Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I declare my interests as in the register, and that I serve on the committee looking at the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006. The committee is still taking evidence, and the views I express are entirely my own.
Life on this planet depends on air, water and soil. Ours is the first Government to make a firm commitment,
“to leave the natural environment in a better state than we inherited it”,
so they need to take action on these three fundamentals.
In England, in addition to Defra, Natural England and the Environment Agency are the statutory bodies protecting the environment. Natural England has the general purpose of ensuring that the natural environment is conserved, enhanced and managed for the benefit of present and future generations, thereby contributing to sustainable development. The Environment Agency is responsible, inter alia, for regulating major industry and waste and water quality and resources. It is extraordinary that there is no duty on the Environment Agency to report on how it is improving the natural environment. Will the Government ensure that all public bodies have that duty in the future?
Clear, transparent, scientific-based evidence is vital so that the right policies are put in place. It was on such evidence that Mrs Thatcher was the first to lead the world in the campaign against hydrofluorocarbon greenhouse gases. I was delighted to read that the Government are continuing her policy, and recently we became one of the first nations to complete ratification of the Kigali amendment to the UN Montreal protocol.
About 70% of the surface of our planet is water, of which over 96% is salt water. The environmental quality of our oceans is essential and a very real concern. Overfishing is certainly one problem; pollution is another. Oceans are the dumping ground for the run-off from our rivers and what we put in them. Plastic, one of our great inventions, is also one of our worse pollutants. Plastic litter has more than doubled on our beaches since 1994. One in three fish in the English Channel contains pieces of plastic and, by 2050, the oceans will contain more plastic than fish by weight. The environmental charge on plastic bags and the promised action on microbeads are welcome actions by the Government.
In comparison to air and water, nothing has been done about that other fundamental asset—soil. We know that 95% of food production relies on healthy soils. Antibiotics come from soil, as does a quarter of the world’s biodiversity. The red warning light is blazing at us. Loss of topsoil and agricultural land is a problem across the world, especially at a time of rising populations.
Over the last 200 years, we have lost 84% of our fertile topsoil in East Anglia. It is estimated that what remains could be eradicated in the next 30 to 60 years. In the lives of our children and grandchildren, the bread-basket of the UK could become an infertile wasteland, with few farms and very limited biodiversity.
On average, soil degradation costs the economy of England and Wales £1.2 billion every year, and that will rise. Soil has to be a top priority from now on, and we need an action plan quickly. Farming, especially arable farming, will have to change.
Fortunately, for the last 25 years, the Allerton farm project run by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust has carried out detailed science-based work and research which demonstrates conclusively that commercial farming can be undertaken, and the land managed, in alignment with ecological needs. As it fits intrinsically with the need for our farms to be more productive while restoring the soil, will my noble friend the Minister use this project as a template for the whole country in the proposed environmental 25-year plan, and when will it be published?
I hope that conservation covenants will also be part of that plan. No farmer should receive taxpayer support unless the farm is in a conservation covenant or is part of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme. It is positive news that Natural England is working with the Rural Payments Agency to overhaul delivery to make that scheme simpler and more effective.
In our lifetime, our biodiversity has continued to decline, as have the numbers of our songbirds. The latest State of the UK’s Birds report was released on Tuesday and makes depressing reading. I know that the CAP has contributed to that but nevertheless, for Natural England and the many NGOs involved, these are two glaring failures. Natural England’s policy document of last year, Conservation 21, presents an opportunity to improve the situation in the future, but more needs to be done.
Again, the Allerton project has scientifically demonstrated what to me was obvious. Our wildlife needs our support to flourish. If we provide the right habitat, a better food supply and sensible control of predators, then all wildlife can and will flourish. Without all three of these actions, bird numbers decline. In this country, we have wiped out the apex predators, which has helped lead to a massive increase in the numbers of the mesopredators. To keep the balance, humans have to take over the role that apex predators have played. A good example of predator control policy success is in South Georgia, one of our Overseas Territories. As a result of this project, the most southerly songbird in the world, the South Georgia pipit, nested again on the mainland of South Georgia in 2015 for the first time in living memory.
We are told that the curlew in the lowlands of England will be extinct within eight years. SongBird Survival and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust accept that there should be robust, properly targeted predator control. Other NGOs should do the same or accept responsibility for the continued decline and extinction of some species. Will the Minister instruct Natural England to follow the Scottish Government’s example and introduce a predator control option in future agri-environment schemes?
I hope that natural capital will also feature in the 25-year plan, as it can help make the change from the current inefficient support to farmers to one where landowners and land managers receive public money for public goods. In itself, it is not a cure-all remedy, but it should be a part of Defra’s toolkit of measures to ensure that there is always a net gain for the environment.
Any Government must be held to account against a clear set of environmental standards. In previous debates, I have called for such a body when we leave the EU, so I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement on 12 November that a new, independent, expert and adequately resourced body is planned to do this and that there will be a consultation in the new year.
Private gardens in the UK, especially in urban areas, are an essential part of the green lungs of the environment and equate to the size of the county of Somerset, bigger than all of the country’s nature reserves put together. Research shows that, in Greater London, gardens equivalent to the size of two and a half Hyde Parks are lost every year. This continuing loss of habitat is putting biodiversity and wildlife at even greater risk. Where is the line to be drawn, and are the mayor’s plans further endangering our urban environment?
This leads me to the important question of the rural-proofing of central and local government policies. There has been an improvement, but there is still a long way to go before it is truly embedded in every policy decision, especially planning. Our planning system is letting the environment down. Planning should be altered to ensure a net gain for the environment, as that offers the chance to reverse the dynamic of development versus the environment. Obtaining permission to plant 600,000 trees in Northumberland has taken more than two years and cost more than £100,000. I hope that my noble friend will agree that that is too long and too expensive, and deters those who might want to introduce similar schemes; and thus I hope he will take action.
I turn now to the second part of my Motion, on animal welfare. I congratulate the Government for confirming that they are committed to the very highest standards of animal welfare and that animal sentience will be properly and legally recognised when we leave the EU. The Government are going to modernise statutory welfare codes and increase the maximum sentence for animal cruelty offences. I also welcome CCTV in slaughterhouses, but can the Minister confirm that, in the UK, all animals are properly stunned before slaughter?
High standards are also being encouraged by the farming industry. Although other countries have assurance schemes, none of them is audited to the same degree or to the same standard as farming’s red tractor scheme. A key factor in achieving good animal welfare is having well-trained staff. It is reassuring that red tractor standards require that certain tasks that might affect animal welfare, such as giving injections, are only performed by staff who have been properly trained and deemed by a vet to be competent to carry out the procedure. Should some of these schemes be made compulsory for all farmers? I admit to injecting sheep when I was a jackaroo in Australia. I certainly was not trained to do it, but I wish I had been; it would be better if we all were.
Food cost as a percentage of the average UK household budget has remained steady for over 15 years but is likely to rise as we build in even higher standards than other countries. However, this might put our farmers at a competitive disadvantage in our new trade deals. Are the Government aware that not just trade but fair trade is required?
We in this country are fortunate to be able to have this debate. The environment is an expensive mistress and not many countries have the resources available to spend on it that we do. We want and need secure, sustainably produced food; clean waters in our aquifers and rivers; restored soils with natural fertility created by healthy biota; a resilient, diverse countryside teeming with wildlife, actively managed, accessible to all, supporting health and well-being for everyone. Such a biologically healthy landscape, resilient to disease and one that can adapt to and mitigate climate change through its ecosystem restoration is also one from which we can all benefit.
However, we cannot achieve our aims by just letting Governments simply impose and police rules and regulations. For real and lasting change, the behaviour of all of us, as individuals, needs to alter. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his introduction and for setting out the starkness of the challenge but also the possibilities of our succeeding in it. My intervention will be a little more depressive. I have the terrible feeling that the likely post-Brexit changes in our regulatory structure are likely to undermine what appear to be the noble Earl’s objectives and those spelled out by Michael Gove, the Secretary of State. I start, for example, with the interrelationship between what regulatory aspects of farming and land use apply here in a new and different trading pattern.
It is certainly true that the CAP, particularly in its earlier stages, was pretty detrimental to much of our natural capital, with overintensive use. However, in recent years the EU’s environmental objectives have countervailed that. Indeed, the CAP itself, through its cross-compliance arrangements, has moved closer to protecting the environment as a natural good. Legislation such as the habitats directive, the birds directive and the water framework directive will all need to be transposed into our own legislation, but they have been positive and will continue to be.
On animal welfare, mainly the UK has pushed EU standards higher, but we need to ensure that we can maintain them. If we are to move into a different trading pattern and the EU ceases to be our major trading partner, and we abandon near-alignment with EU legislation and instead seek to do deals around the world, particularly with America and South America, where the standards are considerably lower, our exporters there will have to meet standards different from those of imports here from America, Brazil or Australia, and will not meet the same standards of environmental objectives and animal welfare. If we prioritise those markets, there will be big pressure for us to down-prioritise our own environmental welfare standards.
The other aspect is the withdrawal Bill and how we deal with it. Yes, the EU legislation will be transposed one way or another into UK law as regards individual regulations, and of course we have already transposed most of the directives in one way or another. However, the whole element of the regime protecting the environment that exists in EU law will not be so transposed. First, there is the question of enforcement. The noble Earl referred to Michael Gove’s commitment to a new statutory environmental body but it is not clear what powers that will have. It will have not only to deliver the strategy for a better environment and protection of our natural capital, but will also have to be the main enforcement mechanism for duties which have hitherto been conducted by EU-level institutions. Can the Minister enlighten us about any further thinking in relation to that body? When will we see what is proposed, and will we see it at the same time as the 25-year plan or are we expecting it earlier?
In relation to the withdrawal Bill, while we are transposing the letter of many regulations, some of the key principles are not being so transposed either because they are found in the treaties, from which we are withdrawing and to which we will no longer be a party, or because they are in the preambles to directives and regulations, which English law does not like and does not transpose. In the environmental field, these include such vital principles as the precautionary principle, the principle that the polluter pays and general principles of sustainability, and, in the animal welfare area, the principle that farm and pet animals and most wildlife are sentient beings. In default of these principles being explicitly transposed into English and UK law, can the Minister please tell us how they will be observed, enforced and used as guidance in the interpretation of regulation post Brexit?
Of course, not all existing EU or UK legislation is conducive to preserving or enhancing our natural landscape and protecting our wildlife—some does quite the opposite. Take pesticides regulation, for example. The use of chemically based pesticides, often on an industrial scale, can be damaging to our soil. Pesticides and fertilisers have had a greater effect than excessive ploughing on the deteriorating quality of our soils over the past 200 years, referred to by the noble Earl, as well as on our waters and water-based wildlife, and on our air, posing a threat to human beings and wildlife as a result, with direct and indirect reductions in biodiversity.
More targeted use of chemical-based pesticides does not remove those threats, although it reduces them. Ultimately, only a major move from chemical-based pesticides and herbicides will reverse the negative effects on health, biodiversity, soil and water. However, I am afraid that at EU level, at UK level and, even more so, in the councils of some of our potential future trading partners, the influence of large chemical companies is likely to mean that such a move is blocked. I ask the Minister what the plans are for pesticide regulation post Brexit and for the development of less intensive, less chemically based crop management measures.
The repatriation of agricultural policy to the UK, whether Westminster, Cardiff, Edinburgh or Belfast, gives us the opportunity to move away from current hectarage-based subsidies towards overall environmental management, so that farmers, foresters and land managers are brought into a system which, as the noble Earl said, rewards them for contributing to the public good with better land management—better management of the water system and better landscape protection. Therefore, we can move away from the basic farm payment to support for sustainable land management.
However, that switch will be difficult. The Government need to do it gradually. They need to plan for it and farmers need time to adapt to it. It should also be done in a way that continues to recognise that food production is still a major policy objective and that land managers have a major role to play in it. In my view, we should probably keep in aggregate roughly the same quantum as under the CAP to support land managers, but it should be differentially distributed, contributing to environmental objectives, and probably be geared more to smaller farmers than to large-scale landowners.
I would like to hear the Minister’s reaction to those points and would particularly like to hear when we will see the 25-year plan.
My Lords, I note, first, that I am a board member of the Marine Management Organisation.
Normally in these debates I have to remind people that there is a marine environment and that it is as important as the land environment, but the noble Earl has already stressed the marine environment. Perhaps because of David Attenborough and his current series, we are all rather more aware of marine than we were in the past.
I will make a couple of points in that area. The first is about our future management of stocks. Although certain parts of the industry may be quite strong in their bravado about the quantity of fish resources in European waters that are within in the UK EEZ, none of the precious stocks takes any notice of political boundaries and—to state the obvious—they circulate. Their spawning grounds are often in other areas of the North Sea or western waters. It is really important for the Government to make absolutely clear that, in our future relationships if Brexit happens, our decisions are not only science-based but that we continue to make decisions about fisheries, quotas or the technical methods in liaison with other European states—whether Norway and the Faroes outside the European Union or our current European partners. That is essential. There is no room for competitive removal of stocks from within our waters in future years.
The other area that knows no boundaries is plastics. I will not go into that any further because other noble Lords have mentioned it, but I welcome the Government’s intention to stop one-use plastics, which will be of huge benefit not just to marine life but to our terrestrial environment and ecology as well.
However, I want to bring to the House’s attention, although it may not be needed, one bit of really good news that has happened recently. It is the decision by the international community, particularly in the far north of the planet, to declare the Arctic Ocean as a non-fishing zone until scientific evidence—which I doubt will ever justify it—can be considered to decide what happens. This is a major step forward. I was privileged to chair the Arctic Committee of this House a couple of years ago and it was one of our key recommendations. I will be interested to hear from the Minister whether we will be a signatory to that agreement or how we will help it to be implemented, because it is a very positive step. It is the one time perhaps that the world has decided to do something before the problem arises rather than afterwards.
I welcome very much the Secretary of State’s intention to replace the current methods of enforcing environmental law at European and national level such as the Commission and the European Court of Justice. The Energy and Environment Sub-Committee that I chair today received a letter from the Secretary of State going through that. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said, we do not know yet what those powers will be; I understand that this is going out for consultation in the new year. We must make no mistake that the real power of the Commission and the European Court of Justice, particularly the Commission, is the power of infraction. Ministers are concerned that they are not found to have failed to implement or go against European or national laws, and are concerned about the fines enforced. The power of any organisation to fine will determine whether it cuts the mustard or not. It is unlikely that the organisation will have those imperatives but that is what is needed. It would be wrong if we did not implement our own laws that have been agreed and passed by Parliament.
No one has yet mentioned clean air although I am sure that other noble Lords will do, but we have been extremely laggardly in terms of applying our own legislation. It has a direct effect on people’s health and on us as we go about our business in the capital and other cities. I hope that the Minister will be able to say something about the progress of addressing that breach as it returns to British courts.
On animal welfare, again I welcome the various pronouncements made by the Secretary of State, but I regret that the amendment tabled in the House of Commons to recognise the sentience of animals was rejected and I do not agree that our current legislation covers this point broadly enough. It is something that we will have to consider when the withdrawal Bill arrives in this House. But the real problem I have on the animal welfare side is much as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has said. I am sure that the Minister will encourage us not to have any fears in this area, but if the Secretary of State for International Trade or Ministers in DExEU were talking to us, I suspect that we might be given a different message. If we seek to make trade deals, particularly with South America, the United States, Australia and New Zealand, which have already contested some of our agreements in the WTO over tariff-rate quotas, we will find it very difficult indeed to maintain our animal welfare standards. They are not recognised by the WTO as valid barriers and ways to exclude trade, so we will find it difficult to reconcile the different views that exist around the Cabinet table. Until those views at Cabinet level are reconciled, I do not think we can take it for granted that the Defra view, which I applaud in many ways, will be the one that finally holds sway.
I was going to talk about EU vets. Again, I welcome the introduction of video cameras in abattoirs and it will be a great step forward when that happens. However, we need the 95% of our meat hygiene vets who are European Union citizens to believe that they are welcome in this country and can continue to give us the benefit of their knowledge, resources and scientific skill.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on his absolutely superb opening speech. I agreed with 99% of it and I particularly liked his stress on soil. Many years ago I used to listen to “Gardeners’ Question Time” with a Yorkshire gardener called Geoffrey Smith. No matter what he was asked, whether it was about aphids on roses or leaf drop, he would always say, “The answer lies in the soil, laddie”—even if it was a woman asking the question.
The 1% where I disagreed with my noble friend was on the need for a super-duper new environment agency. I will pop out in a wee while and fetch from my desk a superb op-ed piece from the Times written by my noble friend Lord Ridley. It points out that we already have all the best environment agencies in the world and that we do not need to create any more. However, almost every day we hear a new pronouncement by a worthy and knowledgeable body on the sort of animal welfare and countryside environmental regime that it wants to see once we are in charge of our own policy once again.
I read all of these reports and articles and I am concerned that far too many people and organisations have unrealistic ideas about how the whole countryside can be transformed overnight into a paradise where all farmers are farming organically but still making a profit, where they are running their farms as if they were in the upper tier of the Countryside Stewardship scheme, where all endangered wildlife returns to pre-war levels, where all non-native invasive species are exterminated and where there is unlimited money to satisfy the aspirations of every single-issue pressure group that is dictating how the countryside should be run. It is unrealistic and it cannot happen in the real world.
However, today I will focus briefly on animal welfare issues. I, too, welcome the introduction of cameras in slaughterhouses and I hope that ministry vets will be ruthless in closing down any and all halal slaughterhouses which are flagrantly breaching the law by slaughtering animals without even the slightest pretext of stunning. I know that this is a sensitive issue and I respect religious rights and freedoms, but the rest of us have the right not to eat meat which has been killed in this way. The public would be appalled if they knew about the massive amount of halal meat which actually gets into non-Muslim food chain.
The Government have said, quite rightly, that we will be able to enhance even more our animal welfare rules once we are out of the EU. Let us absolutely clear about one thing: the UK already has the tightest and most humane animal welfare rules in the whole of the EU, the whole of Europe and possibly even the whole world. While I am happy to consider tightening them further, we must not then let in meat products which have been produced under systems that we have banned here.
Way back in the late 1980s, I was a MAFF Minister. We were under enormous pressure to ban sow crates and tethers. We resisted, on the basis that the whole EU should do it, but the majority in the Commons was for a ban. So we had to ban them, and the rest of the EU looked on and laughed at our stupidity. What was the effect of the unilateral ban? Quite simply, more British pig farmers went out of business and we imported more pigmeat from the EU—produced under the same so-called cruel system that we had banned here.
One thing I learned in MAFF—now Defra—is that we have the finest vets in the world and some great chief veterinary officers. I liked the CVO’s statement last week that there was nothing wrong with proper battery cages. But apparently the supermarkets have said that they will not sell any eggs produced in battery cages in future—or will they? Is this another big lie? They said that they were not selling any of the eggs from Holland that were contaminated with the insecticide fipronil, but that was true only to the extent that they were not selling them in boxes of six or a dozen—all the poisonous eggs were in their ready-made sandwiches and meals.
So, if the supermarkets decide that they will not sell battery-cage eggs, putting some of our farmers out of business, they must not be allowed to import battery-produced eggs and hide them in ready meals and salads. I suggest that the same principle must go for all other foodstuffs. We need to concentrate on the real issues of trade, not on fripperies such as chlorine-washed chicken; so long as it is labelled and people have a choice, I do not see what the problem is. Quite frankly, I would prefer to eat chlorine-washed chicken than some of the stuff that was slopping about on the floor of the 2 Sisters Food factories that we read about a couple of months ago.
Similarly, if we ban live animal exports, we must ensure that we do not permit live animal imports. Let us be clear: we can move live animals round this country safely, without any problem. We can move them just across the Channel and still enforce standards of watering and feeding, and treat them humanely. However, we cannot enforce the rules in the rest of Europe, where animals are driven across Europe for days on end and are not fed, not watered and are treated cruelly. Of course, any ban on live exports should apply only to animals for slaughter and not to breeding or pedigree animals, where we need an exchange under the highest possible welfare standards. Perhaps, when we are in charge of our policy again, we can bring back the wonderful minimum value rule for horses, whereby horses or ponies worth under £300 could not be exported live for slaughter.
I believe in completely free trade—but it must also be fair, as other noble Lords have said. If we impose higher welfare standards on our farmers, there must be no question of any food or food products coming into this country that are produced under systems that we have banned here because we think that they are cruel. Brexit gives us a chance to impose that high level playing field across the board.
My Lords, it is always very useful for me to follow the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, because it pushes up my adrenaline levels, which is obviously very good for speaking. So I thank him for that. I thank also the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, for securing the debate and allowing us to air our concerns before the Brexit legislation comes to your Lordships’ House.
Noble Lords have mentioned that we are now at a crossroads and that it is incredibly important for the natural environment and animal welfare to figure strongly in our minds as we go through the processes of the next few months. We will face a number of choices on these issues and it is clear that there is a lot of divergence. Do we improve our environmental and animal protections and safeguard nature, or do we burn them in a bonfire of red tape to secure trade deals with the USA and Donald Trump? Do we bring in tough new laws that recognise animals as sentient beings deserving of legal protection, or do we regulate so that we can swap our battery-caged eggs for their chlorinated chickens?
We have educated consumers; I think that there will be an outcry if our food standards drop to any extent. Then, there is the most important choice of all: do we leave for our children a healthy planet—an abundant, thriving natural world—or do we continue to damage, devalue and destroy the very living systems on which all of us depend for survival? The noble Earl mentioned the loss of biodiversity. Here in Britain we have lost 50% of our wildlife since 1967—and that is speeding up; we are losing more and more.
We have to make stark choices over the coming months. We have to recognise that our decisions will have an impact downstream in not just a few years’ time, but decades’ time. We will be held to account. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, made a point about air pollution. I have been working on air pollution since the year 2000. I raised the issue with then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, and with the second Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Not very much was done. Now it is a crisis. Greens look ahead. We have policies that other political parties will pick up in 10 or 20 years’ time. Perhaps they should take some advice now about things that will be real crises in a decade or so.
I cautiously welcome the commitments the Government have made already on the direction of travel for environmental policy. They have committed to making this the first generation that leaves the natural world in a better condition than we inherited it—I find it quite difficult to read that without smiling. The Secretary of State seems to have a genuinely held commitment to the environment, making pledges that Greens like me might once have been laughed at for being “naive” and “idealistic”. I have heard him talk about reforming the CAP, for example, so that it addresses market failures and ensures that “ecosystem services”—those essential things that nature provides for free—and “public goods” are properly valued. We have the opportunity to create a system that properly rewards sound environmental stewardship and punishes an “industrial farming at all costs” approach. We can create a system that works for small farmers, small holdings and lifestyle farmers, as well as bigger farmers, and allows small farmers to use their land to do much more than just produce food—to encourage biodiversity and to improve the soil. But it is early days and the so-called “greenest Government ever” have quite a test ahead of them on their environmental principles.
The noble Earl closed with the point that we all have a responsibility as individuals, which is absolutely true of course, but the Government have to help us. They can make it easy for us to do the right things. The plastic bag tax is a classic example: 5p has made all the difference to whether people use single-use plastic bags. The Government have a real opportunity to do similar things to help us grow in the right way. We also have to remember that most political parties think in terms of constant growth being an asset and a good thing. That is not true. It goes against all common sense. We have a finite planet and resources. We have to understand that when we put in place all our legislation.
When the going gets tough, we cannot allow Ministers to make grandiose policy pledges without any real delivery plan, as has happened so many times in the past, and then scurry away when reality bites so we cannot see them again and cannot hold them to account. The Secretary of State told me recently to judge him by his actions, not his words. I like his words so far, but I will judge his actions fairly. If he does not live up to what he is saying, I will judge him very harshly indeed. I will be very happy if my caution is unnecessary. I hope we can have a very good dialogue when we consider the Brexit legislation and that the Government will be in listening, not just in transmit, mode.
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, referred to the EU withdrawal Bill. It will be a key battleground for many of us. There will be a lot of amendments on the issues we are discussing in order to retain a positive environment here in Britain and animal rules, many of which are currently enforced by the EU. Maintaining the polluter pays principle, for example, is fundamental, as is recognising animal sentience. The news is that there will be a Statement on this issue; I look forward to hearing it. We have to have robust, independent enforcement mechanisms. It is simply not true that we have enough enforcement. Once funding comes from the Government, nothing is independent. We need some sort of mechanism that enforces the law.
It is going to be quite exciting here: I think a lot of amendments on these issues will be forced to a vote, and the Government will lose some of them. Ministers will no doubt say that the withdrawal Bill is not the place to raise these issues because they do not fit in. My question is: if not then, when? What the Government could do is publish their plans for alternative legislation before the Bill comes to this House. That would be a positive thing to do and help us understand the direction of travel.
I have read that MPs have been briefed by Gavin Barwell, Mrs May’s chief of staff, that care for the environment is to be the unifying principle across a range of policies designed to rehabilitate the Conservative Party’s reputation. That is wonderful. If the Government are honest in their claim to care about our environment, they should deal with the issue of plastic. The noble Earl mentioned a very useful fact which I will use in future and pretend is my own—the point at which the amount of plastic will outweigh the number of fish in the sea. A plastic bottle deposit scheme, for example, would be such a positive thing. Recycling rates are falling in the UK—they fell last year—so we are not the caring, responsible country we often like to think we are. These issues are far too important for us to leave to the whims of the Government.
I challenge the Government to set out their legislative plans for the environment and animal protection ahead of the withdrawal Bill coming to the House. I ask the Minister to make that commitment today.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Caithness for introducing this debate on two very important subjects. The natural environment and animal welfare are interlinked in many ways. The trend of recent years towards mass-produced food and factory farming has had a detrimental impact on the environment, antibiotic resistance, climate change and animal welfare. Brexit gives us a golden opportunity for change.
How a nation treats its animals is a litmus test of its humanity. We in the UK like to think of ourselves as a nation of animal lovers. Indeed, I understand that Members in the other place receive huge postbags about animal welfare.
I want to focus today on animals in agriculture, where the welfare challenges come from the push for ever cheaper food which influences the way that animals are farmed. I must declare an interest: I served on the Farm Animal Welfare Council for nine years and during that time served on several working groups that travelled around the country going to farms. In the main, I was struck by how much farmers cared for their animals. However, there are some areas of farming where it is a struggle to make ends meet. The cost of employing people today means that farming has become more isolated, with a high incidence of depression in some cases. Calling for improved animal welfare means calling also for support for farmers post Brexit, where they need it, and ensuring that they are able to make a decent livelihood. We need to ensure that supermarkets, where most of our food is bought, give farmers fair prices and do not put over-high mark-up on their products.
While we live in a global society, dependence on the internet for communications and the dangers posed by cyberwarfare to transit of goods mean that the more we can produce our own food the better. Producing our own food means supporting our farmers and creating employment here. After all, they are the front-line custodians of our countryside as well as of what we put on our plate.
Much of our animal welfare legislation is driven by EU law, and Brexit will mean this reverts to national legislation. Under the Lisbon treaty, animals are considered sentient beings. That means that it is acknowledged that animals are not inanimate goods but can feel fear, hunger, pleasure and pain. The EU withdrawal Bill removes this classification—I know that there has been considerable discussion about this in the other place. While I know that we have reassurance from the Government that, post Brexit, our animal welfare laws will be strengthened, I do not see why the Bill cannot be amended to include this. There has been enormous support for it from many in the veterinary profession and we need to listen to them.
As my noble friend Lord Blencathra has already said, it is no good having high welfare standards for animals raised in the UK if we allow the import of animals not raised to those standards, which is the situation at the moment. This undermines our farmers and makes a mockery of our welfare legislation. All meat entering the UK should have been raised to UK standards. This should apply to not just fresh meat but, as my noble friend said, processed meats—ham, paté and salamis—and pies and suchlike that contain meat. We should require our supermarkets to trace their products, to ensure that they are all raised to the high standards we require.
I welcome the fact that the Government’s Industrial Strategy White Paper contains positive recognition of the importance of UK food production to the country’s economic prosperity, including the intention to,
“put the UK at the forefront of the global move to high-efficiency agriculture”,
“grow the markets for innovative technologies and techniques”,
such as the use of drones. However, I strongly believe that farming methods need to be looked at. Generally, where animals are being routinely vaccinated it is because they are kept in crowded, stressful situations. This may well be contributing to the transfer of resistant bacteria to people. Ensuring that animals can perform their natural behaviours and using antibiotics only therapeutically is surely a sensible, long-term preventive step to help protect our own health as individuals, communities and a nation.
On the issue of health, I also want to raise the benefits of encouraging a reduction in the consumption of red and processed meat—something that has been linked to decreasing the incidence of heart disease, obesity and certain cancers. This has an impact on not just our health but our environment. Overall, the livestock sector accounts for between 8% and 18% of global emissions, about as much pollution as comes out of the world’s car exhausts. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that the world’s domesticated ruminants—cattle and sheep—release annually 100 million tonnes of methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
So which areas of welfare could be improved upon? I would like to see live export for slaughter, which has been mentioned already, banned. In these days of chilled lorries it is inexcusable to travel animals to the continent for slaughter. This causes them much stress and fear, while many of the continental slaughterhouses do not conform to the standards that we would like to see here. This should be stopped. EU legislation has caused many local slaughterhouses in the UK to be closed down. This has meant that even here in the UK, animals can end up being travelled for many hours. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that this area should be looked into? Slaughtering animals at the nearest point to production is best.
While I am on the issue of slaughter, we need labelling to identify meat from animals slaughtered without stunning. While I too respect religious practices, those of us who do not wish to eat meat slaughtered without stunning should be able to buy meat in this country, confident that it has been properly stunned and slaughtered in the kindest way.
I am conscious of time so would like to add a few of my other concerns to the Minister’s list. In pig farming, I am concerned about the enforcement of legislation around tail docking and straw provision. I would like to see a move towards free-farrowing systems as the norm. Today’s dairy cow can be a very stressed animal. Every dairy cow should be able to go outside; their calves are usually separated within 24 hours of birth. However, a high-yielding cow produces enough milk for six calves, so could there not be a system designed to enhance a cow’s life by enabling her to mother? Where sheep are castrated surgically, I would like to see analgesia and pain relief used. Stocking densities for broiler chickens should be looked into, too.
While I recognise that there may be cost issues surrounding higher standards of our food production, animal welfare and our natural environment must not be compromised. As I said earlier, the farming community is the custodian of our countryside. Our natural environment, food quality and quantity and animal welfare are all interwoven. We cannot afford not to get it right and we all have our part to play.
My Lords, this is an important debate and I welcome its introduction by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. It touches on the future of the natural environment in the UK and around the world. I declare my interest as director of a small environmental company and president of ACOPS, an NGO.
Her Majesty’s Government have a responsible role, nationally and internationally. As the noble Earl pointed out, this is about large-scale and small-scale phenomena.
This debate rightly considers animals as well the traditional areas of environmental science—plants, oceans, the atmosphere and the natural environment. Particularly when thinking of urban areas or arid lands, natural life is a vital part of the process and the environment, but often in very small areas. It is a great improvement that nature in urban areas is now more important, but it is not always consistent with the fact that areas of green space available to schools in urban areas have been progressively reduced. I hope the Minister will be able to touch on that point.
The importance of the natural environment has steadily increased in politics as the general public have become more concerned about its deterioration, as scientific monitoring data has confirmed some of the worries and fears. The public are also very well aware of the loss of biodiversity and amenity. Many species are no longer available and the amenities that many people recall—rock pools on beaches and clean beaches—have deteriorated.
The political and scientific organisations concerned with the environment have changed over the past 50 years, both nationally and internationally. Where necessary, organisations have come and gone, depending upon different types of pollutant. The UK set up its first royal commission to cover the environment in the 1960s, but it no longer exists, and the other broad environmental body set up by the Conservative Prime Minister Mr Major has also gone. As the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, pointed out, we have an excellent roll of contributions by Natural England and the Environment Agency, but the point of the original royal commission was that it looked at the whole process, many sources of pollutant and many scientific aspects, and we should consider that again. Looking at the manifestos of the Conservatives and the Labour Party, I did not see the suggestion of an overarching organisation which, as a scientist, I think is necessary.
The worst direct damage to the natural environment has led to action in the past and turned countries that were considered to be highly polluting, such as Japan, into model countries. The change in Japan was stimulated by the effects of water pollution in Minamata, and in the UK it was the London smog or even the River Thames in the 19th century. It has taken longer for people and organisations to respond to longer-term environmental damage. For example, radiological pollution from nuclear accidents has a very long-term effect, and it took decades before long-range acid rain began to be controlled. Polluted waters similarly cause great problems around the world and there continues to be a problem in rivers and coastal waters. Ozone in the stratosphere has already been mentioned. That was quite a success in the sense that it was identified and that has led to the Montreal protocol; however, there are continuing problems. There was an interesting article in Nature last week about the risk of some organisations suggesting that we put particles in the atmosphere as a means of controlling the dangers of excess carbon dioxide and climate change. One has to look at the different processes.
Air pollution from vehicles, shipping and fossil fuel energy is coming from different sources. It has immediate and sometimes local impacts on health. Those suffering with breathing issues, such as asthmatics, are particularly sensitive to the air pollution in cities. As we all saw last week, pollution can sometimes be bad enough to affect really healthy people, such as the cricket players in Delhi. I once, long ago, did a study in Lancashire and there was a headline in the local newspaper, “Air pollution stops play”. I could taste it without needing instruments, as I could stick my tongue out and measure the sulphurous rain that was coming down in southern Lancashire.
The question, then, is how these new types of pollution should be dealt with and by whom. The solution for certain types of pollutants comes from a combination of scientific understanding, government regulation and action by business to produce non-polluting products. Where appropriate, people’s involvement is also critical. Sometimes these combinations are successful, for a limited period, for example with air pollution caused by damage from fossil fuels. But then, problems arose when certain scientific and industrial organisations pointed out that vehicles that at one time seemed to be clean and to be contributing to low carbon were actually contributing to NOx and other emissions. These complicated interactions of different processes require different organisations. We need to consider how to have overview of all those organisations.
If your Lordships read the Guardian or another newspaper this morning, you would have read about the problems with the solid waste the UK sends to China. The Chinese Government no longer want it as much, which suggests that we need to have whole new industries to deal with the question of waste. We had a meeting here in the House of Lords a couple of years ago, organised by ACOPS. Many of the organisations were concerned about plastic, but it was noticeable that the representative from the chemical industry was lukewarm about the kind of changes that might happen. The Government will need to play a very strong role to push this forward.
Last week, the International Maritime Organization, at which the Department for Transport is the UK representative, met here in London to set up its working group on reducing carbon emissions from ships’ diesel engines. Shipping now produces as much as 13% of total carbon emissions, about three times more than aviation. Much shipping is involved in transporting plastic waste, so dealing with our waste differently would be one way to reduce carbon emissions.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on securing this important debate today. He made an excellent speech, as did my noble friend Lord Blencathra. I declare an interest as a former farmer, a former president of the Staffordshire and Birmingham Agricultural Society and a current member of the National Farmers’ Union and the GWCT.
Brexit presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put in place policies that work for farmers, the environment and consumers, and to address animal welfare issues. Thus states the NFU, and I am in complete agreement. Agriculture and its associated businesses form the UK’s largest manufacturing sector. A friend of mine whom I met with today—a very serious lawyer, Sir Nigel Knowles—confirmed to me that the industry generates over £112 billion for the UK economy and provides employment for more than 3.9 million people. Horticulture, including vegetable and salad production, is reliant on considerable numbers of foreign workers, and therefore the industry has a major interest in any future policies post Brexit regarding immigration. Without the availability of these workers, that sector will encounter very serious problems.
Many farmers with whom I discuss current farming affairs voted to leave, but nevertheless are very concerned about life without subsidies as currently paid to them. In recent years we have seen wealthy individuals and corporations investing heavily in agricultural land, very often in the UK’s prime growing regions. Completely unrealistic prices have been achieved: as much as up to £20,000 per acre, I believe, in Lincolnshire, with an average today, I think, of about £10,000 per acre. Please feel free to label me a complete cynic—many on my side do, I think—but, even with the single farm payment, such a land cost cannot possibly enable the landowner to make a return. In my view, it is part of wider tax planning issues. They are attracted by that but it has very little to do with genuine investment in farming. I believe that, post Brexit, such landowners should receive no subsidies. After all, their operations are geared to be superefficient, with the latest in modern machinery and various technologies outside the reach of small and medium-sized farmers.
When I was a student on a farm in the early 1970s, my boss, an exceptional but often grumpy Shropshire farmer called Rowland Ward, who was a pioneer in many agricultural areas, told me that one could not make a decent living farming under 200 acres. Today I believe that figure is more like 2,000 acres. Today many counties have sold off their agricultural small- holdings, small-holdings that provided an entry into agriculture for countless young people in the past. The young would-be farmer finds it nigh on impossible to get a foot on the farming ladder these days, yet they are the basic future and seed-corn for farming. Maybe they could be beneficiaries of a suitable new scheme to encourage them into farming on their own.
I firmly believe that there must be government support for agriculture in rural areas but geared towards assisting the small to medium-sized farmer and grower who is the backbone of UK agriculture. Coupled with this must be schemes to encourage farmers and landowners to improve their environment, protecting soil and water resources for future generations along the lines of the Campaign for the Farmed Environment. We need to produce more homegrown food, and to achieve that we must have sustainable and improving natural resources. We must establish an improved habitat, and on that note I wonder whether now is a great opportunity to amend the Wildlife and Countryside Act to rebalance man’s management of modern-day nature in what is a very changing environment, and indeed much has changed from the time when the current Act was passed.
We need to encourage growth in the numbers of songbirds and other species through a range of measures, not least by controlling predators to sustainable numbers. Buzzards are everywhere; I counted nine in the area over the wood behind my house last Sunday. They do not just pick up carrion; magpies play havoc with the local songbird population while goosanders, mergansers and cormorant numbers have exploded over recent years with dire consequences for the stocks of their prey species, namely salmonids and other fish. From these comments, noble Lords will no doubt realise that I am unlikely to be on Chris Packham’s Christmas card list.
I believe the Environment Agency should be broken up, with waste issues being transferred to local authorities, and the National Rivers Authority should be re-established to oversee and police the country’s water resources and deal with issues relating to flooding. This worked very well in the past.
A special case should be made for the less-favoured and challenging farming areas and their communities. These are some of the most beautiful and iconic parts of our nation and support a wide range of flora and fauna. Income in these areas is derived from farming certain breeds of livestock with special qualities and producing specialist wools, meats and cheeses. Tourism is a major driver of those far-off local economies, an integral part of which are the shooting and fishing sports that attract substantial sums of foreign and home-based money, supporting local people with employment, hotels, B&Bs, filling stations and shops, to name but a few. I recommend noble Lords to take a trip to towns like Leyburn and Hawes and see what they have done.
Recently the BBC’s “Countryfile” programme featured a small community in a less-favoured hill area in the north of England where, threatened with the demise of its rural bus service and closure of its post office and shop, pub and filling station, and therefore faced with the possible exodus of local inhabitants, the community resolved to get together and run the lot. The bus service and filling station help to subsidise the loss-making parts of the enterprise. Surely this is the way forward in such communities, so why do the Government not consider setting up a scheme to soft-fund such initiatives with seed capital? Such a scheme could perhaps be part-funded by a levy on wind turbines.
This country is a world leader in animal welfare. We produce and sell, at home and abroad, our finest beef, lamb, pork and other meats, which we produce to the highest standards. So why on earth will the Government not ban non pre-stunned ritual slaughter? The veterinary profession judges it to be cruel, many of the public are appalled by it and I personally find it completely abhorrent. I would never send an animal of mine to such an end. Both the NFU and the Government seem keen to ignore the issue, possibly because we export to countries that require meat that is ritually slaughtered. However, this is a serious animal welfare problem that simply must be addressed. What discussions on this issue have my noble friend and his department had with the various religious groups that require ritual slaughter, and what was the outcome of those discussions?
In conclusion, we in this country have the most superb opportunity to improve and support agriculture, the natural environment, our rural communities and animal welfare post Brexit. We must grab it with both hands.
My Lords, I hope that my noble friend Lord Caithness will not be displeased if I add a little on the issues of animal welfare that have featured so far in his debate, which he introduced so effectively.
There are so many types and breeds of animals for whose improved welfare we should strive as we prepare for Brexit and the prospect of stronger powers here at Westminster to use on their behalf, for they are vital to our welfare. Our domestic pets deserve the highest place on the agenda for improvement and change. They give love and friendship to so many. They serve disabled people with unstinting loyalty, giving them freedom to work and enjoy recreations that would otherwise be denied to them. As people live longer and need close companionship, our pets will become ever more important.
Many great men have recognised the significance of the bond between humankind and the animals we take into our homes. Dogs, cats and budgerigars vied for Winston Churchill’s considerable affections. Indeed, if he had had his way, pigs—whom he greatly admired—would also have been invited to join the Chartwell menagerie, within careful limits.
I personally know of no one to whom our domestic pets in general and cats in particular matter more than my noble friend Lord Black of Brentwood. Unfortunately, he is precluded from speaking in this debate by engagement elsewhere. I speak for him as well as myself. Years ago, during a general election campaign in the Thatcher era, my noble friend and I amused ourselves by drawing up a manifesto setting out the measures that would be needed to attract the support of animals if these dear creatures had the vote. What would have to be in such a manifesto today to get cats to put their cross against a Tory candidate? They would rightly look for stringent measures to keep dread diseases away from our shores. Enhanced border checks of cats and kittens are required, along with a central register of feline immigrants and tick and tapeworm treatment to prevent the import of foreign infections.
No less important to fluffy voters would be a crackdown on appalling breeding practices that bring to birth cats sentenced to a lifetime of pain by disfiguring features such as a flat face. It is time to stop the unregulated breeding of cats, which our country has hitherto permitted. The Government should back a public education campaign to highlight the sheer wickedness of insupportable breeding practices. Next, cats parted by misfortune from their owners would want to be reunited as quickly as possible with them. In microchipping, we have the answer to that devastating separation. It should be made compulsory. As for other menaces that cats want curbed, they would welcome the forthcoming consultation on air weapon licences and the prospect that fewer of their number will be peppered cruelly by shots fired by guns for which, at the moment, no licences are required in England.
The wise election candidate in search of votes from domestic animals would give strong backing to a revision of the pet travel scheme, known generally as the pet passport. It has many benefits, but dogs as well as cats need action to deal with the sharp rise in the number of very young, badly abused immigrants. Many puppies arrive in Britain unvaccinated, having travelled in appalling conditions, to be sold online. Investigations over the years by the Dogs Trust have shown how puppies, sometimes under the age of 15 weeks, are often sedated to smuggle them across borders and how data on passports is falsified. The abuse of the pet passport must be tackled urgently, with tough new penalties on illegal trading. Too many of these poor creatures are sold from puppy farms here in the UK via normal-looking homes which are, in fact, just a shopfront for unscrupulous puppy-dealing rings. Young canine voters would welcome what has already been done to crack down on irresponsible advertising in this area but would want more to be done to educate their potential owners, especially at this time of year, about the dangers—and to get potential owners to ensure that they are buying a healthy, happy and vaccinated puppy from a responsible breeder.
Some 17 million cats and dogs in every part of our country bring joy to nearly half of all households. The vast majority of them are loved and cared for by responsible owners, but there are some whose start in life is cruel, who become stray or abandoned, and who are mistreated or injured. I look forward to hearing from my noble friend, who I know is a champion of their interests, what the Government are doing to improve their welfare. I hope that I have almost persuaded noble Lords that our much-loved, sentient pets should be given the vote.
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, for his introduction to this debate, and for securing it. I welcomed his emphasis on matters of soil. I think that the only thing that he did not mention was the lack of soil scientists. For years, academics have not really pursued soil science, and it has really been lacking in graduates, postgraduates and professors. Could the Minister comment on that? The noble Earl mentioned private gardens. The other thing that he needs to bear in mind is what an enemy neatness is to all sorts of biodiversity and wildlife. There is nowhere for a hedgehog to shelter; a thrush cannot get a worm out of Astroturf. The obsession with neatness needs to come to an end, if we are to have any sort of wildlife in our gardens.
I do not intend to say anything more about animal sentience today, other than to ask the Minister whether he feels, having heard the sentiments around the Chamber, that the Government are storing up trouble for themselves by resisting including the concept of animal sentience in the withdrawal Bill. Is it a technical resistance, or do they think that it will have negative implications in the event of a trade deal with countries with low-welfare regimes? Surely it cannot be that the Conservative Government are still keeping one eye on a hunting Bill.
I very much like the idea of a manifesto for animals, as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Lexden. He mentioned pet passports several times, and I would add to the list the fact that the Government have not resolved the issue of the pet passport yet. I am sure that all his animal voters will worry considerably that they will spend six months in quarantine in future if the matter is not resolved. Indeed, during our debate on animal welfare, the Minister was kind enough to say that it was very much work in hand. Does he have any updates to add to that?
On the natural environment, we tend to mark the turning of the seasons very much by birds—the first day of spring is the cuckoo; one swallow does not a summer make; and fieldfares for autumn. I join other noble Lords in mentioning that the most recent The State of the UK’s Birds showed terrible declines; migratory and farmland species are still under particular pressures. I hope that, despite our possible withdrawal from the EU, we will continue to be a very active member of the convention on migratory species. The UK is a signatory in its own right, as well as with the EU. Of the migratory birds that come to our shores, coastal shore birds are some of the most threatened. We must ensure that we continue to play our part in protecting their habitats. The birds and habitats directive has played a crucial role till now; we would have had even steeper declines if we had not had that. How will that be replaced? What sort of legal protection will there be for these essential feeding and breeding grounds?
I listened carefully to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra—I am sorry that he is not in his place at the moment—and it seemed to me that it was a bit of a counsel of despair. He seemed to say that, particularly for larger farmers, it was really unrealistic to imagine that we could have much of a change and that those of us who look forward to a big change in the way that our land is used are living in la-la land.
I wish that the noble Lord had attended with me a very interesting seminar that was run this morning by the National Trust and Green Alliance with farmers. Together, they have done a tranche of very interesting work into payments for ecosystems services, especially soil and water, and how those payments could be a powerful tool to improve the environmental performance of farming. Of course this is not an original idea but what was interesting is the depth of the studies that they have done with farmers, water companies and the private sector. It involves several shifts—not drastic, radical ones—in farming methods, with increased use of cover crops, reduced application of nitrate fertilisers and a spring wheat, winter barley regime. All those put together can have a dramatic outcome in reduced costs for water companies, and so for consumers; in cleaning out nitrates from drinking water; in increased profits for farmers; in greater resilience in the supply chain, and in an improved environmental footprint for food companies. I hope the Minister will be able to look at the ideas which the National Trust and Green Alliance have laid out in their publication on protecting our assets and be able to work with them to take this further.
Another great example of a shift in thinking which has resulted in multiple benefits comes from the group of farmers who set up the pasture-fed livestock initiative. It seems such an obvious idea for an island that is ideally suited to growing grass, and it was for those farmers themselves. Livestock forage on grass. Oddly, very few animals are fed on pasture alone these days. Cereals and soya produce fatter animals faster, but with a much higher carbon footprint of course, and an undoubted loss of flavour and texture. The fact that Welsh lamb is so prized is due to its still ranging extensively on a rich mixture of grasses and herbs—unlike the bland meat that you can get from grain-fed sheep, which just does not compare. The same goes for beef.
There are also really good welfare reasons why this regime scores so highly. One example is poultry kept under trees. Farmers Weekly did a study last year and found that, as opposed to poultry kept in a bare field, those kept under trees had improved ranging, less injurious feather-pecking incidents and fewer egg seconds. So there were welfare and economic benefits. The environmentally best systems are providing better produce, better welfare and lower carbon footprints. Consumers would really like to search them out but the trouble is that they have been let down by the failure of successive Governments to get behind labelling schemes that make absolutely clear what the production methods involved are. If we exit the EU, the Government must urgently get behind an effort to label British produce accurately and properly according to its production method.
My Lords, the natural environment is one of the most precious things that we can claim custody of, and passing it on to our descendants in good shape ought to be a top priority of any Government. In many ways, I am disappointed that being seen as responsible stewards of the environment is something that the left monopolises. There is nothing more authentically conservative than wanting to pass on what we were given in better shape than we found it.
To this end, I am delighted with the actions of the current Secretary of State. I do not recall seeing such a flurry of new policy in his brief since my party entered power, and I wholeheartedly support his initiatives. Some of them are certainly long overdue, such as the issue of putting CCTV in slaughterhouses. It is worth putting in a word about the story published some weeks ago about the Government allegedly rejecting animal sentience. It was, frankly, untrue. The MPs who voted against transcribing an EU measure into British law were not voting against animal sentience, which involves an obligation already recognised. The rapid spread of that false information—according to some estimates, it was viewed by 2 million people—is very concerning. I fear that the damage may already have been done, which is a shame. Thankfully, the other place will, I hope, soon pass some new animal welfare policies which I think could allay people’s fears.
I turn to a long-standing strategy laid out for our marine environment. The establishment of marine protected areas around our overseas territories has been an incredible success and a real achievement of this Government. Protecting 4 million square kilometres of ocean is a legacy for us all to be proud of, but there is more to do.
The most recent Environmental Audit Committee report on marine territories warned:
“British seabirds off the Chagos Islands are better protected than they would be flying off Cornwall”.
The 2015 manifesto committed to completing a network of marine conservation zones all around the UK, but not all the recommended sites have been designated. When will this work be finished and in place?
We should also discuss the Brexit dividend that can be realised by good policy. To make the best use of our many powers, Ministers will have to be proactive in probing each new responsibility, and I think Defra will have the most of any department.
As regards farming, the chance for a full overhaul of the common agricultural policy is a golden opportunity to realise some benefits and orient our subsidies towards paying for sustainability, not landholding. The most frustrating aspect of a policy essentially designed to subsidise continental farming has been the relentless grinding down of smaller, sustainable farming in favour of larger and more commercial landholdings.
We will, of course, need to subsidise farmers after Brexit to maintain our food security. As my noble friend Lord Cameron reminded us last month, we are only ever nine meals away from anarchy, but we ought to pay based on responsible land management. Too many large farmers treat their lands as private goods. In reality, they ought to have to work to justify the sums paid out, and they can do that by providing a public service.
In conclusion, I would like to ask my noble friend: when will a comprehensive plan be laid out for the Government’s new agricultural subsidy policy post Brexit?
My Lords, I apologise to the House that I was a minute or two late for the start of this debate due to circumstances beyond my control.
I am grateful to the noble Earl for obtaining this debate. I should like to devote my remarks to trees and woodland. The natural world naturally wants to grow, reproduce and expand. It is, of course, affected and restricted by climate, disease and natural competitors, but its greatest enemy by far is man—us.
The 25-year plan, when it is finally produced, will no doubt produce some excellent guidance, but we already have a plethora of reports and policy statements from various organisations. What really matters is what we do on a daily basis. The word “improve” in the title of this debate sounds very positive, but in this modern world it is not so much what you do that matters; it is what you do not do.
If you care for the environment, you do not build HS2, a high-speed railway, right through the heart of a relatively small country with an existing rail network. It is hugely expensive and increasingly discredited and opposed. For the next 16 years, throughout any plan that is produced, HS2 will be gobbling and trampling its way through our countryside, removing trees, and damaging and destroying 98 irreplaceable ancient woodlands. It will be a constant reminder of a massive blunder made by government. It is truly an infrastructural albatross.
Trees should never be felled without good reason. At the moment, more than 50 horse chestnuts on Tooting Common and more than 70 lime trees in Sheffield are being felled without any reasonable justification. Not only is this a worry, but it highlights the lack of power of tree officers in local authorities. I am convinced that to properly protect our trees, particularly in urban areas, the role of the arboricultural officer in local authorities should be enhanced and respected.
Whenever we plant trees, it is essential to make adequate financial provision for maintaining them. The Government’s excellent pledge to plant 11 million trees in the course of this Parliament is very welcome, but unless they are properly looked after, many will die and both time and money will have been wasted. Planning permission should never be granted unless tree planting and landscaping have been included in the scheme and—just as importantly—guarantees are given that they will actually be carried out.
We must place the highest possible priority on the protection of our ancient woodlands and the expansion of woodlands in general. The Woodland Trust’s latest briefing makes depressing reading. It says that the rate at which new woodland is created is “at an all-time low” and that we are probably entering a state of deforestation. This must not be allowed to happen.
Every local authority ought to map its ancient woodlands and maintain a register of them. This would greatly simplify their identification and protection when planning proposals are made. In terms of planning, I understand that some 709 woodlands are currently at risk. As far as our ancient woodlands are concerned, we need to change the wording in the planning guidance to say that loss or destruction of ancient woodlands becomes—and these are the crucial words—“wholly exceptional”, thereby putting them on a par with our built heritage. Perhaps the Minister, who I am sure will agree with this, will comment on it when he comes to wind up or later on.
Finally, and perhaps most urgently, we need to improve our biosecurity. We have had Dutch elm disease and, more recently, ash dieback. There are many other very nasty diseases, any of which could be devastating to our native trees, just waiting to take advantage of any gaps in our system of importing and transporting trees. Speaking at a symposium on biosecurity recently, the chief plant health officer, Dr Nicola Spence, said her top pest and disease concerns currently were xylella, plane wilt, longhorn beetles, pine processionary moth, emerald ash borer and the birch bark borer. That is quite a list. Of these, she said that she was very, very concerned about xylella. This is a disease of olives and other plants. It is difficult to detect, although we have developed good skills for doing that, which others should copy. Importantly, she said:
“It is crazy moving high-risk hosts unchecked”.
We must look at this whole area afresh and urgently in the light of Brexit and tighten our rules. Other countries are not as careful as we are, and we must take advantage of being an island. We need more awareness and more restrictions on imports, and possibly bans in some areas. Perhaps a quarantine system should be considered. We should grow much more of the trees we need. Public awareness is vital in spotting disease, and I urge the Minister to ensure that his civil servants keep excellent lines of communication open with the Arboricultural Association, whose members, I suspect, will be the first to detect any problems.
Many nurseries and landscape and garden designers, aware of these dangers, are already deciding to limit or stop the importing of trees. They are now awaiting a lead from government, and will be interested in the Minister’s response. The Woodland Trust, the Arboricultural Association and the Forestry Commission have produced position statements on biosecurity, supported by Defra and the industry as a whole. I will leave the last word to the Woodland Trust, which says in its policy statement:
“It is far more practical, cost effective and beneficial to the environment to prevent a pest or disease epidemic than deal with the consequences of an outbreak”.
My Lords, with the indulgence of the House I will speak briefly in the gap. I had not put my name down because I did not think that I would make it to the start of the debate, but as it happens I just made it. I will speak briefly and will confine myself to one point; I promise not to be what my noble friend Lord Framlingham might call a Back-Bench borer.
My point is simply to say that we must not on this issue sound like what Spiro Agnew called the “nattering nabobs of negativism”. We have heard negative things about the environment throughout this afternoon, and all too often this is how we talk about the environment, in terms of things getting worse. While there is a lot wrong with the environmental condition of the planet and the country, some things are going in the right direction, and we should build our policy on the successes there have been.
When I was a child, the River Tyne had no salmon in it or otters or ospreys, but now it has all three. That is a dramatic improvement that I have seen in my lifetime. I now farm my own farm in such a way that tree sparrows have come back. I have planted the largest wildflower meadow in the north of England, which I am proud of; it is absolutely buzzing with bees and other things. We also have hares and curlews breeding again. So you can improve the environment while farming—not profitably, in my case, but at least not with significant losses.
I spent a glorious couple of dawns this spring in Weardale watching the lekking display of the blackcock. If none of your Lordships have seen this, it is our British bird of paradise. These males gather together and do sex and violence for about three hours in the dawn light. The place I went to had five males 10 years ago; it now has over 100. The noise of the curlews calling was continuous—there was literally not a moment during those dawns when you could not hear a curlew in the background. That is largely because of gamekeepers in that area. My noble friend Lord Caithness mentioned Allerton, where the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust is showing that profitable farming can live alongside great conservation and great improvement in soil quality. I was taken there recently by Alastair Leake of the trust in Loddington, who dug his spade into the ground and showed me how deep the worms go there because of low-till or min-till agriculture.
My noble friend mentioned South Georgia; I was lucky enough to go there last year and it is a paradise of wildlife: there are unbelievable numbers of king penguins, fur seals, elephant seals, albatrosses and petrels. But it is not a pristine wilderness—it is a restored masterpiece. A hundred years ago there were no fur seals, almost no elephant seals, hardly any king penguins and no whales—we saw right whales and humpback whales around the coast. Why? Because we used those things as a renewable energy resource. That is what we were doing to that ecosystem. We have now restored it, so it can be done.
We should remember to build our policy on the environment on the success stories of how we have solved these problems rather than simply continue to talk about them as if they were insoluble and as if there was nothing we can do.
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, for securing this debate. We have heard some deeply thought-provoking speeches this afternoon—I particularly liked the one we just heard from the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley. There is much to celebrate and look forward to.
As the UK prepares to leave the EU, the welfare of animals is at a critical crossroads. Selecting the route ahead will determine the welfare of billions of animals. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to confirm or reject our country’s reputation as a global leader in animal welfare science and standards.
I welcome the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, on microbeads. This is an essential step forward. Soil protection is equally important, as is changing the culture of farming. I also join the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, in asking when exactly the 25-year plan will be published.
I shall concentrate my speech largely on two animal welfare issues. I acknowledge that the Government have accepted the arguments made on both sides of the House and by animal charities for increasing the maximum sentence for animal cruelty offences from six months’ to five years’ imprisonment. This is a great step forward. I concur with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, on imported pets. As we approach Christmas, many parents will be tempted to buy their children a puppy as a present. It is important to have a proper licensing regime for pedigree dog breeding so that those who fully embrace the care and quality of their dogs and puppies are not tainted by those who smuggle in puppies from abroad. Owners need to know that their puppy has been well cared for and is not unwell. Owners can find that their dog does not thrive. They end up spending many hundreds of pounds on veterinary bills because the dog has had a very bad start in life.
The number of illegally imported puppies has been rising year on year. In 2014, officials found 208 “illegally landed” dogs, and that number rose to 688 in 2016. If there were a proper licensing system for pedigree dog breeders, owners would have confidence that the licence number of the breeder they were obtaining their puppy from would provide some security regarding the dog’s welfare.
The health and well-being of illegally imported animals cannot be guaranteed, and charities have suggested that many may have been bred in horrendous conditions. Liberal Democrats are concerned about the possible implications for animal welfare in the UK as a result of the Brexit vote. Approximately 80% of our animal welfare rules are part of European law. EU laws cover issues such as farm animal transportation standards, animal slaughter standards, consumer information laws, a ban on cosmetic testing on animals, and so on. They are all issues of great importance, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
The task of transferring EU laws on agriculture, the environment and animal welfare into UK law is enormous, as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has already told us. We know little about the new environmental standards body, which, again, has already been referred to. Can the Minister give us some more information on that body?
I now turn to the issue of battery-raised hens. I am indebted to Compassion in World Farming for its extensive briefing on a number of issues. Barren battery cages for laying hens have been prohibited in the UK since 2012, but the use of enriched cages is permitted. As we have heard, all major UK supermarkets have either stopped selling enriched-cage eggs or have pledged to do so by 2025. Unfortunately, the Chief Veterinary Officer has recently been reported in the press as supporting the use of enriched cages. He is quoted as saying that colony—that is, enriched—cages,
“have a lot going for them and there is good evidence that that’s the case”,
and as describing the move away from enriched cages by UK supermarkets as “regrettable”.
The Chief Veterinary Officer’s position is in marked contrast to that of Germany and Austria. Germany is banning enriched cages with effect from 2025, with certain exceptions allowing the use of these cages until 2028. Austria is banning enriched cages from 2020. It would be extremely unfortunate if the UK moved in the opposite direction by suggesting that these cages can provide acceptable welfare outcomes. Enriched cages fail properly to meet hens’ needs. The European Food Safety Authority has concluded that due to the limited space in enriched cages, the limited height imposes severe restrictions on the birds as they are unable to perch.
The Chief Veterinary Officer also argues that confining hens indoors in cages has advantages in protecting them from bird flu. That presupposes that bird flu is mainly spread by wild birds, but a 2016 statement by the Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza and Wild Birds stressed:
“Typically, highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreaks are associated with intensive domestic poultry production”.
It is recognised that in some cases free-range hens are best brought indoors until an outbreak of bird flu has ended. However, that is very different from saying that, to combat bird flu, it may be better for hens to be indoors throughout their lives in enriched cages. From a welfare point of view, it is preferable to keep birds outdoors and to bring them indoors for limited periods when strictly necessary. Again, I look forward to the Minister’s response on that issue.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson of Abinger, made a valid contribution on the transporting of live animals to the continent for slaughter, to which other noble Lords also referred. In this day and age, it is totally unacceptable and unnecessary. It is time that this problem was tackled. As an asthmatic, I can identify with the comments and contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton. Air pollution is on the increase and needs effective and realistic legislation to bring it under control. I agreed with almost all the contribution of the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury. It was extremely valuable. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, I also attended the debate this morning run by the National Trust and the Green Alliance, and can confirm that the issue of water management has to move up the agenda and become much more important.
The needs of small farmers must not be ignored or overridden by the large conglomerates and massive landowners, and I agree with the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, about large landowners. Both are important for our country’s food production and land management, but I fear that the small farmer’s voice may be lost in the clamour. I look to the Minister to reassure us that small farmers will not be overlooked.
The opportunity that presents itself to abolish the CAP is unique and tremendous. I noted the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, about unrealistic expectations on the part of many organisations involved in the multitude of threads of prospective legislative change. I am much more optimistic that those organisations will have a positive impact on the negotiations. If we are all committed to a better deal for farmers and others involved in land management, we can reach a win-win outcome for the majority, but it will take a long time. There is a need to acknowledge the different views of everyone involved and to make sure that their voices are heard.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, for tabling the debate today and giving us an opportunity to shine a light on the Government’s announcements on animal welfare and the environment. I can see why the Government are suddenly keen to talk up the recent promises of the Secretary of State. Since his somewhat surprising appointment to the Defra role, he has clearly been on a charm offensive, which it would be churlish to criticise. Of course, we welcome many of the new commitments as far as they go. Clearly we would, because Labour’s policies have been consistently strong on animal welfare and environmental protection over the years.
Our recent manifesto set out ambitious plans to tackle climate change, create sustainable living, promote biodiversity and clean up our air and water, which indeed proved very popular with voters. Our manifesto also contained specific proposals to increase sentences for animal cruelty, prohibit third-party sales of puppies, enforce the ban on ivory trading, cease the current badger cull and ban the use of wild animals in circuses. It also made it clear that we would maintain the ban on fox hunting, deer hunting and hare-coursing which was of course originally introduced by a Labour Government.
Compare that with the Conservative manifesto, whose most memorable animal welfare policy was to seek to reintroduce hunting with hounds. According to the Times, this was insisted on by the Prime Minister against the advice of her then Secretary of State. Once again it demonstrated the Prime Minister’s lack of political judgment as it proved to be a toxic policy on the doorstep for the Tories and swung a considerable number of votes towards Labour. However, it remains Tory policy which could be enacted at any time, and I am sure that many on the Benches opposite, including perhaps the Minister himself, would welcome a vote to overturn Labour’s hunting ban. In his response, can the Minister update the House on the status of this policy and whether a new vote on the hunting ban is being actively considered either in this parliamentary Session or another?
Clearly the Secretary of State has learned some lessons from the Tories’ disastrous election campaign. He is a new convert to the environmental cause, but we welcome all repenting sinners. He has spoken some fine words and issued an impressive array of press releases promising reform, but it is on his actions, and those of the Government, that he will be judged. None of his announcements so far will become real unless it is backed by legislation, but few of them are in Bills scheduled for consideration in the Queen’s Speech. That does not make it impossible, but more of an uphill struggle to create parliamentary time for new legislation on issues which may not be everyone’s priority.
For example, there has been some talk of an animal welfare Bill, and we would welcome such an initiative if it was designed to deliver the assortment of animal welfare improvements mentioned. Can the Minister say whether such a Bill is now being considered and what the timescale might be? Does Defra realistically have the resources to prepare such a Bill, given the huge cuts in staffing the department has already suffered and the fact that a fisheries Bill and an agriculture Bill are expected early next year, as well of course as all the ongoing Brexit preparations? I raise these concerns because the Government have form on making promises on animal welfare issues which never materialise in practice. We have been waiting for a piece of legislation to ban the use of wild animals in circuses for some years now, but somehow it always ends up pushed back to the bottom of the pile.
The EU withdrawal Bill provides a huge opportunity to set the scene for the Government’s approach to the environment and animal welfare in the future. We will have an opportunity to discuss this is detail in the new year and obviously I look forward to that. But in the meantime we can learn a lot from the progress of the Bill in the Commons. The Government voted against amendments to ensure that EU-derived environmental protections could be altered only via primary legislation, thus protecting them from being watered down by Ministers through secondary legislation. They failed to support an amendment enshrining the right of animals to be treated as sentient beings. The Secretary of State has since suggested that the Bill is not the right legislative vehicle for bringing Article 13 into UK law, but like many other noble Lords we profoundly disagree with this analysis. As my noble friend Lord Whitty pointed out, the Government voted against amendments to ensure that the precautionary principle, which is vital to food standards and public health, and the polluter pays principle, which ensures that large industries pay for their environmental impact, continue to apply after Brexit day. While clearly there is still some way to go with the Bill, all this does not feel like a Government committed to maintaining and enhancing environmental standards.
In contrast, we have set out a clear set of objectives to protect the environment post Brexit. We have worked with stakeholders and a wide range of charities to firm up our proposals. For example, our amendments would ensure that we continue to participate in key EU regulatory and research agencies that benefit our environmental work. They would ensure that all the animal welfare standards enshrined in Article 13 of the treaty are maintained. They would require that the new body to deliver environmental standards has teeth to properly hold government to account, give citizens access to legal redress and fine those who breach the regulations. They would ensure that the UK maintains international air quality standards with the recourse to court should UK air quality break the rules. They would require us to continue to collaborate fully with the respected EU scientific and research institutions. I agree with my noble friend Lord Hunt that we need to assess whether our institutions continue to be fit for purpose in facing modern scientific challenges. I could go on, but these are the kind of measures that we would expect the Government to pursue if we were serious about improving the natural environment, post Brexit.
I agree with other noble Lords that whatever the good intent of the Defra Ministers, there is a real fear that they will be overridden by more powerful Ministers and departments in the coming months. Animal welfare standards will inevitably be caught up in the Brexit trade negotiations. We have already seen the differences among Ministers exposed on issues such as chlorinated chicken—of course, it goes much wider than that. No one wants to reduce animal welfare standards on our food or the food that we import, but there will be huge pressures on our Trade Ministers and the outcomes of that are not yet clear. Michael Gove has made it clear that he will not tolerate a reduction in standards. Of course, we welcome that—but hands up all those who think that he will still be the Defra Secretary of State in 12 months’ time? As I look around the House, I do not see many volunteers. As we already know, the Prime Minister does not share his enthusiasm for the environment.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, we all saw the press reports that Gavin Barwell at No. 10 has instructed MPs to appear more caring by talking up the environment. Unlike these latecomers, we have a track record on the environment of which we are proud, as well as huge ambitions for a sustainable economy and environment in the future. That will include a focus on repairing the rural economy, investing in rural science, creating green jobs and truly cherishing our scarce resources. It will include a modern approach to animal welfare, to embed high standards and drive out cruelty and exploitation. It will be led from the top and require all government departments to play their part; it will not rely on the energy of one Minister in one small department. Ultimately, that is why people who care about the environment and animal welfare will vote for a party with a consistent record and a coherent plan for a sustainable future—a party, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, with a chance of being elected.
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for securing the debate on the Government’s plans to improve the natural environment and animal welfare. I declare my own farming interests, as a set out in the register.
As the Secretary of State made clear in his speech at the WWF Living Planet Centre, protecting and enhancing the environment is essential, not only because the natural environment underpins our well-being and prosperity but because we have a moral obligation to do so. I agree with the sentiments of my noble friend Lord Suri: this is a contemporary view, as well as a highly traditional one that my party has held for generations. That is why the Government have an ambitious vision to enhance the environment within a generation. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, when he spoke of the engagement of the next generation. We have a responsibility because of the next generation, but we also want to ensure that they feel as strongly about this crucial matter as I believe all of your Lordships do. Before noble Lords start to say that we do not, we also have some of the most robust animal welfare legislation in the world, about which my noble friend Lord Blencathra spoke.
I sometimes think I am in a different country from some noble Lords opposite, who seem determined to think this country is so appalling. We live in the best country in the world. Perhaps it is why we are in government and the noble Baroness’s party is not. We have already announced a series of measures to strengthen our current standards.
I am sure your Lordships are eager to see the 25-year environment plan. So am I. However, given last year’s referendum result, we have taken further time as we shape our environmental policy for the next generation. I entirely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. It is important that we publish soon; that is why we hope to publish early in the new year. In response to my noble friend Lord Caithness and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, we will consult as widely as possible on the nature of a new independent statutory body to hold the Government and, potentially, public authorities to account on environmental commitments.
We are also proposing a new policy statement on environmental principles to apply post EU exit. These principles, which underpin EU legislation, are already central to government environmental policy. It depends where we pitch on this issue as to whether we are a pessimist on optimist. I hope the pessimism—the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, used that word—will be allayed because it is important to us all that we succeed.
We want to enhance our natural environment to secure the benefits it provides through cleaner air and water, beautiful landscapes to explore, protection from flooding, and high-quality sustainable food and fisheries. We must ensure that the environment is resilient to the impacts of climate change. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, yes, be idealistic, but it is imperative too that we address these things. I do not think it is just idealism; it is vital that we address these matters.
As we shape our farming policy we must enhance soil productivity, health and resilience, which my noble friend Lord Caithness emphasised. He also spoke about the Allerton Project, which I endorse. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, I was hugely impressed, having been there, with the science going on at Harper Adams University. We are very fortunate to have world leaders in this area. We will develop new strategies for the cost-effective monitoring of soil health as part of a broader need to improve the quality and productivity of our food system. Our 2013 agritech strategy brings together researchers and agrifood supply businesses through our centres of excellence to work on the products and systems of the future.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, that the Government remain of the view that decisions on the use of pesticides should be based on careful scientific assessment of the risk, with the aim of achieving a high level of protection for people and the environment. One of the points of my visit to Harper Adams was that there can be much greater precision with agritech. Use of pesticides there is much reduced, but we are also ensuring good food supply.
The 25-year environment plan will ensure that we use the natural capital approach, something I think my noble friend Lord Caithness is eager to establish. It considers the benefits the environment provides. It will help us to reform support for agriculture and to improve fisheries policy. My noble friend Lord Shrewsbury is right to refer to the importance of the agrifood sector: it is the backbone of the countryside and rural communities. With 70% of the land in our country farmed, we must and will work closely with farmers and landowners to secure a vibrant farming sector, with a complementary aim of enhancing the environment.
I believe we are making progress, as I hope your Lordships will agree. I was very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, referred to some of that progress. Our proposed ban on microbeads has been welcomed by your Lordships, but I am encouraged that Greenpeace says it will be the strongest in the world. The legislation on microbeads has been laid and will come into force with a ban on manufacture in January 2018 and a ban on sale from June 2018. We have also engaged the Hazardous Substances Advisory Committee to review evidence on microplastics in other products causing harm to marine life. We are proud to be taking an ambitious stance on tackling single-use plastics, so much referred to by your Lordships. Britain will lead the way by looking to tax and charge the most environmentally damaging single-use plastics. Alongside tackling ocean plastics, the Government have designated more than 23% of UK waters as marine protected areas, as my noble friend Lord Suri mentioned.
We continue to demonstrate our commitment to sustainable fishing, and implementing the discard ban plays a crucial role in helping the UK to achieve sustainable fishing levels by 2020. UK fishermen have played an important role in the recovery of North Sea cod, which is another of example of how, if we do the right thing, recovery is possible. We look forward to North Sea marine annual planning delivering further benefits to the sustainable management of fish stocks. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, referred to the Arctic fishing ban. An agreement was reached earlier this month to prevent unregulated fisheries developing in the central Arctic Ocean and has been welcomed by Governments and environmental NGOs.
Recently, we also launched a consultation on proposals to introduce a total ban on UK ivory sales, putting us at the heart of global efforts to address the drastic and terrible decline in elephant populations.
The past decade has seen a step change in how the UK responds to invasive non-native species. We now have a co-ordinating secretariat leading the awareness-raising campaign, Check, Clean, Dry, aimed at encouraging anglers and boaters to reduce the risk of moving invasive species between waterways. Our efforts to prioritise species and bring forward action plans were tested recently when one of our top threats, the Asian hornet, was found. My department had a team on the ground within 48 hours and had successfully eliminated this specific threat within 10 days.
Plant pests and diseases threaten our natural environment as well as the UK’s timber, horticultural and tourism industries. We are committed to protecting our borders from pests and diseases and building the resilience of our trees and plants. My noble friend Lord Framlingham spoke powerfully about the essential role that trees fulfil in the natural environment. The Conservative manifesto pledged 1 million trees in urban areas. Nothing could be more important to us in urban areas than trees, not only for their assistance with pollution but because of their beauty. We also pledged 11 million trees across the nation. From 2012 to 2019, we will have invested more than £37 million in tree health research. Our long-term national strategy to manage ash dieback is based on science, international best practice and advice from the UK Chief Plant Health Officer. We provide leadership, but the active support of communities and people is essential. We will enhance biosecurity by supporting Grown in Britain. From my meetings with many in the horticultural world, I know that there is much greater engagement with and understanding of the importance of biosecurity.
We also have responsibility to tackle invasive species in the UK Overseas Territories. We supported the South Georgia Heritage Trust, which, remarkably, eradicated rats from the island by 2015. The endangered South Georgia pipits are now returning in considerable numbers. I hope that a similar approach on Gough Island for Tristan albatross and Gough bunting will be successful. This has been successful only with predator control. My noble friend Lord Ridley highlighted some of the successful domestic advances, as well as those in South Georgia, and we should learn from those.
The Government recently published the Clean Growth Strategy, setting out how the UK is leading the world in cutting carbon emissions to combat climate change while driving economic growth. I am very pleased that the recently announced planting of 600,000 trees in Northumberland and 200,000 trees in the Lake District will not only help store carbon and manage flood risk but generate jobs and boost the local economy.
The UK has ambitious targets in place to reduce emissions of damaging air pollutants by 2020 and 2030. We aim to cut early deaths from air pollution, an issue which I know has exercised your Lordships. At one point it was suggested that air pollution is increasing. I will look into this, but my memory of all the statistics is that since 1970 we have been very successful in reducing the five key pollutants beyond nitrogen dioxide, which remains a considerable concern. However, nitrogen oxide emissions fell by almost 20% between 2010 and 2015, for instance. Indeed, let us not forget why NO2 now has to be addressed.
We are tackling the impacts of climate change by ensuring adaptation is rightly integrated across the policies and programmes of the Government. This involves the Environment Agency, Natural England and the Forestry Commission on the resilience of our biosecurity and ecosystems, as well as on flood risk management and many other aspects. But this is not just for central government; we will need to engage the support, leadership and commitment of local government, businesses and communities if we are to achieve our aims.
I turn to the important issue of animal welfare. We will not only maintain but, where possible, seek to improve high animal welfare and health standards. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 provides the country with robust protection. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, is pleased, as I am, that this was undertaken during her party’s tenure in government. I say to her and to my noble friend Lord Blencathra that my Secretary of State has been clear that we need to ensure that we do not compromise our high environmental and animal welfare standards in pursuit of any trade deal.
I am pleased to respond to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, about so many of our proposals on these matters. We know that the Secretary of State recently announced that we will shortly publish draft legislation for comments to increase the maximum sentence for animal cruelty offences from six months to five years in prison. We will also tighten the rules regarding dog breeding, pet shops, animal boarding, performing animals and riding stables. Irresponsible dog breeders and dealers who exploit this trade must be stopped. We will introduce new regulations on the welfare of dogs in dog-breeding establishments. More dog breeders will require a licence to operate. Statutory minimum welfare standards will be applied to licensed breeders, which will be enforced by local authority inspectors.
It will be made clear that any business selling pet animals online will also need to be licensed. We will continue to work closely with the Pet Advertising Advisory Group—I met it last week—on minimum standards for online pet sellers. We will raise minimum welfare standards across all licensed establishments and have been working with local authorities to ensure that inspectors receive the right training to enforce effectively the new regulations.
My noble friend Lord Lexden raised the issue of irresponsible breeding. We have had an Oral Question about this, but I say again that the breeding of animals with defects is irresponsible, and we will seek ways in which we can counter it. I am working closely with the Kennel Club and the breeds societies on this because it needs to be addressed. My noble friend mentioned flat-faced cats, but there are many dog breeds as well.
Turning to the import of puppies, we are determined to crack down on animal traffickers and put a stop to the abhorrent illegal trade in puppies, and abuses of the pet travel scheme. Enforcement teams at our ports work in partnership to identify and seize dogs and puppies which are not compliant with the relevant controls. I meet the Dogs Trust regularly—I did so again earlier this week—and I endorse its work. We are working in collaboration with it. With its support, I put out a press release in my name earlier this week on the importance, particularly at this time of Christmas, of parents and families considering very carefully where to buy their puppy, the hierarchy of rehoming centres and the importance of seeing the mother with the puppy and of preferably buying from a Kennel Club Assured Breeder Scheme breeder. We are working very strongly on that.
In addition, we have been working on modernising welfare codes on cats, dogs and horses. The codes will be laid before Parliament shortly. I take this opportunity to thank stakeholders groups who have helped us for their work.
I agree with every word that my noble friend Lord Lexden said about the bond between mankind and animals, and I know my noble friend Lord Black of Brentwood would say the same thing. It is part of our ethos in this country.
We are delivering on our manifesto commitment to require CCTV in every slaughterhouse in England and have recently concluded a public consultation on this issue. We have a manifesto commitment that, as we leave the EU, we can take early steps to control the export of live farm animals for slaughter.
In the context of improving animal welfare at slaughter, my noble friends Lord Caithness, Lord Shrewsbury and Lord Blencathra raised religious slaughter. The Government have been clear that we prefer all animals to be stunned before slaughter. However, over many years Governments of various complexions have respected the right of Muslim and Jewish communities to slaughter animals for food in accordance with their religious beliefs. Leaving the EU may provide us with an opportunity to decide whether current labelling rules on welfare and other matters are best suited to UK consumers and businesses.
We are raising standards on farms by modernising the English statutory welfare codes, a move which has been welcomed by industry. The updated codes of practice will provide clear guidance to producers on how to comply with current legislation. We will also, of course, ensure our high animal welfare standards are underpinned by robust science and evidence. I endorse the work of the Farm Animal Welfare Committee, which my noble friend Lady Hodgson mentioned. This committee, comprising academics, producers and veterinarians, will scrutinise the updated farm welfare codes. We will continue to work closely with Defra’s delivery bodies, including the Animal and Plant Health Agency.
Many noble Lords raised animal sentience. I reassure noble Lords that this Government’s policies on animal welfare are driven by our recognition that animals are sentient beings. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State confirmed only this morning in the other place, we are committed to ensuring that we recognise the principle of animal sentience and to providing appropriate and strong protection in UK law. We will shortly be bringing forward a proposal about the appropriate legislative vehicle for that protection. I will ensure that my right honourable friend is made aware of noble Lords’ contributions. I think he will be pleased to receive them.
Our care for animals is now, and will be, second to none. Consumers at home and abroad will know that our food is produced to the very highest standards. We want to generate a thriving farming and fishing industry that delivers improved environmental and animal welfare standards and the best food in the world.
The noble Baroness mentioned hunting. I hope that, with all the things I have outlined, she will understand that we are very busy with other priorities.
It is our generation’s responsibility to address and rectify the actions previous generations sometimes unwittingly took which have caused such damage to our natural environment. The consequences of not addressing them are so grave that we must devote all our energies, both in this country and globally, to protect and enhance the environment for generations to come. I know all noble Lords have been watching “Blue Planet”. It is required viewing for all generations.
I share my noble friend Lord Caithness’s view that this is not solely the responsibility of government, although I take that responsibility; it is for each and every one of us to play our part.
My Lords, the terms of my Motion made this a very wide debate. Early this morning, I had a 30-minute lecture to give your Lordships, and I am therefore extremely grateful to each and every noble Lord who took part in this debate and covered the points that I had to omit from my speech. I am also grateful to my noble friend the Minister for his reply, which he took at a good canter that we could all keep up with and not at a flat-out gallop.
One thing that I wanted to raise which must now be for another time was invasive non-native species. I mention that now because one of them, the grey squirrel, handicaps every forester’s desire for our broad-leaf woodland. Without control of the grey squirrel, we will not get the trees that we all want so much. As we all line up ready to sign my noble friend Lord Lexden’s cats manifesto, I hope that the cats in turn will sign up to a self-denying ordinance to stop killing 55 million songbirds every year.
The Government have to take action at the international, national, regional and local levels. This evening, we have seen those who see this as a gloomy challenge but also those who see it as an opportunity and are optimistic about the future. I sit firmly in the latter camp. We have all been gloomy in the past only to be proved wrong. I repeat what my noble friend the Minister said in ending his speech, that this is not just about government; it is up to each and every one of us to change our attitude to the environment. I beg to move.