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Environment Bill

Volume 814: debated on Wednesday 13 October 2021

Third Reading

My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to acquaint the House that they, having been informed of the purport of the Environment Bill, have consented to place their interests, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.


Moved by

It is my pleasure and privilege to be responsible for Third Reading of the Environment Bill in this House today. Although the process has often been challenging, it has also been productive, thanks to the collaboration and expertise of your Lordships’ House. The benefits of the Bill will be felt by future generations, both in the UK and internationally, as we strive to leave the environment in a better place than how we inherited it.

Here is a Bill that will transform our environmental governance in a way that is better suited to our needs and seizes the opportunities of our exit from the European Union. It will set targets for fine particulate matter, the most harmful air pollutant, and—a world-first—to halt the decline in species by 2030. It establishes an office for environment protection, an independent body that will hold us to account in meeting these ambitious targets.

The Bill takes action across the product life cycle, with resource and waste measures that will advance us towards a circular economy, extending the responsibility on to the polluting producers, while empowering consumers to make more sustainable choices. It will improve our air and water quality to ensure that generations both present and future are not at risk of ill health from pollution to these most basic and crucial elements in life.

Here is a Bill that delivers not only protections for our natural world but strategies and duties to enhance our biodiversity, allowing it to thrive once again. The Bill mandates biodiversity net gain, a game changer, to ensure that new development truly enhances the environment, allowing our ecological networks to flourish. The Bill looks beyond the UK, with world-leading due diligence measures on our supply chains to tackle illegal deforestation around the planet, saving precious habitats in the Amazon as well as a multitude of other ecosystems.

As COP 26 approaches in less than three weeks, the United Kingdom can prove with tangible action its commitment on the international stage and encourage other countries to match this ambition with similar efforts. I am enormously grateful to my noble friend Lady Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist, who has supported me both on and, even more so, off the Floor of the House to take through this gigantic Bill. I pay special tribute to the Front Benches and the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Hayman of Ullock, the noble Lord, Lord Khan of Burnley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, for all their invaluable contributions, which have been detailed and imperative. I extend that thanks to the countless other noble Lords and friends who, from these Benches, have provided ample helpings of constructive support and knowledge. I thank all noble Lords for taking part.

I thank the Lord Speaker and the parliamentary staff for their hard work behind the scenes, and I thank all the environmental stakeholders and committees that have campaigned diligently and effectively on so many of the issues in the Bill. I particularly thank the Bill team at Defra, who have been so extraordinarily patient and helpful throughout.

Across the myriad facets of this landmark Bill, I firmly believe that this legislation is more than just a credible step in the right direction. It is an ambitious answer to the scale of the task before us and provides the apparatus that we know we need if we are to recover nature. I hope it also acts as a rallying cry for others to move along with us.

My Lords, I congratulate everyone who has taken part in this Bill. My own contribution was very small.

I want to ask the Minister why the consent of the Crown and the Prince of Wales is required. The roles and responsibilities are set out very clearly in Clause 147 and Schedule 19, which is pretty long, so what assets are actually involved? The Duchy of Cornwall has been saying for a long time that it is in the private sector. In that respect, there are thousands or maybe millions of other stakeholders who are also in the private sector, so why have the Government not sought the approval or consent of all these other people? What is so special about the Duchy? I look forward to his response.

I thank the noble Lord for that question—and for his advance notice of it. That has allowed me to provide an answer, which I probably would not have been able to provide otherwise.

I confirm that the Government have sought and secured the consent of the Queen and the Prince of Wales to a number of measures in the Bill that bind the Crown or apply in respect of Crown land, the Crown Estate or the Duchies of Lancaster or Cornwall. These include—in direct response to his question—provisions to give directions to waste carriers; an expansion of the powers of search and seizure to tackle waste crime; the operation of smoke control areas; changes to abstraction licences; changes to land valuation provisions for the purpose of internal drainage boards; biodiversity net gain, including for infrastructure and in the marine environment; improving the Forestry Act 1967 and provision for an ancient woodland protection standard; and conservation covenants. This is a standard process that the Government undertake for all Bills. Clause 32 of the Bill clarifies that the enforcement jurisdiction for the Office for Environmental Protection extends to all public authorities, including the Crown, and subsection (3) defines the term “public authority”.

I congratulate the Minister on the breadth of this Bill, in spite of many misgivings on the extent of the Henry VIII powers that it contains.

When the House was in Committee on the Bill in June, my noble friend the Minister moved two amendments to Clause 20 to do with the requirement for UK Ministers to adhere to environmental principles. The first of them disapplied a clause of the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Act 2021. In speaking to the amendments, he rounded off his speech by saying that

“this is in keeping with the devolution settlement. We will continue to work with the Scottish Government to ensure that our environmental approaches work together.”—[Official Report, 28/07/21; col. 581.]

This action has provoked a flurry of objection north of the border and an added disagreement on the appropriateness of legislative consent Motions. This House has an important role to play in constitutional matters, and I think the Government should tell us whether discussions were held with the Scottish Government in relation to this action and whether there are any lessons to be learned about working together.

I reassure my noble friend that, throughout the passage of the Bill, Ministers and officials from the UK Government have worked very closely with Ministers and officials from the devolved Administrations. We have consistently engaged with the Scottish Government on many of its contents and will continue to do so in future. I hope that answers his question.

My Lords, I apologise for intervening on a Bill that I have not been involved in, but my understanding of the procedure at this point is that those who wish to speak will do so and then the Minister will respond at the end, rather than this being a series of questions and answers. I wonder if that might assist the House.

My Lords, I agree with the Minister that this Bill, as it stands now, is ambitious. But the Bill we had originally was a terrible Bill and that is why we so heavily amended it—it is quite unusual to amend a Bill to this extent. I hope that the Minister is going to push very hard, with the Treasury and his colleagues in the Commons, to make sure that they take out very few, if any, of our amendments.

I thank the Minister and the Defra officials, who have engaged with me and many other noble Lords very constructively during the passage of this Bill through your Lordships’ House.

I echo the point just made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb: the amendments that have been passed in this House have significantly improved the quality of the Bill. An important point to note is that the amendments had almost universal support from all groups in your Lordships’ House. They were not party-political points; they were points made by those of us who believe passionately in the protection of the environment, now and in the future, to leave a better environment for our children and grandchildren than we have at the moment.

I hope, therefore, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has said, that the Minister will do his very best with his colleagues to ensure that the majority, if not all, of the amendments survive their consideration in the Commons and that we do not have to start the arguments all over again at ping-pong in a couple of weeks’ time.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on what was, I think, his first Bill in this House, and my noble friend Lady Bloomfield, as well as the Bill team, who went the extra mile. I particularly pay tribute to my noble friend for the amendments that he brought forward, which is always quite an achievement for a Minister in this place.

I would like to press him a little bit further on reaching a balance, particularly in catchment management and the prevention of combined sewer overflow, an issue to which I am sure we will be returning. We have already seen substantial floods in this country and elsewhere, no doubt due to climate change, and I welcome the provisions of this Bill that will undoubtedly help to reduce that in the future.

I support my noble friend the Duke of Montrose in his comments. I will raise these issues further in the context of the debate on the common frameworks agreement later today.

I want to take the opportunity to congratulate my noble friend the Minister on bringing us to this stage, and to wish the amendments that we have carried a safe passage back to us when the Bill returns to this House from next door.

My Lords, if I may, in view of the fact that my noble friend rightly linked this important Bill with the coming COP 26 conference, I warn Her Majesty’s Government not to be tempted to make announcements of targets to help COP 26 on its way which are unachievable for reasons of politics in a democracy or the realities of economic life.

My Lords, very briefly, I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has said. This Bill has not been damaged or impaired during its passage through your Lordships’ House.

I endorse everything that has been said in the way of compliments to my noble friend Lord Goldsmith and what he himself has said about participation across the Floor of the House. This is not in any sense a party-political Bill. It is a Bill that concerns each and every one of us, and our families, for generations to come. Therefore, we do not want to engage in ping-pong.

If my noble friend is to achieve his ambition of getting this on the statute book before Glasgow, which I entirely support, it is important that the House of Commons does not attempt unnecessarily to delete amendments that do not damage but rather enhance the basic principles and objectives of the Bill. It would be a great pity if in a fortnight, on the virtual eve of the conference, we began to indulge in a battle between the two Houses.

This House has an enormous amount—a great wealth—of experience and expertise, and that was perhaps more evident on this Bill than on most others. I know my noble friend the Minister would agree that everybody who spoke did so in a constructive and supportive spirit, so I implore him to use all his powers of persuasion with his ministerial colleagues and others to ensure that the Bill, as it now stands, survives as near intact as possible. Then our Ministers and the president of the conference can go to Glasgow knowing that there is a perhaps unprecedented degree of cross-party support and agreement for a Bill that does indeed, as I said at the beginning, affect us all and our families.

My Lords, it is appropriate that we have the Third Reading today as we see the close of the high-level segment of COP 15 and the publication of the Kunming Declaration, which makes it clear that setting nature

“on a path to recovery is a defining challenge of this decade”.

This House has done its usual proper job of scrutiny of the Bill and has proposed measures to strengthen it that are definitely needed. I thank the ministerial team and the Minister’s colleagues for accepting some of those amendments, including the legally binding target for species abundance for 2030, and for including major infrastructure projects in the biodiversity net gain regime. Those are welcome measures that the Government have accepted. While we are thanking people, those on these Benches, like others, thank the ministerial Front-Bench team and the Bill team for their unfailing good humour, clear commitment and engagement with us throughout this process.

But, as others have said, many outstanding amendments remain. As we send this Bill down to our colleagues at the other end, be assured that we will work with them and with others around this House, as we have done so constructively through this process, to ensure that it is strengthened, in the way we all know it needs to be, for the future of our country, our people and our environment.

My Lords, I too add my thanks to the Bill team for its patience and courtesy in responding to our concerns and for facilitating so many meetings over the summer. We have all been on a steep learning curve, and it has certainly helped to put us more in tune with the facts behind the thinking on the Bill.

I very much thank the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, for staying the course. I am sure there were times when he wished to be somewhere else, perhaps even somewhere sunnier. Despite occasionally giving the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, kittens when he went walkabout, he was assiduous in being here, doing the heavy lifting on the Bill and giving us all his attention and his very detailed and thoughtful contributions. On that basis, I thank the Minister for listening, because we received a number of concessions along the way and we are really very appreciative of that.

As other noble Lords have said, of course, we do not think that is quite enough. I hope the Minister recognises that the 15 amendments which we have passed make serious and important improvements to the Bill—and, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and others have said, they have widespread support across the Chamber. I hope this is not the end of the road for the Bill. I hope that the Government have used the recess to reflect on our amendments and will feel able to support their key principles when the Bill goes back to the Commons next week.

We are of course aware that COP 26 is looming but, as we have always said, this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for us to put the environment on the right course for the future. We still hope that we can reach consensus with the Government to achieve the ambition that I know we all share on this, so that we can reach agreement in the very near future on the final outcome for the Bill.

I am grateful for all the remarks by noble Lords and will address them briefly, because we will of course have more opportunities for debate. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and indeed the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for their polite encouragement as we come to the final furlong of this huge Bill. I absolutely assure the noble Baroness opposite that I will continue listening and engaging. Like everyone in this House, I am very keen for the Bill to be as strong as it possibly can be.

I sincerely thank many noble Lords for the pressure they have applied and the manner in which they have applied it over the last few weeks because that has led to improvements in the Bill, as a number of noble Lords have commented. It is not my place to discuss or make statements in relation to upcoming debates that we are likely to have. I cannot give my noble friend Lord Cormack a guarantee that we will avoid ping-pong; I encourage everyone to get their best bats, just in case. However, the pressure has been extremely effective and useful. I know that that pressure will continue in the same vein and be equally valuable.

My noble friend Lord Marlesford mentioned unachievable targets. We do not want to impose any unachievable targets. There are some things, no matter how difficult, that simply have to be done; I would say that the 2030 biodiversity target is one of them. There is no possible justification for not making that commitment in law and, although we do not know all the steps we will have to take to achieve it, we know that it will be extraordinarily difficult and that it has to be done. We must find a way but I take his broader point.

Finally, my noble friend Lady McIntosh mentioned storm overflows. This is one of the issues that we will return to in coming weeks but, again, it is a testament to the tireless campaigning of noble Lords, including the noble Duke, the Duke of West—I apologise but I have done it again; it is the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington—and the pressure that he applied so effectively. As he would acknowledge, we have moved considerably on this issue but there are debates remaining to be had. That is probably enough said for the moment on that.

I hope I have answered the main issues that were raised. I repeat my thanks to noble Lords for their dedication to the Bill. It has been an honour to assist its passage and to serve your Lordships, and I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.