Committee (1st Day)
Relevant document: 3rd Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
I will call Members to speak in the order listed. During the debate on each group I invite Members, including Members in the Chamber, to email the clerk if they wish to speak after the Minister. I will call Members to speak in the order of request. The groupings are binding. A participant who might wish to press an amendment other than the lead amendment in the group to a Division must give notice in debate or by emailing the clerk. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. When putting the question, I will collect voices in the Chamber only. If a Member taking part remotely wants their voice accounted for if the question is put, they must make this clear when speaking in the group.
1: Before Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
(1) The purpose of Part 1 is to provide a governance framework for enabling the environmental objectives to be met. (2) Within the framework of sustainable development, the environmental objectives referred to in section 1(1) are to achieve and maintain—(a) a healthy, resilient and biodiverse natural environment,(b) an environment that supports human health and wellbeing for everyone, and(c) sustainable use of natural and physical resources.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment aims to align the core elements of the governance framework (process for setting long-term targets, Environmental Improvement Plans and the Policy Statement on Environmental Principles) to a single objective.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 1, I will speak also to Amendments 3, 54 and 74 in my name. The Environment Bill offers a unique opportunity to create a coherent long-term framework for the environment—a framework capable of motivating all sectors and all parts of society to plan, to commit to and to collaborate on improving the environment on which we and future generations depend. I therefore especially welcome the Bill seeking to address the core governance elements that will be needed for decades to come. This is a critical component. Clearly, business will have a key role to play in delivering the changes needed to meet our long-term environmental ambitions and our net-zero target. Unlocking private sector finance and investment will be essential, particularly given the pressures on the public purse.
Having engaged with business groups on how they can rise to the challenge, I have picked up a clear signal. The confidence and certainty that they need to invest in the future—our future—will depend on there being greater clarity and cohesion across the governance provisions set out in the Bill, particularly on the interplay between targets, interim targets and environmental improvement plans. The addition of guiding objectives to the setting of long-term environmental targets, and to bind the core governance elements together, along with an overarching purpose statement at the start of the Bill, would bring that greater level of clarity and cohesion to the governance provisions. That, in turn, would give businesses greater confidence to invest in achieving long-term targets; hence Amendments 1, 3, 54 and 74.
Amendment 1 proposes defining core environmental objective on the face of the Bill. Amendment 3 would ensure that the target-setting process is aligned with the core environmental objectives. Amendment 54 would align environmental improvement plans with these objectives, and Amendment 74 would, likewise, align the environmental principles with these objectives. I beg to move.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Nature Partnership, I am a trustee of the Green Purposes Company that holds the green share in the Green Investment Bank, and I am a director of Aldustria Ltd.
We have recently had the G7 in the part of the world that I live in: Cornwall. Never mind the increase in Covid-19 in those areas since—other than that, it was a very successful bringing together of global leaders. I like to think that one of the reasons our Prime Minister chose Cornwall was because of its natural environment, its beauty and, for that weekend at least, its good weather. I ask the Committee to keep this to itself but the weather is not always quite like that in Cornwall, but it was on those two to three days, I am pleased to say.
Many visitors come to Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly for their staycations because of that great environment but I have to tell the Committee that, on a local basis, biodiversity in that far south-west region is as on the brink as it is elsewhere. For instance, half our mammals are found in fewer places, three out of five of our butterflies are in decline, eight of our bumblebee species have disappeared over the last few years, and some 40% of our breeding birds are in decline. That is in an area that we think of as being beautiful in terms of its biodiversity and its natural heritage.
This is reflected nationally: in the UK we have failed to meet some 17 of our Aichi targets—the targets set 10 years ago at the Convention on Biological Diversity. Some 15% of our species are threatened with extinction; we have a reduced distribution of a quarter of our species, and four out of 10 are in decline. We saw in the Woodland Trust report that only 7% of our forests and woodlands are in good order. So, we have biodiversity as a crisis together with climate change. They are crises and they are emergencies. I think there are very few people who would dispute that at the moment.
One of the interesting things to come out recently, in fact in the last week, is a report —not just by the IPCC on the climate change side, but the IPBES on the UN biodiversity side—that says that these two crises are inextricably linked. One cannot be solved without the other; they are twin crises that are, in effect, Siamese twins as we would understand them. I will talk more about the biodiversity crisis—we are very aware of the climate change crisis. It is a crisis where we believe that we are entering the sixth extinction on the planet. The previous one was the dinosaurs, thought to be caused by an asteroid, but the sixth extinction that is happening at this time is uniquely, clearly and obviously the only one that is due to one species—homo sapiens.
Why is this important? It is not just about cuddly animals or health, welfare and being able to have access to the countryside and to nature. It is because we rely entirely on the ecosystem services that biodiversity affords us, be those pollination, healthy soil, clean water, clean seas or a whole panoply of ways that not just we as individuals but our economy survives. Again, in the south-west, this is certainly true of tourism, fisheries and agriculture, but it is true of industry generally and of our economic well-being. Because of that, I have brought this amendment forward.
It is a particularly auspicious time because this year we have not just COP 26 on climate change in Glasgow in November but COP 15 of the biodiversity convention in Kunming in October. These two important international conferences are coming together towards the end of this year, but, we hope, after this Bill squeezes through Royal Assent and becomes an Act, which we want to happen quickly. It is an ideal opportunity to illustrate to the world how the United Kingdom sees these crises as important and as inextricably combined emergencies, where we can show leadership.
Why this amendment and why in this Bill? First, if local authorities can blaze the trail in this area, our own Government and this Parliament should be able to do so as well. Some 230 local authorities have declared a climate change emergency. Around 15% have declared a biodiversity emergency. They include Bath, Bristol and Brighton, and they are across the political spectrum. A number of other local authorities have declared a combined emergency, including Cambridgeshire, Bournemouth, Windsor, Maidenhead, Brent and Ealing. I am sure all of us can point out those of our own political choice.
Another reason this is important is that, just as the Government have said, this is a landmark Bill. It is critical to how this country moves forward in terms of its environment and even broader issues. What better place is there for the Government to declare this double emergency?
Another important thing is that while there is awareness across this House of the biodiversity crisis, there is less awareness of it more broadly. Climate change is more obvious. This amendment gives an opportunity to give equality to those two issues—to give greater visibility to the biodiversity problem.
Lastly, this amendment gives us a real opportunity to give leadership in both COP 15 and COP 26. These emergencies exist. They are one and connected in so many ways. This gives the opportunity—better than any other way—to show that the United Kingdom, the Prime Minister, the Government and this Parliament give these emergencies the priority they deserve.
My Lords, I have set myself the target for Committee not to make the mistakes of other Committee stages by making mini Second Reading speeches before I get to the amendment. So I will be really brief, because I agree 100% with the points and the amendments from the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay. Business needs clarity. A single objective gives that clarity, and the Minister would be making a big mistake if he did not find a way to clean up the front of the Bill, because it is in his and all our interests that business, which is going to make this work, can be absolutely clear about the objectives. For that reason, I support the noble Earl’s amendments, and I hope the Minister will give a positive response.
My Lords, I, too, support the amendments of my noble friend Lord Lindsay and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. I will just add one or two brief points.
First, my noble friend Lord Lindsay talked about clarity and cohesion. I would add another “C”—consistency. If we are to have a landmark Bill—and this must be a landmark Bill—it is clearly important that we get it right as far as we possibly can. During this dreadful year of the pandemic, when the Government—and I am not scoring cheap points—have been fighting something literally unprecedented in the last century, a degree of confusion has been caused by a lack of clarity, consistency and cohesion. I do not want to stray from the Bill into recent events, but we have seen how people have been uncertain, often, about what the Government are really seeking to do.
It is crucial that when this landmark Bill reaches the statute books—as I, of course, hope it will—it is in a significantly better shape than it is at the moment, good as it is. Therefore, while I would like to see the Bill on the statute book by 1 November, what matters far, far more than any artificial timetable is that this Bill is right. Whether it goes on the statute books on 1 November, 1 December or 1 January matters far less than that it is right. You have only to mention the words “Irish protocol” to realise that if you negotiate to a strict and artificial timetable, you often get it wrong.
I referred to my noble friend: he chaired the Environment Sub-Committee of the EU Committee—on which I had the good fortune to sit—extremely well. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, also made some very telling points. We have to realise that we are in this sixth crisis; we have to realise that many species are on the brink of extinction. This year, in our small but quite attractive urban garden in Lincoln, we have hardly seen a butterfly. Talking to friends around, I have heard of similar experiences. I read in the Times this morning, coming up on the train, about the lack of Arctic terns in Northumbria—an extraordinary bird that commutes 14,000 miles a year. There is a very real danger to its survival as a species. There are so many things that the Bill can help to underline and combat, and it is essential that it does.
With those few words, I endorse both my noble friend Lord Lindsay and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, in what they are seeking to do. Although in Committee we are mainly probing, it is essential that the Bill finishes Report in this House in as near a perfect state as it is possible for us to make it.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. I am speaking in support of Amendment 2 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. Clearly, the amendments in this group seek to improve the Bill’s environmental objectives by statute, and that is laudable of them all. But Amendment 2 sets a tone for the Bill, as outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, who indicated the need for an assessment and provided a very good assessment of the current state of biodiversity in Cornwall, which could quite easily be mirrored in other parts of the UK.
The Bill needs to have the purpose and declaration of biodiversity and climate emergency specified in it on an equal basis. It is particularly pertinent to set this in legislation if the Government are serious about the need to protect and nurture our unique biodiversity and to mitigate the problems that the climate emergency is bringing to our planet, with increased levels of flooding, the warming of our planet, and the weekend warning that we now have Mediterranean UV levels in the UK. To take the example of Belfast, Department of the Environment statistics show that on 13 June last week, UV levels reached 9 on the solar UV index. This is due to a number of things, including stratospheric ozone depletion, the position of the sun in the sky at this time of year, and the lack of cloud cover. That is one reason why Amendment 2 is so important and why it must be included in statutory form in the Bill in order to give both areas of climate emergency and biodiversity equal status.
I honestly believe that the PM must take charge of the situation. This amendment provides for him—or for whoever is the postholder—to declare that there is a biodiversity and climate emergency both domestically and globally. It will strengthen the governance regime and give strength and toughness to the need for governmental action to protect our biodiversity and to protect our planet from the climate emergency. It is so important that we agree to do this with COP 15 and COP 26 taking place this year.
As the Aldersgate Group—which supplied us with a briefing—stated, the Environment Bill is a vital opportunity to establish a new, ambitious and robust governance framework that protects and enhances the natural environment. What better way to do that than to ensure that the Government accept an amendment to the Bill which provides for the Prime Minister, with statutory effect, to declare that there is a biodiversity and climate emergency both in the UK and globally and, above all, to enhance and strengthen the Bill to ensure that it becomes an even greater landmark Bill with the legislative teeth to act in such urgent circumstances.
My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend Lord Lindsay’s amendments. They help to clarify the purpose of the Bill—which I welcome, as I said at Second Reading. I like the drift of the Bill, but it needs to be strengthened in more than one area. At the moment, it is not going to tackle the problems that we all face.
I like subsection (2) of my noble friend Lord Lindsay’s Amendment 1, where he sets out that the aim is to achieve
“a healthy, resilient and biodiverse natural environment”.
We all want that, and we have failed in the past. There have been all sorts of attempts to get this right but, as I said at Second Reading and will stress throughout Committee, this needs management—it is the people on the land managing nature in its widest sense who will result in an increased and better performance than we have had to date. I want to focus on those people; they are basically landowners and farmers. At the moment, they have very low confidence in what the Government are doing. They are moving from one farming regime to another; they know nothing about the second farming regime through ELMS, and yet their money is being substantially cut. That might be all right for some owner-occupiers, but it is proving a very serious problem for tenant farmers.
Subsection (2)(b) of Amendment 1 goes on to say that the environment must support
“human health and wellbeing for everyone”.
Yes, and I am a great believer in a good footpath system, because I now rely on that for my exercise. But if you talk to any farmer now, they are not in a good position mentally because of the amount of rubbish and harassment they get from people who visit their land. This is a two-way street. It is all very well to encourage people to go to the countryside, but the sad thing is that there is a quite substantial minority abusing that countryside. Anybody who has read the papers or the news recently will know the problems that farmers have had to face, with blocked driveways, blocked entrances to gateways, rubbish, litter, barbecues and wildfires. How are the Government going to help farmers deliver the intentions of the Bill?
Does my noble friend agree that in order to get a good and diverse natural environment in this country, some 21% of agricultural land will need to be planted to trees or bioenergy crops? The counterbalance to that is that there must be an increase of 10% in the productivity of all other agricultural land, otherwise in 10 years’ time we will say, “Yes, we have done something for the environment, but we have done nothing for our food”; our food prices will be going up, and the poorest will be the ones who suffer.
This is a balance; it is an equation that has to be got right. Although I thoroughly support the necessity of the amendments proposed by my noble friend to set the remit of the Environment Bill, we also need to be very careful when discussing it to get the balance right, so that the people who will produce that improved environment are taken with the Government and can also make a living off the land which they farm and manage.
My Lords, I feel it is only fair to warn your Lordships that you will see quite a lot of the two wonderful Green Peers over the next few weeks. I am sure your Lordships understand that this is a particularly important Bill for us. We have waited a long time, and it is an issue that we both care very deeply about. Having said that, we care about a lot of other issues as well, as noble Lords will have seen.
Of course, a huge amount hinges on this Bill. As I so often do—surprisingly—I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, who said that the Bill has to be right. To do that, it has to be amended here in your Lordships’ House. If we get this Bill right, it will mean that we can get a lot of other things right: our farming, our food production and food growing, clean air and clean water supplies, our health and well-being, and our economy. A good Bill will mean no trade deals with countries like Australia—sorry, Natalie—with its awful farming practices, which have been banned here for years, and none of the ecologically and economically illiterate long-distance swapping of lamb and beef when we can buy UK-produced meat right here from our own farmers with higher welfare standards. A good Bill will offer more tech opportunities and more jobs in sustainable industries. A good Bill would be this Bill, heavily amended by your Lordships’ House.
Moving on, this is a perfect group of amendments. I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, for such a brief introduction; his amendments are incredibly valuable and go to the heart of why the Bill exists. Personally, I think that if we get this right, it will be as big and important a piece of legislation as the Human Rights Act.
Amendment 2 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, reflects on the climate and ecological emergencies facing us. My noble friend Lady Bennett and I were very happy to sign it, and we are thrilled that all the opposition parties can unite around understanding the climate and ecological emergencies. Without the amendments in this group, the Bill risks falling far short of what it needs to achieve. Without these amendments setting out the clear purpose—the central aim—of the Bill, there will be a danger of policymakers and the courts interpreting this legislation far too narrowly and failing to give effect to the proper intention of Parliament. Without these amendments, there is very little to bind the decisions made under the Bill. The ambition of the Bill could have little real-world effect if we do not craft the right mechanisms to turn the ideas into action.
Then there is the requirement for the Prime Minister to declare a climate and ecological emergency. Why has he not done so already? Perhaps the Minister can tell us. Quite honestly, this must happen before COP 26. It is impossible for the United Kingdom to give any type of leadership at COP 26 without this declaration. It should form the very foundation of COP and be the basis for negotiations there. Without properly diagnosing the issue, we will never agree on the solutions and actions that the world must adopt. I support these amendments wholeheartedly.
I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness. I welcome this group of amendments, which are excellent as probing amendments. The voice of business is missing in the Bill, in particular the voice of farmers and landowners, and indeed water companies, which have a real role to play here. I regret also that there is a missed opportunity in the Bill, which is very ambitious on certain levels but has some spectacular omissions at other levels, in that the interaction between this Bill and the Agriculture Act and the Trade Act could have been spelled out more, both at Second Reading and as we proceed now with the more cohesive infrastructure.
I congratulate my noble friend Lord Lindsay and my noble friend—if I may call him that—Lord Teverson, under whose chairmanship my noble friend Lord Cormack and I have the honour to serve on the EU Environment Sub-Committee. I also congratulate Cornwall on so successfully hosting what seemed to be in its own right a successful G7 meeting. Had the meeting been held over the past few days, perhaps it would not have been quite so visually attractive. I am sure that Cornwall will go on to benefit from that, as Yorkshire has from the Tour de France and the Tour de Yorkshire that we held in previous years and which we hope to repeat this year.
I invite my noble friend the Minister, not just when he sums up today but as we go through the Bill, to rise to the challenge that has been laid down by my noble friend Lord Lindsay in particular. There are two specific areas my noble friend Lord Caithness has identified where businesses have a role to play. Farmers stand prepared to play their part in tackling climate change; you need only look at the websites of the farming organisations—the Tenant Farmers Association, the NFU and the CLA—in this regard. However, as my noble friend Lord Caithness identified, all the action the Government seem to be proposing, in planting huge numbers of trees, improving soil quality and many other factors, will be of great benefit to the landowners who own the land, but I struggle to see what the benefit will be for tenant farmers. Looking at the future of upland farming, I think that up to 48% of farms in North Yorkshire alone are tenanted farms, which is a very high proportion. It distinguishes England from other parts of Europe, which do not have this background. I am struggling to see how tenant farmers in particular will benefit under the Bill.
The Government are looking to encourage older farmers to retire, but where they will live is a separate question that needs to be addressed. Smaller houses are simply not being built; smaller properties of one or two bedrooms are not available to allow those who are retiring to either rent or own them. It is not just the starter homes but the step-down homes as well. The other area where I believe farmers, landowners and water companies have a real role to play—we will look at this in later amendments—is flood prevention. Again, this area could be explored more fully in this regard.
My noble friend Lord Lindsay and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, have done the House a great service in enabling us to debate this small group of amendments this afternoon and I look forward very much to hearing my noble friend on the Front Bench tell us more about ELMS, flood prevention and other schemes under the Bill where he expects businesses, particularly farming businesses and water companies, might benefit.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. I will speak to Amendment 1 in the name of my noble friend Lord Lindsay—a subject on which I, the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and other noble Lords from across the House have spoken many times in this place.
The specific context of my remarks is the proposal by my noble friend Lord Lindsay to insert a new clause specifically to achieve and maintain
“an environment that supports human health and wellbeing for everyone”.
We emerge from Covid with a nation where obesity and mental health concerns among an unfit and often inactive population, particularly among the young, are a major national concern. The decision by the Government, and the Department of Health in particular, to tackle these challenges on a cross-departmental basis, with the impending establishment of the office for health promotion, is as much about prioritising health and educational opportunities as we build back better and level up as it is about access to the countryside and to an environment that supports human health and well-being for everyone.
In days gone by, the order of priority tended to be: sport, recreation and an active lifestyle. Today, policymakers and the public at large seek to reverse that order. An active lifestyle, recreation and sport are the priorities. Such an approach focuses on well-being, both physical and mental—well-being to be supported, I suggest, by a well-being budget with responsibility for drawing all the cross-departmental strands together. This Bill, and in particular my noble friend’s amendment, sets the environmental objectives in this context, which can play a key part in establishing an important element of the legislative framework capable of delivering these objectives.
For an active lifestyle, human health and well-being and the environment are inextricably linked. They are dependent on their environmental contexts and are potentially environmentally impactful in their own right. Sport and recreational facilities, if inadequately planned—such as ski hills, golf courses and stadia, and even some pathways—can upset ecosystems and displace local residents. Here my noble friend Lord Caithness is absolutely right: there must be appropriate safeguards, with access matched by responsibility. As he said, this equation must be got right.
In this context, access to nature has never been more important. Countless studies confirm the health and well-being benefits of being active and connecting with the outdoors. The Covid-19 pandemic makes the case only more compelling. As we recover from the worst of the pandemic, the Environment Bill, with my noble friend’s amendment, establishes a strategic approach to the provision of public access so that support is targeted where it is most needed, ensuring that more people can benefit from the experience of connecting with nature.
It is with that in mind that the Ramblers, Sustrans, British Canoeing, the British Mountaineering Council and the Open Spaces Society, among many others, see that there is much to welcome in the Bill. However, it could be strengthened by my noble friend’s amendment, not least in the requirements in the Bill, which are already welcome, for the Government to set legally binding long-term targets and to develop long-term plans in relation to the key priority areas.
However, without amendments such as my noble friend’s, the Bill will fail to afford equal priority to access to and enjoyment of the natural environment. It enables, rather than requires, the Government to set targets and develop plans for improvements in this area. Therefore there is a disconnect between the Bill and the Government’s own 25 year-old environment plan—or rather the 25-year environment plan; sadly, it is not yet that old—which includes a policy aim to ensure that the natural environment can be used by everyone. Already, the consequences of the lower priority afforded to access are becoming clear; emerging policy from Defra for target-setting is silent on the way the department intends to improve access in future.
In conclusion, I believe that the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Lindsay could provide for and strengthen the framework needed for these commitments, by strengthening access to nature. As my noble friend Lord Cormack has said, this Bill will guide policy-making for years to come. I support the proposals to establish a framework of legally binding and long-term targets and plans to drive improvements in environmental quality, not least because the state of the natural environment is encouraging people to get outdoors; that is critical. However, the Bill must be strengthened so that connecting people to nature is afforded equal priority and integrated into the wider plans for environmental improvement. For that reason, above all, I support the amendment moved by my noble friend.
My Lords, I too support the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, in his amendment. I may be challenging the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, but I will be interested to see the Government’s response. Like the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on chairing the environmental sub-committee.
The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, got it right when he said that this is a landmark Bill and that business needs certainty. It is also about how the Bill is perceived by Europe and the COP 26—that is, the rest of the world. This is a fundamentally important Bill and we need to get it right. Perhaps I am luckier than the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, in that there are quite a few butterflies in my garden and in a meadow not far away, which shows that there is a variation in what is happening in our environment.
I say to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, that I see our departure from the common agricultural policy and setting up a new approach to subsidies that would encourage farmers to look after the environment and to have a sustainable approach as a fundamentally important step forward.
There is a challenge for the Government. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, was right when she talked about the challenge of retiring farmers; I am more interested in how we are going to encourage young and new tenant farmers, who will bring a new approach. There are many good examples of this around the country; we need a lot more of those young farmers with their different approach that is much more in sympathy with the environment and sustainability.
The benefits to well-being of people using the countryside are of course well known. I apply the 2R formula: if you have a right to access the countryside, you also have a responsibility in the way you use it. You do not leave litter, and we must somehow get rid of the abominable work of flytippers.
I listened carefully to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. As she said, no doubt that there will be many contributions from her and her colleague. However, I disagree fundamentally with her sweeping comment that there should be no trade deals, especially with Australia. Does she really think that this country can survive without any trade deals? Of course there are going to be trade deals, and I do not automatically dismiss the Australian one. There will be a period of phasing in and a requirement to ensure that we do not import products that we would regard as unsafe, but that has to be based on evidence. Quite frankly, I welcome the deal with Australia, and I will listen carefully to the arguments.
I wish the Minister every success as he deals with the range of challenging and probing amendments to what, as a number of noble Lords have said, is probably one of the most important Bills that we will address in this Parliament.
It is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Young. I want to speak to and oppose Amendment 2. Using this Bill to mandate that the Prime Minister should declare that there is a biodiversity and climate emergency, both domestically and globally, strikes me as a form of virtue signalling and almost an imperial version of it by declaring on behalf of the globe. I think that that is a bit too much. I am also concerned that its consequences go beyond wordplay and may play into some anti-democratic trends. In recent years it seems that there has been a competition to up the hyperbole and the catastrophist rhetoric across all parties, perhaps to prove green credentials; I do not know that it helps, and I am not sure that this consensus is healthy either.
We are familiar with the approach on climate and biodiversity being added to the mix. The problem with Amendment 2 is that it follows a certain script, with the emphasis on “emergency”. If the Government keep calling everything an emergency, that will become, “Act now or else command”, and dangerously privileges environmental concerns as trumping all others. That rarely puts those concerns into perspective with other possible emergencies or crises. What about the housing emergency, the jobs emergency and the lack of freedom emergency? By the way, I do not think that the trade deal with Australia is a disaster because it will actually solve an emergency. We do not have enough trade deals and we want more.
I recall back in 2009 the book by James Lovelock, The Vanishing Face of Gaia, in which he wrote that surviving climate change
“may require, as in war, the suspension of democratic government for the duration of the survival period.”
At the time, I thought that that sounded extreme, marginal and farfetched, but after the past 15 months, I feel that it is less farfetched. We have just lived through a public health emergency where exactly these things have occurred. We have suspended democratic governance in many ways in order to survive. I am therefore very wary of allowing a statutory nod to ever more emergencies with similar consequences. Many are worried, for example, that lockdown measures will be used in the future under the auspices of environmentalism. I do not think that that fear is unwarranted.
I note that the independent SAGE group, led by Sir David King, has just announced the setting up of another pseudo-scientific body to be called the Climate Crisis Advisory Group, with 14 experts and10 nations. He has said that it is driven by the urgent need to stabilise climatic conditions and to
“protect vital biodiversity and ecosystem functions for the next generation.”
That is because the biggest challenge we face today are these things. I ask: are they really the biggest challenge? I think it is about the elite PR strategy rather than democracy when Sir David King draws attention to the excess of independent SAGE. He says:
“All 12 members have become media personalities. I hope we get the same level of interest on the climate group.”
I am worried about what is going on and whether it is in good faith.
It seems to me that using the language of crisis and emergency and thus presenting everything as an imminent and existential threat can play fast and loose with democratic accountability. When a state of emergency is declared, as we have seen during Covid, there is no time or space for deliberation or debate. According to Greta Thunberg, the house is on fire.
Civil liberties and democratic freedoms can be suspended, and experts, such as Sir David King, main SAGE, independent SAGE and others suddenly become more important on the centre stage than citizens. When a state of emergency is declared, as would happen in a war, we have to ask who the enemy is. When it comes to biodiversity and the environment, my concern is that the enemy is not the virus, foreign foes or whoever, but us, Homo sapiens, and our nasty overconsumption of energy and demands for decent living standards, cars, homes, industrialisation and development.
My objection to Amendment 2 is not a focus on linguistics and the use of the word “emergency”—my concern is political. Any decision this Bill makes about biodiversity or the natural environment must be concrete, specific, proportionate and avoid the pitfall of whipping up fears about imminent catastrophe. I do not think that declaring an emergency solves anything. I am interested in the details of the Bill, not virtue signalling.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to find myself at this place in the debate and to respond to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley. It was certainly a passionate speech, but perhaps not a cohesive one. She spoke about anti-democratic trends and then about there being a consensus. If there is a consensus and local governments are following it, that seems democratic rather than anti-democratic. To point to some figures, a survey was done by the UNDP around the world, of 1.2 million people in 50 countries, published in January this year. It was interesting that in the UK the highest proportion of people—81%—agreed that there is a climate emergency. That is a consensus and, in declaring it, we would be following a democratic path.
My noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb noted that your Lordships will be hearing from both of us a great deal. I promise that you will not be hearing from both of us on every amendment, but you will be hearing from us both on Amendment 2, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, who introduced it so powerfully. On democracy, the noble Lord pointed out how many local authorities have declared a climate emergency. In fact, 74% of district, county, unitary and metropolitan councils have done that, plus eight combined authorities and city regions. Sheffield Council has just declared a biodiversity emergency, as have Eden District Council and Dorset, so it is spreading around the country.
Perhaps I can offer the Government a little political advice, thinking of the situation in which they find themselves with the blue wall. I note that Henley-on-Thames Town Council, in the heart of what is considered the blue wall, is planning to declare a biodiversity emergency this week. It is going further and plans to back the climate and ecological emergency Bill, so the Government might like to think about not just the science of this but the politics.
I will be brief, because my noble friend has already covered much of this ground, but I want to pick up a point from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering; she said that we have not heard enough from business. I refer to the consultancy firm Deloitte and its environment report a month or so back, which said that there is now, in the combination of environmental, pandemic, social and economic changes, a business emergency. It says that we need cohesive government policies and guidance to tackle this.
This group of amendments, particularly Amendment 2, provides the cohesion that is crucial for this Bill. As we have seen on so many issues, the public are leading here; 81% of the public accept the climate emergency. Local government is not far behind and it is time for the Government, as the chair of COP 26, to catch up.
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, and my noble friend Lord Teverson, for their amendments. We support the intentions of the noble Earl but believe that other amendments may equally pick up the issues that he rightly raises. There are amendments later in the Bill on setting legally binding interim targets that, we believe, will give business much of the certainty that it requires. We support the important intentions to ensure that public health is addressed, at the same time as supporting the natural environment, but believe that some of the amendments put down by my noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market on Clause 7 will give that certainty to reinforce the link between the natural environment and public health.
We think that the amendment of my noble friend Lord Teverson is absolutely right and are glad that it is in the first grouping, because this is a biodiversity crisis. I am happy to stand with the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, in taking a different line from that of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley—“opposing” is too strong a term. My strong view is that if we do not address the two climate and biodiversity threats, we cannot address any of the other threats that society faces. They are the fundamental building blocks on which our society, as individuals and businesses, relies. Therefore, it is right and proper to use the language of crisis.
I would perhaps concede that the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, has a point in how we must be careful not to catastrophise. If we want to bring a democratic society with us, catastrophising will not be enough. We have to lead from the front and tell people how we can address the two crises of biodiversity and climate. There is therefore a key issue of communication. That is why I particularly like it that my noble friend’s amendment—supported by the Labour Party and the Green Party—says that
“the Prime Minister must declare that there is a biodiversity and climate emergency”.
This is about communicating with the public. I hope to see, throughout the progress of the Bill in Committee, the Minister make it clear just how the Government are going to communicate with the public. We can stay here today, tomorrow and for the next seven or so sittings and argue about these matters but, unless we take the British public with us, we will not deliver. The Government have to lead the public, as consumers, recyclers and in all their other guises. We need strong leadership from the Government to communicate that joint climate and sustainability challenge, and I hope to hear a lot more from the Minister on that, as we go through Committee.
My Lords, we have had an excellent start to our debates and consideration of the Bill, which helpfully sets the scene for the weeks ahead and underlines the scale of the challenge before us. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that you will also hear a great deal more from the Labour Front Benches on these issues.
We have become accustomed to accepting that there is a climate emergency, but it is now clear that the decline in biodiversity is having an equally devastating impact on the planet. As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, they are inextricably linked. This is why I was pleased to add my name to his Amendment 2.
It is two years since Parliament declared a climate and ecological emergency, on 1 May 2019. Since then, the need for more urgent action on the environment has only increased. The RSPB State of Nature report records that 41% of UK species are declining and one in 10 is threatened with extinction. It documented how the UK has failed to reach 17 of the 20 UN biodiversity targets agreed 10 years ago. The WWF’s Living Planet Report 2020 shows an average 68% decline in the populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish, globally, since 1970. Yet we rely on these species to keep our planet’s complex ecological systems in balance.
Noble Lords have spoken eloquently today about the consequences of our neglect of nature both domestically and globally. This need for urgent action has been echoed by a number of noble Lords. As the Dasgupta report drives home, the message that flourishing biodiversity across the planet is crucial for our economies, as well as for our well-being and for life itself, is all too apparent. I recommend that the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, reads that report, if she has not already done so, because it underlines the crisis that confronts us now and certainly justifies us calling it an emergency.
I was pleased that, in his Second Reading speech, the Minister acknowledged the importance of the Dasgupta report. He described it as
“a powerful piece of work—a call to arms”.—[Official Report, 7/6/21; col. 1301.]
However, the Government’s formal response to that report has been less than inspiring. Therein lies the problem: lots of rhetoric but a lack of clear policy decisions and hard choices to deliver the changes that we need.
Sadly, the Government’s record on delivery leaves much to be desired. Progress on implementing the 25-year environment plan is mixed, with as many targets going backwards as forwards in the last report. The Natural Capital Committee’s 2020 report warns that there is a real danger that it will
“go the way of so many bold initiatives that have punctuated the decline of England’s natural environment over the previous generations.”
Meanwhile, the Climate Change Committee reports that we will not meet our fourth or fifth carbon budgets, while the latest report of the Adaptation Committee is scathing about the Government’s lack of action in a number of key policy areas necessary to meet the sixth. So I hope the Minister will understand our scepticism about the previous promises made, and why we want to use the Bill to deliver a different sort of future. Step one would be supporting Amendment 2, which would enshrine in the Bill the emergency and the need for urgent action.
I welcome the amendments in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, which highlight the lack of coherence between the environmental principles, environmental targets and environmental improvement plans. As several noble Lords have said, including my noble friends Lord Rooker and Lord Young of Norwood Green, business and the wider community need certainty. I agree with the many noble Lords who have said that that applies to the farming community as well, which is facing massive disruption from the transition to the new ELM system. I particularly welcome the noble Earl’s intention in Amendments 54 and 74 to firm up the obligations on the Secretary of State to make a “significant contribution” and then to “achieve” the environmental objectives, rather than the more woolly aspirations in the original text in the Bill. I hope the Minister will look favourably on those proposals.
These are early days in our consideration of the Bill. We have begun to identify the principles that will underpin the legislation based on an urgency for action, a clarity about the change needed and a robust mechanism to hold the Government to account on delivery. I look forward to the many debates ahead as we pursue those objectives line by line, and hope that together we can indeed deliver a different future for our planet.
I thank my noble friend Lord Lindsay for beginning this Committee. I note the support for his amendment from my noble friends Lord Cormack, Lord Caithness and Lady McIntosh, the noble Lords, Lord Rooker and Lord Young, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. In fact, a great many other speakers supported it as well and I will not continue to list them.
The amendments that my noble friend has tabled are, in effect, a summary of the Bill in its totality—it could not be a clearer summary, in a sense. The Environment Bill, as a manifesto commitment, sets a new and ambitious domestic framework for environmental governance. A resilient environment is essential for our own health and that of our planet. We recognise that the environment, unlike many areas of law where there are more clearly defined legal and economic interests, is often unowned. Environmental harms, including climate change, are necessarily, by their nature, more diffusely spread. That is why we have designed the Bill to create a comprehensive system of environmental governance that will put the environment at the heart of our policy-making and ensure clear and strong accountability.
The overall objective of the Bill is to deliver on the goals of the 25-year environment plan, and the environmental governance framework has been designed with the plan’s key objectives of environmental protection and the improvement of the natural environment at the forefront.
First, both targets and environmental improvement plans have the objective of delivering significant improvements to the natural environment—Clauses 6 and 7 being the obvious places for that. That objective provides certainty on the direction of travel; it will also drive long-lasting significant improvement in the natural environment. Clause 7 creates an ongoing requirement for the Government to have a
“plan for significantly improving the natural environment”.
The Government will be required to review that plan regularly and set out whether further policies are needed to improve the natural environment and achieve those targets.
Secondly, Clause 16 provides an objective for the environmental principles. It requires that the policy statement on environmental principles produced by the Secretary of State must contribute to the “improvement of environmental protection”, as well as “sustainable development”. When making policy, Ministers of the Crown must have due regard to the policy statement. These objectives will be integral to policy-making across government. This is the first time that Ministers across government will be legally obliged to consider the environmental principles in policy development wherever it impacts the environment.
Lastly, the OEP has the principal objective of contributing to environmental protection and the improvement of the natural environment. The OEP is able to undertake enforcement action against a public body’s breach of an environmental law that protects the natural environment, or to provide advice on a proposed change to an environmental law that improves the natural environment.
In summary, the Bill as a whole is designed to deliver the overarching ambition of our 25-year environment plan, which in many respects is reflected in the amendments tabled by my noble friend. The measures have been designed to legally work together with common statutory objectives to deliver the improvement and protection of the natural environment and to deliver the sustainable use of resources.
Before I come to the amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, I want to address some of the points made by noble Lords. My noble friends Lord Caithness and Lady McIntosh raised their concerns about the lack of clarity for the business community, particularly farmers, in relation to the big transition that is happening. There is no doubt that it is a massive and revolutionary transition. It is the first transformation of its kind and something that needs to happen all over the world if we are going to have any hope at all of closing the gap between where we are and where we need to be on biodiversity. I can say that officials in my department have been working closely, as have colleagues at ministerial level, with farmers’ organisations, from the very largest—the National Farmers’ Union—to smaller organisations, to ensure that the sector is very much walking in lockstep with us as we develop the proposals and as those proposals morph into an actual policy.
The principle is pretty clear: we are moving to a system where the things that are not currently recognised by the market but which are good will be paid for through subsidies. As noble Lords might expect, things that are paid for by the market, such as food, will therefore not be on that list. It is a straightforward principle, although of course the effects will differ from farm to farm, and that is the beauty of solutions when it comes to the natural environment.
I should add that farmers, as a whole, are among the most entrepreneurial and dynamic people in this country. They are for ever adapting to circumstance and acting in response to market signals. The discussions, exchanges and engagement that we have been having for months now with the farming community suggest, and give me a great deal of confidence, that they will respond extraordinarily well to these new signals that the Government are going to be providing.
My noble friend Lord Cormack described with great sadness the decline of butterflies in his garden, and I know that that situation is duplicated all around the country and indeed the world. I say that we can still find room for optimism; if you give nature half a chance, it comes back extraordinarily quickly. I have had the privilege of seeing for myself, in areas that have been intensively farmed not particularly carefully for decades but have then been treated in a different manner—with organic farming or even, in some cases, rewilding—that nature returns extraordinarily quickly. That is what the Bill will do: it will give nature not just half a chance but a chance.
My noble friend Lord Moynihan talked about the critical importance of access to nature. If he does not mind, I will not go into detail on that issue because we will be discussing and debating it when we come to the fifth group of amendments—that might even be today, if we make some progress.
The noble Lord, Lord Young, discussed the comparisons between where we heading with the Bill and what we are leaving with the EU. We repeat our commitment, as we have many times, that the environment will be at least as well protected after this transition as it was under EU treaties. Many noble Lords will agree that those protections greatly exceed those provided by EU treaties, and that too is reflected in the Bill in numerous ways.
Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, raised the Dasgupta review, which I am pleased about; it needs to be raised at every opportunity, because it is so important. I have had endless discussions with counterparts around the world as part of our attempts to raise ambitions for COP and the CBD, and the Dasgupta review was part of almost every one of those conversations. It is globally recognised for its importance but, despite its length and sometimes complicated language, it has a fairly straightforward message: that our economies and our livelihoods need to be reconciled with the natural world, and everything we have comes from nature. I part company with the noble Baroness on her thoughts on the Government’s response. The response is not exhaustive, but was never the end of the story; it is the beginning. We must do an enormous amount to take heed of and internalise the message of the Dasgupta review in the way we govern. That applies to this Government, and successive Governments. The response was an enthusiastic nod to the principles with examples of the kinds of things we are doing, but without going into the level of detail which a Government would find difficult at this point.
Moving to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for which I thank him, I can reassure him that the Government absolutely are taking climate change and environmental concern seriously. There is an absolute recognition, both at a domestic level and in everything we are doing internationally, that the two are inextricably linked; as he said, you cannot tackle one without the other. A good climate COP will have good implications for nature, and a good CBD will have good implications for climate. We absolutely recognise the extent of the crisis which he and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, relayed to us. There is no doubt that the facts on the ground tell us that we are in crisis territory, and perhaps we will part company here with the noble Baroness, Lady Fox. We debated the issue some time ago of whether or not we face a biodiversity crisis, and I will not repeat all the arguments I used, but she is right to be alert to the risk that any crisis can be used to justify authoritarianism and poor policy. It is therefore important that we get policy right but that does not take away from the facts, which paint a bleak picture of continued decline.
We have set out concrete steps towards reaching net zero by 2050, through the PM’s 10-point plan, which brought together £12 billion of government investment. The energy White Paper and industrial decarbonisation strategy will continue to demonstrate global leadership on climate change, and we will bring forward further bold proposals, such as the net-zero strategy, which will be published before COP 26. Again, nature is at the heart—although it is clearly not the only part—of our response to the net-zero challenge here in the UK, and is a critical part of our message globally. We have successfully changed the debate on the role of nature in tackling climate change internationally, such that most countries when they talk about their response to climate change talk about nature, in a way which they simply did not a year ago. It remains the case, however, that of all international climate finance, only 2.5% to 3% is spent on nature-based solutions. That really should be closer to half. That too is something which we hope to shift through our negotiations and discussions with other countries, and through our own example, where we have not only doubled our international climate finance but committed that nearly a third of it will be spent on nature-based solutions.
Of course, the Bill itself is a clear demonstration of our action to tackle the biodiversity crisis, including biodiversity net gain, local nature recovery strategies, and due diligence for forest risk commodities. I hope that this provides reassurance that the amendments, which have provoked a very valuable debate, are nevertheless not needed. I thank noble Lords for their contributions and suggest that the amendment be withdrawn.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his thoughtful response, to which I will give careful thought. I am also grateful to other noble Lords who spoke in support of my amendments in this group, and for the wisdom, experience and expertise with which they supplemented my opening remarks.
Achieving cohesion and clarity—and my noble friend Lord Cormack was quite right to add a third C, consistency—is going to be vital. If we can achieve those three Cs, then there are two further critical Cs which we can expect to be delivered by the business community: a commitment to the future, and the confidence to invest. If we are to achieve the environmental objectives which we all want, we must achieve all those five Cs. I will reflect carefully on what has been said in this debate, and especially carefully on the Minister’s remarks. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Amendment 2 not moved.
Clause 1: Environmental targets
Amendment 3 not moved.
My Lords, we now come to the group consisting of Amendment 4. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in debate.
4: Clause 1, page 1, line 15, at end insert “, in particular water quality;”
Member’s explanatory statement
The purpose of the amendment is to require the Secretary of State to include the cleansing of rivers as a priority.
My Lords, this amendment in my name—and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, for adding her name to it—has one simple purpose. I wish to persuade the excellent Ministers—in this House the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, and in the other place Rebecca Pow—to acknowledge as a priority the importance of cleaning the rivers of this country. The Government have repeatedly stated that this generation should be the first to leave the environment in a better state than that in which we inherited it. This vision has almost unanimous support, I am sure, in both Houses of Parliament and in the country as a whole. The main target is, of course, to reach a state of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and I understand why this is the overarching ingredient in policy-making.
There is so much in the Bill which I support. In Clause 1(2), the Secretary of State must set long-term targets in respect of air quality, water, biodiversity and waste reduction. Part 5 is devoted to water, and contains clauses on resource management, drought planning, and drainage and sewerage management. Since the Bill arrived in this House, the Government have tabled their own amendments on sewerage management, which I welcome but will attempt to strengthen through amendments later in the Bill. But Chapter 1, which we are debating today, is entitled “Improving the natural environment”, with the subheading “Environmental targets.” My proposal is that the Government set a target for improving the natural environment of our rivers.
I am grateful to the Minister for a meeting last week with a number of Peers, mainly from the Cross Benches. From that meeting, I understand that there is doubt about the appropriateness of the European standard of good ecological status, in which case I suggest to Ministers that they establish a new United Kingdom standard and have a target for progressive percentages of rivers to reach that target in five years, in 10 years, and finally for 100% of rivers to reach that target in 15 years. Ministers have stated that they want to be ambitious, to set high standards and to lead the world by example. That being the case, we must not allow untreated sewage to be discharged into our rivers over 400,000 times or for more than 3 million hours during 2020, as reported by the Environment Agency.
I read again the highlights of the 25-year environment plan published by the Government in 2018. Although “clean and plentiful water” is listed among the environmental benefits to be achieved, there is no specific reference to the elimination of the shocking level of sewage discharges. That is my point: while we strive as a nation to reduce carbon emissions to zero, improve biodiversity and clean the air we breathe, we cannot continue to accept that raw sewage is discharged into rivers, harming all aquatic wildlife and imperilling the health of human beings who swim in or enjoy the rivers.
I fear that the apparent unwillingness of the Government to make this a priority is the great cost involved in converting our drainage and sewerage infrastructure. In other parts of the Bill there will be an opportunity to debate how this could or should be paid for. I do not believe that most members of the public are aware that, in the 21st century in a developed country such as ours, raw sewage is still being discharged into rivers every day. I think most people would expect the Government, in their new Environment Bill, to make it a priority not just to reduce but to eliminate these discharges. That is the purpose of my amendment and I beg to move.
My Lords, I am delighted to support the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, in his amendment. On the face of it, this does seem an omission, given that clauses from Clause 83 onwards deal specifically with water quality, yet it does not appear as a specific target.
I declare my interests in the register and that I co-chair the All-Party Water Group. I worked for five years with the water regulator for Scotland—WICS, the Water Industry Commission for Scotland—and I have co-authored two reports on bricks and water which deal with water issues specifically in relation to housing. I am also vice-president of ADA, the Association of Drainage Authorities. Drainage boards have a specific role to play, being responsible for ensuring that lower-lying watercourses of below either eight metres or eight feet—I cannot remember which—flow as smoothly as they should.
Amendment 4 is commendable, and I congratulate my noble friend the Duke of Wellington on bringing it forward. Of course we should aim to have the best water quality, and to ensure that we have clean rivers, that—where possible—farmers can farm less intensively, and that we meet the highest domestic and international water quality standards, as well as seeking to improve our soils. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, said, we must have a level playing field to ensure that we are not just improving watercourses in this country but ensuring that products grown on less regulated land and soil do not have a free pass to come into this country through trade agreements.
I would like to address one issue that my noble friend the Duke of Wellington referred to—untreated raw sewage being spilled into our watercourses. I would like to pose the question: why is that happening? It is happening because water companies are being placed in an impossible position. They are obliged to connect to major and smaller developments—to provide clean water and to collect wastewater and sewage coming out. We increasingly see that water companies are obliged to connect, even when they are placed in a situation where they may not be deemed able to do so.
I draw attention to the fact that we are seeing increasing amounts of surface water. This is a relatively recent phenomenon; it was identified for the first time in any significant way in 2007. I am drawing on the experience of Sir Michael Pitt, who was asked by the then Labour Government to write a very comprehensive review of how we should adapt to this new form of surface water flooding. Many of his recommendations have been implemented but many have not.
Subsequently, I am tabling amendments which will address the specific point of raw sewage. One way of dealing with it is to end the automatic right to connect to major new developments. This was called for by Sir Michael Pitt. It will address the specific problem of sewage outflow, particularly where combined sewers overflow and cause a public health issue in many cases—where the sewage overflow goes into existing developments and those residents have to leave. I believe we have asked too much of water companies, without giving them the wherewithal to address this, either through the quinquennial price review, or by allowing them to do whatever they choose to connect—sometimes against their better judgment—to major developments.
A way of addressing that is to ensure that water companies are given the same statutory right to consultation as has now been extended to the Environment Agency. Since the Environment Agency has been granted that right, we have seen the number of houses prone to flooding that are being built significantly reduce. Similarly, I hope we can see that water companies are not placed in an impossible position when it comes to major and significant new housing developments, particularly where they may be built on functional flood plains or land prone to flooding in the shorter term.
I entirely endorse the comments and remarks of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, in moving this amendment about the importance of maintenance. We have to differentiate between the maintenance of major and minor watercourses, ensure that local authorities have the budget and resources to do the maintenance they are required to do and that the Environment Agency oversees it. I pay tribute to the work of those local drainage boards and landowners who are often responsible for doing the regular and very necessary maintenance on minor watercourses.
This might seem a small amendment but it is very significant, and I hope my noble friend the Minister will look favourably on it, and on the later amendments we will consider in due course. I support Amendment 4.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 4, so ably moved by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, and congratulate him on the work he has been doing on this important issue. I do not have significant amounts to add, but I believe that, as my noble friend the Minister said, this is a chance to radically improve environmental policy. In particular, the areas outlined in the Bill, such as air quality and water per se, could be enhanced by adding the specific requirement to take account of improvements urgently needed to water quality.
The Government have already said that they proposed to publish a plan by September 2020 to reduce sewage discharges into our rivers and waterways. I am obviously supportive of that and of placing a duty on water companies to publish annual data on storm overflows and set legally binding targets for water quality. However, it is likely that those issues will be dealt with in a more long-term timeframe than one might have hoped, given this landmark Bill.
I particularly point to the issue of human health, as well as the health of aquatic life, which has been so endangered by the ongoing discharge of partially treated and untreated sewage into our waterways. I believe that every few days, if not every day, some kind of discharge could pose a threat to those who might wish to swim in or use our waterways, which are a wonderful feature of our country.
I hope that my noble friend the Minister will agree to meet groups of interested Peers from across the House, who would like to understand better how we might be able to enhance water quality more rapidly and to discuss the responsibility of water companies themselves to pay for such improvements—and not just to report or reduce such discharges but to eliminate them altogether.
We will return to these issues later in Committee, but I should be grateful if my noble friend would confirm that he would be willing, over the course of Committee and before Report, to have a detailed discussion on what progress we might make to protect those who want to enjoy swimming in our rivers and children who may wish to play in them. I would like to discuss how we can make sure that rivers are fit for human and aquatic life in the future, and, as we have an opportunity to set our own regulations, to make sure that they are strengthened in practical ways that will identify improvements in the measurement and management of the quality of our water.
My Lords, I support the sentiment of Amendment 4 in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, but water quality is not the only issue to do with water. I would not want that to be to the particular focus, because with increasing climate change and growing demand, water quantity is also important.
The noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, is rightly exercised about sewage pollution into our rivers, as is the Minister. I look forward to saying more when we debate Amendments 161 and 162 on reducing and eliminating sewage discharges into rivers, which importantly go into detail on the programmes and actions needed to get this to happen.
I declare an interest as a former chief executive of the Environment Agency. I think it is quite clear that, although it has brought only 174 prosecutions over the last 10 years, there could have been more than 2,000 breaches in that period and a vastly greater number of legal discharges under the current regulations. That is a source of considerable public concern.
In support of the considerable work done by the Environment Agency and the water companies, I should say that river water has improved dramatically over the last 20 years. We should not relax in that, because the current situation is totally unacceptable. Nevertheless, a major amount of river water has been cleaned up. Most of our waters were completely dead and highly polluted 20 years ago and they are now in a much better state, but we still have more to do.
We had EU regulation to rely on in the past, which was needed to drive the Government to do something about exactly this problem in the River Thames, by creating the Thames super-sewer. At that stage, we had the dirtiest river of any capital city in Europe. I am delighted that action was taken, but it needed the full weight of environmental regulation coming from Europe and a considerable and hefty programme of fining of the Government to get action taken. We need to ensure through the mechanism of the Bill that we move forward and tackle this running sore—if noble Lords will pardon the phrase. I welcome the creation of the storm overflow task force and look forward to its findings. I look forward to debating the government amendment to tackle this issue and strengthening it in the appropriate place in the Bill.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, is right to talk about the Thames. I remember the Thames half a century ago, when I first came to Parliament, and what an utter disgrace it was. But that should not lead us to be in any way complacent. Although my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering referred to this as a small amendment—and it is in terms of words—it is absolutely crucial. Unless we clean up our rivers, the Environment Bill—the Act, as I am sure it will become—will fail. It is as simple as that.
Not so long ago there was a great campaign about our coastal waters, and there is still much to be done. One of my most vivid memories of the other place was an Adjournment Debate at 10 pm one night, introduced by the late Sir Reggie Bennett, about swimming off the coast. I remember he said, “Mr Speaker, you cannot swim off the coast, you can only go through the motions”. I fear that that is the case with many of our rivers today. I hope the Minister will endorse that it is crucial that we get this right, because how clean our waterways are will be a test of the success of the Environment Act.
We have some glorious rivers in this country and some wonderful chalk streams. I think one of the saddest pictures that I have seen in the last 12 months was of a stretch of perhaps the loveliest river of all, the Wye, which had been so contaminated by the effluent from intensively reared battery chickens—something else we need to tackle. We are all in debt to my noble friend the Duke of Wellington, not only for bringing this amendment forward but for introducing on the very day of Second Reading, his own Bill on cleaning up our inland waterways.
This is a vital issue, but I cannot sit down before saying what a joy it is to see my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern in the Chamber. We have seen him many times appear on the Zoom screen, and it is wonderful to have him here in person among us.
My Lords, I think we can count that as the best joke of the Environment Bill Committee so far, so I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for that. I had not intended to speak on this amendment, so all I shall say is that this is a very important issue. It is probably dealt with more specifically and better later in the Bill, but I very much support the thoughts of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington.
My Lords, my noble friend the late Lord Ridley of Liddesdale would be as disappointed as I am that, last year, no English river met the highest chemical standards and only 15% of UK rivers were rated as having good ecological status. That was not the intention when we privatised the water companies in the 1980s. But the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, was absolutely right to say, notwithstanding what I have just said, that the rivers are in a great deal better condition now than they were 30 years ago—and the water Act of the mid-1980s was responsible for that. The rivers would be of better quality now if the National Rivers Authority had continued in existence by itself and not been merged with the Environment Agency. That part of the Environment Agency has not been nearly as effective as it was when it was a single authority.
This is a hugely important issue, and we shall come to it in some more detail. I totally agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said. The issue of water is much wider than just water quality; it includes the whole water environment, abstraction and pollution. To prioritise water, as this Bill does, and then to talk particularly about water quality, defeats the object that the Government are trying to achieve, which is to raise the quality of water across the board. Therefore, although I support the principle of what the noble Duke is trying to do, I hope that it will be dealt with at a later stage rather than at this stage.
My Lords, I take everybody’s point about the fact that this amendment does not quite measure up to everything that we want from it, but it is a really good start. And I think that this is an issue that we will defeat the Government on. In all my talks with Conservative Members of your Lordships’ House, they have mentioned how concerned they are about rivers; a lot of landowners are massively concerned.
I take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, about sewage and water companies. It does her credit that she is so sympathetic towards them but, quite honestly, they make a lot of money and they should be clearing up their own mess. If they cannot take on these contracts, they should not take them on—or they should dig bigger holes to bury the sewage, or whatever it takes. When it comes to cost, we should look at the businesses that make money out of our rivers and our sewage, and we should make them pay.
I shall go back to my speech now. Basically, the issue of water pollution is very much underserved by this Bill at the moment, so I urge the Government to pick this up and run with it, because it is something that they will lose on. The truth is that many of our rivers, lakes and water courses in this country are still filthy and polluted. It is something that the European Commissioner rightly took us to task on—the Government have repeatedly lost legal challenges on the issue. For that reason, it is also one of the big environmental risks of leaving the EU system of environmental laws. The Government could have a convenient opportunity to quietly end their long tradition of losing court battles on water pollution simply by ditching those rules altogether or subjecting them to the jurisdiction of a toothless regulator.
We know that water is life. We cannot do without it and, if we pollute it, many things die, including humans. Water pollution has a long-lasting and pervasive impact on our lives and the natural world around us—it is not always easy to clean up. Most people do not even know how polluted our water is. I have had gastroenteritis from swimming in the Thames; I thought that I was high enough up the Thames for it to be clean but, apparently, it was not.
The Government have to understand that it is not just about chemicals that we should not drink going in; that is only a tiny part of the picture. For example, the River Thames floods with human sewage multiple times a week and also has some of the highest recorded levels of microplastics in the world. It is long overdue for the Government to get a grip on water pollution. Quite honestly, this amendment is a good little start, and I congratulate the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, on this. I look forward to him toughening up future amendments on sewage.
My Lords, I start by declaring my interest as in the register, particularly in relation to this amendment, as the president of the Colne Valley Regional Park, where we have had a lot of issues over water quality and the streams. Over the weekend, I was asked to join the advisory board of River Action UK, to replace, I think, my noble friend Lord Benyon, who as a Defra Minister cannot hold that position. I look forward to joining that group and working on this.
This is a very useful debate on a subject close to my heart, and I congratulate the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, and my noble friend Lady Altmann, on supporting him and signing the amendment with him. We have a lot of problems—and, as we have heard, they are not just around water quality, though we do have a real problem with that. We have heard about sewage discharge and run-off, and we have heard about the River Wye and the run-off from battery chicken farms. Those are all incredibly important and worrying things. But we also have problems around abstraction. The problems of abstraction and river quality have affected us locally in the Colne Valley, with the aquifer that has been compromised, seemingly, by HS2. As I said at Second Reading, that has only recently been admitted and made public—thanks, particularly, to a local campaign.
We also have an issue around Heathrow, which is not mentioned very often. I can remember many years ago, when I was the MP for the area, being asked to have a look at where the settling pools are. The run-off comes from washing aircraft with very highly toxic chemicals to de-ice the planes, and it goes into the settling pools just on the edge of Heathrow. Unfortunately, from time to time, they overflow in times of excessive rain and flow into local river courses. I understand from a recent discussion I had that that is no longer happening—but these are always risks, and things that we do not always think about.
The problem of sewage has been mentioned. We have had problems whereby a hotel or housing development has been misconnected and sewage has run, untreated, straight into our local rivers. It is also worth mentioning that before she was a Minister, the Minister in the other place, Rebecca Pow, raised with me the question of where hairdressers put all the chemicals that they use in their basins. She referred in particular to ladies’ hairdressers, I think—as noble Lords can see from my appearance, I am somewhat hirsute and not too bothered about hair; I just get a quick trim. These are all very important issues.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, has just said, we are aware of the state of the water in rivers, but actually it does not matter how far up the Thames you go because any river can have these sewage discharges. What concerns me is the wild swimmers, kayakers, fishermen and, as happened locally last weekend, children in low-level water filling up their water pistols—they are more like water sub-machine guns these days—and firing them happily at each other, probably ingesting some of the water. It would be no surprise to me if some of them come down with gastroenteritis or even worse. I hope that that does not happen.
With regard to fishermen, I have to pay a tribute. In the Colne Valley, the Colne Valley Fisheries Consultative and its chairman Tony Booker, as well as Paul Jennings of the River Chess Association, have really pushed on this and made everyone aware of it.
There is a problem: the Environment Agency is vastly underfunded these days, I am afraid to say. I am sure that, when the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, was in charge, it had more funds and was more able to deal with some of these incidents. There almost seems to be a lack of interest now, or perhaps it is just a lack of resources, which means that it does not follow up some of these cases.
We have got to take these things seriously. I entirely understand that there is probably a better set of amendments, including the Government’s own later, but I wanted to put down a marker to show that I consider this to be extremely important. If we were sitting here in 1858, with the Great Stink going on, before Joseph Bazalgette came in with his plans for the sewerage of London, we would all be taking this a great deal more seriously.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, not down the road of the Great Stink but certainly on his references to his river experiences. I am delighted to support this amendment and thank the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, for tabling it. He spoke eloquently at Second Reading on the issue of the cleanliness of our rivers; I was pleased to support him then and do so now with enthusiasm.
The need to keep our rivers clean, as part of environment policy, is self-evident. Persistent reports of pollution impacting on river life, killing off fish stocks, affecting surrounding lands and environments and even causing health problems to people—particularly children, as has just been mentioned—swimming in rivers are a worrying feature of our contemporary world.
Obviously, there may be implications for landowners, particularly farmers, whose land abuts our rivers—but the overwhelming majority of such people also want to secure clean rivers. If the necessary steps are properly negotiated, they can surely be agreed. The Government should not steer shy of dealing with this issue in the mistaken belief that they will face severe opposition from countryside interests.
Equally, industrial interests must not stand in the way of cleaning up our rivers. Let us reiterate without equivocation that the polluter pays principle must be applied with such force that it becomes a real deterrent. Our water companies must equally be held to account. I want to learn from the Minister what new, effective action to reduce such pollution will emanate from this Bill and who will be responsible in practice for enforcing its provisions in this regard.
As the Minister might expect, I invite him to clarify how he and his department will co-operate with the Welsh Government in relation to rivers that run across the border. Most of them run from Wales into England, but not all and, as river pollution is no respecter of political borders, we must have an agreed approach that respects the wishes of Governments on both sides of the border but also ensures that we work coherently to reduce and, we hope, eliminate the tragic pollution of our rivers.
Incidentally, I have no problem whatever with having UK, or at least GB, standards for these purposes, provided that those targets can be achieved by constructive negotiation by the three, or possibly four, Governments with responsibility for various aspects of environmental policy in Britain.
My Lords, I strongly support what the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, has said and many important points made by other Peers. I have only one point to make on top of the others: there has been no real improvement for so long now—certainly, not very much since 2016. In 2020, only 40% of waterways were classified as being in good health—meaning as close to their natural state as possible.
We all know that a major cause of this is sewage. In 2020, raw sewage was discharged more than 400,000 times over a period of 3 million hours, and this water, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has claimed, brings huge quantities of microplastics as well. As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said, sewage is not the only cause: some 40% comes from run-off from agricultural industries.
The point is that, since legislation was passed and the Environment Agency has been in charge and responsible for it, there has been no real improvement. This may be due to lack of proper funding, but the fact is that it has not been able to bring about any real change. We now have the worst quality in Europe, with England comparing very badly with Scotland, where 65.7% of surface water bodies are in good health. We know this—it has been repeated time and again, and the environmental Ministers acknowledge it.
The question is: how can we ensure that real change takes place soon? Including Amendment 4 is where we must start in ensuring that good quality water is a goal that we fully intend to achieve. We must use this Bill to ensure that we achieve it.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to be speaking to this amendment moved by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. During the past two years, many of your Lordships have raised the issue of the quality of the water in many of our iconic rivers and given very graphic examples of where pollution has been discharged, untreated, into our waterways. We have heard about chicken manure being discharged into the River Wye, previously one of the most beautiful rivers on our island. At Second Reading, the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, reminded us about the discharge of raw sewage into rivers. As one of her first duties, the newly elected MP for Chesham and Amersham, Sarah Green MP, has visited the River Chess to hear from the local action group about the pollution of it.
During lockdown, with local authority swimming pools closed to the public, those who were able took to what has become known as wild swimming in the sea and rivers. I am assured that this is extremely invigorating and refreshing, but probably not so if you are encountering severe pollution on the scale that we have heard of from the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. Biodiversity is severely affected by the pollution in our rivers.
The treatment of sewage is the responsibility of the sewerage and water authorities. It is not sufficient for them to claim that new housing developments have overwhelmed their treatment plants and they have no choice but to discharge sewage into our rivers and sea. We have heard recently of the public disquiet about the Government’s proposals to change the planning laws. Often, statutory consultees respond to local authorities with “no comment”, but often they do not respond at all. Perhaps this is an issue of resources, with Defra cuts to the Environment Agency filtering down to the front line. The water authorities should be obliged to respond to consultation on proposed housing developments, especially where there is insufficient capacity in existing treatment plants to cope with the current, never mind the future, demand.
All noble Lords taking part in this debate have expressed concern on the issue of water quality. The Government must take it seriously if we are to restore the quality of the water in our rivers to enable biodiversity to increase, even if it is unlikely ever to reach its former levels. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, and others have flagged, we will return to this in later amendments. This is a very serious matter, as my noble friend Lord Teverson and the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said, and we fully support the comments of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, in moving this amendment and look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, for his amendment and his speech today. I will speak briefly on the amendment. We will come on to a separate debate about whether the environmental targets as a whole are adequate when we consider that matter later in the Bill. We will argue that the targets should be more comprehensive, and combined with legally binding interim targets, to ensure that real progress is made in the time agreed.
In addition to this amendment, the noble Duke has tabled others later in the Bill to address the issue of water quality and the pollution of rivers. We absolutely share his objective to clean up water and prevent sewage flowing into our rivers; he has been a great champion of this. We have tabled similar amendments which would also prevent the discharge of sewage into rivers. We believe that the Government’s proposals on this issue so far are inadequate and we look forward to the debate on this.
In the meantime, I have some concerns about the wording of this amendment. First, it narrows the scope of the long-term water targets to concentrate on water quality when there are much wider concerns to be addressed, for example about the role of water companies, the supply of water, drought and flooding safeguards, and sustainable urban development protection and maintenance. These points have all been made by other noble Lords in this debate and a number have given vivid examples of the challenges we face in these areas. Narrowing it down to water quality perhaps does not achieve what the noble Duke is aiming to do. Secondly, we do not accept that the issue of water quality should be a long-term target: it requires action more urgently, specifically with regard to sewage discharge. This is the subject of our later amendments, and those in the name of the noble Duke, and we look forward to returning to it.
Despite these reservations about this amendment, I agree with the noble Duke’s overall intention and will be supportive when we get to the more substantive debate, when we will have a great deal more to say on the issue.
I thank the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, for tabling Amendment 4. I note the support that it has received from a number of noble Lords, including my noble friends Lady McIntosh, Lord Cormack and Lord Randall and the noble Lords, Lord Teverson and Lord Wigley.
The Bill will require the Government to set at least one legally binding long-term water target. I reassure the noble Duke that this of course covers water quality. The Government are currently considering water target objectives in relation to reducing pollution from agriculture, wastewater and abandoned metal mines, as well as in relation to reducing water demand. This approach encompasses water quality, but also allows the inclusion of broader objectives, such as reducing the impact of water demand on the water environment, which I know is of great interest to numerous Members of this House, including the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. This point was echoed and made well by the noble Baronesses, Lady Young of Old Scone and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb.
I will address some of the individual points that have been made. The amendment essentially relates to the outrage over raw sewage entering our waterways as a consequence of storm overflows. The noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, has pursued this issue relentlessly, and rightly so. To reiterate, the amendment that the Government have tabled does three things. It requires the Government to deliver a plan for tackling sewage discharge, and to report on progress, and it requires the water companies and the Environment Agency to be transparent with their data. In addition, my colleague in the other place, Rebecca Pow, said only last week that if water companies do not step up then we will use the drainage and wastewater management plans to force them to. I am happy to reiterate that commitment now. I hope that goes some way towards reassuring the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, Lady Bakewell and Lady Jones of Whitchurch.
In addition, the Government are already pursuing various measures to improve water quality over and above what has been mentioned. For example, the 2015 river basin management plans confirmed £3 billion of investment over the period to 2021 in England. This has led to over 11,000 kilometres of surface water being enhanced and a further 2,349 kilometres protected since the 2015 plans were published. We are encouraging best agricultural practice to prevent and reduce pollution through regulation, financial incentives and educational schemes for farmers. The shift to ELM, which has already been mentioned, is going to have a radical and profound impact on water pollution. A task force comprising the Government, the water industry, regulators and environmental NGOs is currently working to achieve the long-term goal of eliminating the harm from sewage discharge into our rivers and other waterways from storm overflows. We will, of course, take the recommendations of that task force very seriously. I hope that that also somewhat reassures noble Lords.
The noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, asked whether I would be willing to commit to a meeting with a number of noble Lords to discuss this issue further. The answer is yes, of course. I am very happy to do so and will make contact after today’s debate. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, also raised the fact that a mere 15% of our rivers enjoy good ecological status. He is right, but I want to put this in context. This is not to diminish the issue, because water pollution is clearly unacceptable, and we need to get to grips with it. However, it is worth pointing out that, to qualify for good ecological status, the waterway has to be close to a natural form. That means that waterways that have been canalised, straightened or modified—for example, for flood defences, transport or something similar—will be regarded as having been heavily modified. Those waterways cannot achieve good ecological status, no matter how clean the water is or how much biodiversity they have. It is worth putting that in context; while 16% of our waters do have good ecological status, that does not mean that 84% are in poor condition. I hope that we can get to grips with this and develop our own metrics at some point so that we can avoid confusion and have a clearer understanding of the actual situation in our waters.
The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, asked about enforcement. Defra works closely with the devolved Administrations on environmental issues across the board, particularly with the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales, covering water quality in their respective areas.
By setting a water target that focuses on the biggest pressures on the water environment, the Government will, we hope, make faster progress towards improving water quality. Although we appreciate the noble Duke’s aims, we do not think that focusing the water target priority area on water quality alone, as his amendment proposes, will be the best way of achieving those aims. I therefore respectfully ask him to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to those noble Lords who have participated in this short debate. Of course, I understand the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that it is not just water quality that matters but water quantity as well. A number of noble Lords made reference to the River Thames. However, anybody who watched the BBC “Panorama” programme about two months ago would surely be left in no doubt that there is still much to do to clean up that river, which is in an embarrassingly poor state. Nevertheless, I understand that the quality of our rivers generally is much better than it was 20 years ago. I was very impressed by the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Randall, who clearly understands the problem well. He referred to an event in 1858, when there was general recognition of the appalling state of our rivers and the amount of sewage going into them. It is surprising that, in 2021, there is still quite the quantity of raw, or insufficiently treated, sewage flowing into our rivers.
I very much appreciated the support of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and quite understand his point that it is necessary to have co-operation between England and Wales over the rivers that flow between the two countries, and his acceptance that it would be entirely in order to establish a UK standard. I thank the Minister for his comments, and I was pleased to hear that, in the other place, Rebecca Pow has made a further commitment that the existing regulations will be enforced where required. But I again ask the Minister to consider whether it would be appropriate to establish a UK standard. He did sort of refer to that when talking about metrics, but if he has doubts about the existing European standard then we should surely try to devise our own.
I would be grateful if the Minister would be prepared to discuss with me a way of making targets for water quality a higher priority. There are many aspects of water that need to be improved, nevertheless I am surprised that improving water quality is not yet considered a higher priority than it currently is. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 4 withdrawn.
We come now to the group of amendments headed by Amendment 5. Anyone wishing to press that amendment or any other amendment in this group to a Division should make that clear during the debate.
5: Clause 1, page 1, line 16, leave out paragraph (c) and insert—
“(c) nature;”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment seeks to change the word ‘biodiversity’ to ‘nature’ and is designed to have a debate in principle on changing the term throughout the bill.
My Lords, I declare my environmental interests as on the register. This afternoon I will, if I may, speak from a seated position—I had a long train journey and the old legs are a bit ropier than normal.
My amendments in this group all seek to change the word “biodiversity” in the Bill to the word “nature”. The only two amendments in the group for proper consideration in this debate are Amendment 5, which changes the wording in Clause 1, and Amendment 261, which attempts to give a definition of nature, so that my noble friend the Minister cannot say that nature is a completely different concept from biodiversity and that it would totally destabilise the Bill if we made this change. In this Bill we can define nature any way we like, just as we can define biodiversity, and it need not create any legal lacuna or new obligation.
The other amendments numbered in the 200s are merely examples in the Bill of where “nature” could be used instead of “biodiversity”. I counted over 140 uses of the word “biodiversity”, most of them—more than 100—in Schedule 14, but I have picked just a few examples so that we can have this debate in principle. Therefore, I do not want my noble friend the Minister to waste his time in the wind-up going through all those other examples and explaining why they are technically wrong.
Why change “nature” to “biodiversity”? What am I getting at? It really is quite simple: everyone talks about nature and not about biodiversity. All recent polls and studies show that the vast majority of people want to get closer to nature, to relate to it, and to get out and about and into it more. If you asked them if they wanted to relate to biodiversity, they would think that you were talking about zoo animals. “Biodiversity” has the flavour of a technical, scientific term, more applicable to wild animals than flowers, trees, butterflies and the landscape—at least in the minds of the majority of ordinary people.
The authoritative People and Nature Survey undertaken each month by Natural England found that 61% of people said that they felt that they were part of nature and 87% said that being in nature made them happy. A recent survey quoted by the BBC reveals that most people think that biodiversity is something to do with washing powder. We might scoff at that, and of course colleagues in Parliament, Defra, Natural England, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and all wildlife organisations know what biodiversity is—but we do not count. We need to appeal to the tens of millions of people who are not officials, scientists or policymakers and who have a much more vague idea of what nature is—but know it when they see it, and want more of it.
The Government themselves constantly use the word “nature”, not “biodiversity”, in communications and policy documents. We talk about nature-based solutions and local nature recovery strategies. Two weeks ago the Secretary of State for the Environment went to Delamere Forest, at an event billed as a “nature moment”, to announce a new nature recovery target and a Nature for Climate Peatland Grant Scheme. Furthermore, on Sunday 13 June, the Secretary of State wrote in the Sunday Telegraph:
“And as Environment Secretary, I am determined that we move beyond simply stemming the loss of biodiversity and take action to help nature recover—at home and around the world.”
And so say I—that is what my amendment is all about. We all use the word “nature” because ordinary people, councils, media and companies can relate to it. Would there be public support and understanding if these things were called biodiversity-based solutions and local biodiversity recovery strategies? Of course not. We have all selected the word “nature” in public utterances because it has more public traction and appeal. I suggest that using a different word in our law could undermine that appeal.
Politicians, the Government and NGOs all know that they get media, public and stakeholder engagement when they talk about nature rather than biodiversity, and we need to reinforce that by ensuring that this landmark legislation—legislation that we have been waiting so many years for and which is now in front of us—brings about nature recovery and sets targets for nature, and uses the same language as tens of millions of ordinary people in this country.
I submit that that are overwhelming presentational reasons to use the word “nature”, though I accept that there are potential downsides. I think everyone agrees that “nature” is not a narrower term than “biodiversity”, and therefore there would be no legal gaps. But my noble friend and others may say that it is a wider power that might impose greater burdens on public authorities if they have to report on nature rather than just biodiversity. I suggest that we can protect against that possible legal danger with the suggested definition of nature in my Amendment 261. It may not be perfect but we can tweak it, so that it does no more and no less than we would want from the word “biodiversity”. If the Government can define the two words “natural environment” in Clause 43, they cannot say that it is impossible to define the one word “nature”. Indeed, I would like someone in this debate to tell me the difference between “nature” and “natural environment”.
I acknowledge that my proposal has its limitations. I do not seek to change the word “biodiversity” in international agreements to which we are signed up, or in any other existing laws, or at CBD 15 this October, so I hope that the Minister will not rubbish the proposal on the grounds that we would have to change every bit of law that uses the word “biodiversity”. I am not suggesting that.
The Government would also need to reassure developers that changing the terminology to “nature net gain”, rather than “biodiversity net gain”, is not environmental net gain by the back door: the wording would change but not the policy.
For me, a key issue is the Section 40 obligation under the NERC Act 2006. I welcome the excellent change that the Minister has brought forward in this Bill—from the old duty to “have regard to” to the new clause, which says:
“For the purposes of this section ‘the general biodiversity objective’ is the conservation and enhancement of biodiversity in England through the exercise of functions in relation to England … A public authority which has any functions exercisable in relation to England must”—
I emphasise “must”—
“from time to time consider what action the authority can properly take, consistently with the proper exercise of its functions, to further the general biodiversity objective.”
That is the proposed new wording for Section 40, which I welcome as far as it goes, but I am suggesting that we can improve upon it further. We should change the “general biodiversity objective” to the “general nature objective.” This objective is currently defined in Clause 95(3); proposed new subsection (A1) refers to
“the conservation and enhancement of biodiversity in England”.
I suggest that we should change that to “the conservation and enhancement of nature in England.” I therefore submit that there are no legal adverse consequences to using the word nature instead of biodiversity in the example I have just given in the crucially important Section 40 of NERCA. There is no legal downside if we use the word “nature” as we can define it in the Bill.
Finally, I hope the Minister will join with me to find a compromise. I am certain that he cannot argue that biodiversity is a sexier word than nature, with more public traction, since it clearly is not; nor can I argue that “biodiversity” can be changed to “nature” in all 141 places in which it appears in the Bill. However, I will not accept that it cannot be changed anywhere in the Bill. Therefore, let us work with Defra officials between now and Report to find those places in the Bill where we can substitute “nature” for “biodiversity”, where it will have the most public appeal and traction and where it would not cause any legal or technical difficulties. I am willing to move on this, so I beg to move.
My Lords, we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, with whom I agree in every respect on this subject, that legislation should be precise and intelligible. That is what this is about. If I may give a short history lesson—only a couple of minutes—I will describe my first encounter with the phrase “precise and intelligible” in 1975 in the House of Commons, when a report headed Preparation of Legislation was presented by Sir David Renton, then the MP for Huntingdonshire. He never stopped talking about that report, and when I arrived in your Lordships’ House exactly 20 years ago, he was on the Benches opposite, still talking about the report Preparation of Legislation. He took Bills and amendments apart, and the number of times we had changes because of his scrutiny was enormous. I have also looked at the 2013 Parliamentary Counsel report, When Laws Become Too Complex. This is what this amendment is about: making legislation precise and intelligible. Most of what we have passed is not. This is a chance to actually make sure that it is.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. Words matter; so too does the meaning that we give to them. That is especially so where targets are being set that will influence policy in a matter as far-reaching as the environment. That is why the noble Lords, Lord Blencathra and Lord Randall of Uxbridge, were right to bring forward these amendments so that we can consider whether the choice of the word “biodiversity” to identify one of the priority areas in Clause 1(3) was well made, or whether it should be replaced by the word “nature”, as is being suggested.
I wish to concentrate on the use of words in this clause. I say nothing about the wording of Clauses 95 and 96 and others, except that it seems to make sense to follow whatever the choice is for Clause 1 when deciding what is right for those other clauses too. For me, the choice in Clause 1(3) should be guided by two things: the context, and the meaning of the word “biodiversity” itself.
The context for the choice of words in Clause 1(3) is created by the wording of Clause 1(1). We are told there that the long-term targets that the Secretary of State must have in mind relate to “the natural environment”. That suggests to me that when we come to Clause 1(3), we should expect to find, if I can put it this way, a list of subspecies within the natural environment rather than a repetition of the parent concept itself, embraced by the word “nature”. The word “nature”—the parent concept—embraces everything that comprises the phenomena of the natural world or, as Clause 1(1) puts it, of “the natural environment”. That suggests that we need something more specific and precise to serve the purpose of Clause 1(3), which is to identify the priority areas within that environment. The question then, therefore, is whether “biodiversity” achieves something for the identification of a priority area that “nature” would not achieve.
I was surprised to find, when I was consulting my dictionaries, how recent the word “biodiversity” is in the English language. Everyone talks about nature, said the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, and he is absolutely right: it is so much in common use, and “biodiversity”, as the dictionaries indicated to me, is not in common use in that way. It is not even mentioned, let alone defined, in the editions of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary that I have, which were published in the 1990s. It is a mark of our increasing awareness of the importance of the variety and variability of life on earth and its preservation that we have created this portmanteau word to describe it. “Diversity” is what we are talking about when we use this word. The prefix “bio” makes it clear that we are using that word in the context of the natural environment in all its aspects which, of course, is the context in which we are using it here. In that context, it is no exaggeration to say that diversity is what keeps the environment alive. It is absolutely right to concentrate on diversity as a priority area.
I suggest, therefore, that the word “biodiversity”, although not so widely used as “nature”, is the one to use because it is more precisely targeted on that aspect of our environment. It achieves that much more than “nature”. It reaches out across the entirety of the ecosystem, on which the natural environment depends, and the diversity that gives it its life. With great respect to the two noble Lords, I believe that it is the right word to use here in this Bill.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and also the noble Lord, Lord Rooker; I well remember the late Sir David Renton, as he was in the other place, or Lord Renton, as he became in this one. He was an absolute terrier and was determined to try to ensure that all legislation was intelligible to those to whom it applied.
That really is the underlying reason why my noble friend Lord Blencathra has introduced this very interesting and probing amendment. We say again and again during this debate that this is a landmark Bill. It is indeed, and it has to bear the test of time: it has to be an Act of Parliament that becomes familiar to all those to whom it applies, which is virtually every citizen in our land. It must be an Act of Parliament that is understood. It is entirely right that my noble friend Lord Blencathra introduced this amendment so that we can debate, at an early stage of the Bill, what we are really talking about.
I am bound to say that, having reflected on what my noble friend Lord Blencathra and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, said, I wonder whether the answer does not lie in a phrase such as “nature in all its diversity”. It is absolutely right, as my noble friend pointed out graphically and persistently, that “biodiversity” does not come as trippingly off the tongue as “nature”, yet we are dealing, as the noble and learned Lord indicated, with nature in all its aspects—with flora, fauna et cetera. We have to be able to relate to people, and people have to be able to understand that this all-embracing Environment Bill—Environment Act as it will become—applies to everything around them: the birds in the air, the insects in the ground and all flora and fauna. As we go through the Bill, I hope that we can take most seriously on board my noble friend Lord Blencathra’s point. He indicated that he had not necessarily come up with an all-embracing answer; he suggested a compromise, and we should work on it so that the Act of Parliament is fully intelligible to all to whom it applies.
If I have one criticism of legislation in our country, it is that it is very difficult for most people to take down a Bill or an Act and understand it. We know the reasons, but we have to aim to be more intelligible. I have said before in other contexts in your Lordships’ House that I am a great devotee of Sir Ernest Gowers’ book, Plain Words, and I only wish, as used to be the case, that a copy could be on the shelves of every parliamentarian and, more important, every civil servant in every department in the land. If we cannot make what we are bringing into law understandable, we are failing. Here is the landmark Bill, here is a challenge, let us try to rise to it.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and my noble friend Lord Cormack that legislation has to be precise and intelligible. If we are to take the public with us, which we need to on a Bill as complicated and as detailed as this one, it has to resonate with them, so there is a lot to be said for what my noble friend Lord Blencathra has suggested in his amendment.
However, I am slightly troubled on a couple of fronts. In answering the debate at Second Reading, my noble friend the Minister said:
“As for my noble friend Lord Blencathra’s proposal to change ‘biodiversity’ to ‘nature’, he makes an important point, but the trouble is that those two terms are not exactly the same”.—[Official Report, 7/6/21; col. 1308.]
He then gave an example about the dreaded Sitka spruce, but he did not tell us why they were not the same and what the implications were for the Bill if we were to go down the route suggested by noble friend Lord Blencathra of half the time using “nature” and half the time using “biodiversity” depending on where it is in the Bill. When he said that, I was immediately sceptical, thinking, “Here comes a lawyers’ charter. If we’re using ‘biodiversity’ in one part of the Bill and ‘nature’ in another, the lawyers are going to have a field day”. I wish my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern were joining in this debate, because he would help us.
I go instead to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, who analysed this matter in some detail and came down in favour of “biodiversity”. I am sitting back on the fence where I started, because I was persuaded one way and the legal opinion has pushed me back in the other. I want to hear from my noble friend the Minister what the difference is between biodiversity and nature. If we could get that difference, perhaps we could reconcile it so that we got a Bill that was intelligible.
My Lords, I am delighted to participate in this debate. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Blencathra on being so industrious in coming up with such an imaginative way to put forward something that he obviously feels very passionate about. However, I support my noble friend the Minister, who I hope will go on to explain why we have settled on “biodiversity”. I support everything said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, about why “biodiversity” has a specific meaning. We should also look at the history of “biodiversity”. There are a number of international conventions with which I am sure my noble friend Lord Blencathra, particularly wearing his hat with Natural England, will be familiar. Is he proposing that we now try to change all the international conventions which originally referred, even more confusingly, to “biological diversity”? I would put forward “biodiversity” as a compromise between “biological diversity” and “nature” or “the natural environment”, because it has a specific meaning and we have subscribed to a number of international conventions. For those who will have to follow what is asked of them, “biodiversity” has that specific meaning, which I am sure my noble friend will explain.
I support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, in saying that we need a list of species or a better understanding of what is being asked. I am sure my noble friend will explain that when he moves the series of government amendments later today. I accept “biodiversity” as a compromise, but we need greater clarification of the list of species—flora and fauna—which are to be protected.
My Lords, I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, with a degree of sympathy for what he is trying to achieve. We all want to make legislation more simple and able to be understood by members of the public, but in this instance, I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. To change the name in the legislation at this stage would cause a level of disruption, because we already have international agreements that refer to “biodiversity”. The Dasgupta report also referred to it.
There is a simple difference between nature and biodiversity. According to my dictionary definition, nature covers all existing systems created at the same time as the earth, whereas biodiversity is the part of nature that is alive, born on a mineral substrate in an earlier geodiversity. Biodiversity provides numerous ecosystem services that are crucial to human well-being at present and in the future. Longer-term changes in climate affect the viability and health of ecosystems, influencing shifts in the distribution of plants, pathogens, animals and even human settlements. Biodiversity loss has negative effects on several aspects of human well-being, such as food security, vulnerability to natural disasters, energy security and access to clean water and raw materials. It also affects human health, social relations and freedom of choice.
Quite simply, through this legislation, we need to protect our living biodiversity. The inclusion of a target-setting framework is a welcome part of the Bill, and something that has already been referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. The long-term nature of environmental matters makes this all particularly important. Environmental improvement cannot be achieved over the short timeframe of a political cycle. We need to ensure that this Environment Bill provides an opportunity for the UK to become a world leader in the fight against all forms of pollution and biodiversity loss and in mitigating the impact of the climate emergency. The litmus test for all of us in the Lords is does changing “biodiversity” to “nature” in this Bill strengthen and toughen its provisions, does it weaken existing legal protections or does it make any difference?
I believe this Bill must turn the tide on nature’s decline, biodiversity decline and the climate emergency. It must transform the way we manage waste, protect our precious water resources and all the other aspects. So, I think at this late stage, it is best to keep to the term “biodiversity”, while I fully understand and appreciate the case made by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra.
My Lords, I was much elated to read my noble friend Lord Blencathra’s amendments. I completely agree with him that “biodiversity” is one of the worst examples of a pseudointellectual word that most people do not understand and would never use in speech. I think my noble friend is right that, in the main, it would be much better if we used the easily comprehensible word “nature”, on which there is universal agreement on its meaning. I completely agree that it is highly desirable that the Bill should use language with which the public identifies.
It is interesting that, in their response to The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review the Government refer to
“nature, and the biodiversity that underpins it”.
This suggests that biodiversity and nature are not quite the same thing because one underpins the other, but even in a note to the preface to the review, Professor Dasgupta writes that
“the terms Nature, natural capital, the natural environment, the biosphere, and the natural world are used interchangeably.”
The Cambridge Dictionary website informs me that biodiversity means:
“the number and types of plants and animals that exist in a particular area or in the world generally, or the problem of protecting this”.
The first part of this definition sounds to me to be the same as nature, but then I am confused by the notion of protecting it. The “bio” of biodiversity is derived from the Greek bios, meaning life, and all the varieties of animal and plant life on the planet are indeed diverse.
So, although academics may disagree that the simple word “nature” is inadequate, I am not convinced that there is any material difference in meaning. I agree with my noble friend that we should change the word “biodiversity” to “nature” wherever possible. My noble friend’s Amendment 203 changes the “general biodiversity objective” of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 to the “general nature objective”. Perhaps the Minister could tell us whether that Act was the first in which the term “biodiversity” was used and whether he agrees that it would be much better if our law was written in language that people can understand.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, suggested that “biodiversity” is the correct word because it is broader, but I am not sure that the noble and learned Lord persuaded me that “nature” is narrower than the whole diversity of life. I also worry for the future of the word “diversity” which increasingly carries connotations of gender and race. For all these reasons I support what my noble friend Lord Blencathra is trying to do.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to take part in this debate, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, for initiating it. I think it has been very useful and I truly appreciate the passion with which he desires to see public engagement with, and understanding of, this Bill. I very much appreciate that. A number of noble Lords have said we need this Bill to be both precise and intelligible, and when we draw on the legal side of things I am very much influenced, as I often am, by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, who suggested that in legal terms “nature” would not achieve what “biodiversity” would.
I am going to bring a biological consideration, that being my intellectual foundation to this, and may complicate this debate further by pointing out that where we sit right now at this very moment is, in one definition, a part of nature—we are human animals and the rest of the animal species on this planet are non-human animals—as it is something we created. It is an ecosystem we have created. However, I am not going to go too far down that road, as I fear that may be a debate more fit for the Bishops’ Bar when it re-opens than this Chamber today.
I want to raise the issue that the noble Lord’s amendment brings to the fore, which is the definition of “biodiversity” and, specifically, to explore further what the Government’s understanding of biodiversity is. I can address some questions that have been raised about where this term come from. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, suggested that some things are called “biological diversity” and some things are called “biodiversity”. The term “biodiversity” was coined in 1985, and it is a contraction of “biological diversity”. Without being a lawyer, I do not think there is a legal contradiction between using those two terms interchangeably.
What is not always sufficiently understood is that biodiversity is not just having lots of species. There is sometimes a feeling that we are protecting diversity when there is this really rare moth, and there are three reserves where we are saving it, so that is all right because we are saving biodiversity. If we look at what biodiversity is in a much broader sense, it starts at the level of genes. If you look at a magnificent, enormous murmuration of starlings, should you still be lucky enough to have such a thing, or a wonderful flock of sparrows—ditto—then, although it cannot be seen, in the depths there is great genetic diversity. It is something that keeps that species healthy, and if you get population numbers down to a tiny level a very important part of biodiversity is lost. The interchange of genes is lost if you have a series of isolated populations.
It is really important to have the species to have the genes, but biodiversity is also complete ecosystems. These are systems, such as savannah and woodland, that have developed over billions of years, have complex interrelationships and interrelate to their physical environment. That is all biodiversity as well. This is what has made the earth habitable over billions of years and is what some people call Gaia. To look at this in a way that those of a more literary bent in your Lordships’ House might find familiar, this is a library of life. It a library of ideas and a library of ways of interrelating. It has been said that what we are doing by destroying biodiversity is burning through the library of life. So, I would really like to see, perhaps in the Minister’s answer, or perhaps later in writing, a lot more from the Government about their understanding of what protecting biodiversity means. They must make sure that the target for biodiversity—assuming the Bill goes through in its current form—really addresses the different levels and ways in which we need to understand biodiversity, and does not boil down to “Well, we have three reserves for this rare moth and that will do.”
My Lords, I support my noble friend’s Amendment 5, to which I added my name. It is always good to follow my noble friend in his wise words. I have to say, though, that I rather feel out of my depth in this debate. I thought that it was going to be quite a simple subject, but I should have thought that we have such experts in your Lordships' House. I have been listening to the legal side of things, which I have little understanding of, while making law, and the excellent speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, on a much more scientific, biological aspect.
I come at this with a view that we want to make things simple. We are going to come, in the group following the next, on to a connection with nature. That is my biggest concern. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said that the word “biodiversity” arrived in 1985. I was not a young man, necessarily, when it first appeared, and I had been used to using other words. I have been involved in this environmental field as an amateur for all my life, and I accept “biodiversity”—I use it myself—but I am not sure that the people we want to connect more with nature do understand it. I would say to those noble Lords who have mentioned international things that the European Union introduced Natura 2000; it did not call it “Biodiversitas 2000” or anything else. “Natura” and “nature” have their place. I would regard myself as an amateur naturalist; I do not know how you would say I am an “amateur biodiversity person”.
I think this has been a very useful debate. I end up more confused, though that is a position I often find myself in, listening to debates. But I have to say that there is a real need for us to make sure that our fellow citizens understand that the environment is about what they hold dear—and that is nature. When I was at school, we had nature study; we did not have biodiversity study. But I admit that I am not in the first flush of youth.
My Lords, one could argue that what is good enough for Sir David Attenborough is good enough for this Bill. Sir David’s 2020 TV programme “Extinction”, in which he talked about biodiversity, was watched by 4.5 million viewers on its premier. Those people, and the millions more who have watched it subsequently, will have some idea of what biodiversity is.
Although I do not support this amendment for the reasons that my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead so clearly articulated, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, for tabling the amendment, because it provides me with an opportunity, following the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, to ask the Minister to clarify precisely what the Government mean when they talk about biodiversity. As my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead said, words do matter. If the Government are to maintain the term “biodiversity” in this Bill, which I hope they will, please could they explain what it actually means?
I am now going to get a little bit technical. Ecologists recognise a number of different, but interrelated, meanings of the word “biodiversity”. At its simplest, it refers to what is called “species richness”—simply the number of species inhabiting a defined geographical area, such as England. A more sophisticated variant of species richness takes into account the relative abundance of different species. On this measure, an area populated by one extremely common species and, say, five very rare ones will be less biodiverse than if all six species were roughly equally abundant.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, has already said, biodiversity can also include genetic diversity within a species. For instance, one might be particularly interested in preserving subspecies that are unique to this island, such as the native pied wagtail, motacilla alba Yarrelli. Furthermore, biodiversity might encompass the genetic distinctiveness of species, by placing a premium on species with no close living relatives on the planet, or on endemic species, such as eudarcia Richardsoni, a micro-moth found only in Dorset.
Finally, biodiversity might encompass the diversity of habitats, such as woodland, heath, peatbog and intertidal marshes, found within a geographical area. Many ecologists distinguish between what they call alpha diversity—species richness within a habitat—and beta diversity, which is diversity between habitats.
I hope that the Minister, in his response, or afterwards in writing, will explain what the Government mean when they talk about biodiversity. At the same time, it would be helpful if he could explain the difference between biodiversity and species abundance, as introduced in Amendment 22, which we will debate later.
My Lords, this has certainly been an interesting discussion around the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, to change the wording of the Bill to use the term “nature” instead of “biodiversity”. I can understand why he would want to propose this change, as it is an easier concept for many people to grasp and understand, as many noble Lords have said during our discussion. However, the Minister did explain in his winding-up speech on Second Reading that the two terms are not exactly the same. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, referenced the example that the Minister gave:
“Planting a Sitka spruce monoculture might give us more nature, but it would not give us more biodiversity”—[Official Report, 7/6/21; col. 1308].
A number of noble Lords have talked about definitions and the definition of “biodiversity” as opposed to the definition of “nature”. I would like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for providing us so much information. I have learned an awful lot more in this debate than I was expecting. A number of noble Lords have looked at dictionary definitions, so I thought I would add to this by having a look at what the Oxford English Dictionary has to say. It describes “nature” as
“The phenomena of the physical world collectively; esp. plants, animals, and other features and products of the earth itself, as opposed to humans and human creations”
whereas—I would be interested to discuss this further with the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, at some point—the dictionary describes “biodiversity” as
“the variety of plant and animal life”.
So these things are different, and my thinking is that the Oxford definition seems to show that “nature” is a broader concept and “biodiversity” fits within that. Therefore, I am not quite sure how helpful Amendment 261 will be.
This is a really important Bill, and, as my noble friend Lord Rooker said, clarity as to exactly what is meant by the wording and terminology in this Bill—and in all legislation—is essential to avoid confusion and potential legal challenge. I am sure that the Minister will be able to provide us with more detail on the wording used and the way that the decisions have come, but noble Lords have requested more explanation of exactly what is meant in the Bill by “biodiversity” and what is going to be demanded of improvements to biodiversity as we go through implementing what the Environment Bill is looking to do.
In short, I have enjoyed listening to the debate, but we are happy to retain the use of “biodiversity” in the wording of the Bill.
I thank my noble friend Lord Blencathra for his amendments. It is a pleasure to follow the thoughtful speech on them by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. Like my noble friend, we want people to understand and engage in nature, but it is also important to increase recognition of and engagement with the term “biodiversity”. It is an internationally recognised term that is gaining popularity with the public, parliamentarians and beyond, not least as a consequence of the extraordinary work of Sir David Attenborough, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, pointed out. It confers a direction of travel toward greater diversity, which we want everyone to fully support and engage with.
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, pointed out, and this point was echoed extremely interestingly and thoughtfully by the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett and Lady Ritchie, “nature” is a more expansive term than biodiversity, often taken to include non-living elements, and is potentially more open to interpretation. It is perfectly possible to enhance nature with limited or no value for biodiversity. Many monocultures—for example, a green grass valley; I am using a different example from the one that I used last time—are considered beautiful examples of a natural landscape, and “nature” can have a high amenity value. If we are to boost biodiversity, sometimes it will mean moving away from simplistic ideas of what nature should be, and thinking scientifically about how to improve the diversity of living things.
In response to my noble friend Lady McIntosh, I confirm on my noble friend Lord Blencathra’s behalf—if I may—that he is not proposing to renegotiate or replace the international conventions, as I understand it from his introductory speech. However, I want to provide a more detailed interpretation of what we mean by “biodiversity” and why it is important. I do this in response to a number of noble Lords, including my noble friends Lady McIntosh of Pickering, Lord Caithness and Lord Trenchard, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie and Lady Hayman. The Convention on Biological Diversity, which is being hosted in China at the end of this year and is a massively important moment for biodiversity, defines biodiversity as
“the variability amongst living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.”
It is important that variability and diversity should be conserved and the benefits for people secured. The UK is playing a leading role in negotiating an ambitious global framework for biodiversity under that convention, and setting targets and policies for biodiversity helps to demonstrate and further that alignment.
From a more technical perspective, the Bill applies the terms “nature” and “biodiversity” for specific purposes. Associated guidance and regulations will make that clear. We certainly want these measures to benefit all aspects of nature for wildlife and other environmental objectives. Substituting “nature” for “biodiversity” in the Bill would risk creating confusion about the purposes of the measures, especially where “biodiversity” is already a well-established term. Measures such as the biodiversity duty or biodiversity net gain are already established and understood policies, being strengthened through the Bill, and our aim should be to improve their functioning, not create confusion with new terminology.
I hope this does not sound facetious but there is an implied assumption within the amendment that people en masse are going to devour the Bill and base their understanding on the Act that we hope it will become. It feels to me that what really matters is delivering the measures in the Bill and the wider communications that will support it. I say to my noble friend Lord Caithness that I am not convinced it is the Act itself that will take people with us; rather, it will be the delivery of good policy, good solutions and the wider comms that we all—not just the Government—are going to have to engage in to advance this agenda.
I reassure my local friend Lord Blencathra that I share and understand his vision and the motivation behind his amendment, as I think does every noble Lord, but nevertheless I ask him to withdraw it.
The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has indicated that he wishes to speak.
My apologies, Lord Deputy Chairman; I did not realise you would be calling the noble Earl, Lord Caithness.
I am grateful to all noble Lords and noble Baronesses who have spoken—those who have supported me, those who are sitting on the fence and those who are opposed. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that if he goes further and looks at the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel guidelines in detail, he will find that there is an instruction there to government departments to write in simple language, and what I am suggesting here follows that OPC instruction.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, made an important contribution that swayed a number of noble Lords. I looked at changing the word “nature” at the start of Clause 1 but then opted to change it in Clause 1(3). I was in two minds about that but then I thought that I wanted the debate on principle, so we should have it early on in the Bill. I accept what he said about the list in Clause 1(3) containing more specific examples of nature. He said that “biodiversity” was the right word to be used in the Bill but I am suggesting, and I have said so all along, that we can define “nature” to be the right word in the Bill and we can make it as specific or general as we wish.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Cormack for his attempt at a definition, “nature in all its diversity”. I am not sure it is right but he is simply making the point that it is possible to define this.
My noble friend Lord Caithness said that he was back to sitting on the fence. I am too; I have a leg on either side of it. I am not suggesting that we have “nature” only or “biodiversity” only; I am suggesting that in some parts of the Bill, where it is safe and sensible to do so, we have “nature” and in other bits we have “biodiversity”.
My noble friend the Minister has already pointed out to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering that I was not proposing to change our international conventions, not even the one that I negotiated myself. As a new Minister I was sent to Rio in 1992 with strict instructions: “You’ll be there for 16 days, Mr Maclean MP. You will not agree to anything until John Major comes out and signs up for everything that you’ve got to resist.” I had to sign, or was party to negotiating, the first Convention on Biological Diversity.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, that there is no need for confusion. It depends on how we define this, and I say to her that the word “nature” would strengthen the Bill.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Trenchard for his strong support. If Dasgupta sees the terms as interchangeable, we should change “biodiversity” in the Bill wherever possible.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge. He also said that we should make things simple. The next group of amendments but one is about connecting people with nature. The word “nature” does that but “biodiversity” does not.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, says that the Government need to define biodiversity. If the Government cannot define biodiversity in the Bill, how are the public to understand or relate to it? The Government are capable of defining “natural environment” in the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, quoted dictionary definitions. What does that dictionary say about “natural environment”? The phrase “natural environment” is not defined in the Bill according to the Oxford English Dictionary; it is defined in a way that the Government have decided. If the Government can define “natural environment”, they can define “nature”.
My noble friend the Minister said that “nature” can be a more expansive term. It can, and if it is not defined it will be much more expansive. The phrase “natural environment” could be a highly expansive term—indeed, some of us have suggestions to expand it a bit more—but the Government have defined it in the Bill and, if you can define “natural environment”, you can define “nature”.
As far as “biodiversity net gain” is concerned, my noble friend picked one example which might confuse business and industry, and developers may worry that “nature net gain” is not the same as “biodiversity net gain”. If that is the case and we cannot explain it, let us not change that bit. I have resiled from my initial position when I wrote to my noble friend two weeks ago that we can change every word. I know that we cannot; it would not be sensible. It could cause legal problems and confusion. Let us not try to change the word where it is not sensible to do so but change it everywhere else.
My noble friend seemed to conclude by saying, “Let’s use biodiversity in the Bill, but out there we will be talking about nature; it’s how we relate to it and how we deliver it”. It seems a bit odd to say, “Well, let’s just keep this among ourselves. We experts who know all about it and we boffins will use biodiversity in the Bill, but we won’t use it out there among the public. For that, we will use ‘nature’”.
I think there is still some merit in what I say, although it has not commanded the majority support of the noble Lords who have spoken today. I would like my noble friend to consider with me whether we can change the word in some instances where it is safe to do so. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 5 withdrawn.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 6. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.
6: Clause 1, page 1, line 16, leave out paragraph (c) and insert—
“(c) terrestrial biodiversity;(ca) marine biodiversity;”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that there is a long-term biodiversity target both on-shore and off-shore.
My Lords, I welcome the fact that in this Bill the Government are committed to targets on biodiversity and the areas that the Bill covers, including waste. There are only four areas listed, which makes choosing targets a pretty challenging task. I look forward to the debate on this group of amendments, where many different options have been put forward. I recognise that this is not straightforward. Unlike climate change, where we can have a couple of metrics—for example, the proportion of grams of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, or look at emissions as a whole in metric tonnes—biodiversity is far more difficult, and I recognise that. It is not necessarily easy for anybody, let alone the Government, to choose the right targets.
However, within the Bill there is a distinct lack of recognition of the maritime area—the seas around our island nation. Not to put emphasis on the seas and oceans, our EEZ and our territorial seas, is a major weakness in the Bill. I have talked to the Minister about this, and I thank him for his conversations. He will point out that “water” is used very generally in the Bill, but it is usually in a context that does not really include oceans and the sea around us. I congratulate the Government on their blue belt initiative for our overseas territories, but I sometimes wish that the focus on our overseas territories was equal to the focus we have on our own seas in the United Kingdom.
I recognise that this is primarily an English Bill, but let me talk in terms of the UK at the moment Not only are we an island nation, but the territorial area of the United Kingdom is just under a quarter of a million square kilometres. If you look at the seas over which we have some jurisdiction, it is three to four times that level—almost a million square kilometres. That is the EEZ plus our territorial seas. Under UNCLOS we have responsibility for those seas beyond just the 12-mile limit, and I think those are important. I will come back to some of these issues later in our proceedings.
Some might say that we have already had the Fisheries Bill—now an Act—which a number of us here spent a lot of time on. But the Government made it very clear that it was not an environmental Bill. Climate change and the environment were part of the Bill’s objectives, but it was about fisheries, not about the broader maritime ecosystem. That ecosystem is much broader than just fish. It includes marine mammals, crustaceans, cold-sea corals, which we have off Cornwall, seagrass and what is on the bottom of the sea. It is not just about biodiversity for its own sake in that maritime area, important though that is. Seagrass, for instance, is a major absorber of carbon—even more so than peatlands, amazingly, according to recent scientific evidence. Oceans absorb something like half of mankind’s excess CO2 emissions above what is reabsorbed by the natural environment through carbon sequestration in forests and other areas. So this is key.
It would be incredible if the biodiversity targets within this clause did not include a terrestrial target. I cannot imagine that the Government would just have a maritime biodiversity target and ignore the whole of terrestrial England. The amendment is quite straightforward: let us not make the choice here between two critical biospheres—ecological systems—that are different but equally important. Quite simply, let us make sure that we have a maritime biodiversity indicator as well as that terrestrial one, which I welcome and is bound to come forward as part of the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak to my Amendment 10. I am grateful to my noble friends Lord Carrington and Lord Taylor of Holbeach, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, for signing it.
It is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. We spent quite a long time on the Fisheries Act, as it now is. I think I would say “marine” rather than “maritime” as a concept—“maritime” has more connotations to do with ships and so forth. But “marine” and “terrestrial” also join together, and of course, there are the shores. This issue could be solved, quite frankly, by my noble friend the Minister making it quite clear exactly what is covered by this.
Amendment 10 deals with light pollution, which has increased from a variety of sources, including domestic residences, public infrastructure—particularly lighting along roads and motorways—and industrial activity, such as energy infrastructure. Much of the earth’s population is affected by light pollution. Some 80% of the world’s population now live under sky glow and nearly every European cannot experience a natural night sky from where they live. I have not seen the night sky properly where I live—except possibly in a power cut—but when I occasionally go up to Norfolk, along the coast I am blessed to be able to see the night sky in all its glory.
In recent years, evidence of the impact of light pollution on species and ecosystems has grown and consolidated. Increased artificial light at night is directly linked to measurable negative impacts on energy consumption, obviously, human health and wildlife such as bats, birds, insects and plants. Unnecessary artificial light increases financial costs and contributes to greenhouse emissions. Light pollution should be treated with the same disdain with which we treat all other forms of pollution.
Among other organisations that I belong to, I am a member of Buglife, a charity devoted to the protection of insects. I am pleased to say that this week is National Insect Week. Studies from Germany suggest that a third of insects attracted to street lights and other fixed light sources will die. This results in the death of an estimated 100 billion insects in Germany every summer. Light pollution is reducing nocturnal pollinator visits to flowers by 62%, in some areas. Again, to show my slightly nerdy side, from time to time I put out a moth trap, but mine is not as successful as those of some of my friends elsewhere, who do not have the same light amount of light coming in from other sources. We know that moths are attracted to light, but that it confuses some.
Glow-worms use luminescence to attract prey and mates. Artificial light can affect their ability to do both. Evidence shows a decline in the abundance of glow-worm populations with increased proximity to artificial light.
Birds that migrate or hunt at night navigate by moonlight and starlight. Artificial light can cause them to fly towards lit areas. Recent research shows more birds migrating over urban, rather than rural, areas. This deviation from traditional routes can have a significant impact on energy levels during migration and lead them to stop in suboptimal habitats.
The US recognises bird strikes against high-rise buildings as a real problem. In Texas, the former First Lady Laura Bush heads a lights-out campaign, twice a year, to encourage high-rise buildings to switch off their lights, so that they do not kill all these migratory birds. Some of the photographs you see of the carnage caused underneath these high-rise buildings are disturbing.
Artificial lighting can cause many problems for bats, including disrupting roosting and feeding behaviour and their movement through the landscape. In the worst cases, it can directly harm these protected species. As all bats in the UK feed on insects, loss of food sources is also a considerable threat.
For us humans, light pollution is negatively impacting astronomy and our ability to observe the stars. To look up on a cloudless night and see the stars is one of the more uplifting pleasures that we can have from childhood onwards.
Many marine species such as crabs and zooplankton are attracted to artificial lights near the shore, from ports or gas facilities, which can disrupt feeding and life cycles. Many noble Lords will have seen, in one of the more recent David Attenborough programmes, the disturbing sight of turtles coming to shore when they are hatched instead of going out to the sea. They are designed to be attracted to moonlight, but are going towards cafes and restaurants, with all their lights, crossing roads and perishing. This is a real problem.
The British Astronomical Association estimates that 90% of the population of the UK are unable to see the Milky Way from where they live. Evidence shows that light exposure at the wrong time has profound impacts on human circadian rhythm, affecting physical and mental functions. Artificial lighting has been linked to trees bursting their buds more than a week early, a magnitude similar to that predicted for 2 degrees centigrade of global warming.
My amendment aims to set a commitment to act on matters that relate to light pollution currently omitted from the Environment Bill. I hope it ensures that the Government produce targets to reduce levels of light pollution in England. The evidence is clear that light pollution has a significant impact on the normal activity of invertebrates, birds, bats and plants, and that these impacts are more than sufficient to require action. It would be a failure not to address this before we have long-term data and doing so would go against the Government’s draft environmental principles, in particular the precautionary principle, but also the prevention and rectification-at-source principles.
The UK does not yet report on light pollution levels. However, measuring light pollution is simple. Satellite images can be used to establish pollution levels and the CPRE has developed a nine-band classification system that could form the basis for monitoring change. Existing policy on light pollution does not provide sufficient guidance and is not strong enough to tackle its increasing impact. Several countries have introduced national policies on light pollution, such as Germany, France, Mexico, South Korea, Croatia and Slovenia. When I was last in France, I noticed that some villages have the designation “village étoile”, which they relish, because people go to them specifically to see the night sky.
The UK’s Environmental Protection Act 1990, as amended, provides local authorities with statutory nuisance powers to address light pollution, but only when harmful to humans or if it “unreasonably and substantially” interferes with the use or enjoyment of a home or other premises. I am afraid this has not resulted in a reduction in general light pollution. The National Planning Policy Framework offers little consideration of light pollution. The only reference states:
“Planning policies and decisions should … limit the impact of light pollution from artificial light on local amenity, intrinsically dark landscapes and nature conservation.”
The last comprehensive consideration of the issue by the Government was the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution’s 2009 report, Artificial Light in the Environment. However, I am afraid that almost none of its recommendations has been implemented.
On national targets, Clause 1 of the Environment Bill provides power for the Secretary of State to “set long-term targets” by regulation, in relation to
“(a) the natural environment, or (b) people’s enjoyment of the natural environment.”
Subsection (2) requires the Secretary of State to set long-term targets in the four priority areas of air quality, water, biodiversity and resource efficiency and waste reduction.
I strongly believe that light pollution should be considered a priority area too, so that the Government are required to set a long-term target to reduce its impact on nature and people’s enjoyment of it. This amendment is designed to achieve that outcome. A national plan intended to prevent, limit and reduce light pollution must include a series of targets and a programme of monitoring. National targets should be set to include no net increase in light pollution and an ambition to increase the number of dark sky reserves.
Finally, I support Amendment 11 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I have my own amendment later in the Bill, Amendment 112, on soil quality, which is as fundamental as anything in the Bill.
My Lords, I have two amendments in this group. The later one, Amendment 31, concerns the health of our trees and the first, Amendment 12, planting new trees. It requires the Government to put before Parliament an annual report on the progress made towards achieving the initial target of planting new trees.
The extent and health of what is left of our forests, woodland and trees is a matter of deep concern. We all know the essential role trees play in absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, thereby making a vital contribution to slowing down climate change. A mature tree absorbs carbon dioxide at the rate of 48 pounds per year. In one year, an acre of forest can absorb twice the CO2 produced by the average car’s annual mileage. We know in our personal lives how fundamental our trees are for physical health, aesthetic satisfaction and our spiritual well-being.
The Committee on Climate Change has said that we need to raise our current 13% forest cover to 17% by 2050 if we are to have any chance of meeting our climate goals. At the moment, the Government are missing their tree-planting targets by 40 years. If we continue at the current slow rate of tree planting, the Government’s own 2050 targets will not be met until 2091. As those figures show, the number of trees planted each year needs to be very significantly increased.
The good news is that tree planting, like other areas to be covered in the Bill, is now monitored by a range of independent and official bodies. We have the indicators; what we lack are effective systems of accountability and enforceability. This amendment will at least provide a target. Later on, we will need other amendments to ensure that that target is reported on with a year-by-year assessment to Parliament on how far we have gone towards achieving it.
Amendment 31 concerns the health of trees. Sadly, the trees in our country are not in a good way. A few years ago, as we know, the magnificent English elm, which was such a feature of our landscape, was completely wiped out. Most recently, ash dieback has swept across the whole country from the east coast to the west in just a few years, leaving a trail of thin, leafless, lifeless branches. Our oaks are suffering from a blight, and so are our chestnuts. The health of our trees must be a fundamental consideration in assessing the overall health of our environment. Amendment 31 requires targets for the overall health of the tree population, particularly in relation to native species, with research into disease-resistant varieties and progress in planting disease-resistant varieties. These targets are for 31 December 2030.
We know that research is going on into disease-resistant strains, and it is important that this is kept under review by Parliament. We know in relation to ash, for example, that there is some evidence that a disease-resistant strain can be developed, and Parliament needs to know what progress is being made in planting such strains. I therefore very much hope that the Minister will be able to accept both these amendments about trees, one on the progress towards achieving real targets of tree planting and the other to do with the health of our trees, woodlands and forests.
My Lords, this group of amendments is like some sort of dream list that any environment Bill worthy of its name should contain, so I very much hope that the Government will listen to all noble Lords on this. I will speak on only two amendments. First, I signed the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on marine, which he explained extremely well. All I can say, in less parliamentary language, is that it is plain daft not to include it. How can you not include another biosphere that is so important, not only for fishing and other things but generally for the well-being of anybody who ever goes down to the seaside?
I will speak specifically to my Amendment 32, which is about the controversial issue of reducing meat and dairy consumption. I eat both, so I am well aware of how difficult it is, but I have tailored my diet to reduce substantially my intake. I have also tabled this amendment because it was a clear recommendation from the Climate Change Committee to make a significant reduction in our carbon footprint. Sadly, and proving yet again the inadequacy of the scrutiny bodies in having any binding power over the Government, the recommendations have been ignored. Farming accounts for 12% of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK and, as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said in publishing the committee’s report:
“Changing the way we use our land is critical to delivering the UK’s Net Zero target.”
Looking globally, the UN predicts that global red meat consumption will double by 2050, which will be a disaster for the climate and ecology. Animal husbandry can be part of the solution to climate change, as good-practice grass-fed livestock can be an important part of building soil health and sequestering carbon. However, the levels of meat currently demanded in our western diets are simply incompatible with these sustainable practices. It is time for the Government to be quite brave and bold and start facing up to this reality. The Prime Minister should use his political capital—however much he has left—to begin this conversation and start this road to a more sustainable diet. It will be a test: is he really the skilled communicator that he and his allies believe? If so, I would like to set him a challenge: persuading the public that modifying our diets is an important step towards net zero.
My Lords, it is difficult to speak to an amendment that has not yet been spoken to by its proposer. I therefore ask my noble friend on the Front Bench whether she could make a note of this; we had exactly the same problem during the passage of the Agriculture Bill, which we finally got sorted out. The speakers’ lists should start off with all those who have amendments consequential to the first amendment. I want to speak to Amendment 11, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, but she will speak after me. This is nonsense and it does not help the Committee—I am very glad to see some nods around the Chamber from all sides. I therefore hope that my noble friend will make certain that we get a decent speakers’ list in future.
I support what I believe the noble Baroness will say on Amendment 11, just as she supported me on my Amendment 111, which also refers to soil, so we are as one. Soil is critical to the environment. You cannot get good habitats without proper soil. Unless soil is one of the priorities, we will never get there in the first place. There is a lot more to be said about soil later, but at this stage I just want to support the noble Baroness in her amendment.
On the amendments spoken to by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, he raises some very important points but this also shows the difficulty of having targets, particularly where you have plants and species that can be affected by disease and climate change. It will be very difficult to set a target for tree health, because it can change in a matter of years, as the noble and right reverend Lord said about the ash disease. If you set a target and then have to change it, targets become increasingly meaningless. If we are to have targets, they should have a meaning. I am therefore sceptical. I understand what he is trying to do and part of me supports it, but part of me says that it has to work on the ground—we cannot just tick a box and say that we have done targets, and then keep on changing them. We changed the biodiversity 2020 targets because nobody was going to meet them. It brings the whole concept of targets into disrepute.
The noble and right reverend Lord also mentioned the tree-planting target. I have said before that it is not just tree planting that matters but the maintenance of trees. It is terribly easy to plant trees; I planted lots of trees in the year before I went to agricultural college and I hope that some of them have been clear felled by now—they should have been. However, it is disease and animal destruction of trees, and the planting up after the planting and the support for those trees to grow into mature trees, that really matter. I would rather plant fewer trees and get them all up to maturity than plant x plus 10% when 20% will die, as we end up with a minus quantity. The thrust of the noble and right reverend Lord’s amendment is in the right direction, but again, it is about how it will work in practice; it is the practicalities of the Bill that will make it a success or not.
I welcome this small group of amendments. I will speak in particular to Amendment 6 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. He has been very kind in supporting my later amendment along the same lines, Amendment 113. I say to my noble friend the Minister that I find it extraordinary that we have this omission whereby the marine environment, marine mammals, marine flora and marine fauna are excluded from the remit of the Bill. In responding to a question at Oral Questions last week, my noble friend the Minister accepted:
“In relation to the sustainability of inshore fisheries, there is undoubtedly a tension between those activities and new wind farms”.—[Official Report, 16/6/21; col. 1886.]
If we are not going to embrace and try to resolve those tensions in the context of this Bill, what mechanism will we use?
I commend the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on the evidence we took in the EU Environment Sub-Committee on the ecology of the North Sea. It enabled us to look in some depth at the cumulative impact, as I think it is called, of these rather regrettable tendencies that are building up. It was referred to as the “urbanisation” of the seas, particularly the North Sea, with this plethora of new offshore wind farms growing up in a very short period of time without any concept or research being done—we will debate that later—on what the impact will be on the other uses of that part of the North Sea, such as inshore fisheries, which I just referred to, and shipping.
Nor has research been done on the impact on marine mammals both in the construction phase, with the noise and pollution that will inevitably be caused by a major event such as the construction of an offshore wind farm, and in its operation. I find it overwhelming that there has been no research as to why we are seeing dolphins, whales and other marine mammals banking on our shores with increased regularity—even in the River Thames most recently. I am sure that it has something to do with the sonic boom sent out by these offshore wind farms. It is a constant murmur on the seabed, which must be a distraction and cause some pain to marine mammals. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will look favourably on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and that it will be added to—or else some very good reasons must be given as to why there is no recognition in the Bill of the maritime area and the contents of marine ecology.
Like other noble Lords, I support a number of other amendments in this group. Soil quality is extremely important; we will hear about that in a moment. I always offer a word of caution to those like the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, who is looking to increase the planting of new trees. We must be extremely careful and approach where these trees are going to be planted very cautiously. I personally would like to see the creation of more peat bogs. It gives us a sense of the concept of time when we appreciate that it takes 200 years to create a peat bog, but I understand that the effects can also be replicated through the building of mini-dams and bunds, which should also be looked favourably upon.
For the reasons I have rehearsed before, my hesitation about encouraging the planting of new trees—they do have a role to play, as we have seen with the Slowing the Flow at Pickering pilot project on flood prevention and alleviation—is that, if grown in the wrong places, trees can actually contribute to flooding. That is a reason to be cautious. Also, only landowners and not tenant farmers can benefit from the planting of trees in any commercial way; they will therefore not benefit from this.
I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, realises that I hold her in the greatest respect and affection, but I part company with her on this attack on livestock farmers who face all sorts of onslaughts at the moment, including from the Government’s live transport provisions both domestically in this country and externally. I am sure that she and I can have a little private chat offline and reach some agreement on her amendment. This is an interesting group of amendments looking at all sorts of ways in which we can benefit, but I particularly lend my support to Amendment 6.
My Lords, I speak in support of Amendment 11 in this group, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I will endorse the comments made by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness; I apologise for speaking in advance of them. I will also comment on Amendment 32, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb.
I declare my interests as recorded on the register. Specifically, I chair the Cawood Group, which has a large soil-testing facility, so I have a commercial interest in the subject; I am a former chair of the Meat and Livestock Commission; and I was a beef and sheep farmer until two years ago.
On Amendment 11, I endorse the importance of soil health and that soil quality should be included on the face of the Bill as a priority area. As I am sure the Minister will agree, the quality of our soil is a matter of deep concern. The degrading of soil is a worldwide problem with huge consequences for the natural environment. As a soil scientist at Rothamsted Research told me many years ago, once soil has been completely degraded, it cannot be recreated. Its loss can be permanent, with all the consequences that might lead to. We often use “fundamental” rather loosely but, as far as soil is concerned, its quality is of fundamental importance. Without healthy soil, our ability to sustain ourselves, have healthy ecosystems and biodiversity and sustain the entire natural world will be impossible, so it is rather odd that it is not included as a priority in the Bill—especially as it was given significant importance in the Government’s 25-year environment plan. Understanding the health of our soil is crucial if we are to continue on the journey towards more sustainable agricultural production and to capture its carbon sequestration potential, since the organic matter content of soil varies enormously. I hope that the Minister will accept this hugely important small amendment.
On Amendment 32, which is also included in this group, I am sorry but, rather like the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, I must inform the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that I cannot support this amendment. Perhaps we should all join and have a drink afterwards when we can. First, let me say that the idea that the Government will control what we are allowed to eat by regulation would take the nanny state into new territory entirely. So far, successive Governments have failed to compel consumers to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, so their record of managing consumer diets is not a great success story. Obesity continues to spiral out of control; the Government have a huge enough challenge trying to get to grips with that without trying to intrude on the eating of meat and dairy products. I cannot believe that any Government, particularly a Conservative one, would dare to impose such a policy.
Secondly, the amendment bases the regulation of meat and dairy products solely on the emission of methane when we now know that its impact on the environment is nothing like as long-lasting as carbon and without taking into account the huge benefit that the grazing ruminants sector delivers in supporting a vast range of ecosystems and biodiversity, together with vital carbon sequestration capability—not to mention the visual appeal of the British countryside, in which grazing livestock are a big part of the attraction so are important to tourism and the rural economy. Of course, we must continue to reduce the emission of methane and carbon as well as the environmental impact of ruminants, but I am confident that we will achieve that by building on scientific knowledge, which is very encouraging and developing all the time through protogenetics, better management, influence on ruminant diets and the choice of grassland species.
I just add in conclusion that I fully support the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on his Amendment 6, which he presented very confidently. I also have a lot of sympathy with Amendment 31 and the comments of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries. Tree health is a huge challenge and we need clear action by government; the Bill is an opportunity to try to improve tree health and reduce disease. I shall listen with interest to the Minister’s response on these issues.
My Lords, I rise with a very long list of amendments to speak to, and I shall begin by very briefly addressing the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, in response to my noble friend’s Amendment 32. I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, for offering his support for my Amendment 11 on soils. I agree with him that it is rather odd that it is not initially in the Bill.
On Amendment 32, I first point out that this amendment does not seek to impose a diet on anyone; it sets a target to head the national diet in a certain direction. On what the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, said about methane, yes, its impact on the climate is shorter lasting, but it is also more than a score higher than that of carbon dioxide. When we consider the facts that we have an emergency and have to ensure that we stay below 1.5 degrees above industrial warming right now, the next 10 years are absolutely crucial and methane emissions now particularly crucial.
My noble friend will not forgive me if I do not stress that we very much understand that animal agriculture has an important place in the British landscape, but we have to start by tackling factory farming—for many reasons, from antimicrobial resistance through to the point that it is food waste to feed perfectly good food that people could eat to animals to produce much less food as a result.
I shall now get to the list that I started with. I shall briefly speak to Amendment 10 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, on light pollution. We in the Green group would have attached our signature to this amendment, had there been space to do so. Clearly, this is a huge issue. The noble Lord, Lord Randall, referred to what has been called “insectageddon”, the huge loss of insect numbers and species, and light pollution is certainly part of that. I also point out that this is very much a case for joined-up government. So much of the light that we emit and pollute our skies with is utterly unnecessary. For example, the French Government have brought in a law that says that neon shop signs have to be switched off between midnight and dawn, which undoubtedly has benefits for the natural world. I am sure it also has huge benefits for people who live in flats above shops, who live in the environment. We are talking about making the environment benefit people and nature.
I also briefly offer support for the general intentions of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, in focusing on trees, while taking on board the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, that we need the right tree in the right place, to use the buzz-phrase. We talk a great deal about tree planting, but it is important that we think about the natural regeneration of trees, because that is one way in which nature will help to ensure that we get the right tree in the right place. We also need to talk a great deal more about agri-forestry and the possibility of forage crops and crops producing human food—nut and fruit trees and so on—mixed in to our existing agricultural systems.
Now I get to the three amendments that I really want to talk about here. I apologise that this will be rather a long speech, but these are short but very important amendments. I come first to Amendment 7, which appears in my name and changes one of the proposed targets set down by the Government. The target as expressed by the Government is for resource efficiency and waste reduction, but I am calling for the words “resource efficiency” to be replaced by “reduction in resource use”. The current wording essentially says, “We’ll continue to treat the planet as a mine and dumping ground, but we will do it less wastefully”. What I suggest is that the law should acknowledge that we cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet and that a circular economy is a necessary but not sufficient condition for a sustainable world. In the terms of the neat video, “The Story of Stuff”, which has been around since 2007, we must have less stuff in our lives.
I refer to an important report from the Green Alliance, which I encourage noble Lords to read, which points out that resource use drives half the world’s climate emissions and 90% of nature destruction around the world. The UK’s use of resources, renewable and finite, is twice the level considered sustainable. Of natural resources alone, the UK uses three times as much as the planet can sustainably provide. That report, by what is not by any means a radical green group, calls for resource use to be halved. The UK’s material footprint was estimated at 971 million tonnes in 2018, equivalent to 14.6 tonnes per person. In 1997, 40% of that came from domestic extraction, which fell to 27% in 2018. We are taking a huge quantity of resources from the world—far more than the world can bear.
I stress that cutting resource use does not have to mean a lesser quality of life. When we think about the damage that stuff is doing, whether the ocean is turned into a plastic soup, the planet heated dangerously or soils destroyed in producing food then wastefully fed to animals, which then produces health-damaging junk food, we can see that reducing resource use can considerably improve our quality of life—not just using it better but using less of it. Really, there is no alternative. In a debate on the Finance Bill earlier this month, the noble Lord, Lord Agnew of Oulton, for the Treasury, responded to my remarks along these lines, by pointing to the book More from Less by Andrew McAfee, which claims that technology is enabling the dematerialisation of growth. As many critics have pointed out, however, that book ignores the fact that very often material use and exploitation are being exported, not replaced, and the acceleration of planned obsolescence means that more efficient use of resources has very often not meant less use of resources.
The noble Lord, Lord Agnew, pointed us to the United States Geological Survey figures for 72 resources, saying that only six had passed their peak, but that is a reflection of what the known reserves are. What about the damage done to people and nature by extracting them? Mining is by its very nature inevitably destructive. In a world suffering a pandemic of environmental ill health and the biodiversity emergency, more destruction tips us over multiple planetary boundaries, a concept that the response from the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, suggests that the Treasury has yet to grasp.
I am well aware that the Minister will find his work cut out in tackling the Treasury on these issues, but I point out that, if this Government want to be—as they so often tell us—world-leading, the European Parliament has demanded that the EU reduce resource use by 2030 and bring it within planetary boundaries, which means cutting it by two-thirds by 2050. That is the target set by the European Parliament. If we are going to be world-leading, that is where the Bill should be going. I am well aware that running the country for the economy instead of running the economy for the well-being of the country is deeply engrained, but that is a challenge for the Minister to take on.
I come to the two other amendments that appear in my name. Before I do, I want to refer back to a comment made in the first group by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, who said that we are inadequately exploring the relationship between the Agriculture Act, the Trade Act and the Environment Bill. I had a meeting last week with farmers and farming advisers who expressed to me exasperation and frustration because they were struggling to understand the Government’s intentions in that process. These two amendments that I am about to speak to attempt to deal with some of those issues.
I come to Amendment 11, on soils—and I hope that I get it through. I express my great thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for attaching his name to this amendment and want to thank the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Lords, Lord Curry and Lord Randall of Uxbridge, for expressing their support for it. As the noble Lord, Lord Randall, said, it is astonishing that it is not in the Bill to start with.
I want to quote Thomas Jefferson:
“While the farmer holds the title to the land, actually, it belongs to all the people because civilization itself rests upon the soil.”
I will also refer to a few points in the report The State of the Environment: Soil from the Environment Agency in June 2019. It is really telling that it says:
“There is insufficient data on the health of our soils and investment is needed in soil monitoring”.
It is very clear that we do not know enough, and if we set a target, that will create a framework where we need to do the measuring. In some ways perhaps it is a bit “chicken and egg”—but let us get this started, because it clearly needs to happen.
Now I am aware that some may look at many of the issues affecting soils and say, “Well, testing for water and air will address some of those issues”. But there are many issues with soil that measures that might address water and air quality will not address. One of the very obvious ones is soil compaction. To go back to the Environment Agency report:
“Almost 4 million hectares of soil are at risk of compaction in England and Wales”.
That has impacts on fertility, as well as on water and flooding. The report also says:
“Over 2 million hectares of soil are at risk of erosion in England and Wales.”
We have of course carbon stores in soil that are absolutely crucial, but we also have a situation where intensive agriculture has caused arable soils to lose 40% to 60% of their organic carbon. We have, through the spreading of supposedly organic material, had 300,000 hectares of soil contaminated in the UK. Recently in Cumbria we had horrific cases where farmers have suffered huge damage from the spreading of what they thought was organic fertiliser on their soil, which has caused huge contamination with everything from pharmaceuticals to heavy metals and a range of other contaminants. So it is very clear that the Government need to have a target for air, soil and water. There is a very clear, obvious logic to having targets in all those areas.
I come finally—sorry, I am aware that I have spoken for some time—to Amendment 14, which in some ways is related to this but raises a whole new area of science that I believe the Government and the world need to be paying more attention to: the management of nitrogen. Again, noble Lords might say, “Well, that seems to fit within soils”, and in some ways it does, but I point out that this is a fast-growing international area.
In fact, the international nitrogen management system project was set up by the UN a decade ago with the aim of doing what the IPPC did for carbon emissions and setting global targets for nitrogen. To put this in context for noble Lords who want to know more about this, I point to an article in New Scientist called The Nitrogen Emergency: How to Fix our Forgotten Environmental Crisis, from last month. This points out that we should, to fit within the world’s planetary limits, only be fixing 62 million tonnes of nitrogen a year on land. We are currently fixing at least 300 million tonnes of nitrogen each year—five times as much. The international nitrogen management system had a very large international meeting in 2018. It thought it should set a target around the figure I have just cited, but decided it was politically impossible, so instead set a global target of halving nitrogen waste by 2030.
It is worth saying—this fits in very much with the needs of farmers—that applying and fixing nitrogen of course has huge costs. Nitrogen efficiency use by farmers around the world has now fallen from 50% in 1961 to 42% today. We think about progress, but we are largely going backwards in terms of our efficiency in the use of nitrogen. There is a UN target, the Colombo Declaration, but only 14 countries have signed up to it. So nitrogen is a separate issue, but it is something that I would urge the Government to consider taking much more action on, even if it is not included in this Bill. Because, in brief, nitrogen means huge ocean dead zones and huge amounts of air pollution—something that my noble friend will address in other aspects of the Bill. It means soil acidification and ozone depletion and problems with alkaline air, which causes massive damage by eating away at the ozone layer.
So we need to make the Bill a lot better, and indeed we talked about that in our debate on the first group of amendments. This group of amendments is where we start to concretely see how we can make the Bill larger and stronger. Amendments in this group have some serious force and detail behind them. I do not necessarily expect the Minister to respond in detail to everything I have said today but, in terms of nitrogen, I hope that the Government will see the arguments coming from all sides of the House, in particular from the noble Lord’s own side, that soil quality has to be there. We need to greatly improve the Bill and this group gives us some really important ways to do it.
My Lords, I see this as a key grouping and I intend to speak to Amendment 10, moved so ably by my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge. It is ironic that we are debating this issue on the day of the summer solstice. However, I am an enthusiast for the Bill, and I think I share that with the previous speaker—although perhaps she is more prone to amending the Bill than I would be. I want to see the Bill on the statute book and, from past experience, I am averse to yet another approach to lists. Dream or not, they do not appeal to me, so it must be really something to get me to seek a change in a Bill.
However, light pollution is a real contamination of our environment. My noble friend drew the attention of the House to the briefing from Buglife, which I too have read, but it is there for us all to see. Light pollution affects not only human health, animal health and bird health; it affects insect health—not only how they function but how they can act as pollinators. There are serious environmental consequences of light pollution. I believe that Amendment 10 picks up on the need for the Bill to allow the Government and local government to set standards, to measure, to monitor and, if necessary, to control, avoid and reduce light pollution.
I must declare my interest in that I am a founding member and vice-chairman of the APPG for Dark Skies. The group was inaugurated by the noble Lord, Lord Rees of Ludlow, and my honourable friend Andrew Griffiths in another place.
There has been a revolution in lighting: you get a lot of lumens for your buck nowadays. Lighting, properly used, is a good thing. It helps us with road safety and street safety, and with personal and property security. All these things benefit from lighting. But, living in a fenland landscape, I can say that bright lights over a porch doorway from a mile away are not a pretty sight. Lighting installed incorrectly and used inappropriately is a menace.
Closer to home, there is a new development that provides a strong focus for the need to control light pollution. Noble Lords will know what I am involved in intensive horticulture, and I am familiar with Westland, in the area of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, which glows in the night sky as it produces crops. Nearer to home, I am familiar with the Chichester plain, which also has an extensive glass area under lighting. We are now looking at vertical farming, and that after all poses many of the same challenges.
I believe that by putting this amendment in the Bill, we will have regard for this issue. If we are not going to lose the magic of the night sky, we need to do so. Last night, I watched the programme by Brian Cox on the magic of the heavens. They are a fascinating thing and our birthright. It would be a tragedy if by carelessness we lost this for humankind. I support the amendment.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Taylor. I put my name on this group only because I want to support Amendment 10. I will not repeat a lot of what the experts said, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge.
Before I say anything about Amendment 10, I want to advise the Minister. In the previous debate, I referred to the preparation of legislation report in 1975. I advise his office to look at the 2013 government report from parliamentary counsel, When Laws Become Too Complex. He does not have to read it all, but it makes a couple of good points about why laws become complex and why Bills have grown: because every group you can think of wants its bit in the Bill. We know it is a competitive arrangement out there from the kind of briefs we get. We get multiple briefs these days, with maybe 20 groups joined together to save us getting 20 separate ones. We need to be very wary.
The idea is to get the Bill and get some action. That is probably more important. The average size of a Bill in 2009—there is obviously some delay here because I take this from the 2013 report—was 98 pages. This Bill is more than twice the average size of a Bill in those days. It already has a huge number of issues that have been planted there by what I will call pressure groups. I am not being critical, by the way, because I agree with many of the speeches that I have heard this afternoon, but I would rather have the Bill and some action than delays to get the holy grail—it will not work.
On light pollution, I was one of those who always approved of permanent summer time—we never managed to get it through—because I think it would be a good idea. I realise there is a problem; the Scots do not want it. It is one of those issues, but I am in favour of it.
The fact of the matter is that presently the Government’s planning guidance, which I think was updated in November 2019, gives advice and guidance but no action. It talks about the common causes of complaints to local authorities. We all know about domestic, shops, exterior security and insensitively positioned decorative lighting. I live—looking out of the window—in Shropshire. I live in the middle of Ludlow, so it is not completely light free, even at night. One or two buildings leave on their security lights, there is street lighting, and even the railways. But the fact of the matter is that looking at the night sky is difficult anywhere in England these days. I also saw the programme with Professor Brian Cox last night. They could not have taken those photographs of 13 billion light-years away with the kind of pollution we have here.
It is the kind of lighting. No action is being taken on the Government’s guidance—I do not think that local authorities do anything on white light sources or filtering out the blue and ultraviolet light. That can be a problem for some people, and not just people. As the noble Lord, Lord Randall, said, the guidance is only for people and does not take account of the billions of creatures we share this planet with. They are being lost because of light pollution. There is a strong case for putting this amendment in the Bill so that we can get some action.
If there is another way of doing it—if the Government can look at their planning guidance and give local authorities some targets or action, or facilitate the ease with which they can cause the abandonment of certain sources of light pollution in favour of things that are not so polluting—so much the better. We need some action on light pollution. Nobody has ever done it systematically or strategically, and this amendment is an opportunity to push the Government that way. My main caveat for the Minister is: look at why the Bills have got too complex. I want some action, and therefore I want the Bill.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the noble Baroness want to give the Secretary of State powers to set targets separately in respect of “terrestrial biodiversity” and “marine biodiversity”. Actually, the definition of “natural environment”, as contained in Clause 43, makes clear that it includes the marine environment as well as the terrestrial and water environments. I do not support this amendment because it is unnecessary. Furthermore, it appears to exclude the crucially important area of the water environment.
I also do not support Amendment 7, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. It may well be that efficiency is improved by the increased use of some resources and reduced use of others. This depends on the availability and cost of various resources. The noble Baroness’s amendment is too prescriptive and would constrain the Secretary of State unreasonably in the exercise of his powers.
I welcome Amendment 10, in the name of my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge. It is regrettable that the Bill does not cover light pollution. As new road schemes are progressively introduced across the country, many of them are connected with existing roads by new roundabouts, often on high ground above the towns and villages to which they provide relief. They can be seen for miles. Highways regulations require that roundabouts be lit, unlike gradual road junctions. This is an increasing source of light pollution and has a significant effect on the urbanisation of the countryside. Although I am not sure how to measure the “people’s enjoyment” of the countryside, light pollution has a negative effect.
If my noble friend Lord Blencathra’s amendment were accepted, at least in some places, could the meaning of “nature” not be extended to include the soil and the organisms that live in it? In that case, Amendment 11 would be redundant.
Amendments 12 and 31, in the name of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, require the Secretary of State to set targets for the planting of new trees. He spoke with conviction in support of his amendments, but I believe that the Secretary of State already has the necessary power to set targets for tree planting, and I wonder whether this needs to be made a separate priority area.
Amendment 14, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, seeks to add “nitrogen management” as a priority area, over which the Secretary of State must set a long-term target. Nitrogen is essential for both plant and animal life, but I am not sure that it is necessary to add another priority area because this is surely already included in Clause 1(3)(c), whether we call this “nature” or “biodiversity”. Furthermore, excessive use of nitrogen in fertilisers has already been reduced by more than a third since the mid-1980s.
Amendment 32, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, is terrifying, and I hope that my noble friend does not accept it. It seeks to reduce the amount of meat and dairy products that we consume by 20%. I know that the Committee on Climate Change has recommended that we reduce our livestock production, but I am very sceptical that this would have the slightest impact on the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Certainly, growing more trees will help, but 65% of British land is suitable only for livestock grazing, and I believe British farmers will find that the growing middle classes in Asia will steadily recognise the quality of our meat products, opening up new and profitable markets for them.
We have grazed cattle and sheep in this country for thousands of years, and the state should not be in the business of telling us to eat less meat, whether through new draconian measures or the application of taxes that would reduce the profitability of our farms, driving farmers off the land and reducing the proportion of our food that is home-produced.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on his amendment, which I support. The marine environment, onshore and offshore, is vitally important, as we on the environmental sub-committee found on many occasions when we were discussing fisheries. Perhaps this is another case of not knowing what we have got until it is gone. There is a danger of over-fishing the environment, and acting in ways that damage the seabed, and that can have profound effects. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, is right to stress the importance of this issue.
Before I go on to the light pollution amendment, which I have put my name to, I want to emphasise something that the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, said. I am puzzled why the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, wants to worry about people eating meat: if ever there was a cause that young people seem to embrace, it is vegetarianism—and indeed veganism. You do not need a government diktat to tell them to do that. Last night, we ate steak at our local pub; today, we had one of Lady Young’s delicious vegetable bakes. You do not need the state to interfere in this—there is a balance to be struck.
I am at one with the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, about meat and dairy farming. Farming is changing fundamentally. As the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, reminded us, the use of fertiliser has dropped dramatically, and the way it is applied is much more scientific.
I noticed that there was a sort of aside by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, when she referred to mining. Yes, there will be mining, because we want lithium for batteries for electric cars—unless she is proposing that that is not a way forward. There are those who say that we should not be using cars at all, but you would have a job to convince the British public of that. Even there, science and technology are likely to come to our aid: a different type of battery, possibly using sulphur, may well be available in the future.
I think the advice of my noble friend Lord Rooker and the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, was right: we want an Environment Bill, and there is no such thing as a perfect Bill. I remember trying to deal with a Bill on the digital economy—a small Bill that was swamped by about 700 amendments. We have to strike a balance on this Bill.
On the effect of light pollution, I am at one with the noble Lords, Lord Randall and Lord Taylor, and others. There are so many benefits that we can achieve through controlling light pollution. As the noble Lord, Lord Randall, said, lighting has come along in leaps and bounds, and local authorities are quite capable of doing a lot more to control the use of lighting. Although we are now using LEDs, I notice that they still shine just as brightly right through the night, when they clearly do not need to.
I remember driving along a country lane just outside Swanage, with my two young children. It was completely dark. We looked up at the sky and there, before their amazed eyes, was the Milky Way, stretched out before them in a way they had never seen in town. When I said, “Look, there is a shooting star”, I was met first with derision but was eventually proved right. We are probably never going to be able to return to seeing the Milky Way in London, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Randall, and others have brought to the Committee’s attention, we could make a profound difference on pollinators, on the kind of environment that we live in, and on energy saving. I am keen on both those amendments, and look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I wish principally to support Amendments 12 and 31, in the name of my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries of Pentregarth, which are about trees. Before I say something about those, I will say a few words about Amendment 6, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and Amendment 10, about light pollution.
I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, is right to draw attention in Amendment 6 to the maritime or marine environment, but the terrestrial and the marine aspects are interconnected and, as the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, pointed out, there is no need for the amendment. You have only to go to the Isle of May—not very far from Edinburgh, where I am—at the mouth of the Firth of Forth, which is inhabited by very large numbers of puffins, to see the way in which that interconnection works. At this time of year, puffins come ashore in their thousands, with their beaks full of sand eels, to feed their young in burrows all round the island. These sand eels live in the sea, and they live on other things in the sea. The maritime environment is their environment, but they are caught by feeding seabirds, which of course spend much of their time at sea as well. The interconnection is obvious in places such as that, and I do not see the need for a distinction. But we do need the Minister to confirm that, when he talks about biodiversity, he means both maritime and terrestrial.
As for light pollution, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, that the summer solstice is a curious time of the year to be talking about it. In my cottage at Craighead in east Perthshire, you can read a newspaper outside at 11 pm. Even at midnight, almost half the sky is still light. We live up in the hills where there is no light pollution at all, and enjoy all the benefits and wonders of the sky where that is true. It is not entirely free of light pollution, because there is a wind farm not far from us which, until recently, had a bright red, winking light warning passing aircraft; it flashed 60 times a minute, right in front of our cottage. We were able to stop it, because there is a condition that required that element of light pollution to be removed by moving to ultraviolet light. This is just a small example of how things can be done by planners who put in the appropriate planning permissions for developments. There is a huge amount of work to do here and, as a bird-watcher, I support very much what the noble Lord, Lord Randall, said about the huge damage done to birds by light pollution, and the enormous loss of life that results to other animals, such as bats, as well.
Turning to trees, I agree with the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, that trees play a crucial part in our environment and their overall health is important, too. This is not just a matter of climate change but because so many other creatures depend on trees. As they mature, trees attract insects, which, in turn, are a source of food for birds, from tits and treecreepers to woodpeckers; birds and squirrels also nest in them, and they offer shelter and protection. They enhance our landscape and offer much else besides.
However, as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, pointed out, it should not be just about numbers; the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, made this point as well. As important is the question of where the planting is to be done. This was an issue that an HS2 committee on which I sat had to consider. The Woodland Trust, which plays a vital role and is such a source for good in this context, argued that 30 new trees should be planted for every tree taken down along the route. For us, the question was how this request should be met. We felt that it would be unreasonable to direct that farmers who were having to give up their land along the line should have to give up even more land for the planting of new trees. In our view, those who felt that they had room for them—other landowners—should be encouraged to do this instead, with the assistance of funds that are being made available for that purpose.
So, where they go is extremely important, but there is a wider issue: the planting of new trees has to have regard to the effect that this will have on the surrounding environment. A balance needs to be struck. Moorland and meadows have their place too. Where trees are planted, their character and all the ecology that goes with it will be changed. I do hope that the environmental targets that Amendment 31 refers to will take all of that into account. That said, the noble Lord has raised a very important issue about trees which I entirely support.
My Lords, I declare my interests as chairman of the Woodland Trust—I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, for his positive remarks about that organisation—and as a commissioner on the Commission on Food, Farming and the Countryside.
I will speak to Amendments 11, 12 and 31. Amendment 11 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and my noble friend Lord Whitty indicates that soil quality is a priority area for environmental improvement; that is absolutely the case. Soil has for many years been the poor relation as regards environmental media and priorities yet, as the noble Lord, Lord Curry, outlined so clearly, we are now recognising the importance of our soils and their complex ecosystems for a whole variety of things, such as climate change, agriculture, biodiversity, and reducing runoff and erosion to maintain water quality. So, it would be highly appropriate for soil to be highlighted as a priority; I support that amendment.
On Amendment 12 in the name of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, as chairman of the Woodland Trust, I would commend tree planting, of course, but not just planting. If we are to reverse biodiversity decline and tackle climate change, we need to ensure that existing woodlands are effectively managed to maximise their impact on both of those challenges. We know that existing woodland is for the most part not in good condition, particularly native broadleaf woodland. We also need to ensure that our much-threatened ancient woodlands are properly protected so that, after 300 or 400 years of existence, they can continue their vital task of sequestering carbon and fostering biodiversity for another 100 years or more. We also need to see more natural regeneration of trees. But let us be in no doubt: trees are an important priority and this amendment should be supported. If any noble Lords are in any doubt or need further information, I commend to you the State of the UK’s Woods and Trees, recently published by the Woodland Trust.
Amendment 31, also in the name of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, introduces a new target on tree health. I very much support the spirit of that amendment. I am looking out of my study window on a dying 80-foot ash tree, which is protected by a tree protection order but not from tree disease. I am not sure that targets are the right way forward for tree disease, but I support the need for an annual report from government on action on tree health. Because of the importance of this issue, I have laid Amendment 259, which is about the “how” of biosecurity, and preventing importation of tree disease can help. I do hope that I will have the support of the noble and right reverend Lord when we reach that amendment.
My Lords, I had put myself down to speak in this group to support the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, little realising that I would be following the chairman of the Woodland Trust, therefore making it difficult to add much in support of these two amendments. I had thought that the Government’s policy on planting more trees was already in a piece of legislation, but if it is not, it seems sensible to include it as a priority area, and, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, has also tabled, to strengthen the regulations on tree health. As a number of noble Lords have mentioned, we have in recent years been blighted by diseases in elm, ash, chestnut and larch, to mention just some of the trees which we have lost. Research into these disease-resistant varieties must also be a sensible suggestion. I should be very grateful to hear from the Minister why tree planting should not be a priority area.
I also wish to support introducing for discussion the question of light pollution for inclusion in the Bill as a priority. This amendment has been tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Randall, who is clearly knowledgeable on this subject, as on so many others. He is completely right about how difficult it is nowadays to have a good view of the night sky. Again, on this I should be most interested to hear the Government’s response to what appears to be a very sensible amendment. I also understand why a number of noble Lords have spoken about soil quality, which is clearly a fundamental element of all aspects of the environment and of biodiversity, and should surely be considered as another priority area.
I am sorry that like the noble Lord, Lord Curry, I am unable to support Amendment 32, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I should hear declare my agricultural interests. As others have said, and as the noble Baroness acknowledges, there is a huge difference between livestock fed on grass pastures in the United Kingdom and meat produced in feed lots amounting to thousands of animals on each lot, fed largely on concentrates, in North and South America, and in Australasia.
In this very diverse group of amendments, there are so many issues to which I look forward to hearing the Government’s reaction, but I also understand the excellent point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that if there is too much in the Bill, there is less likelihood of action.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, and so many other environmentally passionate Peers, and to talk to this important group of amendments to add further priority areas to the Bill’s environmental targets.
There is of course the danger that focus on individual priority areas relegates other areas to non-priority status. Given that all of our natural environment is in crisis, I should be wary of picking winners and losers at a singular point in time. I should appreciate it if the Minister, when responding to this group, could explain why these four priority areas were being enshrined in this legislation to the exclusion of any others, and what mechanism might be available to amend this list in future, should priorities necessarily change in coming decades. A priority in 2021 may not be a priority in 2041, and it would not help the environment if we were held to antiquated decades-old priorities.
On Amendment 6, so ably introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, while I agree on the importance of the marine environment, I remain unconvinced as to the benefits of dividing between terrestrial and marine biodiversity targets. This would set a false division, particularly for those of us who live and work in the intertidal habitats which are a key element of our national biodiversity. Such intertidal spaces, with their vast carbon sequestration potential and particularly productive biodiversity, would be covered either by both targets, which may be considered unfair double counting, or by neither, which would be much worse.
Here I should declare my interests as listed in the register, a number of which are pertinent to this debate and to all my further contributions. In particular, I am a farmer and landowner in Devon, with interests in farmland, foreshore and heritage landscapes, to which public access is key. I am also a lawyer at a firm with natural capital and agricultural practices which represents farmers, land managers, developers and financiers of ecosystem services.
I have some sympathy with Amendment 7 in the name of noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, but it sets a false target which I fear we would be doomed to miss. With our population inevitably growing over the coming decades, we will undoubtedly use more of certain resources and we cannot limit ourselves to an absolute reduction in all resource use, but it is right that we commit to an absolute reduction in waste and an absolute increase in resource efficiency.
I do not agree that either light pollution or nitrogen management deserves separate priority status, as proposed in Amendments 10 and 14. Both are undoubtedly important issues, but they are merely two among many environmental concerns that should not be separately elevated.
Conversely, as to Amendment 11, I believe that soil quality or soil health warrants its own independent priority status, as soil quality is key to the health of our landscape, the provision of healthy and nutritious food, the management and retention of water and the increase in biodiversity, as well as the sequestration of carbon. As the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, said, soil is the “mineral substrate” on which our biodiversity has grown. The absence of soil alongside air and water among our priority categories is a gaping omission. As the Bill is drafted, focus will fall predominantly on air and water, and our soil will continue to suffer. It is also noteworthy that soil is the most complex and least understood of our natural habitats. Academics continue to struggle in evaluating the natural capital value of soil, as it is much harder to measure than air or water. By omitting it from Clause 1(3), we are in danger of giving it a permanently second-tier status.
As to trees, which the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, seeks to add as both a priority area and a specific environmental target, I am again very sympathetic, but I do not believe they warrant the separate attention that soil so clearly deserves. We already have a national tree strategy and ambitious planting targets within the 25-year environment plan, and trees should continue to get considerable attention with or without these amendments. However, I note that Amendment 12 focuses on the planting of new trees, whereas of more importance, and as set out in Amendment 31, is the management of our existing tree cover, much of which is in poor condition and badly managed. We need to avoid focusing solely on new tree planting targets and should instead give equal if not more attention to thinning existing plantations and managing pests and diseases to ensure that the trees we have are as healthy as possible.
Finally, I have to resist the efforts of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, to regulate by statute our consumption of meat and dairy. What her amendment does not and cannot do is address the complex issues around meat and dairy farming which are key to the maintenance of our ancient and much-valued pastures. As a Devon farmer, I am bound to resist such regulations, but I encourage the Government to do all they can to promote the UK’s grass-fed meat and dairy as a vastly better form of protein than stall-raised, cereal-fed alternatives from overseas. While I agree that we need to eat less meat and dairy, it needs to be achieved by education and dietary and well-being awareness, and what we do eat needs to be better and locally produced.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to Amendment 31 standing in the name of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth. In doing so, I also give my support to the lead amendment in this group, Amendment 6, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. I hope that the Minister can accept Amendment 6 and incorporate it into the Bill. I indeed agree with many of the comments made by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, a moment ago, particularly with regard to trees.
Amendment 31 addresses a tragic contemporary issue: tree disease. I remember, last year hearing the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, speak extremely movingly about the issue of ash dieback, which has been acutely evident in parts of Wales, particularly in Ceredigion, as he knows better than anyone. I should, perhaps, declare an interest: on our fields we had to fell four ash trees last November, because ash dieback was already devastating them. Our tree feller told me then that I probably face several more trees having to be felled this autumn. It is heart-breaking that, on our roadsides in Wales and along our cycle tracks, we see trees with orange marks designating that they have this awful condition and are doomed to be felled. I support this amendment. We are in the middle of a war against tree disease and, in any such battle, we must be adequately equipped with the facts.
In many ways, it is surprising that the considerations covered by this amendment are not already part of government strategy. If they are, perhaps the Minister could put me right. They certainly should be. I hope that he can provide us with assurances that all these provisions are really covered in legislation or, if they are not, that the Government will seriously consider each of the various proposals included in this amendment. If they cannot accept the wording, perhaps they will bring forward at Report their own amendment that can deal effectively with these issues.
Finally, again, can the Minister give an assurance that there is cross-border co-operation with the Welsh Government on this issue, as tree infections are no respecters of political borders? I urge support therefore for both Amendments 6 and 31.
My Lords, I would like to speak in favour of Amendment 10 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Randall and Lord Taylor. The effect of light pollution is intrinsically part of the existing four priority areas for which environmental targets will be set, but it is not mentioned in any of the actions identified in the Bill to remedy or mitigate the underlying issues raised by these targets. Hence a separate target to reduce levels of light pollution is necessary and will not be difficult to implement or measure.
I declare my interest, being a vice-chair of the APPG on Dark Skies, like the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, and as the grandson of a knighted astronomer. Light pollution is relevant to human health, nature and wildlife, energy consumption and thereby greenhouse gas emissions. First, on health, epidemiological studies conducted in the United States have identified poorer sleep and anxiety disorders emanating from outdoor illumination, affected physical and mental health and well-being. Constant light is a well-known method of torture. Secondly, there is the effect on nature and wildlife. A review from Nature magazine in 2018 concluded that
“early results suggest that light at night is exerting pervasive, long-term stress on ecosystems, from coasts to farmland”
“waterways, many of which are already suffering from other, more well-known forms of pollution.”
The article then mentions a UK study on the timing of bud opening in trees, also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Randall. The study demonstrated a rate of acceleration “similar to that” now “predicted for … global warming”.
A Defra report in 2019 showed a sharp decline in insect numbers, with a 31% drop in insect pollinators between 1980 and 2016, and a 60% decline in the 2,890 priority species from 1970 to 2016. The State of Nature 2019 report by the National Biodiversity Network identified urban areas as particularly affected. In 2017, a paper from Nature highlighted the connection between light pollution and pollinating insect species, suggesting a threat to world food production.
Thirdly, there is the additional and unnecessary fuel consumption associated with aggressive illumination and the extra burden on greenhouse gas emissions. The reason for illumination that is so often given is that of safety. A study by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine found that crime and road collisions do not increase in dark or dimmed areas.
Measuring light pollution is simple, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Randall, with the use of a system produced by CPRE that can form the basis of monitoring change. Let us use this opportunity to acknowledge and deal with this important area, as encouraged by the Government’s draft environmental principles, encompassing both precaution and prevention. Measures to remedy the problems are not rocket science but clearly achievable through the strengthening of the planning framework, the reform of planning permission processes, the strengthening of statutory nuisance provisions, education, and technological developments. We can also learn from examples of measures taken in countries such as France and Germany.
Surely the amendment has a necessary and worthy place in this important Bill.
My Lords, I shall speak in favour of Amendment 10, to which I have added my name, and I support other amendments in this group. I declare my interest, as others have done, as a member of the APPG for Dark Skies. The noble Lord, Lord Randall, has made the case for his amendment very eloquently, as has the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach.
When I was a child—this was a while ago—I was brought up in Bristol. Like all children, I was fascinated by the moon, which shone in the sky. Man had not yet ventured to the moon, which I felt was a distant, magical planet. Although we lived in a city, it was possible to see the night sky. Streetlights were switched off before midnight, probably at about 11 pm. There was much less human activity at night in those days. I was therefore able to concoct wonderful stories in my imagination about the man in the moon and the shadows on the moon’s surface.
Roll forward to today, and the map of the country often shown on news bulletins is of a land illuminated by streetlights that are not turned off. The areas where darkness prevails are few and far between. It is impossible for a child living in an urban area to investigate the sky and see the stars twinkling in the light reflected from the moon.
To move from the emotional view of light pollution to the detail of it, it is impacting our species and ecosystems, and increased artificial light at night is directly linked to negative impacts on energy consumption, human health and wildlife such as bats, insects and plants, as others have referred to. Ten years ago I could walk down the lane at 10 pm and bats would be swooping around overhead, consuming gnats and other flying insects. Today it is very rare to see any bats overhead at night. There is a wealth of information about the effect on birds and insects of artificial light, and others have made powerful speeches about the impact of light pollution on night pollinators and on feeding cycles.
My neighbour has a telescope in their upstairs window to see the stars. How very lucky we are to live in a dark area—the only light pollution that we suffer is from Advent to Epiphany, when the church is illuminated by floodlights—but over 90% of the UK population are estimated to be unable to see the Milky Way from where they live. To my mind, that is a severe limit on their ability to observe and wonder at the world that we live in, as well as having a devastating effect on the ecosystems and biodiversity of the nocturnal environment. The night-time economy is often referred to as a good thing. It is time that the animal, insect and plant nocturnal economy was given protection to ensure its survival. I fully support the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Randall.
My noble friend Lord Teverson spoke eloquently about the long-term biodiversity target, both onshore and offshore. I share his comments and his concerns about our territorial seas, the marine ecosystems and seagrass.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, urged us to reduce consumption of resources rather than improve efficiency. To make a difference, both will need to be high on the Minister’s agenda.
Tree planting, which we have debated many times, is essential to carbon sequestration, habitat protection and improving flood alleviation. Protecting our native trees from diseases imported from other countries and those carried on the wind is essential to maintain a steady increase in the number of trees. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harris of Pentregarth, raised tree planting.
The amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, on soil quality is really important; the subject was raised on Second Reading. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has also supported this. If we do not get the soil quality right, we will not move forward.
We are all aware of the contribution that cattle make to agricultural emissions—currently accounting for 60%. The Committee on Climate Change recommends that the Government implement a 20% reduction in the consumption of meat and dairy; most speakers referred to that. Can the Minister say whether the Government are preparing a strategy to ensure that this 20% reduction is implemented? Perhaps this will be through raising awareness with the public of the effect on the environment of meat and dairy consumption.
This has been an important and fascinating group of amendments. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for introducing this important debate and all noble Lords who have contributed to the hugely important spectrum of issues raised this evening.
I thought the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, made a significant point that repairing our marine biodiversity is as important as rebuilding our land-based biodiversity. But it is true that, as it stands, the Bill ignores the marine environment completely. I agree that that needs to be addressed.
Sadly, our seas and oceans are increasingly polluted. Plastics and microplastics, chemical fertiliser, run-offs from agriculture and, as we debated earlier, sewage discharges, are all damaging the quality of our seas. We are killing off our coral, creating ocean dead zones, and allowing excess algae blooms to suck the oxygen out of our water. The effects of this are damaging to both marine and human life, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, argued, if we act now, reverse those trends and encourage new growths of seaweeds and seagrasses, the oceans could be harnessed as a positive source of carbon sequestration in our climate change strategy. There is everything to fight for.
In his Second Reading response, the Minister mentioned the blue belt around our overseas territories. Of course this is welcome, as is the growth of marine protected areas around the UK coastline, but there is so much more we should be doing. The current marine protected areas still allow damaging seabed extraction and fishing. I hope the Minister can confirm that the recommendation of his colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, that there should be a string of highly protected marine areas will be implemented in full.
Sadly, so far, the Government have seemed reluctant to legislate to ensure that any future marine protections are legally enforceable. That is why we would welcome the inclusion of robust marine biodiversity targets in the Bill. Our experience with the Fisheries Bill last year was that the Government were not prepared to put sustainable fishing at the heart of the Bill. As a result, the charity Oceana has reported that, post Brexit, only one-third of the UK’s key fish populations is in a healthy state, with bottom trawlers and supertrawlers causing particularly damaging effects on the marine environment. So, if not now, when will we see action on these issues?
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, rightly made the point that resource efficiency is not enough: we need to value existing resources more carefully and reduce their use. As she said, we are already consuming three times the resources that our planet can sustain, and some vital primary resources are already becoming scarce as a result. We simply have to get used to using less stuff and genuinely embrace the principles of the circular economy so that the same materials are used again and again. It requires government action and ambition to make this happen throughout the supply chains.
The noble Baroness also emphasised the importance of soil quality. A number of noble Lords have spoken about this, and I absolutely agree that soil health is critical to sustaining our ecosystem. We cannot keep raiding its essential properties through persistent and intensive farming. It needs to be valued and nurtured to sustain its micro-organisms for the longer term. It has been said that we have only 13 harvests left—it might be only 12 by now—if we operate at the current rate of decline, so we need a wake-up call to take urgent action on this. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Devon, that not listing it as a priority risks it becoming a second-order issue, so action is absolutely necessary.
The noble Lord, Lord Randall, made an important point about light pollution. Not only is this crucial for our insects and wildlife, but it is important that we can see the stars and better understand our place in the universe. I was really pleased to see so many noble Lords speaking on this issue, and I share their passion for it. I am very proud of the fact that the South Downs National Park, of which I am an authority member, is one of only 16 international dark sky reserves in the world. Every year we have a dark skies festival, which I heartily recommend to noble Lords as a fantastic opportunity to stargaze and to walk across the downs at night with our guides. I hope that the Minister will agree to take this issue away and come forward with ways in which it can be incorporated into the Bill.
The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, rightly flagged up the need for more action on tree planting and disease-resistant trees. We have all witnessed the devastation that can be caused to our native woodlands by invasive diseases such as Dutch elm disease and ash dieback. The Government have done a great deal to halt the spread, but more can be done to ensure that the next generation of woodlands can survive and thrive. We will debate the need for a tree strategy in more detail when we come to the later amendments tabled in the name of my noble friend Lady Young, who also spoke so eloquently this evening, to which we have added our names. In the meantime, I very much support the arguments put forward by a number of noble Lords that we need further action on this issue.
Finally, I will touch on the critical issue of reducing our meat consumption, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. I realise that this a sensitive issue, but it has to be addressed. Talk of the nanny state and people telling us what we can and cannot eat is wide of the mark because if you read the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness she is saying that a government target should be set which corresponds to the Committee on Climate Change’s target, which has already been set, which is for a 20% reduction in meat consumption. So, we already have the target, and the question now is about how we are going to reach it. I agree absolutely with what noble Lords have said. There have been suggestions that we could start by stopping factory farming, and I agree with that. We have to concentrate on preserving our pasture-fed stock, which is an iconic part of the English landscape. I absolutely understand that argument. We should also be doing more to make sure that we eat food efficiently and do not have food waste. All of that could contribute to meeting that target, but that target needs to exist, and we need to find ways of achieving it.
We have had a good debate that has allowed us to touch on many important features of what would make a good and sustainable environment. I hope that the Minister has listened carefully to the concerns and is able to reassure your Lordships that they will be taken on board during the course of the Bill. I look forward to his response.
I thank noble Lords for their contributions, and I would like to clarify that the Bill gives us the power to set legally-binding long-term targets on any aspect of the natural environment, including the marine environment, soils and waste reduction. In further answer to the noble Earl, Lord Devon, we are not limiting our targets to four, nor are we binding the hands of future Governments. Developing targets is an iterative process where we should seek continuous improvements to strengthen our environmental outcomes. The Government will periodically review targets and can set more, especially if that is what is required to deliver significant improvement to the natural environment in England.
First, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for tabling Amendment 6. I reassure the noble Lord and others who have spoken on this issue that the initial round of targets is likely to include a target that covers the marine environment. I am pleased to confirm that we are collating evidence with a view to developing a new target on the condition of marine protected areas right now. We are aware that any marine-related target will need to complement and avoid duplication with the existing suite of targets set at UK level under the UK marine strategy. However, we do not want to prejudge where this evidence-based process will take us.
I want to comment on a number of points raised by noble Lords regarding marine targets and will touch on the “significant improvement test” for targets covered in Clause 6. A government amendment made in the other place clarified that both the terrestrial and marine aspects of England’s natural environment will be considered when conducting the significant improvement test. That has always been the ambition and there has never been any doubt about it, but that amendment removes whatever doubt might still linger. I hope that goes some way towards reassuring the noble Lord, Lord Young, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, talked about the importance of our domestic marine environment, highlighting the great story that is our blue belt programme around our overseas territories. She is right of course that we need to do much more to protect our domestic marine environment. We are at a stage now where we have 372 marine protected areas, that is about 38% of UK waters, but the focus now, having designated all those marine protected areas, has to be on ramping up protection. There is no doubt about that. I am pleased that the Government have accepted the central conclusions and recommendations of the Benyon Review Into Highly Protected Marine Areas and I believe the first designations are expected early next year. If that is wrong, I will be in touch, but I think it is early next year.
With regards to Amendment 7, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, our current target priority area is
“resource efficiency and waste reduction.”
The broader notion of “resource efficiency” in the Bill’s clauses, rather than “reduction of resource use” in the noble Baroness’s amendment, allows us to explore a target on resource productivity, which measures the economic value per unit of raw material use. This builds on the Government’s previous commitments to double resource productivity by 2050. Setting a target of resource productivity would allow us to reduce resource use, while helping to build the economy’s resilience to price volatility, increase resource security and enhance our international competitiveness. The concern is that the noble Baroness’s amendment would restrict our target development in this area.
Moving on, I agree very strongly with the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, that soil health is important. It is more than important, it is almost a pre-requisite for our survival, a point made by my noble friend Lord Caithness and the noble Lord, Lord Curry. This is why the Government are working collaboratively with technical experts to identify appropriate soil health metrics that can represent diverse functions and ecosystem services provided by soils across different land-use types. As she explained so well in her speech, it is a complicated business and an area where our understanding is perhaps not as complete as it should be.
These metrics will inform the development of the healthy soils indicator, as set out in the 25-year environment plan. We are also developing an evidence base, which could inform a long-term soil target and our understanding of soil health. Given our evidence-based approach to developing targets, I am sure that the noble Baroness appreciates the need to gather more data on soil health before pressing on and setting the actual target.
On Amendment 14 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, Defra modelling indicates that the action planned in the Clean Air Strategy to achieve existing legally binding targets will reduce the
“damaging deposition of reactive forms of nitrogen by 17% over … protected priority sensitive habitats by 2030”.
However, I scribbled my notes on that percentage in haste, and my writing is so bad that I might have got the percentage wrong. If I have, again, I will be in touch, but I think I can just about see what I have written here.
Moving on to the amendments tabled by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, I agree that increasing tree cover and improving tree health are, of course, important areas that require action, as many noble Lords have echoed. As noted in the policy paper on environmental targets published in August last year, the Government are considering a statutory target for trees in England. We will consult on a long-term tree target to help meet the Government’s commitments on climate change and biodiversity as part of a broader public consultation on targets expected early next year, based on recommendations of the Climate Change Committee. Again, we should not prejudge where this evidence-based process will take us. I also note that the Government have already committed, potentially as a first step, to at least 7,000 hectares per year in England by 2025, as announced in the recently published England Trees Action Plan, and have announced a Nature for Climate Fund of £640 million to increase planting in England.
I note the comments by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, on the potential role of natural regeneration over and above formal planting. I strongly agree with her there again. We have designed our incentives package in such a way that people can present plans for natural regeneration. If they are appropriate plans, the Government will provide the funding, just as they would in relation to other forms of tree planting. I hope we will see a significant uptake in the amount of land that is allowed to naturally regenerate.
I hope it reassures the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, to know that the Tree Health Resilience Strategy—published in 2018—outlined plans to protect England’s tree population from pest and disease threats. Tree health is continually monitored under Forest Research’s national forest inventory, providing accurate information about the condition of our forests and woodlands. The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, asked if we co-operated with Wales. The answer is that we absolutely do so very regularly on an issue which, as he rightly says, does not respect borders. Our evidence suggests that the right approach is to continue to use these measures to drive positive results for tree health.
Before I move off this issue, the noble Earl, Lord Devon, asked that we do not merely focus on new trees. He is right; the amount of existing woodland that is managed is far lower than it ought to be. I encourage him to look again at the England Trees Action Plan because there is a big emphasis throughout the plan on incentives for the better management of existing woodlands.
Moving on to the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge, based on the currently available evidence, artificial light is not identified as one of the main drivers of species decline, though I very much share his concerns on this issue. I agree, of course, that there is an urgent need for increased and further study in this area. The Government continue to take a broad approach to conserving insect pollinators, including in relation to artificial light. This includes measures such as controls in the planning system and the statutory nuisance regime.
As the designation of several of England’s national parks as International Dark Sky Reserves demonstrates, we are working to protect exceptional nocturnal environments, which bring huge natural, educational and cultural enjoyment to members of the public, a point made extremely powerfully by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell. I hope this goes some way to reassuring my noble friends Lord Taylor and Lord Trenchard, and the noble Lords, Lord Rooker and Lord Carrington, as well as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, that we take this issue seriously.
On Amendment 32, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, is absolutely right to say that the choices we make with regard to what we eat, as with the choices in relation to what we buy and wear and all the rest of it, have a massive impact on the environment, and that has been well documented. Just as we will have powers to set targets under the Environment Bill, the Climate Change Act includes provisions to set targets on greenhouse gas reduction, as she knows. The Climate Change Act does not specify sector-specific targets; that enables the Government to identify the most effective route to meeting their headline targets, considering all the available evidence. As the noble Lord, Lord Curry, said, the prospect of our diet being managed by the state fills one with doubt.
Nevertheless, the facts, as presented by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, need to be addressed. Without a doubt we will have to find a way, through the choices we make, to break the link between our food consumption and deforestation. We will have to tackle the growing problem of food waste; I believe it is the case that if all the land used to grow food that we do not eat because it is wasted were a country, it would be the third biggest emitter of emissions. We need to deal with the fact that certain food choices we make—certain types of meat over and above other forms of it—come with much larger carbon footprints. If we are to get to net zero, we cannot ignore that issue. I absolutely do not discount what the noble Baroness is saying, but targets set by and therefore implemented by government feel like the wrong strategy there. As the noble Baroness knows, the Climate Change Committee provides independent advice to the Government. We believe that the proposed changes in the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness would create a statutory role for the committee, inconsistent with the Climate Change Act under which it was created.
In summary, I hope that I have addressed the majority of the questions raised and, in some way, reassured noble Lords that we can indeed set targets in any number of areas in future, once we have the right evidence base. We have a clear starting point but there is no cap on the targets that we can set. However, we need to try to set the right targets. We have to set four of these long-term targets but we can do more. I beg the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
I have received one request to speak after the Minister. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff.
My Lords, I would be most grateful if the Minister could tell us what financial assessment has been made of the short-term benefit from these amendments, particularly the one on light pollution. There is a high cost to the NHS of the human health conditions that are aggravated by excessive light pollution exposure, especially in mental health disorders, and probably obesity and some cancers. There is also the financial benefit of decreasing the contamination of our marine waters, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, highlighted. That contamination seriously damages our seafood production. The financial benefit in the short term could therefore go hand in hand with a longer-term benefit from both these amendments of meeting our other targets.
I thank the noble Baroness for her question. On the first point about the cost assessments in relation to light pollution, I do not know whether that data exists. If it does, I have not seen it but I will ask the department whether it exists. If it does, I will make that information available by putting it in the Library—but I am not convinced that it does. On the broader point, in a sense this goes to the heart of the Bill. There are enormous cost savings in doing right by the environment. We know that if we do not use chemicals on our farms and allow them to wash into rivers, we will not have to spend money cleaning up our rivers downstream. If we manage land in a way that slows down the flow of water, we will need to spend less on concrete flood defences further downstream. It goes on and on. Perhaps the biggest saving of all relates, as the noble Baroness says, to human health. It is not an exact science; there is no data that we can point to and say, “This is exactly what we’re going to save by doing this or that”. But there is no doubt that if we take care of our environment in a way that, frankly, we have not for many decades, there will be an enormous saving to society in many different respects as a consequence.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken favourably on Amendment 6 about the maritime side, particularly my Green Party colleagues who have added their names to it. Having referred, as has the Minister, to Clause 6, I have ploughed my way through 233 sections of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 and am delighted to confirm that the Bill does define “England” as including not just territorial seas but the EEZ. That is certainly how I read it. It is an improvement, and I welcome it.
I take the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, that the marine and territorial ecosystems and environments are completely interconnected. Absolutely they are, but that is not the point. The point is that, if there is one target it will almost certainly be terrestrial and the whole of marine will be left out, or the other way around: we need them both. I take the Minister’s assurance that there will probably be more than four. I hope there will be something like the Ocean Health Index—I am sure he is aware of it—which is being developed internationally, as well as nationally. I welcome the fact, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, said, that the recommendations from the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, on highly protected marine areas will come forward. I have an amendment about that later.
I am optimistic that the Government have included in the Bill the marine side of things. This can often be left out, but I know that that is not true of the Minister. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 6 withdrawn.
Amendment 7 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 8. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in the debate.
8: Clause 1, page 2, line 1, at end insert—
“(e) public access to and enjoyment of the natural environment.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is designed to require, rather than enable, the Government to set legally binding, long-term targets to increase public access to, and enjoyment of, the natural environment.
One of the themes that has run through the debates that we have had so far today is the extent to which the public understand the provisions in these Bills and, more importantly, the extent to which they buy in to the sorts of things that we are trying to achieve with this legislation. It seems to me that the best way to make sure that people support what we are trying to do is to ensure that they have access to nature in all of its different forms, because it is very difficult to get public support for something that is entirely theoretical.
It seems to me that there is an opportunity in the Bill to think about creating a new national framework that relates to people’s access to, enjoyment of and understanding of the natural world. From all sorts of studies that have been carried out, including by government, we know just how important access to open spaces and nature is for people’s physical and mental well-being. This has been particularly important over the last year.
As I say, we also need to understand that people need to have access to nature if they are going to support what we are trying to do. They should not feel shut out or that the countryside or nature are somehow for someone else. I am not just talking about the countryside or public rights of way; I am really talking about access to nature in all its forms, whether it is our magnificent urban parks, the smaller spaces that pop up sometimes, or places such as canal tow-paths. All of these provide important opportunities for people to access the natural world. This is not just about walkers, although it is mainly walkers: there are also cyclists, bird-watchers, kayakers, wild swimmers and all sorts of other people who benefit and wish to get access. But we know that that access is not equally distributed. We know that access is limited for people with disabilities, for example. We know that, in a lot of deprived, particularly urban, environments, access is limited, and that this is particularly a problem among certain ethnic groups.
We are still debating Clause 1, and we are talking about creating a framework for target-setting. But while subsection (3) creates areas where the Government must set targets, the whole question of access and public enjoyment is in subsection (1), which sets out areas where targets “may” be set. Similarly, when we get to the EIPs, in Clause 7, with all of its monitoring, planning and reporting requirements, enjoyment of the countryside is enabled rather than required.
So these amendments would require the Government to put more focus on the question of access and the public enjoyment of nature. However, there are real benefits to the Government from thinking about this approach, because it would enable them to start pulling together a framework that would link the work they are doing on the coastal path and the refreshed Countryside Code with the system of new payments for farmers, with its emphasis on public goods, as well as the planning Bill when it emerges and the green infrastructure provision—all alongside the health and well-being agenda, and in particular social prescribing. So I hope that the Government will at least consider putting public access and enjoyment on a slightly more secure footing and I beg to move.
My Lords, it does not seem that long ago that we discussed these types of issues on the Agriculture Bill. My noble friend is a skilled and subtle operator in Parliament and did not dive in on the issue of footpaths and their creation. Footpaths and access to the countryside inspire in people either a Messianic gleam—“This is where you should go”—or a grating of teeth because you hate the person who is planning the path. The advantage of this approach is that you are looking at it as a whole. If you are trying to make sure that people have some access to the countryside and put it in a plan, you stand a chance, albeit a slim one, of getting rid of these quite silly and childish arguments. We should have access.
The comments of my noble friend bring this down to the fact that we should have access. There is a benefit to you and a way out, and this cuts into other agendas. I will not expand on this for long, because I will have another opportunity later in Committee, but the fact is that, if you want a fitter and healthier society, you should give people some access. Opportunities for gentle exercise are there for those of a more advanced age, but—why not?—if you want to run up that hill, off you go. We need to make sure that people have opportunities to use and enjoy the countryside. That will enhance people’s buy-in, because they will see what is there. There is also a chance that they will see the problems that other people have in making sure that the countryside works to deliver a good environment and to produce food; it is all there.
I hope that when the Minister comes to answer he will make sure that he embraces the idea that things come together. We all know that Ministers are very keen on working across government so long as their department is dominant and their scheme is the one having the final say. I have seen dozens of documents that state, “Yes, the other departments should really do what we say, but we don’t impose upon them to actually do it”. The Government should get a plan together that makes people co-operate. I would be interested—maybe I will get a chance to expand on this later—to see how the various bits of government will communicate, what is required here, and what they can expect.
Also, when the Government encourage people to enjoy the environment, they should take into account little things, such as whether there is a bus service to walking facilities or whether everybody has to pile into a car, go down small roads and clog up the local infrastructure. Things such as this matter. You have to get in there and make sure that there is some form of communication. This is a good idea.
I also cannot resist saying that we have a bit of a parliamentary evolution; it is now “may” and “must”, as opposed to “may” and “shall”. Maybe that is a step forward—or are we just going to a new cliché? I do not know. But if we are moving things into these areas, it will be interesting to see what the Government are going to say and what the priorities are, because good intentions have far too often been the paving stones of the road to hell.
My Lords, my two amendments in this group are Amendments 9 and 57. Amendment 9 adds “connecting people with nature” to the priority areas in Clause 1(3), and Amendment 57 looks at the environmental improvement plans and adds “understanding” and “participation” to “enjoyment” in Clause 7(5).
Clause 1(3) lists the priority areas of air quality, water, biodiversity, resource efficiency and waste reduction. If we are giving priority to all those areas, we will be asking people to make substantial changes to the way they behave: to use less water; to drive less; to drive slower cars; to make fewer demands on the environment and the food they eat; to spend much more time recycling than they do at the moment; and doubtless other changes too. People need a motivation to do that, and the underlying motivation surely has to come from reconnecting people with nature, so that they value it and feel part of it, and it will therefore come into the equation when they are considering whether to go along with and support the changes the Government are proposing. There have been a number of changes recently where those proposing them have not chosen to take people with them. There is growing opposition to low-traffic neighbourhoods, for instance, because people were never involved, consulted or taken with them, and there was no underlying motivation for the improvement of the common environment.
It is silly to make those entirely desirable changes in a way which conjures opposition. Stonewall has done this with trans rights. It does not have to be this way. It means that those proposing change must take long steps to involve people in the reasons for those changes, and the underlying motivations. In the case of subsection (3), the underlying motivation is a love of and connection with nature. We know that people are capable of that because we can see it all around us, in those people who are connected. We know from that, and from research, how much well-being and how much joy and pleasure—at a very low cost to the environment—comes from having a deep love and understanding of nature. It really ought to be the underpinning value in subsection (3), and it ought not—coming to the environmental improvement plans—be just about the enjoyment of nature. This is not a passive thing, like a television show, but something which people need to be part of. I hope that the changes I propose will find favour with the Government. They will make everything else they are trying to do much more effective when it comes to putting it into practice.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw.
We will return to the noble Lord later. We now move to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and after her the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, as the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, have withdrawn.
I rise to speak to Amendments 8 and 56, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, to which I have attached my name, though I will also offer my support to Amendment 9, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, about connecting people with nature. It is clearly much connected to Amendments 8 and 56.
In introducing this amendment, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, focused on the need to win support for the Bill by allowing people to access nature. I will also focus on the public health elements, and the fact that we now have increasing awareness—with particular credit to many campaigners over the years, and to many researchers who have helped us understand this—that for the human microbiome, mental health or general well-being, exposure to, involvement in and being in nature is good for people’s health. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, was talking about access to small spaces. I will talk much more broadly, and I fear that perhaps I will scare the horses a little here, but I want to draw noble Lords’ attention to the degree of the desire for access to nature that exists out there. I put it to your Lordships’ Committee that we very much need to create more space because there is a push for very great openness.
In talking about that, I will refer, and offer my support, to something known as the Right to Roam campaign. It highlights that, in England, 92% of the countryside and 97% of rivers are not accessible to the public. We often talk about “these overcrowded islands” and how difficult it is for people to get to open space. But some parts of these islands are not very crowded at all. The Right to Roam campaign is calling for an extension to the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, so that people will have much broader and easier access to open space, including hundreds of thousands of acres of woodland, meadows, rivers and their banks. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 gave access to 8% of England. That is mountain, moorland, commons and some downland heath. By the very nature of those spaces, they tend to be very remote. They are not easy to access, particularly with our extraordinary lack of public transport in rural areas—in fact, they are almost totally inaccessible to people who do not have access to a car. There is a real postcode lottery, and a clear inequality and unfairness in our current arrangements.
The proposal from the Right to Roam campaign is that all woodlands, all downland and all green belt be opened up, not just to walkers but to camping, kayaking, swimming and climbing. For those who might like to explore this idea further, I can strongly recommend The Book of Trespass by Nick Hayes, which sets out the case clearly.
You might think that this is the radical Greens saying radical Green ideas again, but what I am talking about exists, in Norway, in Sweden, in Estonia and in Scotland. It was a common law or long-established right, which has subsequently largely been codified in law. I stress that in all those countries these rights are contingent on responsibilities. Essentially, it is our countryside code extended to reflect whether people are making broader use of the extra responsibilities they need to keep the land safe, to protect nature, to protect other people and to protect other people’s privacy and rights.
It is important to see how this is not just a question of access but one of changing relationship. At the moment, for most people, visiting nature is like going to a museum. It is a special trip that you have to make a special place, often far away—something you cannot do very often. We are talking about embedding in people’s lives the opportunity to make nature part of their everyday life and part of the environment that is accessible to them.
As a Sheffield Green Party member, I have at this point to refer to the Kinder mass trespass that helped to create some of the basic rights that we have today. People were not granted those rights; they had to win them. I stress to your Lordships’ House that there is now a strong and growing campaign to get more rights. I suggest to the Minister that acknowledging that desire needs to be written into the Bill as a statutory responsibility of government. Then we can start negotiating how much is allowed. I am not expecting him to say, “Yes, I entirely accept everything that was just proposed”, but let us start the conversation.
My Lords, I think that farmers and landowners welcome the public’s enjoyment of and responsible access to the countryside. Of course, one of the joys of the countryside is that few people are there. If the whole of our urban population walked in the countryside for all their free time, it would be wrecked. There has been an enormous increase in recent years in public access to the countryside. Unfortunately, public understanding of and respect for nature and the countryside environment have not developed commensurately.
The noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, in Amendments 8 and 56, seeks to add targets in respect of public access to and enjoyment of the natural environment. I am not quite sure how public enjoyment of the countryside can be measured. It depends in part on the weather. Ironically, the increased, and in many cases unauthorised, public access which has occurred during the past year or more has been the single greatest cause of damage to the land and to nature. There has been a massive increase in fly-tipping, littering and trespassing. All this has produced unexpected costs for farmers and landowners in the very year in which they suffer the first big cut in the direct payments scheme, and this before they are able to compensate their loss of earnings through enrolment in the new ELM schemes.
Natural England has launched a new countryside code, which should be taught in schools, as the CLA has recommended. Farmers and landowners welcome responsible visitors, but it is vital that the increased numbers enjoying the countryside stick to footpaths. They must also understand the risks around livestock. There are many areas where wildlife habitats need protection and should be left undisturbed. So I would not support an unfettered right to roam, and any measures that the Government take to encourage increased public access must be balanced by measures to improve public understanding of, and respect for, the countryside.
Some people believe that agriculture is the enemy of environmentalism, but surely the opposite is true: sustainable agriculture and the recovery of nature can and must coexist. I very much hope that the ELM schemes under development will encourage that. For these reasons I prefer Amendments 9 and 57 in the name of my noble friend Lord Lucas: they presuppose improved public understanding of the countryside. I am not convinced, however, that the countryside needs, or can easily cope with, any accelerated increase in public access beyond that which increased prosperity and improved work/life balance is in any case already enabling.
Amendment 58 from the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, is interesting. Illegal use of motor vehicles on private roads and tracks, whether sealed or unsealed, should be prevented by better enforcement, but I do not think that the state should distinguish between driving on sealed and unsealed tracks. Furthermore, many tracks which were sealed years ago are now indistinguishable from unsealed tracks.
The last amendment in this group is Amendment 284, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. It is probably otiose, in that the Bill already gives the Secretary of State the powers to set targets for the people’s enjoyment of the natural environment. There are already 140,000 miles of public footpaths and other rights of way in England and Wales, and landowners are busy considering what additional paths they might open to the public. Can the Minister confirm whether ELMS will provide the opportunity for land managers to receive grants for allowing permissive access, similar to those which were offered under countryside stewardship schemes?
The noble Baroness suggested that a review should compare public access rights in England with those in other parts of the United Kingdom. Is she not aware how great the differences are? The population density of England is 279 people per square kilometre, more than four times that of Scotland at 67 people per square kilometre, and nearly twice that of Wales at 151 people per square kilometre. The vast difference between England and Scotland in typical terrain and density suggests that a comparison of access rights would be irrelevant, even if interesting. I regret therefore that I cannot support this amendment either.
I call the noble Baroness, Lady Quin. She is not here, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Trenchard. I agree with nearly everything he says. That may surprise some noble Lords but, as I think he will understand, I have a great connection with nature. At the age of nine, in 1964, I was made a member of the RSPB by my grandfather. I am still a member—in fact I am a member of the council of the RSPB. Wildlife and nature have virtually become my religion, in the sense of being where I find solace.
However, there is a lot that can still be done on access for those people who cannot get it. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, mentioned public transport. Certainly I have been active in trying to get access for those with disabilities. I am not sure that it is the Government’s job. A lot of the NGOs, including the RSPB itself and the National Trust, are trying their best but it is difficult. As my noble friend Lord Trenchard said, if all people were responsible, more access for walking and so on would be desirable. However, I am afraid that I have seen too many examples—not just in the last year although it has been accentuated—of people who do not know the countryside code and, quite frankly, do not want to know it. I live not in the country but in suburbia. We have some very pleasant walks around our local lake, Little Britain Lake, but it is constantly ruined by picnics and barbecues and so forth. The litter is appalling and ruins the enjoyment of the many people who go there to just wander around and enjoy nature.
Another point I think relevant is that unfettered access is not necessarily good for the natural environment. Again, as my noble friend Lord Trenchard mentioned, where wildlife is concerned, you have to make sure there are some areas without access. You will see it in in reserves and in other places, certainly at breeding times. Again, responsibility comes into it. I am a dog owner myself but I would not let my dog off the lead if there were ground-nesting birds, whether on the shore or indeed on heath-land. Heath-land is another example where you see many paths cut through, where people have just walked all over it—not to mention the dreaded portable barbecues.
Although I want to make sure that people have that connection to nature, we cannot force people. I think there is a role for education, and I have certainly noticed more people being interested—that perhaps goes back to the first debates we had about biodiversity and nature—but it would be unwise to just have unfettered access. I feel extremely sorry for landowners and farmers, and say that I regard the majority of them as custodians of the natural world; there are one or two exceptions but normally they are not individuals that I have come across. We have to be very careful. The idea of getting more people connected with nature is a good one. I am not sure that it should be in the Bill, but I am prepared to see what comes forward.
My Lords, as I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Randall, I could not make up my mind—I do not think he could either —about exactly what he wanted. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Scott. She has a point about getting public buy-in, the principle of well-being, and people enjoying the countryside. It is a shared environment. I live next door to the Grand Union Canal and across the road I have access to farmland and so on. Yes, there are people who do not respect that environment; that was one thing on which I agreed with the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard—it is a question of teaching young people the countryside code. However, the basic principle of including a reference to this in the Bill is worth while. I probably agree in this instance with the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, that the Government ought to consider exploring the principle of the right to roam. It is as though we imagine that, as soon as we open up these places, they will be terrorised by people who have no respect for the environment. The reality is that the vast majority of people have, and appreciate it.
I hope that, when the Minister replies to this amendment, he sees its positive side; the benefits to public health and well-being cannot be overestimated. Along with access and rights go responsibilities, as I mentioned previously. I look forward to the Minister’s response and once again congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, on this amendment.
After the noble Earl, Lord Devon, I will call the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw.
My Lords, noting my interests previously declared, I am a passionate believer in better access to our natural environment. Access goes hand in hand with education and knowledge of the environment, our landscape and the sources of our food. Without this understanding, landscape management will suffer and our health outcomes will be worse. I am glad that the Minister welcomes us referencing Professor Dasgupta’s review into the economics of biodiversity. Professor Dasgupta clearly highlighted the need to educate the nation about the natural capital we consume and the landscape in which we live. This education is dependent on properly managed access.
I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, on the first set of amendments, in recommending the health and well-being benefits of being active in and connected to the outdoors. The pandemic has laid bare stark inequalities in people’s access to nature, often along wealth and social divides. Our work for the national plan for sport and recreation highlighted the basic need of many urban communities for better access to green and open space. The Bill needs to do all it can to encourage better managed access to nature and better education about how our predominantly farmed landscape came into being and is now managed.
Observant Lords will note that I am not calling for an increase in access and I do not support Amendment 284 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. Rather, I am talking about better quality of access, provided where it is needed most for public health and well-being and has the least impact on the biodiversity that is really at the heart of the Bill.
Noble Lords may recall that, almost exactly a year ago, we debated access in the context of the ELMS under the Agriculture Bill. I note how much we miss the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, at this time, whose wisdom and contributions were so valuable in this regard. During that debate, I listed the negative impact of access on our small part of Devon over the previous few years. I will not repeat the graphic details of the baseball-bat attacks on young lambs, but will remind noble Lords of that, of IRA bomb-making equipment stashed in our woods alongside flytipped asbestos, of the dangers of chestnut blight and other tree diseases being spread by human contact, of the theft of shellfish and of the disastrous impact of dogs on nesting waders and other birds across the SSSI of the Exminster marshes.
Access is key to improving our understanding of the environment and obtaining well-being benefits from it but is often not good for the environment itself. Thus, where access is to be granted, it must be properly managed and fully funded, taking into account the preservation of nature and the land management that is responsible for maintaining it. Improved access requires better gates, fences, signs, pathways and knowledge of the functions of our land and the heritage that brought it into being. For that reason, I support Amendments 9 and 57, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, but remain equivocal about Amendment 8, particularly as the explanatory statement reveals an intention to “increase” access. Increased access is not the answer; better access is.
Finally, I speak for farmers and land managers who, for the most part, remain nervous about public access for the reasons I have stated. Improving public access is dependent on their willingness to open their homes and farms to others. We need to bring them with us and to educate them about the benefits of improved access, as much as we need to educate those seeking such access.
My Lords, I start with a short explanation of the reason for Amendment 58. The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 protected footpaths, bridleways and restricted byways from use and damage by recreational motor vehicles. However, the same Act left unprotected a further 3,000 miles of countryside tracks. These are the nation’s green lanes. They are being used and damaged by 4x4s, motorbikes and quad bikes, which are being driven entirely for recreational purposes. This amendment is the first step in closing the loophole in the NERC Act which allows non-essential motors to inflict environmental damage and nuisance to green lanes. The amendment does not affect the rights of landowners, occupiers or residents, drivers of essential motor vehicles, or people with disabilities who use powered mobility scooters.
The context for this amendment is twofold. First, the stated purpose of the Environment Bill is to improve the natural environment. Secondly, the 2019 Glover review of national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty called for radical change in the way we protect our landscapes and stressed the need to take urgent steps to recover and enhance nature. One of the things that is causing damage to the natural environment, and to fragile and precious landscapes, is that, at present, 4x4 vehicles, motorbikes and quad bikes are allowed to be driven for purely recreational purposes on unsealed tracks all over the countryside, including in national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty.
This is allowed to happen only because the law currently says that if an unsealed track, whatever it may be, was used in the past by the public with horse-drawn carts, that it is now a right of way for any kind of modern motor vehicle. Parliament attempted to deal with this in 2006 by passing the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act: other vehicles could use footpaths, bridleways and restricted byways, but it left unprotected over 3,000 miles of other track in the countryside that have no public right of way classification. These amount to over half of the country’s green lanes. They are open to use and abuse by recreational motor vehicles and, as a result, great damage is being done, even on the high fells.
There are similar problems on many of the other 3,000 miles of the country’s green lanes—those classified as byways, open to all traffic. In reality, many of them are effectively no longer open to walkers, cyclists, horse-riders, horse-drawn vehicles and the disabled for peaceful enjoyment of the countryside because of a loss of amenity caused by recreational motor vehicles—many riders of which are based abroad.
The amendment does not seek an immediate change in the law. If passed it requires the Secretary of State to return to the business left unfinished by the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act and to carry out a public consultation on whether the loophole left by that Act, should now be closed.
The Minister may say that there is another way of dealing with the problem: the use of traffic regulations orders. The highway authorities have had TRO-making powers since 1984, the national parks since 2007, but such orders are costly to make, rarely used and almost invariably are fiercely resisted by the recreational motor vehicle groups—often with threats of legal action. TROs must be made one track at a time. If they could put a stop to the environmental damage being made by motor vehicles, the problem would have been solved long ago. A new approach and ultimately a change in the law is needed.
My Lords, it was an absolute delight to listen to the excellent speech from the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and his call for better-quality access. There is considerable merit in Amendment 8 and especially in Amendment 9, and it probably should be a priority target. I urge my noble friend the Minister to accept them in principle. The amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Lucas is very important. Could Amendments 8 and 9 be amalgamated into one target?
Of course, this is a very difficult area for the Government to set targets in and that is possibly why the Government have not added it to the clause. If you cannot measure it then you cannot manage it, and as for measuring people’s enjoyment of something, I should love to see how one can make a target for people to enjoy something. However, with time and work, I believe that we can figure out some targets in this area, especially on connecting people with nature.
Every month Natural England publishes its people and nature survey. Despite Covid, there are still very much the same patterns emerging. When one looks at March 2020, before lockdown—an idiotic term which I hate—and compares it with April 2021, one gets roughly the same statistics: 30% had not visited a green space or nature in a 14-day period, and of those who did, the vast majority numerically were older people. The justification in April this year by the 34% of people who had not visited was to stop Covid spreading. That is a noble reason not to go. However, I looked at our previous studies, in what was then called the monitor of engagement with the natural environment, and in 2017 more than 30%, the same figure, had not visited a green space. Exactly 34% said that they had not visited because they were too busy, 23% said health reasons and 18% had no interest whatsoever. The justification or excuse may vary but the numbers stay the same.
However, the other statistic that the survey highlights is that of earnings. Of those earning more than £50,000 per annum, 75% reported a visit to a green and natural space. This is compared to 50% of those earning less than £15,000 per annum. Adults earning more than £50,000 also took three times as many visits as those earning less than £15,000. That confirms the anecdotal evidence of our own eyes. You do not see many black and ethnic-community people in their Range Rovers visiting the Lake District National Park, stately homes, or National Trust properties.
There is of course a big cost element for those who cannot afford the time or money to go far visiting green space, but there is also a cultural problem. I was told in a briefing from the creators of the brilliant London National Park City scheme that they found that children walking to school would prefer to take the slightly longer route round by the shops and the high street rather than the shorter route through the local park or green space. There is thus a problem that even when green space is on their doorstep, many people are not connecting with it. That is why Amendment 9 is so important. I believe that Natural England is in discussions with Defra on what more we can do to connect people with nature, and that could lead to a target.
The briefing we have all received from the Ramblers, Open Spaces Society, and others, cannot identify targets, but suggests three areas where it might be possible to set them. I am glad that they acknowledge that this is not easy. Their first suggested area is proximity. Are there access opportunities close to where people live and work? The second is accessibility. Are different types of users, including disabled people, able to connect with and make use of access to green spaces and good quality paths, and do they feel welcome? The third is quality. Are green spaces of sufficient standard to ensure that people want to use them?
Leaving aside the problem that even when green space is nearby many people will not use it, I say that if people will not go to the space, we need to bring the space right to their doorstep. I commend the excellent report published in January last year—with that timing, it disappeared without trace, unfortunately—called Living With Beauty. It was written by the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, a body set up by the Government. Chapter 11 is called “Nature: re-green our towns and cities.” It says
“There is a considerable body of evidence that shows green spaces in rural and urban areas are highly beneficial to health and well-being and also provide space for people to meet … The presence of greenery in the urban environment normally has a positive impact on our mental and our physical health”.
The report continues:
“The evidence also suggests that greenery has the most beneficial consequences when it is ‘little and often’, when you encounter it frequently throughout your daily life. For maximum impact, public green space needs to be frequent, close and, therefore usually, modest in size. Large parks are great for those who live by them, have to pass through them daily or have the leisure to visit them. They are not so helpful for everyone else. Evidence suggests that people will frequently go to an open space if it is less than 2-3 blocks away (about 225m) but very sharply less frequently if it is further away than that. In MORI focus groups many (particularly parents) would trade off even further in favour of immediate access to private green spaces.”
I had to read that a few times—I found it rather frightening. More than 225 metres, and people were reluctant to walk that far to get to a mini-park. The report recommends massive urban tree planting, mini-parks within a few hundred yards of home, gardens and a fruit tree for every home and opening up our canals and waterways. Unfortunately the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which commissioned the report, in its recent National Planning Policy Framework and National Model Design Code consultation proposals failed to take on board any other of those recommendations. The recommendations it did take on board did not go down too well in Chesham and Amersham, I understand. So we can expect far too many of the 300,000 new homes to be packed together like battery cages with no or tiny gardens and no green space for parks for miles. That is a missed opportunity, I submit.
There is no time in this debate to go into detail on the social prescribing initiative which is being run with Natural England, the NHS and PHE. That is connecting people with nature and has tremendous potential. I am certain that that is an area where we could really develop a target.
I want to say a bit more, provoked by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, on connecting people with nature. It is more than just being out and about and whizzing through it. Many years ago, when I was taken through the Louvre by my wife, I walked past all the paintings such as the “Mona Lisa”, and it left my cold—I thought it was boring as sin. Then I went down to the basement and found the Roman and Greek architecture, the statutes and material there. I tried to remember my classical education, I found it absolutely fascinating and I spent the rest of the day there. I now realise that I was connecting with something that I related to.
Last summer, I was being driven by the side of Ullswater on a lovely day. There were a few cyclists, and all one could see of them in their lycra were their bums up in the air and heads down, and they could see the tarmac for about six feet ahead. What is the point? Why cycle down the side of Ullswater and not look at the thing—not look at the mountains? If you want to just race, you can belt around the streets of Penrith.
Finally, every day I come to the Lords, and going home—perhaps not tonight—I like to cut through Victorian Gardens, because the park there is much nicer than going along Millbank. A few years ago, I was coming through there and my wife said, “Stop and listen”. I said, “Why, what’s wrong?” She said, “Listen to the blackbirds”. I said, “So what, it’s blackbirds”. She said, “Yes, but they sing louder in London and other cities than they do in the countryside, because they have to above the noise”. From then on, every time I went through the park I would stop and listen, and then I would actually look at the plants coming out, and their growth. I began to realise that I was connecting with that bit of nature. That is my amateurish way of agreeing with the noble Earl, Lord Devon. It is not good enough whizzing through nature. Yes, we need more people out in nature, but we need them connecting with it more and understanding it more, with better quality access.
I hope that my noble friend will give these amendments serious consideration. It will be difficult to devise meaningful targets and it may take more time than the other four in this category, but it can be done with effort and good will. If he takes away one message tonight, it should be from the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Devon.
My Lords, as this is my first intervention in Committee, and for the purposes of all the stages of the Bill, I declare my interests as a retired farmer and landowner, chair of an internet travel business and chair of the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology research.
Most of these amendments stress the importance of the Government taking seriously the planning of people’s enjoyment of nature and all that the countryside has to offer. Other noble Lords have outlined the advantages for people and their health, and indeed for nature itself. I am pleased to be following the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, with his knowledge and expertise in the subject.
I very much support the principle that the Government should get involved in the promotion of access, as it is no use leaving these things to chance. If it is worth a taxpayer paying land managers to produce a landscape or habitats of which we can be proud, it is vital that the same taxpayer should be enabled, and even encouraged, to enjoy the fruits of their spending. As Professor Dasgupta has indicated, our countryside and its wildlife are extremely valuable. I ask noble Lords: would an artist complete a wonderful painting without thinking about how they were going to display it? Would a drama company put on a play without thinking seriously about attracting an audience? In my view, the taxpayer deserves no less. The Government must set out how they are going to facilitate and improve the public enjoyment of our countryside and its nature.
I will add a note of caution to what the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said. As the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, said, it is relevant that, while Scotland has a population density of 65 people per square kilometre, and Norway, another country that she mentioned, has 15 people per square kilometre, and the UK has 278 people per square kilometre, for England by itself the figure is actually 432 people per square kilometre. We are a very crowded country, and all land uses therefore have to be carefully planned, although I believe that where access is available it should be well-promoted.
I sat on the Glover review of the management and uses of our national parks and AONBs. We are still waiting for the Government’s response to it, although I am told that it is extremely imminent. I remain hopeful that that response will be a first step in the right direction of improving people’s enjoyment of our natural environment.
I turn to Amendment 58, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. The issue is an old chestnut that this House has touched on many times before, and indeed Governments and local authorities have skirted around it for decades without really resolving it. The NERC Act 2006 tried to put it to bed, as the noble Lord said, and partially succeeded, but the despoilation of green lanes remains a thorny issue. The problem, as he said, is that these lanes, made for use by horses, and by horses and carts and carriages, have become an attraction for four-wheel-drive vehicles, trail bikes and quad bikes. In some rare instances—I stress that they are rare because mostly coexistence works quite well—they have become so popular, and, frankly, so irresponsibly used, that parts of the green lane have become almost impassable mud baths. That often makes those sections impossible to pass for the very horses and carriages that they were originally intended for, and even sometimes for ramblers on foot. Some of the photographs that I have seen are not attractive.
There is also the problem of local farmers who have permitted rights over the green lanes, usually to feed their stock on the nearby hill. On rare occasions, even they have found it hard to get access to their stock because of the state of the green lane. It is not common, as I say, but it is a problem.
When the Select Committee looked at the NERC Act 12 years on, in 2018, we recognised the problems and the controversy between the various users and suggested that if the rules were clear, as well as easy and inexpensive to use, the small number of problem sections could be dealt with by local authorities imposing traffic regulation orders, or TROs. These TROs could either ban motorised vehicles altogether or limit them to summer months, or even just summer weekends, or whatever. But the point is that they have to be put in place cheaply and without bother by the local authorities, which do not have the money to put into them at the moment. Nor is the legal situation very clear. If these problems could be dealt with simply, firmly and, I hope, cheaply, and on a localised basis, that would be a successful result.
The Government’s response to our report was to ask the motor vehicle stakeholder group to produce recommendations for how the TRO process could be used more efficiently by highway authorities. The Government indicated that they would consider bringing forward legislative or regulatory changes in the light of the stakeholder group’s report. But as far as I know, no new enabling regulatory changes have been brought forward, and it would seem that the issue continues to be controversial. I am not sure whether a new consultation, as proposed by the amendment, would actually help the situation—I expect the views of the various participants are by now well known to all. As I say, in 2018, Defra was expecting to bring forward measures to simplify the TRO system very soon, and maybe now it should, frankly, just get on with it.
I put my name to Amendment 8, and it is perhaps worth reminding ourselves what that says given the debate that we have just had. It says
“public access to and enjoyment of the natural environment”,
but it does not say whether that should be urban or rural.
My noble friend Lady Scott emphasised small spaces, and I very much welcome the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, who emphasised urban space and greenery, which is much more accessible to the majority of our population. That reminds us of something which has always been true: in the countryside, perhaps as well as in urban areas, once people are at the car park, or wherever they decide to park their car—in a national park, an area of outstanding natural beauty, or by a nature reserve—the amount of travel that they do from that point is extremely limited.
One of the key things about this is public health and social prescribing, which people have been talking about. I am not an expert in that area, but in my role as chair of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Nature Partnership, we have decided to work closely with the local health and well-being board to make sure that we have a combined aim and goal to improve people’s lives by their access to the environment and to green spaces, which needs to be frequent rather than occasional—small bites, rather than occasional large sorties into the countryside.
I say to the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, that access to the countryside tends to be fairly limited, but I have to agree with him: during last summer in particular, I saw pictures on television of improvised barbecues and camping on beaches and areas of Dartmoor National Park. That is clearly an issue. But when I think about that I wonder what the equivalent is in an urban area. Yes, there is probably equal aggravation from litter and barbecues in parks, or whatever, but the point is that, in urban contexts, normally there are people there, and there is a budget, to clear this up. In the countryside, national parks, and in particular areas of outstanding natural beauty, have very small budgets for rectifying these sorts of issues that are created by minorities.
As the noble Viscount said, there is an issue with fly-tipping; it is an increasing problem and I suspect that, last year, it was partly because tips—I have been told off for using that word, and should say public waste disposal facilities—were closed for quite a long period of time. There is a real need there. I identify entirely with farmers who find that there is waste-tipping on their land and suddenly it becomes their responsibility. We somehow need to transfer the way that it works in urban and suburban areas, where there is a community responsibility to put that fly-tipping right, to the countryside. Obviously, the most important thing is to try to prevent it in the first place.
I particularly liked my noble friend Lord Addington’s comment that we suffer from silo management in this area, whether it is between the Department of Health and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, or the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. These need to be brought together. It is always difficult to do that, but this is one of the areas where we absolutely need to.
I also liked the contribution of the noble Earl, Lord Devon. However, I would say that I am very much a demand and supply economist. If you make access better, you will get more of it as well. The two go together; you cannot have one without the other, and I would very much encourage that. However, it is absolutely true that we need to make that access better where we can, and much of the need for that is because of constraints on public expenditure, not least for agencies such as Natural England, whose budget—together with that of the Environment Agency—on waste and other issues is highly constrained.
What expertise there was in the speeches by the noble Lords, Lord Bradshaw and Lord Cameron. I do not know what to say about this except that clearly, there is a need to finally resolve the issue of motorised transport access to green lanes and green spaces. However, I very much liked the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, that we need to give taxpayers value for money as well here. How should we be spending what we do on national parks, urban parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty if we do not have that audience there to appreciate it and benefit from it?
I look forward to the Minister’s response on green lanes. I hope that he, with his colleagues in other government departments, will see a way forward to improving access to the environment, making that access better but also greater. However, I come back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, that where we can make the most of this is in the smaller, urban and suburban spaces, and we should not just concentrate on the countryside.
My Lords, this has been an extremely interesting debate on a very important issue. I will concentrate on Amendments 8 and 56, which are both in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, but also in the name of my noble friend Lady Quin, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. As we have heard, these would require rather than enable the Government to set legally binding, long-term targets to increase public access to and enjoyment of our natural environment.
First, however, I will say a few words about Amendment 58 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, which addresses the issue of motor vehicles driving for recreational purposes on unsealed tracks. I thank him for his introduction and for bringing this important issue to the attention of your Lordships’ House and of the Minister. I have been involved with the Green Lanes Environmental Action Movement, or GLEAM, and with Friends of the Lake District. Both are concerned about the deterioration of a number of these lanes due to the large increase in motor vehicle usage over the past 20 years or so. These lanes are an important part of the Lake District’s cultural heritage and were of course originally made for pedestrian and horse-drawn traffic. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, himself mentioned the problem in the national parks, and it is only getting worse.
Friends of the Lake District believes that there is a strong case for introducing traffic regulation orders, or TROs, to restrict motorised use of the lanes to preserve their natural beauty and tranquillity. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, also mentioned this and talked about how TROs could be used effectively. However, I was also interested to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, who believes that we need to look at other solutions. Will the Minister listen sympathetically to the concerns that have been expressed about the damage that is being caused? This may be quite niche but it has a big impact.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, introduced Amendments 9 and 57, which have the important aims of connecting people to nature. He also talked about getting their buy-in to the behaviour changes that may be needed. Perhaps we do not pay enough attention to this.
Amendments 8 and 56 were ably introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market. I was interested to hear her idea of creating a new national framework for access to open spaces and nature, so that we properly enable public access. She also made the important point that we need to make sure that we pull together different parts of policy and legislation. For example, ELMS, planning and health and well-being all need to come together. I was also interested in the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on this area.
I am very fortunate in that I live right on the edge of the Lake District National Park, so I have some of the most beautiful countryside in the UK right on my doorstep. I can regularly enjoy fell walking with my family and my dog. This means that I also know that our personal experiences with nature are powerful. As the Committee has heard, numerous studies have demonstrated how important being active and getting outdoors in the fresh air are for both our physical and mental health and well-being. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, focused on the public health elements and the importance of access to open space. This is especially true when we are young, with nature acting as both an active playground and a place for curiosity and learning. Whether children are active in nature or not links to childhood obesity and to their mental health and happiness.
The Covid pandemic has shone a spotlight on our need to be outside enjoying nature. For those who have been less able to get outside, for example people without gardens or with less access to parks, the impact on mental health can be severely detrimental. The pandemic has also highlighted the fact that, for many people, easy access to the great outdoors and enjoyment of nature is far from guaranteed. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, made the point that, if you want a fitter and healthier society, access is clearly important. On the subject of the pandemic, I refer to what the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, said about the need to enjoy the countryside responsibly. It has been pretty appalling in the Lake District, with a huge increase in litter, fires, trees being chopped down and campsites abandoned. It is very sad for local communities when that happens. I get so frustrated: they come here because it is beautiful, so why have they trashed it? This brings me on to the points made by my noble friend Lord Young of Norwood Green. We really need to educate people and teach them the countryside code. The noble Earl, Lord Devon, also mentioned the importance of education about our natural environment.
For many years, the connection with nature has been steadily declining for parts of our society. Fewer than a quarter of children regularly use their local patch of nature, compared to over half of all adults when they were children. This lack of access to nature is exacerbated by inequality. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, made an important contribution to the debate by bringing the Committee’s attention to the statistics in Natural England’s people and nature survey, which support this. He also made an important contribution on what we need to do to try to turn this around. We know that, in urban areas, the most affluent 20% of wards have five times the number of parks or general green spaces, excluding gardens, per person that the most deprived 10% have. Similarly, in areas where more than 40% of residents are black or minority ethnic, there is 11 times less green space than in areas where residents are largely white. The noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, talked about access for those who had difficulty in getting out and about in the countryside. He particularly mentioned people with disabilities, though there is no guarantee that we can all have this access.
Clearly, we need to address this. The Government’s 25-year environment plan, which is due to be incorporated, as we know, as the first environmental plan, includes a policy aim to ensure that the natural environment can be used by everyone. Why is the opportunity not being taken to address this more directly in the Bill? Does the Minister accept that these amendments would go some way to start to improve access to nature for everyone, not just those like myself, who are fortunate to live close to nature or who can afford to go out and enjoy green spaces.
The changes brought about by these amendments would ensure that access to nature is a core consideration in the development of future policy. I think that they are needed because, as published, the Bill fails to commit the Government to act. I urge the Minister to give these proposals serious consideration.
I thank noble Lords for their contributions and agree that the Covid pandemic has underlined the important role of nature in our health and well-being in so many different ways. Before I go any further, I sincerely apologise to the House for not having been in my place when the debate began. I extend my apologies to everyone taking part.
Regarding Amendment 9, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lucas, and Amendment 8, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, on environmental targets, the Government considered adding enjoyment of the natural environment as a priority area for setting targets. However, there are substantial uncertainties, as numerous noble Lords have pointed out, over how to objectively measure these areas to be able to set a meaningful and achievable target now.
While there is evidence that engaging with nature can and does benefit people’s health and well-being in many ways, the evidence necessary to support setting a legally binding target for this area is still developing. For example, increased footfall may reflect not increased access but increased human population in an area. The Government are researching how to objectively measure this area and the best mechanisms to drive change. However, I reassure noble Lords that the Bill’s framework allows for long-term targets to be set on any aspect of the natural environment or people’s enjoyment of it in future, if the evidence base develops.
Before I move on to Amendments 56 and 57, I acknowledge the comments of my noble friend Lord Lucas, echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on the need to secure consent in relation to policy of any sort, particularly environmental policy. It is so important that, when we arrive at solutions, they are thought up in such a way as to bring people with us. If we fail to do that, the risk is always there that we exhaust the public appetite for environmental policy. I have seen that on numerous occasions, where good initiatives have met with public opposition because of the manner in which they have been introduced. It is so important that we get that right.
Amendments 56 and 57, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lucas and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, are on environmental improvement plans. Connecting people with nature to improve health and well-being is a core objective of the 25-year environment plan. We anticipate that the plan will set the benchmark for future environmental improvement plans, as outlined in Clause 7 and the Explanatory Notes. However, the primary purpose of the environmental improvement plans is to set out the steps that the Government intend to take to improve the environment. Therefore, we do not necessarily want to give equal prominence to people’s enjoyment in environmental improvement plans, although, in practice, future Governments are absolutely free to do so.
Public access to, and people’s enjoyment of, the natural environment can in some instances have negative impacts on it, as my noble friend Lord Randall and the noble Earl, Lord Devon, explained. For example, too many visitors to beaches can negatively affect wildlife and their habitats, including through the litter that is so often infuriatingly left behind. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, made this point in relation to the Lake District, and it is something that I have seen myself. When I was Member of Parliament for Richmond Park, I saw piles of fast-food packaging left in the most beautiful spots in the park, which were chosen precisely because they were beautiful. It is mind-boggling and tells us that there is a need for some form of education, combined with incentives or disincentives, when it comes to leaving litter in the natural environment. Our enjoyment of nature cannot take precedence over our stewardship of that environment for the future.
I turn to the point made compellingly by my noble friend Lord Trenchard about the tensions that can exist between different groups. It is worth emphasising that Defra’s work to improve access always seeks to balance the needs of users and landowners. The Government work closely with stakeholders, representing as many interests as we possibly can, and landowners can formally object to proposals to create national trails across their land. Rural communities—this is a point worth stressing because it is not always about people coming in from miles away—can benefit from improved access, according to our evidence. Recent surveys show that 51% of walkers along the coast are local people, not those coming from miles away.
The noble Earl, Lord Devon, and my noble friend Lord Blencathra both made passionate and compelling cases for access to better quality green spaces. I thank them for their remarks. The Generation Green project has been given £2.5 million by the Green Recovery Challenge Fund, which was an advance on the Nature for Climate Fund at the height of pandemic. The Access Unlimited coalition, in partnership with national parks around the country, will attempt to connect more than 100,000 people to nature. The project will focus on young people from deprived areas, BAME groups, those from disadvantaged backgrounds and coastal communities. It is something of a pilot and while it is of significant size, it is nevertheless a pilot scheme. If the evidence justifies it, this is something which we will want to expand.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, for raising through Amendment 58 the subject of the use of recreational vehicles on unsealed tracks, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, for raising the issue more generally. The Government are ensuring that access is improved and increased by creating the England coastal path and supporting the network of national trails, as well as the effort to create a new national trail across the north of England.
In response to my noble friend Lord Trenchard, we are exploring how to further public access to and enjoyment of the countryside as a public good through the future environment land management schemes. We are still looking at the details but that is very much on the cards. It is also worth pointing out that the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 provides the right to roam across open access land, giving the public the right of access to most areas of mountain, moorland, heathland, registered commons, coastal margins and so on. We are not starting from a position of the countryside being locked away.
I hope that I have covered most of the points that have been raised by noble Lords and that I have provided some element of reassurance. I would therefore ask the noble Lord not to press his amendment.
My Lords, I have had three requests to speak after the Minister, so we will take them in turn for him to respond. I have the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. We will hear from the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, first.
I am most grateful for the opportunity to come in after the Minister. I wish to support the noble Lords, Lord Bradshaw and Lord Cameron of Dillington, in their Amendment 58. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, has given us an explanation of the omissions from the NERC Act 2006 for part of the green lanes provision. Both noble Lords referred to the abuse that that has involved.
The advantage of this amendment is—[Inaudible.]
The Minister will respond to the first part of the question put by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman.
The time for the noble Lord to do that may be tight but let us try. The Minister will respond to the points already made by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, and we will then move on to the other speakers. If, at the end, we can get the noble Viscount reconnected, we will come back to him.
I thank the noble Lord for half of his question. He got to the point of echoing some of the concerns which were raised by previous speakers. Because we did not get to the substance of his question, I would be happy to arrange to contact him tomorrow with a view to discussing the issue—whatever it is—with my officials.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his responses to my amendments, but if he wants an example of how a connection with nature could be measured, he need not look further than the Glover review. Proposal 8, as I remember, is a night under the stars in a national landscape for every child; that is a pretty good target to aim at, and one which would go a long way toward achieving what I would like to see achieved at least over the long term. Once a child has done that sort of thing, they tend to bring their parents back, if it is properly organised.
I understand the difficulties that my noble friend faces, but there are things that, given the incentive of something in the Bill, could be done. An information system, for instance—a decent national online database of parks—would be something which people could use, and would then be a vehicle for the countryside code and enable areas to be set aside during the nesting season or lambing season, so that the relationship between the rambler and the farmer could be better moderated. There are things which the Government could do in this area if they set their mind to it. I have been really encouraged by what Natural England has been saying in this area. If the Government have a change of heart, I shall be delighted.
I can reassure my noble friend that it does not require the Government to have a change of heart, as we fully support access to nature for all the reasons which have been described so well by so many noble Lords. Indeed, just a few months ago the Defra Secretary committed £4 million for a project aimed at tackling mental ill-health through green social prescribing, which goes to the heart of some of the issues raised today. We want everyone to have access to a healthy, abundant and diverse environment, and the Environment Bill as a whole is an attempt to try to improve both our environment and access and enjoyment of it. Of course, we have much more to do and I am interested in the examples he has cited.
My Lords, in his response the Minister referred to the issue of littering, particularly personal responsibility for littering, but we were earlier talking about waste reduction targets. The people who profit from the production of that litter are of course fast-food companies and multinational food production companies. When it finally arrives, the bottle deposit scheme will be an important area of this. Will the Minister acknowledge that this is not just a personal issue but a case where we have to see system change, that multinational companies and fast-food outlets have to look at the ways their food is sold, and the packaging they produce, and that this needs to be seen as more than a personal problem?
I could not agree more. There is of course an element of personal responsibility; it is not always down to the Government, but the noble Baroness is absolutely right. That is the whole point of our approach to extended producer responsibility, and that can apply to anything. It is very much my hope that we will be at a point not too far off where fast-food companies are financially responsible for the waste generated by their activities. We would see, the moment one creates a financial dynamic of that sort, that companies will do anything they can either to design waste out of the way they do business or to minimise the amount of waste they know they will generate. I do not think there is a better way of doing it, but clearly having created the apparatus, which we will do through this Bill, we then must use it, and use it properly. If we do, we can get where we need to in relation to waste.
We shall have one more try at reaching the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman. If this does not work, the Minister has offered to contact him directly. Viscount Bridgeman?
My Lords, thank you very much. I am most grateful and I apologise for the problems.
The advantage of this amendment is that it is easy for the general public to appreciate: quite simply, it requires the Secretary of State to institute a public consultation affecting unsealed tracks. “Unsealed” is an unqualified word, and it means all—I repeat, all—unsealed tracks. Here, I take issue with my noble friend Lord Trenchard. A lot of thought went into the framing of that amendment, and I suggest to your Lordships that “unsealed” is sufficiently definitive.
As the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said, it does not seek a change in the law and it does not aim to be confrontational against the users of off-road motor vehicles; it simply seeks to ensure that any proposal for the use of these green lanes by such users is as widely aired with the general public as possible. This is in line with the lead amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, about public access to and general knowledge of the countryside.
There is one beneficial effect which I hope the passing of the amendment will bring, and here I venture to disagree with my two noble colleagues. As the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said, the TROs are very divisive, costly and lead to unpleasantness and legal actions. But, at the end of the day, the general lanes of this country are a priceless part of our national heritage, and they are beautiful. However, it has to be faced that any use for recreational purposes by motorbikes, quad bikes, et cetera, renders them ugly. I have said that we do not wish to have a confrontation with those users, but compromise is always probably necessary, and I suggest that it is just a reasonable and small additional step to safeguard our precious inheritance.
I thank the noble Viscount for his question. I certainly do not pretend to be an expert on this, but my understanding is that the use of motorised vehicles is already regulated and, therefore, limited to access routes classed as byways. My understanding—I think this is what the noble Viscount said—is that it is not about creating new laws or new restrictions; it is about implementing the rules already in existence. If he disagrees with that and thinks that it is a matter of tweaking the laws, I am very happy to hear from him after this debate—not tonight, I hope, but perhaps tomorrow.
My Lords, this has been a fascinating debate. I am very pleased that I tabled these amendments because they have enabled the Committee to surface a number of almost apparently contradictory themes. There seems to be a general sense that access is a good thing, but only on certain terms and only if people do not do certain things. It has really highlighted the tensions involved, whether greater access or better access. In many ways, the debate has made the case for a more strategic approach on the part of government, because it is the only way some of these things can be resolved.
I am very grateful to the Minister for his broadly constructive response. I was slightly struck by the irony that it appears that all sorts of government initiatives and funds are being put into this, but they are not really being joined up in the way that they probably should be. I will bet that there is already a whole set of targets established in every one of these funds, because that is the way government funds always work. I think it is possible to set targets in this way, so I hope the Minister will give a little more thought about how he can work with user groups and other interested people to think about this.
Finally, for me, this is always about access to nature; it is not just about access to the countryside. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, made a really important contribution when he focused first on the financial and economic inequalities, but also on the importance of these smaller local green spaces. There are many people in our crowded island who, sadly, will never get out into the countryside. That does not mean we should not aspire to it, but they will find it difficult. It just makes it all the more important that they have access to good-quality space close to where they live. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 8 withdrawn.
Amendments 9 to 12 not moved.
House adjourned at 10 pm.