House of Lords
Monday 13 September 2021
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Blackburn.
Introduction: Baroness Casey of Blackstock
Dame Louise Casey CB, having been created Baroness Casey of Blackstock, of Finsbury in the London Borough of Islington, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top and Baroness Grender, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Armed Forces: Gambling Disorders
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to legislate (1) to require annual medical screening questions related to gambling disorder in the military, and (2) to annually assess the prevalence of gambling disorder among members of the armed forces.
My Lords, this Government have no such plans. We take problem gambling seriously and monitor for the emergence of problem gambling instances within the Armed Forces. We provide welfare support and financial awareness training for our people. The Ministry of Defence also blocks gambling websites on its networks to reduce their accessibility. I am satisfied that our existing approach to awareness of gambling-related harm, where it is identified, is appropriate and proportionate.
I thank the Minister for her reply. Compared with the United States of America, there is a real dearth of UK literature reviewing the gambling habits of serving personnel and veterans. What plans do the Government have to encourage, or possibly fund, academic research into this area as part of an evidence-led approach to reviewing the issue of problem gambling in the military?
The right reverend Prelate will be aware that a study by Swansea University, sponsored by the Forces in Mind Trust, is currently taking place to understand the levels of gambling participation and attitudes to gambling in ex-service personnel. We have not seen the report, but we hope that it will enable officials within the MoD to evaluate the extent of gambling participation, its nature—that is, leisure pursuit by comparison with addiction—and if there is anything more that can be done.
My Lords, military veterans are eight times more likely to become problem gamblers than those in the general population. That is the view of the Army Headquarters Regional Command, in its headline facts on page 3 of its transition IPPD information sheet which itself is entitled Gambling—A Serious Risk to Military Personnel. The appropriate questions are: why are soldiers more vulnerable to gambling, why do military veterans have such a heightened prevalence of problem gambling as opposed to the general population, and what is the MoD doing to understand what lies behind that prevalence and how it can be tackled before the vulnerability forms?
These are all pertinent questions, and we are looking closely, as I say, at what this University of Swansea study will disclose. There is anecdotal evidence that people who go into the Armed Forces may be innately more inclined to take risks and therefore may be of a disposition that predisposes them to acquiring a gambling addition rather than to recreational gambling. We try to inform and educate by activity within the Armed Forces, giving advice and support within the chain of command and from other agencies. We certainly try to support our veterans both in the transition programme for them to re-enter civilian life and then through, for example, Veterans UK’s veterans welfare service and the Office for Veterans’ Affairs.
My Lords, internationally the evidence is very clear that gambling problems are greater among military veterans than they are among the general population yet, as we have heard, the Minister is unclear whether that applies in the UK. While I welcome and look forward to the Swansea report, does she recognise that there would great merit in getting the King’s cohort study, which is already being funded by the Office for Veterans’ Affairs, to also look at this? Will she also consider whether some of the very welcome additional funds for the Veterans Mental Health and Wellbeing Service should be directed to help veterans with gambling problems?
I agree with the noble Lord that it is important to know whether there is a problem and, if there is, its nature and where it is to be found before trying to deploy solutions and remedies to address it. He will be aware that every year the Armed Forces continuous attitude survey is conducted. It includes a question on debt management. There is a free text box at the end of the survey that personnel are encouraged to fill out with any issues they wish to raise outside the survey question set. Gambling has never been raised as an issue.
My Lords, I know the excellent work done by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans on gambling. I support him very much in what he has been trying to do about online gambling and advertisements for gambling. However, in this case, notwithstanding what the noble Lord, Lord Browne, said, I think it would be quite unfair to suggest that soldiers who are doing their duty by this nation should be subjected to special tests, and that is what the Question says. Of course we must look into mental health problems and indeed extra problems with gambling—if there are any—among veterans, but veterans are no longer subject to military discipline.
My noble friend echoes the point made by the noble Lords, Lord Foster and Lord Browne of Ladyton. As I indicated, we are anxious to ascertain what we can. Your Lordships will understand that there is always a problem with the collection and collation of data for a variety of reasons. We shall await with interest the report from the University of Swansea and look at that carefully. I have also indicated that the Armed Forces continuous attitude survey could certainly be a vehicle to explore further if we feel there are concerns about the activities and habits of serving personnel.
My Lords, the military has been gambling for hundreds of years but it is much easier now because it can all be done online. We now also know the dangers to an individual’s mental health. Are individuals encouraged to seek help within their units? This really should be from independent support staff and not from any organisations that sit within the military.
I seek to reassure the noble Baroness by telling her that new recruits to the Armed Forces receive comprehensive briefings on the importance of financial security and the values and standards expected of them, during which the issue of gambling is raised. They are signposted to a full range of support and assistance. She may also be aware that we rely on experts in the field, including the Royal British Legion’s Money Force initiative, which aims to assist all service personnel, their partners, families and dependants to be better equipped to manage their money.
Building on what my noble friend Lord Browne said, when he quoted an Armed Forces paper that said that gambling was a very serious problem for Armed Forces personnel. I think the House will want to hear from the Minister how the Government will collect evidence about the prevalence of gambling, when that evidence will be available and what they are going to do about it. Here is one suggestion. Perhaps the Minister could outline to us how the Ministry of Defence is working with DCMS on its gambling White Paper to ensure that the MoD and DCMS are working together on that serious issue.
I have already outlined a variety of activities and range of support measures we deploy to help both serving Armed Forces personnel and veterans. The noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, referred to evidence from a previous University of Swansea study about the higher prevalence of gambling among veterans. We are conscious of that and, on the basis of the information we have, we do everything we can to signpost support.
My Lords, while we would certainly not want to curtail the recreational activities of our military personnel, gambling is extremely addictive. What conversations have the MoD had with its American counterparts about the effectiveness of the US military gambling screening and research programme, as required by the 2019 US National Defense Authorization Act?
We in the MoD believe that we are already taking many of the measures that the United States has enacted and deployed. We are doing that in a variety of ways, as I have said. Part of it is done within the services themselves, but an important point was raised about servicepeople’s confidence in speaking through the chain of command: there might be an inhibition about doing that. They can then access the independent expertise of the Royal British Legion. We have a wide range of support measures to assist where a problem pattern of gambling emerges.
My Lords, the Government’s recently published hydrogen strategy and transport decarbonisation plan both make clear that hydrogen has a key role to play in decarbonising transport, particularly in areas where batteries cannot reach. Our support is therefore focused on the use of hydrogen in heavier road vehicles, such as trucks, buses and coaches, as well as in rail, ships and planes.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer, but are the Government looking at an alternative to the rush to battery-powered cars—in particular, to avoid range anxiety and electricity overload? Can the excellent government hydrogen strategy be used to avoid putting all our eggs in one technical basket, so that zero emissions need not, as Jeremy Clarkson pointed out recently, lead to the end of the internal combustion engine? Finally, will the HydroFLEX train developed by Birmingham University be used at COP 26, and how about a flight for the key leaders at COP 26 in the ZeroAvia commercial aircraft developed at Cheltenham airport?
The noble Lord is certainly making the most of his Question today. It is important to say that the Government are not putting all our eggs in a single zero-emission basket. We take a technologically neutral approach to meeting our ambitions —we are not outcome-neutral, of course: the end goal must be zero emissions from the tailpipe—and therefore many of our programmes invest in both electric and hydrogen systems. For example, the £23 million Hydrogen for Transport programme is funding the deployment of about 300 hydrogen vehicles and six new refuelling stations.
Turning to the noble Lord’s question on HydroFLEX, Network Rail has been working with Porterhouse, a British company, alongside the University of Birmingham, and the HydroFLEX train will be on show at COP 26; indeed, it will be running daily on a loop out of Glasgow Central.
My Lords, I refer the House to my entry in the register. Also, my son, Jo, is chairman of Ryze Hydrogen, a green hydrogen business. The UK Hydrogen Strategy recognises that the hydrogen combustion engine could play a key role in decarbonisation. This is most welcome. My noble friend will be aware of my company’s prototype JCB machines, which are powered, with zero emissions, by hydrogen combustion engines. However, unlike hydrogen-powered cars or diesel-powered machines, those hydrogen-powered machines are not licensed to travel to and from job sites on the public highway. Indeed, the same applies to hydrogen farm tractors. What steps are being taken by Her Majesty’s Government to rectify that situation?
I congratulate my noble friend and his company on their world-beating innovation, and I look forward to visiting his facility soon to see it in action. My department is working very quickly to update our regulations to create GB type approval schemes for all types of vehicles and engines following our exit from the European Union. The first step along that road will be a consultation to be published in the autumn. However, in some circumstances, it can be possible to grant a vehicle special order to provide some access to roads. I am happy to look into that further.
My Lords, the UK Hydrogen Strategy and transport decarbonisation plan both highlight the potential for hydrogen and electric aviation. Given that the UK is truly a leader in the world in this technology, can the Minister set out what steps the Government are taking to accelerate the R&D of that technology in the UK and what consideration she has given to airports acting as hydrogen hubs to generate and support more UK-manufactured hydrogen vehicles, planes and ships?
The noble Baroness is quite right: aviation is one of the modes that we think will have a great future in using hydrogen for propulsion. She mentioned airports, and I know that work is being done on whether some of the tenders used at airports can be switched to hydrogen. Obviously, a significant amount of torque is needed to drag planes across the tarmac. She will know that we consulted over the summer on jet zero as a whole. We anticipate that many of the responses will cover hydrogen. We will be collating those responses and looking at them in detail, but I reassure her that significant funding is going into R&D for many sources, be that for planes or the vehicles in airports.
Britain has three major manufacturers producing zero-emission buses, including hydrogen fuel cell buses. If those manufacturers are to be able to compete in international markets, they need the stimulus of a large domestic market. The Scottish SNP-Green alliance has proposed a target to scrap half of Scotland’s diesel buses by 2023, to be replaced by zero-emission buses. Would Her Majesty’s Government consider pursuing a similar objective throughout the UK by mandating local authorities and bus companies to purchase zero-emission vehicles?
I could happily spend many hours answering that question, but I will not on this occasion. The Government have a target of supporting 4,000 zero-emission buses by the end of this Parliament, and we are about to start a further consultation on the phase-out date for new diesel buses. We are investing £120 million in the ZEBRA scheme—the Zero Emission Bus Regional Areas scheme—which does precisely what the noble Lord is asking: it encourages local authorities and the bus operators in their area to switch over from diesel buses to either battery electric or hydrogen fuel cell buses.
It costs around £1 million to install a hydrogen delivery system, so at this stage, at least, the Government need to encourage companies that run fleets of vehicles—not necessarily just heavy vehicles—to utilise hydrogen. What are the Government doing to incentivise and encourage companies that run vehicle fleets to take up this option for zero emissions?
Actually, the focus at the moment is on making sure we have the right data and information from R&D to further develop and commercialise large-scale hydrogen refuelling systems. I mentioned previously the £23 million Hydrogen for Transport programme, which is looking at refuelling infrastructure alongside the vehicles themselves. We also have the zero-emission road freight trials, which are trialling hydrogen among a group of vehicles—it is not only about the infrastructure but about making sure that the range is appropriate for the vehicle in which it is going to be used.
The Minister has made reference to rail and funding. Trains powered by hydrogen are already in traffic in Germany, and successful trials have been undertaken in at least four other mainland European countries. What are the Government’s objectives, and what are the timescales for that funding for the development and introduction of hydrogen trains in the UK?
The Government have invested £4 million through Innovate UK’s “first of a kind” competition for new traction technologies for hydrogen and rail. We have funded both hydrogen fuel cells and hydrogen combustion-engine alternatives for rail. The timeline for introduction is unclear at the moment because it depends on wider considerations re electrification, but we know that the Network Rail-led transport decarbonisation network strategy estimated that possibly around 10% of non-electrified tracks might be better used with hydrogen for propulsion.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the APPG on Hydrogen. Does my noble friend agree that it is most encouraging to see that momentum is building across industry, both in the UK and overseas, to develop engine-based solutions using hydrogen? Will Her Majesty’s Government commit to supporting UK engine manufacturers to further explore the potential for this technology, thus creating considerable numbers of jobs to bolster our economy?
I absolutely agree with my noble friend, and that is precisely what we are doing with these many different pots of money, which are either modal focused or net-zero focused as a whole in terms of developing ways forward for all types of use of hydrogen. Another example is the £14.6 million that we have funded jointly with industry on a project to develop a combustion engine to cater for medium and heavy-duty commercial vehicles. This project is led by Cummins, and it is really good that we have the private sector involved. It is forecast to save 17.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.
My Lords, does the Minister recognise that there will not be sufficient hydrogen to fuel heavy transport vehicles, let alone private cars, unless we accelerate the production of hydrogen through attracting more private capital into the sector? Will the Government incentivise such investment by revising the renewable transport fuel obligation to cover all green hydrogen, not just that connected directly to a renewable generator?
Yes, the Government will. The Department for Transport consulted earlier this year on measures to make the supply of renewable hydrogen into transport more cost-effective within the RTFO. We will publish a response on this consultation. I have to say to the noble Lord that I do not think that is going to be enough. We will be focused on the generation of both blue and green hydrogen. As he will know from the hydrogen strategy, the Government will be consulting on hydrogen business models and the net-zero hydrogen fund so we can figure out how we are going to unlock the greatest amount of private investment using the £240 million the Government will invest.
Social Care: Family Carers
My Lords, we recognise that family carers play a vital role. When we announced an additional £4.5 billion over three years for social care, it included a commitment to take steps to ensure unpaid carers have the support, advice and respite they need. We will publish a White Paper later this year with more detail. The Health and Care Bill also places a duty on integrated care boards to promote the involvement of unpaid carers.
My Lords, the Minister has acknowledged that our 1.6 million unpaid carers are reporting high levels of fatigue and stress and are worn out and exhausted by caring during Covid-19. On average, carers have lost 25 hours a month of crucial support over the past 18 months, and 81% are providing more care. Essential daily support services for them and their loved ones are still not up and running in many areas. Was it not therefore reasonable for carers to have expected immediate funding support from the Prime Minister’s health and social care funding announcements last week? The situation is desperate and needs addressing now, not just with more kind words and another “White Paper tomorrow” promise.
My Lords, I do acknowledge the pressures on unpaid carers and pay tribute to the incredible contribution they have made during these very difficult 18 months. We are continuing to work with local authorities, in collaboration with ADASS and MHCLG, to support local authorities in meeting their duties, particularly in the area of respite, which the noble Baroness rightly pointed out. We have also made contributions to Carers Trust, Carers UK and to “See, Hear, Respond” services to support unpaid carers. In the long term, our commitment is to social care reform and the financial proposition that we will bring forward in the White Paper.
My Lords, would my noble friend confirm that he just said there would be only £1.5 billion a year going to social care from the large increase in national insurance? Can he confirm that nearly half of that will be absorbed by the need to pay for the extension of free social care to those with valuable homes? That means that nothing will be left to help domestic carers.
My Lords, the Minister has already indicated an understanding that many carers sacrifice a huge part of their lives in trying to care for a loved one. Many of the community support services that used to be available are no longer available. When these arrangements break down and a crisis occurs, it is understandable that the only option left is to call an ambulance, which places increased pressure on the health service. Will the Minister champion a new approach, which is this: “Protect the NHS by supporting carers”?
Yes, I would endorse that sentiment. That has been one of the learnings of the pandemic. It is instinctively true in any case, and the evidence base during the pandemic was quite right. They are interlinked; that is one of the reasons we are bringing forward a Health and Social Care Bill that brings both services much closer together and brings a responsibility on the ICSs to combine health and social care at the same time. Our population-wide measures will try to bring those care responsibilities much closer together, as the noble Lord suggested.
My Lords, the Disabled Children’s Partnership reports that parents of disabled children say that two-thirds were not able to access care at home during the pandemic. In the two years prior to the pandemic, large numbers of respite care beds for disabled children had already been shut down. Given that none of the new social care levy is targeted towards disabled children and young people, can the Minister say whether urgent funding will be provided for this vulnerable and too-often forgotten group, where unpaid carers are often on duty 24/7?
My Lords, I do recognise the problem: 23% of carers—1.3 million—provide care for 50 hours or more a week. That is an absolutely astonishing figure, and I pay tribute to the contribution they make. The overall contribution by carers is around £56 billion a year. We cannot undervalue that contribution in either emotional, care or financial terms. The precise allocation of funding for this new financial package is not yet confirmed. When it is, I will make sure that the reasonable points the noble Baroness made are heard clearly in the department.
My Lords, in his first Answer, the Minister mentioned the Health and Care Bill and a more general duty to promote the interests of underpaid carers. Can he tell me why, at the same time, the Government are getting rid of the current provision in law of a carer’s right to an assessment when they take on a new caring role and the right to be consulted on whether they are willing and able to care? It is a crucial right of carers to have a proper assessment. Why is it being taken away?
My Lords, I completely agree that the carer’s assessment is the building block of our system. It is incredibly important; we do a lot of work to encourage more carers to get it. I do not know specifically about the point that the noble Lord makes on this additional component, but I would be glad to enter into correspondence with him on it. The broad principle of the importance of the carer’s assessment is one with which I wholeheartedly agree.
My Lords, research shows that, pre pandemic, 600 people a day had no choice but to leave work to manage their unpaid caring responsibilities and that, since Covid began, an additional 2.8 million workers now juggle work and unpaid care. Having access to carer’s leave would help millions of carers and support many of them to remain in work alongside their unpaid caring responsibilities. When will the Government publish their response to their consultation on carers’ leave, which closed on 3 August last year?
My Lords, I recognise the challenge referred to by the noble Baroness. Some 2.9 million carers are employed; that is more than half of all carers. One can only imagine the pressure that they feel trying to juggle their roles as carers and employees. The consultation has been tied up by the pandemic, but we are keen to get a response out soon. Now that we have announced this package, it makes that all the easier. I very much look forward to bringing the response to the House.
Human Rights Priority Countries
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what recent representations the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has made to its counterparts in the human rights priority countries listed in its report Human Rights and Democracy Report 2020, published on 8 July; and what assessment they have made of the potential for inserting clauses on human rights into future trade agreements with human rights priority countries.
My Lords, we regularly raise human rights with our counterparts in human rights priority countries and multilateral fora. Trade will not come at the expense of human rights. Both are important parts of our relationships with other countries, including human rights priority countries. We continue to encourage all states to uphold international human rights obligations and hold those who violate human rights to account, including by using powers provided by the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations.
My Lords, a lot of promises were made on human rights during the passage of the then Trade Bill, committing the FCDO and the DIT to work together. From the evidence we have seen so far, that is not happening. Labour’s policy report, Putting Workers First, which was published at this week’s TUC, shows that the FCDO’s concerns over workers’ rights in Colombia were not taken into account during trade negotiations. When will we see the Government keep their word? What steps will the FCDO take to ensure that future trade agreements contain human rights protections?
My Lords, as I said in my initial Answer, we will not pursue trade to the exclusion of human rights. We regard both as an important part of deep, mature and wide-ranging relationships with all our trade partners, including those in human rights priority countries. In line with our international obligations, the Government will continue to ensure a high level of protection for labour standards in new trade agreements as well.
My Lords, the report is silent on how stabilisation clauses in foreign direct investment agreements reduce the capacity of many developing countries to protect human rights. Through such clauses, corporations demand compensation if host Governments change tax, environmental or workers’ rights laws and prevent local courts adjudicating on disputes. Can the Minister explain how the Government will ensure that the clauses imposed by UK companies do not violate human rights?
My Lords, we have put the protection of human rights around the world at the heart of what we do, including through the publication of the integrated review and our presidency of the G7. On labour standards, the Government share the public’s high regard for worker protections and have made it clear that we will not compromise them; in fact, we have embedded labour objectives in the UK’s approach to proposed new trade agreements with the US, Australia and New Zealand.
My Lords, I appreciate that this is a difficult area, but I want to press the Minister a little further. In his Question, the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, asked about inserting clauses into trade agreements. The Minister did not really respond to that. Is this because the Government have, in principle or for some other reason, an objection to inserting those clauses? How can we hope to police and implement commitments if they cannot be written down in the agreements?
My Lords, the Government are clear that more trade does not have to come at the expense of human rights. Our annual report makes that clear. We will continue to show global leadership in encouraging all states to uphold international human rights obligations. Our international obligations and commitments, including on human rights, are always of paramount importance when we make decisions on our trading relations. The Government will continue to take a balanced and proportionate approach, delivering the best outcome for the UK, maximising the benefits of trade and ensuring that we stay true to our core values.
My Lords, I quote the report on South Sudan:
“Conflict-related … rape and abduction of women and girls for sexual slavery, continued to be prevalent.”
What representations has the FCDO made to its counterparts there since the laudable visit by Her Royal Highness the Countess of Wessex last year to champion the eradication of sexual and gender-based violence, and with what results?
My Lords, we continue to make representations on this important issue. Most recently, UK officials in Juba raised human rights concerns with the deputy Foreign Minister on Friday last week, as well as with the Minister for Presidential Affairs on 16 August. We also continue to press for human rights progress, supported by robust monitoring, at the UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council, as well as through funding programmes to support victims and tackle the drivers of violence.
My Lords, although I have huge sympathy with the motivation behind the Question, does the Minister agree that human rights clauses in trade deals work best where there is high interdependence and leverage on the part of the asking party—in other words, the UK—as opposed to the trading partner? In the example of China, which is also on the list, that simply is not the case. Can the Minister tell the House how the Government are working with the United States and the EU, which are the only two powers that would have any leverage with China?
My Lords, the UK has a strong history of promoting human rights and its values globally with countries of all sizes. By having strong economic relationships with countries, we are able to have more open discussions on a range of issues, including human rights. On China, I point to the action that we have taken in relation to human rights concerns in Xinjiang. Indeed, since their inception in July last year, we have used powers provided by our Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations to impose sanctions on 78 people involved in serious human rights violations or abuses around the world.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that the wonderful Belarusian musician, Maria Kalesnikava—a nominee for the Council of Europe’s Václav Havel Human Rights Prize—has been sentenced to 11 years in prison for being one of the three brave women who led the protest against the dictator Lukashenko? Will the Minister please ask the Foreign Secretary to make representations to the Belarusian authorities for her immediate release?
My Lords, we continue to raise our concerns directly with the Belarusian authorities via their embassy in London and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Minsk. We continue to speak out in international fora, including on individual cases. I will certainly pass on the noble Lord’s message and update him in writing on the individual case he mentions. We continue to follow the situation in Belarus closely and attend trials, and we have requested access to political prisoners too.
My Lords, does the Minister recall that, when we left the European Union, it was said that there would be plenty of opportunities in the Commonwealth? Given that there are Commonwealth countries that do not recognise LGBT rights, and indeed prosecute and sometimes persecute gay men and women, what sort of attitude will the Government take towards a trade deal with Nigeria?
My Lords, sadly some EU member states also do not have an unblemished record when it comes to these important rights. LGBT rights are an important part of human rights, and they feature heavily in our Annual Report; they are exactly part of the concerns and values that we wish to uphold as we trade internationally.
My Lords, respect for human rights exemplifies a civilised society, and I wonder whether the Minister might take the question of human rights one step further. Did the British Government receive any indication from our ambassador, or any other forms of intelligence, of a programme of torture and other atrocities being conducted at the Bagram base, in Afghanistan? Can he assure Parliament that no UK agency, official or military personnel was ever complicit in any such programme? Would he agree that such actions would be illegal, reprehensible, send messaging of double standards and could come to haunt the West, as retribution might be inevitable, possibly directed at those who remain in the country or increasing the likelihood of a terror campaign in the West?
The Afghan national detention facility in Parwan was an Afghan-managed and operated facility on the US military base at Bagram and was captured by the Taliban on 15 August. The Government unreservedly condemn the use of torture and remain committed to their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law, including the UN convention against torture. All UK counterterrorism co-operation with the Afghan Government is suspended. All co-operation before August was in strict compliance with human rights standards and international humanitarian law and subject to the guidance on providing overseas security and justice assistance.
My Lords, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights says that climate change threatens the effective enjoyment of a range of human rights, including those to life, water and sanitation, food, health, housing, self-determination, culture and development. There are widespread reports that appear to confirm that binding temperature commitments under the Paris Agreement have been cut from the Australian free trade deal. How can that be reconciled with any commitment to human rights?
My Lords, the main elements of the free trade agreement with Australia were signed by the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister of Australia at a meeting in Downing Street in June. A final agreement in principle was published on 17 June and is available on GOV.UK. The deal will help us better to address global challenges together, including combating climate change. Australia and the UK have committed to a chapter on trade and the environment, which will contain provisions affirming commitments under multilateral environment agreements, including the Paris Agreement, and also to maintain and effectively enforce domestic environmental laws and policies across a broad range of issues. We have also committed to undertaking co-operative activities, including those targeted at key technologies in the transition to a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy.
Report (3rd Day)
Relevant documents: 3rd and 5th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee, 4th Report from the Constitution Committee
Schedule 9: Charges for single use plastic items
40: Schedule 9, page 188, line 39, leave out paragraph (b) and insert—
“(b) are made of plastic or any other single use material, and”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would broaden the proposed power in Clause 55 to enable regulations to be made about charges on all single use items, including plastic. This would provide a tool for Ministers to address single use culture and prevent existing materials being replaced by alternatives which cause similar levels of environmental harm.
My Lords, I am moving Amendment 40 in my name and that of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross. This amendment broadens out the powers in Schedule 9, which currently allow charges to be levied against sellers of single-use plastic items. Our amendment would make it clear that a new charging regime should be for all single-use materials, not just plastic. It would ensure that single-use plastics are not simply replaced with other single-use materials that also cause environmental damage.
This is a simple but important amendment. It goes to the heart of the throwaway culture. There is a real concern that an inability to charge for single-use alternatives to single-use plastic might see the market switch to those alternatives rather than driving down consumption. We have seen evidence that the switch from plastic to single-use alternatives made from wood, paper or compostable materials is already happening, even when reusable options are already available. Far from helping to save the planet, these materials risk adding to our carbon emissions and depleting precious materials and forests elsewhere. For example, the Green Alliance has already calculated that switching consumption of plastic packaging to other materials used for packaging could triple carbon emissions.
These concerns were echoed by the businesses involved in the Aldersgate Group, which have written to noble Lords to say that the risk of plastic substitution in the Bill, as written, could undermine the drive towards a more circular economy and ending the throwaway society. The Commons EFRA report of 2019 concluded that
“reduction is the most important way to reduce waste, and … A fundamental shift away from all single use food and drink packaging, plastic or otherwise, is vital”.
We believe that the current wording in Schedule 9 is flawed and will encourage behaviours which the Government have not intended. If the Government are serious about resource efficiency and the circular economy, they must address this anomaly.
In response to a debate in Committee, the Minister stressed that plastic was a particularly pernicious material which persists for hundreds of years, and that this is why particular measures were necessary to address its unnecessary use. Of course we recognise that, but these provisions, as they stand, address only one element of the problem and do not address the inevitable move towards substitution which is bound to occur when charges for single-use plastics are introduced.
The Minister has also said that the Government already have wider powers to tackle alternatives to plastic through other measures, such as the extended producer responsibility scheme. But as we debated in Committee, the introduction of the extended producer responsibility scheme is already delayed, with the first such scheme on packaging already two years behind. Would it not be easier and more straightforward to introduce this simple amendment, which is properly scoped and provides for a precise power?
It is also worth noting that the delegated powers memorandum says of Clause 54:
“While these powers would be new, the provisions are modelled on existing powers to make regulations about carrier bag charges”.
Nevertheless, it stresses that these are new powers. Our amendment would simply extend these powers to all single-use materials.
In a previous debate we highlighted the need for a holistic approach to tackling the throwaway society and encouraging reuse of materials. This is exactly what is needed here, and it is what our amendment would achieve. I therefore hope that the Minister will reflect seriously on our amendment and commit to bringing back a government amendment along these lines at Third Reading. But if he is not prepared to make a concession along these lines, I give notice that I am minded to press for a vote on Amendment 40.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on bringing forward the amendment, and also my noble friend the Minister for the work that the Government have done in this regard. May I take this opportunity to press my noble friend on one issue? The Government have been quite clear on single-use plastics and a potential returnable bottle scheme, as well as cotton buds. I am not clear what the position is on wet wipes, which I know cause huge problems for water companies and can block cisterns quite badly. Another growing problem, which may not be addressed by this amendment but appears elsewhere in the Bill, is fat balls from cooking that uses large amounts of fat. Where are we are on those issues?
My Lords, I rise to offer support to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and others, on this cross-party, broadly backed amendment and to encourage noble Lords to press it to a vote if we do not see progress.
We are in a situation rather like the “dieselgate” scandal, where we saw encouragement of a shift to diesel vehicles, with severe deleterious effects on human and environmental health. Those effects were multiplied by corruption and fraud in the car companies, but there was an underlying error in the decision being made. We need systems thinking to look holistically at the environmental impacts of laws, regulations and policies. The waste pyramid tells us that the first thing we should be doing is reducing the use of all materials—plastic is particularly pernicious, but all materials have an environmental cost—and then looking to reuse, with recycling a poor third choice.
It is important that the House offers strong support for this amendment in light of the article that appeared in the Sunday Telegraph yesterday. We were told—indeed, we seemed to be pressured by the Government—that too many amendments might embarrass Alok Sharma as chair of the COP 26 talks. Well, it is terribly important that we acknowledge—I hope the Minister will—that just as a puppy is not just for Christmas, the Environment Bill is not just for COP. A strong Environment Bill to show the world at COP is a positive side-effect, but what we are actually doing is creating the framework for the next decade and beyond in the UK. The Government’s focus must be on getting the strongest possible Environment Bill, as has clearly been the focus of this House.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Colville has today had to go to a family funeral, so he asked me to deliver his speech. I am very happy to do so, and I absolutely support this amendment. It is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and I completely agree with her about the shocking revelations in the press yesterday.
My noble friend Lord Colville says that many of our single-use items, particularly drinks containers, are made of aluminium. Not only does the manufacture of aluminium create 1% of global carbon emissions but the mining of bauxite, from which aluminium is refined, leaves behind a toxic waste called red mud. Its high alkalinity is extremely corrosive, damaging soil and destroying life forms. Aluminium smelters generate an additional 150 million tonnes of red mud each year. We must work to reduce such emissions; I believe this amendment would do that.
On the first day of Report, the Minister said:
“Globally, we extract three times the amount of resources from nature as we did in 1970, and that figure is set to double again within a generation”.—[Official Report, 6/9/21; col. 706.]
The Bill has so many laudable aspects, but it still does not bear down hard enough on the problem of our excessive and wasteful use of the planet’s resources and our careless discarding of single-use items. The attention the Bill gives to recycling is crucial and very welcome, but I urge the Minister to be more ambitious.
Like many noble Lords, I welcome the power in Schedule 9 to charge for single-use plastic items, but the Government already have plans to confront much of that problem, through the existing ban on plastic stirrers and cotton buds and the launch of a consultation this autumn on banning plastic cutlery and plates. If these are successful, the power in Schedule 9 to charge for single-use plastics will hardly be needed, but it does not deal with the threat of the substitution of single-use plastics with aluminium, wood or other precious materials.
The extended power put forward in the amendment for a charge to cover plastics or any other single-use material would deal with the problem quickly and reduce our resource use dramatically. When asked to support the amendment in Committee, the Minister responded that it was not necessary and said:
“Items that are not captured by Clause 54 could be captured by other measures, such as EPR or resource efficiency.”—[Official Report, 30/6/21; col. 914.]
Resource efficiency can do much to make producers responsible for the reduction in the use of raw materials, but to implement a scheme for each category of single-use item will take an amazing amount of work to design and a great deal of time and difficulty to implement. Look at the excellent ecodesign that introduces resource efficiency into energy-related products; it has taken four years of consultation and co-operation with stakeholders to get to a final scheme. That is a long time when we are threatened with the facts.
I am concerned that, as the Government progresses through resource efficiency schemes for big product areas such as textiles, they are never going to get round to the efficiency of wooden stirrers or paper plates. So will the Minister explain why he believes the amendment would not deal with this problem much more quickly and efficiently?
Wildlife and Countryside Link, representing a wide range of environmental organisations from CPRE to Keep Britain Tidy, said in its response to the consultation that there needs to be
“a clear focus on reduction and waste prevention to meet the UK’s ambitious climate change targets.”
The EPR policy could change its focus to emphasise further reduction of single-use items, or the Government could just accept this amendment, which would quickly and effectively mitigate many of these concerns. I ask noble Lords for their support on the amendment, because I do not want the good work of the Bill to be undermined by unintended consequences.
That is my noble friend Lord Colville’s excellent speech, which I was very pleased to deliver. Before I sit down, I would like to add a couple of points myself about the involvement of the fossil fuel industry in the world of plastics, which I think is often missed. The raw materials used to make fossil fuels and plastics are one and the same, but demand for fossil fuels is now on the decline in many parts of the world, so we see these two industries coming closer together. In fact, in the face of decreasing profit margins and the increasing demand for renewable energy, fossil fuels are finding new ways to keep themselves afloat—and, unfortunately, they have found plastic production.
Plastics are the fossil fuel industry’s new plan B. Most plastic is made from fossil fuels: we extract oil or gas from land and the seabed and transport it to something that is known as a cracker. Crackers are plants that use huge amounts of heat and pressure to break fossil fuels into the molecules that become the building blocks of polymers. For instance, propane gets cracked into propylene, which is turned into polypropylene, and then you have a plastic bottle. In the past, the industries were fairly separate, but now they are trying to integrate. Both face challenges.
According to UNEP, more than 127 countries have introduced regulation, but way more is needed. Every day it seems we can learn a new thing about what bad stuff plastics do. I did not know until recently that plastic aids the transmission of antibiotic-resistant genes, or that traces of plastic are found in human wombs—so babies can be swimming in microplastics. No country has fully banned it to my knowledge. There are so many kinds of single-use plastic that it is like cutting one of Medusa’s snakes just for three more heads to pop up. But we need something more systemic, and the Bill puts us on the right foot. We need to halt subsidies for petrochemicals, internalise the cost of plastics through taxes and extended producer responsibility, and consider the climate and biodiversity aspects of the plastics lifecycle before we grant permits for the construction and operation of these plants. We need to pass this amendment, and I am very happy to support it.
My Lords, I have campaigned against plastic and support most of the Government’s plans because of the permanent damage that plastic can cause, especially to our seas and rivers. I support the wide powers that the Government are taking in this area. However, focusing on single use is not sensible. I remember that, when I was in retail, a single bag for life needed to be used 80 times to match the efficiency of the light single-use plastic bag. We also need to think about the consumer. I feel there will be similar nonsenses if we try to ban the single use of other items. What is wrong with a coloured paper straw or a paper spoon to eat an ice cream? It will rot afterwards. I am also happy to see cans of Coke, especially if they can be recycled, as they would be if we made it a great deal easier for people to recycle. So I may be in a minority of one, but I think this amendment goes too far.
My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, on single-use plastic and other single-use material. As I indicated last week, we have become a throwaway culture and seem unable to motivate ourselves out of this. We as a country, therefore, need additional help for this to happen.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, has introduced this amendment with her usual depth of knowledge and experience. On Monday, we had an extremely informative debate, with contributions on a number of aspects of the harm caused by different types of plastic to the environment. There are amendments for later days, when we will return to some of these aspects. Then, as now, we will refer to other single-use items that cause harm to us and our environment. Great care is needed in finding alternatives to single-use plastics so that we do not create a greater problem of carbon creation. The problem is with the throwaway culture, not with plastic alone.
According to a 2018 study by the Danish Ministry for Environment, environmental and social impacts associated with the paper supply chain are considerable, and include ozone depletion, human and ecosystem toxicity, and air and water pollution. The study found that a paper bag would have to be used 43 times to have an overall impact lower than that of the average plastic bag. Although its degeneration rate is far higher than that of plastic, it is the creation of the paper that has the carbon impact. It is important to be clear that we cannot move away from plastics to other non-sustainable, one-off alternatives, such as paper, without fully assessing the consequences.
The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, speaking on behalf of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, and in her own right, made some very powerful points. The Government are currently consulting on banning further single-use plastic items, such as plates and cutlery. What are the Government intending to use in place of plastic? Will it be bamboo? What effect will using bamboo in this way have on the supply and growing of bamboo? This is just one example.
I support completely the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. We as a nation should have regard to the overall impact of single-use items, such as disposable nappies, which we will debate later. If we are to be a world leader on environmental issues, as the Government want us to be, reducing the use and impact of single-use items is key. We on these Benches fully support this vital amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, which will ensure that the overall impact of the Environment Bill has a chance at being successful.
I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. The Government are committed to promoting resource efficiency and moving towards a circular economy. Before I start addressing Amendment 40, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, I feel obliged to add my comments on the article that appeared yesterday in the Telegraph. I do not think any names were attached to the article, so it is very hard to know who to take this up with, but it certainly seemed to me to be almost entirely mischievous and not true. We do want to get this Bill done by COP 26—we do not have to, but we want to, for obvious reasons that we discussed in Committee—and we feel that it is in the national and international interest that we should pass the Bill in the strongest possible form before COP 26. No one involved in the passage of this Bill would put their name, privately or publicly, to the comments that appeared in the newspaper.
Turning to Amendment 40, the noble Baroness is absolutely right to highlight the impact of materials other than plastic on the environment. A number of other noble Lords have done the same. I will not go into all the reasons why that matters, as we have covered the issue well during the passage of the Bill, and it has been covered again today. We know that our reckless and wasteful use of resources is putting the natural world under intolerable pressure. However, there is a particular and acute need to reduce consumption of single-use plastic and the particular and enormous environmental harm that it causes. That is why we have included specific powers in the Bill to impose charges on single-use plastics. These will provide a powerful and targeted tool to specifically address the issue of single- use plastics by directly incentivising consumers to use fewer of them.
That is not to say that we do not recognise the impact that other materials can have on the environment—of course we do. Other powers in the Bill will be targeted at reducing consumption across all materials. For example, new powers to introduce extended producer responsibility and deposit return schemes will encourage more sustainable design of products and increased reuse and recycling. There are also powers to provide consistent recycling and to set specific requirements regarding the design and material usage of products. We are also working with international partners to tackle the scourge of plastic pollution in the ocean, including through the Plastic Waste Partnership, the Global Ghost Gear Initiative, and the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance.
From April 2022, a new tax on plastic packaging of £200 per tonne will apply to plastic packaging with less than 30% recycled content. It is estimated that the tax will lead to around 40% more recycled plastic being used in packaging in 2022-23, saving nearly 200,000 tonnes of CO2. Beyond plastic, the Government already have extremely broad powers, through the Environmental Protection Act, to ban single-use items made from any material harmful to the environment or human and animal health. More recently, we have been proactive in using these powers and have introduced one of the world’s toughest bans on microbeads in rinse-off personal care products, and restrictions on the supply of plastic straws, cotton buds and stirrers. As outlined during Monday’s debate, we have also recently announced that we will extend those bans. We will be carrying out a consultation this autumn on banning single-use plastic plates, cutlery and polystyrene drinks containers.
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, asked about wet wipes. I cannot give her a specific answer, other than to say that our teams in Defra are working very hard on this issue as I speak. We recognise the problems that she has identified, but I cannot give her timelines or specific plans yet, other than to say that this is a live issue in Defra.
We will use an evidence-based approach to determine which material has the most significant environmental impacts and where we should consider further bans. This could include plastic, but it could also include any other material. In the round, the Bill—in addition to existing measures—provides us with the policy apparatus that we need to get very tough with the reckless use of resources. The area we are discussing today, however, relates to specific powers to tackle single-use plastics and all the unique problems that they cause. In the light of this, I beg the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, since we have raised the subject of the Telegraph, I want to add my quick twopenneth to that. I thank the Minister for what he said. I think we are all pleased to hear that he disassociated himself from its comments, because it is fairly clear to everyone involved in the Bill that we have been dealing with it in good faith and that nobody is trying to score any political points. I would also say that we are working to a timetable that the Government themselves set, and there is indeed plenty of time if we work together to get the Bill through in time for COP 26. We all understand the advantages of that, but we want to go there with a Bill that we genuinely feel proud of. I think that that is what everyone here is attempting to do.
I thank all noble Lords for their comments. My amendment is very simple and is about substitution. Businesses themselves are beginning to flag up and identify their concerns about that. That is why they have written to noble Lords on this subject, because they are seeing that this is the likely conclusion if we focus just on plastics. As noble Lords have said, there is a real danger of unintended consequences if we are not careful, so let us make sure that we drive down the use of single use overall. That is the way to deliver a reduction in consumption. We will do that only if we have a consistent approach across the board.
Either the powers already exist to deliver the ban on not only single-use plastics but other materials, in which case I do not quite see why Schedule 9 has been put in the Bill in the first place, or new and more simplified powers are needed, as per Schedule 9, in which case that is what we are attempting to do: to add our amendment to that schedule to make sure that the powers apply equally to plastics and plastic substitution. We have rehearsed the arguments as to why that is very well. So if we are in favour of the circular economy and reducing consumption, one step towards doing that is by supporting our Amendment 40. I therefore would like to test the opinion of the House.
Clause 57: Separation of waste
Amendment 41 not moved.
42: Clause 57, page 39, line 33, at end insert—
“(7) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament, and publish, the guidance.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment requires guidance under inserted section 45AZE of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 concerning the separation of waste to be laid before Parliament and published.
I am grateful for the efforts of my noble friend Lord Blencathra and other members of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. My Bill team and I were greatly reassured by the assessment that the committee made of the Environment Bill, and I agree that there is an opportunity for us to go further. That is why I have accepted all the DPRRC’s recommendations and am pleased to table these amendments.
These technical amendments will increase parliamentary scrutiny in areas such as littering enforcement, vehicle recall, land drainage and local nature recovery strategies. I have also tabled Amendment 43, which was requested by the Scottish Government so that they will be able to make provision under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency to be able to impose civil sanctions relating to electronic waste tracking. This will bring the Scottish Ministers’ powers in line with those of the Secretary of State in England, Welsh Ministers and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland.
Finally, I have tabled Amendments 46, 47, 48 and 49. These are minor and technical amendments to measures on fly-tipping enforcement to clarify that authorised officers would be able to exercise their Schedule 10 powers relating to the search and seizure of evidence without a warrant in circumstances where consent has been given. This will enable enforcement officers to determine whether pollution control legislation is being complied with. This was always the intention; however, these amendments expressly set out that, where consent has been given, a warrant is not required.
I hope that noble Lords welcome these technical changes, which will increase parliamentary oversight and improve the Environment Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, I declare my interests as in the register. It would be churlish of me not to congratulate my noble friend and the Defra Bill team on making these technical amendments. They were the recommendations of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which I am privileged to chair. On behalf of the committee, I thank the Minister and the Defra team for making them. One of the powers has moved from negative to affirmative—no big deal, but we are very grateful for it. The others are textbook examples of what departments can do to improve parliamentary scrutiny. We were not demanding that the SIs be affirmative or that they be negative; we were simply saying, “Please lay them before Parliament and publish them.” They have agreed to do so.
In the report that we publish today on the police and sentencing Bill, which the House will consider tomorrow, we will be scathing in our condemnation because the Home Office has failed to do those simple things in its legislation. Let this be a lesson to it on what can be done.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra. I was going to prepare a 20-minute response to the Government’s amendments, but in the interest and spirit of getting to COP 26 faster, I will just say that we on these Benches welcome that the Government have listened to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and accepted its recommendations, which will be good for everybody involved and the wider stakeholders.
Amendment 42 agreed.
Clause 58: Electronic waste tracking: Great Britain
43: Clause 58, page 43, line 46, at end insert “or the Scottish Environment Protection Agency”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment allows the Scottish Ministers to make provision under the new section 34CA(1) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 so as to empower the Scottish Environment Protection Agency to impose civil sanctions.
Amendment 43 agreed.
Clause 64: Powers to make charging schemes
44: Clause 64, page 57, line 28, after “Schedule 4” insert “or 5”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment enables the Environment Agency, the Natural Resources Body for Wales and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency to require payment of charges to recover the costs of their functions under regulations under Schedule 5 to the Bill.
Amendment 44 agreed.
Clause 65: Waste charging: Northern Ireland
45: Clause 65, page 58, line 41, after “Schedule 4” and insert “or 5”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment enables the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland to require payment of charges to recover the costs of its functions under regulations under Schedule 5 to the Bill.
Amendment 45 agreed.
Schedule 10: Enforcement powers
Amendments 46 to 49
46: Schedule 10, page 193, line 23, after “without” insert—
“(a) the consent of a person entitled to grant access to material on or accessible from the premises, or(b) ”.Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies that the powers of search etc in inserted paragraph (ka) of section 108(4) of the Environment Act 1995 may be exercised with consent as well as with a warrant.
47: Schedule 10, page 193, line 27, after “without” insert “consent or”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on Lord Goldsmith’s amendment to Schedule 10, page 193, line 23.
48: Schedule 10, page 193, line 35, after “require” insert “consent or”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on Lord Goldsmith’s amendment to Schedule 10, page 193, line 23.
49: Schedule 10, page 193, line 37, after “done” insert “without them”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on Lord Goldsmith’s amendment to Schedule 10, page 193, line 23.
Amendments 46 to 49 agreed.
Clause 68: Littering enforcement
50: Clause 68, page 62, line 21, at end insert—
“(4A) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament and publish guidance, and any revised guidance, issued by the Secretary of State under this section.(4B) The Welsh Ministers must lay before Senedd Cymru and publish guidance, and any revised guidance, issued by the Welsh Ministers under this section.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment requires guidance under inserted section 88B of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 concerning littering enforcement to be laid before Parliament or Senedd Cymru as appropriate, and published.
Amendment 50 agreed.
51: After Clause 73, insert the following new Clause—
“Air quality: speed limits
(1) The national speed limit for restricted roads in England is 20 miles per hour.(2) Nothing in this section affects the power of traffic authorities responsible for such roads to make exceptions to the national speed limit where appropriate.”Member’s explanatory statement
The purpose of this amendment is to reduce the number of fine particulates released into the air from non-exhaust emissions (NEE), such as brake, tyre and road surface wear, by lowering the speed of traffic and promote driving behaviour that reduces braking and higher-speed cornering. Lowering speed limits is also intended to reduce the projected increase in electricity demand on the grid as EVs replace ICE vehicles.
My Lords, I shall speak to this amendment in my name and the names of my noble friend Lady Walmsley, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. The amendment aims to implement 20 mph as the default speed limit on residential roads. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, is unable to be with us this afternoon but is keen to reiterate her support—
I am sorry; I was so pleased to have made it here on time that I forgot to check that the noble Baroness was here. I will leave her to reiterate her support on her own behalf.
I thank the Minister for meeting me and colleagues during the Summer Recess. While we had a good meeting and I thank the Minister for his courtesy throughout, can he say whether he has looked further at the evidence that reducing vehicle speeds will be a necessary remedy to reduce non-exhaust emissions? In addition, and crucially, a lower speed limit on our roads will help to relieve the additional electricity demand that electric vehicles will put on the national grid and will help our fight against climate change.
Does the Minister accept that, in looking for solutions to reducing air pollution from transport and facilitating the rollout of electric vehicles, speed is a factor that cannot be ignored? Given the importance of improving the air we breathe in our everyday environment, I feel strongly that any remedy to reduce air pollution has a place in a seminal Environment Bill. However, I accept that it is for the Department for Transport to set speed limits. In that vein, I remind the Minister of his kind offer to facilitate a meeting with the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, in her capacity as Transport Minister. Will he confirm that he will do this, if he has not done so already?
In conclusion, we are speaking here of a remedy that will reduce fine particulates in our ambient air, for which the WHO has said that there is no safe limit. The rate of implementation of 20 mph speed limits is gathering pace, not just in the UK but across Europe. We on these Benches will be pursuing the 20’s Plenty agenda in the future, but we may need to leave it until the transport Bill is before us.
My Lords, after that welcome from the noble Baroness in her introduction, I feel that I should go next in speaking in support of this amendment. I should declare that I live in Cardiff, which is one of the pilot areas of the 20 miles per hour speed limit, and we have already found that the air quality has improved, but the transit time from one place to another has not increased—contrary to rumours that that had happened. The difference is that the traffic is calmer; children walking to and from school are safer; and there is less bad behaviour generally on the roads with people being aggravated and pulling away fast at lights.
I have spoken at length about the problem of non-exhaust pollution and that is all on the record, so I will not go over the damage caused to human health by that. However, I remind everyone that, as well as decreasing fatal accidents, the lower speed limit also decreases accidents where there are life-changing injuries.
Given that we are trying to increase walking and cycling and that the Highway Code has been rewritten, moving to 20 miles per hour on our roads generally is very sensible. I have noticed that in London, where some areas are limited to 20 and others are not, drivers are confused but it is easier for cyclists and pedestrians, and it is easier as a driver to see them if they are going just a little slower.
I am afraid I cannot see any arguments at all against the Government accepting this amendment, other than the theory that some people think it might take them longer to get from A to B. However, I do not think that has been proven in practice.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 55 in my name and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lords, Lord Whitty and Lord Randall, and to my Amendment 56 also in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I declare my interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and co-president of London Councils, the body that represents the 32 London boroughs and the City of London Corporation.
Amendment 55 is a development of the amendments that I moved in Committee. It would grant local authorities a discretionary power to control emissions from combustion plant where they choose to declare an area as an air quality improvement area. Amendment 56 would increase the penalty for the offence of stationary idling committed in an air quality improvement area.
As we are all only too aware, air pollution has a terrible impact on human health, contributing to some 40,000 premature deaths in the UK every year. The Government have recognised the seriousness of the problem of poor air quality and that local authorities have an important role to play in delivering reductions in PM2.5. Indeed, local authorities have a statutory duty to reduce emissions in their area, but they do not have sufficient powers to take effective action to achieve such reductions. My amendments seek to give substance to remedying that.
Public attention has understandably been focused more on the need to cut emissions from vehicles, but very little has been said of non-road pollution and emissions of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, dangerous carcinogens that penetrate deep into our lungs and bloodstream. Many emissions are from non-road sources, collectively referred to as combustion plant. As we make improvements in reducing emissions from vehicles, we must also shift our focus to include these other sources of pollution.
To illustrate the importance of tackling non-road emissions, I gave examples in Committee of the City of London. Under the Covid-19 lockdown last year—2020—the square mile saw a 40% decrease in levels of nitrogen oxide compared to 2019, before lockdown. However, levels of PM2.5, the pollutant most damaging to human health, remained at roughly the same level despite the significant reduction in transport activity.
Amendment 55 would insert a new clause granting unitary authorities and district councils in England, as well as the Court of Common Council of the City of London, the power under the proposed new clause to designate an area within its borders as an air quality improvement area if that area exceeds any air quality target for nitrogen dioxide, NO2; particulate matter, PM10; or fine particulate matter, PM2.5, as set out under Clause 1 or 2, or if the area exceeds the World Health Organization air quality guidance for those pollutants. This designation would in effect be a gateway to implementing a range of air quality measures provided for in regulations to be made by the Secretary of State.
The amendment would oblige the Secretary of State under subsection (5) to make regulations setting out the controls that may be applied by the local authority, providing local authorities with a menu of restrictions to choose from. That could include restrictions as to the type of plant by reference to the level of pollution emitted by that plant, or it could apply to plants such as boilers, generators, combined heat and power plant and non-road mobile machinery such as construction machinery.
The regulations could also contain restrictions on the operation of stationary generators in premises within the designated area except where the electricity supply to the premises was disrupted. Many office buildings have back-up diesel generators in the event of a power cut, but instead they are operated to lower the building’s electricity costs by selling electricity back to the grid. Providing for this restriction in the regulations would enable local authorities to set periods when the operation of these generators would be prohibited except in the case of a power cut.
Local authorities would be required by subsection (2) to specify in the designation which restrictions from the menu of restrictions set out in the regulations they wished to apply, in which area, to which types of plant, from which date and time and under which circumstances. The designating local authority would be required to publish details of any restrictions that it wished to implement at least two months before the designation took effect and to advertise the designation in newspapers circulating in the area and on the local authority’s website.
The regulatory framework established by the amendment would give the Secretary of State the flexibility to determine which restrictions should be made available to local authorities and would then leave local authorities the discretion to apply the restrictions that they knew would work best in their area. That would follow the example of the existing regulatory framework of smoke control areas, established by the Clean Air Act 1993, in ensuring that the cleanest applianceswere used in the most polluted areas.
At present, some local authorities attempt to use planning controls to regulate various types of polluting plant. Not surprisingly, that has proved ineffective because planning controls were never intended to be used in that manner. Similarly, attempts to use the environmental permitting framework to give local authorities a means of regulating polluting plants in their area do not really work. It is an unnecessarily cumbersome, expensive, bureaucratic and time-consuming way of dealing with smaller static plant, and does not work effectively for mobile plant. Neither does the existing framework of air quality management areas, set out in the Environment Act 1995, deliver the much-needed powers provided by Amendment 55.
Local authorities are keen to do more on air pollution and are in a good position to know the best way to do so in their area, but they find themselves unable to take the action required. The amendment would provide an easy mechanism for local authorities to act, providing a gateway to implementing any range of air quality measures provided for in regulations made by the Secretary of State.
Amendment 56 relates to the stationary idling of vehicles. More action needs to be taken to reduce this avoidable pollution. Stationary idling is already illegal but the penalty of £20 is derisory these days and hardly a deterrent. The amendment would insert a new clause that would increase the penalty for stationary idling within the designated area to £100, rising to £150 in certain circumstances, in order to deter those who are unwilling to change their behaviour and do not respond to awareness campaigns. Above all, it better recognises the seriousness of the issue.
The amendments are intended to give local authorities the power to bring about the reduction in emissions that all of us, not least the Minister, want. They would equip local authorities with the tools to deliver on their new obligations under the Bill. We have an opportunity in the Bill to empower local authorities across the country to tackle more effectively the problem of non-road emissions, with the potential to make a significant impact in combating poor air quality.
The Minister has recognised that local authorities have an important role to play in improving air quality. The amendments would enable them to do so, and I look forward to their acceptance.
My Lords, I support Amendment 51, which is a no-brainer. This whole group talks about a public health disaster. We have not understood the impact of these emissions on public health—and not just their immediate impact but their long-term impact. There is huge damage to the NHS because of the problems forced on it by these emissions, and these amendments are extremely well designed to fix some of those problems. I should declare an interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
I wholeheartedly support Amendment 55 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and congratulate him on a very thorough exposition of the reasons for it. I have signed Amendments 55, 56 and 57 because they are all very clearly linked. Quite honestly, the Bill really has to say something on air pollution.
It is worth pointing out, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, did, that his amendment has been—I was going to say “concocted” but there must be a better word—written by some very distinct groups. They are the City of London Corporation, London Councils, Clean Air in London, a Lib Dem Peer and a Green Peer. These are people you might not think would naturally link together—but on this issue we are speaking with one voice. There is a problem and we have to fix it, and this is how you can fix it.
The Bill would quite rightly amend the Environment Act 1995 to give local authorities new functions and duties. For example, they must have regard to the national strategy and identify relevant sources of emissions. Another part of the 1995 Act would be amended to include things such as that they
“must, for the purpose of securing … air quality standards and objectives … prepare an action plan”.
Again and again, the Government give duties and responsibilities to local authorities, which is very smart. But, at the same time, you cannot keep giving such a workload if you do not give people the resources to do it. Those resources are partly powers and partly money, and these tough duties are not matched by either powers or finance. We therefore need legislation that would give local authorities the powers they need to decarbonise buildings. This is the next step; we are always talking about transport, but buildings are also a huge source of carbon emissions, as are other non-traffic emissions such as those from construction equipment and stationary generators.
We also have to give the Secretary of State powers in regulations to set common standards that could be tightened over time. Ideally, the Secretary of State would encourage the use of zero-emission or ultra-low-emission appliances to align air pollution and climate efforts. Amendment 55 would strike the right balance between duties and powers for local authorities.
Amendment 56 is very sensible. It would make the problem of stationary idling much easier to tackle; it is a plague at the moment. I make myself very unpopular by going up to people who have their engines idling outside schools and so on, and telling them to turn them off. That is one of the things I do for fun, obviously.
My Amendment 57 is a sort of super-amendment that pushes farther. As your Lordships would expect from a Green, it is more radical. It is based on the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, so in principle it has support from those other authorities—but not quite enough to put that into writing. I have to declare that I am a sinner; I installed a wood-burning stove in a flat that I used to own and I am really sorry about that. In fact, I burned incredibly dry wood—which makes it slightly better—because a scaffolding yard which was next door to my flat supplied me with bone-dry pine from their scaffolding. The people there actually drove the wrong way up a one-way street and up my drive to dump their dumpy bags outside my door. It was fantastic and the wood lasted quite a number of years.
To go back to the point, my amendment builds on the excellent Amendment 55 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, in three important ways. First, it would emphasise the need to include fine particles: these PM2.5s, which we have heard so much about and which are so nasty, because they not only go into the lungs but pass through them into the bloodstream and other organs. They are highly damaging and we probably have not yet caught up with all the damage that they do, particularly to children. They have to go into the national air quality target set under either Clause 1 or Clause 2. As we heard earlier, this is the most harmful form of air pollution, affecting us all at some stage in our lives.
Secondly, my amendment would give metro mayors, alongside local authorities, powers to designate any part of their area exceeding WHO air-quality guidelines as an air-quality improvement area. That is a very useful power and they could set restrictions based on regulations made by the Secretary of State. This seems only right and fair if we are to avoid a patchwork of emissions standards in our largest cities, all of which are polluted.
Last but not least, my amendment would end the sale and use of wood-burning stoves in urban areas over seven years, as the original Clean Air Act was meant to do in 1956. This is important because Defra’s latest statistical release on air pollution said that the use of wood in domestic combustion activities accounted for 38% of PM2.5 emissions in 2019, and these emissions doubled between 2003 and 2019. So we have a real problem and I very much hope that that the Government are listening on this—but perhaps they are not.
Not only are wood stoves and fireplaces a major source of the most harmful air pollution, but the Climate Change Committee is clear that wood-burning stoves should not be counted towards either low-carbon heat targets or renewable targets. So I really hope that the Government are listening.
My Lords, I strongly support all the amendments in this group and have put my name to two of them. I just want to intervene briefly on the issue of idling. Last week, when I walked from my Pimlico flat to this House—which takes about 25 minutes, mainly down backstreets—I passed 15 vehicles which were stationary and idling: cars, vans, buses and trucks. I wish the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, had been with me, because I am far too diffident to bang on a roof and tell a driver to stop doing it—but next time I will invite her to join me.
Westminster City Council has a commendable campaign, public-relations wise, to stop idling—but it has no means of enforcing it. And even if the council did enforce it, the fine is so paltry that it is not a deterrent. This amendment would change that. It would make it easier to enforce and would make people take notice. It is a major contribution towards reducing air-quality problems in our cities and I hope that the House can support all these amendments.
My Lords, during our debate in Committee on a similar amendment to Amendment 51 the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist, said that
“local authorities already have the power to set 20 mph speed limits”—[Official Report, 5/7/21; col. 1081.]
on restricted roads, so my noble friend Lady Sheehan’s amendment was not necessary. Well, yes, it is true that they have the power, and many have used it to great effect—but it is a long-winded and expensive process. Local authorities have better things to do with their time and money, so making 20 miles an hour the default would not mean that all restricted roads would end up being limited to 20. Local authorities would still have the power to make them 30 miles an hour if they considered that would be safer and better for the local community. But surely it is right that these decisions are made locally, and in as expeditious a way as possible, particularly in areas of deprivation.
In her reply, the Minister referred to something in the Atkins report. Can she now provide the House with the evidence which she claimed suggested that 20 miles an hour limits could lead to higher casualty rates, and tell us who did that research? These allegations have been widely challenged, and the Minister needs to defend them as being robust if she wishes to rely on them.
My noble friend Lady Sheehan has outlined the benefits of 20 miles an hour limits, and I have seen them for myself in both Scotland and Wales. They are safer, quieter and healthier, they address some aspects of health inequality, they protect the national grid and they are more environmentally friendly—and that is how I would describe my noble friend’s proposal. If that is not enough, 20 miles an hour areas are also very popular with the public. They address non-exhaust emissions, as well as those produced by combustions—and we do not get rid of those by moving to electric cars; I have an electric car and I still produce small particulates from my car’s tyres and brakes. The noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, did not give any good reasons, in her response in Committee, why this amendment should not be in the Bill; she was not convincing.
I turn to Amendment 55, from my noble friend Lord Tope. Again, the Minister was not convincing in Committee when we covered these issues. She claimed that current regulations are adequate to clean up the emissions from non-road combustion plant—or that at least they will be by 2030. That is nine years away, by which time more people will have died from the small particulates, NOx emissions, et cetera, that are emitted by dirty generators, boilers and so on.
The powers that my noble friend proposes do not currently exist; they are voluntary and additional to what local authorities already have, but they do not have to use them. If they think, with their local knowledge, that there is no need for them—because the air is already clean or because they are happy to rely on the measures outlined by the Minister in Committee—they do not have to declare an air quality improvement area. I emphasise that the powers are discretionary. Can the Minister say what harm would be done by giving local authorities these additional, discretionary powers?
The Minister hinted in Committee that she was afraid that decisions would be made that were, in the Government’s opinion, wrong. Well that is what can happen with devolution—and indeed Governments make wrong decisions too, especially this one—so that is no good reason for failing to accept this amendment.
Amendment 56 offers the Government a very simple way of reducing or stopping totally unnecessary emissions of CO2, NOx and small particulates. The idea that idling your engine outside a school brings a penalty of only £20 is pathetic. I have often seen parents sitting in their cars outside a school in the afternoon, waiting for their children, with their engines running as if in pole position at the start of a Grand Prix. If I had approached the driver to point out that he or she was in danger of attracting a fine of £20, I would have been laughed out of the village. Much more effective would be a fine of £100, rising to £150; I might even be persuaded to bang on the window and warn the driver, like the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. If the Minister could tell me how many drivers have been deterred from doing this by this tiny fine I might reconsider my view, but, as things stand, I think that she should accept Amendment 56.
My Lords, I have some sympathy with Amendment 56 on stationary idling. It is an existing offence, and all we are being asked is to put the fine up to a more realistic level. It is certainly a problem that particularly concerns—I do not know if I should name them specifically—Uber-type drivers sitting waiting for fares.
I do not support any of the other amendments. I think it would be difficult if the House put some of these things through without fuller consideration and costings.
My Lords, in my opinion this is quite an important set of amendments because they focus on some specific causes of air pollution. The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, ably introduced her Amendment 51, on the impact of speed on air quality, as she did in Committee, and spoke passionately about why we need to reduce speed limits to reduce PM2.5. We have heard about research on the impact of road traffic, and the fact that it is responsible for up to 80% of particulate pollution in the UK, but it is also likely that this is an underestimate. The noble Baroness explained how particulates arise from the friction between tyre rubber and road surfaces and the impact of speed on climate change.
Amendment 51 in particular considers a 20 miles an hour speed limit. It is worth noting that the UK default speed limit of 30 miles an hour is 60% higher than that in most continental European towns, where 30 kilometres an hour, or 18.6 miles an hour, is the norm. Imperial College has reported that, at 20 miles an hour, brake and tyre wear is significantly reduced. When the 30 kilometres an hour zones were introduced in Germany, in the 1980s, car drivers changed gear less often, braked less often and required less fuel.
Congestion is also a factor in air pollution, as emissions from a standing vehicle are higher than those from a moving one; this was demonstrated during the debate we had on idling engines. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, also referred to the fact that lower speeds improve traffic flow through junctions and can actually help to reduce congestion.
I turn to Amendment 55, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and others, and Amendment 57, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I will talk to them together, because they both propose air quality improvement areas. In the introduction to his amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Tope, talked about why local authorities are an important part of tackling air pollution, and why they need the powers to make a genuine difference. He spoke particularly about the issue of combustion plants in this context.
Amendment 57 builds on Amendment 55, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, explained very clearly. The need to include PM2.5 when setting a national air quality target is critical. We have previously debated the importance of meeting the WHO targets for this, and we also know that, next week, there is likely to be an announcement that the guidelines will be tightened even further.
The noble Baroness then talked about how her amendment would give metro mayors powers to designate air quality improvement areas. This is important, because it helps to avoid a patchwork of different emissions standards in our larger cities, and the noble Baroness talked about how important that is.
The noble Baroness spoke next about the third part of her amendment, which seeks to end the sale and use of wood-burning stoves in urban areas. Again, we have heard in the debate how important this is in helping to reduce PM2.5 emissions in our cities. The Climate Change Committee has also made it clear that wood-burning stoves should not be counted towards either low-carbon heat targets or renewable targets.
Finally, on Amendment 56, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Tope, idling creates air pollution and is really unnecessary. An idling engine burns fuel less efficiently than when the vehicle is moving, and so it produces more emissions than when it is travelling. Additionally, the toxic gases produced by idling are emitted in the same place, which means that localised air pollution is higher. This is particularly important near schools, because research shows that exposing children to high levels of air pollution can stunt lung growth and cause behavioural and mental health problems. Those of us who are drivers have a personal responsibility here; whether we are parked outside a school, picking someone up from the station or waiting in a car park, we all must do our bit by switching off our engines to reduce our emissions.
As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, reminded us, idling is an offence in law, but there are clearly issues around enforcement and penalties. My noble friend Lord Whitty talked about the difficulties that Westminster Council is having, for example, and this was mentioned by other noble Lords. As I said at the beginning, this is an important group of amendments, focusing on things the Government can do to act quickly to reduce air pollution. I await the Minister’s response with interest.
I begin by thanking noble Lords for the quality of their contributions on the important issue of air quality throughout these proceedings, including in Committee. I agree that ambitious action is needed, which is why the Bill requires the Government to set two targets on air quality, including for fine particulate matter, the particulate most harmful to human health. These will be supported by a robust set of measures in the Bill which enable the action required to meet those targets. I can confirm to the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, that the department will organise a meeting for her and the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, with the Minister, if this has not been organised already. In light of her point about the impact on electricity demand from the speeds of electric vehicles, we will write to the Department for Transport for clarification on that issue.
Turning to Amendment 51 in the name of the noble Baroness, the Government support the use of 20 miles per hour speed limits or zones in the right places, depending on local circumstances. Local authorities have the power to set these limits, and I am confident that it is better for these decisions to be taken locally, taking a balanced account of the full range of impacts of changing speed limits, including economic and environmental effects. The Air Quality Expert Group report into non-exhaust emissions from road traffic concluded that the most effective traffic pollution mitigation strategies reduce the overall volume of traffic, lower the speed where traffic is free flowing—for example, on motorways—and promote driving behaviour that reduces braking and higher-speed cornering. We agree that we need to reduce PM2.5 emissions from tyre and brake wear. In towns and cities where traffic is not free flowing, the best way to do this is by encouraging fewer vehicle journeys rather than slower journeys. We do not want our recovery from this pandemic to be car-led. That is why the Government are continuing with our ambitious plans to increase active travel, with a long-term vision for half of all journeys in towns and cities to be walked or cycled by 2030, backed by £2 billion of investment over five years.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asked a number of questions. I believe she is mistaken about what I said in Committee. We have now checked Hansard, but I would like more time to go through it in detail. If what she said about casualty rates is relevant to that we will, in any event, write to clarify the point I made. She also asked some other questions, which I will come to later. We want to encourage more people to make sustainable, healthier travel choices that help improve air quality for local communities.
I turn to Amendments 55 and 57. Through the Bill, we are strengthening the local air quality management framework to bring in a broader range of partners to work with local authorities to improve air quality, and to make it easier for them to use their powers to tackle, for example, domestic solid fuel burning, a key source of PM2.5. I take the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, about the cumbersome processes that local authorities have to go through and we are aware of the issues with procedures for making these orders. In 2020, we published a report, Traffic Regulation Orders, identifying improvements to the legislative process in England, and we plan to consult later this year on potential legislative reforms to make it easier and quicker to make orders. There are already controls in place for many of the sources of pollution of concern that noble Lords have cited, for example through environmental permitting.
I set out in detail in Committee the many levers that local authorities already have to improve air quality in their areas, so I do not propose to repeat them here, but for tackling non-road emissions, specifically non-road mobile machinery, there are already emissions standards that non-road mobile machinery must comply with before it is sold, and the Government recently agreed to increase the stringency of these standards. Our existing regulatory regime also already sets emissions controls targeting medium combustion plants. This regime requires all plants in scope, such as the plants referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, to be registered or permitted, and sets limits on the levels of pollutants that these plants can emit. Going forward, our clean air strategy committed to consider the case for tighter emissions standards for medium combustion plants to those already introduced and to consider how to tackle emissions from smaller plants which do not fall within the scope of these regulations or eco-design regulations. I believe it is better to continue to strengthen the existing approaches than to create a new framework which would add to an already complex regulatory picture. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, is aware that Defra officials recently met representatives of the City of London, and other local authorities, to understand how to tackle the specific issues that this amendment intends to address, using our existing powers.
On the noble Baroness’s Amendment 57, which would introduce a ban on wood-burning appliances, we recognise that many people rely on wood-burning stoves and open fires, which use natural fuel. Because of this, our recent domestic fuels legislation does not introduce an outright and indiscriminate ban. Instead, we have taken action through the Air Quality (Domestic Solid Fuels Standards) (England) Regulations 2020, which came into force in May, to encourage people to move away from using more polluting fuels, such as wet wood, to less polluting fuels, such as dry wood. The proposals are therefore aimed at protecting health by phasing out the most polluting fuels used for domestic combustion in England and encouraging people to burn less. This work is supported by an information campaign to encourage people to burn better and to reduce harmful emissions.
The regulations require that wood sold in smaller units must have a moisture content of 20% or less, phase out the supply of traditional house coal for domestic burning, and require that all manufactured solid fuels meet sulphur and smoke emissions limits, to tackle the most harmful emissions from domestic burning. However, we need to be mindful of the contribution that wood burning makes in areas where particulate levels are already high, such as in city and town centres. That is why local authorities already have the power to declare smoke control areas. We continue to undertake regular monitoring of emission sources to inform our work to tackle human health risks robustly, and in setting and working towards the new air quality targets we will consider whether stricter measures are needed.
Turning to Amendment 56 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, while this amendment would increase penalties for drivers idling unnecessarily, the priority must be to change motorists’ behaviour. With or without the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, we must encourage them not to idle—which is, after all, wasting expensive fuel—and instead push motorists towards using the technological solutions now available, rather than penalise them. Vehicle technology has moved on significantly and can play a part in addressing idling, including stop-start technology and low or zero-emission vehicles. If needed, however, powers are already available to local authorities to tackle unnecessary idling. Local authorities, as the existing guidance makes clear, should utilise a range of methods to encourage motorists to change their behaviour, including public information campaigns.
Although it seems a very simple idea to increase fines, the Department for Transport undertook a study on fines and concluded that increasing the level was not the best way of addressing the issue. Higher fines of up to £1,000 on conviction may also be issued if the police carry out enforcement against idling where a driver refuses to stop running their engine. This, of course, is rather more than the noble Lord’s suggested penalty, although I acknowledge that this is on conviction, rather than an on-the-spot fine. So, although I agree with the intended outcome of the noble Lord’s amendment, the Government’s position is that higher penalties are not the best approach to address this issue, so I beg noble Lords not to press their amendments.
I thank the Minister. I have one quick question for her. She said that the Government do not want slower traffic, they just want fewer cars on the road, but that flies in the face of what public opinion says on slower traffic. Wherever 20 miles per hour limits have been introduced, they have been very popular. Will she quickly address that? Is it in order for me to ask her to elucidate?
Amendment 51 withdrawn.
52: After Clause 73, insert the following new Clause—
“Air quality and human health in rural areas: application of pesticides
(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations make provision prohibiting the application of pesticides for the purposes of agriculture or horticulture near—(a) buildings used for human habitation, and(b) public or private buildings and associated open spaces where members of the public may be present, including but not limited to—(i) schools and childcare nurseries, and(ii) hospitals and health care facilities.(2) Regulations under subsection (1) must specify a minimum distance from any of the locations listed under subsection (1) to be maintained during the application of any pesticide.(3) In determining the distance in subsection (2) the Secretary of State must be guided by the optimum distance that would make a significant difference in air quality for people using the locations listed in subsection (1).(4) In this section “public building” includes any building used for the purpose of education. (5) Regulations under this section are subject to the affirmative procedure.”Member’s explanatory statement
In order to improve air quality and thereby protect human health and the environment in rural areas, this new Clause would require the Secretary of State to make regulations to prohibit the application of chemical pesticides near buildings and open spaces used by residents and members of the public.
My Lords, this amendment should be recognised as absolutely necessary and straightforward but it is one, unfortunately, that the Government have resisted. Like the air quality debate that we have just had, it concerns human health, but it also has wider environmental implications. The detrimental effect of chemical pesticide spraying on those who live, work and congregate close to where spraying is carried out is well established. The medical effects are now well known—although, as the Minister himself had to admit the other week, not the particular effects of specific combinations of chemicals included in the cocktail of chemicals that are often sprayed these days.
In earlier stages of this Bill and the Agriculture Bill, the detrimental effects of spraying on individuals and families over long periods have been spelled out in great detail; they are familiar to GPs and medics here and around the world. Some effects are acute and some short term, such as breathing difficulties; some are utterly chronic, and some are lethal. The most vulnerable are those right next to the spraying and, in particular, those who are subject to repeated doses because they live there.
Noble Lords will be aware of the views from most scientists, the royal commission and, broadly speaking, global medical opinion. Noble Lords will also have been made aware of particular concerns of individuals who have been affected and have suffered chronic ill health and eventual disability because of this exposure. I have met some of the victims and have heard of large numbers of others.
It is the essential human issue that we are attempting to address in this amendment, but there are, of course, wider arguments. In the terms of some of the responses during Committee and through the passage of the Agriculture Bill, the arguments got mixed up. It is true that many people, including myself, would wish to see the eventual phasing out of all chemical pesticides. The numbers of people wishing for that outcome apparently, according to the news last week, include President Macron. However, irrespective of my views on the longer term, this is a very specific issue, for now. It means that we would protect from current pesticides the health and well-being of literally thousands, or potentially hundreds of thousands, of rural residents in this country. This amendment is not about the bigger picture; it is very specifically about the protection of our rural residents in their homes, gardens, schools and public places. It is an in principle amendment, leaving details subject to the regulatory process. Protection for our rural population is essential, but the regulatory process will obviously allow opinions on the detail. If we adopt this amendment tonight, that process will start now.
Unfortunately, the Government have found all sorts of reasons for resisting this amendment, or a similar amendment, starting with the early stages of the Agriculture Bill. Ministers have adduced a whole range of metamorphosing reasons for opposing the amendment. At first, they said that it was unnecessary because Ministers already had the power to make regulations on distancing of spraying of pesticides and, at that time, they sort of did—but it was under EU law, which left it discretionary on the member state to implement it. We never used that discretion and, with the end of the transition period, that power disappeared; it was not transposed into UK law. The reality is that that power had been there for over a decade and successive Governments had never used it; that is why we need a specific amendment requiring the Government to introduce regulations to implement that principle and not leave permissive powers mouldering on the statue book for another two decades.
The Government then argued that this country’s licensing system for pesticides was world beating—to use that phrase—and did not need any improvements, and that the danger of residents spraying pesticides in their houses and gardens was negligible these days. Yet the Minister was unable to tell the House what tests were made on cocktails of pesticides and, also, on medical evidence, which in particular my noble friend—or, I should say, my noble co-signatory—Lady Finlay adduced during the passage of the Agriculture Bill and this Bill.
There are multiple incidents of acute harm, burns and breathing problems but, far more disturbingly, there are large numbers of cases where long-term effects are seen on neurological and immune systems, lung function and foetal health. These are dangerous. Of course, we are protecting other people; those who use the pesticides are protected by very strict health and safety regulations, wear protective clothing and are usually within a cab. Consumers are protected by very strict rules about pesticide residues being left on vegetables and fruit that reach our shops and markets. The people who are not protected are those who live in our countryside, right next to where this spraying is carried out. I find that omission appalling, and I do not understand why the Government are so reluctant to do something about it. I hope that I have the wholehearted support of this House in instructing the Government to do something about it. As I say, the details of that can be sorted out in regulation, but let us at least make the principle clear tonight.
In Committee, I refrained from quoting anybody, but a couple of examples caught my eye when I was going through this the other night. One woman said:
“My family have always lived next to fields sprayed with chemicals. My husband and my son died from neurological diseases. Our neighbouring farmer and his wife both have MS”—
and, she says, it is all down to those chemicals. Another said:
“I am sprayed with cocktails of pesticides by my neighbour, a fruit farmer, around 20 times per year. As a toxicologist I know that these agents are not meant to be used anywhere near residences and yet my home is covered with these chemicals every time he sprays”.
The Government themselves recognise this issue. In the codes of practice, they require farmers and others to notify nearby premises, but that is not enforced, and, in most cases, it does not happen. There is no such notification and, even when it does happen, there is no notification of what precisely is being sprayed because, by and large, by that stage, the particular application is not clear. However, it is clear everywhere else; it is clear to the medics and to the manufacturers, who put very strong warnings against inhalation or skin contact on the containers for these pesticides—and rightly so, because they are being responsible. I am asking the Government to take their responsibilities at least as seriously and today adopt an amendment that will give some hope to those families who historically have seriously suffered debilitation and sometimes worse, and to ensure that it does not affect families in the next generation.
I hope that the Minister will change course on this issue, accepting the need to look at it again and to take action to introduce regulation. Unfortunately, successive Governments have not done that, which is why I require the amendment to instruct the Government to take action. I hope that the House fully supports me on because too many people’s lives have been blighted to ignore this problem. I hope that the House can support this amendment today.
My Lords, I have put my name to the amendment, and I support it very strongly. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will test the opinion of the House.
We have major problems with these chemicals. First, our testing regime tests single pesticides, but does not look at combinations or mixtures of pesticides. Secondly, people are required to notify local premises prior to spraying, but there are two difficulties with this: as downwind is not necessarily a short distance, these chemicals can travel very long distances, and you cannot predict the direction the wind is blowing. Another difficulty is that they sit on the land on crops, and when the sun comes out, they vaporise. Even though people might have been warned about spraying, the vaporisation means that the amount in the air goes up again and it is spread still further towards people living in the vicinity.
I have a list of references from different parts of the scientific literature which I will not go through in detail now, as it is not the time. But I point out that pesticides can cause deformities in unborn offspring, cancers, and mutations that poison the nervous system and block the natural defences of the immune system. The irreversible effects are permanent and cannot be changed once they have occurred. I have looked after an awful lot of cancer patients, many coming from farming communities in Wales. When they are young and ask me about exposure to chemicals, it is very difficult to have that conversation, because by then they, or maybe their child, is already so seriously ill or dying, that everything is irreversible. We cannot carry on doing this and polluting the environment without thinking again. Article 3(14) of EU Regulation 1107/2009 defines rural residents living in the locality of pesticide-sprayed crops as “vulnerable groups,” and they are recognised as having high pesticide exposure over the long term.
The side effects of the individual chemical agents are quite scary. When one looks at the cumulative effects long term, we cannot continue to ignore them. The effect on rural residents will go on and on, even for those living at sizeable distances. I hope that the House will reflect on the debate we had on the Agriculture Bill, when the Minister at the time, the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, told the Committee that we need a population in good health to cope with the threat of infection during the pandemic. We cannot carry on having a rural community that is being poisoned by its own actions in an attempt to supply us with food which is cheap and probably underpriced for the value which should go to farmers for responsible farming. I hope that this House will support this amendment.
My Lords, I strongly support Amendment 52 to which I have added my name, and the very important contributions, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I am of course passionate because this is a matter of great importance. As I have said previously, on both the Agriculture Bill and in Committee for this Bill, we have a history of underplaying certain risks to human health, which we only find out about later. I am thinking of tobacco, asbestos, air quality—which we have just been discussing —and various things which cause harm. It must be obvious that these chemical pesticides—because of the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff—are nothing but harmful.
I am particularly concerned about cocktails of chemicals. I am not a chemist and did not do much science at school, but I know that if one mixes certain chemicals, they have a completely different effect and can be even more toxic. Do these chemicals accumulate in the soil, and not simply vaporise, as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said? That is something we should be looking at.
If it were one spray, it would be bad enough, but most of these people are subject to this on a regular basis. We hear that there is almost constant spraying, in various seasons. I thought that there was a principle that it should be down to the producers to provide proof that this is safe, and not the other way around, meaning that we must prove that it is harmful.
I will also speak briefly to Amendment 53, in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville and Lady Jones of Whitchurch. While Amendment 52 is about human health, Amendment 53 is about the natural world and insect health, which has an effect on human health. It is the same principle—we do not understand what we are spraying, and we must.
Finally, Amendment 123 concerns the same thing: it is about lead polluting the soil and in the food we eat. I have read in Farmers Weekly—not my usual journal of choice—that flour millers are left disappointed finding lead shot contamination in milling wheat and cereal grains. This has almost certainly come from people shooting vermin with lead shot in barns, containers and grain stores. In this instance, the customer had to pressure the miller to replace the domestic wheat with imports in the flour blend to prevent a repeat incident. We will be hearing more about lead.
On all these counts, we must push the Government more, because they are almost at the point of doing this. We should be taking this incredibly seriously, or future generations will ask “Why on earth did they not do something then?”
My Lords, Amendment 123 is in my name and those of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch, the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, who has already indicated his support, and the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury; I am extremely grateful for their support. It is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Whitty, and I make a passing reference to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. There are compelling cases for both their amendments too, but I do not intend to speak to them.
The debate in Committee revealed strong support from all parts of the House for this amendment—indeed, I cannot recall anyone who spoke against it. Even the Minister himself spoke for the amendment in part, when he was persuaded by a phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, that the amendment was a no-brainer. To that extent, he accepted it, but we will come to the Government’s resistance in a moment.
This amendment proposes a new clause which provides an effective regulation to protect wildlife, the environment and human health by replacing toxic lead ammunition, principally for shooting game, with alternatives. It is intended to provide regulatory protection for wildlife and the environment and to improve human health and protect humans by replacing toxic lead gunshot with much safer alternatives. It also intends to ensure a supply of healthy game for the market and meet the requirements of shooting, food retail and conservation stakeholders.
This amendment is not precisely the one that was before your Lordships’ House in Committee. The date of its provisions coming into effect has changed slightly to 31 July 2023—a move of a few months in 2023—to respond to arguments and advice that I received directly and indirectly from ammunition manufacturers that it would be more appropriate not to seek to ban the use of lead ammunition in the middle of a game season, when people had already stocked up, as it were, for the purpose of shooting. It seemed to be a compelling argument. They were on board. They also said, quite understandably, that if we are to make this change, there needs to be compulsion that has effect and is logical so that they can ramp up the manufacturing. So, there is a change in that respect.
I do not intend to go into all the 30 years of evidence there is that we should not be doing this, but we know that lead is a poison. We ban it in many other areas of life. It seems crazy that we allow it to be used in this way when it gets directly into the food chain. In his response in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, confirmed that the Government want action to ban the use of lead in a way which harms the environment and human or animal health. He is a lifelong—certainly adult life-long—proponent of that and makes no bones about it. He rejected an amendment of this nature because it was not comprehensive and did not deal with the issue of lead in target shooting and other parts of that element of the sport.
The Minister supported the Government’s preferred approach, which is to use the GB REACH process—I say the “GB REACH process” because the EU REACH process applies to Northern Ireland and, indeed, may be being debated in your Lordships’ Grand Committee—which, in my view and in the view of many other noble Lords, will take an unconscionable length of time and will unnecessarily expose tens, if not thousands, of children to potential harm. I remind your Lordships’ House that the Minister, Rebecca Pow, said in launching the REACH process:
“A large volume of lead ammunition is discharged every year over the countryside, causing harm to the environment, wildlife and people”,
“Addressing the impacts of lead ammunition will mark a significant step forward in helping to protect wildlife, people, and the environment.”
In concluding, the Minister offered the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, a meeting. It took place on 5 August with the Minister, officials and the noble Lord, Lord Randall, present. I got an indirect invitation to the meeting, which I also attended. Since then, I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Randall, has had further communication with the Bill team, as has the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury. I shall leave both noble Lords to share with your Lordships’ House what was discussed, if it can be shared. I thank the Minister and his team for their engagement with this process, and I thank the noble Lords for ensuring that I was included.
But I understand that the Bill team’s position on lead shot is that the time it will take for the GB REACH restriction dossier to be prepared is required to build a comprehensive case for the restriction. I think that is one of their arguments. They also argue that this requires up-to-date GB-wide specific evidence and that the Government need to make sure that the final decision on this is watertight from an evidential and legal perspective. I have not practised law for a long time, but I respect this position and understand it. But I do not accept without evidence that this is necessarily a block to dealing with what we can deal with today, which is harm to people, animals and the environment. I will come back to that.
So where do we stand today? First, lead is a poison and should be banned, except where it is a necessity to use it and there is no alternative, where it should be closely regulated. That is what we do in every other aspect of our lives. We have known that lead shot has been poisoning animals, humans and the environment for decades. We have reached the stage where, in the face of the comprehensive knowledge that we now have of the value of the environment and its biodiversity to every single aspect of our life, something has to be done about this. The obvious thing is for its use in a way that creates a poisonous effect to be banned.
There already exists a comprehensive case for this amendment—supported by specific GB evidence over decades—to protect human health, wildlife health and the environment. There exists support for the need for the change from all major stakeholders: shooters, game dealers, distributors, retailers, scientists, conservationists, and even the Houses of Parliament. Both Houses, through their committees, unanimously agreed to ban the sale of lead-shot game in our restaurants so that we do not poison ourselves. It has support from Parliament already. I have to say I find it difficult to explain to people outside why we cannot ban for their consumption what we have banned for our own. This does not seem a tenable position to be in.
There already exists acknowledgement that alternatives exist and are effective. They have existed for 25 years in Denmark. Not only do they have a burgeoning shooting business—in fact, my country, Scotland, has lots of Danes shooting there in all the shooting seasons who tell me that they do it in Denmark very successfully, and they win medals from sports shooting targets with steel ammunition. There already exists an acknowledgement of the need for change to support a market for healthy game meat, which we should encourage people to eat. So there are strong socioeconomic arguments too.
Any further unnecessary delay will result in the death and suffering of hundreds of thousands more birds, the risk of irreversibly reducing the IQs of thousands—possibly tens of thousands—more children, and the deposit of thousands of tonnes more lead shot into the environment, adding to the existing toxic legacy, all of which are unnecessary and fully avoidable.
The case for this amendment is made and is clear cut. Dealing with this now will not only save time and taxpayers’ money by avoiding another unnecessary review but give GB REACH more valuable time to research and debate the issues of lead bullets and target shooting, for which there is certainly a case but where we appreciate that more work with stakeholders may well be required.
Finally, my understanding is that it has been suggested from “sources” that the GB REACH process can achieve the objective of a comprehensive ban with effect from 31 July 2023, the date on which this amendment is due to come into force. If the Minister is inclined to offer that in his response, it will have to be considered, and I am certainly willing to do so. I know that those who support the amendment and have put their name to it are also willing to consider that as a solution to this problem.
However, I am confident that if I test the opinion of this House, a majority will support this amendment. There are two possibilities for avoiding that, as I see them. The first alternative is that, beyond the assertion that GB REACH is the only way forward, the Minister can point me and my noble friends who support this amendment to the legal provisions that support this conclusion and not just keep asserting it without doing so. I have not yet seen a reasoned argument of this nature. It has been absent from all the discussions I have been involved in thus far with the Bill team, either directly or secondarily. I have it on good authority from lawyers working on it at the moment that it is not necessary to do it down that route and that this route, which the Danes use, could be used, too, with effect and without challenge.
Secondly, if the Minister gives a strong enough commitment to persuade the House that there is a strong probability that there will be a comprehensive ban on the use of lead ammunition by a date around the one which we propose in this amendment, or by a date certain, I will consider not having to further embarrass the Government by dividing the House on this issue.
My Lords, I am very pleased to support Amendment 123, from the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton. I declare an interest, as on the record from previous debates on this Bill. I will not cover again all the points I made both at Second Reading and in Committee.
It is a fact that lead is a poison. I have an enthusiasm in supporting this amendment that comes entirely from my love of the shooting sports, in particular game shooting. Noble Lords will recall that I have probably been supporting all the shooting sports in this House since I came here 40 years ago, very often as a lone voice. Shooting is not exactly something that many of your Lordships are fondly in love with. I want everything I shoot to go into the food chain for human consumption. It is good, wholesome, low-calorie, low-cholesterol food that is both nutritious and delicious.
I am a realist and a very small minority of my shooting colleagues—I do not call them friends because they are not—could not give a fig whether they sell their game into the marketplace for human consumption. So far as they are concerned, they can dispose of it by other means. I find that absolutely despicable and disgusting. There is absolutely no place in my shooting world for people like that, who taint the vast majority of the game shooting enthusiasts of this country, who behave very responsibly indeed and desire, like me, to be able to ensure a growing market of consumers for the game that we produce. That is why I am standing here, pleading with your Lordships about lead.
This amendment will not affect target and clay pigeon shooters. We do not eat targets and clay pigeons. Clay pigeon shooters and target shooters shoot 60% of all the lead shot-cartridges produced in this country. Game shooters shoot 40%. Nine shooting bodies or bodies supporting the shooting sports, including what used to be the Game Conservancy Trust—the GWCT, which my noble friend Lord Caithness and I have a lot to do with—stated some while ago that they intended voluntarily to cease shooting with lead shot. That was done about a couple of years ago, in my memory. I believe that they are now backtracking, and this is another reason why I support this amendment very strongly. The amendment provides certainty for the shooters. It gives certainty to the supermarkets, which are going to stop producing food that has lead shot in it. The stated intention of these nine bodies was to give up lead in a five-year timeframe. There is your timeframe. There is nothing wrong in giving a timeframe. It gives support to the shooters. It gives support to everybody involved with the game-producing industry. We all know then what we are doing and by when we have to do it.
My shooting friends—and I had an invitation from one very nicely this morning in the post—are all saying now, “Will you kindly stop using lead on our estates? We would like you to go and use non-toxic shot, because we cannot sell the birds at the end of this coming season to the Game Dealers Association, because it has already stated that it will not take toxic-shot birds and there goes our market entirely.”
The supermarket chains, especially Waitrose, have for quite a while now had a strategy and process whereby they are stopping accepting lead-shot and toxic-shot game. They believe that the market is going to go much better for non-toxic-shot game. Waitrose mentioned to me that it can sell 1 million more units of game a year to the consumer. That is good for shooting, and that is why I am standing here saying this.
I believe that there is no earthly, legal or operational reason why Her Majesty’s Government cannot agree to this amendment, which covers only game shooting. It does not include clay pigeons shooting, which, as I mentioned, uses by far the largest amount of lead shot in the country. The Government can take on clay pigeon shooters on a different day and take them through a consultation. It will take them years to do it, but I would like to see game shooting legislated for now.
I urge my noble friend the Minister to accept these amendments or to accept Amendment 123, because it is sensible and easy.
My Lords, I will speak first to Amendment 52, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, to which I was pleased to attach my name. It also has the cross-party and non-party support of the noble Lord, Lord Randall, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. I will also briefly address the other two amendments here.
Your Lordships’ House might not be surprised to know that my arguments around Amendment 123 might be slightly differently expressed, and I might have drafted the amendment slightly differently. None the less, the fact that we are still pumping lead out into our environment is disgraceful. We hear the phrase “world-leading” a great deal. As we have heard, Denmark banned lead shot for hunting 25 years ago. California did it last year. If you look around the world, it has taken an unconscionably long time but we have just seen Algeria become the last country in the world to stop selling leaded petrol. We have known for a long time the damage lead does. We cannot justify continuing to use it in this way. This might have been an amendment for which the term “no-brainer” was invented, when you think about the fact that this is damaging the brains of children in particular. As the noble Lord, Lord Browne, said, we have banned lead-shot game here in this House but have not acted outside the House. That really cannot be defended. It is untenable.
Amendment 53 looks at protecting nature from the toxic, disastrous chemicals that are pesticides, but I really want to focus on Amendment 52. We have been debating for some time and I want to come back to briefly highlight the powerful points made particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. Many Members of your Lordships’ House, particularly those sitting opposite, will be able to picture the scene: an air-conditioned cab with air filtration; an operator equipped with a whole range of complex, high-tech protective equipment; and a child playing in a garden right beside where the person in all that protective equipment is applying chemicals.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said she sees the other side of this in her professional practice. People—sometimes young people, sometimes very young people—with cancers, with neurodegenerative diseases. Once the noble Baroness sees them, it is essentially too late. We cannot allow this to continue. This House has many times expressed its strong support for this amendment. I stress that these three amendments are not an either/or, pick-and-match lot. All these amendments should be in the Bill.
I very much hope that, given the direction of travel and where push pressure is coming from, the noble Lord will concede on Amendment 123. We have to vote. I urge the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, to put this to the vote. We have to get both Amendments 52 and 53 through. This is not an either/or option.
It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. I just want to say a few words about these chemicals and to talk about it from the point of view of the industry and cheap food.
In 1947, the manufacturers of DDT ran an advert in Time magazine showing smiling cartoon farm animals and a rosy-cheeked housewife who sang “DDT is good for me-e-e!”, along with the claim that DDT was the “benefactor of all humanity”. That same year, they had a British colonialist sprinkling DDT over a bowl of porridge and then eating it in a bid to persuade local people in east Africa that this chemical was harmless.
We can see, if we cut forward to today, that Silent Spring was written in 1962 and DDT became recognised as something that was harmful to animals, nature, biodiversity and, indeed, humans. Yet, today, we see a very different story. In 1990, we treated 45 million hectares with pesticides. By 2016, this had risen to 73 million hectares, although the actual area of crops had remained the same. However, we were putting many times more pesticides on to those same crops, on to a weakening soil, in our attempt to keep producing ever more cheap food to feed our population.
There are very familiar names in the industry—Bayer, Monsanto and Syngenta—and it is reckoned that they make about 35% of their total global revenue by selling these sorts of pesticides around the world. Farmers get trapped into that same cycle. It is something that we have to break.
This amendment is very important to me, because I feel a great distrust of the Government at the moment, for instance over the ban of neonicotinoids. They are now banned in America and across the whole of Europe; indeed, when we were still within the European Union, we banned them as well. However, we have now let them back in and they are allowed to be used on sugar beet. This feels to me like a small open door that could get bigger. I quote Dave Goulson, from the University of Sussex, who wrote a fantastic book about the decline of insects. Mentioning neonicotinoids, he says:
“The toxicity takes your breath away—just five maize seeds treated with neonicotinoids are enough to kill a grey partridge.”
No one can spray 17,000 tonnes of poison across a landscape without doing massive damage as it spreads. As the noble Lord, Lord Randall, so wisely said, we now know about DDT—and, actually, we know about this stuff too. It is no accident that it kills animals, insects and every single small thing around.
These amendments are absolutely imperative, right across so many parts of this Bill: biodiversity, habitats and human health. Also, there are other ways of doing it; there are intelligent, responsible uses of gene editing and many natural solutions to keep crops safe and ensure that we have good, healthy food that does not destroy either our planet or ourselves.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness; she has made a very powerful speech and covered a lot of the points that I wanted to raise. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, also made a powerful and passionate speech. We all know that some pesticides are lethal when applied badly or in the wrong conditions. A lot of farmers do it absolutely correctly but, sadly, a minority do not necessarily adhere to the rules or the conditions. As the food section of the United Nations has reminded us, we also need to bear in mind that crop yields currently drop by 26% to 40% if one does not have the right chemicals.
The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, was absolutely right that there are alternatives coming through in gene editing; that must be the future. It would be an ideal situation if we could get rid of most harmful pesticides through gene editing, to keep food production up. The noble Baroness also reminded us what a complete mess we have made in our farming over past years, which has affected biodiversity, the soil and nature. A serious revolution is taking place now to correct that.
I turn to Amendment 123 and support what the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, has said. Yes, there is an informal agreement to phase out lead shot within five years, but that is too long a timescale. It is perfectly possible to do it to an earlier timescale. It would be inconvenient for some industries, I agree, but my mind goes back to when I was a Minister and we started to phase out CFCs. Industries came to my door in their droves, saying, “You cannot do this”, “We will have to rejig our plant”, “We can’t possibly do it in the timescale you are proposing.” In fact, they did it in a quicker timescale than I wanted at the time. If one gives industries a set date, they can do it; they will meet it. It is a pity that most of the steel now has to come from China, but that is another story. I support the thrust of what the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, has said, and I so agree with my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury: it is for the good of shooting that this amendment is necessary.
My Lords, I am afraid that I will add a little un-unanimity to this debate, which seems to have been completely one-sided so far. I declare my farming interests as set out in the register and note that there is a thriving apiary on my farm, to which the greatest threats are from weather and woodpeckers—if noble Lords want to know why woodpeckers, it is because they break into the hives during the winter and eat the queen bee.
Let me state for the record why we need plant protection products. Farmers would love to stop spraying, which is expensive and time-consuming, but they need to produce food in a financially viable manner. I will comment on a few things that have perhaps been taken slightly the wrong the way in this debate. First, no trained, licensed spray operator will spray a field when there is a wind. Secondly, no trained, licensed spray operator will spray in the middle of the day. Thirdly, the neonics on sugar beet that were mentioned earlier were used during a particular window to address a particular problem; there is no general licence to use this chemical.
Farmers and growers need access to safe and effective tools to protect crops from pests, diseases and weeds, so that they can continue to produce safe, affordable food and crop plants. Pesticides, called “PPPs” in the regulation, are currently an important part of the suite of integrated pest-management tools relied on to protect crops. Unnecessary restrictions on PPP use will lead only to reductions in yields and a decline in the productivity of UK agriculture. These reductions will mean an increase in imports from other parts of the world. Also, the environmental consequences of offshoring our production would mean more land being brought into cultivation, exporting our environmental footprint to countries that may be more vulnerable to climate change. This would be especially misguided given the efficiency and high standards of UK agriculture.
There is often a misconception that farmers use PPPs even though they do not need to. In reality, farmers use PPPs only when they absolutely have to, to protect our food supply against the pests, weeds and diseases that would otherwise cause us to lose 30% to 40% of our food production—I repeat, 30% to 40%. When farmers use PPPs, they ensure that they use only as much as is necessary, and they take measures to ensure that they impact only the intended crop.
When introducing his previous amendment in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, questioned the ability of the regulatory system to protect residents living near farms. I reiterate what others have said about the strength of the regulatory system. It is among the most stringent in the world. Limits are set for the safe daily exposure of operators, residents and bystanders to PPPs. These limits are set at levels that are conservative and offer a high level of protection for human health. The current regulatory system for PPPs has been subject to a thorough assessment to ensure a high level of protection for human health, animal health and the environment.
Regarding Amendment 52, the existing regulatory system for PPPs considers the potential impact on bystanders, who are defined in the regulation as
“people who casually are located within or directly adjacent to”
an area where plant protection products are applied. Residents are defined in the regulation as
“people who live, work or attend any institution near to areas that are treated with”
PPPs. There is no need for further regulation to achieve exactly the same goals.
With regard to Amendment 53, an appropriate and robust risk assessment is already carried out on all active substances before they reach the market. All products on the market have been subject to a thorough assessment to ensure a high level of protection for human health, animal health and the environment. This includes bees and other pollinators. Insecticides are by their nature toxic to bees and other pollinators. However, the way they are used ensures that the risk of exposure is minimised to levels that do no harm to bees or pollinators. As part of the regulation, an appropriate risk assessment is carried out on all active substances and products before they reach the market.
Finally, consider other likely consequences of these two amendments. With advances in agritech, such as pest monitoring, plant breeding and precision application, it is likely that the use of PPPs and all other pest control interventions can become more efficient, achieving more with less. However, to achieve this, the Government must encourage investment in research and development and provide a regulatory environment which enables innovation in order to deliver the next generation of agricultural technologies and, in the meantime, ensure that farmers and growers retain the tools they need to produce world-class food sustainably and affordably. These amendments would undermine that investment in the future.
My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 53 in my name and shall speak to Amendments 52 and 123. All the amendments deal with different poisons that should be banned, or at least controlled. I thank the Bill team for its time and useful briefing on Friday. We have debated at length the impact of pesticides on both the population and pollinating insects during the Agriculture Bill and in Committee on this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, spoke passionately, as always—as did others—about the impact of pesticides on humans unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity of spraying. That is a serious matter, and I hope that the Minister will have concessions to offer the noble Lord and other signatories to that amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, gave the excellent example of the promotion of DDT. There should not be another example similar to that witnessed with the use of organophosphate sheep dips, when it took a huge campaign on the part of those affected before the substance was banned. Pesticides have detrimental effects on humans, and the Government should acknowledge that.
I now turn to Amendment 53, relating to the effect of pesticide use on pollinators, particularly bees. I am grateful to Buglife for its briefings. I am sure the Minister will refer the House to the integrated pest management strategy, which covers some of the ground. However, this does not provide the safeguards needed. The widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides resulted in a reduction in the overwintering success of honey bee hives, significant declines of 40% in wild bee species studied and was implicated in butterfly population decline. This resulted in reduced pollination services and crop yields. However, despite the acknowledgement by the then Minister in 2010 that the pre-approval tests for pesticides were inadequate to protect pollinators, and the production in 2013 of a testing guide document by the European Food Safety Authority, the UK has yet to introduce any new tests to help ensure that future pesticides are pollinator-safe. In order to comply, an independent, competent authority is needed, as detailed in proposed new subsections (1) to (4) of Amendment 53.
I acknowledge the national action plan on pesticides and its aim to reduce the need for chemical pesticides, but it does not mean that they will be phased out. The Future Farming scheme will help with transition to a non-pesticide control, but this is yet to have effect.
The public are passionate about bees. One needs only to see the many products on sale with the symbol of bees and their honeycombs to acknowledge just how popular they are. Those can range from miracle face creams through to cushions and scarves, from socks through to high-fashion items, kitchen utensils and even furniture. There is also the huge popularity of honey—a truly natural product. The bee is popular, and the public wish it to be protected and wish to be consulted on anything which might have an impact on pollinators. This amendment ensures that that could happen.
The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has referred to a 30% to 40% reduction in crop yield if PPPs are not used, but if crops are not pollinated because of the decline in pollinators, there is likely to be a similar loss in yield.
With reference to proposed new subsection (9), the devolved Administrations have a significant role here, and the Minister should consult them. Authorisation of use includes derogation. As a nation, we must strive to avoid a similar circumstance to where a Minister, overriding the advice of his officials, authorises the use of glyphosate-based herbicides, which can cause high levels of mortality in bumblebees. This came to public attention only due to an FoI. The public need to have confidence that the Government will do the right thing.
Different groups of pollinators are affected by pesticides in different ways, so it is important that a range of pollinators is included in the pre-approval testing process. This amendment would ensure that tests are undertaken on acute and chronic effects on honey bees, bumblebees, solitary bees, butterflies and hover-flies, but also that independent science relevant to any pollinator is considered.
I regret to say that, despite the assurance of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that everything is tested, on Friday, officials said that it was impossible to test everything. The various mixtures of chemicals—the so-called cocktails—are unlikely all to be tested. There may be a shift to less toxic mixtures, but insufficient research on their effect has so far been done, and it is important to protect honey bees and wild pollinators.
Turning briefly to Amendment 123, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, who spoke passionately about it, phasing out the use of lead ammunition has been slow. In Committee, we heard powerful evidence of the effect of lead poisoning on the health of both children and adults. No matter how careful you are in the preparation of game for the table, lead shot often escapes notice and is unwittingly eaten. I was very interested in the example given by the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, of lead shot in millet. The noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, spoke from vast experience of shooting. Alternatives to lead shot are available. I fully support the transition away from lead to safer alternatives. This amendment, if added to the Bill, would ensure that that would happen sooner rather than later. I look forward to the Minister’s response to those three very important amendments.
My Lords, I declare an interest through my involvement at Rothamsted Research. I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in a clearly very important debate. Amendments 52 and 53 tackle the pernicious effects that pesticides are having on our environment and on human and insect health. The amendment of my noble friend Lord Whitty once again raises the important human health implications of spraying noxious chemicals in fields next to residential and workplace areas. He asks that regulations should set out minimum distances from homes, schools and public places. We do not think this is an unreasonable request. As he said, at least farm workers have protective clothing and some sort of choice about their work environment, whereas local people have no choice and no information about what is being sprayed on particular days. As we have discovered in the past, the health implications of exposure to such chemicals can sometimes take years to be revealed, as the example given by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, of DDT, clearly demonstrated.
Of course we welcome the Government’s overarching commitment to reducing pesticide use. We see that there are considerable advantages to precision applications and integrated pest management for the future, but the very fact that the Government are taking those steps is an acknowledgement of the dangers of widespread pesticide use. In the meantime, until those techniques become commonplace, we should at least be taking steps to protect public health, and my noble friend’s amendment is one step towards doing this.
As we discussed in Committee, and again today, the threat to public health is made worse by the spraying of cocktails of pesticides. The Minister conceded in his subsequent all-Peers letter that it is not possible to assess the potential human health and environmental impacts of every possible combination of the chemicals in the environment. As a result, we cannot know for sure the extent of health damage being done by indiscriminate spraying.
This is an issue that we raised and voted on in the Agriculture Bill, and I am sorry that the Government have felt unable to address these concerns. My noble friend’s amendment raises important issues about health protection for the future, and I hope that the Minister can give further reassurance in his response that these concerns are being addressed and that the Government are prepared to look again at this issue.
Meanwhile, the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, set out decisively why further action to protect pollinators is so important. She set out why research into the longer-term impacts of pesticides on wider groups of pollinators, not just honey bees, is so important, particularly as the impact on bees is not necessarily an accurate measure of the impact on wider species. We are now much more aware of the importance of a diverse group of pollinators to deliver flourishing crops and rich habitats. Yet, since 1990 the UK has lost 13 out of 35 of its native bee species and, as I said, it is not just honey bees that fertilise our plants: there are myriad pollinators in the insect world whose contributions to natural diversity can all too easily be overlooked.
This is why greater action to protect pollinators is so important, and it is why we are concerned that the emergency use of chemicals such as neonicotinoids continues to be sanctioned by the Government. Although the emergency threshold for their use was not met this year, presumably the Government are retaining that emergency power for future years. As noble Lords have said, it is particularly frustrating as other natural solutions and other innovations are coming on stream.
In Committee, the Minister was supportive of much of what the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and I had to say on the issue. I have no doubt about his personal commitment. As he said:
“It is impossible to exaggerate the existential damage that would be done were we to see the continuing decline of pollinators on the scale that we have seen in recent years”.
He went on,
“I … take these amendments extremely seriously and I share the intention behind them.”—[Official Report, 5/7/21; cols. 1102-03.]
He also argued that the current risk assessments for pesticides are subject to public consultation, but this so-called public consultation is buried away on the Health and Safety Executive’s website, the first dossier being 2,570 pages long with 360 questions. Until very recently no one even knew that this public consultation was there. I hope that, in his response, he will be able to give more reassurance to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, that further measures will be taken to carry out more comprehensive research into the potential harmful effects of pesticides, with proper consultation backing it up. If he is not able to do so, I confirm that we will support her if she calls a vote.
We also support Amendment 123 in the name of my noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton, who has been a tireless campaigner on this issue. We share his frustration that action to ban the use of poisonous lead ammunition in game shooting has not been introduced more urgently. As my noble friend made clear, there are no safe levels of lead: it affects all major systems of animals, including humans. It has been banned in all other applications, including paint and drinking water, yet its use continues unabated in countryside sports. As my noble friend and other noble Lords have made clear, there is growing consensus in the UK shooting community that there should be a switch to non-toxic shot, but it needs government leadership to move away from a reliance on voluntary efforts in this regard.
In Committee, the Minister expressed some sympathy for my noble friend’s amendment, but he reported that the Health and Safety Executive has been asked to produce a GB REACH restriction dossier on the risks posed by lead in ammunition. I can tell him the outcome of that risk assessment now: it will report that lead is poisonous. We know this already, so it is unclear why the Government felt it necessary to take this overcautious step, which is simply resulting in further delays. In the meantime, the Minister committed to meeting my noble friend and the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, to discuss this matter further. I am sorry that there was not a more positive outcome from this meeting, given the broad consensus across the House that action to ban lead shot is needed now. I therefore hope that, even at this late stage, the Minister can give my noble friend more positive news on this issue and confirm that the ban will indeed be implemented by July 2023. We look forward to his response on all these important issues in this group.
I start by assuring your Lordships’ House that, in line with this amendment, the Government’s objective is to reduce the use of and risks and impacts associated with pesticides. Logically, that has to be the objective, given everything we know about the effects of pouring so many chemicals into our natural environment over so many decades.
The national action plan on the sustainable use of pesticides sets out the ambition to improve indicators of pesticide usage, risk and impacts. This was the subject of a recent public consultation. The summary of responses will be published shortly and a final revised national action plan will be published later this year. As we set out in the draft plan, the Government are committed to producing targets for the reduction of the risks associated with pesticide use. We are developing new metrics to better understand the pressures that pesticides put on the environment and will use these tools to target the most toxic pesticides.
Central to the strategy is integrated pest management. Through future schemes, we will support farmers, land managers and so on to maximise nature-based solutions and switch to lower-toxicity, higher-precision methods of pest control. The aim is to drive down dependency on pesticides and to allow our farmers to produce high-quality food with less risk to people and the environment.
On Amendment 53, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, the Government agree that pesticides should not be used where they may harm human health. Pesticides should be authorised only where a scientific assessment shows that they are not supposed to have any harmful effects on human health. In addition, pesticide users are supposed to take all reasonable precautions to protect human health and the environment, and must ensure that the pesticide is confined to the area intended to be treated. They must minimise their use around public buildings and vulnerable groups. That includes the situations noted in the noble Lord’s amendment, such as around schools, hospitals, children, and rural residents, who could be exposed more regularly. It is an offence to use pesticides in contravention of these requirements, and one that comes with an unlimited fine.
I share concerns raised by a number of noble Lord, including in particular my noble friend Lord Randall, about the potential impact of mixtures of pesticides. Clearly it is not possible to assess directly the human health and environmental impacts of the millions of potential combinations of chemicals in the natural environment. According to the toxicologist Professor Vyvyan Howard, if you were to test just the 1,000 commonest toxic chemicals in unique combinations of three, that would require at least 166 million different experiments. That would not even take into account the need to study varying doses. So we have over the years created an enormous problem for ourselves.
However, the risks from products are increasingly tested, as well as individual active substances. This means that mixtures of active substances are assessed where they are included in the same product and where they therefore will interact with other chemicals. There are regulatory controls, and associated conditions of authorisation, which could include no-spray zones, buffer zones and so on. That should ensure that people are protected. Applied properly, these controls should permit pesticide use only where they are safe, but where the application of these existing controls has not been sufficiently robust in the past—a point again made by my noble friend Lord Randall—that will be identified in the revised national action plan.
On Amendment 53, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, protecting pollinators is a priority for all the reasons we discussed in Committee, which I will not repeat. We are restoring and creating habitats for pollinators to thrive and redressing pressures by supporting a shift towards greater use of integrated pest management techniques. That includes increasing the use of nature-based, low-toxicity solutions and precision technologies to manage pests, all of which will benefit pollinators. Current legislation requires that pesticide products and their active substances have
“no unacceptable effects on the environment, having particular regard to … its impact on non-target species”,
which includes impacts on bees and other important pollinators.
Risk assessments made for active substances are subject to public consultation. These assessments establish the key risks posed by pesticide substances in representative conditions of use.
On the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, let me say briefly that we have not changed our rules on neonicotinoids; the rules now are exactly the same as the ones we inherited when we left the European Union. The Government remain of the view that the scientific advice on neonicotinoids, particularly in relation to their impact on pollinators, is correct. This year, an emergency authorisation was granted for the use of a neonicotinoid seed treatment to address a particular problem in relation to the sugar beet crop. Controls were set but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, pointed out, the conditions of the authorisation were not met and the exemption was therefore not used.
We know that there has been a dramatic decline in pollinators both here and across much of the world. We recognise the need to work harder and faster to identify and reduce the causes. The revised national action plan will address this, alongside our wider action for nature, including through the national pollinator strategy and the powerful package of new policies and tools introduced through this Bill, including our 2030 target that we discussed on Wednesday last week.
Turning to Amendment 123 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, the Government recognise the need to address the issue of lead shot. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Randall, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury. Incidentally, I strongly endorse my noble friend’s views on the different approaches to shooting and enjoyed the vigour with which he delivered them.
As I highlighted in Committee, the Government are committed to addressing the impacts of lead in ammunition. In March, we asked the Health and Safety Executive to produce a UK REACH draft restriction dossier considering the risks posed by lead shot in all civilian ammunition. That process has now started, and the HSE published its call for evidence last month. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Browne, my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury, the noble Lord, Lord Randall, and John Batley for our meeting last month, which was more positive than the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, implied a few moments ago. They will recognise from that meeting—at least I hope they do—that the Government share their ambition, although they highlighted concerns, principally around the timeframes associated with the REACH process. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Browne, that I share that frustration.
However, since then, Defra has engaged at length with the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency, and I am pleased to confirm that the Health and Safety Executive is due to provide its final recommendations by April 2023. The Secretary of State then has until July of that year to decide how to proceed and to propose a draft restriction, if that is what the Secretary of State decides and what the science determines. As I understand it, that timeframe does not compare unfavourably with the proposed amendment, which would take effect from 31 July 2023; it is certainly in the same ballpark.
In addition, the UK REACH process has a far more extensive coverage of lead ammunition, as the restriction dossier will consider all civilian uses of lead ammunition in all environments. The proposed amendment seeks only to limit the use of lead shot in shotguns for the purpose of killing an animal and excludes, for example, the use of lead shot for clay pigeon shooting. Most critically, any restriction would apply across Great Britain, whereas the proposed amendment would apply only to England.
We know that there are difficulties in the detection and enforcement of the existing ban on shooting over wetlands. However, we believe that there is a strong risk that the proposed amendment will also be difficult to enforce. In contrast, we are confident that the robustness of the UK REACH process will ensure that any restriction can be enforced effectively.
For these reasons, we believe that the UK REACH process is a more effective way to address the complexity of the issue. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Browne, not to press his amendment and hope that I have sufficiently assured the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell.
My Lords, I have to tell the Minister that I am deeply disappointed by that reply. He started out well by indicating that there is an historical problem that we need to tackle, but he then defended the current system as being adequate. He took almost the same line as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. I ask both of them: if the present system is pretty much adequate, how come a number of cases of serious inducement of disease are still turning up in our GPs’ surgeries and our hospitals—and, in relation to pollinators, why are whole populations of bees and other pollinators in serious decline? If the present system worked, at least broadly speaking, we would not see these phenomena.
The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, says that we will wipe out large parts of food production if we do this, but that is not the case. We are saying that we should protect the areas where people live and are vulnerable, and we propose that regulations should be introduced to do that. We were fobbed off during the passage of the then Agriculture Bill in a number of different ways, such as being told to put things in the Environment Bill instead or that it would be in the national action programme. There is hardly a word in that programme, as currently drafted, about the vulnerability of residents and other populations.
I feel sorry for the Minister in many respects, because I happen to know that, in a previous life, he strongly supported strengthening regulations regarding the exposure of rural populations, and indeed the effect on pollinators. I find it odd that, having recognised the problem and doing so again now, he is not prepared to respond to the appeals from the Front Benches of the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party to say something new or give a bigger commitment. At the beginning of his response, I sort of expected that we would at least get something. We got nothing. I regret that.
The Minister is in an impossible position, but he must accept that he needs to do something immediately to consider new regulations in this area, because it is palpably obvious that the present regulations are not working. To go back to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who suggested that the spraying of pesticides does not occur during the day or close to where children are, we recently saw a film about pesticides being produced perhaps 10 yards away from where children were playing. The system is not working; the Minister has to recognise that. He can look at what the precise details of the regulations should be, but he should accept the principle in my amendment now.
With regret, I am going to test the opinion of the House.
53: After Clause 73, insert the following new Clause—
“Protection of pollinators from pesticides
(1) A competent authority must not authorise for use any pesticide product, active ingredient, safener or synergist unless it is satisfied that there will be no significant short-term negative effect, and no long-term negative effect, on the health of honeybees or wild pollinator populations.(2) A pollinator risk assessment report relating to the relevant substance must be published by an expert body.(3) The expert body must consist of individuals free from vested interests in pesticide use, who shall have been independently appointed.(4) The pollinator risk assessment report must include—(a) data examining acute and chronic effects of the relevant substance on honeybees, bumblebees, solitary bees, butterflies and hoverflies,(b) all relevant available scientific evidence relating to any pollinators,(c) conclusions relating to the likely acute and chronic effects of the relevant substance on honeybees, bumblebees, solitary bees, butterflies, hoverflies and other pollinators,(d) an assessment of the likelihood of synergistic effects, and(e) the identification of any risks to pollinators where the available evidence is insufficient to reach a conclusion.(5) The expert body must consult the public on the draft content of the pollinator risk assessment report.(6) When making any authorisation decision the competent authority must—(a) aim to achieve a high level of protection for pollinators,(b) be satisfied that the requirements of subsections (2) to (5) have been met,(c) consult all relevant authorities with environmental responsibilities, (d) consult such other persons as the competent authority considers appropriate,(e) lay before Parliament, and publish, a statement explaining why the competent authority is satisfied that the requirements of subsection (1) have been met,(f) ensure the public has been informed by public notice early in the decision-making procedure, and in an adequate, timely and effective manner, that a decision will be made, and(g) ensure the public has been consulted on the decision that the competent authority intends to make, including on any mitigation or restriction measures that are proposed.(7) The consultation period for the purposes of subsection (6)(g) must be of at least three months, except for emergency derogations where the period will be at least four weeks.(8) This section comes into force on 1 February 2023.(9) In this section—“authorisation of use” includes authorisation by derogation;“competent authority” means—(a) in relation to England, the Secretary of State;(b) in relation to Wales, the Welsh Ministers;(c) in relation to Scotland, the Scottish Ministers;(d) the Secretary of State when acting with the consent of either or both the Welsh Ministers in relation to Wales and the Scottish Ministers in relation to Scotland.”Member’s explanatory statement
The aim of this new Clause is to fix a gap in the pesticide authorisation process which currently omits any assessment on the long-term effects of pesticides on honey bees and omits any assessment of the effects on wild pollinators.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for this response and acknowledge the work that Defra is undertaking to restore pollinator habitats. However, the national action plan and the revised integrated pest management strategy are not sufficient protection for pollinators that have delicate systems. Food production is important and pollinators are key to this.
Given the time constraints, I will not continue. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
Amendments 54 to 57 not moved.
Clause 74: Environmental recall of motor vehicles etc
58: Clause 74, page 65, line 10, leave out “negative” and insert “affirmative”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides for regulations under Clause 74 to be subject to affirmative procedure.
Amendment 58 agreed.
Clause 79: Drainage and sewerage management plans
59: Clause 79, page 71, line 9, at end insert—
“(2A) A drainage and sewerage management plan must require the undertaker to implement, in conjunction with local authorities, the progressive separation of the foul water and surface water systems where possible.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is intended to secure the separation, where possible, of drainage systems from the sewerage systems through a legal obligation placed on the water companies and local authorities in order to reduce harm from untreated discharges.
My Lords, I rise to move Amendments 59 and 60, in my name and those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Altmann and Lady Quin, and the noble Lord, Lord Oates, to whom I am very grateful for their support.
These are not glamorous or intellectually stimulating amendments, such as others we debated last week, but their purpose is both high-minded and supported by the public. I cannot resist referring to a petition circulating in recent days, which already has more than 90,000 signatures, calling on the Government to place a duty on water companies not to emit sewage. I had nothing to do with the petition.
The amendments simply seek to write into an Act of Parliament a legal commitment to clean up rivers. It is surprising, shocking and indeed revolting that, in the 21st century, in a civilised and developed country, there were, according to the Environment Agency, in 2020, 400,000 discharges of sewage in England and another 100,000 in Wales; that is more than half a million discharges of sewage into rivers in England and Wales.
Since the Bill left the other place earlier this year, the Government have moved a long way, and I recognise that. First, they took over some elements of a Private Member’s Bill tabled by the right honourable Philip Dunne, Member of Parliament for Ludlow, who is also chair of the Environmental Audit Committee in the House of Commons. Clause 80 of the Bill comes from Philip Dunne’s Bill. It requires the Secretary of State to prepare a plan to reduce untreated discharges.
Since Committee, the Government have tabled further amendments: Amendments 61, 62 and 63. I thank the Minister for two meetings which the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and I had with him during the Summer Recess. I am also very grateful to the Minister in the other place, Rebecca Pow, who asked me to meet her on Teams two weeks ago, with her officials, to inform me that these amendments were to be tabled the following day. I very much welcome the amendments, particularly Amendment 63, where, for the first time, the Government are using the word “elimination” rather than just “reduction”. Amendments 61 and 62 concern very welcome increases in reporting and monitoring.
I will now explain the need for Amendment 59 to Clause 79. This seeks to separate foul water from surface water. It is surface water from heavy rainfall that often overwhelms a sewage plant, which of course is designed mainly to deal with sewage. In his letter to Peers of 27 August, the Minister announced that the Government will review Schedule 3 to the Flood and Water Management Act. If the Minister can confirm from the Dispatch Box that this would have the same effect as my Amendment 59, we will have no need to press that amendment. However, I hope he will accept that the purpose of Amendment 59 is essential, as it is surface water that can so often cause storm overflows.
I turn to Amendment 60 to Clause 80. The clause and the further amendments are still missing perhaps the most important part of Philip Dunne’s Bill, which was the duty to be placed on water companies to take all reasonable steps to ensure that untreated sewage is not discharged into inland waters. My Amendment 60 seeks to put that legal duty into the Bill. In addition, the amendment would require water companies to demonstrate continuous improvement and progressive reductions in the harm caused by the discharges.
Proposed subsection (2) in Amendment 60 addresses another problem. There is considerable evidence that the Environment Agency and others are not prosecuting most of the discharges, even though many are apparently illegal. It is therefore important to write into the Bill a requirement on the various bodies to exercise their powers of enforcement.
I understand that one of the reasons why the Government are reluctant to place a legal duty on the water companies to take all reasonable steps to prevent discharges is that they have been advised that this might affect the investment decisions of the water companies and put sewage treatment ahead of other possible investments. I do not find that argument at all persuasive—in fact I think it demonstrates the absolute need for the amendment and the necessity of placing a legal duty on the companies to bring to an end these damaging discharges.
That necessity is no better demonstrated than by a press release from Ofwat, the water industry regulator. It announced, on the very day when we were debating the environment in the Queen’s Speech, a new water sector investment of £2.8 billion into the green recovery. But if we read the press release further, we see that only £157 million—just over 5% of the investment—was to help to eliminate the harm caused by storm overflows. Only a legal duty would move these investments higher up the list of priorities.
I do not underestimate the cost of modernising the sewerage network, and I understand that the Government will have reservations about imposing a required investment on the water companies. However, as I said at Second Reading, it should be possible to find a formula that involves some modest grants, some long-term borrowing, reduced dividends and above-inflation increases in wastewater or sewerage charges to residential and commercial users.
I turn to subsection (2) of proposed new section 141E, to be inserted in Clause 80. In Committee I tabled an amendment on this. As the Bill is currently drafted, a discharge is not considered to be a discharge if it has been caused by electrical or mechanical failure! That strikes me as an enormous loophole, and it can only have been included at the request of the water companies. In our meeting with the Minister, we were assured that, despite the wording of that subsection, discharges as a result of electrical or mechanical failure will still need to be disclosed. I ask the Minister to repeat that assurance from the Dispatch Box. However, I then wonder why subsection (2) is necessary at all. Will the Minister not consider deleting the subsection entirely at Third Reading? It appears totally unnecessary and possibly undermines part of the purpose of Chapter 4, and Clause 80 in particular.
While the country drives towards carbon net zero and improving air and soil quality, we surely cannot allow water quality to be compromised by regular discharges of untreated sewage into the aquatic environment. The Bill aims, and government policy is, to leave the environment for future generations in a better state. I cannot believe that any Defra Minister does not want to clean up our rivers, and the only way to ensure that is to include in the Bill a legal duty to prevent discharges. Not including such a duty will inevitably lead to delays, more plans, excuses and further delays.
On my way to the House today I received, very kindly, another email from Rebecca Pow. In it she describes everything that the Government are doing, but then in the paper produced by the department there is a section of frequently asked questions. It reads:
“Why are you not placing a duty on water companies to reduce storm overflows?”,
to which the reply is this:
“The Environment Bill places a new duty on water companies to produce Drainage and Wastewater Management Plans setting out how”,
and so on. That is my point—there is yet another plan. I am sorry to say this, and I am grateful to the Minister for alerting me to everything that the department has done.
I hope not to divide the House on Amendment 59 —that of course depends on the Minister’s response—but I intend to do so on Amendment 60. I beg to move.
My Lords, in the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, and with his permission, I shall speak to Amendment 82. I thank the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, for moving his amendment so eloquently. I have known the noble Duke since 1982, when I was a humble adviser to the Conservatives in the European Parliament, and I am delighted to follow him today.
Unfortunately, the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, has been unavoidably detained in Norfolk, but he is in a very privileged position and knowledgeable in this regard: following the devastating floods in East Anglia in 2020, he took up the position of independent chair of the Norfolk Strategic Flooding Alliance. I will set out his remarks at the outset and then add a few of my own.
As the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, explained, Amendment 82 has been tabled against the background of the Government’s announcement of a review of the case to reactivate Schedule 3 to the Flood and Water Management Act 2010. Had that schedule already been implemented, there would be no requirement for this amendment. As the announcement of this review was by ministerial Statement only, and does not appear in the Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, argues that there is a strong case to press for a clear requirement to apply a sustainable drainage hierarchy to new surface and stormwater connections to stand part of this Bill.
The public health case and the community and personal benefits of preventing surface and storm-water entering the sewerage foul water system are considerable and obvious. Where contaminated water has entered private property, it is often weeks and months before that property can be reoccupied. Watercourses, rivers and recreational areas are compromised to the detriment of health, the economy and community enjoyment. In conclusion, the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, states, clearly this situation is not acceptable, but too often it has become the reality. To mitigate this negative effect, ideally Schedule 3 to the Flood and Water Management Act should be reactivated and its provisions implemented as soon as possible. Were the Minister to commit to this action, the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, then agrees that Amendment 82 would not be necessary and should be withdrawn. However, in the absence of such a commitment, Amendment 82 proposes a hierarchy of sustainable drainage measures by amending Section 106B of the Water Industry Act 1991 to put such a hierarchy in place regulating a new surface and storm-water connection. This proposed new clause aims to minimise the impact of new housing development on levels of local risk and significantly reduce the likelihood of storm discharges of untreated sewage effluent into rivers and coastal waters. Moreover, housing developers would be required to design systems according to this hierarchy of drainage options that would reduce to a minimum the volume of rainwater entering combined sewerage systems. I associate myself entirely with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt.
I care so passionately about this issue because for 13 years, I was the Member of Parliament for the Vale of York. As the name suggests, the Vale of York is on the floodplains of York. Developers and successive Governments have consistently called for new houses and we are pledged to building 300,000 new houses a year. What is not generally understood is that if you build on a field or pasture that take excess water, that excess water then has nowhere to go, so it will discharge the foul sewage and wastewater into rivers, coasts and—perhaps most regrettably from the public health point of view—people’s homes. They then have to be evacuated for between three and six months.
I then became shadow Minister twice, in 2003 and 2009, and was heavily involved in what became Schedule 3 to the 2010 Act. In 2010, I had the honour to be elected by my peers in the House of Commons to chair the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. To a man and a woman, all of us supported not just the 2010 Act, on which we carried out pre-legislative scrutiny but, more pertinently for the purposes of this evening’s debate, the regulations that were then consulted on and brought forward by the Government.
The reason we are here this evening is that surface-water flooding is a comparatively recent phenomenon. It was first identified by an East Yorkshireman, Sir Michael Pitt, in the context of his Pitt review in 2007. He concluded, very simply, that the Government should end the automatic right to connect to new developments. It is inappropriate for water companies to be obliged to connect to major new developments if there is simply nowhere for that foul water—sewage—to go, other than what we saw in 2007 and numerous years thereafter: into the foul water sewers, the combined water sewers and just about every drain available. It then goes into the rivers, the coasts and—we now know—hundreds of thousands of houses. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has had experience of this in Cumbria. As shadow Minister, I had many difficult visits, as I am sure she and others will have done, to people’s homes, from which they had been displaced in this regard.
I regret to say that it was not the water companies that scuppered those amendments, as my noble friend the Duke of Wellington might portray. It was our friends—particular friends of the Conservative Party, but friends to any party in government. I regret to say that it was the developers that got to the then coalition Government and reversed the regulations—turned them on their head—which is why they were not adopted.
I have three simple requests for my noble friend this evening. We need a clear date for when the review set out in his amendments—which I welcome for the most part—will take place or be completed. We also need to know how that review will be undertaken. I am most grateful for the time that my noble friend spent with me on a call towards the end of recess and, more particularly, for the time and expertise lent by the Bill team, which does great credit to the department and the Government.
It is important to state that Schedule 3 is not just about connections to the foul sewer network, which I regret is the mistake in the amendments tabled by noble friend the Duke of Wellington, but connections to any public sewer—foul, surface water or combined. Were we to adopt Amendments 59 and 60 alone in the name of my noble friend the Duke of Wellington, we would address only part of the problem and, I would argue, make the situation worse.
I was delighted in the conversations that I had with the campaign organisation behind these amendments and a petition, Surfers Against Sewage, that it takes this point entirely and is supportive of the amendments in my name and those of the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, who, I am delighted, has lent her support as well.
It is important that that is not lost in the interpretation, particularly the relationship with combined sewers and the impact that increased surface water connections can have on water quality and flood risk. It is important that an analysis of the costs and benefits of Schedule 3 to local planning authorities and developers that was undertaken in 2012 and 2013, which led to Schedule 3 being shelved, should be reviewed. What has changed? Why was that shelved? I understand that the reason was the high cost to developers and local authorities. I repeat: it was not the water companies that scuppered those regulations—they wanted them in place and are completely signed up to that.
Will my noble friend clarify the timing and mechanism for such a review of Schedule 3 and give a commitment this evening that it will link up with the other provisions in the Bill and be in place at the very latest within a year? I urge my noble friend to show a degree of urgency this evening and see whether it is possible to introduce those regulations between six and nine months from the adoption of the Bill.
I also point out to my noble friend that the causal link between the right to connect and combined sewer overflows is another reason for setting out the deadline. Will the regulations be delivered in keeping with the storm overflow discharge reduction plan set out in the Bill by 1 September 2022? I would argue that that is too late and in line with what the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, and others will say this evening. If my noble friend can give such a commitment, it will go some way to satisfy us that the terms of Amendment 82 are met.
As regards the ministerial standards that are required as part of Schedule 3, will my noble friend confirm that they already exist and that, as such, we do not have to spend time, or a prolonged period of development, on the assessment of new standards? The Government’s non-statutory technical standards for SUDS were recently extensively reviewed through a cross-sector Defra research project, and I welcome the results of that. The recommendations from that review are currently with Defra; it would be helpful if my noble friend would commit that they will be adopted and that the non-statutory technical standards for SUDS should become the ministerial standards.
I yield to no one in my enthusiasm for SUDS, or sustainable urban drainage systems. I take the point made by my noble friends the Duke of Wellington and Lady Altmann, that it is not just about new developments—it is also about retrofitting existing SUDS. But it is also important to recognise that the problem that has to be addressed by my noble friend this evening is which body is going to be responsible for maintaining the SUDS. Will it be the water companies which have connected because, at the moment, they have to connect, until we end the automatic right to connect? Is it the local authorities, which we know will say that they literally have no money to do so? Or should it be the developers—by making it a provision of proceeding with a development—that are held responsible? Furthermore, given that the estimated cost of fulfilling Amendments 59 and 60 would be in the region of £150 million, perhaps my noble friend will comment on how he expects that water companies in the middle of a price review period would be expected to raise that money.
I ask the House to look favourably on Amendment 82. I have also put my name to the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and I wish it a fair wind. I welcome the amendments in the name of my noble friend the Minister, but I hope that, for the reasons I have given, he will accept that they do not necessarily go far enough as drafted at the moment.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her support of the amendment I wish to speak to; Amendment 83, in my name, dealing with the chalk stream restoration strategy. I also place on record my thanks to the Bill team for discussions that we were able to have in connection with the extent and impact of the strategy that we are proposing. I also thank the Angling Trust for its technical support in preparing the amendment.
Throughout the passage of this Environment Bill through your Lordships’ House, noble Lords have regularly raised their concerns over the deterioration of our chalk streams through appalling neglect, to the extent that many see streams’ diverse ecosystems under severe threat to their very survival. Your Lordships are not alone. Environmental charities, not-for-profit trusts, specialist scientific bodies and even the privatised water companies have joined the call for a national strategy to restore our chalk streams. The naturalist Chris Packham for one, movingly described the deterioration of the River Itchen over time, as he walked beside the river from Eastleigh to Winchester, recalling his childhood days.
One Saturday morning this August, I was able to greet some 25 members of organisations from across the south-east of England, from Hertfordshire to the north, Kent in the east, and Dorset in the west. They were setting out on a river walk beside the Itchen, not unlike that of Chris Packham. They represented literally thousands of people, all deeply concerned about the threats to our unique chalk streams, and keenly following our proceedings in Parliament, whether it be about the River Arle, the Itchen, the Loddon in Hampshire or the Chess in Buckinghamshire, or winterbourne streams, which traditionally disappear in the summer to reappear through the chalk springs as autumn approaches—only now some of them do not.
Giving evidence to the Environmental Audit Select Committee, Mr Feargal Sharkey said, in terms, that the River Avon catchment comprises five chalk streams, with some of the rarest habitats in the country. It is designated as a special area of conservation, with some of the highest legal protection we have, and yet Wessex Water has spent close to 27,000 hours dumping sewage into five of our rarest ecosystems, home to an endangered species of salmon that finds refuge only in the Hampshire Avon.
England is home to some 85% of the world’s chalk streams—more than 250 rare and precious ecosystems—compared by some in ecological importance to the Okavango Delta in Africa or Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. We are responsible for protecting the 250 chalk streams and the wildlife that depends upon them. Due to their location, the future protection and improvement of chalk streams will be fundamental to any government commitment to create a sustainable economy and a future growth strategy that does not continue to degrade the natural resources on which they depend.
In moving Amendment 83, I seek to address the need for greater protection for our chalk streams. This amendment will enable the drive and commitment needed for a multiagency approach and drive the investment required. This has been clearly and eloquently set out in the catchment-based approach Chalk Stream Restoration Strategy prepared by the Chalk Streams Restoration Group and currently before the Government. The Minister is, I know, aware of the scope and scale of the multiagency group that has developed this strategy. It includes representatives from Defra, the Environment Agency, Ofwat and rivers, wildlife and angling trusts. It includes representatives from all the water companies covering the English chalk streams. Here, we should pay tribute to Charles Rangeley-Wilson, chair of the working group and author of its report.
I am confident that the Minister will be aware that, if nothing else, the multiagency Chalk Streams Restoration Group has one overarching wish, and that is for chalk streams to be given clear, unambiguous protected status: status that will require the Government to create statutory protection and priority for chalk streams and their catchments, status that provides a distinct identity, and status that will drive investment in water resource infrastructure, water treatment and catchment-scale restoration. Current drivers, such as priority habitat status and the water framework directive, have failed to deliver enough improvement to chalk streams. Amendment 83 would overcome those shortcomings. The consultation feedback on the restoration strategy has shown overwhelmingly that there is a clear need for a status mechanism that can add impetus and drive investment across multiple policy areas, from water company price reviews through to local authority planning processes.
Should the Government find that they need further research and analysis before the recommendations of the restoration strategy report, and thus this amendment, can be adopted, interim measures could be brought forward. Defra could instruct the Environment Agency to create chalk streams as SAC or SSSI for river basin management plan purposes. Chalk streams could be associated more with conservation use and subject to more stringent common standards. Ministerial guidance on river basin management plans could well prove an appropriate vehicle in the interim.
Finally, some may question why we should prioritise chalk streams above other rivers, while others are in great need of investment, as are lakes, fens, bogs and dry habitats. Nevertheless, the global rarity of English chalk streams justifies singling out this river type among the others. A more prescient justification is the fact that chalk streams flow through highly developed urban landscapes, where their biodiversity, their cultural and heritage value, and their future is under increasing stress. The 25 environmentalists I met three Saturdays ago on the banks of the Itchen, by the Itchen Stoke watermill, circa 1720, are united in their concern for chalk streams. They represent many thousands, from towns and cities across the south-east, including Eastleigh, Winchester, Romsey and Newbury, and even Chesham and Amersham, and many more.
The proposed new clause in Amendment 83 would provide the mechanism to develop a designation for chalk streams, giving greater protection and driving greater resources and investment into their management. It would require the Government to adopt a catchment-based approach chalk stream restoration strategy, to develop an action plan and to report on progress. On numerous occasions, the Government have said in this Chamber that chalk streams are their high priority; adopting the sentiments of Amendment 83 is an opportunity to demonstrate just this.
My Lords, I rise to support very briefly the amendments moved by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. I was glad to be able to co-sign these amendments in a way that, I hope, will stress the cross-party nature of the support for them.
Public concern about sewage discharge is increasing daily, particularly among the public in those areas that are badly affected. Indeed, many people are astonished, because they did not imagine that raw sewage could be discharged into our rivers and seas, and certainly not on the scale that it is happening.
There are considerable problems around the country. Speaking to another amendment that I support, the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, talked about the situation affecting chalk streams. He mentioned, among others, the River Chess in Buckinghamshire. I would mention the River Lark, near Bury St Edmunds, which also has problems arising from abstraction. There are many other rivers around the country that are very precious natural resources, including my own home river, the River Coquet in Northumberland.
I know that the Minister has had meetings with the noble Duke and with many others, and I recognise the amendments that have been put forward, particularly on real-time reporting, which is extremely important. However, action is needed on a significant scale and, in dealing with this problem, costly though it is, we cannot just do a little in a lot of rivers: that would just be a sticking-plaster. We need a much more ambitious programme.
I hope, therefore, that the Government will accept the amendments, and if they do not and they are pushed to a vote, I will be very happy to support them.
My Lords, as this is the first time that I have addressed the Chamber in person since March of last year, I put on record my appreciation of the Zoom facility that made it possible for me to participate from home and thank all the staff who made it possible. It enabled me to play a small part in Committee on this Bill, but it was a limited contribution: while Zoom worked well for general debates, it was not ideal for committee work.
I am glad, therefore, in supporting Amendment 59, moved by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington—and indeed Amendment 60—to build on the comments made in Committee on the important issue of water pollution and quality. I thank the dozens of people who have written to us expressing their concern about this matter—it clearly touches a raw nerve.
The factors causing us in Wales to fail to meet the “good” status designation within the water framework directive are, first, agriculture-related and diffuse pollution; secondly, metal and coal mine pollution; and, thirdly, waste water, which is a water company responsibility and the subject of Amendments 59 and 60. It is worth noting, to put it in context, that in Wales the figure for pollution arising from waste water is 14%, compared with, I believe, some 50% in England.
It is only fair to note, therefore, that Dŵr Cymru—Welsh Water—has put in considerable investment in regard to this matter. For example, no less than £100 million has been spent in Llanelli alone over a five-year period. That accounts for about 50% of the streets that are potentially impacted by this problem. It has spent £100 million on addressing this very issue—and that is only one of many old industrial areas that need such investment. Welsh Water estimates that it needs between £9 billion and £14 billion over three decades to fully resolve the problem. So the scale of the challenge—to resolve these issues—requires a central government capital programme in both Wales and England.
One of the sources of difficulty in Wales in not meeting the “good” status designation within the water framework arises from phosphates, emanating from animal manures and chicken farms. That of course is addressed elsewhere in our discussion.
One matter of concern to me—I would be grateful to the Minister for his observations on this—is that within England there seems to be a target of reducing spill numbers rather than emphasising water quality as a focus. Clearly, a reduction in spill numbers will help, but it is the overall impact on water quality that really matters. Despite the valid concerns expressed in Committee and today about the situation in Wales, which can impact on England when rivers cross the border, it is worth noting that the proportion of rivers which reach “good” status in Wales is twice as high as that in England.
From the viewpoint of Dŵr Cymru—Welsh Water—two other priorities are, first, banning wet wipes which contain plastic, as mentioned in an earlier debate, and which are a major factor in blocking pipes, leading to severe pollution problems; and, secondly, reversing the trend of the continual increase in impermeable areas, which worsens the impact of CSO spills as there is nowhere else for the water to run. Incidentally, one challenge for Welsh Water is the fact that there are currently over 68,000 unregistered septic tanks in Wales. That gives your Lordships an idea of the problem. The avoidance of pollution from those tanks must also be one of the challenges to be addressed.
Some of the matters which I have highlighted are purely for Wales and must be addressed by the Welsh Government and Welsh Water. Others have a cross-border dimension relating to rivers which flow from Wales to England, and yet others are general issues which need to be addressed on a UK basis. Government amendment 128 extends to England and Wales; I would be glad if the Minister can confirm that he has the agreement of the Welsh Government on that amendment’s provisions.
I commend Amendments 59 and 60 as ones which focus on these issues and give the Government a chance to show that they are serious about them. I shall certainly support the amendment of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, if he presses it to a vote.
My Lords, the aim of the noble Duke’s amendments will be something that we all appreciate. I just wonder exactly how all this difficulty arises. Rainwater and groundwater are separate from sewage and will surely be very different in quality. While they may have some very small pollutants in them, generally speaking they are pretty wholesome.
It seems very strange to require that a water system should receive the sewerage system. Long ago, when I was at the Scottish Bar, I was instructed by a company that was then a water company in Scotland. The director of that company made it very clear to me that water and sewage were different things, and the last thing he would wish to agree to was to combine the two. Apart from anything else, the likelihood was that the groundwater and surface water would be greater in volume than the sewage. It therefore seems that the amendment that is proposed to change the system is very good, except that it would seem to require that it be done by the undertaker—which I take to be the water company. At the moment, the water company is under an obligation to accept the sewage. That must surely stop. It must be a ridiculous system that puts together two such completely different elements.
I very much support the amendment proposed in detail by the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, a little while ago. We need to come out of the idea of putting these together and separate them, because the floodwater difficulties are great enough. To add sewerage responsibilities to those of flooding seems an extraordinary example of what one should not do.
I had a recent experience of having a new housing development put up beside us at my home in Scotland. Being an adjacent proprietor, I was able to take interest in the planning of that development. It is in Inverness, so noble Lords can understand that there might be some water around, particularly rainwater, but also other groundwater. It was made a planning condition of the development that the developer had to put in place a new system to take the groundwater down underground. Thus the sewerage remained in the sewer, but the groundwater and rainwater were dealt with completely separately, rather in the manner of the hierarchy in Amendment 82, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt. In my respectful submission on this subject, what is required is a system as described in Amendment 59, but not a system developed by the undertaker but rather by Her Majesty’s Government under the legislation that is required to make the separation, so that the water companies deal with water and the sewerage is dealt with otherwise.
My Lords, I rise to support Amendments 59 and 60, so ably spoken to by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, whom I hope I can call my noble friend. I am grateful to the Minister and his officials for the engagement and time they have given us in discussing these important amendments. I welcome the Government’s own Amendments 61, 62 and 63. Nevertheless, I hope that the Government might go further. I also commend the work of my right honourable friend Philip Dunne, in the other place, who has done so much important work on this issue.
As we have heard, there were 400,000 sewage discharges in 2020. This is not a rare occurrence. Water companies have underinvested in sewerage infrastructure. I hope that the Government can overcome their reluctance to impose a duty on them in this Bill to act and invest urgently, as is required. Without such a statutory requirement as specified in these amendments, water companies will continue to be able to put profits and dividends above public health and protection of our precious waterways. I recognise and welcome that the Government have strengthened the duties on these companies, and the expectations to address storm overflows in the drainage and wastewater management plans that will be statutorily required by Clause 79(3)(g). But these plans will not even be consulted on until next summer, let alone be introduced or acted upon. So far, according to a very helpful briefing produced by Defra, water companies have committed just £1.1 billion to investigate and improve storm overflows. This is insufficient for the scale of the problem to be tackled.
I welcome the Storm Overflows Taskforce announced last August, which
“has agreed to set a long term goal to eliminate harm from storm overflows.”
This, too, is most welcome but, so far, this involves improving monitoring and transparency rather than meaningful action to reduce sewage overflows into rivers and waterways. So far, the Environment Agency has clearly struggled to assess compliance with discharge rules and impose enforcement action or fines to galvanise noticeable action and stop or reduce these overflows.
Research on sewerage from Professor Peter Hammond and Professor Jamie Woodward of Manchester University has found clear evidence that untreated sewage or wastewater are being routinely discharged outside the conditions allowed by the Environment Agency permits. It is vital that regulation of discharges of untreated sewage and wastewater are tightened, and these amendments would assist in this regard. The Government’s plan is to set targets on reducing pollution from wastewater, agriculture and so on, but setting targets is not an active reduction of this pollutant.
I find it difficult to understand why the Minister and his department are so reluctant to put a duty now on the water companies directly to ensure they reduce and ultimately eliminate discharges of raw and partially treated sewerage into our rivers and waterways. The companies, represented by Water UK in an interesting briefing, have urged us to move focus away from end-of-pipe to look instead at the way surface water is managed, as my noble friend Lady McIntosh was commenting upon. It is true that developers are too often connecting to sewage systems that cannot cope, but this is only part of the problem, and it needs to be resolved by implementing Schedule 3 of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010. Of course, sustainable drainage systems are important, and connection to a public sewer should not be automatic and needs to be conditional on official approval.
I hope the Minister can provide the reassurances sought by my noble friend the Duke of Wellington so that he will not press Amendment 59. Amendment 60 places a duty
“on sewerage undertakers to take all reasonable steps to ensure untreated sewage is not discharged”
“demonstrate improvements in the sewerage systems and progressive reductions in the harm caused.”
In this ground-breaking Bill, how can we not impose that type of duty? Of course, the amendment also requires the Secretary of State and director of the Environment Agency to “secure compliance.” Too often, companies have been allowed to self-report. But, so far, the Government are saying they are fully committed to producing a report on actions required to achieve total elimination so they can fully understand the costs and impacts of doing so. But Amendment 60 would accelerate action on the ground. I hope that, ultimately, the Minister might be persuaded about the merits of supporting this amendment.
My Lords, this is an interesting issue. The question, of course, is: where does the blame lie? Sewage spills happen and they are intensely damaging for humans and for ecosystems, yet we have heard some explanations that almost seem conflicting. We can argue that it is we who cause the problem because of the way that we dispose of our own waste, or that it is the fault of the water companies, which are clearly incompetent at times—I shall be supporting the noble Duke’s amendment. As I argued in the debate on the office for environmental protection, we have to penalise them for these spillages. In many cases it might be the developers’ fault for building on land they should not have built on, or it might the local authority’s fault for allowing developers to build on, for example, flood plains where they should not be building. At the moment, however, it is the water companies, and we really have to take this seriously.
I am supporting all the amendments as they all seem perfectly acceptable. The Green Party’s view is that all new developments should have a proper, sustainable drainage system so that the sorts of spillages that we are hearing about simply do not happen. However, this has clearly not been achieved and it is a big problem. I have signed the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, on chalk streams. I was going to eulogise about them, but I think I was given the same briefing, as other people have covered more or less the same territory.
I thank Feargal Sharkey, who was the lead singer in a punk band, the Undertones—I am afraid I have never heard of it. He is apparently a lifelong fly-fisherman, but is now dedicating his life to chalk streams and he sent an excellent briefing. Chalk streams are very precious and special, and we do not treat them very well. If not one of our chalk streams currently achieves a good overall environmental health status, that is quite shocking; we really need to do something about it.
I was incredibly impressed by the PR machine of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. I have had dozens of emails supporting his amendment. I admire that; perhaps he could share with me exactly how he got it to work.
This is, again, clearly an issue that the Government should have put in the original Environment Bill. This is an old Bill in the sense that it was originally written in 2019. It was pathetic then and it is pathetic still. Can the Government please do a little rethinking and include this issue in the Bill?
Indeed, I have a new point to add, which has not been made—there is no point in frowning, I say to my noble friend.
I thank the Minister for bringing forward the government amendments and for his commitment to reviewing Schedule 3. That was something that I asked for in Committee and I am delighted that he is going to do it. Has he been briefed on the latest research from the University of Manchester, which has demonstrated a direct link between poor wastewater management and high levels of microplastic pollution in the United Kingdom? When we have these overflows, the microplastics go out into the water system—not only the rivers, but the sea, thus negating a whole lot of good that the Government have been trying to do in reducing microplastics. If this were not enough of a bad situation before, it is now really bad.
My noble friend’s Amendment 63 proposes including a report
“on elimination of discharges from storm overflows”.
I merely ask, what next after subsection (3)? It is good to have a report and lay it before Parliament, but what action will be taken? That is the only thing that matters now. I support these amendments, and support very strongly what my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern said: we should be aiming to separate the sewage from the wastewater. No new developments should be allowed to discharge automatically into the current sewerage system unless agreed by the water authority; there must be other alternatives.
I have one final comment for my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering. If she expects a developer to make a commitment towards future expenditure on one of these systems, I am afraid she is whistling in the wind. The developers will not do so; if necessary, they would go into bankruptcy and set up a new company to avoid any liability.
My Lords, in view of the time and the Minister’s admonition, I shall be brief. I am very pleased to support the amendments in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, and thank him for working so collaboratively on them. The arguments for them have been compellingly made so I will not add to them. I am also pleased to support the amendment from my noble friend Lord Chidgey on the important issue of chalk streams, and in principle support the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh.
I hope the Government will listen carefully to the arguments but if the noble Duke chooses to put Amendment 60 to the vote, he will have the support of these Benches.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 59 and 60 in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, and offer our firm support should he decide to test the opinion of the House. I will also briefly talk to Amendment 82 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, and to Amendment 83 proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, to which I have added my name.
We had lengthy debates on water issues in Committee so I start by thanking the Government, as other noble Lords have done, for subsequently tabling amendments to address many of the concerns that were raised. I also thank the Defra officials for their time in meeting me and my noble friend Lady Jones to go through the amendments in detail. The Minister has clearly introduced these changes but while we welcome them, we believe that in some areas they do not go far enough to address the genuine concerns raised by noble Lords. Government Amendment 61 regarding near real-time reporting states that the duration and volume of storm overflow discharges will be reported, yet the proposed amendment does not mention volume. Will the Government consider adding volume reporting into this amendment to ensure that that is a requirement?
I commend the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, for his diligence and persistence in pressing his concerns in his Amendments 59 and 60. Amendment 59 covers drainage and sewerage management systems. While we welcome the new requirement that Clause 79 inserts into the Water Industry Act 1991 that enables companies to take a strategic approach to wastewater management that is clearly needed, we still believe that it should be strengthened. Amendment 59 would do this by bringing in an overarching purpose for the plans, requiring companies to deliver continuous improvement of sewage treatment plants and the separation of surface water from foul water.
I know from discussions with Defra officials that there are concerns about the huge cost of this, but I hope to hear from the Minister a commitment from the Government that this is being taken very seriously and that it will be set as a top priority for water companies and Ofwat. I also hope he will provide the noble Duke with the assurances that he has requested on this amendment.
Water UK has raised concerns about the way in which we manage surface and groundwaters as the default remains to push through these foul water systems which overloads their capacity. As this is currently out of the water sector’s remit to control, I would like to hear from the Minister whether there are any plans to review this. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, also drew attention to this.
I turn now to Amendment 60. We know that Clause 80 is designed to amend the Water Industry Act 1991. As my noble friend Lady Quin said, people are horrified to hear that sewage is still discharged into our waterways. We are disappointed that this clause is weaker and less ambitious than the original Private Member’s Bill proposed by Philip Dunne MP, who was here earlier but seems to have left. We know that existing laws are completely inadequate. The Environment Agency has also conceded that with significant pressures on its funding in recent years it has had to reduce overall monitoring and enforcement activity
“below the level we would wish”.
The noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, drew attention to the lack of enforcement.
I remind your Lordships’ House that the Environment Agency has seen its funding cut by 60% and, according to official Environment Agency data analysed by National World, prosecutions of companies and organisations for environmental crime in England plummeted by 86% between 2000 and 2019. The number of charges also fell by 84% in that period. Does the Minister recognise that if the Government truly are serious about tackling pollution, they must fund the Environment Agency properly so that it can do the job that it was set up to do? Water companies must be made to undertake the improvements to the system needed if we are to address the current crisis in sewerage pollution. We commend the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, for his informed and persuasive arguments, and support him.
Turning briefly to Amendment 82, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, for her introduction. We believe that a sustainable drainage hierarchy is extremely important. The noble Baroness mentioned Cumbria; I emphasise, as someone who lives in a high flood-risk area, that the importance of this for local flood risk cannot be underestimated.
Turning finally to Amendment 83 on chalk streams, I honestly am astounded that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, has not heard of the Undertones. That is quite extraordinary and possibly what I have been most shocked about during these debates. Moving to chalk streams, according to Wikipedia, which I know is not always 100% accurate, there are 210 chalk streams in the world, 160 of them in England. However, listening to the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, in his excellent introduction, it seems that this is probably a bit of an underestimate.
Today and in Committee we heard eloquently from the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and others, about how urgent it is to act to save our chalk streams. I hope that the Minister has listened to his concerns on this and the other areas of real concern that we have been debating today.
Tackling storm overflows in England is a government priority, and the Government are acting decisively through this Bill. I am grateful to the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, my noble friend Lady Altmann and many others for the pressure that they have exerted on the issue of storm overflows. These new government amendments, which the Rivers Trust has welcomed as a
“significant victory for river health and ... river users”
are a credit to their work.
I am pleased to bring forward government Amendments, 61, 62 and 63, to add further duties on water companies and the Government. This strengthens the package of government amendments brought forward on this issue in Committee. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, we have secured the agreement of the Welsh Government to these amendments.
Amendments 61 and 62 are designed to increase the accountability on water companies and to provide greater transparency for the public on the frequency and impact of storm overflows. Companies will be required to report on storm overflows in near real time, meaning within an hour of them occurring, in a way that is easy for the public to access and understand. They will be required to monitor continuously the water quality upstream and downstream of both storm overflows and sewage treatment works. This will give regulators and the public crucial indicators of the health of our waters, including dissolved oxygen, ammonia, temperature and pH values, and turbidity. The information obtained from these two duties, along with the annual reporting required by the amendment that I introduced in Committee, will finally require full transparency from water companies about their impact on our waters. We have made this expectation clear in our draft strategic policy statement to Ofwat. For the first time, the Government will be telling the industry’s economic regulator that we expect water companies to take steps to “significantly reduce storm overflows”. Therefore, with respect to the noble Duke, the Duke of Westminster—
I am so sorry—Westminster, Wellington. I meant the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. My apologies; it has been a long session.
With respect to the noble Duke, it is not right to say that the Government are reluctant to influence investment decisions of the water companies. That is exactly what we are doing. We will also make it clear in the guidance that we will shortly be giving to water companies regarding the preparation of their drainage and sewerage management plans. These are a statutory requirement under the Bill and we expect them to include considered actions for reducing storm overflows and their harm. I am confident that this action, driven by the Bill, is the right approach. However, as I said in Committee, if those plans are not sufficiently ambitious, the Government will not hesitate to use our direction-making power under Clause 79 to require them to take more action. This is a direct power over the water companies and, as I said, we will not hesitate to use it.
Very briefly, in response to the comments from the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, he is right in what he says, but the operation of overflows during emergencies is covered separately through permits for emergency overflows or through defences under the environmental permitting regulations—so, for example, to avoid damage to human health or even human life. It is extremely rare and covers events such as asset failure.
None the less, I know that the noble Lord and many others are keen to see a road map towards the complete elimination of storm overflows, as am I and my colleagues in Defra. I want to be clear that in the government plan, we will absolutely commit to pushing as far as it is possible to go. The reality is that, as our actions to considerably reduce overflows are successful, the remaining overflows are likely to be much more challenging to resolve and may therefore involve greater costs, with marginal, slight benefits. That is why the initial assessments suggest that elimination could cost more than £150 billion, which we foresee would likely mean increased customer bills and trade-offs against other water industry priorities.
We need better evidence to be certain of that—a point made by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. To this end, Amendment 63 requires the Government to investigate and map out the actions needed to eliminate storm overflows and to report to Parliament, before 1 September next year, on how elimination could be achieved and the corresponding benefits and costs. The point about the report is that it will provide the public, Parliament and the water industry with up-front, clear and comprehensive information on the feasibility and cost of elimination. It will tell us what we can do. Between that government plan on storm overflows and the new elimination report, we will set out transparently and precisely how far we can then go. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, that this issue is taken extremely seriously by all my colleagues in Defra. Whatever the outcome of that report, it will inform our next steps and the commitments we make.
In the meantime, in addition to the action I have already set out, I am pleased to confirm today that the Government will undertake a review of the case for implementing Schedule 3 to the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 in England. This schedule would set mandatory build standards for sustainable drainage schemes—or SUDS—on new developments. We agree with noble Lords and others about the importance of using SUDS to reduce rainwater going into sewers, which in turn reduces the frequency of storm overflows, as well as providing multifunctional benefits for reducing flood risk and enhancing nature. Schedule 3 would allow us to do this, but we need first to ensure that it is still fit for purpose.
Commencing in October this year, Defra officials will work closely with MHCLG, local planning authorities, developers and SUDS experts as we assess the current situation with regard to the construction of SUDS and the potential for the schedule to improve this, as well as implementation options and the benefits and costs of those options. This information will also feed into the development of the Government’s plan on storm overflows, on which we will also consult in spring next year. The Government believe that this is the appropriate and best approach towards reducing the volume of rainwater entering combined sewerage systems, which is rightly a concern of both Amendment 59 in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, and Amendment 82 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt.
Regarding Amendment 82 specifically, I am grateful to the noble Lord and to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, for conveying his message to us and for taking the time to meet me recently on this issue. The importance of sustainable drainage for managing surface water on new developments is made clear in planning policy. A hierarchy for the management of surface water on new developments is also included in the building regulations of 2010, and Schedule 3, once we have reviewed the case for its implementation, would make the connection of surface water to foul sewer conditional on local planning approval of the developer’s proposed SUDS. The noble Baroness asked why we need another review. I simply say that the Government have to understand the possible options, benefits and costs for implementing any policy and legislation. While there is a wide range of evidence on the issue of Schedule 3, since 2010 there have been a lot of changes in the planning systems and advancements in SUDS technology. The review will enable us to understand the current landscape and the issues properly and to make an up-to-date and informed decision on implementation.
In response to the noble Baroness’s questions on SUDS maintenance, Schedule 3 sets out that the maintenance body is a SUDS approval body as part of a local planning authority. The review will consider whether this continues to be the most appropriate and the right approach, as well as looking at other options.
Turning back briefly to the noble Duke’s Amendment 59, I can confirm that the Government’s report on eliminating storm overflows will consider the feasibility of the widespread separation of foul water and surface water systems. However, we anticipate that complete separation may require the laying of many thousands of miles of additional pipework through towns and cities right up to, and even inside, individual premises. It is the Government’s view that it is better to reduce the volume of rainwater entering foul sewers in the first place, rather than to separate the existing combined systems, and I am pleased that schemes to retrofit sustainable drainage into areas of high surface water flood risk, to prevent surface water entering the foul water system, are currently being trialled.
The Government also intend to amend the Flood Risk Management Functions Order 2010, to ensure that drainage and sewage management plans are captured as a flood risk management function. This will enable the co-operation required between companies, the Environment Agency and lead local flood authorities to ensure that retrofit schemes can be taken forward. I reiterate that I am extremely grateful to the noble Duke for his amendments. As he knows, my officials and I have scrutinised them in great detail, and I have worked hard to develop and deliver this package today. Where our amendments diverge from the noble Duke’s, it is not that we disagree with the intent but because we believe that, for practical or legal reasons, the approach is not quite the best one. So I hope that the detail I have set out reassures noble Lords that the measures in the Bill will indeed tackle storm overflows and place duties on water companies to deliver accountability and action.
Finally, turning to Amendment 83, I welcome the commitment of the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, to the improvement of the UK’s chalk streams. We believe that England is home to 85% of the world’s chalk streams, which make up a globally unique ecosystem. I greatly admire and share the noble Lord’s passion to protect these precious habitats. I would like to assure him that we are taking action. We are expecting the publication of the chalk stream restoration strategy very soon, which will identify the key activities needed for the protection and improvement of chalk streams to bring them back to good ecological status. It will recommend actions for government, regulators and the water industry.
The strategy is being developed by the independent Catchment Based Approach Chalk Streams Restoration Group—I hope I have got that right, it does not sound quite right—of which Defra is proud to be a part. I am happy to confirm for the noble Lord that the Government will welcome the publication of the chalk stream restoration strategy and agree that the detailed recommendations in it should be explored. For example, one expected recommendation will be a need for the Government to consider how chalk streams are protected. The Government and their advisory bodies will take this recommendation extremely seriously once the strategy is published. The Government are committed to supporting the overall direction and ambition of the report.
I thank noble Lords for their contributions and beg that the amendment be withdrawn.
Just before my noble friend sits down, I did ask one question: what has changed since the regulations, which were to impose exactly what he intends to do, were rejected in 2012 for being too expensive? When we met, my noble friend said that the aim of the Government’s policy now was to end the automatic right to connect and make it conditional—but conditional upon what?
What has changed is the technology and the SUDS—for example, rain gardens and swales et cetera. The planning system has changed in any number of ways, as my noble friend knows from her time in the coalition Government and since. That has given rise to a need to re-evaluate and work out what the appropriate policy should be.
My Lords, I know that we are all anxious to move on. However, I must first point out quickly to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, that I certainly do not have a PR machine: I was as surprised as anyone that so many emails were sent to Members of this House.
I thank all noble Lords who took part in this debate. I particularly want to thank the Minister here and the Minister in the other place for everything they have done in recent weeks to improve the Bill; they have certainly strengthened it, and many of their amendments are very welcome to many of us.
I am grateful to the Minister for his assurances on Amendment 59. I personally am happy to accept those and will seek permission to withdraw the amendment. However, on Amendment 60, I am sorry to say, despite all the Minister’s efforts, I do not believe that more plans, reporting and monitoring will do the business, and so I intend to divide the House on that amendment.
Amendment 59 withdrawn.
Clause 80: Storm overflows
60: Clause 80, page 74, line 34, at end insert—
“141ZA Duty on sewerage undertakers to take all reasonable steps to ensure untreated sewage is not discharged from storm overflows(1) A sewerage undertaker must demonstrate improvements in the sewerage systems and progressive reductions in the harm caused by untreated sewage discharges.(2) The Secretary of State, the Director and the Environment Agency must exercise their respective functions under this and any other Act to secure compliance with this duty.”Member’s explanatory statement
The purpose of the amendment is to try to eliminate, not simply reduce, the harm caused to the environment and individual and public health by the discharge of untreated sewage into rivers, and to ensure that the various agencies use their powers of enforcement.
Amendments 61 to 63
61: After Clause 80, insert the following new Clause—
“Reporting on discharges from storm overflows
In Chapter 4 of Part 4 of the Water Industry Act 1991 (as inserted by section 80 above), after section 141D insert—“141DA Reporting on discharges from storm overflows(1) Where there is a discharge from a storm overflow of a sewerage undertaker whose area is wholly or mainly in England, the undertaker must publish the following information—(a) that there has been a discharge from the storm overflow;(b) the location of the storm overflow;(c) when the discharge began;(d) when the discharge ended.(2) The information referred to in subsection (1)(a) to (c) must be published within an hour of the discharge beginning; and that referred to in subsection (1)(d) within an hour of it ending.(3) The information must—(a) be in a form which allows the public readily to understand it, and(b) be published in a way which makes it readily accessible to the public.(4) The duty of a sewerage undertaker under this section is enforceable under section 18 by—(a) the Secretary of State, or(b) the Authority, with the consent of or in accordance with a general authorisation given by the Secretary of State.(5) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision for exceptions from the duty in subsection (1) or (2) (for example, by reference to descriptions of storm overflows, frequency of discharge or the level of risk to water quality).(6) Before making regulations under this section the Secretary of State must consult such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.(7) The Secretary of State may not make regulations under this section unless a draft of the statutory instrument containing the regulations has been laid before, and approved by resolution of, each House of Parliament.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment requires sewerage undertakers in England to report in near-real time on the duration of storm overflow discharges.
62: After Clause 80, insert the following new Clause—
“Monitoring quality of water potentially affected by discharges
(1) In Chapter 4 of Part 4 of the Water Industry Act 1991, after section 141DA insert—“141DB Monitoring quality of water potentially affected by discharges from storm overflows and sewage disposal works(1) A sewerage undertaker whose area is wholly or mainly in England must continuously monitor the quality of water upstream and downstream of an asset within subsection (2) for the purpose of obtaining the information referred to in subsection (3).(2) The assets referred to in subsection (1) are—(a) a storm overflow of the sewerage undertaker, and(b) sewage disposal works comprised in the sewerage system of the sewerage undertaker,where the storm overflow or works discharge into a watercourse.(3) The information referred to in subsection (1) is information as to the quality of the water by reference to—(a) levels of dissolved oxygen,(b) temperature and pH values,(c) turbidity,(d) levels of ammonia, and(e) anything else specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State.(4) The duty of a sewerage undertaker under this section is enforceable under section 18 by—(a) the Secretary of State, or(b) the Authority, with the consent of or in accordance with a general authorisation given by the Secretary of State.(5) The Secretary of State may by regulations make —(a) provision as how the duty under subsection (1) is to be carried out (for example, provision as to the type of monitor to be used and where monitors must be placed);(b) provision for exceptions from the duty in subsection (1) (for example, by reference to descriptions of asset, frequency of discharge from an asset or the level of risk to water quality);(c) provision for the publication by sewerage undertakers of information obtained pursuant to subsection (1).(6) Before making regulations under this section the Secretary of State must consult such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.(7) The Secretary of State may not make regulations under this section unless a draft of the statutory instrument containing the regulations has been laid before, and approved by resolution of, each House of Parliament.”(2) In section 213 of the Water Industry Act 1991 (power to make regulations) in subsection (1), for “or 105A” substitute “105A, 141DA or 141DB”.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment requires sewerage undertakers to monitor and report on the quality of water in watercourses potentially impacted by discharges from storm overflows and sewage disposal works.
63: After Clause 80, insert the following new Clause—
“Report on elimination of discharges from storm overflows
(1) The Secretary of State must prepare a report on— (a) the actions that would be needed to eliminate discharges from the storm overflows of sewerage undertakers whose areas are wholly or mainly in England, and(b) the costs and benefits of those actions.(2) The Secretary of State must publish the report before 1 September 2022.(3) The report must be laid before Parliament once it is published.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment requires the Secretary of State to produce a report on the actions that would be needed to eliminate discharges from storm overflows in England, and their costs and benefits, before 1 September 2022.
Amendments 61 to 63 agreed.
Consideration on Report adjourned until not before 9.19 pm.
HGV Driver Shortages
Commons Urgent Question
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer to an Urgent Question asked in the other place on HGV drivers. The Statement is as follows:
“Mr Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to update the House on the actions that my department and others have been taking to address the shortage in HGV drivers. This is, of course, a global issue, with our supply chains adjusting to the impact of the pandemic and working incredibly hard to make sure that consumers get whatever they need. We have been working with the industry for many months, unlocking testing capacity so that UK workers can join the driving sector.
My department has already increased the number of vocational driving tests from 2,000 a week pre-pandemic to 3,000 a week—that is a 50% increase—and last Friday I announced to Parliament additional measures that will significantly increase the number of HGV driving tests, by up to 50,000 per year. First, we will eliminate the need for some car drivers who want to tow a trailer to take an additional test. Some 16 million drivers who took their test before 1997 already have that right, so we are going to allow everybody to enjoy the same privilege of the licence, allowing around 30,000 more HGV tests every single year.
Secondly, tests will be made more efficient by the removal of the reversing exercise element and, for vehicles with trailers, the uncoupling and recoupling exercise. That test will be carried out separately by a third party, so it will still be done.
Thirdly, we are making it quicker to get a licence to drive an articulated vehicle without first having to get a licence for a smaller vehicle. That will make around 20,000 more HGV driving tests available every year and mean that drivers can gain their licence and enter the industry more quickly, without removing any testing. I have instructed the DVLA to prioritise the processing of licence applications, and we are supporting the industry to get UK workers into training.
This is not the only action that we have taken. Over recent months, we have made apprenticeships in the sector much more generous; offered incentive payments to employers to take on apprenticeships in the sector; worked with Jobcentre Plus with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to direct more people towards this brilliant career; and provided funding of £1 million for the Roads to Logistics scheme, encouraging ex-military leavers, ex-offenders and the long-term unemployed to move into jobs in this sector. This is not just a transport problem or effort, but ultimately many of the solutions to this will come from standing challenges, which the industry itself will want to take on.
The Government welcome the prospect of better remunerated drivers, with better conditions and a more diverse HGV workforce.”
I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. The Government have known for months and months that driver shortage issues would be exacerbated by the terms of the Brexit deal and their handling of Covid. Government Ministers are just now telling the industry to increase pay and improve conditions to recruit and retain more drivers, a much-needed step. However, how will that, or shortening the test process, or changing safety-driven driving regulations now address the immediate threat of worsening and widespread supply chain shortages this autumn? Or are the Government still sticking to what appears to have been their stance until now—which would explain the lack of timely government action—that the industry has been crying wolf over the impact of driver shortages this autumn?
My Lords, there is so much to respond to in that question. I am sure the noble Lord knows it is the case that this issue has been around for a very long time. I was talking to a colleague in the other place only recently and he said that one of the first things he did when he was elected in 2010 was go to an RHA reception at which they complained about the driver shortage. So the reality is that this has been a long time in coming. We absolutely will work with the industry to put in place all the things that they need to do.
The other thing to recall is that there are hundreds of thousands of qualified HGV drivers in this country who do not currently work in the sector. The industry must focus on getting those people back. By doing so, we have to focus on improving pay—there is anecdotal evidence that is coming through—and terms and conditions: my goodness, how simple is it to provide a clean loo, a vending machine and a comfy place to wait? Distribution centres need to absolutely step up and make sure that HGV drivers have at least those very simple things to make their day slightly easier.
There are lots of things that can be done. I do not take the point that the Government have been slacking. We have done an enormous amount and will continue to work with the industry to make sure that we keep goods flowing.
My Lords, rather than making the roads safer—Britain has always prided itself on its road safety record—these proposals seem to be some sort of cowboys’ charter. What does the Minister think about the response of Logistics UK and other representatives of the sector who believe that the longer working hours they suggest and have introduced will make the roads riskier and deter people from joining the industry? What assessment have the Government made of the safety impact of making the driving test effectively easier? This is not what people wanted when they voted for Brexit. Brexit is at the basis of this; Covid has made a bad situation much worse.
My Lords, Brexit is not the basis of this. At the current time, Germany has a 45,000 to 60,000 HGV driver shortage, France 43,000, Spain 15,000, Italy 15,000, and Poland 124,000. This is a problem that is impacting developed countries all across the EU and in the US, which has a 61,000 shortage right at this moment in time.
The noble Baroness refers to cowboys. I do not know who the cowboys are that she is referring to; I hope it is not the haulage sector, which I know is doing everything it can to make all the interventions we are putting in place work. For example, as the noble Baroness well knows, hauliers have to notify the department that they are going to use the extension of the hours and we obviously monitor the safety that comes out of that.
The noble Baroness seems to think that somehow the HGV test is getting easier. I am sorry to disabuse her: it is not. There will be no change to the standard of driving required for HGVs. The simple fact is that a certain element of the test will be delegated to trainers, who already train the HGV drivers in things such as manoeuvres. I would go on on the safety issue, but it is clear that we have some of the safest roads in the world and we want to keep it that way.
My Lords, is it not clear that, with just about 100 days till Christmas, there is an urgent short-term problem? Against that, why cannot Her Majesty’s Government produce a six-month visa for former HGV drivers who are somewhere else in Europe and recognise that they need be for only six months? I have had a six-month visa in my life as a commercial man and everybody obeys the six months. That surely will help in the short term.
In the longer term, it costs a young person of a non-academic interest over £7,000 to train. Why can we not have the equivalent of the student loans scheme for young people who want to learn to be HGV drivers, which could be repaid in the same way, so that when they have a job they can pay the loan back to Her Majesty’s Government?
I recognise that my noble friend wants to open the floodgates to EU drivers, but I sense that he may be waiting quite a while for the flood to arrive, because as I have outlined there is a shortage of drivers across the EU. What we must do is focus very hard on recruiting and training domestic drivers, and getting some of them to return. That is where the heart of this lies.
I note what my noble friend says on training. I do not know where the £7,000 figure comes from, because I actually phoned up an HGV trainer the other day—not for myself, of course—to ask and they said that it was around £3,000. By removing the staging requirement to get a C licence and a C+E, we will have combined the two training elements together. We would also expect training to reduce to get a C+E articulated licence. As my noble friend may know, there are private sector loans available and many of the training schools will make those available to the trainees, but of course it would be better if industry paid for the training in the first place.
My Lords, is the Minister aware of the recent research which shows that HGV drivers dislike their conditions and having to stay away overnight? With that in mind, will the Government look again at the plans for rail freight villages and palletisation of freight? That would put a lot of freight on to the railways and allow the drivers to do the last-mile deliveries, which would keep them nearer home and be more eco-friendly. I commend it to the Government.
I thank the noble Viscount for his suggestion. We in the Department for Transport are great supporters of rail freight. We have made significant investments in rail freight. It is not suitable for many of the goods moved by road, but where it is suitable we have various grants available to slightly subsidise the cost of rail freight and get that freight off the roads.
My Lords, I declare an interest as I have a C+E HGV licence. I am also an out-of-date HGV driving instructor.
The chickens are coming home to roost. For years we have treated HGV drivers like dirt. Why would anyone want to become an HGV driver? We literally expect them to urinate and defecate away from fixed facilities. Go and look at the A34 trunk road, see how many lorries are parked up with the driver inside and think about what he is going to do in the morning.
We persecute HGV drivers with regulation. I do, however, have one suggestion for the Minister. I have an HGV licence, but I cannot use it commercially because I do not have a Driver CPC—a certificate of professional competence. If the Minister relaxed that requirement, she would have access to a large number of HGV drivers very quickly.
Gosh, do I have some jobs for my noble friend. He is, however, absolutely right: it may well be that some of these hundreds of thousands of people with HGV licences do not want to return to the sector because, historically, it has been seen as a sector that does not treat its employees very well. The only way to fix that is to get the haulier sector working with the customers and the supply chain in the distribution centres. The Government have already produced an internal report on lorry parking. We will look very carefully at what we can do to go beyond the changes to the planning system that we have already put in place.
I take my noble friend’s point on the Driver CPC. The House may remember that we were able to extend it last year, but that was using EU legislation. I will do what I can on the Driver CPC. It is a good safety mechanism, but we might be able to do something, although significant changes would require primary legislation at this time.