Before Clause 1
Purpose and declaration of biodiversity and climate emergency
Question again proposed, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 1.
Before I call the shadow Minister, let me reiterate that this debate must finish at 4.36 pm. There are a number of speakers, and I urge brevity so that we can get everyone in. I cannot impose a time limit, because we are debating Lords amendments, so it will be up to all Members to help each other out if they want to speak.
I want to start by marking the wicked and senseless murder of Sir David Amess. I was not able to speak in the tributes on Monday, but I do want to place on record my sorrow and send my prayers and thoughts to Sir David’s family, to his staff in the House and in Southend, and to his constituents. I also want to extend condolences to the family, staff and constituents of the late James Brokenshire, whose passing was untimely and very sad indeed. Both colleagues will be much missed throughout the House.
On a happier note, I want to welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), to her position as Minister for Air, but, sadly, she seems to have disappeared into thin air! That is a bit of a worry.
Here we are, back in the House and back discussing the Environment Bill, 629 days after it received its First Reading. I am grateful to the Lords for their careful consideration of the Bill, and for succeeding where this House was unable to do so and making it fit for purpose. As we approach COP26 in Glasgow, a Bill fit for purpose has never been more needed. The world is watching, and the world is waiting for leadership from the British Government. The Bill could and should be stronger, it could have passed through the House much sooner, and it had the scope for real cross-party involvement; but alas, thanks to this Secretary of State and this Prime Minister, it was not to be.
Lords amendment 3, tabled by my noble friend Baroness Hayman, is about tackling toxic air, and it is so, so important. I am grateful to her for taking up the baton of Labour’s focus on cleaning our air and our lungs. Nearly 60% of people in England now live in areas where levels of toxic air pollution exceeded legal limits in 2019-20. We cannot go on as we are; we require real leadership, which is why Labour will be supporting Lords amendment 3 and voting to ensure that it remains in the Bill.
This Conservative Government’s approach to air quality has been ruled unlawful multiple times. Following Labour’s best efforts to amend the Bill in this place, the Lords succeeded in writing into it enforceable targets to bring air pollution below the harmful levels set by the World Health Organisation. The time for hot air from the Government Benches is over, and I encourage all colleagues—I am thinking particularly of the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish)—to realise that now is the time to adopt a proper and comprehensive approach to cleaning our air in this Bill. Please come and join us, and let us get this done.
In raising the important topic of air quality, I want to pay warm tribute to Rosamund Kissi-Debrah for all her campaigning work in the wake of the avoidable, tragic and devastating death of her daughter Ella. I read the letter that Rosamund wrote to the Prime Minister today, and I agree with every single word that she said.
I had the pleasure of meeting Rosamund, and I can only say that my heart goes out to the family and that it is the most awful situation.
My hon. Friend is making excellent points about the importance of air quality and the need for a much tougher approach from the Government, and I hope that, even at this late stage, the Minister will listen. Does my hon. Friend agree that a dramatic improvement in the Government’s approach to water quality is also important? There is a serious problem with sewage being swept into our rivers, notably in my area in Berkshire, which is downstream from a number of effluent works.
I do agree, and I am sure that that topic will be dealt with by my fellow shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Olivia Blake), very appropriately when we debate the next group of amendments.
I want to share some of Rosamund’s letter to the Prime Minister, from which I quote:
“Ella was hospitalised 28 times in 28 months and admitted to ICU five times, fighting back from the brink of death. Her condition meant her lungs frequently filled with mucus, which made her feel as if she was constantly suffocating.”
I was disappointed to hear the Minister say today that she is delaying the consultation about air quality until next October, because that means that an additional 36,000 to 40,000 people in the UK could die prematurely every year owing to exposure to air pollution. Among them are between 22 and 24 children and young people who die from asthma every year, eight to 12 of whom live in London. The UK has one of the highest death rates from asthma in Europe, whereas in Finland, a country with better air quality, not a single child dies of asthma in a year.
As Rosamund goes on to say, the Environment Bill is our once-in-a-generation opportunity to ensure that children born now—including our own children—can grow up breathing safe, healthy air. Those are powerful words from a mother determined to ensure that no other parent experiences the loss of a child and no other child loses its life because the Government refused to act. Labour will not stop in the fight for cleaner air, and if this Tory Government will not act, Labour will. Let me make clear again that we will deliver a stand-alone clean air Act when we win the next general election.
As we have heard, this Bill creates the Office for Environmental Protection, but fails to give it the powers that it needs. A strong, effective and trusted OEP is, in the words of my noble friend Baroness Jones of Whitchurch, essential to underpin all the other measures contained in the Bill. As the OEP will be scrutinising and holding Ministers to account in respect of their compliance with environmental laws, rules and regulations, it is vital for the OEP to be strong and independent, and to engage properly with all devolved nations in our United Kingdom.
It is also beyond comprehension that since the Bill worked its way through both Houses, Ministers have actually weakened their own proposals for this new office. If that approach continues, the OEP will become a lapdog rather than a watchdog, and this will be simply another missed opportunity for the Secretary of State. It is because of that missed opportunity that Lords amendment 31 in the name of Lord Krebs, Lords amendment 33 in the name of Lord Anderson, and Lords amendment 75 in the name of our former colleague from South Down, my noble Friend Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick, are so important. They strengthen the powers, reach and scope of the OEP, and they have our full support.
I thank Lord Teverson for Lords amendment 1, which requires the Government to declare a biodiversity and climate emergency. How can anyone disagree with that? I also thank Baroness Bennett for Lords amendment 2, which seeks to ensure that soil health and quality remains a priority area for environmental improvement; and, of course, I welcome Lords amendment 28 from Baroness Parminter. This amendment removes the exceptions in the Bill for policy making on defence and security, tax, spending and resource allocation from the requirement to have due regard to the policy statement on environmental principles. If the Bill is going to mean anything and if Ministers are serious about tackling the climate emergency, they will support those amendments today.
Lords amendment 12, in the name of Baroness Brown of Cambridge, is an important component of the fight to make this Bill fit for purpose. It seeks, very simply, to place a statutory duty on the Secretary of State to meet any interim targets that he or she sets. It is obvious why targets are required, and it is obvious why we need to be able to track our progress, monitor our focus and honour our promises. The amendment received cross-party support in the other place, and I hope that it will do so in the House today.
At every stage of this Bill, Labour has proposed fair, balanced and objective amendments that seek to make the Bill fit for purpose and, moreover, actually help us tackle the climate emergency and set out a real place to protect our environment and preserve our planet. I have said to the House before that we do not have time to waste: the climate crisis worsens each day, and real action is necessary. But that requires a strong Bill, not a half-hearted attempt that does not recognise, or match, the seriousness of the challenge in front of us.
Disappointingly for many in the sector and for the future of our planet, nothing in the Bill will stop the UK falling behind the EU on the environment and environmental standards. Over the past year, as well as dealing with the coronavirus pandemic we have seen fires raging across Australia, the US and the Amazon, at the same time as glaciers are melting away in the Arctic and Antarctic. We are seeing increasingly erratic and life-threatening weather patterns in our cities and rural areas alike.
This Bill needs energy and dynamism, and the amendments before the House today make a bad Bill better. I hope that Ministers will simply and finally do the right thing. They should accept these fair and balanced amendments from their lordships’ House, and I urge them to work with Labour to deliver a real plan to protect our environment and preserve our planet.
It is a pleasure to speak to Lords amendment 1 and to this first group of amendments. I very much agree with the comments of the hon. Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones) on David Amess and James Brokenshire. They were great colleagues in the House and we miss them very much. I send my condolences to their families.
I wanted to welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), but I cannot do so at the moment because she is not here. She will be a great asset to the environmental team. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) does a great job, but I am sure that some help will be needed with this huge subject and I look forward to my hon. Friend helping her with it.
I welcome the progress of the Bill, and I appreciate the fact that the Government have been open and willing to engage on some of the issues raised. I have no doubt that the amendments put forward by the other place have shaped the Government’s thinking and will make the Bill stronger. The Government might not support the Lords’ amendments, but I urge them to take notice of them as the Bill is finally brought to fruition.
On another positive note, I commend the Government for setting up the interim Office for Environmental Protection. I also welcome the appointment of Dame Glenys Stacey as its chair, because I believe that she will do a very good job. I hope that the OEP will be able to improve the environment by ensuring that some cases can be settled before they even get to court. That will be a really strong role for the OEP. I also want to ensure that the independence of the chair and the OEP is maintained. I have confidence in the present Secretary of State, but we need to ensure that those offices are independent for all time. Soil health, including organic matter and soil erosion, are also important issues for the way forward, and we need to ensure that we get them absolutely right.
Lords amendment 3 would set out a stringent target for cutting PM2.5 and I completely agree with the intention behind the amendment. I want us to commit to matching the World Health Organisation limits by 2030, and as I said in a question to the Minister, the WHO is reducing those levels. However, the Bill as it stands includes a legally binding duty on the Government to set an air quality target by this time next year, October 2022. We have had a lot of consultation on this, and I urge the Minister and the Government to get on with it. I look forward to their setting that target, and if they do not have to wait until October 2022, please will they not do so?
I would welcome some detail from the Minister on the timetable for the public consultation next year. When will it be launched, how long will it run and when will the results be published? This really is a pressing issue, so we cannot let that target date slip further. I would also be grateful to know whom the Government plans to consult on the targets. How will they engage with non-governmental organisations, businesses and the wider public? Will the consultation include the option to express support for matching WHO guidelines on PM2.5? Current UK limits are 25 micrograms per cubic metre. The WHO’s recommended limit is 10, and that was set in 2005. It has spent the last five years reviewing its guidelines and it has just updated them. This new limit is half its current limit, at 5 micrograms, which is five times lower than our current UK limit. I hope that the Government will consider any new WHO guidelines that have come out by the time of the consultation next year. I do not want to see us consulting on matching a target that the WHO set in 2005 and that is no longer relevant.
The WHO also confirmed last year that the guidelines should be the minimum goal. I would like that number to be as low as possible. These particulates are among the most dangerous pollutants. They are small enough to pass through the lungs into the bloodstream and into our organs, so ideally the legal limit should be zero, because there is no safe level of PM2.5. I know that this would be almost impossible, but bringing that number as low as possible would still mean saving thousands of lives. As we drive to achieve much lower carbon emissions in this country and across the world, we must remember that air quality affects our day-to-day lives. It affects people’s health every day and is potentially killing people as we speak.
We have to ensure that this is one of our great priorities. It is so important, because poor air quality is directly affecting people’s health and lifespan in some hotspots in this country. My hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) made the point that we need to concentrate on those hotspots by working with local authorities across the piece to deliver better air quality. When our Joint Committee comprising four Committees of this House looked into air quality, we saw that it was not just DEFRA, Transport and Local Government but virtually every part of Government that would help to deliver better air quality.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful point. Does he agree that constituencies such as mine would be more reassured if the Government were to set up some sort of taskforce to pull together these various agencies? Funding is available to local authorities, but there is a lack of strategic focus to enable everything to be pulled together. That is something sensible that we could do to reassure people that the can is not simply being kicked down the road until next October or beyond.
This is a very quick one. The hon. Gentleman and I share this passion, and he knows that a number of our towns are trying to make themselves sustainable under the United Nations sustainable development goals. Many councils now have a climate change emergency resolution and climate change commissions, but they do not quite know what to do. Does he agree that, given that we have all these groups in these towns and cities, we should go for 500 towns and cities in this country, such as Huddersfield, that are committed to becoming truly sustainable under the UN sustainable development goals?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that short intervention! We have taken evidence from the Mayor of Bristol. He talked about air quality, and he told us that the M32 comes right into the centre of Bristol, but the trouble is that the Mayor has little control over what happens on that motorway. That is why I very much agree with joining up what the Government and local authorities are doing across the country. We can do more, and there needs to be more urgency about it.
We must remember nine-year-old Ella, whose death was caused by exposure to air pollution. Her primary source of exposure was traffic emissions. We cannot have our children growing up in a world in which the air they breathe could potentially kill them.
On that note I stress that, although a broad reduction target could help drive improvements across the country, we also need strong limits on concentrations in particular hotspots. We need action on that quickly, as it would ensure that everyone benefits from a minimum level of protection. Without such action, people living in pollution hotspots could be left behind and existing health inequalities could be widened, so this is something we need to address.
The US and the EU are considering tightening their own limits. If we want to be world leading, we need an ambitious target and we need it quickly. However, I know this is a complex issue and the solution cannot be delivered overnight. It is one thing to set a target, but it is another thing to meet and deliver that target. Reducing overall air pollution needs a dramatic reduction in emissions from transport, homes and farming. I have no doubt that it will be difficult to do and that a proper, well-thought-out strategy is needed, but I know the Government are not afraid of setting ambitious targets.
Setting an ambitious air pollution target can also help to drive action to meet the Government’s commitment to net zero by 2050. Pollution from road transport, as well as from domestic and industrial burning, is also a cause of greenhouse gas emissions. We have an opportunity to tackle both climate change and air pollution at the same time, and we can help the planet and protect people’s health. I support a binding commitment to publishing a target after a full consultation, but I make it clear that this is an urgent issue and I will continue to hold the Government to account. October 2022 must be the absolute last point at which we set a proper target on reducing PM2.5 in law.
I rise principally to speak to Lords amendment 29, but first I would like to associate myself with the shadow Minister’s remarks about James Brokenshire and Sir David Amess. I always very much enjoyed their contributions in the House, which I am certain we will all miss. I also add my deepest condolences to the family, friends and staff of those two much-loved and missed Members of this House.
The urgent drumbeats accompanying the global crisis that faces us have become near deafening. We all pin our hopes on COP26 and the possibility, even now, of real commitments and agreements on the dramatic actions that we all, as politicians and as people, have to face up to, but increasingly the mood music is not as positive as we would all like to see. Sadly I hae ma doots, as they say.
Consequently, although I will mainly be speaking to Lords amendment 29, I must highlight once again my disappointment at the sheer length of time this Bill has taken to get near the statute book. It is pretty shameful that it likely will not receive Royal Assent before COP26, the largest and most important conference of its kind in the world, and the largest and most important conference that the UK has ever hosted. There are still too many areas in which the Government continue to drag their heels. Here we are, scrambling to get this Bill through Parliament a few days before hosting the most important climate conference to date. What a way to show the rest of the world that the UK Government have their priorities in order.
I am disappointed that the Government continue to consider that the Ministry of Defence and the activities of the armed forces, of national security and of tax and spending are exempt from proper scrutiny, particularly when so much of our land and sea are affected by those activities. My own research, for example, found a pretty shameful safety record on the nuclear sites located in Scotland. That could well have impacted on the local environment, but it will clearly continue to be difficult to measure how effective the MOD is with regard to its environmental responsibilities.
I am also disappointed that England has not yet followed Scotland’s lead on a deposit return scheme and is so far behind on implementing one. Litter knows no borders, particularly on our shared coastline, as we know. This really matters.
The Government have taken a very relaxed attitude to the extensive number of munitions dumps scattered around our shores, which apparently do not need to be regularly checked. I point hon. Members to the decades it took to get the MOD to accept responsibility for the clean up of radioactive particles from the beach at Dalgety Bay in Fife for a further understanding of why we in Scotland do not think those exemptions should continue. As I understand it, exemptions were not part of the Climate Change Act 2008, so why are they part of this legislation?
I have made those points before, so I will leave it there. As I have said many times, this Bill is principally concerned with English environmental issues. I am heartened by many of the amendments made in the other place, many of which we already observe in Scotland, including Lords amendment 3 requiring air quality measurements to be in accordance with WHO guidance. Although this Bill is properly a matter for English MPs to decide, I wish Opposition Members well in their efforts to retain many of the Lords amendments within this legislation.
Although those few aspects of the Bill that affect Scotland had previously received legislative consent from the Scottish Government, we now see that the UK Government have inserted Lords amendment 29 into the Bill without seeking consent from the Scottish Government. They were not even consulted on that change. Despite the grave concerns and objections expressed from Scotland since then about this move, the UK Government have clearly simply doubled down on pushing it through. So this Bill, like many post-Brexit Bills, which at first sight might appear to be centred on English-only areas, must be partly looked at through the lens of devolution.
In this Lords amendment, we see the UK Government simply not being able to help themselves. Instead of Ministers doing their jobs, focusing on the climate crisis and getting this Bill through in an appropriately urgent fashion, they have taken time out to undermine the powers of the Scottish Parliament. The UK Government could have simply included Scottish Ministers in decision making, but we are forced to go through this rigmarole instead, because, it appears, of nothing more than petty point scoring.
Surely effective environmental policy requires all of us to be working cohesively across these isles, which is why clear and consistent underlying principles are so important. They guide the actions of law makers and let the public know where we are going. The Scottish Government’s environmental guiding principles in the continuity Act, passed last year, underpin the environmental actions of the Scottish Government in a UK outside the EU. They are also meant to apply to UK Ministers in their reserve strategy. Lords amendment 29 contradicts the continuity Act by disapplying Scottish environmental principles and, yet again, undermining devolution. I have to say I cannot help but view the interference from this place in a devolved area, inserting an amendment to alter an Act already agreed to by the Scottish Parliament, as a hostile action. Reaching legislative fingers into legislation already passed by the Scottish Parliament, agreed to by the Scottish Labour party at the time, among others in that Parliament, and retrospectively altering that intention seems a deliberate, provocative and aggressive act. It clearly negates a decision made by our Scottish Parliament in a devolved area that should apply in all circumstances where actions impact on Scotland, whether they relate to a reserved area or not. I will be pressing Lords amendment 29 to a vote, and I hope others can support us against this infringement on devolved powers. I call on the UK Government to do all they can to deliver this Environment Bill in a way that is fit for purpose while also respecting devolution and the democratically elected Government in Scotland. It really is not as difficult as they imagine.
If this UK Government’s post-Brexit leadership hints at what is to come, I do not feel positive about environmental protections. I cannot put it better than the Institute for Public Policy Research report, which called the UK Government’s commitments to environmental standards “considerably weaker than expected”. The EU is one of the world’s leading bodies in the fight against climate change and our departure from it leaves us open to backsliding on environmental policy. As a member of the EU, the UK Government were being held to account and forced to match the EU’s high standards. Brexit threatens that. This Bill, unlike the Scottish Government’s EU continuity Act, does not include a non-regression clause.
The Bill states:
“The Secretary of State must report on developments in international environmental protection legislation which appear to the Secretary of State to be significant.”
That is not good enough. The climate crisis is too critical an issue for us to rely on the whims of one parliamentarian alone and keep our fingers crossed that they do the right thing. One Minister’s idea of a significant development may well not be another’s. It is also worth reminding ourselves that if the UK Government fail to match EU environmental standards and this affects trade or investment, the EU would legally be well within its rights to introduce proportionate measures, including tariffs, in response. The UK Government claim that they do not need to formally maintain EU rules because they will going even bigger and better, but can they be trusted to maintain EU standards now that no one is looking over their shoulder? When I was reading through the record of the debates in the other place, I was struck by what seemed a pretty obvious mistrust of Government assurances that extensive parliamentary scrutiny in itself would be sufficient to address the clear misgivings on the Government’s intentions in regard to this Bill. We all have bitter experience of the promises made by this Government about, for example, the scrutiny of trade deals, with the promised permanent Trade and Agriculture Commission still to be formed, despite trade deals apparently being under discussion around the world. It was therefore interesting to note the suspicion expressed by their lords and ladyships, which led them to vote on and agree the large number of amendments we are considering.
Scotland has the strongest climate targets in the UK and we lead the way in tree planting, the decarbonisation of public transport and, as I mentioned, matching WHO standards on air pollution. Environmental policy is all-encompassing and must be a chief consideration when we make energy, transport, investment and planning policies. It cannot be treated as an afterthought, with us working out merely how to implement the bare minimum of standards. The Scottish Government lead the way in environmental action in the UK and are truly committed to fighting climate change and environmental damage. I urge the House to consider this matter and vote for the removal of Lords amendment 29 from the Bill.
I am sure that all of us who were friends of David Amess and James Brokenshire appreciate what has been said today from the Opposition Benches.
I wish to concentrate, briefly, on Lords amendment 3. I very much agree with the speech by the Chair of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), and I am grateful for what he said. I appreciate the intentions of the Minister and the Government, but I must confess that I have a nagging concern about the removal of an amendment without putting something firmer, by way of action, in its place.
Let me explain my reasons. First, I can see that if we are to have a target, it must be achievable, and I can well believe that for targets as ambitious as those in the amendment to be achievable we must take the public with us, which implies not just consultation but a much greater degree of transparency on the data, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) indicated, along with an honest conversation with the public about the sort of choices and changes that may be involved. I fear that if we do not do that, we will not take the public with us in the way that we ought to. The sooner that process starts, the better—frankly, it should be starting now.
Some of us are aware of the scientific data and modelling on these matters, and that presents important issues with which we must grapple, but it is not good enough that we know; we also have to be frank with the British public about what is involved. I hope that Ministers will use the time available to do that in a—I am tempted to say aggressive—vigorous and focused fashion. We should not just have a nice conversation about it but get it out there and make sure that all the available means of making the public aware are used to the full.
Secondly, I accept that for legal obligations to be any use, they ought to be realistically enforceable. I can see some difficulties with what might be achieved and why the Government might have some qualms about writing some of the specifics into the Bill, but it is already a long time since the coroner’s report on the tragic case of Ella Kissi-Debrah, or Ella’s case, as it is often known. That case happened not a million miles away from my constituency. The south London coroner who heard that inquest deals with inquests in my constituency as well. It happened in the neighbouring borough. My constituents use the South Circular Road, which the coroner found—I have no reason to dispute the finding—was the key cause of the pollution that caused Ella’s death. Indeed, it is almost within a stone’s throw of some parts of my constituency, so the issues are absolutely real for us as well. I can think of schools in my constituency, such as Valley Primary School in Bromley, that are right by a heavily-trafficked road, so I can understand the concerns of the parents there just as much as the parents in Lewisham and elsewhere.
A hotspots policy is important, then. Of course, the Minister is right that local authorities have the means to implement policies, and the London Borough of Bromley has done so—it has brought in local policies in both Bromley town and the Shortlands area—but there are issues. The level of pollution in urban areas such as Greater London, which after all runs across and does not acknowledge borough boundaries—never mind London borough and country boundaries—requires more funding and certainly more targeted funding. I come back to the point that I made in my intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton. We need to have, if not a taskforce, a mechanism to pull together and drive greater co-ordination and focus of the various agencies and pots of funding that are currently available. If I had a sense that that was going to be tackled without waiting till October—if that was going to be put in place while we do the consultation—I would be happier about removing the amendment, which is not perfect in itself, but does at least have the benefit of holding Ministers’ feet to the fire. It is what Ministers do when this goes back to the other place that matters—what assurances we can be given that we will tackle this as a matter of urgency.
When a coroner issues a prevention of further deaths letter, it is not done lightly. I would have hoped, as both a Minister and a Back Bencher, that there would be prompt and urgent action when a letter is issued. The consultation is fine. I do not doubt the Minister’s intentions, but I urge her to put a bit more flesh on the bones as to what we will do while the consultation is taking place to deal with areas that are of genuine concern to my constituents. People recognise that we cannot allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good, but, equally, they want things to happen sooner rather than later because their children and families are still breathing in a degree of air which, as the Minister says, is unacceptable. As she rightly says, no level of PM2.5 pollution is actually safe. It is a real problem not just in the inner cities, but in many other suburban and urban areas—smaller towns as well as the larger cities—and I hope that we will have a little more on that from the Government.
I join colleagues in sending our love, prayers and thoughts to the families of David Amess and James Brokenshire on their terrible loss.
I want briefly to talk about the office for environmental protection and say why I hope the House will support Lords amendment 31. The OEP is the answer to the question. It is at the heart of the Bill. Having left the European Union, everyone asked themselves, “Who is going to oversee the enforcement of environmental law?” and the Government have come up with the OEP, which we all support. On many occasions, in answer to the question, “Who will ensure that these targets are met?”—for example, that on halting species’ decline—the reply from Ministers has been, “The office for environmental protection”.
Ministers have repeatedly said, as the Minister has again today, that they support the independence of the OEP, including in enforcement, yet they want the power to issue guidance to it about the way in which it enforces its responsibilities. I simply say that the great still unanswered question in this particular debate about the Bill is; why do the Government want this power?
When Lord Goldsmith was debating this in the other place, he said that
“a guidance power is necessary to help ensure that the OEP continues to carry out its functions as intended.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 8 September 2021; Vol. 814, c. 880.]
That sentence is laden with meaning. We could say that it contains a touch of gentle warning. We could argue that it suggests that the Government are not wholly confident that the OEP will go about its work in the way that Ministers intended, because they want to be able to issue guidance about the way in which it does its job. I simply say that, having looked at the debates in the Lords and heard what the Minister had to say today, I still have not heard an answer as to why this guidance power is required. In practice, could the OEP ignore such guidance? We do not actually know what the guidance would contain, and I am not aware that Ministers have given a single example of what they would try to say in such guidance.
Other public bodies have very important functions. For example, as far as I am aware, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is not subject to similar guidance from Ministers about the way in which it carries out its work. Ministers have said that it is not about direction, but it is about accountability. Could someone explain to me exactly what the difference is between the two things? I am not sure that I see a difference and nor did the Lords in the other place. That is why I think we should stick with what is contained in Lords amendment 31.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to interrupt this debate, but colleagues may or may not be aware that, this week of all weeks, there is now a demonstration in Parliament Square involving Piers Corbyn. The people there have erected a gallows—gallows to be used against Members of Parliament. I would suggest that at the very least it is not only crass and unthinking, but that it must also be a breach of public order. I simply rise to ask whether there is anything that can be done about it.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am very glad that the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) has raised this matter, because I saw that set of gallows as I was coming into the House today and I spoke to the police outside the gates. I said, “I don’t know who the protestors are; I couldn’t see. If they are protesting against capital punishment in other countries, good luck to them, but if they have put that gallows and that noose there, directed at us, especially given the events of the last week, it is not only crass—that is a very gentle description of what they have done—but scandalous.” The police officer to whom I spoke said, “Well, we could go over and have a word with them.” It is not acceptable, because it is a threat. We should be able to carry out our job without being threatened by people out in Parliament Square. I hope that the House authorities might be able to follow up the point, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising it.
I thank the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) and the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) for their points of order, and completely understand the concerns that have been expressed. I also understand that the authorities have been informed by the Speaker’s Office about the situation. Mr Speaker has also informed me that there may be a statement later if necessary and that these issues would be covered in it. I suggest that we leave it at that. Thank you.
I associate myself with the points of order from my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) and the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn). May I also briefly pay tribute to Sir David Amess and James Brokenshire for all their many decades of combined public service? I think it is fair to say that in both cases, it was always service with a smile.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Leeds Central. I rise to speak to Lords amendment 3, as did the Chair of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish). A number of my constituents have understandably raised this amendment with me, given the terrible experience that we are still having in Newcastle-under-Lyme with the emissions from Walley’s Quarry. It is clear from the experience of my constituents, particularly those nearest to the quarry in Silverdale, Knutton and Poolfields, that poorer air quality has a profound effect on the physical and mental health of a community. The predominant concern with landfill gas is obviously hydrogen sulphide, but there is also methane, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter, which is the source of the amendment.
I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow)—the previous waste Minister—for her engagement on this issue throughout. I also thank the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones), for her engagement and for coming to Newcastle-under-Lyme. This is not a party political matter and it has not been treated as such in the community; it is a matter of justice for the residents who are suffering so terribly. I welcome the new waste Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), to her place, and thank her for her promised visit to Newcastle-under-Lyme, which I am sure will be arranged shortly through her diary.
Lords amendment 3 would require the PM2.5 air quality target to be less than 10 micrograms per cubic metre before 1 January 2030 and to,
“so far as practicable, follow World Health Organization guidelines”.
I firmly believe that we must improve air quality in all its senses as soon as possible, but I thank the Department for its engagement on the issue. Like the Chair of the Select Committee, I accept the Government’s view on the amendment—that is, that rushing to put targets in Bills in unwise and consultation is needed. I think that consultation is needed for two reasons. First, any target needs to be fully evidenced and deliverable, because, as we have already seen experienced elsewhere, there is not much point putting targets into law that we do not think can be delivered. Secondly, the target has to be widely accepted by the public and business. We have to take our constituents with us on all elements of this agenda. We saw yesterday with the heat and buildings strategy that a number of people are not that willing to make the sacrifices that might need to be made. That is why the Government have to take into account the sacrifices and changes that we are going to ask people to make if we are to make our lives greener and better.
As DEFRA’s own report after a workshop on modelling PM2.5 concentrations says, there is quite a lot of difficulty in accurately modelling where we are going to be five or 10 years from now on a range of different policy scenarios in relation to emissions reductions. It is clear that the vast majority of the country will be well below the 10 microgram per cubic metre limit, but the report also identifies that primary emissions of fine particulate matters in urban areas such as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) will remain an important factor. There is considerable uncertainty on the future trajectory, but it might mean removing up to half of all cars from roads, including electric vehicles, as well as potentially a ban on solid fuel burning. This may be what some Opposition Members think is necessary, but it would be a very significant change to our way of life. It would necessitate action from all parts of society—individuals, businesses and public bodies—to manage that transition. It is not something that should be taken lightly and without due consideration. We have to take our constituents with us on these things, rather than putting impressive-sounding but unachievable targets into law.
All that said, I do welcome the Government’s commitment, as the Minister said, to a swift and thorough consultation on these matters. I hope that as part of the target-setting process she promised will take place in the coming months, sufficient consideration will be given not only to health in the literal sense but to mental health and a wider sense of wellbeing in terms of air quality. The experience we have had in Newcastle-under-Lyme is not just that there has been an effect on people’s physical health, particularly on those with pre-existing conditions, but that living with the odour has definitely impacted my residents’ mental health, and again it has been worse for those with pre-existing conditions.
I was going to speak on the targets issue but in the face of the time available I am not. On the question of air quality, I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Without wanting to over-egg it, there is an issue about the lack of monitoring equipment. In my own authority, it turns out that the air quality monitoring equipment in certain areas has not been functioning properly for the past three years; it has been giving out false readings. It is really important that we have quality data that people can have confidence in so that we can take them with us that air quality is actually improving. Perhaps, through him, the Minister can take that on board.
I thank my hon. Friend. I could not agree more about data. I used to work in data before I was in this place. My experience with landfill was that once we got the monitoring stations around there, people would start to have more faith in the data. It is still not real-time and that needs to be addressed. However, I appreciate that that is not speaking directly to the amendment, and I think Madam Deputy Speaker wants me to wrap up.
When the Minister does the consultation, I ask her to look more broadly at the issues of odour and hydrogen sulphide, as well as limits on those, and perhaps to look at some of the suggestions I made in the ten-minute rule Bill on odorous emissions in the previous Session. What we have gone through in Newcastle-under-Lyme is an exemplar because it is about something people can smell rather than something they are breathing. There are lessons for us to learn from that and lessons that DEFRA can take forward in its consultation.
I am pleased to hear that, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Let me also say a quick word about James Brokenshire and Sir David Amess. First, their families can be assured of my ongoing prayers for them in the months ahead. We talk about the importance of disagreeing well. Sometimes we think that means that we have to agree and be all mushy and all think the same things. The great thing about Sir David and James is that they held really firm convictions but were able to hold them with grace and kindness. There is a little lesson for all of us in that. In that spirit, I thank the Minister for her engagement on this Bill and how open and accessible she has been. It has been a lengthy affair, but that applies very recently as well, and I thank her for it.
I will quickly rattle through three bits of the Bill: first, the World Health Organisation target set out in Lords amendment 3. As we head out on this new adventure outside the European Union, the aim should be to have higher standards, or at least standards as high as those that we set as members of that union, but it looks as though we are going for those that are lower, and that is very regrettable.
We have already heard about the enormous health impact of poor air quality, and it is not just in big cities. In Kendal—in my community and on the edge of the Lake District—Lowther Street has been rated as one of the 200 most polluted streets in the United Kingdom. It is everywhere that this issue matters. We know the impact on asthma, on lung function and on people being hospitalised for cardiovascular and respiratory conditions. Sadly, we heard accurately about the appalling impact and the loss of life, particularly of Ella, but also of thousands of others each year. I do not see why the Government, much as I respect what the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell) said, would set themselves unambitious targets that they could achieve when they could set harder targets that would be more of a challenge. The Government should not be disagreeing with Lords amendment 3.
I also want to speak to the Government motion to disagree with Lords amendment 28. That amendment was put forward in the other place by my noble Friend Baroness Parminter. I will not support the Government motion, because it is bizarre that Defence and Treasury Ministers are effectively exempt from having to have due regard to environmental principles while making policies. When the Government scrapped the Department of Energy and Climate Change, many of us thought that was an inexcusable move, but the weak excuse that the Government used was, “All Departments should have due regard for the environment and climate change, not just one, that is why we are getting rid of the Department of Energy and Climate Change.” If that is the case, why are the Government exempting two of the most important Departments?
Perhaps the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury are the Departments that will find it hardest to take into account environmental policies in their decision making, but that is all the more reason to force them to do it. We cannot say that climate change is an existential threat on the one hand and on the other give major Departments a cop-out.
Moving on, Lords amendments 31 and 33 relate to the office for environmental protection. Here we have a new regulator clearly and demonstrably weaker and less independent than the one that it is to replace. That is obviously a backward step, and there is no denying it. However much the Government may have improved things from a weaker position to start off with, we are nowhere near what we have let go. We have an office for environmental protection that is too weak to enforce and too compromised to be trusted. The courts will be limited, as we know, in the sanctions they impose. The work of the office for environmental protection can be directed by Government, as we have been hearing, which is a case of the Government deciding whether the regulator can mark its homework. Clause 24 of the Bill gives DEFRA the power to issue guidance to the OEP on how it should enforce environmental law against DEFRA and other public bodies. It is clear that that is not full independence as promised. It is a step back from the situation we currently have.
My final point is that it is odd to say the least—very peculiar—that the office for environmental protection, in seeking to enforce environmental standards in this country, will not have power to assess the impact on the United Kingdom’s environmental standards of trade deals with other countries. Deals that permit imports produced with lower environmental and animal welfare standards will undercut and ruin British farmers and will lead to lower standards here, too.
This is a long overdue Bill, yet within it, there are so many things that are left to be desired. This is such an important set of issues that to come here with a Bill that leaves us with standards lower and less well enforced than we had beforehand, with a regulator less independent than the one we had before, is clearly a backward step.
I rise briefly to support Lords amendment 3, which would put legally binding World Health Organisation limits of 10 micrograms per cubic metre into law now. The arguments that have been put in place against that—that we might have some other target in October 2022—are fine, but let us have a minimum standard now. Nearly a year is a long time when we have a target to be achieved by 2030 and we can focus rational expectations.
We know that 64,000 people are dying a year. We know that globally it is 8.7 million. We know we are hosting COP26. We profess to be global Britain. My view is that this measure ticks all the Government’s ambitions and boxes. The Government talk about NHS prevention and limiting the amount of money spent on the NHS. The Royal College of Physicians says that the cost of air pollution is £20 billion a year. The World Health Organisation says it costs £60 billion a year in lost productivity and NHS costs. If we are serious about increasing productivity, we should improve air quality standards. In terms of value, if we saved even £3 billion of the £20 billion—on the lower number—we could invest that in a stream that would generate an investment of about £300 billion in capital for green infrastructure to head towards net zero.
We have talked about the problem with dementia, which is massively related to air quality, and an incremental increase in PM2.5 can increase mental health hospital admissions by a third. We have heard from the Government about levelling up, but we know that air quality particularly hits the poorest and the most diverse areas. Having a cap of 10 micrograms would make a lot of difference to levelling up.
We have talked about pathways and how we will get there without getting rid of cars and wood burners. We need to devolve power to local authorities to give them responsibility. Frankly, the situation is that wood burners generate 38% of PM2.5 and 2.5 million people have them. In urban environments, we need to stop selling them and phase them out. We may have to compensate people. Otherwise, we will never hit those targets and the targets will get away from us.
We certainly do not want the Government to have an ambition to double the amount of incineration by 2030, which they have. The latest incinerator in north London will generate 700,000 tonnes of carbon a year, as well as ultra-fine particulates that will give rise to leukaemia. We need to get our act together. We have the opportunity. People such as Stephen Holgate are already saying that they want a guiding light of 10 micrograms. We have heard the case of Ella Kissi-Debrah, who died at the age of nine and would be 17 now—that is how long we have been waiting after her death, despite knowing that she died of air pollution. Of course, we also need an office for environmental protection that has teeth, as there is currently in the EU.
In a nutshell, people have the right to clean air and the Government have a duty to deliver on that right. Let us get on with it and do it now.
I start by adding my voice to that of others who have paid tribute to Sir David Amess and James Brokenshire. I knew neither of them really, but I can see how much I missed in not knowing them. They sound like they were absolutely the very best of us and I send my love and thoughts to their families. My heart goes out to them.
This Bill is meant to be a once-in-a-generation piece of legislation. It has been described by the Government at various times as a flagship or a lodestar, and it is about time it started to live up to that kind of rhetoric, given that the UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world with 15% of its species now threatened with extinction. With that in mind, I welcome the improvements that have been made to the Bill in the other place, many of which address issues that have been raised repeatedly in both Houses. I also welcome the amendments that have been tabled by the Government to set legally binding targets to halt the decline of nature.
The Bill has a very long history: it was first proposed in 2018, has been repeatedly delayed and, last year, was absent from Parliament for more than 200 days. I urge the Government not to now create further delays and to accept these crucial amendments from the other place to make the Bill law before COP26. That is the kind of leadership that people are looking for from the country that will host that key meeting.
On Lords amendment 1, which requires the Prime Minister to
“declare that there is a biodiversity and climate emergency domestically and globally”,
I am utterly dumbfounded that the Government cannot agree to it. They may argue that it does not meaningfully change the Bill, which may be the case, but it is none the less incredibly symbolically important. With the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report spelling a “code red for humanity” with 1 million species now threatened with extinction, we know that an emergency is upon us.
As Lord Deben said in the other place, refusing to accept this amendment
“will send the wrong signal, at a time when we should be united in sending the right signals, so that in all discussions people will know precisely where Britain stands.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 6 September 2021; Vol. 814, c. 618.]
I therefore urge the Government to rethink their position and to listen to the scientists raising the alarm, to the young people on the streets worried for their future, and to the parliamentarians in this House. There are now less than two weeks until COP26 and if the UK is serious about demonstrating leadership, rejecting this amendment just seems so contrary to what we need to see—so perverse.
Soils and air are the very substance of what the Bill is about. Lords amendment 2, tabled by my noble Friend—I do not often get to say that—Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle, sets soil health and quality as a priority area for long-term target setting. Soils, as we know, are the complex ecosystems upon which all life on this beautiful planet relies. A staggering 25% of the world’s biodiversity lives in our soil. Britain’s soils alone store almost 10 billion tonnes of carbon. It is not simply dirt that can endlessly be abused and neglected; it is life itself. Its health is absolutely essential if the UK is to succeed in achieving its climate and biodiversity targets, yet we lose more than 3 million tonnes of topsoil every year in the UK. In its recent independent assessment of the UK climate risk, three of the Climate Change Committee’s eight urgent priorities relate to the impacts of the climate crisis on soils, and just today a new report was published that identifies poor soil health as a threat to national security.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to publish a new soil health action plan for England to ensure that soils are sustainably managed by 2030. That is desperately needed, but I am concerned that the draft outline will not even be consulted on until next spring. It is also positive to hear that the Government are exploring the possibility of a new target on soil health under future Environment Bill regulations, yet soil health merits proper referencing and legal protection through this Bill to take it beyond one Parliament. When our soils are rapidly degrading, we need that target now, so I urge Ministers to review their decision on Lords amendment 2.
Many hon. Members have spoken very eloquently about Lords amendment 3 on air pollution, and I would simply echo what others have said about the perversity of this. At a time when the WHO has just slashed the guideline limit for air pollution, the fact that we are refusing even to bring ourselves in line with the current—out-of-date—pollution target just seems to be incredibly perverse. Everyone has the right to clean air, as others have said, and we should be acting on it.
On tackling air pollution, does the hon. Member not agree that, to take people off road and on to rail, it is about time the Government built the western rail link to Heathrow? It would benefit people not only in my Slough constituency, but in the south-west, Wales and the west. That is the only way because if we are serious about tackling the climate crisis, rather than just talking about it—the Government committed to it in 2012, but have still not yet dug a single spade—it is about time that we moved forward on these transport infrastructure projects.
I thank the hon. Member for his intervention, and if people are travelling to Heathrow, I would far rather that they went by train than that they drove, so to that extent I would certainly agree with him.
Interim targets are obviously needed to achieve the long-term targets in the Bill. It is extraordinary for the Minister somehow to feel that there is some kind of contradiction between interim targets and long-term targets. They are not in contradiction with one another. The interim targets mark the progress towards the long-term targets, so to hear her oppose those seemed very odd. Baroness Brown of Cambridge put it very clearly in the other place when she said that
“it is easier to predict the impact of actions to support such systems over a five-year timescale than it is to predict outcomes in 15 or 20 years”,
“evidence shows the effectiveness of the combination of statutory interim targets and a legislated long-term goal.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 8 September 2021; Vol. 814, c. 841.]
I would press upon the Minister that these two ideas are not in contradiction.
I would like to speak briefly in support of Lords amendment 28, which would, like amendment 1 that I tabled on Report, ensure that the MOD and the Treasury—and, indeed, anyone spending resources within Government —are not, rather perversely, excluded from having to consider the environmental principles. These five principles should be the very cornerstone of our environmental law, so it is deeply concerning that time and again the Government seek to put these Departments beyond reach. As the Minister is well aware, the Ministry of Defence owns significant amounts of land, including a third of our sites of special scientific interest, and protecting and restoring these areas will be absolutely essential if the Government are to deliver on the leaders’ pledge for nature to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030. Essentially, when we know that just 3% or 4% of land is effectively managed for nature and that so many protected sites are in an unfavourable condition, we absolutely need action on that.
The exclusion of the Treasury is, if anything, of even more concern. If we ever needed a lesson on that, we have seen in the last few weeks how there appears to have been a battle between No. 10 and the Treasury over some key decisions when it comes to the heat and buildings strategy or the net zero strategy. Sadly, it looks as if the Treasury has won, because we are not seeing the finance behind those plans that we should. We are seeing things such as the continuing freezing of fuel duty since 2010, which is directly responsible for emissions being up to 5% higher than they would otherwise have been. I urge the Minister to look again at including the Treasury in this provision. Again, it seems very perverse to leave it out.
Lords amendment 31 would strengthen the independence of the office for environmental protection, which is essential if we are to have the strong watchdog we have been promised. When Ministers control the OEP’s board and budget, it is entirely inappropriate for it then also to be bound to consider their guidance on enforcing breaches of environmental law. I fear that such guidance, if coming from someone who controls the purse strings, will feel an awful lot more like an insistence than some gentle suggestions. The OEP needs to be brought in line with the approach taken to other agencies that enforce breaches of the law, including the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Information Commissioner’s Office. I do not see any reason why it should be treated differently.
Finally, Lords amendment 33, on environmental review remedies, would ensure that the interests of those accused of breaching environmental law, such as a developer or a fossil fuel company, were not favoured above the environment itself. Put simply, the court must be able to remedy breaches of environmental law. In opposing that amendment, I fear the Government have undermined the role of the OEP, which is meant to be a world-leading body to give the environment a voice and hold the powerful to account.
I thank the hon. Lady for her earlier comments about Sir David Amess and James Brokenshire. I have not had an opportunity to say anything, but in my 29 and a half years in politics, this has been one of the toughest weeks for Parliament. I know we will all miss both Sir David and James, as we loved them so dearly. Thank you for your comments—I appreciate that.
I, too, rise to support Lords amendment 3. My Vauxhall constituency, just across the river, is the start of the congestion charging zone, and it contains some of the most polluted roads in the country. Data from the Taskforce for Lung Health found that background levels of PM2.5 in Lambeth were more than 25% higher than the 10 microgram per metre cubed recommended limit. In some areas of Vauxhall, PM2.5 levels are nearly 50% higher than that target. The taskforce also found that nearly 7% of deaths in Lambeth were linked to that issue, with devastating impacts on every age group.
We have all mentioned Ella Kissi-Debrah, who was just nine when she died as a result of severe asthma, which was induced and exacerbated by air pollution. She was hospitalised 28 times in 28 months, and last year she became the first person to have air pollution listed as a cause of death. My constituents in Vauxhall cannot wait any longer, and they keep putting themselves at risk because of that difficult air pollution. The roads putting them at risk are the roads they must use to access shops and amenities, or to get to work, school or play, whether by foot, bike, bus or scooter. They are the roads that people, including me, must send their children along to school every day.
Last week, I visited St Anne’s Primary School in my constituency, which was identified by the Mayor of London as one of the 50 schools in the most polluted areas of London. Although it was good to visit that school it was also quite sad, because during the visit the headteacher showed me a state-of-the-art living wall that is using vegetation to protect the children from all the air pollution coming from the main roads. Such innovations are impressive, but why must schools take such measures to protect our young children? That is not right.
The Government have said that they will consult between January and October next year on air quality targets, but how many more targets do we need? The data is there. The data is choking us—no pun intended. It already exists. We know from a 2018 report by UNICEF that the effects of air pollution are more serious for children than for adults. We know from data released last week by City Hall that the areas with the highest levels of deprivation, or those with a higher proportion of people from non-white backgrounds, are more likely to be exposed to high levels of air pollution. We have the tools at our disposal to set that target, so why can we not do so now? As the mother of a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old living in an inner-London borough, I do not want my children growing up with that pollution, nor do I want the children and young people I represent in Vauxhall to continue to grow up with such high levels of pollution. Let us set that target once and for all, bring an end to this, and bring
I very much echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) said about air pollution. Earlier, the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), mentioned that the Mayor of Bristol had spoken of the M32 going right into the heart of the city. It is the border between my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire). It goes through those inner-city areas, and we know that children living in those areas are particularly at risk.
When we have discussed that in various Select Committees and during the passage of Bills, I have found the Minister’s attempted justification for not adopting the World Health Organisation targets very weak, and I am afraid that the same is true today. Surely people’s right to have a log-burning stove is more than outweighed by the fact that there are 40,000 deaths a year because of air pollution. Surely that is far more important. However, other Members have more than done justice to the need to back the Lords on their air pollution amendments, so I want to talk briefly about Lords amendment 1, which has not been spoken about much.
There is no question but that we are in the midst of climate and ecological emergencies that simply are not being taken seriously enough, not just by the Government but by many others who, through their actions, are contributing to the problem and not helping to find solutions. I am usually quite sceptical about the value of grand declarations if they are not backed up by action—and often they are not backed up by action—but I think that formal recognition in the Bill of the gravity of the situation could make a difference.
We have led the way on that in Bristol. We formally declared a climate emergency in 2018 and a biodiversity emergency in February last year. As a result, we have a wide-ranging “one city” ecological emergency strategy, which serves as a blueprint for action on that front. Really, that is what it is about—not just making the declaration, but using that declaration as a way of stressing the urgency and driving action.
I support the Lords amendments on the office for environmental protection. The Bill should have been in force, and the OEP ready for action, for the end of the Brexit transition period. There is just no excuse for the Government’s delays and prevarications—or, it has to be said, for their reneging on their promise to base the OEP in Bristol, which I will not stop reminding them about. We have ended up with precisely the sort of governance gap that many of us warned about, which is shameful. However, now that we are where we are, we ought to accept the Lords amendments, which would ensure that the OEP is independent in nature, that it is able to properly hold Ministers to account for environmental wrongdoing, and that it has control over its own budget.
Finally, the fact that we are so far away from meeting our environmental obligations on air pollution, water quality—I think that will come up in the next group of amendments—and protection of biodiversity only reinforces the case for a strong OEP and more accountability for Ministers. However, there is nothing in the Bill to compel Ministers to act early to meet targets or take action where interim targets are missed. We have these long-term targets way into the future—we have a 25-year environment plan—but if we do not have binding interim targets, it is so easy to kick things into the long grass and say that we are working towards a date at some distant point in the future. We then find that that distant point in the future is suddenly upon us and nothing has been done to ensure that we reach the targets.
Lords amendment 12 would ensure that there are binding interim targets in the Bill, which is so important for our ability to hold the Government to account and to see incremental change that will get us to our final ambition. That needs to be kept in the Bill.
With the leave of the House, I will respond to the debate. May I reiterate the condolences that have been expressed? I was not able to be in the Chamber earlier. I have not worn my environmental leaf suit today, as a mark of respect to those two great men—Sir David Amess, who did so much on animal welfare, which is very relevant to my Department, and James Brokenshire. I think we all feel the same about them. We are proud to have known them, and we send our condolences to their families. I am terribly sorry.
I thank all hon. Members across the House for their contributions. As ever, whatever our differences, we listen to what has been said and work very closely together on these matters. I will whizz through some of the questions and comments that were raised before summing up.
Let me refer first to the comments by the SNP spokesperson, the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock), just to get the devolution issue clarified. She talked about this Government not respecting the Scottish Government. The power of the Scottish Parliament to legislate respects the exercising of reserved functions by Ministers of the Crown. That was tested recently in the Supreme Court, which agreed with the Government. That judgment by the Supreme Court directly supports Lords amendment 29, tabled by the Government.
I am going to leave it there, because I have so many comments to get through.
I want to refer now to particular questions and comments raised about the OEP. We heard some comparisons with the EU, in particular from the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), with whom we have had some very constructive discussions, as he said—I thank him for those comments. The OEP’s enforcement powers are different but will operate more effectively than those of the European Commission. The OEP will be able to liaise directly with the public body in question—that does not happen with the European Commission—to investigate and resolve alleged serious breaches of environmental law in a more timely and targeted manner.
On environmental review, the OEP can apply for judicial review remedies, such as mandatory quashing orders, subject to appropriate safeguards. That will work to ensure compliance with environmental law. The Court of Justice of the EU cannot issue those kinds of remedies to member states, so we truly believe the OEP is stronger, not weaker.
The right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) mentioned the guidance power. Paragraph 17 of schedule 1 already requires that:
“In exercising functions in respect of the OEP, the Secretary of State must have regard to the need to protect its independence.”
The guidance power does not grant the Secretary of State any ability to intervene in decision making about specific or individual cases. The OEP does not have to follow the guidance where it has clear reasons not to do so. It has to provide its own enforcement policy. I think Dame Glenys would take issue with the idea that she is somehow heading up a weaker organisation. I do not think she would have taken on the job if she felt that that was the case.
On the biodiversity emergency, we have set a duty to set an additional legally binding target to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030. If that—not to mention the Prime Minister’s comments yesterday—does not demonstrate that we understand there is an emergency I do not know what else does.
Soil was mentioned by a number of colleagues, all of whom agreed that we need data. Our soil health action plan, to pick up on the points made by the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), demonstrates that we really mean business with soil. Many of our other policies will be about working on soil health. It is not just about what is in the Bill; it is about all our wider policies whereby we are taking soil health extremely seriously.
Air quality was rightly raised by many hon. Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) and for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell), and the hon. Members for Westmorland and Lonsdale and for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi). On what is the right number for the target, I reiterate that whatever the WHO said—whether 10 micrograms per metre cubed or now five—its analysis has not and did not outline a pathway to achieve that target. That is why it is so important that we gather the evidence and the science. I was so pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton himself pointed that out and agreed that this is the right approach. So many people today have mentioned the importance of getting the evidence and the data right.
I listened to what my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst said, but I assure him that we are not waiting for targets to be set to tackle the problem of air pollution. We are taking action now. One example is the legislation to phase out the sale of house coal and small volumes of wet wood, and to introduce emission standards for manufactured solid fuels for domestic burning across England. That was one of the big steps we have taken to cut down on PM2.5.
I hear what my hon. Friend says and I will reiterate that to the new Minister with responsibility for air quality. My hon. Friend makes good points. Many other measures are in place connected to our air quality strategy, but he may be right that they need to be pulled together in a clearer way. We acted on many of the measures on which the coroner gave us guidance after the very tragic case of Ella Kissi-Debrah. Our hearts go out to that family, and I am thankful for all the input.
Regarding amendment 1, I must reiterate that actions are what are necessary to combat the climate and biodiversity emergency, not legal declarations. On amendment 2, the soil health action plan will provide strategic direction to develop the metrics that we need for the soil health target, and I point hon. Members to the written ministerial statement on that. On amendment 3, we will continue to collaborate with experts to ensure that the consultation on air targets is based on the best evidence. In setting targets, we need to carry out detailed modelling, as I said.
Amendment 12 fundamentally undermines the long-term nature of the targets framework. It removes necessary flexibility and forces us to meet legally binding targets every five years on complex environmental issues. Regarding amendment 28, the Government firmly maintain the position that exempting some limited areas from the duty to “have due regard” provides necessary flexibility in relation to finances, defence and national security.
Turning to amendments 31 and 75, I must stress that the guidance power is required to ensure appropriate accountability for the OEP. Finally, amendment 33 is not acceptable because it removes all protections for third parties who were brought into the OEP’s process of environmental review. The Government are confident of their position on these matters and I hope that Members will support us in returning this position to the other place, so that we get our world-leading legislation onto the statute book.
Just to explain the process, I am anticipating five votes; the first vote will take 10 minutes and the others, consecutively, eight minutes, so I really would not go too far from the Lobbies. There will be three from the Labour party, one from the Lib Dems and one from the Scottish National party. If Deirdre Brock would approach the Chair while the first Division is taking place, I will explain the process for the SNP Division, because it is a bit more complicated.
Lords amendment 1 disagreed to.
Lords amendment 2 disagreed to.
Environmental targets: particulate matter
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 3.—(Rebecca Pow.)
Lords amendment 3 disagreed to.
More than two hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order, this day). The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83F).
I am anticipating a vote on the next Lords amendment, and it will be eight minutes for this and every other Division in this section. I call the Minister to disagree with Lords amendment 12 formally.
Environmental targets: effect
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 12.—(Rebecca Pow.)
Lords amendment 12 disagreed to.
Policy statement on environmental principles
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 28.—(Rebecca Pow.)
Lords amendment 28 disagreed to.
Guidance on the OEP’s enforcement policy and functions
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 31.—(Rebecca Pow.)
Lords amendment 31 disagreed to.
Government amendments (a) and (b) made in lieu of Lords amendment 31.
Lords amendment 33 disagreed to.
Lords amendment 75 disagreed to.
Government amendments (a) and (b) made in lieu of Lords amendment 75.
Lords amendments 4 to 11, 13 to 27, 29, 30, 32, 34, 35, 64, 69 and 70 agreed to.
After Clause 72
Protection of pollinators from pesticides
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Lords amendment 45, and Government amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendment 65, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 66, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 67, Government motion to disagree, and Government amendments (a) to (e) in lieu.
Lords amendment 94, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 95, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendments 46 to 63, 71 to 74, and 91 to 93.
As we turn to amendments focused on the protection of nature, I would like to remind the House of some of the significant changes that the Government have made to the Bill since its introduction, which I hope hon. Members support. We have extended the requirement for biodiversity net gain to cover nationally significant infrastructure projects, which ensures that new nationally significant infrastructure projects, such as new roads, railways or airports, must contribute to our vision of a nature-positive future. That will also enable the Government to extend net gain to major projects in the marine environment once a suitable approach has been developed.
We have added a power to increase the period for which habitat must be maintained beyond 30 years across the whole net gain policy. The Secretary of State must keep under review whether the period could be increased. We have made it a legal requirement for the Government to produce guidance on how local planning authorities should have regard to local nature recovery strategies.
I turn to storm overflows. All the detail that I am about to outline demonstrates an absolute commitment to tackling the environmental harm caused by storm sewage overflows, on which we have taken significant action. Lords amendment 45, the majority of which has been put forward by the Government—I urge hon. Members to look at it—introduces an entire new chapter to the Water Industry Act 1991 on storm overflows to address that. It places a statutory requirement on the Government to produce a plan to reduce discharges from storm overflows and their adverse impacts before 1 September 2022, and commits the Government to taking action and reporting on progress to Parliament. We will also be required to produce a report on the actions that would be needed to eliminate discharges from storm overflows in England, and their costs and benefits, before 1 September 2022.
The Bill already places a duty on water companies and the Environment Agency to publish data on storm overflow operation on an annual basis, so this is available and accessible to the public. Crucially, the Bill also introduces a statutory requirement on sewerage companies to produce drainage and sewerage management plans, in which they will fully assess their network capacity and adopt a strategic approach to planning. This will deliver a resilient sewerage system addressing current and future risks and issues, such as population growth and climate change over a 25-year period, because we all know that those things are affecting this system.
I certainly support the direction of Lords amendment 45. However, I want to ask the Minister why she is omitting lines 7 to 14 of the original amendment introduced by the Duke of Wellington in the other place, which would put a legal duty on water companies to take immediate action to tackle sewage pollution and so forth. Why has she taken some of the teeth out of this amendment?
I hear what the hon. Member says, and for once I am really pleased that she almost supports what we are doing. I am outlining what we have put into the Bill since it was last here to demonstrate how we will be reducing the harm from these sewage storm overflows. The cumulative impact of all this will be to actually address the issue that we all so want to address. Crucially, we will have sewerage management plans in which water companies will have to explain and detail how they are going to be delivering a resilient sewerage system. We expect those plans to include considered actions for reducing storm overflows and their harm in line with the ambition set out in the Bill.
As there is a lot of concern about this on both sides of the House, can the Minister give us some encouragement about what pace of change we can look forward to under her proposals? I think people want some reassurance that this is going to be tackled quite soon.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that, and honestly, people are coming up to me left, right and centre about this. I feel as strongly about it as everybody else, so I am so pleased we have got this into the Bill. I have to say that a lot of it is thanks to working with my right hon. Friend the Member for—[Hon. Members: “Ludlow.”] I have been to Ludlow, but I have a lot of data in my head! I think my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) would agree that we have worked unbelievably constructively to get what was going to be in his private Member’s Bill into this Bill, which is absolutely the right thing to do. I hope we are demonstrating that this is happening quickly. For example, we are requiring water companies to put in monitors above and below every storm sewage overflow to monitor the data. They will have to start that right now, because the sewerage plans coming forward in the Bill are already under way.
The Minister will know that I am one of the people who keeps talking to her about this, and I pay tribute to her for all the work she has done on it. Yes, there are all these duties to report, to produce plans and so on, which is great, but should there not also be a duty on the water companies to actually do something, rather than just to report on what they have or have not achieved? If amendment (a) to Lords amendment 45 succeeds, will she consider whether it is possible to have a more tightly drawn, concise and effective duty on water companies?
We have been speaking about this. I hear what my right hon. and learned Friend is saying, and I am listening. I am going to say that there is a dialogue, but I will leave it at that. However, there is so much more that will help with this issue, and the wider issue of water pollution, than what is in this Bill. I think he would agree that there are a lot of water issues to be dealt with that the water companies will be held to account for. One of the very strong things we are doing, which is not in the Bill, is producing our draft policy statement to Ofwat, the regulator. For the first time ever, we have put at the top of the agenda that it will have to get the water companies to address storm sewage overflows. I think we would all agree that they are necessary in an emergency, but they have been used far too frequently. I hope by all of this we are demonstrating what are doing, and that is why I am taking so long going through it. It has not started right now—well, not all of it—but when it does start, it will make a huge difference to the progressive reduction of harm.
As has been said, it is great to hear about these plans, and we have been hearing about them for some time. Once we set aside all the blurb and the peripheral extraneous issues being outlined, are there any targets or deadlines? When will all English rivers be sewage free?
I would argue that it is not blurb. The way we direct such changes is through policies such as these, and they will start to happen immediately. Water companies are totally aware of the policies, and through such measures we will cut down on harmful sewage storm overflows. Under the Bill we must also set a range of water targets. We have set up the storm overflows taskforce, which will report early next year on what the target should be for elimination. We will also have targets in other important areas of water quality, including phosphates, nitrates, waste water—all those areas are important and will be tackled. That is coming down the tracks imminently.
The Minister is bringing in a fantastic Bill, but it is sad that we are not implementing the measures that my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) brought before the House in his private Member’s Bill. They would have made it illegal to have sewage discharges after a certain date. The question “when?” is the right one, and the balancing argument is about how much it would cost, and how much it would add to consumers’ water bills. Does the Minister have that data? Do we know how much would need to be invested in each water area, and how much that would impact on bills, so that we can quantify how long it would take to do at a reasonable pace? That is what we need to know. Perhaps there will be a compromise on this issue, but at the moment I am afraid I am likely to follow my right hon. Friend into the Lobby in support of the Lords amendment.
I thank my hon. Friend. This is an important issue and we have thought about it. The Government will come back and report on the costs and benefits; we are doing a whole analysis of that. As an approximate estimate, to get rid of or eliminate storm sewage overflows would cost between—these are very wide figures—£150 billion and £660 billion. One must consider the cost of bills, because there will be an impact on those. That is why I made the point earlier that a lot of other areas in connection with our rivers and our water are really important. We must also deal with those, and it must be proportionate. My hon. Friend is right, and we will soon have the data from our storm overflows taskforce, and from our duty to report on what the cost benefits would be of completely eliminating storm overflows. Such things are used far too frequently, but they are also an emergency measure that should potentially always remain, just in case we have to deal with huge floods.
Another area of work that needs to be done—we are doing it—involves levelling up and what was MHCLG but is now DLUHC, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities,. It is about sustainable development and what we do with drain water, all the rest of the water, and separating out our systems. This is a cross-departmental issue, and we are tackling some really important matters in the Bill.
The Bill also requires us to set and achieve at least one target in the priority area of water. Our policy paper, which was published in August 2020, set out the objectives for the water targets we were considering. Those include reducing pollution from agriculture, waste water, abandoned metal mines, and reducing water demand. All those issues are significant to the whole area we are talking about.
Outside the Bill, we have committed to undertaking a review of the case for implementing schedule 3 to the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 in England. That schedule would set mandatory build standards for sustainable drainage schemes on new developments, which so many people have been calling for. Those are not mandatory at the moment, but to really have an effect, they need to be. We are reviewing that and, based on what we find, we will be working with DLUHC on that very issue.
We have moved further; with Lords amendments 46, 47, and 74, we will require water companies to do near real-time reporting of storm overflows and water quality monitoring upstream and downstream of storm overflows and sewage disposal works so that we have fully transparent data. People called for transparency of data in the debate on the previous group of amendments, and we will have it in relation to the impact of those things on our waters.
The first part of Lords amendment 45, new section 141A of the Water Industry Act 1991, was introduced in the other place by the Duke of Wellington and seeks to place a duty on sewerage undertakers to progressively reduce the harm from storm overflows and to ensure compliance with that duty. We have listened carefully to Parliament and, as I am sure my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow will agree, we have moved on this matter more than anything else in the Bill. I hope that I have made clear everything that we are bringing forward.
That is not to say that we are not listening; we are. I am confident in all the things I have outlined, together with the draft policy statement for Ofwat, which states that we expect it to
“incentivise water companies to significantly reduce the frequency and volume of sewage discharges from storm overflows.”
That is the pointer for the water companies really needing to work on this issue. I know that a group of colleagues from the Portsmouth area are banking on that. They are working with the water companies in the area on pollution issues. They have brought all the bodies together in a partnership to tackle their sewage overflow issues, and they need what is in the Bill to point them in the right direction. We have their full support, and I commend them for all the work that they are doing. There is a whole group of colleagues doing that.
We have been clear that we want to see fewer discharges of untreated sewage into rivers, lakes and seas. I am personally determined to see that happen, and I am really proud of the actions we are taking. Lines 7 to 14 of Lords amendment 45 are therefore unnecessary, and I ask the House to support amendment (a) to leave them out.
There are a number of sewage works on the River Wharfe upstream of my constituency, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore)—I see that he is in his place—and we both have bathing water quality issues because of that. It would be useful to know, using the example of Portsmouth that the Minister gave, how the Bill will help us unlock that with Yorkshire Water to ensure that people are not bathing, in effect, with effluent, which is what happens nearly every day on the River Wharfe.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I was proud to be part of getting bathing water designation in Otley. It is the first inland bathing water area that we have designated—we have loads around the coast—and it was a great project. However, he makes a good point, and when we are setting targets for water quality, the bathing water quality issue will very much be part of that.
I turn to Lords amendment 43, which would require that pesticide use in Great Britain can be authorised only if a competent authority is satisfied that there will be no negative effect on the health of honeybees or wild pollinator populations. I am as keen a supporter of bees and pollinators as anyone else here; I garden for wildlife and I do not use pesticides. I listened very carefully to the debate on this issue in the other place, but I am confident that there is effective regulation of pesticides to avoid harm, including to pollinators. We have consulted on a draft national action plan on the sustainable use of pesticides, which aims to minimise the risks of pesticides to human health and the environment. We will publish a final national action plan for pesticides by the end of this year. Central to the plan will be support for integrated pest management. We are supporting a shift towards greater use of IPM techniques. IPM involves designing pesticides out of farming systems as far as possible and includes increased use of nature-based, low toxicity solutions and precision technologies to manage pests, all of which will benefit pollinators.
Our wider action under the national pollinator strategy includes restoring and creating habitats for pollinators to thrive, raising awareness across society so that people can take action themselves; and supporting monitoring and research to improve our understanding.
I just have a very quick question. It is important that the farming sector and the industry understand pesticides and co-operation in farming, as that happens every day. What discussions has the Minister had with the National Farmers Union, for example, to work alongside it and ensure it does not have any issues?
We work incredibly closely with our farmers. We could not do any of what we are trying to do without bringing our farmers on board. After all, they manage, own or run at least 70% of the land. Many are already doing good really work on integrated pest management. With some of our new grants we have launched for innovation and tech in particular, we will be working with them to go further down this road, especially through our environmental land management scheme, sustainable farming incentive and so on.
Our healthy bees plan 2030 sets out how we will work with beekeepers and bee farmers to improve honeybee health, and we are improving our understanding, including by supporting a national pollinator monitoring programme. Alongside all that, current pesticide legislation requires that pesticide products and their active substances have
“no unacceptable effects on the environment…having particular regard to its impact on non-target species”
which includes impacts on bees and other effective pollinators such as hoverflies, moths and beetles. Risk assessments made for active substances are subject to public consultation and establish the key risks posed by pesticides. We continue to make decisions on pesticide use based on scientific risk assessment.
Turning to Lords amendment 65, biodiversity loss is a defining challenge for our generation and we must act now. This landmark Bill ramps up domestic action, including a requirement to set a legally binding target to halt species decline in England by 2030. The powers under clause 113 and 114 form an important part and support the ambition for domestic nature recovery. We will bring forward a nature recovery Green Paper before the end of the year, which will set out our approach to driving nature recovery in England. It will include consideration of the scope to amend the habitats regulations, as well as broader exploration of our approach to site designations and species protections.
In adapting our approach to nature conservation, I agree we must maintain and enhance protections. The powers have been tightly drafted and already contain strong safeguards. In exercising those powers, the Secretary of State must: have regard to the particular importance of furthering the conservation and enhancement of biodiversity; be satisfied that the changes do not reduce the level of environmental protection provided currently by the habitats regulations; and test this with Parliament and secure its approval through a vote. To be satisfied that there has been no reduction in protections, the Government have also publicly committed to consulting with the office for environmental protection and Government statutory nature advisers. We also remain bound by international nature conservation law and committed to those obligations. Therefore, I see no need for the amendment and I urge the House to oppose it.
Turning to Lords amendments 94 and 95, our world-leading due diligence measures will help to tackle illegal deforestation in supply chains by prohibiting larger businesses operating in the UK from using certain forest risk commodities, produced on land illegally occupied or used. Forest risk commodities are associated with wide-scale conversion of forest. Examples of those commodities include beef, cocoa, leather, soya, rubber and palm oil. This comes as the UK prepares to lead by example at COP26 in two weeks’ time.
Does the Minister not accept that legal deforestation is becoming as much of a problem as illegal deforestation? If it is deforestation per se of the Amazon, that is a bad thing. Bolsonaro is relaxing the rules in his country, and it is happening in other countries in the region as well, and as a result we are increasingly seeing products entering our supermarket supply chains that are linked to deforestation—there was a story last week about cheese being sold in UK supermarkets. That is bad regardless of whether the Government of the country authorised it or not.
I thank the hon. Lady and take her point, but we have to work with other Governments to bring forward our legislation. Many of these countries—Brazil is a specific example—have protections but, in many cases, are not upholding them. This Bill will have an effect, if we can demonstrate that they are not upholding their protections and our products are coming from there. That all has to be in a transparent survey, and data has to be recorded by businesses, so the onus will actually also be on them, because they do not want to be seen to be selling products that are causing deforestation. We have worked extremely hard to get that provision into the Bill and we believe that it will help to make a difference on this issue.
Given the pioneering nature of the policy, we have included a statutory requirement for a review every two years to make sure that the policy is delivering as intended and that the things that are happening, exactly as the hon. Lady suggests, do not happen. However, conducting a review after just one year of the requirements coming into force, as the amendments require, does not provide sufficient time to understand the policy’s effectiveness.
Some months ago, my hon. Friend gave very generously of her time, with officials, to talk to my constituent Jim Bettle about the timber regulations, as she will remember. Can she say when the review of the UK timber regulations is envisaged, because that neatly ties in with what she is talking about?
Yes. My hon. Friend’s constituent came specifically to talk about charcoal and those issues. We have our timber regulations already in place to deal with illegal deforestation. I cannot give my hon. Friend an exact date for any review of that, but I can get back to his office with further details, if he would like.
In simple terms, in respect of the amendments, there would be not be enough data to understand how the legislation impacts against our policy objectives in one year and businesses would just be submitting their first report on the due diligence exercise. We will instead need to focus our efforts in that vital first year on ensuring effective implementation and enforcement and making sure that regulated businesses understand and are meeting their responsibilities under this legislation. That is critical to the regulations having their intended effect.
As well as having deforestation goods enter the supply chain in the UK from the Amazon in Brazil, which is of vital importance, they are also coming from West Papua, Borneo, Indonesia and the Congo river basin, and a lot of it is legal, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) said. We are seeking trade deals around the world. He do we ensure that businesses and Governments understand their obligations in the trade deals to ensure that we do not have further deforestation not just in Brazil, but in other countries?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Obviously, our businesses will have an obligation under what we set in our Bill, but equally, there is a whole session devoted to this at COP26, discussing exactly the issues that he raises in the wider sphere of agriculture and forestry across the globe. I urge him to follow what happens there.
On Lords amendment 66, I am very pleased to announce that we will be taking action on ancient woodland, thanks to the persuasive arguments put forward by Baroness Young of Old Scone, who has been a champion for ancient woodland, as have many Members of this House. I also put on record the Government’s thanks to the Woodland Trust for its partnership and support in updating the ancient woodland inventory. It continues to champion the need for a detailed and up-to-date inventory of this irreplaceable habitat, which is much needed; I thank the trust for stepping in to do that work. It is music to my ears particularly, because I set up the all-party parliamentary group on ancient woodland and veteran trees with the Woodland Trust when I first came to this place as a Back Bencher. I know that the Secretary of State is also passionate about ancient woodland.
I can also announce that we will undertake a review of the national planning policy framework to ensure that it is being correctly implemented in the case of ancient and veteran trees and ancient woodland. Should the review conclude that implementation can be improved, we will look to strengthen the guidance to local authorities to ensure their understanding of the protections provided to ancient woodland.
Secondly, I am pleased to announce that we will consult on strengthening the wording of the national planning policy framework to better ensure the strongest protection of ancient woodland, while recognising the complex delivery challenges for major infrastructure.
Finally, we will amend the Town and Country Planning (Consultation) (England) Direction 2021 alongside these reforms to require local planning authorities to consult the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities if they are minded to grant planning permission for developments affecting ancient woodland.
What it will mean is that, yes, there will be much more credence given to the value of ancient woodland. At the moment, ancient woodland does not necessarily win, because one can have the infrastructure, or whatever it is, if one can demonstrate that there are wholly exceptional reasons for getting rid of the ancient woodland. This approach will really strengthen the position: it is a really big commitment to ancient woodland, which is like our rainforest. We have to do something about it—and we are, which I hope will be welcomed.
Although I must ask hon. Members to reject Lords amendment 66, I hope that they will support our approach and my announcement today, which will deliver effective action to protect our precious and irreplaceable ancient woodland.
The intention behind Lords amendment 67 is to introduce additional formality to the process for entering into conservation covenants and to require such agreements to contain specific terms. There is a balance to be struck: conservation covenants must be flexible tools and straightforward to create, but they must also be robust. It is important that they are not entered into lightly or without due consideration and forethought—sounds a bit like a marriage contract, doesn’t it?
Having reflected on concerns raised in the other place, and with particular thanks to the Earl of Devon, we acknowledge that an additional layer of formality when entering into conservation covenants would provide some reassurance to landowners. We therefore propose an amendment in lieu to require that conservation covenant agreements be executed as deeds. Government guidance in this space will also be drafted to provide clear support on the relevant formalities required for conservation covenants.
I hope that hon. Friends and Members will support our proposals. I look forward to their contributions.
Before I start, I want to send condolences and thoughts on behalf of Plymouth to Sir David Amess’s family, his staff and his community. We have seen our fair share of tragedy over the summer in Plymouth, and Plymouth stands with Southend at this time.
We are in the middle of a climate and ecological crisis, and we need bolder and more urgent action if we are to address it. When this Bill was first debated in the Commons—which seems a very long time ago, because it was—I described it as bland, a bit beige, “a bit meh”, as I put it. It does make some difference; there are some good bits in there; but it does not rise to the scale of the crisis that we are facing, and it needs to. It smacks of the dreary managerialism and the pedestrian pace that have overtaken DEFRA in recent years. I want to encourage the Ministers to find more ambition and more urgency with the measures they are introducing, which is why I want to focus now on the hard-won gains from the Lords on bees, water, habitats and trees.
I bloody love bees, Mr Deputy Speaker. That was picked up by the Evening Standard when I said it at a fringe event during the Labour party conference, and I hope it is a sentiment shared by many other Members on both sides of the House. Because we all love bees, I think it worth noting that we need proper measures to protect our pollinators. I should declare an interest at this point: my family keep bees on their farm in Cornwall.
Since 1900 Britain has lost 13 out of 35 native bee species, and we risk losing more if we do not take action to protect them, in particular, from bee-killing and bee-harming pesticides. They are essential to the future of our planet, to pollinating our crops and to the rich tapestry of biodiversity that we have as a nation, but the loss of bees has become symbolic of the decline in nature in our country. Lords amendment 43 inserted a new clause to regulate pesticides, and proposed that the use of pesticides should be assessed on how they impact our pollinators. It is amazing that the impact of pesticides on pollinators is not already assessed before approvals are given. This is a simple amendment that could have a positive effect on bees, and I am disappointed that the Government do not see the value in it.
When the Bill was last here, Labour tabled an amendment to ban bee-killing pesticides, but sadly the Government whipped Tory MPs to vote against it, and I suspect that that will happen again today. The chemical approval system that Ministers seek to protect is far too secretive and not transparent enough. If it is to be robustly defended by a Government three-line whip, I urge Ministers to look more carefully at how it can be made more transparent, clearer and more environmentally friendly. I know that there is concern about this issue on the Tory Back Benches, and I encourage those Members to continue to put pressure on their Front Bench. We need to ensure that our farmers are able to support and protect their crops, but we need to protect our pollinators at the same time.
Let me now turn to a matter that shames our nation: the state of our rivers. Not one English river is in a healthy condition, not one meets good chemical standards, and only 14% meet good ecological standards. The state of our waterways has not improved since 2016, five years ago. England has the worst river quality in Europe. The World Wide Fund for Nature reports that rivers in England are “used as open sewers”, and that targets for 75% of them to be healthy by 2027 are “very unlikely” to be met. More recent research has found that the rate of unlawful discharge of sewage into waterways could be up to 10 times higher than the rate suggested by the Environment Agency’s prosecutions.
It will be impossible to have clean rivers with the pedestrian approach that Ministers are currently taking, which is why the cross-party concerns that we have heard during this debate and throughout the passage of the Bill should be taken more seriously. However, it is not only Ministers who are to blame for the poor state of our rivers; we must hold water companies responsible too. Research by The Guardian has found that raw sewage was discharged into rivers across England and Wales 200,000 times in 2019, for a total duration of 1.5 million hours. I think we would all have sympathy with the Minister’s argument that in extremis, in the event of severe weather, raw sewage discharges into rivers should be permissible, but we need to ensure that that happens only in extreme circumstances. This is a daily, regular, continual occurrence, and it is unacceptable.
Would my hon. Friend agree with me and my beleaguered constituents in Whitstable that this is not an unusual occurrence, and that it is happening more and more frequently? On the Whitstable coast, for example, it is ruining the lives of kayakers, sailors and swimmers and ruining the tourist industry. The removal of the lines in the amendment that have teeth would be a real disappointment.
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. As a regular wild swimmer myself, I recognise that this is a concern not only to people who swim in our nation’s rivers but to those who value their biodiversity. I think that the Minister has underestimated the strength of feeling in this area.
There is a way through this, however. There is a route that could result in progressive improvement in the reduction in the number of raw sewage discharges, that could simultaneously collect the required data and that could protect our environment without big increases to bills, with appropriate investment and a sense of urgency from Ministers. There is a route for that, and I suspect that further compromises will be necessary on this point when the Bill returns to the House of Lords and then comes back to us. I do not think we are yet done with this.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the key is to focus the big water companies on this issue? They have significant resources; they are large, wealthy businesses. Many people use our rivers, including many residents in Reading who live next to the Thames, the Kennet and the Loddon who are affected by this and very concerned about it. We are downstream of a number of effluent emissions, and people want to see real action from Thames Water.
My hon. Friend raises an incredibly good point. People want to see action. This is not something that concerns only politicos; the public want to see proper action as well. We need to put pressure on the Minister to do the right thing, and I am afraid that more pressure will be put on her on a cross-party basis. What she has announced is a step in the right direction, but it does not reach a compromise that is acceptable. We also need to put pressure on the water companies. Water companies such as Southern Water have presided over huge amounts of discharge into our natural environment, but it is not just those companies. Southern has had an enormous focus as a result of its huge fine for deliberately venting sewage into the sea, but we need every single water company to step up. To achieve that, we need pressure from the companies’ shareholders to do so and also pressure from Ofwat.
Ofwat needs to prioritise action to deal with raw sewage outflows into our rivers much more in the business plans. If it is not incentivised or required to do that, it will not do it. That is the power the Secretary of State and the Minister have over water companies under this privatised system. They have the power, but they are choosing not to use it to put in the investment that we need. That is why we need to see further improvement on this amendment, and I suspect that there will be further improvement on it, but I would also encourage the Minister to find a good answer to the question that was posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi):
“When will all English rivers be sewage free?”
That seems a simple question, and our constituents want to know the answer. If she cannot provide the answer, we must recognise that there is a bigger problem here that we need to look at.
Turning to habitats, I am proud that the British people have an ambition to protect the environment. All of us are here reflecting the views of our constituents who want to see more action to protect the environment. Not everyone knows how much carbon is emitted from their community on a daily basis, but we all recognise how many trees there are and the volume of the birdsong chorus in our communities. Nature matters. Dr Andy Purvis from the Natural History Museum has said that the UK has
“led the world in degrading the natural environment.”
We only have half our biodiversity left as a nation; we have lost an awful lot of species and habitats and we cannot risk losing any more.
The habitats regulations, which are the first line of defence in providing strict protections for the UK’s finest wildlife sites and endangered species, are so important, yet clauses 113 and 114 essentially give the Secretary of State the freedom to do what he likes with those regulations. He is required only to “have regard” to the need to enhance biodiversity when making changes, but “having regard” is not sufficient when we are in a climate and ecological emergency. That is why we are seeking to protect Lords amendment 65, which would ensure that powers to amend these regulations did not weaken their important environmental protections and could be used only for environmental improvement. I struggle to understand why anyone would not agree with the case that the Lords have made on that.
The public want to see us protect our forests and woodlands, and they want to see us plant more trees. The Climate Change Committee, the independent body set up to advise the Government, has been clear that we need to raise our current 13% forest cover to 17% by 2050 if we are to have any chance of meeting our climate goals, but we know that the Government’s slow, pedestrian and managerial approach to tree planting means the target will not be met until 2091. Their action does not match their soundbites, as it must if we are to hit our climate goals.
Planting more trees in England is strongly supported by the public, by business, by local councils and, looking at their press releases, by Ministers as well, so why are Ministers failing to plant sufficient trees? It is not because they do not enjoy enough support, it is not because the public will not support further measures and it is not because the public will not support further spending on this, so what are the obstacles and inhibitors that stop Ministers from delivering more trees? We need to see further action on tree planting by mobilising more of the power of the state to get this done.
On an issue where there is cross-party and full public support, we need Ministers to do better than they are at the moment. England is being left behind in the UK’s family of nations when it comes to tree planting, and we are being left behind on the global stage, too. If Ethiopia can plant 5 billion trees a year, including planting 350 million trees in a single day on 29 July 2019, why can we not have similar ambitions and scale of delivery?
Although we should be planting more trees, we must also be careful of losing trees, which is why Labour supports Lords amendments 94, 95 and 66. We know that deforestation, legal and illegal, is increasing alarmingly across the planet, but we also know that, far too often, we measure the impacts only within our own nation. Our global consumption and global supply chains must be taken into account if we are to prevent deforestation. Allowing illegal deforestation to become legal deforestation is a “get out of jail free” card that does nothing to get our planet out of trouble, so we need to see further advances. I am glad the Minister is making progress on certain commodities that come from stressed areas, but I encourage her to go further and do more.
Briefly, could the Minister ask the Financial Conduct Authority to issue new guidelines to financial institutions on deforestation risk? No British bank should be bankrolling deforestation internationally.
I have a simple question for my hon. Friend, following on from what my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) said. How do we differentiate between illegal logging and legal logging? There is no such mechanism known to humankind, so it is a farce, frankly, to say that we will ban illegal logging and allow legal logging in the Amazon rainforest.
My hon. Friend raises a good point, and it is why we need firm action not only from the Government but from the supply chain. We also need enforcement of our high standards, which must not be undercut in any trade deals. Food and produce produced to lower standards abroad must not undercut domestic industries or our environmental and animal welfare standards.
I thank Labour peers, Cross Benchers and peers from other parties for their work on this Bill. Until the votes earlier, the Bill was in a much better place than it was at the start. I deeply regret that the Government are whipping their MPs to remove many of those improvements, and I hope Conservative Members will consider what further pressure can be put on Ministers to improve the Bill.
On the important issue of river sewage, I want to work on a cross-party basis with Ministers to find a better compromise. I do not think what we have just heard will convince Opposition Members or Conservative Back Benchers, but there is a route through this, and that is firmer action and a clear timeline as to how we will address this problem.
It is a great pleasure to be in the Chamber physically to discuss the Environment Bill, which the Select Committee I am privileged to chair considered in pre-legislative scrutiny. I share the pleasure of the Minister and the House that, at last, this Bill is at the point of concluding its passage.
I will confine my remarks to Lords amendment 45 and Government amendment (a) thereto. I do so because the origins of much of the work, as the Minister has been generous to admit—the Government amendments and amendment 45—stem from the private Member’s Bill I was fortunate to be able to introduce to this House before covid struck.
As a consequence of the pandemic and its impact on the parliamentary schedule, this is the first opportunity I have had since February 2020 to discuss the subject of that Bill, because we never got to Second Reading. Therefore, it is of immense pleasure to see many of the points raised by me. I had support across the House. Some 135 MPs were kind enough to express support for the campaign that non-governmental organisations got together to support my Bill. We had the support of about 20 different campaigning groups, which helped to craft the Bill and to gain support from members of the public. We had close to 95,000 people at the most recent count, but at the time of the Bill about 45,000 people expressed support for it.
One thing that happened during covid was the enforced extra leisure time that people up and down the country had. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), who speaks for the Opposition, described his own joy of wild swimming. It was a new-found joy for many people, including members of my family, during lockdown. They were finding the rivers and waterways of our country a suitable place for recreation. They would not have expected them to be as adversely polluted as they have been. This has been a result of many factors, but, in particular, sewage over the past decade or so.
I did not come into politics to stand up and talk about crap. I am not going to use that word again, but I have become something of an expert on dealing with human effluent in this country. It is not a particularly comfortable place for me and I do not want to have to do it for the rest of my life, but at the moment I am finding that there is a great deal of interest, inside and outside this place, in how we ensure that we do not treat the arteries of nature, which is what our rivers are, as the cesspit of humanity. The measures that the Minister has taken up with alacrity from my Bill are all moving in the right direction to take steps to reduce the discharge of sewage into our rivers and thence into our oceans.
I wish to start my specific remarks by paying tribute to the Minister for the work she has done in picking up my Bill, persuading her officials that this was important to her and therefore making progress when the Bill got to the Lords in the way that she has described to us this evening. She wanted to support my private Member’s Bill when it was first introduced, but at that point in the parliamentary cycle the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had a legislative load of unprecedented scale. It had the Agriculture Bill, the Fisheries Bill, the Environment Bill and all the Brexit statutory instrument legislation, and said that that was the reason why it could not at that time get behind my Bill. The Minister has personally delivered these changes, and I want to acknowledge that and thank her for doing so.
Equally, I wish to put on the record my thanks to members of the other place who have also grappled with this issue closely, particularly the Duke of Wellington. I am pleased to tell the Chamber that it is the Duke of Wellington and not the Duke of Westminster, as he is frequently referred to in that place in these debates, who picked up the primary clause of my Bill, the duty on water companies not to discharge sewage and to progressively reduce harm and improve the sewerage system. That is the amendment he put before the House and the Lords decided to bring back to this House. I accept, having discussed this at considerable length with him and with the Minister, that that amendment is not perfect and things could be done to improve it, but it does reflect the core of my private Member’s Bill. Although I agree with everything else in Lords amendment 45 and will vote for it, I am not in a position to vote for Government amendment (a) to the Lords amendment because, as others in the House have expressed quite well, we need to ensure that water companies feel that provision is there in statute to compel them to pay attention to the issue. The water management plans are a good idea, but they do not have statutory force and could be changed. I do not think this Minister would do anything other than bear down on water companies in respect of this issue, but it may have less priority under another Minister.
Is there a possible compromise? The Minister said that the regulator could set and enforce targets and extract penalties; would that be a way forward? Could we get the Minister to come up with some tough regulatory targets that fall short of the absolute guarantee of a legal statement?
There will be targets—there are water-quality targets in the Bill anyway—and the Minister referred to the guidance that she is on the point of finalising for the next pricing review period for Ofwat. My Committee, the Environmental Audit Committee, is currently conducting an inquiry into water quality, and we will make some recommendations to strengthen that guidance, so there are tools that can be used. That does not, though, get away from the fact that in my view there should be a primary legislative duty on water companies, to persuade them to treat this issue with sufficient seriousness.
People, including my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin), have quite reasonably asked what the proposal would cost. Last week, our Committee heard evidence from Thames Water, which is currently investing in the largest capital treatment-works programme in our lifetime. It is a £4.6 billion investment, the purpose of which is to take away 37 million tonnes of sewage, out of a total of 39 million tonnes spilt legally into the Thames by Thames Water. It will have a huge impact on the reduction of the amount of sewage that is legally spilt into the Thames. The cost will be an increase of £19 per household in the bills of Thames Water’s water-rates payers in London. That illustrates quite well that, although the costs of improving the network are going to be significant —possibly huge: the Minister gave a range that is even bigger than the amount the Government have spent to combat covid—it will take decades.
When we asked the Secretary of State about this issue last year, when he appeared before our Committee for a different inquiry, he acknowledged that we will not deal with the problem of exceptional spillages out of water-treatment plants until such a time as the drainage system completely separates surface water from foul water. There are something like 200,000 km of combined sewers underneath our streets and fields. While they are combined, it provides the opportunity for water-treatment plants to be overwhelmed by excessive rainfall. The Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, made the point that it is meant to happen only on an exceptional basis, but it absolutely is happening routinely. We discovered that information after the Government put pressure on the water companies to introduce event-duration monitors, which they have now done across almost all the network. That is giving rise to the information that The Guardian is collating that shows that the completely unacceptable spillage of sewage into rivers is routine. It has to stop. That was the intention behind my private Member’s Bill and is the reason why I continue to talk about this subject ad nauseum. I am much looking forward to the day when this Bill receives Royal Assent and I can get on to other matters.
These amendments are almost entirely focused on English environmental matters, and many Members, as you have noted, Mr Deputy Speaker, wish to speak from English constituencies, so I will make this contribution short.
Lords amendment 43, while laudable in its intentions, inappropriately constricts the powers of Scottish Ministers in a devolved area. Although I absolutely support its general aims, those decisions should properly be made by the Scottish Government and Parliament and not by this Chamber or indeed the other place.
In closing, I wish to acknowledge the shadow Minister’s comments about tree planting in England lagging behind the rest of the UK. In 2019, more than 80% of the UK’s tree plantings were delivered by Scotland. I urge the Government to listen to colleagues on these Benches and get a move on.
It is a pleasure to be called to speak in this debate today as I have I sat on the Environment Bill Committee and, as a member of the Environmental Audit Committee, was part of the water quality inquiry. Because of time limits, I will restrict my remarks to proposed new section 141A of the Water Industry Act 1991 in Lords amendment 45.
May I say more widely that there is a lot to be proud of in this Bill and, as we come to discuss these finer matters, we should not take away from the hard work that has taken place over the past few years? I congratulate the Minister and the Secretary State, my constituency neighbour, on all the hard work that they and their Department have done on this. It has taken a lot to get cross-party agreement, and, during the Bill Committee, we were never in disagreement on the direction of travel; it was always on the semantics of what needed to happen and where. That says a lot about this Parliament.
As we have heard, steps have been taken in the Bill, with sewerage undertakers being required to produce comprehensive statutory drainage and sewerage management plans, setting out how a company will manage and develop its drainage and sewerage system over a minimum 25-year planning period and how storm overflows will be addressed through those plans.
The Government have amended the Bill on a number of occasions to respond to Members’ concerns on storm overflows. Amendments to the Bill at Committee stage in the other place would require the Government to produce a statutory plan, as we have heard, to reduce discharges from overflows and the harm that they cause and to report regularly to Parliament on progress. Further amendments were made on Report, which will place new duties on water companies, requiring them to report overflows in real time. We have heard about this, too, and it is already starting to happen. None the less, it beggars belief that this has not been happening routinely for years and that we have had to rely on voluntary groups, as we found out in our inquiry, to do a lot of this monitoring work upstream and downstream. It is really welcome that the water companies will now be compelled to do this from now on.
I look forward to the Government being required to publish a report before 1 September 2022 explaining the actions needed to eliminate storm overflows, including their costs and benefits. This report will provide Parliament, the public, and the water industry with upfront, clear and comprehensive information on the feasibility of the plan and the cost of elimination. Between the Government plan on storm overflows and the new elimination report, I believe that we are on track for real transparency from the Government and from the water companies. It will mean that the public can see how far we have to go on this huge issue.
However, the Government could go further. I am constantly pressed on this matter by Surfers against Sewage, which is based in my constituency, and by a large number of passionate constituents, and I share their frustrations. Without the legal duty, there is nothing to compel water companies to take immediate action to tackle sewage pollution, which could mean that our rivers continue to decline indefinitely and irreversibly. The cynic in me understands why the Government cannot commit to this at this stage. It is my opinion—and it is only my opinion—that were the provision put in the Bill, the water companies would be compelled to say that, as the Government have put it in the Bill, they have to pay for the infrastructure upgrade. To pay for it, therefore, we either have to put up taxes or put up bills. That is a conversation that must happen down the line; it is not right to compel the Government to do that right now. That is the only reason why I am supporting the Government on this matter at this time, but they should be reassured that I will be pressing DEFRA again and again to make sure that we get this matter absolutely right.
I understand that we are not at the end of the road yet and that the Bill is yet to become law. When it does become law, people can judge the commitments and the publications of the Government—for example when we have the Government report on the costs and benefits of eliminating storm overflows. Last week the Environmental Audit Committee questioned the five chief executive officers of the water companies, including Susan Davy of South West Water, who I have met a few times to discuss upstream thinking projects on farms and so on. There was an acknowledgement and an agreement that Cornwall’s rivers are in trouble for many different reasons. At this point, I declare an interest: my husband is, and has been since his youth, a keen salmon and sea trout angler, as well as a bass charter fisherman and now a commercial fisherman for the under-10 metre fleet, but—this will become relevant in a few minutes—he does not use nets.
Salmon numbers are low and have been declining in Cornwall for a long time. I was pleased to hear the water companies and everybody else confirm that the rivers are in a poor state, so I wondered why Cornwall Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority is planning a byelaw in Cornwall to ban netting for the under-10 metre fleet purely to try to recover the salmon population. I have spoken to the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), about how we can stop that knee-jerk reaction and perhaps do some data gathering over the next four years, before we decimate the under-10 metre fleet and make them lose their livelihoods. Netting is not the only reason that the salmon populations are being lost.
I know that many hon. Members want to speak, so I will end by thanking the Department for this truly groundbreaking legislation. There is no such piece of legislation anywhere else in the world and we should rightly be proud of that. I hope that this is a starting point and that we can go further to ensure that we get everything that we want from the water companies.
Lords amendment 43 addresses a real and important issue. Although I listened carefully to what the Minister said to the House, it simply did not go far enough. We know that the decline in the population of pollinators has been serious. For example, it is estimated that we lose some £500 million-worth of Gala apples every year. If we add up the other fruits and vegetables that rely on pollinators, the economic cost is enormous. But this is more important than simply the economics of the agricultural industry, although that is important.
The decline in pollinators is also about habitat loss, as the Minister said, but the Government are not yet doing enough to restore those habitats. We also know that the impact of pesticides is real. The Minister said that the Government follow the science, but we do not have the science on this. We do not know about the impact, for example, of the joint use of products such as fungicides and pyrethroids. We know a little bit about the impact of neonicotinoids on the honey bee, but we do not know about the impact of neonicotinoids on other pollinators. We simply cannot follow the science if that science does not exist.
When we were leaving the European Union, one of the Government’s commitments was that we would maintain the ban on neonicotinoids because of the known impact. They do not simply kill honey bees directly; they also prevent the reproduction of honey bees and possibly of other pollinators, and make the nervous system of the honey bee no longer functional so that solitary bees, for example, which are also important pollinators, may simply not return home to feed their brood. We do not really know the impact of neonicotinoids, except that it is bad.
The right hon. Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) made an important point earlier, when he said that Ministers come and Ministers go. I say to the Minister that an important lesson in life is this: never trust Ministers to make decisions unless we have transparency. We can respect individual Ministers, but we need a consistency of approach that outlasts individual Ministers. On the question of the protection of pollinators, it is important that we have transparency and the capacity genuinely to follow expert science—to build that scientific base, but with expert science.
Earlier this year, we saw that the Secretary of State was prepared to use the exemptions from the neonicotinoid ban to allow the use of neonicotinoids with respect to the sugar beet crop, because there was enormous pressure from the sugar industry and, to a degree, from some sugar beet farmers. In fact, the Government did not follow the science then, because the experts advised the Government that that was the wrong decision, but Government Ministers still made that decision. They were wrong; the experts were right. The funny thing is that a good number of farmers who have been made aware of that feel that they were hoodwinked by the Government. Some have said that they would not use neonicotinoids next year on the basis of what happened this year. That is important, because the reason we need Lords amendment 43 is that it allows us to move on to the basis of genuinely following the science, genuinely protecting the farming industry where that is appropriate, and absolutely guaranteeing that we protect pollinators—not just honeybees but across the piece—from the impact of pesticides and the damage they can do.
I implore Members to think very seriously about this. It should not be a partisan, party issue; it goes way beyond that. If you believe in the value of pollinators, and quite frankly our agricultural system would be destroyed without them, then please—
My hon. Friend is making a very powerful speech about the importance of pollinators—not just honeybees, although they are hugely important—and the economic and environmental benefits of these very valuable insects. Does he agree that it would have been better for the former Minister to have listened to a broader range of advice about neonicotinoids? Does he also agree that it would have been wiser for the Government to continue to follow the regulation from the European Union and not to try to diverge from that in this important area, and indeed others?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I hope that the Minister does listen. Although the Government recognised that there was no need to use the exemption this year because of the weather conditions, that may not apply next year or the year after, so we need to follow the experts in a way that they most certainly were not followed by the Government.
Amendment 43 is not partisan; it is in the interests of everybody. I hope the whole House will seriously think about supporting its retention.
There is a lot covered in this group of amendments, but in the interests of time I will limit my remarks to the three Ps of pollinators, pesticides and poo. We are beekeepers at home. As I speak, my husband is processing the honey from our seven hives in our kitchen. For reasons I have never fully understood, this seems to involve coating every single implement in said kitchen in honey, so I am quite resigned to going back on Friday evening to a kitchen that resembles the aftermath of a house party thrown by Winnie the Pooh. Wish me luck.
Starting with pollinators and pesticides, the UK already has legislation that regulates pesticides that was transferred from the EU. It takes a tougher, hazard-based approach to regulation rather than the risk-based approach that many other countries use. The Bill requires that pesticides have no unacceptable effects on the environment, having particular regard to its impact on non-target species, which of course includes all pollinators, not just bees. Amendment 43 would replicate part of this existing framework, which sounds to me like a recipe for confusion. It also seems to be jumping the gun on the new national action plan for sustainable use of pesticides, which I look forward to seeing before the end of this year.
So, on to poo. Storm overflows designed for emergencies are now being used as a daily method of sewage management. In Rushcliffe in 2020, Severn Trent recorded storm overflows at three points in the village of Radcliffe-on-Trent alone, totalling 6,854 hours, while in the village of East Leake, the sewage treatment works there discharged 58 times for a total of 715 hours. Yet Severn Trent has still not acknowledged the need for a new pumping station. I welcome the measures in the Bill that will require water companies to publish data on storm overflows both on an annual basis and in real time, especially because it took my team months to extract the data that we needed from Severn Trent.
The Bill also puts a duty on water companies to produce comprehensive statutory drainage and sewerage management plans, including how storm overflows will be addressed. Those plans will cover a minimum 25-year horizon, which is crucial, because much of the problem in Rushcliffe comes from investment in drainage and sewerage not keeping pace with development and new homes.
The Bill also puts a duty on Government to produce a statutory plan to reduce discharges from storm overflows next year. I believe that is the right approach, because it acknowledges two things. First, it acknowledges that reducing storm overflows is the responsibility of a wider range of actors than just water companies. As the Rivers Trust has said, delivering a plan will require contributions from the whole of society, and in particular landowners, developers, highway constructors and homeowners, to divert surface water away from sewers. I am concerned that proposed new section 141A of amendment 45 covers only sewerage undertakers, leaving other significant stakeholders off the hook. We need a comprehensive strategy that addresses the problem from all angles.
Secondly, as implied by the first point, and as has been discussed today, this is going to cost a lot of money. Initial estimates, as the Minister said, range between £150 billion and £650 billion, and it will probably require some fundamental changes to how we do things. Neither of those is reason not to tackle the problem. I firmly believe we should do so, and the Bill makes a first, important step towards doing that, but we need to ensure that we understand the costs, the likely customer bill increases and the trade-offs against other areas that we want to see water companies investing in. While I support the aims of the amendment, and I acknowledge and thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) for all his work in this area and in strengthening the Bill to date, I will not be voting for the amendment tonight. We need to go further, but we need to make sure that is based on data.
The final thought I offer is that although debates such as this naturally focus on what is not in the Bill, I join my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory) in recognising all the great things that are in the Bill and the huge, fantastic job that the Minister has done, including on strengthening protection for ancient woodlands, the conservation covenants, the scrutiny of forest risk products in the supply chain and a legally binding target to halt species decline by 2030. That is just in the part of the Bill we are discussing now, and I think those things are worth celebrating.
I want to say very briefly that I am deeply concerned that the Government have chosen to disagree with Lords amendment 43. We recognise that there is a gap in the authorisation process for new pesticides, which does not look at the long-term impact of pesticides on bees and other wild pollinators. Others have spoken about the vast importance of bees and wild pollinators to biodiversity and, frankly, to our capacity to feed ourselves as a country. I am yet to be convinced that the Government are acting in the wisest long-term interests of our environment and our agricultural economy by refusing to accept that entirely reasonable amendment from the other place.
Like others, I am about to talk poop—not for the first time, as I am sure others would add, and nor for the last. Lords amendments 45 to 48 are a collection of reasonable amendments that seek to add pressure on the water companies and Ofwat to ensure that we do not see the dumping of untreated or poorly treated sewage into waterways and lakes without significant penalties or the possibility of local communities getting action quickly to rectify those matters.
In my community in south Cumbria, we suffered as a consequence of Storm Desmond. We saw the River Kent polluted so very badly by a storm overflow from the Wattsfield treatment works just outside Kendal, and it basically killed the entire fish population of that river. That was Storm Desmond, which, by the way, was meant to be a one-in-200-years event. I can tell the House that in a 10-year period, we had three at least one-in-100-years events. As other hon. Members have mentioned, the idea that storms are the only time there are sewage overflows is absolute nonsense and the water companies hugely abuse that loophole.
In the neighbouring communities of Burneside and Staveley, one of which is inside the Lake district and the other just outside—beautiful villages—there are regular incidents of sewage on the streets several times a year at certain points. The only answer we tend to get from United Utilities, our water company in the north-west, is that we have to bid for the next capital round for something that it is blindingly obvious needs to be done there and then. They are environmental and public health hazards. It is obvious what needs to be done, but the water company can ignore the community and kick it into the long grass. The pipes need widening, which costs money, and United Utilities knows it does not have to do it, so it does not.
I am also deeply concerned about the state and quality of the water in Lake Windermere, which is the largest lake in England and the heart of the British tourism industry as the second most-visited place outside of London. I draw hon. Members’ attention to my early-day motion 505, which deals with the issue in more detail. We had untreated sewage going into Lake Windermere for the equivalent of 71 full days in 2020. That is a place in the Lake district with 20 million visitors every year. I do not want reports; I want action. I do not want an overview to be taken; I would like United Utilities, and others who contribute to the pollution of our largest lake, to be prosecuted and mandated to take immediate action. That is not happening.
Likewise, when it comes to septic tanks, there is no regulation, no registration and no help for people with septic tanks to make sure that they comply. I want the Government to make better use of the powers that they already have and designate Lake Windermere and the Rivers Brathay, Kent and Rothay as bathing sites, which would allow action to be taken right away.
I ask myself why the Government will not accept these four incredibly reasonable amendments from the Lords. My great fear is that they want to protect the water companies more than water quality. This is the moment for them to prove that that is not the case.
The Lake district is a world heritage site. Earlier this year, we sadly saw Liverpool lose its world heritage site status, reminding us that that is possible. I do not want the Government failing to tackle water quality in the most beautiful part of Britain to be the reason we lose our world heritage site status.
There are five hon. Members seeking to catch my eye and I propose to call the Minister soon after 7 o’clock, therefore the arithmetic can be done. If everybody takes two to three minutes, they will all get in, but if not, some people will not be called. That is not up to me; it is up to all of you.
I wanted to speak on interim targets in the first group of amendments, but given the time constraints, I have saved myself for sewage. I rise to support the Duke of Wellington’s amendment, which is the most important amendment we are faced with this evening.
I acknowledge that this is a landmark piece of legislation. I congratulate the Minister on the way that she has listened and on the length that she has gone to on the sewage issue. Frankly, however, when it comes to sewage discharge, my constituents do not want another taskforce, an aspirational target, or a discretionary duty of care. They do not even want more consultation. They just want a legally enforceable obligation on our water companies to stop them routinely discharging raw sewage into our rivers and seas. That is the bottom line.
The Bill, as it is framed, does not go far enough. Without that legal obligation, water companies can still cause harm by their sewage discharges and there is no guarantee of any immediate action to tackle sewage pollution. I shall be supporting the Duke of Wellington’s amendment because my constituency has a coastline with some of the best kitesurfing in the country at Lancing, because I support Surfers Against Sewage, and because I am a coastal MP for a constituency where we have had many instances of discharge.
I am afraid that we are served by Southern Water, which is the worst offender. Although the new management have made great progress from all the illegal cases of discharge that went on, for which they have been handsomely and quite rightly fined, it is still happening too much on a routine basis. I support the private Member’s Bill brought in by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne), as did the Minister, so why are its provisions not in the Bill if the Government are serious about this?
Storm discharges are happening far too often. I understand the implications of extreme weather conditions and that, if we do not do something about it, we will have sewage popping up from under manhole covers and into people’s homes and gardens, but we should be doing more about increasing capacity to deal with those events, and I am afraid it is just not happening. We are talking not just about raw sewage, but about primary treated sewage, which is still doing a lot of harm when it gets out. This can only get worse with the huge house building pressures that we have in the south-east in particular. The pressure is going to get greater, but I am afraid that the capacity to deal with it is not increasing at a commensurate rate. The requirements on sewage companies to do a clear-up when there have been discharges are not nearly tough enough.
People have had enough of this. We are weary of excuses about learning lessons, and about how a certain company is going to do better in the future and has no greater priority. The amendment needs to send out a strong message to put water companies on no uncertain notice that enough is enough and that there will now be a legally enforceable obligation to do far more, taking all reasonable steps to ensure that untreated sewage is not discharged from storm overflows and proactively demonstrating that they have done so. They must show that they have improved the sewerage system, with the Government and their agencies bringing all their forces to bear to make sure that they abide by that, and that when they do not, they are properly punished. That is the minimum our constituents should expect. I hope that is what the Duke of Wellington’s amendment actually achieves. It is what my right hon. Friend’s private Member’s Bill would have brought in, and I urge the Government to think again about that.
I will be brief, but I will simply continue this theme about Lords amendment 45, which, as many hon. Members have said, simply does not go far enough. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) for all his work on this and for his chairing of the Environmental Audit Committee, where this has been such a key issue for us.
One of the reasons why I want to speak about this follows on from the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), because I too have Southern Water in my constituency and, frankly, its record has been abysmal. In July, it was ordered to pay a record £90 million fine after an investigation by the Environment Agency found that it had caused almost 7,000 illegal sewage discharges between 2010 and 2015, which lasted a total of 61,000 hours—the equivalent of over seven years. What is shocking about that is that these discharges were happening not by accident, but because Southern Water knew that the penalties were not serious enough to deter it from doing it. That is the real concern. That followed its being fined £3 million in 2019 and ordered to pay back £123 million to customers to compensate for serious failings in the sewage treatment works and deliberately misreporting.
There is a major issue here. It has affected my constituency, where back in 2019, over 50 discharge notifications were issued in Brighton and Hove, whereas in 2020 absolutely none was issued at all. Essentially, the system is not working properly. We need to have the legal duty that was in the Duke of Wellington’s amendment. Without that, there is essentially nothing to compel water companies to take immediate action to tackle sewage and pollution. That legal duty is in line with the Government’s stated ambition, and I do not understand why they will not put it in the Bill.
Briefly, I also support Lords amendment 43. Others, including the hon. Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd), have made a really powerful case for why that matters so much. I simply want to put on the record as well that I was disappointed that Lords did not uphold their previous support for protecting rural residents on the issue of the impact of pesticides on human health, because that is a big exposure problem too.
With genuine thanks to the Minister and her team, I will speak to Lords amendment 45 on storm overflows. It is not rocket science why I and many of my colleagues receive so many emails and so much correspondence about river pollution, as the thought of sewage in our rivers is revolting. I know one lady who chose to swim the length of the River Severn, which is more than 200 miles. She got to Gloucester, but ended up in hospital because she had swallowed some raw sewage. This is a health and biodiversity issue; it is about leisure and living. I can see the River Severn from my home, and we all want clean and good quality waterways.
I will keep my remarks brief. I backed the Bill of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne). Stroud is an incredibly environmental area, and smart environmentalists challenge me all the time. Unusually, that Bill managed to satisfy the majority of people, which is because my right hon. Friend consulted campaign groups, individuals and the public. He went to water companies and tried to find wording, language and a private Member’s Bill that works. That “what works?” approach is important. Not without regret, therefore, I will be backing the amendment from the Duke of Wellington that mirrors the private Member’s Bill. I think we need that hard action in the Bill now, and to then work out how we make it work from that point. We see technology changing. A business in my constituency is working to take raw sewage and turn it into aviation fuel. We just do not know what is around the corner, but if we get the Bill in place, good things will happen, certainly for our rivers.
I want to bring the protection of pollinators from pesticides to the Minister’s attention. She has replied to that issue, and provided some reassurance. However, I am aware that my local council back home is cultivating areas of biodiversity to strengthen the bee population. We are all aware that honeybee hives and the honeybee population has reduced by some 40% in recent years, which has also affected the decline in the butterfly population. Can the Minister reassure me that work is being done to address that figure of 40%?
The Minister has reassured me about the agriculture sector and the critical input of farmers. However, I am aware that pesticide authorisation in the UK is being undertaken by the Secretary of State with the consent of the devolved nations, but that after Brexit, the UK no longer has oversight of pesticide use in Northern Ireland. Again, I highlight the difficulty of the protocol. In this House I advocate for change, but it is change that cannot apply to Northern Ireland. I understand that importance of that.
I am firm believer that we are good stewards of the wonderful creation that we have been granted, and we should make use of the beautiful world we have in the best way. That is why I am supportive of a number of amendments tabled by the Government, and others, during the passage of the Bill. I encourage the Government to reach out and educate the young people of today, who seem to know more about the environment than do the old hands and people of my generation. It is important that the children of today have something left for them tomorrow, and with that in mind the message must start in this place. This Bill is a decent foundation to begin the work that needs doing to secure the future for our grandchildren’s children, and so much for the future.
It gives me real pleasure to speak about the Bill once again, and I thank the Minister, who has worked incredibly hard to bring this hefty Bill through the House. It was a pleasure to sit on the Bill Committee. Let me use my short time to focus quickly on Lords amendment 45, which deals with water quality and storm overflow. As the Minister will be aware, I represent a constituency that contains the first river to be recognised with bathing water status in the UK. Dealing with and improving water quality is very dear to my heart. Although we have that bathing water status, that is very much the start of the process, because it is putting pressure on our utility company, Yorkshire Water, to clean up the River Wharfe. I very much want Yorkshire Water to put in that level of investment over the next five years, to ensure that our River Wharfe is cleaned up and we achieve good bathing status.
I want to highlight the very good work in the Bill that can work alongside Lords amendment 45, including Government amendment (a) to that Lords amendment and the original clause 76, which makes it compulsory for sewerage undertakers to produce a drainage and sewerage management plan to address the impact of overflow on rivers. That will come alongside legally binding targets that will, in the short term, lead to more assessment of drainage and wastewater issues. In the long term, those plans will improve the resilience of our rivers during extreme weather and guarantee a reduced risk of sewage getting into the River Wharfe through surface water flooding.
Let me finish by saying that we must use the Bill, once it is passed—I know that time is of the essence—to put as much pressure as possible on our utility companies to put in that investment. They owe it to our constituents and to the environment to clean up the river system.
I thank all hon. Members for their contributions. It has been a heated session, but I think that shows how strongly we feel about these issues.
I will touch first on storm overflows, which dominated the session. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) for his moving and powerful words, as ever. I have great sympathy with him, because I too have been wading in effluent for quite some time now. I take what he says. We also heard vociferous speeches from the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas); my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton); my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory), who truly outlined the complexities of dealing with the storm overflow issue—it is not straightforward and there is not one answer; my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards), who was very clear in what she said; my hon. Friends the Members for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie) and for Keighley (Robbie Moore); and the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron).
I have listed all the things that we are doing on this issue that were not in the Bill before. This is all new. We have the statutory plan that the Government have to produce on discharges, we have the new duty on water companies to publish data on overflows, we have reporting processes, and the water companies have a duty to monitor water quality. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), also spoke powerfully on this issue. We have had much conversation about it, and I think we are coming from the same place, but I say to him that we also have the drainage and sewerage management plans, which will set out how the water companies will manage their sewerage systems, and the Government have been really clear that we expect storm overflows to be addressed in those plans. That is very clear in the explanatory notes.
One Member asked, “What’s happening right now?” From now until 2025, water companies will invest just over £7 billion on environmental improvements in England, and £3 billion of that will be spent on storm overflow improvements. This work is starting now, and it is really important to flag that. It is not the case that nothing is happening; there is a great deal happening, but there will be a great deal more happening as a result of the Bill.
We believe that new section 141A of the Water Industry Act 1991 introduced by Lords amendment 45 is redundant, and I ask the House to agree to our amendment (a) to leave out lines 7 to 14 of that Lords amendment. I will say, though, that we are listening. We have listened all along and we have acted all along. The Government are absolutely committed to reducing sewage in our water. Nobody thinks sewage in water is a good idea, and I hope we have demonstrated that we have been very strong on that.
Let me quickly correct something that I mentioned about ancient woodland in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), who is no longer in his seat. On the NPPF, in relation to policy under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, that would not bind decisions under the Transport and Works Act 1992 on hybrid Bills. I just wanted to correct that. However, I can reassure the House that biodiversity net gain will cover nationally significant infrastructure projects. That is very important.
Pesticides were talked about a great deal. We have listened carefully, but I am confident that we have got the correct existing regulations in terms of bees and all our pollinators. I hope everyone agrees that we are bringing through some very strong and exciting measures on the protection of ancient woodlands, which I announced together. I hope the House will support our amendment in lieu on conservation covenants, which will provide reassurance to landowners. We are not supporting Lords amendments 94 and 95. On Lords amendment 65, we will be publishing a nature recovery Green Paper that will set out robust protections for the future.
On those grounds, I really hope the House will support our position tonight. I thank everyone for their contributions to this debate.
Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 43.
Lords amendment 43 disagreed to.
More than four and a half hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order, this day). The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83F).
After Clause 78
Amendment (a) proposed to Lords amendment 45.—(Rebecca Pow.)
Question put, That the amendment be made.
Amendment (a) made to Lords amendment 45.
Lords amendment 45, as amended, agreed to.
After Clause 106
Habitats Regulations: limits on powers to amend
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 65.—(Rebecca Pow.)
Lords amendment 65 disagreed to.
Lords amendment 66 disagreed to.
Lords amendment 67 disagreed to.
Government amendments (a) to (e) made in lieu of Lords amendment 67.
Motion made, and Question put, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 94.—(Rebecca Pow.)
Lords amendment 94 disagreed to.
Lords amendment 95 disagreed to.
Lords amendments 46 to 63, 71 to 74 and 91 to 93 agreed to.
Charges for single use plastic items
I am very happy to finish these proceedings on a really positive note. I am delighted to offer amendments in lieu of Lords amendment 85 to expand the scope of the single-use items charge. Amendment (a) will allow the charge to be imposed on single-use items made from any material, not just plastic. This charge will help us to future-proof the Bill and protect the environment for generations to come by providing a powerful tool to incentivise the right shifts towards more reusable alternatives to single-use items and towards a circular economy. We want to take this opportunity to strengthen our hand and encourage citizens to reduce, recycle and reuse.
I also urge the House to accept the relatively technical amendments made to the Bill in the Lords that will improve both the Bill and delivery. They will support the swifter and more effective implementation and operation of extended producer responsibility measures, allow consistency in enforcement powers for waste tracking in Scotland, and provide clarity on the exercise of search and seizure powers for waste crime. We have also accepted all the recommendations of the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, and the remaining amendments implement those recommendations.
I am glad that the Minister has listened to the concerns that were expressed about the throwaway economy and the throwaway culture that we have seen. Since the pandemic hit us, much of the progress that had been made in addressing single-use plastics has gone into reverse, with more single-use plastics being used and more being disposed of, including the emerging threat to much wildlife of PPE being disposed of in an inappropriate way. I am glad that the Minister has taken action to listen to the concerns of the Lords, which will now include extension of the single-use charge to other items that accompany this. That is a positive step and Labour Members support her in doing so. I invite her to look again at some of the other aspects around this that we have discussed today.
It is important to finish this Bill soon. It is an okay Bill—it is bit meh—but we do need the measures in it to be put in place soon. I know that it will be considered again by our friends in the Lords next week.
I invite the Minister to have words with those programming Government business to see whether this Bill can be brought back before COP26. Although I would like this Bill to go much faster and further, and although there are bits that are clearly insufficient, it is a step forward. Besides, I know that the Minister has plenty of press releases saying, “Landmark Environment Bill” ready to be sent, and I would hate to think that she would not get a chance to do so before COP26. I would be grateful if she brought forward those measures beforehand, but the Opposition welcome this positive step forward to address our throwaway culture.
Lords amendment 85 disagreed to.
Government amendments (a) to (c) made in lieu of Lords amendment 85.
Lords amendments 36 to 42, 44, 68, 76 to 84, and 86 to 90 agreed to.
Ordered, That a Committee be appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their amendments 1, 2, 3, 12, 28, 33, 43, 65, 66, 94 and 95;
That Rebecca Pow, Selaine Saxby, Heather Wheeler, Ruth Edwards, Luke Pollard, Mary Glindon and Deidre Brock be members of the Committee;
That Rebecca Pow be the Chair of the Committee;
That three be the quorum of the Committee.
That the Committee do withdraw immediately.—(Michael Tomlinson.)
Question agreed to.
Committee to withdraw immediately; reasons to be reported and communicated to the Lords.