendment 90, as the noble Lord, Lord Oates, said, we keep giving local government responsibilities but, through a decade of austerity we have seen fewer resources in local communitiesw available to deal with those responsibilities. We have gone through a cycle where local authorities barely have enough funds to meet their statutory responsibilities—those dictated from here in Westminster. They do not really have enough funds for that, let alone to reflect local priorities and desire for action.
The amendment signed by my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb is particularly telling. We can think of so many case studies; the noble Lord, Lord Oates, gave one. I was also struck thinking about the case of the River Lugg in Herefordshire last year, where we saw trees felled, the river bridged and a reprofiling of the riverbanks along a 1.5 kilometre stretch, to the shock and horror of local people. Investigations are still ongoing, so I will not go too far into this, but the country was alerted to this through local people using social media and through the local media outlets picking up this story. Of course, it was at local level that the knowledge arose, and perhaps at local level some action could have saved some biodiversity or nature there.
I was up in Kendal a few years ago in a village that was struck by flooding, and the vehicles driving along a particular road were pushing flood water into people’s homes. The local people were shaking with anger and frustration; if they had been allowed to close that road, they could have stopped those homes being flooded, but they were told they would face police action if they did so. That is the kind of emergency situation where we need to ensure that local people are able to act, whether it is a biodiversity emergency or a flooding emergency affecting people’s homes.
I really hope that we might see some progress on Amendments 90, 91 and 94. I also want to mention Amendment 92A, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. The Nature Friendly Farming Network represents a really activist group of farmers; I have met quite a number of them. They are doing some very strong things at that nexus between acknowledging the need to produce food and looking out for nature. Here we have a very modest addition to the Bill that would acknowledge and put on the statute book recognition of, and support for, the important work of nature-friendly farming. I hope that we will hear from the Minister about that amendment.