Environment Bill DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Lord TreesMain Page: Lord Trees (Crossbench - Life peer)
(4 months, 3 weeks ago)Lords Chamber
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, has withdrawn, so I now call the noble Lord, Lord Trees.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Green Party since 1988. Our manifestos since that time have included almost every single issue that we have heard about today. There have been some excellent speeches. It seems that is partly because we have waited so long for this Bill. The Minister himself said that it is an important Bill and there has been a lot of anticipation around it; that is absolutely true. There is also the fact that your Lordships’ House has a level of expertise on so many diverse issues that will be relevant for the Bill.
During the time that we have waited for the Bill to arrive, there has been a huge strength of feeling among your Lordships about our natural environment and how to preserve it. That strength of feeling has translated into action: we have made legislative changes, for example, to what are now the Agriculture Act, the Fisheries Act and the EU withdrawal Acts. However, that strength of feeling and action have been hampered by the Government because we have had repeated assertions and promises that whatever we brought up was not appropriate for a particular Bill but would be appropriate for the Environment Bill. Although the Minister was not one of the Ministers making those promises, we will of course hold the Government to account for them—and sadly, he is going to be in the firing line. All these issues, whether about water, air pollution, forestry, biodiversity or farming, have been saved up for this Bill. I can imagine that there are going to be a lot of amendments. Quite honestly, I am excited about that and looking forward to it.
I am not going to argue that we have an environmental or ecological crisis, or a nature or planetary crisis, because for me those things are absolutely self-evident. What we have is a political crisis. We have a Government who simply do not want to enable us to do our job. The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, had it absolutely right: if the Government want a safe and fast passage for the Bill, the best thing would be to accept some of the superb amendments that are going to come from your Lordships. Many more amendments are required if we are to face up to the scale of the damage that is happening to our planet, and to the human race.
The Bill has some ambition but falls far short of what is needed, not least because its fundamental mechanics are hooked on a duty for Ministers to merely have due regard to the environmental policy statements. This creates a very weak foundation that can be overridden by Ministers far too easily. In talking about the office for environmental protection the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford cited a lack of independence. That would actually make the OEP dysfunctional, even pointless, so that office really has to be bolstered by some good amendments.
Then there are the concerns raised by the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law. Many more noble and learned Lords able to articulate those issues will speak later in the debate, but the point is quite simple. The Government are creating a new system of environmental law that is almost undeserving of being called law because it is so full of loopholes and get-out clauses and allows unlawful acts to carry on unimpeded.
The Greens in your Lordships’ House will be incredibly helpful during the passage of the Bill; we will try to help the Government improve it as much as we can. However, none of this is from the Government themselves. They have promised to leave the environment in a better condition than we inherited it, and the Bill will not do that. The noble Lord, Lord Khan, described it as a step backwards, but in some places it is a full retreat. It is therefore incumbent on your Lordships in our House that we defeat the Government vigorously and repeatedly during the coming stages of the Bill. We have to do it for our own well-being but also for our children and grandchildren—and for the humans and species who will inherit the earth long after we have gone.
The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, talked about unpredictable nature. We have to be absolutely sure that what we are doing is the safest way forward. I believe that, although the Minister is very committed to the environmental agenda, the Government are not. They simply do not understand that the environment encompasses everything. It is not an issue on its own; it encompasses the economy, transport, education and social well-being. It is absolutely everything, and the Bill is our one opportunity to get it right.