Considered in Grand Committee
That the Grand Committee do consider the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 (Exclusions from Market Access Principles: Single-Use Plastics) Regulations 2022.
Relevant document: 5th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee
My Lords, this instrument was laid in draft before this House on 9 June. It makes an exclusion from the market access principles of the UK Internal Market Act, or UKIM Act, for legislation so far as it prohibits the sale of single-use plastic straws, stemmed cotton buds, drinks stirrers, plates, cutlery or chopsticks, balloon sticks, food containers, drinks containers or cups made wholly or partly from expanded or extruded polystyrene. I will cover both the reasons for and the impact of this instrument, starting with the former.
This instrument is being brought forward following an agreement under the provisional Resources and Waste Common Framework. The exclusion made in the instrument is necessary because all four nations share an ambition to tackle plastic pollution. This instrument furthers that ambition while recognising the need to protect the integrity of the UK internal market against future barriers to intra-UK trade.
Legislation banning the sale of the single-use plastic items covered by this exclusion has been introduced, will be introduced or has been consulted on being introduced in all four nations. However, there is a difference in the timing of these bans, which means the UKIM Act has an impact on the ability to implement such legislation.
The UKIM Act contains two market access principles: mutual recognition and non-discrimination. The principle of mutual recognition introduced by the Act means that a good that can be lawfully sold in the part of the UK in which it has been produced, or into which it has been imported, may be sold in any other part of the UK without needing to comply with any relevant requirements applying to the sale in that other part of the UK. The principle of non-discrimination means that the sale of goods in one part of the UK should not be affected by directly or indirectly discriminatory relevant requirements towards goods that have a relevant connection with another part of the UK.
I will now briefly outline the impact of this statutory instrument. The exclusion from the market access principles created by it means that the principles will not apply to legislation so far as it prohibits the sale of single-use plastic straws, stemmed cotton buds, drinks stirrers, plates, cutlery or chopsticks, balloon sticks, food containers, drinks containers or cups made wholly or partly from expanded or extruded polystyrene. For example, from 1 June 2022 it has been illegal to sell a single-use plastic plate in Scotland. The exclusion introduced by this instrument will mean that single-use plastic plates produced in or imported into other parts of the UK cannot be sold in Scotland, regardless of whether there is an equivalent ban in place in other parts of the UK.
The requirement in Section 10(7) of the UKIM Act for the Secretary of State to have regard to the importance of facilitating the access to the market within GB of qualifying Northern Ireland goods has been considered. The supply of the items covered by this exclusion is banned in Scotland and the Welsh and UK Governments have consulted on banning the supply of these items where it is not already banned. The relevant EU directive—article 5 of the single-use plastics directive—under annexe 2 of the Northern Ireland protocol, once implemented, will have equivalent effect to the proposed and existing legislation in Scotland, England and Wales, with the exception that legislation in Scotland, England and Wales will not encompass items made from oxodegradable plastic. As such, it is not thought that there is a need to make additional or separate provision to maintain access to the market within Great Britain for these single-use plastic items.
A full impact assessment has not been prepared for this instrument because it does not impose any new requirements. This instrument will affect the application of the Environmental Protection (Single-use Plastic Products) (Scotland) Regulations 2021 and any forthcoming regulations in England and Wales that ban the supply of the items covered by the exclusion. Any impacts on those regulations have been considered in the case of the Scottish regulations and will be considered in the case of any forthcoming regulations in England and Wales. Ministers from the Welsh and Scottish Governments have consented to the making of these regulations.
The Secretary of State will publish a statement in accordance with Section 10(11) of the UKIM Act explaining why these regulations will be made without consent from the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland. To summarise, as this legislation is of a cross-cutting nature, it would normally require referral to the Northern Ireland Executive as per Northern Ireland’s Ministerial Code. This has obviously not been possible due to the ongoing absence of a First and Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland, meaning the Executive cannot meet. My officials have however continued to engage at official level with the relevant Northern Ireland departments in the development of this legislation and there has been engagement with the Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Edwin Poots MLA, and the Minister for the Economy, Minister Lyons MLA, who have not raised any objections to the proposal.
The exclusion introduced by this instrument recognises our shared ambition across the UK to tackle plastic pollution while recognising the need to protect the integrity of the UK internal market against future barriers to intra-UK trade. I believe this shows that the process for considering UK Internal Market Act exclusions in common framework areas is working as intended. I commend these regulations to the Committee and I beg to move.
I welcome, for the most part, the instrument which is before us this afternoon. I have a number of questions to put to my noble friend.
First, there seems to be an obvious exclusion from the list that has been given: wet wipes. I am sure my noble friend will agree that wet wipes, although they are sold in a pack, are causing huge damage, and it is something that we have looked at in other statutory instruments. I am looking at a report called Bricks and Mortar 3 about how to prevent flooding, and one of the issues that causes flooding, as we remember from debate on what became the Environment Act, is wet wipes mixing with fats, oils and grease in the water courses, causing flooding and a blockage in the system. I know we discussed cotton buds as well—I do not know whether they are here—but I would ask why cotton buds and wet wipes are not included since they do enormous damage.
I commend Scotland, which I see has already banned the sale of single-use plastic plates, and I wonder whether we are going to follow suit. My noble friend has said on a number of occasions that we are going to ban single-use plastics, and I was rather expecting a whole raft of statutory instruments in this regard. I know the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, has held the Government’s feet to the fire over this, and has never missed an opportunity to do so, but we have not seen any of those statutory instruments.
A report published today shows that 96.5 billion items of plastic are thrown away by UK households every year, and only 12% of that plastic is recycled. As to why there is such a low percentage, could my noble friend tell us what is happening while these items remain in circulation, in whichever part of the internal market of the United Kingdom we are talking about? When are we going to have clear advice to each household, irrespective of where in the country you live, as to how to dispose of single-use plastic? For example, if you had a single-use plastic plate at a picnic and it has tomato sauce or oil all over it, if you put that in a recycling bin, is it not the case that you are contaminating the whole content of the bin? So where are we today on ensuring that the best advice is being given across the piece, so that there is uniform advice, even if it is just in England—although I would prefer it to be across the whole of the internal market of the United Kingdom—to prevent cross-contamination leading to less plastic going to recycling than would otherwise be the case?
I understand that no exemption has been extended to the ban on the supply of single-use plastic items in the UK. If I am correct in my assumption that we are allowed to use these on board aircraft, that seems bizarre. Could my noble friend explain why that has been extended?
In so far as this seems to relate to non-discrimination and having the same rules of circulation apply, I welcome what is in the statutory instrument. I just regret that it does not go nearly as far as I would have hoped, and when might we get the other statutory instruments which we were promised under the Environment Act? I would welcome answers to my questions from my noble friend.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his efficient explanation. I too read the report to which the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, referred. I saw it in the Times and the Daily Mail.
In the helpful Explanatory Memorandum, reference is made in paragraph 13.1 to regulating small business. Has the Federation of Small Businesses been consulted? At this point it seems to be central, although I should say that I hold no personal brief for the FSB in any way.
Paragraphs 12.1 and 12.2 refer to impact. It is early days, but have Scotland and Wales yet set out their impact assessments? It is also clear that in all of this Scotland has been ahead of the game since June. Is there any intelligence yet as to how things are moving in Scotland? How was Scotland consulted? Was it simply by Zoom or was it between officials? Was it done personally by Ministers or was it done by phone? “Consultation” can mean many things.
Similarly, at paragraph 7.1, how was Wales consulted? To whom did the Minister talk? Did he talk to the Cabinet Minister for agriculture in the Senedd? If I may set him and his excellent officials in the department a challenge, can he tell me the name of the Welsh Minister for agriculture sitting in the Cabinet?
My Lords, I rise wearily to my feet on this issue of single-use plastics. I agree almost completely with my noble opponent, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. She is absolutely right that this does not go far enough—of course it does not, we have been talking about this for decades. This statutory instrument is on the right path but is still nowhere near enough.
Where I disagree with the noble Baroness is on the fact that it is not only households but councils that need to know. As we have said lots of times before, we need one system across the whole of Britain. I was watching an episode of “The Outlaws”, a comedy drama with Stephen Merchant, and in it a very large, angry drug dealer told off his lieutenant for putting a tomatoey pizza box in the recycling. I thought that that was probably much more effective than government education. Even so, the Government have a role in educating. Still people still do not see—perhaps the Government themselves do not see—that most of the 8 billion tonnes of plastic produced since the 1950s is still in existence: in our drinking water, our soils, our animals, our fish and our air, and even, apparently, in our beer and, I suspect, our wine.
Every time we get a promise from government, it is inching towards what we need, which is a total ban on plastic. It seems that every time we get a small bit of progress, the Government pat themselves on the back and then take ages to get to the next bit of progress. For example, we used to have bottle deposit schemes. It is not as though we do not have the knowledge of how to implement these things. We can do it. We did it with an awful lot less technology 70 years ago, so why not do it now?
Of course, with a ban on all single-use plastic, we would get to the point where unnecessary items were not made at all. If you think that 40% of the plastic produced goes into single-use packaging, that is fairly shocking, even before you consider that the world total is more than 300 million tonnes each year.
It is exhausting to keep coming back to this issue. I am sure the Minister does his best, but I cannot say the same for the Government. I understand that they are struggling a bit at the moment to be coherent but, even so, I plead with them to do better—I am sure they could. We need to educate everybody in plastics pollution, including all the contenders for the leadership of the Tory Party, none of whom has mentioned the climate crisis or the environment. I suspect, therefore, that none of them will be interested in plastic pollution. So, I welcome this in a very limited and specific way.
My Lords, I very much welcome these regulations. I should explain that I am a member of the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee and it is in the light of my experience on that committee that I extend this welcome. I am delighted to see the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, here with us, because she too is a member of that committee and will understand the points that I am about to make, although I have not discussed them with her.
The Explanatory Memorandum explains the position clearly. In his introduction, the Minister touched on these points. It is important to understand that these regulations have a specific and—unfortunately, from the point of view of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb—rather limited purpose. As described in paragraph 7.1 of the memorandum, their purpose is to give effect to the
“agreement reached under the provisional Resources and Waste Common Framework … that has been developed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government”—
I think I am right in saying that this is the first time that an agreement reached under a common framework has found its way through to a regulation, which is why this is a significant moment, particularly for people who believe, as I do, in the value of common frameworks.
The Minister may understand that the frameworks were devised by the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations to find a means of reaching agreement among the various components of the United Kingdom to create an internal market for the UK in place of the EU market we were leaving. The point was to put in place structures that would focus on areas formerly governed by the EU under EU regulations to enable the UK internal market to function. The important point in the communiqué that was delivered in October 2017 was that policy divergence among the various parts of the UK would be encouraged and permissible.
The memorandum explains well that the internal market principles in themselves would not enable the Scottish regulations being discussed to receive their effect in Scotland, because the principles would allow people who did not comply with the rules under the Scottish regulations to trade in a way that was inconsistent with them—they would have a right to do so under the internal market principles. As the memorandum goes on to explain, the effect of an amendment to what became Section 10 of the United Kingdom Internal Market Act, which is the basis for the Minister’s regulations today, enables these regulations to be made, which provide the effectiveness that the Scottish regulations need so that they are enforceable in Scotland. That is what the regulations are designed to do and that is why I very much welcome them. They are the first step in what I hope will be a fairly well-understood method of dealing with these things.
As the noble Lord, Lord Jones, said, the Scottish Government are leading the way on the control of single-use plastics. The Welsh had done so already, before the internal market came into effect, and their regulations are preserved by the United Kingdom Internal Market Act, because they preceded it. The Scottish regulations need the protection that these regulations are providing them so that they will receive the same effect in Scotland as they do in Wales. This is just one example—there could be others—of the way in which these devolved Administrations with rather simpler single-Chamber systems are able to forge ahead and produce results that benefit the environment. I quite understand the frustration expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, at the way in which England is still to catch up, but that is not the problem for today. The solution achieved today is to protect the Scottish system.
I am not going to say very much more, because it is so well explained in the memorandum, but I have a particular point for the Minister, which he might like to reflect on. I had great difficulty when the internal market Bill passed through the House in the late summer of 2019 in trying to persuade the Government to recognise that common frameworks had a part to play at all in the creation of the internal market. I must say that I owe a great debt to the opposition parties, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, for the support that they gave to me over a series of amendments, which eventually had the effect of persuading the Government to introduce a subsection into what is now Section 10 to enable common frameworks that were the subject of agreement to be recognised. That is exactly what we have here.
The point that I really want the Minister to recognise is that we can now see how the system can be made to work in practice and the benefits that come from supporting agreed initiatives by the devolved Administrations such as this one to receive effect. I hope that there will now be a more relaxed and co-operative approach that will enable us to move forward in similar cases in future. I think that I am right in saying that, in Wales, the case of plastic bags is an example of what might happen in future—but there will be others. There may be other things to come, as paragraph 6 of the Explanatory Memorandum explains to us. I hope, therefore, that the Minister recognises the value of what we are doing today and the way in which it could be a way forward to support initiatives that have been taken in various parts of the UK for the benefit of us all, and indeed for the benefit of the environment.
My Lords, perhaps I could just take up a theme from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, around the leadership campaign that is going on at the moment at the other end of the Palace, and to thank the Minister for intervening in that debate and reminding people, along with his right honourable friend Chris Skidmore, that climate change is a pretty important subject. If it is junked by those candidates, that is bound to have a severe effect not just on our planet and country but probably on the party as well. I hope that he has luck in that mission, but I am doubtful to a degree, unfortunately—and I say that with great gravity.
I intervened only to a certain degree during the passage of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, which was fairly fraught, during the lockdown and the Covid crisis. I seem to remember all sorts of confusion between mutual recognition and non-discrimination and the two being mixed up by a number of the speakers who maybe should have known better. The question that I got involved on was exactly this one, around how we make sure that environmental protections that are part of devolved authorities’ programmes are not overridden by those principles, so they can be enforced within those national boundaries. Therefore, I am pleased by and welcome this SI in making that possible in part, so that environmental protections in the devolved authorities and nations can be enforced and not overridden by imports from other parts of the UK. I very much welcome that.
As noble Lords have said, the reason why this is an issue practically at the moment is that in England, the most populous part of the United Kingdom, we are very much behind the times. Scotland, Wales and even Northern Ireland are ahead of us in terms of these restrictions on single-use plastics. I understand that, after going through this consultation, the earliest we in England will be implementing similar regulations is April 2023. Although nearer than it was, this is still some time away. Perhaps the Minister can find a way of making that quicker. I would be interested to hear his views on that.
I also understand that there is this strange issue of plastic straws in pubs, which you will continue to be able to use—not that I would, obviously—even when they are banned from retail. I would be interested to understand whether that has been resolved yet.
To me, the bigger issue on single-use plastics is still export. There were a number of areas in the 2019 Conservative manifesto around levies on single-use plastics, particularly around export to non-OECD countries. I have certainly become more and more of the opinion that that should be much tighter—maybe we should even export only to EU or G7 countries. I would be very interested to understand from the Minister where we are on that and the various provisions made in the Environment Act. I remind Members that last year we exported some 770,000 tonnes of plastic waste abroad. Those are staggering figures and reflect some of the figures from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh.
This is an area where clearly we need urgent action. We should be a leader, not just nationally but internationally, and I look forward to the Minister’s response on where we are on this much broader agenda as well.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee for drawing this SI to our attention. I add my support to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, about the Minister, and thank him for addressing the candidates to be the next Prime Minister and keeping their feet to the fire on the environment. Although we have had our occasional disagreements in the past, nobody doubts his passion and commitment on this issue. I hope he keeps fighting that battle.
Like other noble Lords, I accept that this SI is becoming necessary following the agreement with the devolved Governments in the Resources and Waste Common Framework. I was grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope; I did not realise we were making history in the way he suggested and that this was the first time an agreement on common frameworks was finding its way into regulation and statute. Obviously, that is something we should celebrate. I thank him for drawing that to our attention.
I will raise one practical thing, which is that the Resources and Waste Common Framework is still referred to as “provisional”. Perhaps the Minister can clarify when that will be a final agreement. I do not have a problem enacting it, but if it is only provisional presumably there is a final sign-off to take place at some point. I would be grateful if he could advise what the process is for that to happen.
As noble Lords have said, it is obviously welcome that all sections of the UK are now taking co-ordinated action to ban the use of certain single-use plastics, as set out in the SI. As I said, I do not have any objections to the SI, but I have a couple of questions about the implications for further actions on plastics. Are the UK Government planning to ban further categories of single-use plastics? We know that it is only a very limited list at the moment. If further single-use plastics were now being considered, would a separate SI be necessary to address the internal market implications of a ban on each occasion as it came on stream?
Secondly, as a number of noble Lords have said, over the last years the relatively slow pace of progress in England has been frustrating. We have heard again today that Wales and Scotland seem to be leading the way on this. Although we understand that it is necessary to consult before taking action, it is frustrating that Defra is doing this in a piecemeal manner and taking so long about it. I hope the Minister can give us some good news on that before we leave today.
Does the existence of the provisional Resources and Waste Common Framework mean that all four Governments will co-ordinate the passage of legislation and/or the date of application for further action on plastic and other polluting items? In other words, will they all carry on doing their own thing, or is there any hope that all four nations will move together at the same time on this? What might happen if, for example, a deposit return scheme, which we talked about earlier and which we know would put a value on returned plastic bottles, was introduced at different times in different nations across the UK? Would that have any implications for the internal market rules? If not, could there be broader undesirable consequences, such as huge quantities of plastic waste bottles being moved across the internal borders for financial gain? We are all trying to understand the full implications of this common framework and how that will apply in the broader sense.
Finally, what are the implications of the Government’s proposed legislation to repeal the Northern Ireland protocol? Although this instrument does not directly relate to the implementation of the protocol, would the passage of that controversial Bill impact on the controls on relevant goods in Northern Ireland? What would happen if the EU-derived ban on these products fell away? Is there other legislative underpinning for such bans, or would new legislation be required? I hope the Minister could enlighten us a little more on the implications of the desire of some of the candidates in the prime ministerial elections to rip up the Northern Ireland protocol and what that would mean for us. I look forward to his response.
I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. Although the instrument that we are discussing is fairly narrow, the topics covered have been very broad, and rightly so. Pollution does not recognise borders, and co-operation between the four nations is key.
There was some criticism that the SI does not go far enough. I would make the point that it is specifically focused on the Scottish regulations; that is its purpose. A broader, very valid question was raised about whether the policy package on plastic itself goes far enough. I do not think that is directly relevant to this SI, which does a particular job. I think most people have agreed in their speeches that the job is necessary and that this needs to happen.
Before I come to that broader question, I will try to address a few specifics. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, made the point that Scotland is in many ways leading the way on plastic pollution. Although I do not think it goes nearly far enough, it is leading the way among the four nations and it can be proud of the trail that it is blazing. However, we work incredibly closely across the four nations on these issues. Maybe every now and again there is a bit of competition, but that is a good thing as long as the competition is upwards, not downwards, which is always a risk in politics, as we have seen today in some of the interventions that have been made by potential leaders of the Conservative Party. I will come to that point too in a few moments.
I will rise to the challenge from the noble Lord, Lord Jones, who asked me the Minister’s name, which is, of course, Lesley Griffiths. However, we have our own Welsh Minister in the environment department, Victoria Prentis. I think she is Welsh.
Very good, thank you. She works very closely on the issue we are discussing. I am merely her mouthpiece in this Room, because the domestic part of this is not directly part of my remit.
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, asked about wet wipes, and she could have named any number of other products that have come under the spotlight. This goes to the broader question from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, about whether the policy goes far enough. I can tell the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, that there was a call for evidence in relation to wet wipes and we are analysing its results. It seems inconceivable to me that at the end of this process we would not take the view that the noble Baroness and pretty much everyone who has spoken has taken on the issue of plastic waste over the few years that I have been here debating these issues. We recognise that this is a very serious environmental problem that needs to be resolved and can be resolved only as a consequence of government intervention. That is true in relation to a lot of other single-use plastic items.
The frustration that I have felt many times in exchanges with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, on the piecemeal approach is one that a number of my colleagues share. It is necessary for us to go through a certain process; you cannot just, at the stroke of a pen, destroy a particular business model by banning something that is key to it. However, we do need to get to a point where we are simply not using, and where it is not permissible to use, single-use plastics when alternatives are there. There will be medical exemptions and certain other uses where single-use plastics are unavoidable, but as a rule it should be our intention to move as quickly as possible to the wholesale removal of avoidable single-use plastics. There are countries around the world—including Rwanda, which has been in the news a lot recently—which are ahead of us in relation to adopting a more comprehensive approach to tackling single-use plastics. The UK has done a lot of the running on this internationally, but we have a long way to go.
In answer to the noble Baroness’s specific question, yes, we would need separate SIs for additional bans that come after the bans that have already been announced, but I hope that we would be able to cluster as much as possible to avoid endless debates about specific things and, instead, to get on and really take a bite out of this problem in the limited time we have in Parliament. I very much share her concern about that, but this is not a consequence of reluctance on the part of Defra. I hope she understands that.
At both ministerial and official level, this is something that we are very keen to do, not least because getting our own house in order allows us to have a bigger voice internationally, as UK negotiators. I would like to take the credit as a Minister, but it is UK negotiators, who are always nameless in these things, who are responsible, more than those of any other country, for negotiating an agreement at UNEA for a global treaty on plastic pollution. They worked 24 hours a day. I spoke to the negotiators from many other countries who made a point of thanking me for the UK’s contribution. I cannot name them—you are not meant to do that; it breaks protocol—but it was UK negotiators who did that and we are now part of the process of pushing for the highest possible ambition.
If noble Lords do not mind, I shall branch out a little to address the questions on leadership, because this matters so much. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and others expressed concerns about where we are going. I share those concerns and have expressed them, probably a little too noisily, in recent days. My appeal to anyone who might happen to be listening to this debate and to friends at the other end of the building is that we should not be focusing just on net zero.
There is so much focus on whether candidates are saying the right stuff on net zero, but it is a bit of a red herring. That is not because climate change is not an issue—clearly, that is not my view—but because we are already seeing the wheels spinning in terms of market action driving us towards a low-carbon future. We know that more money is flowing into clean energy today than into fossil fuels; that has been true for about six years. We know that the market has made that decision and that it is miles ahead of the politics. The United States under Donald Trump poured billions into trying to keep coal use going, but it fell faster on his watch than under President Obama, who was very keen to see the back of coal.
It is almost irrelevant what the next leader does in relation to net zero over the next 18 months. We have a law. Parliament is not going to delegislate net zero; we all know that. It is simply not going to happen. It will remain our law until the next election. Were a party to enter that election promising to scrap the net-zero laws, that party would not and should not be elected. I do not think anyone would argue with that. The risks around net zero have been massively exaggerated by commentators. The real risk—it is huge—relates to the natural environment. There is no momentum behind protecting the natural environment. There is no market driving the reparation, restoration and protection of nature. That will happen only if Governments intervene; there is no other dynamic there. Yes, communities around the world are fighting to protect their environments, often against evil forces, but the pressure is one way and it is not the right way. Unless Governments write the rules and intervene, we will see absolute devastation.
To those who are tempted to see these as peripheral issues—as I know that some people in politics, perhaps including even some who are standing to be leader of the Conservative Party, do—I say that that is an absurd proposition. I have just come back from the Congo Basin. Science does not really know the value of the Congo Basin. We know some of the value—we know about its biodiversity, its carbon storage and all that kind of stuff—but we also know that it provides rainfall for most of the continent of Africa. We do not know exactly how much but we know it is pretty blooming important in terms of rainfall. Wipe out the Congo Basin—this peripheral thing, according to some of my colleagues—and you lose rainfall across the entire continent of Africa, or at least a very large proportion of it; you have hunger on a scale never seen before; you have a humanitarian crisis that we simply could not deal with in Europe. Look at the problems we have with a few regional areas sending their refugees our way—this would be on a scale the likes of which we have never seen before.
Look at the ocean: 250 million families depend on fish for their survival. What happens if we continue to deplete the world’s oceans in the way that we will if we do not see Governments intervening? We will have 250 million destitute families; we will have 1 billion people losing the fish on which they depend for their sustenance. These are really not peripheral issues. They are absolutely central.
I thank the Minister for his speech, because most of us would absolutely agree with it. I would have made the same speech during the passage of the UK Infrastructure Bank Bill, when the Government rejected including natural capital and biodiversity in the objectives of the UK Infrastructure Bank. That was a great shame, because that would have given equality to climate change, just as he is demanding.
The truth is that this fairly crude speech that I am delivering, which the noble Lord could deliver more eloquently, could apply to most of the topics that we debate, and that is the whole point. Nature is the source of everything, and it is astonishing to me sometimes that we have to make that argument.
Perhaps where I will part company with one or two people in the Room is in saying that over the last few years the UK has been a global leader on these issues. I would say it has been the global leader on many of these issues. It was the UK that created the coalition of 100 countries calling for 30% protection of land and sea by the end of the decade. It is the UK that is doing all the running in creating a coalition on illegal fishing. It was the UK negotiators, as I said, who helped get countries over the line in relation to the plastics treaty. There is no country in the world pushing harder for high ambition at the CBD Convention that is being held in Montreal. It was the UK that delivered the biggest-ever package of commitments around deforestation at COP 26. Subsequently, it is the UK that is leading the global dialogue to break the link between commodities and deforestation.
I really could go on and on with areas where it is the UK that is corralling the world into action and ambition on these issues. That is why the anxiety that has been expressed in this Room today about the leadership election has been expressed by leaders all around the world. I do not know who else they are talking to, but in my dealings as an Environment Minister negotiating a lot of these points, I have a lot of them on WhatsApp and I have had messages from countries big and small —from G7 countries to tiny little dots on the map in the Pacific—terrified about the prospect that the UK is going to crawl away from its international leadership position and go back in on itself and ignore and abandon the concerns I have been talking about today and which I know are shared around this Room.
I am sorry, I know the Whip is saying that we need to move on. I will just say quickly that I do not doubt the work that the Minister has been doing on an international level. I pay tribute to that. But back here, we have increasing frustrations about the implementation of the Environment Act and other domestic legislation that we have all worked very hard to craft. There are a lot of things that just are not happening at a domestic level. Coming back and driving that same agenda here in the UK—that is what we really need.
I do not doubt what the noble Baroness has said. There are lots of things internationally we could be doing. We should be taking a stronger position, in my view, on deep sea mining. None of the big countries is taking this seriously, but it is a threat to the seabed that is probably unmatched. There are lots of areas where I would like to see us toughen our position and take a more proactive approach.
There are domestic problems. We debated for hours the effects of sewage in our waters. It is not true to say that we have gone backwards. The laws today are stronger than they were when Boris Johnson became Prime Minister. That is an objective fact. You could argue that they have not gone far enough, but we have not gone backwards—and likewise on a whole range of the issues we are talking about today. I am not pretending that this Government are a paragon when it comes to the environment; no Government in the world are. I am saying merely that our Government have earned a global reputation for leadership on the environment which is, I think, unmatched around the world, and it is precious.
By the way, it is translated into soft power when it comes to dealing with things such as Ukraine. Talk to any of our ambassadors and they will tell you, as they have told me, and as they have told the Foreign Office in their dip tels, that our diplomacy on climate and nature has translated into votes on issues such as Ukraine. It really matters for some of those little islands. For some of these candidates, weather is something you hide from under an umbrella, or you might get bitten by a mosquito—that is nature, or nature is something you put in a plastic bag and sell. But for the countries around the world that depend directly on nature, in a way that we do not depend so directly here, this is existential, and our leadership has mattered.
My hope is—and I will do everything I can in the week or two that I have left in this office—to try very hard to shine a light on these issues, and encourage the candidates who eventually make it to the top to recognise that if they walk away from these issues, they not only will be punished by the electorate, they must be punished by the electorate. It is your duty, and our duty, and everyone else’s duty, to punish any leader of any credible party who does not take these issues seriously, because they do not merit the privilege of government if they do not.
This is completely irrelevant to the topic we are discussing today, but I could not miss the opportunity to share with you my rant and frustrations. I am going to stop there. Thank you.