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Lords Chamber

Volume 815: debated on Tuesday 26 October 2021

House of Lords

Tuesday 26 October 2021

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Bristol.

Ofcom: Appointment of Chair

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the timetable for the appointment of the Chair of Ofcom; and when they expect the appointment to be confirmed.

My Lords, the campaign to appoint a permanent chairman of Ofcom will be launched imminently. The announcement will include the timetable, details of the advisory assessment panel and the selection criteria. It remains a priority for the Government to find the best candidate for the role. It will be a fair and open competition run in compliance with the Governance Code on Public Appointments and regulated by the Commissioner for Public Appointments.

My Lords, the wheels certainly seem to have come off the latest attempt to instal Paul Dacre as Ofcom chair. Reports suggest that the Government are struggling to identify credible individuals with a record in business or public life even to form an interview panel. If the appointment meets rules for public appointments, does the Minister believe that it will be seen as credible or help with the delivery of important things such as the online harms agenda? What can he say to the House to reassure the public that this and other public appointments will meet the tests of fairness and impartiality?

My Lords, of course the process will meet those tests. We want to identify the best candidate for this important role. As I say, the recruitment process will be launched imminently. Preparations are under way to ensure that it is successful in providing Ministers with a choice of high-quality candidates drawn from a broad and diverse field and we encourage lots of people to apply on that basis.

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. Are the Government considering the adequacy of Ofcom’s current budget in light of the increasing number of critical functions that it is being asked to regulate, not least, as has been mentioned, the absolutely critical online safety arena?

This is an important point that we have also discussed in the context of the Telecommunications (Security) Bill, which has its Third Reading in your Lordships’ House later today. The Government have been working closely with Ofcom to prepare for the new regulatory regime. This includes work to ensure that it has the resources to carry out its functions as regulator effectively and, vis-à-vis telecoms security, that includes another £4.6 million this year.

Will the Minister listen to the Conservative chair of the Culture Select Committee in the other place, who demands that the Government make clear in their new advert for the chair of Ofcom that previously unsuccessful candidates such as Paul Dacre cannot reapply?

My Lords, the very clear rules about public appointments mean that, in reopening the competition, everybody is allowed to apply, including people who had applied for the first round. I will not be drawn on specific people, but we want to ensure that a diverse and high-quality range of candidates apply and are put to Ministers to choose from.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that whoever has the post must demonstrate a total and absolute commitment to the highest standards of public service broadcasting? Secondly, can he comment on something that I have heard, which is that for some time now Channel 4 has not been able to appoint full members of the board because Ofcom has not been able to go through the process? Could that be speeded up?

I am not familiar with the noble Lord’s second point, but I will certainly take it away and look into it as he asks. Yes, this is an important role with responsibilities not just in broadcast but across the communications framework, which is why we want a high-quality range of candidates to apply for Ministers to choose from.

My Lords, I welcome the Minister to his role, this being my first opportunity to do so, although he may not welcome my question. In a recent speech, the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, who will be much missed in this Chamber, said that

“when the Prime Minister actively—and repeatedly—intervenes to manipulate an ideological ally into the chairmanship of Ofcom, every alarm bell should start to ring.”

Given that one of the most important functions of Ofcom is to uphold the broadcasting impartiality regime, does the Minister agree that it would be unacceptable for the new chair to be someone with a long record of extreme political partisanship?

I thank the noble Baroness for her welcome and join her in paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, whose views will, I am sure, continue to be heard, even if not in your Lordships’ House. This is an important role, which needs impartiality and the appointment of which is governed by clear rules on public appointments. The process has been run along those lines so far and it will continue to be.

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on the launch of their great comedy drama “Ofcom Succession”. My understanding is that the first process was stopped because the Government had failed to appoint a headhunter to seek out the highest-quality candidates to apply for this important role. Can my noble friend tell me, first, has a headhunter been appointed? Secondly, if so, who is it? Finally, can I have their phone number?

I thank my noble friend for his question. Yes, following Cabinet Office approval and a fair and open tender process, an executive search firm has been appointed. It is Saxton Bampfylde and I am sure that its contact details are available on its website.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that, in seeking the right person for this role, the qualifications will include knowledge of the radio spectrum and the universal mail service, and not former experience as a newspaper editor?

My Lords, the full criteria will be set out in the advert, which will go out once the new campaign is being run. The noble Baroness’s point about the range of areas in the sector that need to be regulated is a pertinent one.

It is McNally—the noble Lord and I have known each other for only 30 years. It has already been pointed out that Ofcom will shortly be given unprecedented responsibilities for regulation, once the Bill on internet harms has passed this House. Noble Lords have already expressed widespread concern about how this appointment is being made. The Minister mentioned that an appointments panel is about to be appointed. Would it not restore public confidence if that panel were genuinely cross-party and independent in its judgments?

My Lords, the appointments panel will of course be governed by the public appointments rules. The job description and the names of those on the assessment panel will be available on the public appointments website when the campaign relaunches. The noble Lord is right also to point to the importance of the ongoing preparatory work for Ofcom’s role in online safety.

Now that I have my glasses on, I offer my sincere apologies to my friend, the noble Lord, Lord McNally. Now I am sure that it is the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley.

Will the Minister note that one specific issue that the new Ofcom chair needs to urgently address is an egregious example of compromised media impartiality due to the powerful lobby group Stonewall, as revealed by the superb BBC Sounds 10-part podcast series “Stephen Nolan Investigates” on the influence of Stonewall’s gender identity on the output of the BBC, skewing impartiality? Perhaps the Minister can comment on the content of episode 9 revealing that Ofcom itself was using its judgments on audience complaints as evidence to Stonewall, as though it was judge and jury, to prove its LGBT credentials. That is not comforting from a neutral regulator.

I have not heard that episode but the example that the noble Baroness points to underlines the importance of a free and fair media that scrutinises everyone in power, whether that is those in government or in lobby groups. It also reflects the importance of the BBC broadcasting a range of views in fulfilling that important role.

HGV Drivers

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to evaluate the success of the measures they have put in place to address the shortage of HGV drivers.

My Lords, we have taken decisive action to address the acute driver shortage, with 25 specific measures taken by the Government already to support the industry as it resolves this long-standing workforce issue. We are seeing results, with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency dealing with around 4,200 applications daily, more than double the pre-Covid rate.

My Lords, we have a truly world-beating driver shortage in the UK. Given that the last time we discussed this the Minister said that the problem goes back to 2010, can she explain why the Government have had to resort to government by panic button, with some 25 last-minute measures to try to avert a crisis? Why was there no long-term plan to improve pay rates and conditions in order to attract the new entrants that the Government now say are so needed?

I think that I will probably say this many times: the haulage sector is a private sector and the Government do not customarily get involved in individual pay rates within those sorts of sectors. We have been working with the sector to address this issue. Indeed, many years ago now we commissioned a study into the availability of lorry parking and we are doing another one to see what we can do in that regard. So it is not fair to say that we have not been cognisant of this issue for quite some time. We have been working with the industry because it is mostly up to the industry to resolve it.

My Lords, this crisis was eminently predictable in light of the age profile of UK haulage drivers and the prospect of Brexit. Do the Government now recognise that temporary visas and increased testing capacity will not resolve the basic problem? Do Ministers accept that in order to attract and retain the next generation of HGV drivers we need not only to provide more training, increase pay and stop the permanent escalation of hours but to improve working conditions, particularly adequate and hygienic facilities at lorry parks, which are provided by public authorities in much of the continent but not here, so that too many drivers have to sleep in their cabs?

I think that the noble Lord has just pointed out the complex and convoluted nature of the solutions to this problem, which is indeed long-standing. I say again that we are working closely with the industry on this. Of course it is not just the haulage industry that has skin in this game; it is also the people who provide services to the haulage industry. The noble Lord will be pleased to hear that I am working with National Highways to figure out what we can do to improve services at motorway service areas and to see whether we can develop some more.

My Lords, the information recently disclosed is that there was a backlog of some 56,000 HGV licences that were being delayed in the process, as well as delays in driver training, by the DVSA. This caused an outrage and, in addition, the threat of industrial action. Will the Minister please tell us what steps the Government have taken to address these issues?

I reassure my noble friend that I have had several conversations with the DVLA on this matter. I assure her that currently there is no backlog at all for provisional vocational licences; these are being processed within the normal turnaround time. As of Monday, there were 27,000 applications for vocational driving licences awaiting processing. However, the holders of the vast majority of those, which are renewals, will of course still be able to drive under Section 88 provisions.

On the strike at the DVLA, it was and remains extremely unwelcome and unjustified. The PCS has repeatedly claimed that increasing the backlog is a success. I do not agree; that is not a success. It is impacting our supply chains and those people who need to use their cars to travel. However, I also point out that the vast majority of DVLA staff are not striking, and I welcome the work that they do.

My Lords, further to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, does the Minister believe that we can learn from others, including our European neighbours, in the provision of dedicated roadside facilities, such as the Relais Routiers network of over 1,200 restaurants with safe parking and shower facilities? These are popular with British HGV drivers when they drive through France. The UK has no such dedicated facilities for lorry drivers, and we are in urgent need of them.

I am not sure we will necessarily follow the French example, but I accept that we need to improve the quality and quantity of facilities for our drivers and the availability of lorry parking for rest breaks. Obviously, I am working very closely with the owners and operators of the 114 motorway service areas we have. Of course, there are countless other providers of facilities that are away from the strategic road network. I agree that we need to improve them and perhaps there might be something more about that in the spending review.

No one should object to heavy goods vehicle drivers being paid a lot more for the valuable work they do, but now we read that some local authorities are facing shortages of drivers of refuse collection vehicles and gritters because they are leaving for newly substantially higher-paid driving jobs for supermarket chains, among others. Since this is a direct spin-off from the Government’s own hard Brexit, will the Government commit to reimbursing cash-strapped local authorities for the cost of paying drivers of refuse collection vehicles and gritters more to retain their services and ensure the maintenance of these vital public services this winter?

As the noble Lord knows, there is a shortage of lorry drivers across Europe so we would not necessarily have been able to rely on cheap EU labour in the current situation. I accept there will be a transition from where we were previously to where we are now. Some people will move jobs and I accept that the key to that is to increase training for HGV drivers. We are providing the tests and working with the training sector to provide training so that people can come through and drive our garbage disposal trucks and gritters.

If I were a foreign lorry driver, I would go home for Christmas knowing that on 1 January I would get another big cash bonus to retake up a lorry driving job. Considering that, can the Government guarantee that we will all have our turkeys available on Christmas Day this year?

As I think I have tried to point out, the Government are extremely active in this area: 25 measures and counting in terms of making sure that we not only address the short-term issues but consider the medium and long-term solutions to this current shortage.

My noble friend may not be aware that I am the honorary president of the UK Warehousing Association. It is deeply concerned about the shortage of forklift truck drivers, which is impacting once again on the supply chain. What can my noble friend do to work with the industry to try to resolve the situation in the run-up to Christmas so that we can empty the warehouses and get the supply chain moving as best we can?

I am very happy to work with the UK Warehousing Association on any measures we can take to increase the number of forklift truck drivers coming through. In return, I would really like the UK Warehousing Association to encourage its members to provide decent facilities and places to have a rest for HGV drivers when they are dropping off.

My Lords, can the Minister indicate what assessment has been undertaken of the potential impact on the availability of HGV drivers after the Government impose checks on goods coming in from the EU as a result of the Government’s hard Brexit?

Public Services

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to review (1) the comparative costs, and (2) the effectiveness, of the provision of public services in England by (a) local authorities, and (b) private contractors.

Local authorities are required to support continuous improvement through the delivery of their functions under the Local Government Act 1999. They decide how to run services. Services can be outsourced, or delivered jointly with another authority, provided that quality and value for money are maintained. As public bodies, they are subject to the Public Contracts Regulations 2015. Central government provides funding, improvement support and overall oversight. There are no current plans for a central review.

My Lords, this Question was prompted by the Government’s choice on test and trace to turn to multinational companies and expensive consultancy firms instead of making use of the expertise of local government and local public health officers. But it applies more widely: after 50 years of outsourcing, and having acquired experience on outsourcing local transport, probation services and others, will the Government not consider that the time has come to conduct an independent inquiry—or would they prefer an inquiry to be undertaken by an ad hoc Lords committee, for example?

I think the specific question relates to test and trace; I am sure that is part of the review of our response to the pandemic. But as a former local authority leader, I agree with the noble Lord’s comments about the experience that local government has in the competitive tendering of services.

My Lords, given my local government interest, I know it is not how services are provided but if services can be provided. For example, social care—a service provided by both public and private organisations—requires an extra £2 billion a year. Does the Minister agree with the Conservative County Councils Network, which says that council tax will need to rise by 8% each year so that basic social care needs can be met?

My Lords, it is for every council to decide what level of council tax it needs to set. Obviously, there is a latitude to increase council tax by up to 2% to help support the additional social care costs, but the Government have set out their plan to increase funding to social care, as the noble Baroness knows.

My Lords, many of us who remember the days when local authority direct labour organisations had a monopoly on public services such as refuse collection welcomed the decision in the 1980s to open these services to competition—a decision that has not been reversed since. Given all the pressure on local authorities today, is now the right time to encourage them to invest manpower and capital to re-enter this market?

I agree with my noble friend. There has been a tremendous success in the competitive tendering of services that has driven down cost and increased value for money for the taxpayer, and also seen an improvement in the delivery of local services. It is not surprising that £64 billion is now paid out by local government to private companies to deliver those services. Although local authorities have the powers to trade and charge, they should think very carefully before they decide to move back to the situation before the introduction of competitive tendering.

Does the Minister think there are any features of some services that make them completely unsuitable for outsourcing? I am thinking of life and death matters such as firefighting or test and trace; extremely vulnerable service users in prisons or secure academies; or natural monopolies such as polluting water companies.

As the Fire Minister, I certainly recognise the importance of the delivery of the vast majority of our fire and rescue services through people who are currently employed by local government. As a former council leader, I know there is a whole host of statutory areas where you would seek to deliver services through people who are directly employed. But increasingly there are areas where you can drive down costs through competitive tendering. That also gives in-house services the opportunity to compete with the market to see whether they can deliver those services more effectively. Competition does drive down costs and increases the quality of the services provided.

My Lords, could I point to a case in Shropshire? The Conservative-run council has spent £1,000 a day on a pothole consultant. Does the Minister believe that this private contractor represents value for money?

I am not going to get into the use of consultants by a particular council, irrespective of the administration currently in control. A number of councils, both Conservative and Labour, have been subject to Secretary of State interventions because they have failed to fulfil their best-value duties. I point to the most recent intervention in Liverpool City Council, where, sadly, we have had to step in.

My Lords, I declare my positions as a vice-president of the LGA and the NALC. Would the Minister agree that, in this age of shocks, when resilience is becoming more and more of a crucial issue—we addressed this in the last Question, on HGV drivers—eventually, if things go wrong and companies collapse, like Carillion, or fail to deliver services, as happened with the green homes grant, the Government have to step in and are always the final service of last resort? Surely we should stop pumping public money into private hands—taking all those risks of collapse that we have seen so often with private companies—cut out those extra costs and simply allow local governments to deliver services for local people?

My Lords, it will not surprise you that I do not agree with that. Some £64 billion-worth of money is being spent by local government on the delivery of very efficient services through the private sector, but you have to be very careful about how you engage. There are plenty of examples where local authorities have not used competitive tendering but have chosen to enter into partnerships, which have had tragic consequences in the last year because of the pandemic. So I encourage local authorities to be judicious, fulfil the guidelines that are supplied around procurement, go through sensitive competitive tendering and check the creditworthiness of those whom they choose to bring on board.

Many of the firms to which the functions of local authorities have been outsourced are motivated by considerations other than public service: the profit motive is dominant. I am aware of one firm, to which the traffic and parking services have been outsourced, that has been issuing spurious penalty charge notices for traffic offences. Their operatives are working under an incentive scheme. Their supposition is that many people will automatically pay the penalties, fearing that, if they do not, the charges will be doubled and they may be taken to court. Do the Government have any desire or means to address such abuses?

My Lords, revenue from parking is ring-fenced, and most local authorities would never incentivise any staff who are doing this to start to fine—

As someone who spent 16 years in local government, I certainly know that we ensured that we never incentivised our staff in relation to the volume of tickets and the revenue that they could collect. It is important to increase productivity and to have sensible oversight of these matters.

My Lords, on what the Minister just said, as a former councillor I know that such incentives do apply in some local councils. In any case, in any likely future review of government strategic effectiveness in the allocated cost of public services, will the Minister consider ring-fencing relevant funds for some specific services, such as those for domestic violence, social care for people living with disabilities and mental health conditions, and drug services for young people? Secondly, with regard to the private sector, will the Minister ensure that all contractors are fully cognisant of, and compliant with, our ambitious equality standards, including on their senior management and boards?

My Lords, a significant amount of the councils’ budget is already ring-fenced, including adult social care. It is for local councils to determine how they spend their resources to ensure that they meet local needs. The core spending power in the most recent local government settlement increased from £49 billion to £51.3 billion in this financial year. The ring-fencing of budgets can have the deleterious effect of forcing councils to do something that is not necessarily in the immediate interests of their local residents.

Insulate Britain

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the costs to (1) public services, and (2) the wider economy, of the recent campaign by Insulate Britain of obstructing motorways and major roads.

My Lords, Insulate Britain’s irresponsible actions have disrupted thousands of people’s lives. National Highways estimates that the financial impact on drivers from time lost during just three days of disruption totals £559,946. This does not include the costs of missed appointments or of managing the incidents, disruption to manufacturing or retail, or the impact of disruption on other days. These costs would have been even higher without prompt action by the police to remove protesters and free up traffic.

My Lords, according to the Observer at the weekend, Insulate Britain activists are baffled as to why they are not in jail already. They thought that their campaign would be over in two days, rather than being allowed to go on for five weeks. I think that the rest of the country rather shares their bafflement. As they resume their very expensive campaign of disrupting ordinary people’s lives, can my noble friend say that the Government both have and will deploy the necessary legal powers to bring them before a court of law?

We are investigating all possible legal avenues to bring these people to justice. National Highways and Transport for London have both rapidly put in place injunctions to deter these sort of dangerous actions. Only yesterday, the High Court granted National Highways an interim injunction banning activities which obstruct traffic and access on any part of the strategic road network—that is, all motorways and major A roads. Last Friday, National Highways applied for committal for contempt of court in respect of nine individuals suspected of breaching injunctions. If found to be in breach, these individuals could face an unlimited fine and/or imprisonment.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that what appears to have been a cunning plan by the secret society of evil net-zero sceptics to get Insulate Britain to undermine the appeal of the Green movement was brilliantly executed? Was it not a particular triumph to choose upper middle-class twits to confront ordinary people trying to get to work or school? Was it not a stroke of genius to make sure that some of them had not insulated their own homes? Does she agree that it is surprising that the environmental movement has not yet seen through this stunt?

My Lords, there is no doubt that the activities of the Insulate Britain campaign have caused problems and disruption for many people. I guess that was the point. Does the Minister agree that these problems will come to be seen as trivial when compared to the disruption we shall all face to our lives if we fail to address climate change?

This Government have one of the strongest records in the world in tackling climate change, and I fear that using the word “trivial” in relation to this disruption is a poor choice of word. Insulate Britain has said that days of disruption are necessary to force the Government to act. This is just a small, rag-tag group of people who will not force the Government to do anything.

My Lords, I am sure that most of your Lordships’ House have been on demonstrations or protests during their lives, even if they do not want to admit it now. Those demonstrations were different: the police were involved beforehand and looked to make sure that the law was not broken. What we are seeing here are people who have gone out deliberately to obstruct ordinary daily life. Some of the demonstrators have said that they think they are not being arrested and charged properly and ending up in prison because of the COP 26 conference. There is a kind of feeling that they do not want people to be in jail for anything vaguely to do with climate change. Can the Minister confirm or deny this?

It certainly has nothing at all to do with COP 26. Obviously, certain matters are operational matters for the police, but the noble Baroness is right: we all know of good protests. Getting a million people out on the streets on a Saturday afternoon where the police have been told in advance, where there is a good level of public support and where you do not destroy any statues is a good protest. Insulate Britain members are not good protesters.

Climate change is the major challenge of our time, and winning public support for the cause is critical. Blocking roads and antagonising people is not going to achieve that objective.

This week, the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has significantly extended London’s ultra-low emission zone. The Evening Standard yesterday said that it backed Sadiq Khan in

“taking steps to clean up our city’s toxic air and cut our carbon emissions in the process.”

Do the Government also back Sadiq Khan on this, regarding it too as an effective example of how the ballot box can prove to be an effective way for people to respond to the climate crisis?

As the noble Lord will know, we probably have a much closer relationship with the Mayor of London than we would ordinarily have at the moment. Although transport is devolved in London, owing to a substantial hole in TfL’s finances we have to provide it with quite significant funding every now and again. Indeed, the last deal we agreed with the mayor included that there would be no change to the extension of ULEZ.

My Lords, the laws already exist to deal with this matter, but the police are just not using their operational freedom to put them into effect. Could the police be advised that there would be a lot of public support if they were to use their influence and arrest people, and a few of them could spend a few days in prison? It might put them off further action.

As I noted, policing matters are an operational matter for the police, but I am sure that the Metropolitan Police will have heard my noble friend’s wise words.

I call the noble Lord, Lord Austin of Dudley. No, he is not present. In that case, I call the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb.

My Lords, as of March last year the cost of road congestion in the UK was £7 billion, estimated at £784 per driver. Clearly, the Government are irresponsible to let that congestion go ahead and really ought to have a plan to reduce it that does not involve building more roads, which actually will attract more traffic. Would the Minister like to say something about that? Plus—Insulate Britain is right. Its tactics might be colossally difficult for us to cope with, but it is right that the Government should be insulating the leakiest council housing homes in Britain, rather than allowing those people to spend cold winters, be ill and emit endless CO2 emissions.

Well, I am just relieved that the noble Baroness did not stand up and agree with her fellow eco-warriors. As I have previously set out, this Government have a very strong record on tackling climate change. I point the noble Baroness to the transport decarbonisation plan, published by the Department for Transport, which clearly sets out exactly how we intend to decarbonise our transport system.

Airports Slot Allocation (Alleviation of Usage Requirements) (No. 2) Regulations 2021

Heavy Commercial Vehicles in Kent (No. 2) (Amendment) Order 2021

Heavy Commercial Vehicles in Kent (No. 1) (Amendment) Order 2021

Motions to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Regulations and Orders laid before the House on 19 July and 6 September be approved.

Relevant documents: 12th and 14th Reports from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 19 October.

Motions agreed.

Organics (Equivalence and Control Bodies Listing) (Amendment) Regulations 2021

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 6 July be approved.

Relevant document: 11th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (special attention drawn to the instrument). Considered in Grand Committee on 19 October.

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend the Minister, I beg to move the Motion standing in his name on the Order Paper.

Motion agreed.

Water and Sewerage Undertakers (Exit from Non-household Retail Market) (Consequential Provision) Regulations 2021

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 20 July be approved. Considered in Grand Committee on 19 October.

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend the Minister, I beg to move the Motion standing in his name on the Order Paper.

Motion agreed.

Telecommunications (Security) Bill

Third Reading

Motion

Moved by

My Lords, I thank noble Lords from all sides of the House who have contributed to our debates during the passage of this Bill so far. Although that journey is not complete, their work has certainly helped us to interrogate the Bill and improve it. In particular, I would like to use this opportunity to thank my noble friend Lady Barran, who so expertly guided the Bill up to Committee; I was pleased to hear the tributes and thanks to her on Report a few days ago.

Throughout the passage of the Bill, the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, and the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, have helpfully challenged the Government’s approach from the Opposition Front Bench. I thank them for the constructive way they have done so and for their diligent approach, along with the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Clement-Jones, from the Liberal Democrat Benches, who have also applied keen-eyed scrutiny throughout the Bill’s passage so far. Although we have not always agreed on the fine detail, it is clear that we all share the same ambition: to keep our telecoms networks secure.

I also thank my noble friends on these Benches, particularly my noble friends Lady Morgan of Coates, Lord Vaizey of Didcot, Lord Holmes of Richmond, Lord Young of Cookham, Lady Stroud, Lord Balfe and Lord Naseby for their contributions. The scrutiny that has been applied has already resulted in legislation that will allow the UK to protect our telecoms networks for years to come. It would be remiss of me not to extend my thanks also to parliamentary counsel for their usual brilliance in drafting the Bill, and to the House authorities for ensuring that the parliamentary stages could take place so seamlessly, including during the challenging circumstances of recent months.

I close by thanking the officials within my department, most of whom have been working on this Bill for well over a year now. Their knowledge, organisation and patience has allowed me, and I hope all noble Lords, to understand and scrutinise with relative ease what is a technical but very important Bill. It is a large Bill team and I make no apology for listing their names; it illustrates the breadth of work that has gone into what is quite a technical Bill. I thank Kathryn Roe, John Peart, Byron Grant, Thea Macdonald, Euan Onslow, Alex Walford, Malcolm Campbell, Dan Tor, Rosemary Buckland, Chris Frampton, Charlotte Carew, Will Jones, Yohance Drayton, and our lawyers, Sean Murray, Martha Hartridge, Simon Gomes, Luke Emmons, Richard Lancaster, May Wong, Harriet Preedy, Julia Clayson, Sean Wilson and Matthew Smith. All of them have supported the passage of this Bill excellently.

As my predecessor said at Second Reading:

“The Bill will … protect our telecoms networks even as technologies grow and evolve, shielding our critical national infrastructure both now and for the future.”—[Official Report, 29/6/21; col. 707.]

I am encouraged that your Lordships’ House agrees that the Bill will achieve this, and I beg to move.

My Lords, this has been my first Bill since I joined your Lordships’ House a little over six months ago. Some would say that I was thrown in at the deep end but in my view, I was simply given the opportunity to swim in rather warm and pleasant parliamentary waters. It has been fascinating and enjoyable and I am very glad that my first Bill has been such an important one for the security of the nation.

The Minister has of course been a constant throughout consideration of this Bill, and we saw his worth recognised as he was promoted from the important role of Whip to the Minister tasked with bringing the Bill home. I thank him for the courteous and professional manner in which he has conducted himself throughout, and I also express my thanks to the former Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Barran. From these Benches, we also express our gratitude to the Bill team, the clerks, the staff of the House—indeed, all those who have worked front of house as well as behind the scenes to make this Bill possible.

Throughout, it has been my pleasure to work with my noble friend Lord Coaker, who has brought his valuable experience and knowledge to proceedings. We have been blessed to have the highly professional support of Dan Harris, our excellent adviser who has guided and advised us throughout, to whom we express our thanks. Her Majesty’s Opposition strongly believe that our nation’s security is above party politics, and I thank all noble Peers who have worked cross party on this Bill.

New technologies have long transformed how we work, live and, of course, travel. Our experiences during the pandemic have upped the ante on the degree to which we rely on telecommunications networks. At the same time, it has reinforced how intertwined these networks are with issues of national security, including the top priority of any Government: to protect its citizens from risk. This Bill is a necessary step to protect us.

I am very glad to welcome the Government’s acceptance of our arguments that codes of practice, to be issued by the Secretary of State to telecoms providers, must first come before Parliament. However, the Bill raised key questions and concerns, especially given the absence of an effective plan to diversify the supply chain and in respect of our telecom security depending on strengthening our international bonds, in particular through the Five Eyes, involving the UK, the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his work on that issue.

I hope that the other place will give sympathetic consideration to the changes we have made on both those matters, and that the Minister will recognise that the amendments passed by your Lordships’ House make serious and important improvements to the Bill and have widespread support across the Chamber. My concluding wish for this Bill is that the Government will reflect and feel able to support these improvements to the Bill and the security they provide.

My Lords, as the Minister said, this Bill entered the other place a year ago. It has variously been urgent, in the long grass, urgent again and now quite close to passing. I will not delay its passage many more seconds. I have shelved my inner churl, but I absolutely sign up to the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Merron. There are outstanding issues that your Lordships commented on and put into the Bill as amendments that I hope can be picked up. I hope that when this Bill is finally put to bed, it really does protect the security of this country, and we will work, on these Benches, to help make that happen. There is a lot of unfinished business in this area. I fear that the Minister himself, or one of his successors, may very well be bringing other Bills before your Lordships quite soon.

I thank the Ministers, first the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, and then the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, for their work and their willingness to communicate with those of us who were seeking to scrutinise this Bill. I join the noble Lord in congratulating the DCMS Bill team, and I hope he did not leave anybody out. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, and the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, on their legislative debuts. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his spirited, highly principled and really important, contributions on the Bill.

Finally, I thank my noble friends Lord Clement-Jones and Lady Northover, without whom this scrutiny would not have been complete, and Sarah Pughe, our legislative officer, for her invaluable support. With that, we wish this Bill onwards, with speed and effectiveness, because it has a very important job to do.

My Lords, before we pass this Bill, may I add to a comment to what the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, said? I express my thanks as well to everyone who was on the long list that the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, gave us, but also to his predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Barran. As Ministers, I do not think they could have been more helpful and more responsive to the points we made both in Committee and on Report.

My noble friend also mentioned the all-party amendment moved last week by myself and the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, which we also raised in Committee. It raises the need for reviews to take place when another jurisdiction—specifically, in this case, many of us cited the United States of America—had banned a particular company which was not banned in the United Kingdom but working within the telecommunications sector.

One example the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and I gave in our debates was Hikvision, which is banned in the United States. It makes the surveillance cameras that are used punitively against the Uighur people in Xinjiang but are also used in our own high streets and public buildings. That amendment called for a review: that when any such company is banned in another Five Eyes jurisdiction, it is to be reviewed in the United Kingdom. It is a very reasonable all-party amendment, but it was opposed by the Government. Before the Minister completes his remarks today, could he tell us what has happened to that amendment and how the Government intend to respond to it?

I was remiss in not adding to the long list of names I read out those of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and my noble friend Lord Blencathra, who signed that cross-party amendment to which the noble Lord just referred. Of course, the amendment goes to the other place, which will look at it, the official record and the debate we had on it. I am sorry I was not able to persuade the noble Lord and my noble friend of it, but I will work with my colleagues in DCMS to make sure that they take into account the views of your Lordships’ House as expressed in the vote. I will not pre-empt the debates that will be had in another place, but I look forward to seeing what it sends us back in continuing that debate.

In the spirit which all noble Lords have mentioned today of wanting to see this important Bill on the statute book swiftly but with the proper scrutiny that both places want to give it, I beg to move.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.

NHS England Funding: Announcement to Media

Commons Urgent Question

The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Monday 25 October.

“Just as we are determined to keep this country safe from Covid-19, we also want to tackle the backlog that the virus has brought with it. We know that ‘business as usual’ will not be enough, so we will do whatever it takes to ensure that people get the treatment they need as quickly as possible. In September, we announced plans to spend £8 billion to tackle the elective backlog over the next three years, in addition to the £2 billion this year.

The House will have seen the announcement of £5.9 billion to tackle the NHS backlog of diagnostic tests and procedures and to support the delivery of millions more checks, scans and treatments for patients across the country. This includes £1.5 billion for increased bed capacity, equipment, new surgical hubs to tackle waiting times for elective surgeries and at least a total of 100 community diagnostic centres to help to clear backlogs of people waiting for clinical tests such as MRIs, ultrasounds and CT scans, as well as £2.1 billion of investment to modernise digital technology on the front line.

This is an historic package of investment that will support our aim of delivering around 30% more elective activity by 2024-25 compared with pre-pandemic levels. That of course comes on top of the work we are doing to strengthen the NHS workforce, who have performed so brilliantly throughout this crisis. All of this is vital if we are to help get our NHS back on track and ensure that no one is left waiting for vital tests or treatments and that we have the right buildings, equipment and systems so that our NHS is fit for the challenge ahead.”

The Minister must by now be aware of the chronic staff shortages in the NHS. He will also be aware of the desperate state of some of our buildings in the NHS, and indeed the inadequate facilities for some of our mental health wards. This announcement mentions diagnostic staff, of which already one in 10 are missing. There is a 55% shortage of consultant oncologists, a shortage of radiologists, a shortage of specialist cancer nurses and, so far, no comprehensive NHS staff plan. Could the Minister tell the House who will run the proposed diagnostic centres? Will it be the NHS? Where will the staff for the diagnostic centres, surgical theatres and to operate the new equipment come from?

I thank the noble Baroness for her question. Since 2010, we have increased the clinical radiology workforce by 48%, from 3,239 to 4,797 full-time equivalent posts. Numbers of diagnostics radiographers are up by 33% since 2010 and therapeutic radiographers are up by 44%. We are offering those who want to join the radiographic workforce at least £5,000 as a non-repayable grant for each year of their training to be a radiographer. Since 2016, we have seen a 26% increase in those studying diagnostic radiography and a 10% increase in those studying therapeutic radiography.

My Lords, the £5.9 billion in the Chancellor’s early announcement is to pay for physical infrastructure and equipment, not for current services. The NHS Confederation says that next year’s NHS funding allocations are nowhere near enough either. Last week, the Royal Cornwall Hospital declared a critical incident in its A&E department when it had 100 patients in the 40-bed department and 25 ambulances queuing. Its ambulance service is also under intense pressure, reporting that 50 ambulances have queued at times—again, that is much larger than the actual department. This is echoed across the country. How will Ministers help A&E departments and ambulance services in crisis right now?

The noble Baroness refers to what she sees as the workforce shortage. The Government are fully committed to supporting our health and care professionals and to making sure that we have the right number of people with the right skills to deliver excellent patient care and support the increased elective activity committed to under Build Back Better: Our Plan for Health and Social Care. The Chancellor will confirm to the House our three-year settlement for wider health budgets at the spending review on Wednesday, which will support the NHS to undertake long-term planning for the workforce and elective recovery. I will write to the noble Baroness on specific staff numbers for A&E.

I wonder whether the Minister would agree that the NHS cannot succeed without adequate social care. In the last seven days we have had two reports that show just how vulnerable the social care system is. Can the Minister sign up to a new agreement to protect the NHS by supporting social care? That was absent in this statement.

I thank the noble Lord for that suggestion. We see social care as incredibly important, which is why we will soon have before the House a health and social care Bill to make sure that we look at both health and social care, from birth all the way through one’s life.

My Lords, I welcome the sum of £5.9 million, which comes on top of the additional commitments that were previously made by the Government. However, it remains the case that, with demographic changes, an ageing population and many more chronic diseases and illnesses, we will see a rise in cost. Can my noble friend say whether there is an active plan to look at a forward-thinking strategy as to how we will deal with this funding in the long term?

I thank my noble friend for that question. Last week we had a discussion on healthy ageing and making sure that the population of the UK is able to live healthy lives for longer. That is very much part of the overall thinking on health reform and we hope to have more details in due course.

My Lords, the Minister says that Ministers are dealing with workforce shortages. But surely he knows that, throughout the health service, there is a critical crisis. No one is in charge; it does not seem to be the responsibility of Ministers, Health Education England or NHS England. Who will sort this out and who will be held to account?

The noble Lord makes a valid point on workforce shortages. The Chancellor will confirm wider health budgets at the spending review, which is in only a few more days. We have already increased training places this year and will feed through into the available workforce. Ensuring that we have the workforce necessary to support this expansion will be driven by a combination of things, such as enforced workforce productivity, including from the spending review digital diagnostic investments, which are expected to deliver a 10% to 15% workforce productivity uplift. We are also looking at existing Health Education England funding, which will provide a pipeline for growth in training numbers.

I congratulate my noble friend on an auspicious beginning to his ministerial career. But I also draw his attention to the wording of this Urgent Question, which mentioned an “announcement to the media”. I give strong support to Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle in the other place for rebuking the Government for time and again bypassing Parliament. The Government are answerable to Parliament—that is fundamental to our constitution. It is an absolute disgrace that, time after time, Ministers blab to the press before making Statements in either House.

My noble friend makes a valuable point. It is important that we are accountable to Parliament, and we will continue to be so. I hope that the fact I am here today shows a willingness to be accountable to Parliament.

The Minister has just said in a previous answer that, to deal with the social care crisis, a Bill will be coming forward. The crisis is now. Care homes are not able to take people and are turning them away because of the lack of staff. You will not clear hospitals while social care cannot hope. What will the Government do now to deal with the social care crisis in this country?

The money that has been announced is for April 2022 onwards, for three years. In dealing with the specific issue now, believe me, we are having conversations within the department and elsewhere about how we address some of the issues that people are raising with us.

Going back to the Question on the Order Paper, can the Minister state whether it is the Government’s intention to involve the private sector in delivering some of these diagnostics? If so, will they be paying the private sector tariff or the NHS tariff?

I thank the noble Lord for that question. It is important that we recognise that this is a public/private partnership and that we make sure that we can rely on expertise and investment from the private sector. On the specific question, I will write to the noble Lord.

My Lords, I point out that the NHS has an insatiable capacity to spend money. I put it to the Minister that political control must be re-exerted over the NHS. Nye Bevan did not found the NHS by asking civil servants to do it. I encourage the Minister to bring a Bill to this House PDQ to get political control back into the NHS and into running it.

I thank my noble friend for the very important point he has raised. A friend of mine with completely different politics from me—probably closer to that of noble Lords on the Benches opposite—once said to me, “The thing about working in the NHS is that we always want more money and we are always looking at how to balance that when we get more money”. I think it is important for the public, but also for workers, staff and patients, that we remember value for money and ensure that we spend as productively as possible.

My Lords, every NHS provider and professional group is telling the Government that the key shortage in the NHS is staff—and staff who are not exhausted. Can the Minister share with the House the evidence that led the Government to conclude that what the NHS needs above all else for the next three years is kit?

The noble Baroness makes a valuable point. We appreciate the hard work that the NHS workforce—doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals—has put in. This announcement lays out how we will be spending on more kit but also how productivity will help take some of the pressures off the NHS workforce.

Sexual Misconduct in the Police

Commons Urgent Question

The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Wednesday 20 October.

“Abuse of position for sexual purpose by a police officer is abhorrent, betraying the trust of victims from a position of power. The Government are working closely with the National Police Chiefs Council and other policing stakeholders as part of a new national working group to implement the right strategies, policies and products to help forces to tackle those officers abusing their positions for sexual purposes. In February last year, the Government strengthened the powers of the independent police watchdog, the Independent Office of Police Conduct. Now all allegations of abuse of position for sexual purpose must, by law, be referred to the IOPC. For the first time, the Home Office will also now be able to collect and publish data on issues of internal sexual misconduct by officers, and we aim to publish the first tranche of data in the new year.

But we are determined to go further. The heinous murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer shook our country to the core. I know that the thoughts of everyone in this House will remain with Sarah’s family. The public are in urgent need of reassurance; so too are the vast majority of police officers who serve with courage and professionalism and who rely on all their colleagues to uphold their values. This is why the Government are launching a two-part independent inquiry. The first part will examine the recruitment and employment of Sarah’s killer and whether there were opportunities to have intercepted him along the way. I would expect the second part to look at a range of relevant issues, from policing culture to whether enough is being done to identify and report patterns of behaviour of those individuals who could go on to abuse their policing powers. We will appoint the chair of the inquiry shortly and then agree terms of reference. The Home Secretary will, at that point, provide the House with an update. We have also asked Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to undertake an urgent inspection of forces to look at their vetting and countercorruption arrangements, as well as focusing on how well forces can identify unacceptable behaviour.

We recognise that sexual violence is a broader issue in society and we must leave no stone unturned in confronting it. The Prime Minister will therefore launch a taskforce to drive cross-government action and to help maintain public confidence in policing and our many thousands of outstanding police officers. The police have a unique and vital role in our society and we rightly expect them to meet high standards of behaviour and professionalism. Across government and policing, we must continue working ceaselessly to protect the precious bond of trust between officers and the public.”

Since the dreadful murder of Sarah Everard and the appalling revelations of the abuse of police powers by her killer, there have been many other shocking allegations of the failure of the police to deal with misogyny and sexism in their own ranks. Today, we learned from the Independent Office for Police Conduct that, in the last three years, 66 officers and members of staff have faced disciplinary proceedings for alleged abuse of position for a sexual purpose; let alone those not reported, that is a big rise in the last year. The trust we rightly have in the police is everything. What, as well as the inquiries, are the Government doing now to change a culture where there are too many examples of totally inappropriate behaviour, which, at its worst, allowed a serving police officer nicknamed “The Rapist” to continue in post?

I must join the noble Lord in expressing my disgust. Every one of those numbers represents a person who has been the victim of sexual misconduct by a serving police officer. On the one hand, any number is too many but, on the other hand, we should look to the legislation that we introduced last year to give additional powers to the IOPC. That includes the power of initiative, which allows it to bring forward and investigate allegations without requiring referral from the police. In addition, forces must refer all allegations of serious sexual offences or of police officers abusing their position for a sexual purpose to the IOPC. For the first time now, the Home Office will be able to collect and publish data on internal sexual misconduct by officers, and we aim to publish the first tranche in the new year.

My Lords, I was a police officer for over 30 years, and I want to be proud of that fact. We do not need working groups, inquiries, inspections and a task force to reassure the public. When will the Home Secretary give the Independent Office for Police Conduct the additional resources that it needs to effectively investigate sexual abuse by police officers? As a former Home Secretary did with racism after the tragic death of Stephen Lawrence, when will she tell police chiefs: “Misogyny is a problem and you must address it now”? That is not just what we want. It is what every decent, honest, hard-working police officer wants.

I repeat my response to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, that every report or allegation of police misconduct for a sexual purpose must be referred to the IOPC. It will be up to individual force chiefs to decide but if it is sexual misconduct it must be referred to the IOPC. We have that additional layer in that the IOPC now has the power of initiative. Decisions on whether officers have committed sexual misconduct, and, if so, what sanctions there ought to be, are for misconduct panels led by the independent, legally qualified chairs.

Additionally, following the recommendations of the Zoë Billingham report, we will be working closely with the new national police lead for tackling VAWG, DCC Maggie Blyth, who took up the post recently to address the report’s findings and drive forward improvements in policing’s response to VAWG.

The Minister appreciates that trust in the police has taken a real hit, particularly among young women. Given the problems that the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, had with non-co-operation from the Metropolitan Police—including, I am sorry to say, the commissioner—with her Home Office review of the Daniel Morgan case, will the Government please consider putting the new inquiry announced by the Home Secretary on a full statutory footing, with powers of compulsion?

I thank the noble Baroness for that question and for the conversation that we had the other day on this matter. On whether the inquiry could be on a statutory footing, one change since February 2020, when we amended the law, is that police officers are now under a duty to co-operate as witnesses with investigations, inquiries and formal proceedings under the revised standards of professional behaviour. They are guilty of a disciplinary offence if they fail to do so. On the fundamental question, should we assess it necessary, the inquiry can be converted into a statutory inquiry where witnesses can be compelled to give evidence.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that a practical measure which would enhance the confidence that women have in the police force would be for any officer against whom a credible complaint of sexual misconduct is made to be immediately suspended, and that it is not good enough for this matter to be left, as it currently is, to the discretion of chief constables?

Officers can be and are suspended for allegations of misconduct. Every case is different, so it is left to the discretion of police chiefs to decide on a case-by-case basis. I would not want to make a blanket determination because there may be spurious allegations. It would be up to the police chief in question to determine whether a suspension was relevant or appropriate.

My Lords, following the terrible, tragic murder of Sarah Everard and all the revelations that followed after the conviction of Wayne Couzens, it became very clear that there needs to be a serious culture change within sections of the police force. In order for that to happen root and branch, there needs to be change in the atmosphere where women and other police officers—we have heard particularly from female police officers—have witnessed this kind of toxic behaviour but felt unable to do anything about it, or, if they complained, felt that they were ostracised or demoted. What is being done about that specifically to enable whistleblowers or serving police officers to come forward to report such behaviour and to ensure that it will be dealt with properly?

Also, Commissioner Cressida Dick has announced that when plain-clothes police officers stop a lone woman, they will now have to video call into a police station for an identity check to prove that they are actually a serving police officer—something called Safe Connection. How would that have helped in the case of Sarah Everard? Wayne Couzens was a serving police officer, so it would not have helped.

I have the utmost sympathy with the second part of the noble Baroness’s question, because, were I to have been stopped by that killer, I would have complied. Something that is at the forefront of the Home Secretary’s mind, and must be on the Metropolitan Police Commissioner’s mind, is trust in the police. Such events are, mercifully, rare—in fact, I do not know of one that is the same in my lifetime—but the noble Baroness absolutely hits on the point: had the same thing been repeated under what the Metropolitan Police has suggested, would it have happened again? That gives both the Metropolitan Police and the Home Secretary something that they need to—and will—reflect on.

On culture, again, I totally concur with the noble Baroness’s point, and the second part of the inquiry will look at a range of relevant issues, from policing culture to whether enough is being done to join up, identify and report patterns of behaviour of those individuals who could go on to abuse their policing powers.

My Lords, the police are in the middle of a recruiting drive which will recruit about 45,000 officers in the next two years. One of the issues raised by the terrible murder of Sarah Everard was whether the appropriate vetting was carried out on Wayne Couzens, both in his transfer and, obviously, for new officers. First, can the Minister say something about how vetting standards have changed since 4 March this year—since when I would hope that things have moved on? Secondly, what action is being taken about information coming from within the forces—such as the comment that this officer had been known as “the rapist”? If that intelligence is around, what has changed to do something about it?

On the noble Lord’s latter question about “the rapist”, it is pretty disgusting, if indeed it is true. On what the Home Office is doing now about vetting, new recruits are subject to a rigorous vetting and assessment process to assess suitability for the role of police officer, and, although decisions about police recruitment are made within a national framework, they are locally managed by the police. On the inquiry, the first part will of course examine the recruitment and employment of Sarah’s killer and whether there had been opportunities to intercept him along the way.

Environment Bill

Commons Reasons and Amendments

Motion A

Moved by

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 1, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 1A.

1A: Because the provision made by the Amendment is unnecessary.

With the leave of the House, I will also speak to Motions B, B1, C, C1, D and D1. This historic legislation is now not only within sight; it is within reach. I thank Members for their conversations with me and my officials and for the debates that have taken place in this House.

I begin with Amendment 1, on biodiversity and the climate emergency, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and I thank him very much for the meetings he has had with me. I hope he noticed that last week, the Prime Minister pledged that:

“We will meet the global climate emergency but not with panicked, short-term or self-destructive measures as some have urged”,

but with the actions he set out in the net-zero strategy, and indeed through actions in this Bill.

We introduced in your Lordships’ House a duty to set an additional legally binding target to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030—a clear and significant response to the biodiversity emergency we face. However, as I have said previously, addressing these twin challenges requires action, which this Government are taking.

The net-zero strategy builds on the action from the 10-point plan, the energy White Paper, the transport decarbonisation plan, the hydrogen strategy and the heat and buildings strategy. It sets out ambitious plans to reach net zero across all the key sectors of the economy. The net-zero strategy outlines measures to transition to a green and sustainable future, helping businesses and consumers to move to clean power, supporting up to 190,000 jobs in the mid-2020s and up to 440,000 jobs in 2030, and leveraging up to £90 billion of private investment by 2030. It includes £3.9 billion of new funding over the next three years for decarbonising heat and buildings so that homes and buildings are warmer and healthier. We will boost the existing £640 million Nature for Climate Fund with a further £124 million of new money, ensuring total spend of more than £750 million by 2025 on woodland creation and management, peat restoration and so on. This will enable more opportunities for farmers and landowners to support net zero through land use change. Furthermore, the Bill’s powerful package of measures, including biodiversity net gain, local nature recovery strategies and a strengthened biodiversity duty on public authorities, will drive action towards our biodiversity targets and objectives.

We are playing a leading role in pressing for an ambitious post-2020 global biodiversity framework, to be adopted at CBD COP 15. This is my number one international priority, but it is also the Government’s. Putting the declaration in Amendment 1 into law is therefore not necessary. However, I hope noble Lords are reassured that the Government are taking action at pace to deal with these crises, and that calls from a number of noble Lords to hear the phrase “climate emergency” from the Prime Minister’s mouth have now been answered.

Turning to Amendments 2 and 2B, on soil health, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, first, let me first make it clear that the Government take soil health seriously. As Minister Pow said in the other place:

“It is the stuff of life.”—[Official Report, Commons, 20/10/21; col. 793.]

It is a priority, and I do not think anyone doubts that. This is why we are currently working with technical experts to develop the appropriate means of measuring soil health, which could be used to inform a future soils target.

However, an amendment to make soil health or soil quality a listed priority area would require us to bring forward an objectively measurable target by October 2022, and I am afraid we do not yet have the data to do that. Until baseline data and a metric to measure success are developed, we cannot commit to setting a robust soil target at this time. However, as I have also said, that is not to say that it is not a priority for us. Defra is working with partners right now to develop the baseline data and metric needed to set that target.

As I announced on Report, we will deliver a new soil health action plan for England. Noble Lords will find more detail on this action plan in the Written Ministerial Statement published last week, but I highlight that it will provide clear strategic direction to develop a heathy soil indicator, soil structure methodology and a soil health monitoring scheme to support the delivery of a future potential soil target.

We refer to the use of “soil health” over “soil quality” because soil quality sometimes refers to a measurement of the current status of a soil while soil health more accurately captures how well the soil is functioning. The soil health action plan aims to help soil to function better to deliver a wide range of ecosystem services and wider benefits and outcomes, such as increased biodiversity, carbon storage, food production and flood mitigation.

I recognise the compelling arguments of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and commend their very successful efforts to raise this issue up the agenda. I hope that the action I have set out, and the new soil health action plan for England, demonstrate our commitment to this critical aspect of our natural environment. This includes our commitment to improve the health of our precious peat soils, in line with the England Peat Action Plan published earlier this year and supported by the extra funding I mentioned earlier.

On Amendments 3 and 3B, on air quality, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, I thank her for her time spent meeting with me on multiple occasions. I recognise the strength of feeling on this issue both in this House and in the other place; it is a feeling I share. The two targets we are currently developing—a concentration target and a population exposure reduction target—will work together to both reduce PM2.5 in areas with the highest levels and drive continuous improvement across the country. This unique, dual-target approach is strongly supported by our expert committees, the Air Quality Expert Group and the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants. They will be an important part of our commitment to drive forward tangible and long-lasting improvements to the air that we breathe.

Colleagues in the other place last Wednesday rightly called for urgency in tackling air pollution. I emphasise that we are not waiting for these targets to be set before taking the necessary action. We already have legally binding national emission reduction targets for five key air pollutants for 2030. Our Clean Air Strategy was praised by the World Health Organization as

“an example for the rest of the world to follow”,

and sets out the actions we are taking to deliver on these targets. For example, legislation to phase out the sale of house coal and deal with wet wood, and to introduce emission standards for manufactured solid fuels for domestic burning across England, came into force from 1 May 2021. We are also delivering a £3.8 billion plan to clean up transport and tackle nitrogen dioxide pollution.

This House will have heard these points before, but I want to emphasise that delivering our ambitious reductions in PM2.5 will require co-ordinated action. The more ambitious these targets are, the greater the level of intervention that will be needed—from national and local government, as well as businesses and individual citizens. To achieve a level such as 10 micrograms in our cities would require fundamental changes in how we live our lives; for example, significant changes to farming practices to reduce ammonia, which reacts in the air to form particulate matter. This would be likely to be in addition to a total ban on solid fuel burning, including wood, and restricting traffic kilometres by as much as 50%. That would include electric vehicles, which release non-exhaust emissions from tyre and brake wear, for example.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for her further amendment, which challenges us to go further and set a target of 5 micrograms by 2040, in line with the latest recommendations from the World Health Organization. While we recognise that there is no safe level for PM2.5, it is also important to acknowledge that PM2.5 is not a pollutant that can be fully eradicated. The reasons for that are manifold. First, contributions to PM2.5 from natural sources and from outside the UK, particularly in the south-east of England, are currently modelled at around 5 to 6 micrograms. That is before we take into consideration the everyday activities of the millions of people who live in those towns and cities in the south-east. Essentially, our current evidence strongly suggests that it is not possible to achieve reductions in PM2.5 concentrations to levels as low as 5 micrograms in numerous locations in England, particularly in the south and south-east. Setting an unrealistic target would be disingenuous, and the target would be meaningless as a result, as well as ineffective and potentially counterproductive.

Before setting targets, we need to understand what reductions are possible, the scale of measures required to achieve them and the impact and burdens that would be placed on society. Members of the public will want, and deserve, to understand the specific health benefits and then we can decide upon the fundamental changes that would be required. So we will hold a public consultation on these targets early next year. Once we have carefully considered the responses to the consultation, we will bring forward the final, statutory targets by October 2022. That is a legally required date that we cannot and will not miss.

Our targets are being developed through a robust evidence-based process. We are collaborating with internationally renowned experts, including modelling teams at Imperial College London and the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the Air Quality Expert Group, chaired by Professor Alastair Lewis of the University of York, and the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants, chaired by Professor Anna Hansell of the University of Leicester. We will also share our findings with the World Health Organization.

I assure noble Lords that we are working at pace—we are not kicking the can down the road or shying away from difficult decisions—but it is important to get this right and follow a process that is informed by science and allows for genuine engagement, in order to bring society along with us to deliver ambitious air-quality targets and cleaner air for all. The amendment would pre-empt those critical steps, so the Government cannot support it.

Turning to Amendment 12, and Amendment 12B tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, I would also like to acknowledge the work of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman of Ullock and Lady Parminter, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, on this issue. Introducing legally binding interim targets, as these amendments propose, is unnecessary and would be detrimental to our targets framework, as I will explain, and to our policy response to the environmental issues that we are facing. We do not want to create a system that incentivises the deprioritisation of key aspects of the environment with longer recovery times just in order to meet a target in five years.

If obliged to meet legally binding targets every five years on environmental systems that are immensely complex, the Government would be forced to prioritise achieving an interim milestone over the long-term target itself, and I believe that would undermine the long-term nature of the targets framework. As noble Lords know, in certain habitats, such as our precious temperate rainforests, significant improvement is unlikely to occur within a five-year period, but, with the immense pressure of meeting a five-year target, it is hard to believe that any Government would not choose to park that challenge to one side in order to focus on easier short-term challenges.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, for the proposed compromise that she has put forward and for her time in the numerous discussions that we have had during the course of the Bill. The amendment in lieu, in addition to requiring that interim targets were met, would require that if interim targets were not met then the Government must consult the OEP on the steps needed to meet the interim target. It would also require the Government to prepare a report setting out the steps that it would take, and then to take those steps.

Even with that additional process, though, I am afraid that making interim targets legally binding is not a position that the Government can support. There is already a robust process in place to drive progress on interim targets without the need for the kind of perverse incentives that I have previously outlined. The OEP must monitor progress towards meeting interim and long-term targets and must prepare an annual progress report. In fact, it is expected that the OEP’s regular scrutiny will help to prevent the Government from missing those targets. If the Government are not on track to meet their interim targets, or if the interim targets are missed, the OEP’s progress report could include recommendations on how progress could be improved. The Government will have to respond to those published reports and any recommendations made, and they will be laid before Parliament.

While I recognise the concerns raised by noble Lords, it is our view that, even with the proposed additional process, the changes would have a detrimental impact on environmental enhancement. I hope I have reassured noble Lords that our position is well considered, and indeed considered in light of the contributions that have been made in this House throughout the passage of the Bill. I look forward to hearing noble Lords’ contributions today. I beg to move.

My Lords, I always think that ping-pong can be rather a brutal affair. I have spent months working on an amendment; the combined House of Commons comes back and says

“the provision made by the Amendment is unnecessary”—

and there we are, it has been written off. However, the House of Commons, in its wisdom, is absolutely right: the amendment was unnecessary because all it actually needed was for the Prime Minister and this Government to declare, as many local authorities have, a climate and biodiversity emergency. Therefore, I accept what the Minister has said. The Prime Minister in his foreword to the Net Zero Strategy—a document that we all welcome, although it is rather late, before COP 26—says:

“We will meet the global climate emergency”.

I truly welcome that; it is a shame in a way that he then says

“but not with panicked, short-term or self-destructive measures as some have urged.”

That somewhat takes the shine off it—but I accept that that declaration is there; it is by the Prime Minister and it is published in one of the most important documents that the Government have released in recent times, in the run-up to COP 26. However, I also point out that it does not include the biodiversity crisis, which is particularly pertinent to this Bill. The motive for this amendment was to give equality to both those emergencies, and to stress their interconnectedness—the vital relationship between the two.

However, that declaration is there. The other Motions that we are going to debate during this afternoon are, perhaps, of greater practical importance to the future of the environment, our country and our planet, so I shall not contest this. I thank the Minister and his officials for the conversations that we have had since passing the Bill in this House and today in finding ways in which to solve this area. I shall not contest this judgment, brutal as it was, by the House of Commons.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and to agree with every word that he just said. I thank the Minister for his introduction to this debate and thank him and his officials for the very detailed and useful discussion this morning, particularly with such a lively avian accompaniment.

I shall take a second to reflect on the place of your Lordships’ House. I had a discussion a couple of days ago with a Cross-Bench Peer for whom I have the greatest respect, who expressed great frustration at the huge amount of work done in your Lordships’ House, which so often—as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, has just said—gets casually dismissed in the other place. Yet we are so often told, “Oh, we can’t send too many things back to them; we can’t resist too hard; we’re the unelected House.” That, of course, raises a whole other question about the constitution. None the less I fear—and we have seen some cases of this already—that many of our strong, fine Peers are getting fed up and really considering whether they are going to continue to devote their time to your Lordships’ House. It is crucial that we recognise that we are in a different political time and that we are crucial to the future of this country, its environment and people, and we need to stand firm.

I have come under strong pressure, as I am sure many are aware, not to push forward with the soils amendment. Those looking closely will notice that I have not pushed forward with the same amendment as was sent to the other place. My amendment in lieu simply refers to soil quality rather than soil quality and soil health, as in the amendment sent to the other place. Health very often talks about the biology of the soil; quality is frequently used to refer to the structure. I am guided here particularly by the Sustainable Soils Alliance but also by academics, independent experts and farmers, who say that it is possible to use the metrics from the soil structure monitoring scheme to establish a target specifically for soil structure which would fit the definition of quality. As the Minister said on Report, targets can be iterative—they can be developed, evolved and finessed over time.

I acknowledge that the Minister here and those in the other place have spoken often and very clearly, and clearly are engaged with the issues of soil that are so crucial, but we all know that Ministers change. The only thing that will guarantee a way forward is with soil being on the face of the Bill. I put it to noble Lords that this Bill will be fundamentally deficient if we do not have soils there with equal weighting and place alongside air and water. I am afraid that the Minister in debate also said at one point that, if we were looking after air and water, we will sort of be looking after soils as well. I am afraid that very powerfully makes the argument for me—that soil risks falling into a second order unless it is given the same status.

I note that, in your Lordships’ House on Report, the margin by which this vote was won was equal top with that for the amendment on sewage tabled by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. This was a very clear voice from your Lordships’ House on Report.

I also particularly wish to acknowledge the very strong efforts in this area by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, who has done a tremendous job and has seen some steps forward from the Government. But those steps are still not enough.

I finish, given the pressure of time, by noting that I do not believe that the amendments we are looking at today are either/or. All the amendments that have been retabled today are crucial. My noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb will address interim targets in more detail, but I stress that that is crucial as well. I also want to acknowledge the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Deben, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, in supporting my amendment last time. I urge your Lordships to show that we are really here to make a difference. I give notice of my intention to push this Motion to a vote.

My Lords, I rise to support the amendment on soil from the noble Baroness who has just spoken. This is a crucial issue. But first I want to ask my noble friend the Minister a question about what he said when he introduced the discussion on this. He quoted the Prime Minister, who said that there is a climate crisis that will be solved but not by panicked measures. That seemed to indicate that he thought some of the amendments put forward by this House were “panicked measures.” If that is the case, I would be grateful if my noble friend could tell us which of these amendments, which we so carefully debated in Committee and on Report, could be classed as a “panicked measure”.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, was absolutely right to tell us that the Prime Minister did not acknowledge that there is a biodiversity crisis. One-quarter of the world’s biodiversity crisis is in the soil, and that is a major problem for us. There ought to be an alignment between the Environment Bill and the Agriculture Act. We got soil into the Agriculture Act and we were then told that that was not the right place for it and that it ought to go in the Environment Bill; now we have got to the Environment Bill and my noble friend tells us it is not necessary in this Bill. It is necessary in this Bill. It should be put into this Bill.

Only 0.4% of 1% of England’s environmental monitoring budget is spent on soil. That is derisory. Could my noble friend tell me what he anticipates that spend to be within one year and within five years? Soil is the basis of everything. The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, which has done a huge amount of research over many years on soil, says that we cannot reach net zero without dealing with soil. That has been taken up by the Climate Change Committee, which has said exactly the same thing, and even my noble friend the Minister has said that we cannot solve the problem without addressing soil; yet soil is not going to be in this Bill.

I remember my noble friend Lord Deben said something on Report to the effect of: unless it is in the Bill, it is not going to be done. At that stage, I backed my noble friend the Minister against my noble friend Lord Deben’s advice. This time, I back my noble friend Lord Deben and say that this ought to be in the Bill.

My Lords, I merely say this: I really wanted to support the Minister and I thank him for the conversations we had. I understand the argument that says soil cannot be exactly parallel with water and air because we have an agreed measure for both which enables us to put a date, but there is no reason we could not have a date, but a different date, to make sure that this Bill actually covers soil. I say this to my noble friend: I have been very disappointed that the promises made by the Government on trade have so clearly not been fulfilled. Therefore, it is very difficult to ask this House to accept the Minister’s personal support for this—which I entirely believe; I do not think there is any doubt about that. But we now have to accept that, unless we have soil in the Bill, it will not have the incredibly important emphasis that it needs.

I end by saying once again that the Climate Change Committee has made it absolutely clear that it cannot see how we reach net zero unless we do something serious about soil. I declare an interest, because I am a farmer in a small way, and I have a son who is particularly interested in, and financially concerned with, sequestration. So I could be said to have a personal interest, but that is not why I am speaking. I am speaking on behalf of the Climate Change Committee, which has made that very clear statement. I hope very much that the Minister will give us some hope that he will find a way to set a date. If we have a date, it seems to me that he will have won his case. If we do not, I think we have to say, once again, that soil is too important not to be dealt with.

My Lords, I understand democracy. I have been elected. Indeed, I have been elected under two voting systems: proportional representation and first past the post. So I understand that the other House takes a priority over your Lordships’ House—I understand that. But, at the same time, the way the other House rejected our amendments so casually and so arrogantly hurt me. We worked for days on these amendments; we refined them and discussed them and, I hope, we actually convinced the Minister and the Whip that we were right. And yet the other House decided that they were of no value. I will be voting “content” today with anyone who wants to press their Motion to a vote.

I particularly want to speak in favour of the air pollution amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, but, as I say, I am voting for all the amendments today. Air pollution is an issue I care very deeply about. We are talking about changing the law to make sure our toxic air becomes safe to breathe. This is a health issue. It is also a social issue, and we should understand that many people in our towns and cities suffer very badly. It also becomes an economic issue, because it hits the NHS, through people having to go into hospital with lungs that are badly damaged or through early death. Throughout the health crisis of the pandemic, the Government constantly said that they were being led by science. This is another health epidemic. It is toxic air, and it is time to listen to the scientists again, and to the World Health Organization, which says we need to bring our air pollution down to the levels in this amendment.

This is not an abstract issue. The young girl Ella Kissi-Debrah has been mentioned many times in your Lordships’ House—she was the first person in the world whose death certificate recorded death from air pollution. She suffered and died because of the toxic air where she lived and around her school. One child’s death is a tragedy, but there are probably thousands more who suffer with their lungs and die young who we do not even know about.

The House of Commons’ reason says that

“the powers conferred by clause 2 should not be limited in the manner proposed.”

Why on earth not? I do not understand. Without this amendment, it is left completely to the Minister’s discretion as to what level to set the target. That discretion is absurdly broad, and personally I do not trust the Government to do the right thing on air pollution without the intervention of your Lordships’ House. Quite honestly, the other place should have brought forward its own amendment on this; it should not just have swept our amendments away. It should have acknowledged the work, effort and expertise that we put in, and should have brought forward its own amendment. Instead, it just returned to the Government’s original wording.

I know that your Lordships do not like to defeat the Government too often, particularly in ping-pong, but this Bill is exceptional in terms of scale and scope. There are an exceptional number of issues that your Lordships ought to ask the House of Commons to consider again. I very much hope that we can pass this amendment along with all the others and that the other place will at least consider a compromise amendment that takes the issue of air pollution seriously.

I also want to speak briefly in favour of Motion D1, on the interim targets. I could not understand what the Minister said. I have huge respect for him, but, quite honestly, when he reads out, “If we have interim targets, they will not allow us to get to the final target”, I say that that is the whole point of them—we can actually measure progress towards the long-term target. It felt like an Alice in Wonderland speech. I feel very strongly that the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, has been generous to the Government and added an element of compromise to her amendment. I would not have compromised, but I can live with it, and I support it. I feel very strongly that we should ask the other place to look again at this issue of interim targets as well.

My Lords, I intervene at this stage with a degree of real diffidence. During the Third Reading debate, I urged the other place—there are those present who know that I did—to recognise the wisdom and experience of your Lordships’ House and not to bother sending back a lot of amendments so that we could move forward and get the Bill on the statute book by the Minister’s target date of before the end of the COP conference, which is just about to begin. I meant that.

However, I have been provoked into speaking this afternoon by two Members for whom I have very genuine and real respect: the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, who was one of the best chairmen whom I have sat under in 51 years in Parliament, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, whom we all hold in great affection. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, got it right and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, got it wrong. The noble Lord would not have been wise in persisting with his amendment, and he made it plain that he would not.

There are amendments on the Marshalled List today that I shall be inclined to support—one of them is in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington—but we have to have a real awareness of our constitutional position in this House. I believe in this House passionately—I think that noble Lords know that—but it is not the elected House, and, although I sometimes think that the elected House behaves without due regard for what we have suggested that it does when it thinks again, it is nevertheless the elected House.

There were amendments, particularly that of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, on which there was a sizeable rebellion in the other place. Where there is that indication, it is an encouragement to say, “A sizeable number wants us to think again”. I am not for a moment suggesting that we should roll over on every amendment this afternoon, but I am saying that we must not be prodigal in our treatment of the other House. We must listen with care and act with discretion.

If we really and truly feel, as I do with the amendment from the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, that there is a sizeable number of uneasy Members sitting on the Government Benches in the other House, we can be encouraged. Where that is not the case, we have to say that this is the end of the road. We regret that they did not reconsider sufficiently sensitively and carefully, but we recognise that they have the ultimate political power.

I say this because I believe so passionately in your Lordships’ House. There would be no point or purpose in this House if we did not defeat the Government from time to time and ask the other place to think again. If we are indiscriminate in the way in which we use our grapeshot, we might put our own position in jeopardy. I would never wish to do this.

At this early stage in the Bill, let us approach this afternoon’s business with care and discretion. By all means, let us say on one or two occasions, “Please, you really must think again on this one”. On others, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, with a degree of reluctance but with real statesmanship, let us say, “Well, I have something, and I am going to accept it”. That was a wise counsel which we should all be extremely wise to follow.

My Lords, Amendment 12B would make interim targets statutory. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for her support. I add my support to the request of the noble Lord, Lord Deben, to the Minister to respond with a date for including soils.

I thank the Minister—as others have already done—for talking to me about this amendment on interim targets and for explaining the Government’s position. The Government feel that there is a need for flexibility in interim targets and are concerned that the short-term focus that a five-year statutory target would impose could inhibit the long-term action which is so needed for nature.

This amendment precisely covers these points of concern about flexibility and lack of action now for the long term. Nature and the environment need urgent action now for benefits which will come in 10, 20, 30 or more years’ time. There is a real challenge with funding actions now for future, long-term benefit, when funding is tight and where there are competing, more immediate priorities with short-term outcomes. It is always hard to argue for those future benefits. It is always easy to think that we could delay action for just one more year, especially when interim targets can be revised or replaced at every annual review of the environmental improvement plan. It is just too easy to discount the future.

I congratulate the Government, as others have done, on the world’s first comprehensive net zero strategy. It is a great example of climate change action at work and of the value of statutory, independently set five-year targets.

If the Minister will be patient with me, I should like to ask him a series of questions. First, is he able to provide assurance that funding will be committed to the delivery of the interim targets in this Bill?

Clause 11 sets out the conduct of the reviews of environmental improvement plans. Clause 11(1)(c) requires the Government to assess whether they should take further or different steps to improve the natural environment. Can the Minister confirm that this assessment of steps will include whether the legislative framework itself should be improved; for example, whether statutory interim targets would be helpful? Can he tell us when and how Parliament will have the opportunity to scrutinise the interim targets the Government will bring forward, and when and how Parliament will be involved in scrutinising the proposed long-term targets before the laying of the statutory instruments in October 2022, given how important these are to the Government’s overall environmental strategy? I recognise that this is quite a shopping list of requests, so if the Minister is unable to respond to them now, I would be grateful if he would write to me with the answers.

My Lords, we on these Benches support the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, in her Motion Cl and her Amendment 3B in lieu. I will be brief, because I know she will give a great deal more detail in her winding-up speech a little later, but before I go into that, may I just disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack? When I came into this House 21 years ago, I was told that our job was to ask the Government at the other end to think again. Given the way party loyalties have changed in those 21 years, and given the very short amount of time the Commons have had to debate the amendments we sent to them, I think we have every right to send some of our amendments back at least once—in fact, I know we have the right to do it more than once as long as we do not trespass on the governing party’s manifesto.

We have listened to the Minister’s objections to our earlier amendments on having greater ambitions to reduce small particulates, known as PM2.5, and have proposed instead an amendment which allows the Government a little more leeway on exactly which targets to set and when to set them. But it does hold the Government’s feet to the fire on the mean targets they can impose, aligned with the current and planned international WHO targets. I will not go into all the details of why it is so important to our health to do this, because noble Lords have heard this several times, but the Government’s net-zero strategy, published on 19 October, includes plans to phase out petrol and diesel land transport, and that is very helpful in relation to CO2 emissions. However, it does not tackle the whole problem of the small particulates which are so harmful to health. Much of this comes from brakes and tyres, as the Minister rightly said in his introduction, and some of it comes from industry, from static generators and other diesel engines. Therefore, we need an ambitious target for reducing small particulates from all sources, which would of course drive change in these areas too.

It is all very well to decarbonise our power system and make sure that we drive electric cars, but more is needed on the demand side. The Climate Change Committee has just done its independent assessment of the net-zero strategy and I note that one of its criticisms is on the lack of emphasis on consumer behaviour change. It said:

“The Government does not address the role of diets or limiting the growth of aviation demand in reducing emissions, while policies to reduce or reverse traffic growth are underdeveloped. These options must be explored further”—

in order to, among other things—

“unlock wider co-benefits for improved health, reduced congestion and increased well-being.”

This reference to “improved health” undoubtedly refers to the microparticles in the air we breathe; that is why we need Amendment 3B and the ambitious targets for clean air that it contains. Before I sit down, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, that the answer lies in the soil.

My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Brown of Cambridge, who has already laid out why interim targets are so badly needed. When the chairs of the Climate Change Committee stand here and tell us that this is something we need, I think we—and, more importantly, the Government—must take heed of what they say.

None of us has a clue what is going to happen in the next 28 years and 2 months before we get to 2050. Because of the very poor state of our ecosystems, these are likely to be the most unpredictable years this world—and we—have ever seen. When the Climate Change Act was drafted in the mid-noughties, the Government had foresight and created five-yearly carbon budgets that had to be legislated for. One of those was legislated for in the weeks after the Brexit referendum when there had been a change of Government and a huge amount of upheaval and political distraction. Would this have happened if it had not been a requirement? Maybe it would, but maybe not. The point I am making is that when something has to happen because it is a requirement based in statute, it happens. That is what the machinery of this Government is programmed to do.

This Government often refer to themselves as world leading. The Natural History Museum would agree with that but, unfortunately, we are going in the wrong direction. We are leading the world is in nature depletion. We are bottom of the G7 and in the lowest 10% globally, coming a long way after China. In fact, we have little over half—just 53%—of our biodiversity left. I think that frames why we have to pull every lever to stop and reverse this, something the Government are on board with, and using binding interim targets is one of those levers. Are the Government afraid of putting in more targets and, if so, why? This seems an extremely important amendment and I absolutely will vote for it.

I would like to follow up on the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. In this instance, I too disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. I think it is the job of this House to keep going at something, and to not give in because what it faces, at the other end, is a government majority that just demands that the Whips make a few telephone calls. This is actually the important part of the debate. We cannot, for the sake of decorum or whatever, just wave our hands and let these things through. Quite frankly, the future of our planet may depend on it, even if only a little.

My Lords, when the Minister, Rebecca Pow, introduced the government amendments in the other place last week she said:

“The Bill is packed with positive measures … I am delighted that the Government have improved it even further.”—[Official Report, Commons, 20/10/21; col. 791.]

But many of these improvements were ones that the Government had resisted as being not necessary or counterproductive until your Lordships intervened. However, the Government have not listened to noble Lords’ concerns on air quality, and I am disappointed that the Bill has not been changed to reflect these very serious concerns. I thank noble Lords who have expressed support for my Motion C1.

In the debate in the other place, senior Conservatives expressed concern at the Government’s lack of action on this matter. Neil Parish, chair of the EFRA Committee, said that he completely agreed with the intention behind our amendment and that we had to ensure that this is one of our great priorities, questioning whether the Government were taking the issue seriously enough. Bob Neill MP commented:

“When a coroner issues a prevention of further deaths letter, it is not done lightly”—[Official Report, Commons, 20/10/21; col. 811.]

and called for “prompt and urgent action”. Rebecca Pow, the Minister, said that

“there is no safe level of PM2.5”.—[Official Report, Commons, 20/10/21; col. 797.]

Doctors are so concerned that a team of 30 paediatric healthcare providers are, right now, cycling from London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital to the Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow to raise awareness of the impact of air pollution on health, ahead of COP 26. I am genuinely at a loss as to why the Government are dragging their feet, when delay costs lives.

The revised amendment before your Lordships’ House today takes into account the reduction in the World Health Organization’s air quality guidelines, which were published after our Report stage, on 22 September 2021. I find it worrying that the Minister said in his opening remarks that it is not possible to meet these new guidelines in many areas. They add to the evidence that air pollution causes early death and has been linked, as we have heard before, to lung disease, heart failure, cancer—I could go on. Across significant parts of the UK, air quality still fails to meet the guidelines that were set by the WHO in 2005, let alone the new levels. According to analysis by Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, just over a third of people in the UK are breathing levels of PM2.5 over the 2005 WHO guidelines. This is truly shocking.

These new guidelines should act as a road map to clean air, with the ambition and impetus to reach them set by central government now in order to catalyse the changes required to reduce the levels of PM2.5 in particular. The Environment Bill is still the golden opportunity to set this commitment to work towards the more robust WHO guidelines and help reach our net-zero targets, while bringing forward the health benefits. My amendment would require the Government to do just that. Government delay means that people, particularly children and the vulnerable, are paying the price with their health.

Earlier this week, I spoke to Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, who told me that today is the 11th anniversary of her daughter Ella’s first becoming ill. Have the Government not waited long enough to act? I thank the Minister and his officials for taking the time to listen to our concerns. I now urge him to accept this amendment; otherwise, I am minded to test the opinion of the House at the appropriate time.

On Motion A, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that there is an imbalance regarding biodiversity that needs to be addressed.

I turn briefly to the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, on soil quality. I congratulate her and other noble Lords, such as the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, on pressing the Government on this matter sufficiently that they have made a commitment—which was welcomed by us and Members in the other place, including Caroline Lucas—to publish the new soil health action plan for England. It was also good to hear Rebecca Pow state that

“soil will be one of the top priorities in our new environmental land management and sustainable farming initiative schemes.”—[Official Report, Commons, 20/10/21; col. 793.]

I listened to the noble Baroness’s introduction to her amendment, and she raises some important questions that the Minister needs to answer.

I will now turn briefly to the revised amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, and I thank her for making her case so clearly. Of course, we all accept that environmental change cannot happen overnight and needs long-term planning, which is what the 25-year environment plan seeks to do. But you can and must be able to measure progress along the way, and that is why statutory interim targets are so important. We have heard again the argument that interim targets would undermine the long-term nature of the target and make it more complicated to meet the current 25-year environment plan. However, I draw attention to the Natural Capital Committee’s Final Response to the 25 Year Environment Plan Progress Report, published a year ago, which states that

“this report … highlights the lack of progress, and some worrying declines: nine of the 25 years have already passed, and it is now looking very likely the next generation will inherit a poorer set of natural assets.”

Rather than being in contradiction, the combination of binding interim targets and legislated long-term goals is complementary. The report clearly shows that unless you have something binding, it is not necessarily going to happen. This amendment is essential for delivering sustainable progress towards our environmental goals. I hope the Minister will reflect on the noble Baroness’s amendment further and reconsider his current position.

I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. I begin by particularly thanking the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for his comments and his probably slightly reluctant acceptance of the position we find ourselves in. I also very much appreciate the comments of my noble friend Lord Cormack.

There was really only one question, raised by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, on “panic measures”. I am certain that the Prime Minister was not talking about any of the amendments tabled in this House, none of which could be described as “panic measures”, even by people who disagree with them. It is more likely—indeed, it is clear—that he was talking about the calls made by some of the more radical protest groups, perhaps associated with Extinction Rebellion and others, some of which exceed what I think any expert would believe to be a possible and realistic solution. I do not think it is in any way a reflection on this House.

On Amendments 2 and 2B, again, I thank noble Lords and, in particular, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. The Government cannot accept this amendment for the fundamental reason that the metrics are not in place at the moment. If we were to accept the amendment, it would mean a requirement to introduce a target before those metrics are there. This is therefore a practical issue rather than an ideological one. It is not the same as the Government—or me, certainly—saying that soil is not a priority. It clearly is a priority, and that has been repeated time and again by me, the Secretary of State and Rebecca Pow in the other place. It is not a question of the amendment being unnecessary; no one would regard action on soil health as unnecessary. It is a question of the practicalities of this amendment and the timing.

I reassure my noble friend Lord Deben that it is not just about my assurances, although I very much appreciate his comments about the importance he attaches to them. I recognise that Ministers come and go and not all are as passionate about a particular issue. However, the commitments made in the soil health action plan and associated commitments are not ones that I made up at the Dispatch Box. They required approval across Westminster, as with all the concessions and agreements made during progress on this Bill. They are not decisions I have been able to make alone.

As ever, the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, made a powerful case. However, she is wrong to say that the Government are afraid of setting more targets. The Bill paves the way for numerous additional targets and it is pretty clear that a very large number of them will be set. I hope she will be reassured that, while some of those targets have not been expressly pencilled into the Bill, it is clear in the paving that we are creating that a number of those targets are coming, and soil health is one of them.

Finally on soil health, we have introduced—I think this is a world first—the 2030 biodiversity target. Again, the pressure applied in this House very much strengthened the argument for it. It is simply impossible to meet that target without a serious amount of effort going into restoring and protecting soil health, for all the reasons that my noble friend Lord Deben gave.

Moving to Amendments 3 and 3B, we believe that we need to consult with the British public before we legislate for this type of target, which would have serious implications for people’s lives. We believe that we need to bring people with us as much as possible as we raise the bar on air quality and, indeed, a number of other issues. We will continue to collaborate with experts to ensure that consultation on targets is based on all the best available science. As colleagues in the other place said, there is clear evidence on the health impact of PM2.5; nobody is doubting or pushing on back on that. However, there is much less evidence on the pathway towards significant reduction, especially in any one country’s specific context.

For example, in the UK, around 15% of particulate matter emissions comes from naturally occurring sources such as pollen and sea spray alone. Up to one-third drifts in on south-easterly winds from other European countries. Evidence strongly suggests that it is not possible, based on our geographical location, for 5 micrograms per metre cubed ever to be reached in all locations across the entire country, particularly in the south-east and London, which I mentioned earlier. We therefore cannot accept a commitment to 5 micrograms as this is likely to prove unachievable. In addition, the amendment pre-empts what we think is a crucial process of collaboration and consultation with the public, so that they can give us as much approval as possible to enable us to take what will undoubtedly be quite radical measures.

Turning to Amendments 12 and 12B, on interim targets, the Government are confident that the framework’s long-term design works best for the environment, and I ask noble Lords not to insist on this amendment. On the issue of funding, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, as you would imagine, we are bidding through the spending review to secure the funds we need to make our ambition on environmental targets and environmental improvement plans a reality. We would expect a blend of public funding from the new environmental land management scheme, private funding via the new net-gain policy, for example, and other sources as well.

The OEP will also flag up, early on, when it scrutinises the Government’s progress with the environmental targets and environmental improvement plan. As I said earlier, when the OEP reports to Parliament, the Government must respond, and Parliament will have the ability to scrutinise that response as well.

I will make one final point on an issue we discussed this morning. It is very clear that among all of us—the public, their representatives in the other place and noble Lords in this place—interest in, concern for and passion for the environment is going only one way. It is growing, almost exponentially, and that is a wonderful thing. There are people in both Houses who have previously shown no interest whatever in the environment who are now fully on board, engaging in this debate and making strong contributions. That will not change.

Therefore, if a Government are not taking those interim targets seriously and are clearly seen to be missing those targets, or on course to miss them, the pressure on them will be immense. There is tremendous value in that. However, at the same time the Government must have flexibility in order to pursue those longer-term measures which will not bear fruit in the first five or perhaps even 10 years. That is essential, because I do not believe that any Government can be relied upon to take those long-term positions and implement long-term policies if the pressure is all on meeting five-year targets.

I thank noble Lords for their contributions throughout this debate. I understand the strength of feeling—

I apologise; I thought I had answered. I will certainly reply on any questions that I have not answered—I commit to that. I am afraid I cannot do so now as I am not sure which questions are unanswered.

I understand the strength of feeling and thank noble Lords for the amendments they have put forward. I would be grateful if, in return, they could carefully consider the arguments made today.

Before the Minister sits down, he has not answered the points raised by my noble friend Lord Deben. Notwithstanding the evidence that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and I have received that you can in fact set a target by the appropriate time limit within Clause 1, my noble friend Lord Deben raised the point that you could have a different date for bringing in soil quality targets. As I understand it, the only way that that is possible is for the soil amendment to be passed by your Lordships and for the Government to bring in an amendment in another place to meet the specific concern. If the Minister is convinced that his advice is right and the advice I had is wrong, he could at least bring soil into the Bill with a deferred date by which the target ought to be brought in.

My noble friend is right that I did not answer that question. I apologise—it was not deliberate. The reality is that I cannot tell him when the metrics will be ready, because I do not know; I am not sure Defra knows either. I cannot give him the deadline he requires.

I have said this before, but I think it is critical. There is zero chance of meeting any of the other targets we are setting in law unless we pay particular attention to soil. This is a matter of process rather than outcome. We will achieve the outcome, because we are legally obliged to do so and part of achieving it means dealing with soil. This does feel like a bit of a distraction.

I am sorry to trouble my noble friend again. I want to be on his side on this because I know he is really on my side. He knows that if you have to write an article, a deadline is rather important. If you do not have a deadline, you will not write the article. It is like that here. We need to have a date, even if it is further ahead than we would like, otherwise we will not have the concentration that we need. Can my noble friend think again about the possibility of having a date, even though he might disappoint me in how far forward it might be?

I hear my noble friend’s arguments, but without the baseline, we do not know when we can deliver. However, we have a date, which is the 2030 biodiversity target, and if we do not meet that target, we will fall foul of the law. As he himself said, not just today but in previous debates, it is not possible to meet that legally binding target without major effort to protect and restore our soil. Therefore, we have that, and at the very least it is a pretty blooming powerful fallback position.

Motion A agreed.

Motion B

Moved by

2A: Because it is not necessary for soil health and quality to be a priority area in order to set a target.

Motion B1 (as an amendment to Motion B)

Moved by

2B: Clause 1, page 2, line 1, at end insert—

“(e) soil quality.””

Motion B agreed.

Motion C

Moved by

3A: Because the powers conferred by clause 2 should not be limited in the manner proposed.

Motion C1 (as an amendment to Motion C)

Moved by

3B: Clause 2, page 2, line 21, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

“(2) Regulations under subsection (1) may appoint different PM2.5 targets for different dates but must include targets for the annual mean level of PM2.5 in ambient air to be—

(a) less than or equal to 10µg/m3 before 1 January 2030, and

(b) less than or equal to 5µg/m3 before 1 January 2040.””

Motion C agreed.

Motion D

Moved by

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 12, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 12A.

12A: Because the Secretary of State should not be placed under a statutory duty to meet interim targets.

Motion D1 not moved.

Motion D agreed.

Motion E

Moved by

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 28, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 28A.

28A: Because it affects the areas of taxation, spending and the allocation of resources within government, and the Commons do not offer any further Reason, trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient.

My Lords, with the leave of the House I will speak also to Motions F, F1, G, G1, N and N1. We are now discussing the second half of our new, transformative system of environmental governance. This new system has been tailored specifically to a UK context, embeds the environment in future policy-making and takes the essential steps needed to strengthen environmental oversight.

I turn to Amendments 28 and 28B, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. I sincerely thank her for our discussions on this issue and for her proposal to narrow the amendment specifically to cover “safeguarding national security”. However, I am afraid that even with this revised amendment it is the view of the Government that the original exemption for the Armed Forces, defence and national security is still required to provide flexibility to protect and secure the nation. The Government therefore cannot accept the amendment.

The primary function of the defence estate is to support our operations and maintain military capability. It provides homes for those who defend our country, offices for work, space for training, and conditions to prepare to meet the ever-changing threats that the UK faces. This means that defence land, defence policy and national security are inextricably linked. MoD land cannot be separated out; it touches on decisions across the Armed Forces, national security and defence. “National security” does not cover all defence activities. If the coverage of the exemption is reduced, as proposed in the amendment, that directly risks the readiness of our defence capabilities and could impact our responsiveness.

I know that this is a matter in which noble Lords have a keen interest and I emphasise again that these exemptions do not apply to SSSI management, where the MoD is on track to meet the 25-year environment plan target for SSSIs in favourable condition for the sites under its management. Natural England has assessed 48% of the department’s English sites as in favourable condition, which compares well with the English average of 39%.

I reassure the noble Baroness, on the back of the discussions that we have had, that the department will be providing further reassurance in writing of its intentions in relation to the protection, good conservation and improvement of the land under its management. I hope to be able to provide that to her soon.

I turn to the office for environmental protection. I will speak to Amendments 31, 31A, 31B, 31C, 75, 75A, 75B and 75C together, tabled by my colleague Rebecca Pow in the other place and by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. I reiterate the Government’s commitment to establishing the OEP as an independent body. This guidance power is required to ensure appropriate accountability and that the OEP continues to operate effectively because the Secretary of State is ultimately responsible to Parliament for the OEP. There are other examples of independent arm’s-length bodies where provision has been made for the Secretary of State to give guidance; for example, under Section 41 of the Climate Change Act 2008 the Secretary of State can give guidance to the Climate Change Committee regarding the exercise of its functions. We are seeking only to do the same in ensuring appropriate accountability and that the OEP continues to operate effectively by focusing on the most serious, strategic cases with national implications.

None the less, I acknowledge the concerns that have been raised about this power. In recognition of noble Lords’ comments, we introduced a new provision to ensure that Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly can scrutinise draft guidance before it is issued. The Secretary of State must respond to that scrutiny before final guidance can be laid and have effect. This has been reinstated in the other place, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for adding it to his amendment in lieu. I hope noble Lords will recognise that their concerns are being listened to with this measure.

I turn to the other parts of the amendment. I should be clear with noble Lords that we are confident that the right appointment processes are in place for the OEP. These are equivalent to those for other independent scrutiny bodies, such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission. This retains the right balance between ministerial accountability and operational independence. Furthermore, as set out in the Written Ministerial Statement on 7 September:

“The Government took the necessary steps to ensure that the role of Chair was listed as a significant appointment with the Commissioner for Public Appointments … The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Environmental Audit Committees conducted a pre-appointment scrutiny hearing before the appointment of Dame Glenys Stacey as OEP Chair Designate.”—[Official Report, Commons, 7/9/21; col. 19WS.]

I am happy to reiterate our intention that future chair appointments should follow a similar process, ensuring fairness, accountability and independence in future, as was set out in the Written Ministerial Statement.

I hope that that provides some reassurance for noble Lords and indicates why the amendment therefore is not necessary. Ultimately, Ministers are accountable and responsible to Parliament for public appointments. While we are committed to ensuring parliamentary scrutiny, it is appropriate that Ministers should retain the ability to make the final choice.

Amendments 33 and 33B, on enforcement, were tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, and I am grateful to him and the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for the engagement that they have given us over the preceding weeks and months. The OEP’s enforcement powers will operate more effectively than those of the European Commission as the OEP will be able to liaise directly with the public body in question to investigate and resolve alleged serious breaches of environmental law in a more targeted and timely manner.

Through environmental review, the OEP can apply for judicial review remedies—subject to appropriate safeguards—that will work to ensure compliance with environmental law. The Court of Justice of the EU cannot issue these kinds of remedies to member states and therefore the OEP could have a far more direct impact on third parties than the previous system. The protections for third parties brought into the OEP’s process of environmental review have therefore been specifically designed in recognition of the unique nature of this type of legal challenge.

We also have to consider the direct impacts that the OEP’s enforcement function may have on third parties. Through environmental review, the OEP will be able to bring cases to court outside of standard judicial review time limits, potentially long after the decisions in question have been taken. For instance, if a quashing order was placed on planning permission or consent for a new shopping centre many months or even years after the decision was taken and where significant building work had already taken place, this could result in substantial hardship for the various parties involved, which would not be fair. We need to ensure that the key principles of fairness and certainty are upheld for third parties who have acted in good faith on the basis of certain decisions and balance this with the need to protect the environment.

Furthermore, the principle behind the provision to protect third-party rights on environmental review is not new. As I have noted in previous debates, it is an extension of the existing position for legal challenges, including under the Senior Courts Act 1981 and the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007. These Acts grant the courts discretion to refuse relief where there has been undue delay, and this would be likely to substantially impact third parties or be detrimental to good administration. We are building on these precedents here in a way that reflects the nature of environmental review.

While I thank the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, for proposing Amendment 33B, I am afraid that it does not offer such protections for third parties against the quashing of decisions outside of normal time limits. The factors that it sets out, which the court would have to have regard to, would not provide sufficient protection or certainty, and therefore we cannot support it. The Government have reflected on this new amendment, but I am afraid that it still offers no further protections for third parties. I hope that noble Lords can understand our position on this matter and on the other amendments that we have been discussing.

Motion E1 (as an amendment to Motion E)

Moved by

28B: Clause 18, page 11, line 24, leave out paragraph (a) and insert—

“(a) safeguarding national security,””

My Lords, I beg to move Motion E1, as an amendment to Motion E—I believe that is the correct phraseology. I read carefully in Hansard the debate on our amendment on the exemptions that we were calling for on the policy statement on environmental principles. I am disappointed that the Government did not support it, but I am grateful for the support for this case from the Labour Benches, the Greens and the SNP.

The Government cited financial privilege as a reason why we should not proceed with this amendment, and of course I accept that on the basis of the reference to the tax-and-spend points in the amendment that we proposed, when it went to the Commons. I am grateful that, in the Commons, the Minister made the point that all departments will be obliged to subject their policy decisions to the rigours of the policy statement on environmental principles. I am mindful that, clearly, the macroeconomic points that the Treasury has are outwith that—but I am grateful.

However, the Government gave no reasons for refusing the point, made by this House, that the MoD should not be completely exempt from having to take account of the policy statement on environmental principles. The Minister’s comments seemed to suggest that there was a fear of legal challenge. I find that quite surprising. I am not a lawyer, but I am well aware that the courts are very well equipped to filter out unmeritorious cases, as they stand. Equally, while we were in the European Union, the MoD was subject to all these provisions, with a very tiny exemption with regard only to security matters pertaining to munitions and arms. So it has been subject to all these requests to take account of environmental principles for, effectively, the last 30 years. There have not been any challenges, and it does not seem to have caused any problems. However, that is the reason that has been cited, so it is the one that I had to address.

For that reason, I narrowed the scope of the disapplication purely to “national security”, in the hope that that would reassure them. Again, I am not a lawyer, but my understanding from lawyers far more eminent that me is that the courts will always defer to the Executive on matters of national security. Therefore, it seemed to me that the proposal that I put forward was reasonable and met the needs, as they saw it, of the MoD to protect its fear of being challenged on urgent operational matters. It seemed to me that it also met this House’s clear desire that all government departments should be subject to having consideration of the environmental principles, with certain particular tightened safeguards. That was also the position of the Environmental Audit Committee, the EFRA committee in the other House and the office for environmental protection, when it gave its first and only advice to the Government, earlier this year.

I think that the amendment that I proposed today was reasonable and fair, but I hear what the Minister has said, and I spot a red line when I see one. At this stage in the game, I will reluctantly up stumps—but I serve notice to the team opposite that this is an issue that this House takes extremely seriously. I heard the Minister say that I will be provided with reassurances. I am looking for a clear statement from the MoD that there is equivalence in how it deals with climate change and with nature protection. Under the Climate Change Act, it is obliged to take climate change seriously. I want to see the word “equivalence”. I say again to the team opposite that, if we do not get that, this House, which takes this matter very seriously, will bring out its fastest spin bowlers, among whom I count my committee, the Environment and Climate Change Committee—I see members of it in this House today—and we and other Members will knock for six any pathetic excuses that the Government come up with, if they do not keep to that commitment.

On that basis, I am grateful for what the Minister has offered—a letter of reassurance. I hope that he can see that, again, I am trying to be consensual. If those words are in there, I will be temporarily reassured, but please be mindful: this is not an issue that will go away.

My Lords, I rise to speak to Motion F1, which would amend the government Motion F. I also support Motion G1, which we will come to shortly. The issue at stake with my amendment is simply this: does the Bill give the office for environmental protection sufficient independence to allow it to fulfil its function of holding public authorities, including Ministers, to account in relation to breaches of environmental law?

Clause 24 gives the Secretary of State wide-ranging powers to issue guidance to the OEP on the matters listed in Clause 23(6). These include whether a failure to comply with the law is “serious”, how the OEP determines

“whether damage to the … environment or to human health is serious”,

how the OEP exercises its enforcement functions

“in a way that respects the integrity of other statutory regimes”,

how the OEP intends to “avoid … overlap” with relevant ombudsmen and

“how the OEP intends to prioritise cases.”

The Bill also gives the Secretary of State powers to determine the budget of the OEP and to hire and fire the board, including the chair. Many of us feel that this does not add up to creating a truly independent watchdog.

Therefore, on Report, I moved an amendment, with support from across the House, to rewrite Clause 24 in order to ensure that it gave independence to the OEP in its enforcement role and budget. It also gave parliamentary oversight of both the budget and the hiring and firing of board members. This amendment was passed by a majority of 29. The Government proposed an alternative amendment that would have involved more consultation with Parliament but did not remove the guidance powers or change the substance of Clause 24. This amendment is essentially the same as Amendments 31A and 31B that we have in front of us today.

In the other place, on 20 October, my amendment was rejected, in spite of the fact that, according to my reading of Hansard, the speeches that referred to it strongly supported it. In her response, Minister Pow made three points. First, she said that paragraph 17 of Schedule 1 requires the Secretary of State to “have regard to” to the OEP’s independence. But we all know that “have regard to” is a weak requirement.

Secondly, she said that the Secretary of State cannot intervene on “specific … cases”. But by intervening on a category of cases—say, new nuclear power stations—the Secretary of State could, in theory, preclude the OEP from investigating a whole raft of individual cases within that category; for example, if it was advised that it is not a priority.

Thirdly, Minister Pow said:

“The OEP does not have to follow the guidance where it has clear reasons not to do so.”—[Official Report, Commons, 20/10/21; col. 823.]

It is a bit paradoxical to justify the existence of the guidance power by saying that the OEP does not have to take any notice of it. Furthermore, you could argue it would be a brave OEP that ignored the guidance from the individual who has the power to determine its budget and hire and fire the board, including the chair.

I am still not satisfied that the Bill will protect the independence of the OEP without further amendment. This new amendment—my Amendment 31C—is a genuine attempt at compromise, and I hope the Government will recognise this and therefore accept it. Let me briefly summarise. Subsection (1) sets out that the OEP has complete discretion in relation to its enforcement policy and functions and in preparing its budget. This would make it comparable to the Office for Budget Responsibility and the National Audit Office. Subsection (2), importantly, retains the guidance power for the Secretary of State but narrows its focus to certain strategic issues concerned with enforcement, as described in Clause 22(6)(c). Subsection (3) requires the OEP to have due regard to the guidance but allows for circumstances in which it may choose to disregard it. Subsections (4) and (5) refer to consultation and parliamentary scrutiny of the guidance, and subsection (6) involves the relevant parliamentary committees in the hiring and firing of board members.

The long-term success or failure of this Bill will in large part be measured by the effectiveness of the office for environmental protection. All the good intentions of the other parts of the Bill could come to naught without a fully independent watchman. We all had high confidence in and high regard for Dame Glenys Stacey, and for her board. We also have high regard for and confidence in the good intentions of current Defra Ministers. But I believe we have to prepare for the long term and that this amendment is fundamental to protecting the OEP’s independence in the long term.

My Lords, I will be brief, as this issue has been debated thoroughly at previous stages of the Environment Bill. I rise to move my Amendment 75C, under Motion N1, which would replace government Amendments 75A and 75B. This mirrors Amendment 31C, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and would achieve the same outcomes for the OEP’s independence in Northern Ireland as his would for the OEP in England.

My amendment would safeguard the OEP’s independence in the long term by amending the power of DAERA to guide how the OEP will hold Ministers to account on any environmental wrongdoings, to make it more targeted. It would also provide the OEP with complete discretion to undertake its activities in Northern Ireland and establish a role for the Assembly’s AERA Committee in overseeing the appointment of the Northern Ireland member on the OEP’s board. As the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said on Report:

“If the Government accept that the OEP should have complete discretion, surely a matter of this importance should be in the Bill.”—[Official Report, 18/9/21; col. 886.]

The recent DAERA consultation in Northern Ireland on environmental plans, principles and governance indicated strong support for the establishment of the OEP in Northern Ireland. I am in no doubt that that will be a huge boon for our environmental governance, but unless its independence is enshrined for the long term in this Bill, we will have missed a serious opportunity to ensure that this important new body is protected from future political whims. I say that with great reluctance, but we have to consider the political dynamics that exist in the Northern Ireland Executive and the Northern Ireland Assembly. As the EFRA Committee chair Neil Parish MP said in the other place last week,

“we need to ensure that those offices are independent for all time.”—[Official Report, Commons, 20/10/21; col. 804.]

In summary, I disagree with the Government’s amendments in respect of the OEP in Northern Ireland and the need for it to be independent, and I hope the Minister will change his mind on this issue.

My Lords, in logical sequence, I will speak to Motion G1 and Amendment 33B, which concerns the conditions that must be satisfied before the High Court can grant a remedy to the OEP on an application for environmental review. Your Lordships will recall that as the Bill stands, in notable contrast to the normal position under judicial review, no remedy whatever may be granted on environmental review unless the court is satisfied that there is not likely to be any substantial prejudice or detriment to a developer, landowner or any other third party, and that there will be no detriment to good administration. So, the mechanism that appears to allow public authorities to be held to account for the non-performance of their environmental duties will in practice be ineffective in all cases where there are serious conflicting interests.

We accept that the interests of developers and landowners can and should be placed in the balance when courts are making decisions about remedies, but it is perverse and without precedent to suggest that those interests should automatically outweigh all other factors, including the public interest in a clean environment and having the law enforced. In any judicial system worth the name, the court must at least be able to have regard to those factors, which is our modest and limited objective.

We bent over backwards in Amendment 33 to accommodate the Government’s concerns, to the point where my noble and learned friend Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, who signed the original amendment, said:

“I cannot see what greater protection any Government could legitimately seek.”—[Official Report, 8/9/21; col. 897.]

We have risen to my noble and learned friend’s challenge and, in response to the other place, imprecise though its comments were, we have been more accommodating still.

There are two additional reasons Amendment 33B should commend itself to the House. First, when listing the factors to which the court must have regard when deciding whether to grant a remedy, we have largely borrowed the list of factors used by the Government themselves for comparable purposes in Clause 1(8) of the Judicial Review and Courts Bill, which has its Second Reading in the other place today. Those factors specifically include the interests and expectations of developers, landowners and others who have relied—no doubt in good faith—on failures by a public authority to comply with environmental law.

Secondly, my noble friend Lord Krebs has conceded, in his linked Amendment 31C, that the Secretary of State may issue guidance to the OEP on the matters listed in Clause 22(6)(c): that is, the exercise of

“its enforcement functions in a way that respects the integrity of other statutory regimes (including statutory provision for appeals).”

Even if my noble friend’s amendment is accepted—and I hope it is—the Government will have every opportunity to ensure that environmental review, which we accept is designed to deal with systemic problems, is not used to circumvent the short statutory deadlines that apply in planning cases. That fundamentally changes the landscape in which my amendment features.

I am acutely aware that we have to tread delicately at this stage of a Bill, but make no apology for stressing the particular importance of this amendment. Arguments about the precise ambit of the environmental duties to be imposed on public authorities will be to little effect if those duties cannot be enforced in court in the normal way at the request of the body established for the purpose. If this in many ways admirable Bill cannot be made to achieve this, it will have a fundamental weakness at its core. For that reason, and unless the Minister can offer the necessary assurance, which I understand from our continuing dialogue may be unlikely at this stage, I propose to test the opinion of the House on Amendment 33B.

My Lords, I will pose a couple of brief questions to my noble friend the Minister. He will recall that I supported the original amendment on the independence of the OEP at earlier stages. I cannot think of any other body to which a department has issued guidance that is meant to be overseeing that department. To be honest, I preferred the original Amendment 31 and am struggling entirely to understand the contents of the new Amendment 31C.

Can my noble friend confirm that the Scottish equivalent—Environmental Standards Scotland—does not have to follow guidance set by the Government of Scotland but is left to get on to apply environmental law as it best understands it? I also refer him to the report adopted earlier this year by the European Union Committee, specifically the Environment Sub-Committee on which I have the privilege to sit, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. The report is titled Beyond Brexit: Food, Environment, Energy and Health. In paragraph 164, we concluded:

“Environment law will be more effectively enforced if the UK’s supervisory authorities cooperate closely with one another and with the European Commission. We urge them to enter into this cooperation openly and with the goal of ensuring the maximum level of protection for the environment.”

In evidence given by the Secretary of State to that committee, he was very open-minded about that co-operation and, if that is the case, I urge my noble friend that such co-operation take place and he allows the OEP, under the chairmanship of Dame Glenys Stacey, to work as effectively and independently as it possibly can.

My Lords, as someone who spoke passionately about the independence of the OEP at earlier stages of the Bill, I support my noble friend Lord Krebs in his amendment.

The OEP will be at the centre of our country’s new environmental future: post Brexit, post COP 26 and post COP 15. The world is changing fast, and I am pleased to say that, as the Minister mentioned earlier, we are slowly waking up to the environmental dangers we face and gradually—very gradually—moving in the right direction.

We all have great hopes for and expectations of the OEP, and within the nation’s ambitions to drive a cleaner, more sustainable and more biodiverse future, I cannot stress how important it is that we get the OEP right. The success or otherwise of everything in the Bill depends on it. At the moment, it still looks as though it will be a tool of the very department it should be overseeing, as has been mentioned.

Let us not forget that Defra is in charge of and funds our most important environmental bodies: Natural England and the Environment Agency. Even local authorities do much of their environmental work in partnership with Natural England and the Environment Agency, so the auditing and bringing to book of these, our most important environmental bodies, will be crucial. Sadly, in my experience of working with NDPBs within the Defra family, I believe this is unlikely to happen if Defra is allowed to exert undue influence over the OEP. As I said in debates at earlier stages, the OEP has not only to be independent but to be seen to be independent, and at the moment there is a severe danger that it will be neither.

This House’s views on the vital importance of the independence of the OEP have been expressed again and again by noble Lords from all sides of the House with much more eloquence than I can muster, so I will not go on, but I urge Defra, which originally fired the arrow of an independent OEP when Michael Gove was Secretary of State, to now let it fly. This is the department’s chance to do that.

This excellently crafted compromise amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Krebs is, like all compromises, probably not to the satisfaction of all, but I strongly believe that the Government and all noble Lords should now grasp this opportunity to resolve the impasse and give us an OEP we can be proud of by voting for my noble friend’s Motion F1.

My Lord, extremely briefly, I offer the Green group’s support for all the opposition amendments in this group. On Motion E1, I have a question for the Minister. Will he acknowledge to the House that we cannot keep the same mantra of “It is either deal with climate change or deal with national security” and acknowledge that, as the integrated review says, the climate emergency is the number one threat that the Government should be focused on internationally?

On introducing this debate on Motions F1 and G1, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said that he was not commenting on any individual involved in the OEP. I shall comment on individuals, to note the two noble Lords moving those Motions and urge noble Lords to support those extremely distinguished Members of our House in their area of absolute expertise and get behind them.

My Lords, when these amendments were dealt with in the House of Commons, the Minister said that she was very satisfied to have the office of environmental protection independent. That is what I want, and I believe that that is what the Government want, but she went on to say that the Secretary of State will be accountable for the OEP. I am in difficulty about the precise nature of that accountability. This is not the easiest question to answer, so I gave notice this morning that I proposed to ask it, so that my noble friend might have an opportunity, if he wished, to think it over. Obviously, the Minister dealing with this in the House of Commons must have had an idea in mind.

This arises in connection with the giving of instructions. The strange thing about the instructions and guidance is that the guidance does not need to be followed. It has to be seen by the Houses of Parliament before it passes, but once it is passed, it need not be performed. To my mind, that is a rather exceptional situation. Why should Parliament be asked to study carefully what the department—the Secretary of State—is proposing but then the organisation that is to receive the instructions need do nothing about it? That is a remarkable situation, but it ties into the idea of the accountability of the Secretary of State for this independent body.

I should be glad to know precisely how this operation is supposed to work. How is the Secretary of State responsible, apart from saying that the OEP is independent and he must secure that at all costs? If that is all, very good, but I suspect that the Minister in the Commons was thinking of something a little more complicated than that, and I hope the Minister can explain it to us in due course.

I think that the Motions in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Anderson, are pretty essential to the working of this arrangement, but the principal fact that I wish established is that the OEP should be independent, as the Minister said in the House of Commons.

My Lords, I took the opportunity to support the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Anderson, in the previous rounds of this proposal, and I will continue to do so.

The office for environmental protection is the beating heart of the Environment Bill. We are about to embark on an extraordinary gathering of people about climate change here in the UK, in Glasgow. The eyes of the world are upon us. There are suspicions that this particular element of the Environment Bill is not as strong as it needs to be. The amendments that have been put forward are a useful adjustment to previous amendments and I believe that they are workable. Without them, the pressures that we put upon Dame Glenys Stacey will be immense. The suspicion will linger always that she is somehow or other beholden to the Government in one fashion or another, and there will be continued requests for clarification, and for clarity about her behaviour as well as that of her board and her team—this will go on.

We need the absolute certainty of independence, which we can achieve here today, through these amendments. If we can do that, we can set sail upon a fine voyage—we set sail just before COP, with a very clear successor body to the European Commission, which can do what the European Commission once did—that is, hold power to account.

The amendments are before us. It is up to this House to decide what to do with them.

My Lords, first, I am grateful to the Minister for the discussions that he has had with us since Report. Secondly, we are disappointed that the Government have not seen fit to make a concession to the revised amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, to include defence in the scope of the Bill. However, we understand her generous decision to pull up stumps at this point, bearing in mind some of the other pressures on us this evening. Thirdly, we are very grateful, as ever, to the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Anderson, and my noble friend Lady Ritchie for continuing to pursue the independence of the OEP and the need for effective remedies.

These noble Lords have all made hugely impressive and convincing contributions this evening; they do not need me to repeat their arguments. I also thank all other noble Lords who have added their voices in support. I hope that the Minister is getting a sense of the mood of the House on these issues. We very much hope that he can therefore agree to revisit them. If this is not possible, we urge the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Anderson, to test the opinion of the House.

I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. Beginning with Amendment 28B, the Government maintain the position that exempting the Armed Forces, defence and national security from the environmental principles duty is required to ensure the flexibility for our defence capability. I appreciate the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, but I am afraid that, as I said in my opening remarks, this is a red line for the MoD. I will secure the reassurance that we were promised together on a call that we made, which has been followed up since, and I very much hope that it directly addresses the plea that she has made to this House. We will continue those discussions afterwards.

In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, I am very happy to reiterate something that I, she and many others have said many times: nature and climate change are inextricably linked. Indeed, climate change is in many respects the fever that the planet is experiencing as a consequence of the degradation of its natural environment. All the science tells us that there is no pathway to net zero, or to staying within 1.5 degrees, without massive efforts to protect and restore nature on a scale that we have never seen before. That is absolutely understood. I simply add that it is not just a reflection of my view but the position of this Government as they take us towards COP 26. We have sought to put nature at the very heart of our response to climate change, both here and internationally. I think, and hope, that we will see some real movement over the coming weeks from the global community.

I turn to amendments 31, 31A, 31B, 31C, 75, 75A, 75B and 75C. We believe that the guidance power is necessary to ensure that the OEP continues to operate effectively and provide appropriate accountability. To elaborate on a point I made earlier in response to comments by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, the OEP will have an extremely broad scope and remit, encompassing all environmental law and with powers to investigate alleged serious breaches by any public authority, ranging from a local authority to a Minister of the Crown. Given this huge breadth, the guidance power is important to ensure that Ministers who are ultimately responsible for the OEP’s use of public money can ensure that it is functioning as intended, focusing on the most serious strategic cases. My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked for comparable examples of such guidance being issued. My understanding is that the Secretary of State has the power to provide guidance to the Climate Change Committee, and that power is enshrined in the Climate Change Act.

I want to respond to the comments and questions put to me by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern. As a non-departmental body, the OEP will be operationally independent from government. It will set its own strategy and have discretion in deciding how best to deliver on its principal objective by exercising its statutory functions, including whether to provide advice to Ministers and publish reports on its own initiative. The Bill also specifies that the Secretary of State must have regard to the need to protect the OEP’s independence.

The Government believe that Ministers should be properly accountable to Parliament for the governance and performance of their departments’ arm’s-length bodies, including in their use of public funds. For this reason, the Government consider the guidance power under Clause 24 to be necessary. The Secretary of State will agree with the Treasury sufficient funding for the OEP to carry out its functions and make the final decision on public appointments.

The OEP will be subject to routine monitoring of expenditure during the year and will have a duty also to arrange for its key financial reports to be laid before Parliament. The responsible Minister will account for the OEP in Parliament on all matters other than in respect of the OEP’s enforcement decisions and the content of its advice or reports.

In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, the Bill makes provision for an equivalent guidance power for the Northern Ireland department. A similar Lords amendment seeks to remove this power.

Finally, on Amendments 33 and 33B, I am afraid that, as they would remove the protections for third parties, even despite the relevant factors for the court to consider, which the noble Lord has added, we are unable to accept them. Again, to elaborate, as the court will have access to court orders outside of the normal judicial review time limits, there is significantly increased risk that third parties may be negatively affected by the grant of a remedy. If it is necessary to prevent or mitigate serious damage to the environment or human health, the OEP can apply directly for an urgent judicial review, without going through its earlier notice period. In cases such as these, all remedies would be available at the discretion of the court.

I suspect—indeed, I am certain—that we will have to disagree at this time, but I do so acknowledging in all sincerity the case that the noble Lord has made and the constructive and compelling manner in which he has made it. I am afraid we are not able to accept the amendment.

I thank all noble Lords who have contributed today, and in personal conversations with myself and my officials, on these measures. I hope that noble Lords have been reassured by my words and I commend the Motion to the House.

Motion E1 withdrawn.

Motion E agreed.

Motion F

Moved by

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 31 and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments 31A and 31B in lieu.

31A: Clause 24, page 14, line 35, leave out subsections (3) and (4)

31B: Clause 24, page 14, line 38, at end insert—

“(6) Before issuing the guidance, the Secretary of State must—

(a) prepare a draft, and

(b) lay the draft before Parliament.

(7) If before the end of the 21 day period—

(a) either House of Parliament passes a resolution in respect of the draft guidance, or

(b) a committee of either House of Parliament, or a joint committee of both Houses, makes recommendations in respect of the draft guidance,

the Secretary of State must produce a response and lay it before Parliament.

(8) The Secretary of State may prepare and lay before Parliament the final guidance, but not before—

(a) if subsection (7) applies, the day on which the Secretary of State lays the response required by that subsection, or

(b) otherwise, the end of the 21 day period.

(9) The final guidance has effect when it is laid before Parliament.

(10) The Secretary of State must publish the guidance when it comes into effect.

(11) The “21 day period” is the period of 21 sitting days beginning with the first sitting day after the day on which the draft guidance is laid under subsection (6).

(12) “Sitting day” means a day on which both Houses of Parliament sit.

(13) The Secretary of State may revise the guidance at any time (and subsections

(6) to (12) apply in relation to any revised guidance).”

Motion F1 (as an amendment to Motion F)

Moved by

Leave out from “31” to end and insert “, do disagree with the Commons in their Amendments 31A and 31B, and do propose Amendment 31C in lieu—

31C: Leave out Clause 24 and insert the following new Clause—

“OEP independence

(1) The OEP has complete discretion in the carrying out of its functions, including in—

(a) preparing its enforcement policy,

(b) exercising its enforcement functions, and

(c) preparing and publishing its budget.

(2) The Secretary of State may issue guidance to the OEP on the matters listed in section 22(6)(c).

(3) The OEP must have regard to the guidance in preparing its enforcement policy, unless there are material considerations that indicate otherwise.

(4) Before issuing the guidance, the Secretary of State must—

(a) prepare and consult on a draft,

(b) lay the draft before Parliament, and

(c) publish a response to the consultation.

(5) The Secretary of State must publish the guidance when it comes into effect.

(6) In making or terminating appointments under paragraph 1 and paragraph 5 of Schedule 1, the Secretary of State must obtain the consent of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Environmental Audit Committees of the House of Commons.””

Motion G

Moved by

33A: Because the circumstances in which the court may grant a remedy on an environmental review should not be altered in the manner proposed.

Motion G1 (as an amendment to Motion G)

Moved by

33B: Clause 37, page 22, line 23, leave out subsection (8) and insert—

“(8) Where the court makes a statement of non-compliance it may grant any remedy that may be granted by it on a judicial review other than damages.

(8A) In deciding whether to grant such a remedy, the court must have regard to—

(a) the nature and circumstances of the non-compliance;

(b) any detriment to good administration that would result from granting or failing to grant a remedy;

(c) the interests or expectations of persons who would benefit from the grant of a remedy;

(d) the interests or expectations of persons who have relied on the failure by the public authority to comply with environmental law;

(e) any other matter that appears to the court to be relevant.””

Motion H

Moved by

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 43, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 43A.

43A: Because the law already makes provision to protect pollinators from the effect of pesticides.

My Lords, as well as Motion H, with the leave of the House I will also speak to Motions J, J1, K, L, M, Q and R. It is a pleasure to open this debate focusing on the protection of nature, and I am grateful to noble Lords who have contributed throughout the passage of this Bill on these issues.

I begin by speaking to Motions H in my name and H1 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. I have listened intently to the concerns of this House on this matter and of course I share them. Countless plants in our gardens, towns and countryside simply could not exist without pollen being spread by bees and hundreds of species of other insects. Bees and other insect pollinators contribute more than £500 million a year to UK agriculture through improving crop quality and quantity, but in truth this figure barely touches the sides in terms of the true value of our pollinators to our country. They add immeasurable beauty and wonder to our environment and, indeed, our lives.

The Government wish to see pollinators thrive so they can carry out their essential services for the environment and for food production and provide such joys for people. We are committed to taking action to improve their status, and action through the national action plan, the National Pollinator Strategy and our Healthy Bees Plan 2030 will help better protect pollinators and allow them to flourish. I will set out a bit more detail on these plans for the House today.

First, I can confirm to all noble Lords that we will publish a national action plan for the sustainable use of pesticides by the end of this year. The purpose of the plan is to minimise the risks and impacts of pesticides to human health and the environment while ensuring pests and pesticide resistance are managed effectively. Integrated pest management is central to the plan, and we are supporting a shift towards greater use of those techniques. The technique will benefit the pollinators that we all value, as it will involve designing pesticides out of farming systems as far as we possibly can and will include increased use of nature-based, low-toxicity solutions and precision technologies to manage pests.

In addition, the Government are taking action under the national pollinator strategy. This includes restoring and creating habitats for pollinators to thrive; raising awareness across society so that people can take action themselves; and supporting monitoring and research, including a national pollinator monitoring scheme, to improve our understanding of pollinators’ population status. Our Healthy Bees Plan 2030 provides a blueprint for how we will improve honeybee health, including working in partnership with beekeepers and bee farmers.

Finally, I will address the specific concern raised by Amendment 43B, which seeks to introduce a requirement to conduct a pollinator risk assessment report before a decision can be taken. I assure the House that, when we update the national action plan, we shall assess the use of pesticides in the round and their impact on the natural environment. Given the action that the Government are taking to protect pollinators and the existing regulations in place, as well as the upcoming national action plan for pesticides, I ask that the House agrees with Motion H.

I turn to storm overflows. Before I go into detail, I would like to talk briefly about the debate itself. Of course, we all feel very strongly about this issue, and it is right for the Government to be held to account. However, it has to be said that some of the language that has been used in recent days, including by one or two Members of this House, has been simply unacceptable. It has led very directly to a torrent of abuse, some of it extremely violent, directed at colleagues in the other place. It is obvious to anyone who follows this process that absolutely no one wants raw sewage anywhere near our waters and seas, and it is objectively the case that, even without any further improvements to this Bill, we will have regulations and standards to deal with this issue that significantly exceed what we had before; in other words, the Bill already represents a major improvement on the status quo. I have made it clear previously that we have been working for some time on ways in which to improve and significantly strengthen it, further details of which I shall come to in just a few moments.

With respect, I am going to address the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, who is in his place, engaged yesterday in an orgy of tweets, telling his followers:

“Zac Goldsmith … proposes pumping raw sewage into rivers & the sea.”

When he talked about

“Zac Goldsmith’s plans to allow water companies to pump raw sewage into rivers and the sea”,

he was spreading a malicious falsehood.

It is a disgrace, and I am glad for that reassuring remark from behind.

Over the course of dozens of tweets, the noble Lord was trying to make his—let us face it—not always balanced Twitter followers believe something about me and the Government that is simply not true, and which he knows to be untrue. Indeed, by suggesting that we are making it easier for companies to pollute our waters, he was spreading a grotesque inversion of the truth. I understand why he has done so; it is nothing to do with the environment, an issue on which he has almost no record whatever. It is about wanting people to believe that Brexit means more sewage in our waters. He knows that this is not true—this is a matter of fact, not a matter of opinion—but he also knows that, because of his position, many will believe him. Some will be driven into a frenzy of rage, as we have seen—rage based on a blatant untruth. The noble Lord may have been driven to distraction by Brexit, but he is not a stupid person; he wants his words to have consequences. In this debate on sewage, the noble Lord has absolutely covered himself in the stuff—and I say shame on him.

There is, rightly, concern in this House, and indeed the other place, wider society and the Government, about the unacceptable frequency with which sewage is discharged from storm overflows into our rivers, lakes and seas. It is because we share that concern that we have moved so far already on this issue. In this spirit, I hope that noble Lords will allow me to outline in one simple list the measures in the Bill and outside it which will indeed deliver progressive reductions in the harm caused by storm overflows.

The Bill places, first, a new duty on government to produce a statutory plan to reduce discharges from storm overflows and their adverse impact, and report to Parliament on progress. Secondly, it creates a requirement for government to produce a report setting out the actions that would be needed to eliminate storm overflows in England and the costs and benefits of those actions. Both publications are required before 1 September 2022. Thirdly, it creates a new duty directly on water companies and the Environment Agency to publish data on storm overflow operation on an annual basis and, fourthly, a new duty directly on water companies to publish near real-time information on the operation of storm overflows. Fifthly, it creates a new duty directly on water companies to monitor the water quality upstream and downstream of storm overflows and sewage disposal works and, sixthly, a new duty directly on water companies to produce comprehensive statutory drainage and sewerage management plans, setting out how they will manage and develop their drainage and sewerage system over a minimum 25-year planning horizon, including how storm overflows will be addressed through these plans. The seventh thing the Bill does is to create a power of direction for the Government to direct water companies in relation to these plans if they are not good enough—the “big stick”. Eighthly and finally, it creates a duty on government to set and achieve at least one new target to drive progress in the priority area of water.

This significant package will work hand in hand with the action that we are taking outside the Bill. Significantly, for the first time, the Government made it crystal clear in our draft strategic policy statement to Ofwat that we expect water companies to take steps to “significantly reduce ... storm overflows”, and that we expect funding to be approved for them to do so. These are not just warm words: the price review is the mechanism by which funding for the water companies and their priorities are determined. This is our biggest lever to clamp down on sewage discharges from storm overflows.

Significant investment has been unlocked on storm overflows in the current price review period 2020-25. Water companies will invest £7.1 billion on environmental improvements in England; of this, £3.1 billion will be invested in storm overflow improvements. This is supplemented by an additional £606 million as part of the green recovery announcement. We have also committed to reviewing the case for implementing Schedule 3 to the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 in England, which would set mandatory build standards for sustainable drainage schemes on new developments, something that numerous noble Lords called for in Committee. In August 2020, we established the Storm Overflows Taskforce—indeed, it was my colleague, Rebecca Pow, who was here a second ago, who established it—to bring together key stakeholders from the water industry, environmental NGOs, regulators and government to drive progress in reducing sewage discharges. That task force has agreed a long-term goal to eliminate harm from storm overflows.

I and my colleagues across government have been clear that we are determined to tackle the harm from storm overflows and stop untreated sewage flowing into our rivers, lakes and seas. Last Wednesday, the Government and their Back-Benchers actively voted into the Bill six pages of new law directly on storm overflows. To imply that the Government and their Back-Benchers are voting to dump sewage into our rivers is factually incorrect. However, all that said, we have listened carefully to the feeling in the other place and this House and among the wider public. I am absolutely delighted to confirm that the Government will bring forward an amendment in lieu in the Commons at the next stage; it will place a direct legal duty on water companies to progressively reduce the adverse impact of storm overflows.

I want to heap thanks on my right honourable friend Philip Dunne and other Members in the other place who have spoken so strongly about this issue, in Parliament and on broadcast media. Indeed, they have driven action in their own constituencies. I am delighted to say that Philip Dunne has indicated that he is in agreement with the Government on the wording of our proposed amendment, which will follow the clear direction already set by the Government’s draft strategic policy statement to Ofwat, published in July, that we expect water companies to take steps to

“significantly reduce the frequency and volume of sewage discharges from storm overflows”.

We cannot accept the amendment proposed by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, as it is, but I assure noble Lords that the Government’s amendment in lieu will deliver the same action in reducing sewage discharges into our rivers. We cannot accept the amendment exactly as drafted, since we need to ensure integration with other legislation, including new measures in the Bill and existing duties in the Water Industry Act 1991. For example, although we absolutely support the noble Duke’s premise, his amendment does not dock in with the enforcement regime in the Water Industry Act or the range of enforcement remedies available to Ofwat within that Act. Consistency with the draft strategic policy statement to Ofwat and Ofwat’s price review mechanism is also important. Aligning the new duty with the existing framework in this way will ensure that the price review does its job, balancing the need for investment with the need to protect customers from disproportionate prices.

I thank again noble Lords across this House and Members of the other place, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, but many others as well. I hope that noble Lords will be able to support our position today. I look forward to setting out more detail before the Bill returns to the other place.

I turn to Motion K and Amendment 65, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for tabling the amendment. The powers we are taking in the Bill will allow us to refocus the habitats regulations to ensure that the legislation supports our ambitions for nature. It also includes a requirement to set a legally binding target to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030.

The powers under Clauses 105 and 106 form an important part of our ambition for domestic nature recovery. Our Green Paper will set out proposals to support nature recovery in England and provide an opportunity for consultation. Since July, we have been undertaking stakeholder meetings to discuss our plans and seek early views. These powers have been carefully and tightly drafted so that they contain strong safeguards to ensure that we maintain and enhance protections for nature conservation. These protections are not too dissimilar to those put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs; I hope he agrees. Our clauses already provide that, in exercising these powers, the Secretary of State must be satisfied that the changes do not reduce the level of environmental protection currently provided by the habitats regulations, thereby safeguarding the future of our valuable species and habitats. The Secretary of State must also have regard to the particular importance of furthering the conservation and enhancement of biodiversity.

Our clauses also already provide that the Secretary of State must publicly consult on any changes. We have already publicly committed to consult the office for environmental protection and government statutory nature advisers. Finally, the Government will of course remain bound by international nature conservation law. We are committed to all our obligations; we do not need to set this out in primary legislation. I hope the noble Lord will therefore agree that this amendment is not necessary, and I ask him to withdraw it.

Turning to Amendments 94 and 95, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher for tabling them. The Bill introduces what is unarguably pioneering legislation to tackle illegal deforestation in UK supply chains. Businesses will be required to ensure that the forest risk commodities they use are not produced on land illegally occupied or used. The UK is a world leader in introducing such legislation, which forms part of a wider package of measures to improve the sustainability of our supply chains. On the back of this legislation, a number of other important consumer countries are working on their own versions in order to create a real global shift in the commodity markets. I look forward to further discussions next week at COP on international action to protect forests. Following a huge amount of very hard work across departments, we hope to be able to produce a package of measures that will turn the tide on deforestation. I should love to go into the detail, but I am afraid I am not able to do so.

I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments of the House regarding these amendments. It is of the utmost importance that this legislation works, which is why we have included a requirement to review its effectiveness every two years after it comes into force. As part of this, we will be required to set out any steps we intend to take as the result of the review, to ensure that we take action if we do not see progress.

These amendments, which would require the first review to happen after just one year, would limit the Government’s ability to conduct an effective review. We simply would not have anything like enough data or analysis to inform whatever decision we might want to take at that point. Businesses are required to submit their first report and due diligence at the end of the first year of implementation. This information will be essential to ensure a successful, comprehensive review. Initially, we shall be focusing our efforts on working with businesses to make sure that they understand what is required of them and that the policy is effectively implemented and enforced from the beginning. We are working on a number of different levels, both internationally and domestically, to bolster our approach to trying to break the link between commodity production and deforestation, the former being responsible for around 80% of the latter.

Turning to Amendment 66 and Motion L, on ancient woodlands, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, for tabling that amendment and for the persuasive arguments she has put forward throughout the Bill’s passage and during our numerous phone conversations and meetings. I also thank the Woodland Trust for its partnership working with government on the ancient woodland inventory—a hugely important tool for the protection of this irreplaceable habitat. We are grateful for all it does.

I want to repeat the announcements my honourable friend Rebecca Pow made in the other place during the Commons consideration of Lords amendments. First, we will undertake a review of the National Planning Policy Framework to ensure that it is being implemented correctly in the case of ancient and veteran trees and ancient woodland. Should this review conclude that implementation can be improved, we will look to strengthen the guidance to local planning authorities to ensure that they understand the protections provided to ancient woodland. Secondly, we will consult on strengthening the wording of the National Planning Policy Framework better to ensure the strongest possible protection of ancient woodlands, while recognising the complex delivery challenges for major infrastructure.

Alongside these reforms we will amend the town and country planning (consultation) direction to require local planning authorities to consult the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities if they are minded to grant permission for developments that might affect ancient woodland. This underlines the importance of ancient woodland to local planning authorities and ensures that they act appropriately with regard to development that could impact on it. I reassure noble Lords that these measures will be undertaken in a timely manner, working hand in hand with the forthcoming planning reforms. This announcement, along with the commitments previously made in the England Trees Action Plan, underlines the Government’s commitment to ancient woodlands as valuable, irreplaceable habitats. We will continue to explore options further to protect and restore ancient woodlands and to ensure that, where impact on them is deemed wholly necessary, it will happen only as an absolute last resort.

Infrastructure development is a vital part of levelling up the country, but it is right that the impacts on ancient woodland be minimised and mitigated. I will continue to raise this issue beyond this Bill with my counterparts across government, as I have already done. While we do not accept the amendment, I hope that this is a positive outcome for the noble Baroness and for your Lordships’ House. This announcement will deliver effective action to protect our precious and irreplaceable ancient woodland. Much of this is down to effective and compelling arguments made in this House. I hope that the noble Baroness feels able to support the Government’s Motion.

I turn now to Motion M in this very long list, and Amendments 67A and 67E, on conservation covenants. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and all noble Lords who supported Amendment 67 for their time and contributions. One of the key issues previously raised in your Lordships’ House was the level of formality required for entering into a conservation covenant agreement. Having reflected on this concern and having heard the arguments made, in particular by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, the Government acknowledge that an additional layer of formality would provide some reassurance to landowners. As such, I am pleased that we have been able to reach agreement to table Amendments 67A and 67E during Commons consideration of Lords amendments to require that conservation covenant agreements be executed as deeds. In addition, government guidance on conservation covenants will provide clear support on the relevant execution formalities which will be required. It will also highlight key areas for the parties to consider before entering into a covenant, such as the duration of their obligations and the provision of payment, as well as encouraging them to take independent legal advice.

I hope that your Lordships’ House will support the Government’s position. I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Devon, is up a mountain in Wales, but I know that he supports Motion M. I hope that noble Lords appreciate the progress that has been made. I thank them all for their contributions to and ongoing engagement with the Environment Bill. I beg to move Motion H.

Motion H1 (as an amendment to Motion H)

Moved by

43B: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—

Bee and Pollinator Safety

Protection of pollinators from pesticides

(1) Prior to any authorisation for use of a pesticide product, an active ingredient, a safener or a synergist, a pollinator risk assessment report, containing scientific data and risk assessment conclusions relating to the effects of the relevant substance, must be published by an expert body consisting of individuals free from vested interests in pesticide use, who must have been independently appointed.

(2) 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 available scientific evidence relating to effects on any pollinators,

(c) an assessment of synergistic effects, and

(d) the identification of any risks to pollinators where the available evidence is insufficient to reach a conclusion.

(3) The expert body must consult the public on the draft content of the pollinator risk assessment.

(4) A competent authority must not authorise for use any pesticide product, active ingredient, safener or synergist until and unless the public—

(a) has been informed early, in an adequate, timely and effective manner, that a decision will be made,

(b) has been consulted on the decision that the competent authority intends to make, including on any mitigation or restriction measures that are proposed, and

(c) has had access, for the full consultation period, to all statutory risk assessments required for the authorisation decision.

(5) In addition to considerations set out elsewhere, when making any authorisation decision the competent authority must—

(a) aim to achieve a high level of protection for the environment,

(b) be 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,

(c) publish, with the consultation referred to in subsection (4)(b), a statement explaining why the competent authority is satisfied that requirements (a) and (b) of this subsection have been met.

(6) This section comes into force on 1 March 2023.

(7) In this section—

“authorise for 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.””

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his time and for that of his officials during the passage of this Bill on the subject of pesticides and pollinators, and for his comments this afternoon. I was disappointed, as were others, that the other place chose to ignore the vote of this Chamber and rejected our amendment on the basis that the law makes provision to protect pollinators from the effects of pesticides. I fear that this is not the case. It is clear from its response that the other place has not fully grasped the extent to which the existing provisions fail to protect any non-honey bee pollinators, and to which the proposed provisions fall outside the pre-existing provisions.

Insect pollinators are vital for the maintenance of ecosystem health and for global food security. Seventy-five per cent of crops species, 35% of global crop production and up to 88% of flowering plant species are dependent to some extent on insect pollinators. There is substantial concern as to their current and future conservation status. Key threats to pollinators include agriculture intensification, particularly habitat loss and pesticide use, climate change and the spread of alien species.

We have had detailed debates on this subject previously, and now is not the time to revisit that detail. I thank the Minister for his commitment and for his comments. I welcome the commitment to assess the use of pesticides in the round, and I look forward to hearing the detail. The Minister speaks very fast, so I will study Hansard to assess his detailed comments. I beg to move.

My Lords, I declare my interests as a farmer as set out in the register. I also share with the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, a considerable love of bees. I am not sure whether she intends to press the House on this, but I must set the record straight regarding the use of plant protection products as this is absolutely fundamental to agriculture in this country.

First, PPPs are targeted, not used in isolation. They form a critical component of an integrated pest management approach which carefully considers all available protection methods to discourage development of populations of harmful organisms; their use, and the use of other forms of intervention, are kept to levels that are economically and ecologically justified; and they reduce and minimise the risk to human health and the environment.

Secondly, there is a big misconception that farmers use PPPs even though they do not need to. Farmers only use PPPs when they absolutely must to protect our food supply against pests, weeds and diseases that would otherwise cause us to lose between 30% and 40% of our food production. When farmers use PPPs, they ensure they are only using as much as is necessary and take measures to ensure that they impact only on intended crops.

Thirdly, as stated on numerous occasions, the current regulatory system for PPPs is among the most stringent in the world. All products on the market have been subject to a thorough assessment to ensure a high level of protection of human and 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 not harm bees or other pollinators. As part of the regulation, an appropriate risk assessment is carried out on all active substances and products before they reach the market. They can be approved for use only if it will result in negligible exposure to honey bees or it has no perceptible, acute or chronic effect on colony survival or development. That is the actual situation. I welcome the Minister’s response to this amendment and I look forward to the result of that.

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 45B to government Motion J, in my name. I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Altmann and Lady Quin, and the noble Lord, Lord Oates, for agreeing to sign the amendment, but that is apparently not permitted in this House during the so-called ping-pong process, when only one signature is allowed. I must emphasise that this is a cross-party amendment and surely that is right; party politics should not be inserted into a matter like this. I was very disturbed to hear this morning that many Conservative Members of Parliament have received very disagreeable messages on social media. This is completely unacceptable and very regrettable.

This House passed a similar amendment to Amendment 45B to clean up our rivers some weeks ago, with support from all sides of the House. When the amendment was debated last Wednesday in the other place, there was again support for it from all sides of the House. One Conservative MP described it as

“the most important amendment we are faced with this evening.”

Another Conservative MP said:

“Yes, there are all these duties to report, to produce plans and so on, which is great, but should there not also be a duty on the water companies to actually do something”? —[ Official Report, Commons, 20/10/21; col. 841-61.]

It is relevant to note that in the vote a substantial number of Conservative MPs voted against the Government, including the right honourable Philip Dunne, the chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, Sir Bernard Jenkin, the chairman of the Liaison Committee, Sir Peter Bottomley, Father of the House, and several other former Cabinet Ministers and chairmen of Select Committees. In addition, all Members of all other parties supported the amendment, except the Scottish National Party, which abstained, as did 20 further Conservative MPs. It therefore seems more than justified that we ask the House of Commons to look again at the merits of this amendment, which has so much support in Parliament and in the country.

I am sure that all Members of this House would agree that it is unacceptable to allow the repeated and continuous discharge of sewage into rivers, lakes and coastal waters. I know that that is the view of our two excellent Ministers, Rebecca Pow in the other place and the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, in this House. I thank them for the several meetings I have had with them, including a short meeting this morning with