Committee (2nd Day)
Relevant documents: 3rd Report from the Delegated Powers Committee and 4th Report from the Constitution Committee
Clause 1: Environmental targets
13: Clause 1, page 2, line 1, at end insert—
“(e) a reduction in the use of conventional plastic packaging.(3A) In this section “conventional plastic packaging” means plastic products that are defined as packaging under EU Directive 94/62/EC, or its successor legislation, and which are not— (a) reusable;(b) recyclable; or(c) compostable as specified within the standard BS EN 13432 or BS EN 14995.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment specifies a reduction in the use of conventional plastic packaging as a priority area in which the Secretary of State must set a long-term target, which must be achieved over 15 or more years.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 13 I will speak to Amendment 30, standing in my name, and wish to support Amendment 28, whose objectives we share.
The pioneering Breaking the Plastic Wave report by the Pew Charitable Trusts and SYSTEMIQ, published last year, made for stark reading. Without concerted action to hold back the ever-increasing tide of plastic production and consequent plastic waste, we will see the annual flow of plastic into the world’s oceans triple by 2040. My amendments provide two opportunities to place in the Bill the necessity of clear UK targets for reducing the import and production of conventional plastic packaging in this country.
The Government, I know, want to use the Bill, once passed into law, to embed their world-leading environmental credentials at COP 26 in November. Agreeing to clear, enforced targets on the production of plastic packaging would genuinely be world-leading. I know that the Minister is likely to say that he shares our ambition to reduce plastic waste. If that is the case, it follows that we must reduce plastic production, which is the source of the waste. The Government must address both ends of the spectrum.
To be clear, in Amendment 30 we are seeking an immediate target on plastic production and imports, coupled with Amendment 13, which seeks to set a long-term target of the kind envisaged under Clause 1. The immediate target is the more important, since we must see a reduction in the production of conventional plastic as a short-term and long-term issue. This must not be a can to kick down the road.
I want to turn to the issue that marks out my amendments from the other in this group—recognition of the role of independently certified compostable materials in addressing part of the plastics crisis. The Breaking the Plastic Wave report was clear that there is no single solution to ending ocean plastic pollution. As I have said previously, a mix of approaches is needed, starting with producing less plastic, which is at the core of the amendments, and involving more re-use of the plastic that is produced and more recycling where possible. But recycling, like composting, is not a silver bullet.
The current discourse around plastics recycling implies that a plastic bottle or food tray might become another bottle or food tray, but that is seldom the case. Plastics recycling is rarely, if ever, genuinely circular, but we should strive to recycle. When I was a leader in local government, I was proud to increase recycling in my area significantly. But we should not fool ourselves that recycling is a universal escape hatch from the planet’s plastic problem.
What the industry calls flexible films—the sort used in bags containing fruit and vegetables, or in pouches to keep dried fruit preserved—are very hard to recycle, not least because they are frequently contaminated with food. According to 2020 figures from WRAP, flexible plastic represents a quarter of all UK consumer plastic packaging but only 4% is currently recycled. We must attempt to improve on this. We have all found ourselves with a bag of salad in the fridge that has turned to mulch, or a microwave meal film covered in food. This kind of food contact packaging can seldom be recycled because of that contamination. Conversely, recycled plastics cannot be used in food packaging because of food hygiene laws.
It is right to conclude that a measure of substitution of conventional plastics with compostable materials is an essential part of the mix. Such materials must be certified as complying with stringent international standards, referenced in the amendment. The certification is undertaken by an organisation independent from the manufacturer, which assesses technical information about the product and produces an independent laboratory report on how samples of the product performed when tested, as specified in the standard. So long as it makes the grade, the product can then be recycled within the food waste stream.
There are around 45 composting sites in the UK that can handle compostable films, and there is good evidence from Europe to show that using them has three effects. First, the compostable films break down in industrial composting conditions without leaving microplastics behind. Secondly, deploying such films reduces the amount of conventional, polluting plastic that gets into the soil through food waste and achieves a reduction of conventional plastic in circulation. Thirdly, by deploying compostable films as packaging for food waste, we end up with less food contamination in the dry recycling streams, such as plastic bottles and trays.
Compostables can therefore play a key role in capturing biowaste and ensuring that food contact packaging biodegrades with its contents. Instead of being incinerated or sent to landfill, it is converted into high-quality compost and, in turn, used to regenerate our rapidly depleting agricultural soils. This is a win-win, and one that the Government should grasp. The recent Extended Producer Responsibility for Packaging consultation paper took a dismissive tone, rather than look at how an EPR scheme could and should be applied to compostables, so that the industry pays, as it is willing to, for the expansion in composting infrastructure.
All the while, global flexible plastic packaging is set to reach 33.5 million metric tonnes in 2022, with no viable end-of-life solution to dispose of it safely. That is only next year. Perhaps the Minister can say whether it is this waste that he is proposing to be the subject of trans-frontier shipments of waste. This is deeply frustrating to those represented by the Bio-based and Biodegradable Industries Association, including companies such as TIPA, which is investing in the UK market. It has come together with the association for renewable energy and clean technology, REA, and with anti-plastic campaigners A Plastic Planet to draw attention to the missed opportunities in the UK.
The intentions behind Amendments 13 and 30 are therefore twofold: to emphasise the commitment on these Benches to reducing the production of plastic packaging, and to make clear the need for a variety of solutions to reduce plastic pollution, here at home and globally. Compostable materials are part of the mix, and one the Government should recognise. Everyone has a responsibility to both reduce the use of plastic packaging and for its sustainable disposal. I hope that the Minister can provide a positive response and perhaps agree to meet me and the campaigners on this issue to find common ground and to strengthen the Bill on plastics. I beg to move.
We have two withdrawals from this group: the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, and the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra.
My Lords, I take the opportunity given by my noble friend’s amendments to probe the Minister on government thinking about the relationship between the principles of polluter pays and extended producer responsibility. I do so by using an example that we touched on in the closing remarks in Committee on Monday.
About two years ago, not far from where I live, a well-known fast-food company opened a drive-through restaurant. Since then, the brightly coloured packaging from this company has festooned our lanes. The National Association of Local Councils says that this sort of littering and pollution, much of which is plastic, is a growing problem in rural areas.
Clearly the litterers are the polluters here; they are winding down their car windows and throwing the stuff out. Do the Government therefore think that this is an enforcement or educational matter, or that there is some extended producer responsibility here, given that the originator of the packaging being littered is the one profiting? I wanted to use this example to try to get some clarity from the Government about where they see the relative balance of responsibilities.
My Lords, I start by repeating something I said in the first day of Committee. This is a hangover from Monday, but the batting order is not satisfactory, because I want to speak to Amendment 28 and none of its proposers has spoken yet, so I cannot follow them. However, I am delighted to see the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, in her place and hope she can come in after the Minister, because few in this House know as much about the problem as she does.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, covered the problem comprehensively. I was going to raise the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, which is that we must take this opportunity not only to reduce the amount of plastic, but to curb the problem of plastic litter, which is spoiling the countryside in a way it never has before. This is particularly apparent with Covid and the pressures now on farmers, landowners and councils, because of the total disregard that a lot of people have for the countryside. They are happy just to dump their rubbish anywhere. This Bill must be used for that.
I would like to say a lot more about Amendment 28. I like that it does not attack all plastics, as they can be the right solution for the right good in the right place, but they are not great overall. We must find a way to reduce and recycle them better.
I am delighted to follow my noble friend. Like him, I think it unfortunate that we have not heard from those who have tabled Amendment 28. These three amendments have much to commend them. I also pay tribute to the work of the Government and, in particular, my noble friend Lord Goldsmith, who first took an interest in this in the Quality of Life group’s report, Blueprint for a Green Economy, which he co-authored with my noble friend Lord Deben. I am pleased to see that his messianic zeal continues to this day.
I just press both the Minister and the authors of the amendments on what exactly the proposals to reduce single-use plastic involve. I have personally taken great interest in how we can reduce the use of wipes. I fear that women are the worst offenders; we use cosmetic wipes, baby wipes and now these antibacterial cleaning wipes, which we have all been purchasing and using during Covid. Perhaps the packets should say how to dispose of them. I know that water and sewerage companies are driven to distraction by wipes and ear buds being placed down toilets. This leads to blockages and untold difficulties. I am minded to table an amendment myself later if this is not covered, but could we have confirmation of whether single-use plastics will cover the use of wipes and plastic ear buds? I recall that the Government were going to ban the use of plastic ear buds. We managed perfectly well without them before and I am sure we can manage without them again in the future.
I echo some of the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, in calling for substitutes to plastic. We imported the use of brown paper bags from America, but they drive me to distraction because, no sooner have you filled them than you go out in the rain and they disintegrate, if you are not going by car. The contents go on the pavement and you struggle to pick them up and use them again. I do not think brown paper bags will ever work, but what is wrong with the good old-fashioned shopping bag of my mother’s generation? I echo the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, who, in moving her amendment, said that we need to look seriously at long-term viable substitutes. I would like confirmation of the Government’s precise proposals, as well as the full extent of the amendments before us, regarding what is covered by single-use plastic.
My Lords, I speak to Amendments 28 and 30, and express my support for all amendments in this group. This is my first contribution on this ground-breaking Bill and I too welcome it. It is wonderful, in many ways, but there is also an opportunity for some tweaks here and there, which could make it a great deal more significant. I speak briefly in the hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, will indeed be able to speak; she has more knowledge in this area than I ever will, so my comments are limited.
I am sure that all Members of your Lordships’ House agree that plastic pollution in general is one of the greatest threats to our precious planet. I know that, between them, the four signatories will make this case very powerfully in general terms; my purpose is only to support their arguments strongly.
Amendment 28 is modest in the context of the enormity of the plastics problem. To take the example of just one plastic product, it is hard to get my head around the notion that, globally, personal care companies alone produce some 120 billion plastic sachets each year. Others have talked about putting them end to end, back and forth, to the moon 27 times. It is beyond one’s comprehension, but terrifying. These items are totally non-recyclable and, as the organisation A Plastic Planet tells us, there are many reusable and more environmentally friendly alternatives available. Surely the Bill needs to inject a degree of urgency into preventing the continuation of this situation. If there are alternatives, it is difficult for a simple-minded person like me to understand why we are being so careful or modest about this. Why cannot Ministers set a date by which no plastic sachets should be produced, for example? The same sort of eye-watering statistics apply to many other plastic products, including all forms of plastic packaging. They simply need to be replaced.
Yes, the amendment requires Ministers to set a target for the reduction of plastic use by 2030—and this is indeed most welcome—but it says nothing about the level of plastics use at which the target should be set. There could be a target of reducing use by 1%. I really hope that, before Report, we can work with Ministers to achieve an amendment that really would require the end of the use of single-use plastics by a specific date—or, at least, the end of the use of specified single-use plastic products by specific dates. Obviously, this has to be realistic—producers have to make plans—but, unless we make a very clear target for producing complete alternatives, they will not really know where they are. I have a feeling we can do a lot better. In the meantime, I do wholeheartedly support Amendment 28 for putting this crucial issue on Ministers’ agenda. I hope Ministers will, as I have said, be able to come up with something more robust—stronger—in time for Report.
Amendment 30 focuses on single-use plastic packaging. Again, the amendment is hugely important, although, in my view, modest. It requires Ministers, by regulations, to
“set a target for reduction in the production and import of conventional single use plastic packaging”.
But, again, it does not require a specific target to achieve a specified rate of reduction in the use of these products. Again, I wholeheartedly support the amendment for raising the vital issue and cannot see any reason at all why the Government would not accept this amendment—although, as I have said, I hope we can go further.
The Government have made a good start in this field and I want to applaud them—for the ban on plastics straws, stirrers and plastic-stem cotton buds, as well as the ban on microbeads. These are important steps forward, saving literally billions of these items finishing up in the oceans. But, of course, there are many other single-use plastic products. We now have face masks to add to the problem, which we find all over the pavements. What plans are afoot to deal with those?
Amendment 30 takes a more ambitious line indeed on plastic packaging than the Government’s planned tax on items that do not meet a minimum threshold of at least 30% recycled content from April 2022. Surely we should not accept 70% non-recyclable content in the future. Surely, again, we have to be more ambitious. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to these modest proposals. I was impressed by the Minister in our recent briefing meeting; it seems that he has a clear commitment to move forward on these agendas. I would like to think that he will want to work with noble Lords in developing stronger amendments before Report.
My Lords, this is my first amendment, too, in the Environment Bill, and I also welcome it.
I was glad to hear the Minister state on the first day of Committee:
“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.”—[Official Report, 21/6/21; cols. 93-94.]
I would ask the Minister to examine Amendment 28, to which I put my name, because it seeks a target for plastics pollution which would do just what he says: namely,
“deliver significant improvement to the natural environment”.
I echo the concerns of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, about litter. I am especially concerned about microplastic pollution. It is a blight found in the highest mountains and the deepest oceans; it is choking our wildlife, creating gut obstructions in seabirds that cause them poor health and even death, and it is present in the food we eat and the air we breathe, posing a potential danger to human health from ingesting microplastics. There are fears that microplastics might inhibit the ability of our lungs to repair damage caused by Covid-19. I also support Amendment 30 from the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell.
The Bill, as it stands, focuses very well on the end-of-life solutions to plastics pollution. These are, of course, very welcome, but this amendment adds to the Bill’s provision by targeting the problem of plastics pollution holistically. The Clause 1 target for resource efficiency and waste reduction is also welcome, but it will make only a partial contribution to reducing plastic pollution.
The problem is that products can be efficiently designed but and still create plastic pollution. Lightweight polystyrene packaging, polythene packaging and lightweight plastic bottles do achieve a reduction in resource but, when they are discarded, they create microplastic pollution. Litter from plastic bottles is estimated to contribute 33% of plastic pollution entering our oceans. Likewise, fishing nets are seen as resource efficient when made of plastic, as they last longer and use fewer materials. However, when they break and are discarded, they become floating traps for marine wildlife. Microbeads in plastics make the product work better but constitute 8.8% of Europe’s microplastic pollution. The Government have described this country’s microbead ban as world beating, but it covers only rinse-off products such as shampoo and toothpaste, and it still allows microbeads in the majority of cosmetics.
A plastic pollution reduction target on the face of the Bill will ensure the enforcement of measures such as a ban on maritime waste. Subsection (1) introduces a target to reduce plastic pollution that will ensure that major types of plastic pollution are not overlooked. The inclusion of the wording about reducing
“the volume of all non-essential single-use products”
avoids incentivising substitutions of plastics for other single-use materials, which the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, talked about. It works in tandem with my Amendment 139 to Schedule 9.
I hope that the Minister will see this amendment as a response to the Defra Minister’s reply to a similar amendment in the other place, in which she said that
“we actually want to see a more ambitious resources and waste target … which applies holistically to all materials, not just plastic.”—[Official Report, Commons, 21/1/21; col. 261.]
This amendment will realise this ambition by mitigating against the resource efficiency target when it does not deal adequately with the scale of the present plastics crisis. Proposed new subsection (2) sets outs a specific date for the new target—by 31 December—to align with the Government’s own target in Amendment 22. However, the Government have pushed back twice on long-term targets during this Bill’s stages in the other place. So this date seems like a compromise leaving room for further negotiations during the target-setting process. Proposed new subsection (4) reinforces the objective that a reduction in single-use plastics should not incentivise substitutions with other single-use materials that would create an adverse impact on the environment.
I understand that Ministers are concerned that it would be difficult to measure and monitor plastic pollution. Surely the OEP will be able to work with experts to devise the best way to measure, monitor and enforce a target. After all, such targets have been generated for such complex issues as carbon emissions. The Government are also concerned about the international nature of plastics pollution. Rebecca Pow has said that plastic pollution is a “highly transboundary issue” which needs to be tackled at an international level as part of a UN global plastics treaty. This is, of course, right. However, if this Bill is to be world beating, I hope the Minister will agree that this country must show the way by setting up its own domestic targets for plastic pollution. I hope the Minister will look favourably on this amendment.
My Lords, as this is my first intervention at this stage in the Bill, I draw attention to my vice-presidency of the LGA and my professional interests, particularly in the construction sector, as well as my membership of the Country Land & Business Association. I warmly welcome all the amendments in this group, for the reasons that have already been given. I could not help a bit of a smile when I heard the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, refer to a well-known roadside fast food operator because, following the lockdown, I knew within about 24 hours that it had reopened by the nature of what was in the roadside verges near my home.
We can all recognise the utility of plastics, as referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. For many automotive, construction and household products, they perform a valuable, life-extending and efficiency function in many things that we use on a daily basis. But I wish to add my voice to those who have a fundamental concern about single-use plastics in general, their clear pathways into discards as litter and microplastics, and the fact that many are not recyclable at all or not generally recyclable in this country.
As other noble Lords have referred to, this is made worse by the contamination caused by the contents of packaging and the juxtaposition of different plastic types, with recyclable and non-recyclable elements being used together. Worse, some of the recyclable items that conscientious households might wish to put in their recycling bin have either illegible plastic coding stamps on them or unremovable labels stuck over them. This makes it much more difficult to comply even with the dictates of one’s conscience when it comes to putting things in the right container. We really need to cease the use of non-recyclable and not commonly recyclable plastics, and the sooner the better.
A few years ago, when I farmed, we used some stuff that was known as bale wrap: a thin, flexible, very often black plastic film that, I am afraid to say, frequently ended up in hedgerows, impaled on fences or sometimes in the stomachs of livestock. A collection was organised—I believe it was applicable nationally—where farmers collected this material together, and it was picked up and safely disposed of. I believe that made a huge difference to the unsightly material appearing all over the place, particularly in windy places such as Exmoor, where I used to farm. We now need the same focus from, for example, disposable nappy manufacturers, food packaging and distribution companies, and construction companies. The former two fill household waste bins with huge quantities of unrecyclable material, and the latter fills enormous numbers of rubbish skips with unsorted plastic mixed with timber, cardboard and other waste. I would welcome a comprehensive approach to dealing with plastics and making sure that there is a thoroughgoing policy that deals with all these things at every stage.
If these amendments do anything, they should remind us that many non-recyclable plastics have recyclable substitutes, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, referred to in introducing this group. In so far as there is not the possibility of composting these—maybe many of them are not compostable—they should at least be gathered up and, if necessary, incinerated so that the huge amounts of embedded energy in these plastics can be recovered. I am not a great fan of incineration and I understand the voices that constantly campaign against it but, if there is no other way, it is better than plastic going to landfill and microplastics ending up in the environment. Measures to ban and limit the use of the worst types of plastic cannot come a moment too soon.
I conclude by paying tribute to the valiant work of those people who pick up litter on our coastal areas and foreshores; I think the Marine Conservation Society is among those that do this. I pay tribute to what it does, and to all the voluntary organisations such as the Scouts, who do regular litter picks on our roadsides. This helps to stop litter being added to by people who come along and think, “Well, there’s lots of litter there, maybe a little bit more won’t matter.” If there is no litter there, it tends not to attract litter bugs.
We need to be vigilant on the whole matter of plastic and discards becoming a social norm—a bit like putting on a seatbelt or not smoking in a public place—and it needs to be backed by law, so I am very strongly in support of the amendments in this group.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and I identify very much with his last comments on the litter all over our countryside, particularly after lockdown, and the way in which communities came together to use their spare time to at least ameliorate a certain amount of this problem.
I worry that some of our plastic litter is being exported. We think it may be reused but, in fact, it is just going into dumps overseas. We must avoid that in every way we can.
I speak in support of Amendment 13, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, on this vexed issue. I support her in everything she said, and I also support Amendments 28 and 30. I take the point that we should be more ambitious, but we need to start somewhere. We need to get this issue on the face of the Bill; if it is in at this stage, it triggers certain actions that could follow at later stages.
Of all the issues coming before us today in this massively important Bill, I suspect that there is greater public support for drastically cutting back the use of plastic in all its guises than for most of the other, very worthy aims in the Bill. Of course, one aim should not compete with another in terms of priority.
We accept the use of plastic in many unnecessary ways. We do so without considering how that material is to be disposed of in a manner that is harmless to wildlife on land and in the oceans. We have been totally profligate in our mindless use of plastic, and we now see animals, fish and birds suffering from plastic entering their digestive systems. Surely we must systematically reduce the use of plastic and move in a coherent manner to lessen its impact. To the extent that plastics of certain types are compostable, well, all the better—but that is ameliorating the problem rather than necessarily solving it. We must have a radical root-and-branch approach.
This amendment makes a modest proposal for dealing with this issue by making the reduction in the use of unnecessary plastic a priority area in the establishment of environmental targets in the Bill. This provision could trigger another proposed clause which requires a measurable standard to be achieved and a target date for reaching such an objective. Is that not exactly what we need for a coherent plastic reduction programme? Even if it is not on the face of the Bill, should that not be our aim? If that is the case, what possible argument can there be against putting it on the face of the Bill? I urge the Minister not just to pay lip service to the need for a reduction in the use of plastic but to do something about it. I await his response with interest.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, on her amendments, which I am afraid I did not sign. That was a complete oversight on my part. I think her introduction was excellent.
I suspect that not very far in the future, we will think of plastic as the new asbestos. When we first had asbestos, it was hailed as a wonder material. It is highly heat resistant and an excellent electrical insulator, and it has been used in construction, for fireproofing, and even for making clothing and furniture. In fact, archaeological evidence suggests that asbestos was used by humans quite a long time ago to strengthen ceramic pots, so it has been understood as a very valuable resource. Since the end of the 19th century, asbestos has been used in all sorts of buildings; any building constructed before the 1980s is likely to contain asbestos. Now, of course, the word “asbestos” is enough to stop people buying a property because it is so dangerous to human health when disturbed. I think we are going to see plastic as a dangerous material in the same way—probably more dangerous and more pervasive than asbestos.
Obviously, as other noble Lords have said, plastic has a lot of almost miracle properties, and the things that we can produce from plastic are integral to our way of life. However, its versatility and availability have led to exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, said: we have used it mindlessly. We have made so much plastic that we are now in danger of being polluted by it ourselves. We have known for a long time that plastic takes hundreds of thousands of years to break down, but only recently we have understood how bad that is. Plastic only breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces; it does not actually ever go away. It just gets tiny and it gets everywhere, with quite damaging consequences.
We now see that microplastics are present almost everywhere, including in our own bodies. Plastics accumulate in the food that we eat, moving up the food chain until it reaches its highest concentration in our bodies and, most concerningly, in mothers’ breast milk. When microplastics get very small, they are referred to as nanoplastics. They are so small that they can cross cellular membranes and actually work their way into our individual cells. We are currently clueless about what that means for our health and the environment, but if it is anything like asbestos then a tiny amount can be incredibly damaging for our health.
The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, talked about disposal. The noble Baroness said that it should be disposed of well and the noble Earl talked about safe disposal. There is no safe disposal. There is no way to make sure that it is well disposed of; that just does not happen. It is still there. We know that we have produced far too much plastic, and it is within our control to reduce the amount that is made.
The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, mentioned masks. I am going to make my regular comment about the fact that—and I am going to try not to look at any noble Lords wearing them—the blue masks that some noble Lords are wearing today in your Lordships’ House are actually highly polluting. They are not paper but plasticised paper; they cannot be recycled; they end up in our seas and rivers; they kill animals; and obviously they are extremely ugly to see. I know it is not easy to replace them, and I would say that at least those noble Lords are wearing masks in the first place, but I have offered to replace such masks with material masks made in my little haberdasher’s down in Dorset rather than still seeing them as I look around the House.
The Bill absolutely has to set targets for reducing plastics because we have to start now to reduce the future burden. The problem is just going to get worse, and if we do not get it into the Bill then we probably will not deal with it.
As always, it is a great pleasure to follow my friend the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I do not always agree with her, but she speaks a great deal of common sense—as well as a few other things. I am delighted to see her putting on a mask. She will be glad to know that I took my blue mask off—I am waiting for the one from the haberdasher’s.
The noble Baroness made a very good point about asbestos, but of course that is a specific substance. “Plastic” is a bit of a generic term that covers a great deal. We have to recognise that in its beginning it often brought hygiene where there was squalor and safe packaging where there was danger, but it has now got completely out of hand. No one could have watched programmes like “The Blue Planet” without being completely nauseated by some of the scenes we saw on our screens of animals choked or strangled to death. It causes an enormous problem even in our own countryside and in our towns and cities.
My noble friend Lord Caithness referred to litter. In many ways, litter is the curse of the age. I have been horrified when I have watched “Look North” on our local television station and seen that after the end of various phases of the lockdown people have gone out in their hundreds and thousands and desecrated, and defecated in, our countryside. I say to the Minister that it is crucial, as others have referred to, that we have targets and deadlines. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, made a particular point of that and she is right. We keep coming back to the phrase “a landmark Bill” but if this is indeed going to be a landmark Bill then there have to be deadlines for elimination. Of course one has to give manufacturers a degree of notice but we cannot carry on as we are or we will smother ourselves in our own detritus—it is as simple and alarming as that.
This debate has also brought out one of the deficiencies in our current parliamentary practice as a Hybrid House. The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, is sitting here. She has been referred to several times in complimentary terms, and deservedly so, but in a normal Committee in your Lordships’ House any one of your Lordships is able to get up and make a contribution during the debate. I make no specific criticism of anyone in particular because these methods of working were evolved with great skill, but to have to work to a prescribed list rules out both spontaneity and the opportunity for people to contribute who may well be sitting here with a real contribution to make, but cannot do so. I hope that when we come back on 6 September and we are debating properly, the normal Committee procedures will return so that people can get up as and when they please, or as and when they are challenged to do so. I cannot ask the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, a question now because if I did then I would be out of order and if she answered it then she would be out of order. Frankly, that is farcical.
I have one other point. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, who introduced this debate extremely well, refers in her amendment to EU directive 94/62/EC. I ask my noble friend for confirmation that none of the standards applying in this country after the enactment of the Bill will be in any way inferior to the EU directives under which we have been operating hitherto. If we are going to be global Britain with high standards, those standards must be in no way inferior to what we have been applying hitherto. We have to improve, and we cannot do so by going backwards.
My Lords, I will be brief, particularly as I understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, will be able to come in after the Minister, so let us leave it to the experts.
I add my thanks to my noble friend Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville for her eloquent and comprehensive introduction of her amendment and the issue of plastics and single-use items. Like the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, I think that while there are many issues that we in this House will be touching on in the next few weeks that the public may not be quite so familiar with, plastics and single-use items is one that they understand and on which they will expect fast action. They will therefore, rightly or wrongly, judge the Government on how they address the issue, so we on these Benches welcome the amendments from my noble friend Lady Bakewell and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, on the Labour Front Bench.
Other noble Peers have touched on the implications and impacts of plastics, so I will be brief and say only that I echo the comments of my noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, on the impacts of plastics on litter, and the comments by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, on the appalling impacts on wildlife. I am not sure that I caught anyone saying—if I did not catch it and have not mentioned them, I apologise—that we need to reflect on the greenhouse gas emissions from the disposal of plastics, which are such a major contribution and which we have to tackle if we are going to meet our greenhouse gas obligations.
The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, rightly identified a number of the steps that the Government have taken on the plastics issue—she referred to straws and microbeads—and no one would deny that they are welcome, but they are very low-hanging fruit. Given the scale of the challenge and the need for fast action, I thank that all of us in this Committee, from all sides, would agree that we need faster action from the Government.
These three amendments all share the same sentiments; they tackle the issue in slightly different ways. I hope that, from the debate, the Government have realised that the Committee wants them to set targets for plastics pollution and for addressing the scourge of single-use plastic items. If the Minister is not prepared to accept the amendment today, I hope that he will listen carefully to the suggestion from my noble friend Lady Bakewell that he meets her and others, before we get to Report, to look at how we can come to a realistic amendment to address this issue, which is rightly of huge significance to the public and absolutely critical if we are to get the environment that we need in future.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 13 and 30 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and to Amendment 28 in my name and those of other noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott—I am very pleased to hear that she will make a contribution shortly.
A number of your Lordships have spoken with passion about the scourge of plastic in our environment and the damage it causes to our wildlife and marine environment. That all results in huge waste mountains created in landfill. The environmental scarring that occurs happens at all sorts of levels: the plastic clogs our oceans and rivers; it blights our landscape; and it is in the food that we eat and the air that we breathe. We are yet to discover the full impact that living with plastic is having on our long-term health. I completely understand the analogy with asbestos that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, made; because it is a relatively new product, we do not yet know exactly what it is doing to our health.
The public are increasingly aware of the environmental damage that plastic is causing, with 81% of British people now wanting the Government to introduce refillable products to end the plastic crisis, and more than two-thirds saying that the plastic crisis is getting worse. From this debate, I think we would all concur with that. And yet, we know that just 10 plastic products—including plastic bags, bottles, food containers and fishing gear—account for three-quarters of global ocean litter. So the problem is intense, but it is also very specific in terms of what we have to tackle.
Plastic bottles and beverage litter alone contribute 33% of plastic pollution in our oceans, yet we know that alternative drinks containers already exist. I agree with the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Scott, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and others, that plastic litter is the scourge of our urban and rural landscapes. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, made an important point that extended producer responsibility really should ensure that manufacturers take responsibility for the litter that results from their products. I echo what the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, said in praise of litter pickers: we have all done our bit, and we all have great admiration for the people who do it on a more regular basis, including those in my own locality who regularly on a Sunday go picking litter up from the beach.
Several years ago, Coca-Cola sent to my office here a large sack and some plastic gloves, and I was encouraged to go and do some beach-picking. I thought that it had rather missed the point really, because it should be the company’s responsibility to clean up the litter in the first place rather than expect me to do it. I still have the gloves, and they are very useful on the allotment, although they are not being used for quite what they were intended. My point is that extended producer responsibility is important. Companies such as Coca-Cola—I know that it has got better, and I hope that it would not still do something like that—and other drinks manufacturers are trying to cut down on the amount of plastic, but we still have a long way to go.
Incidentally, I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that the blue plastic masks are just adding a new layer and source of pollution. We all understand why it was expedient to introduce them at very short notice, but the Government have now had time to come up with a better solution than the regular use of plastic masks, which we are all still encouraged to wear.
We believe that the solution is within our grasp, if only we had the determination to restrict the production of new plastics, to capture all that waste plastic for reuse and to charge manufacturers the full disposal cost of any discarded plastic. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, that we already have the experts who can measure and monitor our plastic output; it is not that difficult. We are in a position to capture the statistics and properly report on progress.
We need a concerted effort from the top to drive down the use of plastic and replace it with reusable alternatives. As a number of noble Lords have said, the Government have known this for some time, and they have engaged in the debate and taken some action. I am sure that the Minister will remind us of the steps already taken, for example on banning microbeads and increasing plastic bag charges. All of this is of course welcome, but it is dealing with a fraction of the problem. As the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, said, it is in effect picking the low-hanging fruit. Meanwhile, the Minister himself in the debate on single-use plastics on 19 April said:
“action is needed to curtail the use of single-use plastics and their release into the environment.”
He went on to say that it is
“the Government’s intention to clamp down on single-use plastic pollution and protect our environment for future generations.”—[Official Report, 19/4/21; col. GC 245.]
I do not doubt his commitment, but the real challenge is action, which seems to be lacking.
We were provoked to table our amendment by the endless delays in tackling the more fundamental challenges that remain. I have lost track of the number of consultations that have taken place or are in progress without a credible ultimate deadline for action. Our Amendment 28 addresses this need for a deadline. It follows the same format as the Government’s own wording in their “abundance of species” amendment, so we know that it meets the criteria of being acceptable to Government, flexible, legal and politically deliverable. It also mirrors the wording in Clause 2 on the setting of air quality targets, emphasising that it should be a short-term, rather than long-term, target.
Our plastic reduction targets cover plastics and other “non-essential single-use products”. The amendment is worded in that way to ensure that a ban on plastic does not incentivise the use of other single-use materials. This is at the heart of the problem, because these can also be damaging to the environment. One noble Lord mentioned paper bags, and there are other things which are a substitute, but not a sufficient one, when we can just use the same product again and again if we turn our minds to it. I can confirm to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, that our proposal is also intended to cover wet wipes and ear buds.
Our amendment works in tandem with Amendment 139—which seeks to amend Schedule 9—in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, to which I have also added my name, and which we will debate later.
Subsection (2) of the new clause proposed in Amendment 28 sets the plastic reduction target of 31 December 2030, which, again, aligns with the Government’s own “abundance of species” target. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, that this is a very modest proposal, and if the Minister is able to tell us today that the Government have an earlier deadline in mind, we would very much welcome hearing it. We believe that this is a credible deadline that would enable production and retail businesses to adapt to the new recyclable or biodegradable materials that they would have to use as substitutes.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, said that plastic bottles are rarely recycled into new plastic bottles, and she is absolutely right on that. But the annoying thing is that we have had the technology to do that for years—it already exists; it does not have to be created. Manufacturers just have to find that the cost of using virgin plastic is prohibitive compared to recycled plastics, and then they would switch. But at the moment, it is easier for them to use new oil and chemicals, rather than use the materials that are already in circulation. We can change that only if the Government use market interventions to make this happen, at least in the short term.
In my days with WRAP, I went to visit a factory at one stage that was taking plastic bottles and converting them into new plastic bottles. It was a commercial factory, but it could not make ends meet. It can be done, and it is being done, but we have got to make sure that the sums add up.
I also agree on a separate issue with the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and others, that we have to deal with the scourge of exporting our plastic waste to other developing nations which are unable to process it effectively. We have all seen the photographs of our plastic waste clogging up the streets and waterways of other countries. I hope we can have another debate about that later on during this Bill.
We will come to other aspects of waste and recycling policy later in this Bill, but we hope that noble Lords will support this amendment, which we intend to pursue. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, we would welcome further discussions with the Minister about how those short-term plastic reduction targets could be achieved and how the Government intend to deliver on them. I look forward to his response.
I thank noble Lords for their contributions, and I hope they were reassured by my comments on Monday regarding the Government’s ability to set targets on a wide range of areas through this Bill. I will elaborate further on their specific amendments, although I echo what the noble Baroness has just said: we will be discussing issues around plastic and waste on numerous occasions through the course of this Bill.
I would like to reiterate that the Bill gives us the power to set legally binding, long-term targets on any aspect of the natural environment. That includes waste reduction and resource efficiency. The Government share the concerns raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, in their amendments on the proliferation of single-use plastic items and the need for urgent action. The effect on the environment, particularly the marine environment as we heard in the very powerful opening speech, is both heart-breaking and, frankly, sickening.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, also talked about the issue of what we refer to as consumer waste. If we want to get to a point where we have designed waste out of the system, on many levels we should stop referring to it as consumer waste and regard it as producer waste. Most people, when they go to a shop and buy something with excess packaging, do not want it. It is a producer decision, not a consumer decision. As a number of noble Lords have said, that is precisely why extended producer responsibility is so important. Extended logically to its natural conclusion, it will place the onus on the producer, and we will see less waste.
As we know, the Government committed in the resources and waste strategy to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042. Measures in this Bill, such as extended producer responsibility—including for packaging—deposit return schemes and charges for single-use plastics et cetera, will help us to achieve this. Work on implementing these measures has already begun.
I acknowledge the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and agree with her comments about asbestos. I think our plastic wastefulness will, I hope one day soon, come to define our throwaway, short-termist, dysfunctional and disrespectful approach to the natural world. She is also right about masks—a conversation we have had many times. I share her bugbear; these things are completely avoidable. We have had a year of needing them, and surely by now people have had an opportunity to sort out a longer-term solution of a reusable mask.
The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, also listed a number of single-use items. Again, I emphasise that we can extend the ban on single-use items to other products, and I am committed to doing so. There is also an argument for personal responsibility, a point made by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. We have taken steps to increase the disincentives when it comes to littering. Fines are now up to £2,500 if conducted through a magistrates’ court. We have raised the maximum fixed penalty from £80 to £150 and have raised the minimum as well. We have given new powers to local authorities regarding litter thrown out of vehicle windows.
In the meantime, there is a role for consumers. Notwithstanding the comments that I made about producer responsibility, it is worth bearing in mind that we have an ability to send a message to producers. Companies selling tea bags that are plastic ought to feel the fury of the consumer. We should not be buying that stuff; I certainly do not buy tea bags made of plastic, and I will never do that, although I have to say that until a few months ago I was not aware it happened. I cannot believe that companies thought it was okay to create plastic tea bags; it is just astonishing.
There is an international dimension that noble Lords mentioned as well. Although this is not directly relevant to these amendments, we are showing international leadership. We have committed £80 million to a whole range of international programmes to tackle pollution. We co-founded the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance, which is all about helping Commonwealth counties to develop policies to reduce things like single-use plastics and improve their treatment and management of plastic. More than half of Commonwealth countries have signed up and therefore made the commitment.
There is one last thing on the international point—although it is not the last thing we are doing. It is worth bearing in mind that the vast majority of waste in the ocean is ghost gear: discarded fishing gear. There is a staggering amount. That, too, is where the principle of extended producer responsibility will really come into its own, creating a situation where it is simply a bad financial decision for vessels to just discard their fishing gear overboard.
We have already made important progress in tackling plastics. We have introduced one of the world’s toughest bans on microbeads in rinse-off personal care products and we have brought in measures to restrict the supply of plastic straws, plastic drink stirrers, and plastic stemmed cotton buds. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, asked when the latter was going to happen. It has already happened; the ban was introduced in October 2020. She heaped praise on the noble Lord, Lord Deben, particularly for his work on the quality of life review. I agree with her, partly because I co-chaired that review with him and I am very pleased with most of what was in it, although it is a gigantic document.
For the long-term legally binding target on waste reduction and resource efficiency, we want to take a more holistic approach to reduce consumption, not just of plastic, but of all materials. This would increase resource productivity and reduce the volume of waste we generate overall, including plastic waste. Setting a legally binding target on plastic waste in isolation, as proposed by the amendment, may lead to unexpected or undesirable substitutions. For example, we could see more materials whose environmental performance is, in the round, no better than plastic which could, for example, lead to higher carbon emissions.
I look forward to discussing specific measures in the Bill throughout the process that we embarked on on Monday—this Committee. We will be talking about plastic and other waste issues a great deal, but for now I hope that what I have said has reassured noble Lords somewhat and I beg them not to press their amendments.
My Lords, I have requests to speak after the Minister from three noble Lords, the noble Baronesses, Lady Boycott, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick and Lady Bennett of Manor Castle.
I thank noble Lords who made kind comments about my knowledge of plastic. I do not in any sense pretend to be an expert on this subject, but I do know quite a bit about food and where it connects with plastics.
I am very pleased to support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and I am sorry I did not get onto the speakers’ list. I assumed that I would be on it as my name was on the Marshalled List, but even when I rang up yesterday to ask to come on it, they said I was not allowed because those lists were fixed. I realise I am still a newcomer. I thank the Minister for his response, which is extremely encouraging, and I thank all noble Lords who have made so many incredibly good points. I am only going to try to make some points which I think can still be made.
I feel our targets are still too low and we could outlaw single-use plastic. Some 69 countries currently have either partially or totally banned its use, particularly in Africa. Single-use plastic is very bound up with the way that food is sold by supermarkets, and in a lot of cases with fruit and vegetables you end up buying more than you want. There is a very direct line—say, when you have a large amount of grapes in a box with a single-use lid, when you actually wanted half the amount of grapes because you happen to be a single person, so some of those grapes are wasted. This suits the supermarket, but it does not suit the consumer and, obviously, it does not suit the planet.
It seems to me that supermarkets are getting away with murder at the moment. They are selling us single-use bags for 10p and also bags for life. Frankly, I am embarrassed by how many bags for life I have because I hate buying the 10p ones, which seem worse—I probably have about 15 bags for life now, which is way too many. This means that the supermarkets made at least £100 out of me on bags because of my laziness—but at least I reuse them.
The Minister and several other noble Lords raised a point about how we export plastic for recycling. Turkey is big on this list: 40% of our plastic now goes there—Greenpeace has been running a campaign on this—and it ends up incinerated or in landfill. I was very interested to hear the Minister say that it is the Government who are taking action, because it is my understanding that, from 1 July, Turkey is banning our waste. I would be interested to find out what the truth is, in this debate or at some point in the next few days.
I will mention the one group of people that of course wants using plastic to go on. There are different types of plastic—I have good plastic, such as plastic cups and picnic plates that I have had for 20 years—and there needs to be really good public education to make us understand that one type of plastic is okay and another is not. We could look at a complete ban such plastic. I am sorry—I have completely lost my train of thought.
Masks have shown that, a year and a half in, the Government are not taking the plastic issue completely seriously. They are allowing these things to be made, and we could have stopped this.
My final point is that plastic is obviously made from oil. The oil companies have one last throw of the dice, and that is in making more plastic. ClientEarth is fighting a huge case at the moment over the big new petrochemical company that is being set up on the Belgian border, which is primarily there to make plastic and flood the world with more of it, as we move towards banning fossil fuels. Please do not let us let this happen. I think we should move to a total ban on single-use plastic. As the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, wisely said, this is an issue where the public are really on side with the Government and will be urging them on for measures that are as tough as they can manage.
I thank the noble Baroness for her comments, and I echo those of many others. She is a person of great knowledge and expertise on this issue. I have a note on my phone to contact her tomorrow to talk about something that I assume is connected to what she was just saying—I very much look forward to that. I completely agree with her that we can go further on single-use plastics. We have the power to do so, and I am absolutely committed that we will. This is not a niche concern on my part, or even one that is limited to me; it is shared by all of my colleagues in Defra, without exception.
The noble Baroness said that supermarkets are “getting away with murder”, and that is certainly true of some of them. But it is worth acknowledging when they get it right; it is important that people recognise best practice. Since I am not constrained by BBC rules on impartiality, I can say that Iceland has done extraordinary things on plastic. So far, I have seen that it is delivering on its commitments—for example, getting rid of every single one of those plastic trays beneath its frozen food, and so much more besides. It is worth celebrating that—it shows us what can be done. If its best practice today becomes the norm for everyone tomorrow, we will see real progress.
On the issue of the OECD, Turkey is bringing in restrictions, but I am not sure that it is a full ban—that may be wrong, but it is my understanding. Nevertheless, we are committed to banning the export of waste to non-OECD countries, and obviously Turkey is an OECD country. We have the power within the legislation to extend that ban, should the case be made. Of course, we are looking very closely at the information that Greenpeace has collected in relation to very bad waste treatment in Turkey, but this is not something that I am able to comment on in detail at the moment because I do not know enough about it—I do not think that any of us do.
My Lords, in his initial answer to the various amendments, the Minister said that it was the Government’s intention to set targets on a wide range of areas through this Bill. Therefore, by way of elucidation, could the Minister indicate whether it would be the intention of the Government, by way of the Bill or by accepting an amendment, to request the banning of sachets for cosmetic items and non-food products, such as household cleaning products? Many of these types of sachets end up clogging up our landfill sites.
My Lords, one of our priority areas for targets is waste, so we are committed to introducing at least one target, but, as I said, we can introduce targets on other issues as well. We are looking very closely at where targets are likely to have the best and biggest impact, and Defra is currently looking very closely at the issue that the noble Baroness has raised. I am not sure whether it was in the noble Baroness’s speech, but we heard from a few people, including in the opening speech, about the negative impacts of throw-away face wipes that contain plastic. We in the department are looking very closely at this as well; we are gathering information to see where we can have the biggest impact. I do not want to prejudge that process, but we are clearly committed to moving to a zero-waste economy, which will be reflected in the targets and is reflected in the Bill.
My Lords, in his answer to the debate on this group of amendments, the Minister said that the Government are relying on extended producer responsibility to see a reduction in waste, particularly plastic waste; indeed, he said, “We will see less waste”. I was thinking about a company that produces some of our most expensive electronic goods and which does not have a particularly good environmental record—everyone will know which company I am talking about. If it produces a telephone or device that is worth £1,000 or more, the packaging cost would have to be very large to discourage it from making it look as fancy and as flash as you could possibly want.
Then there is the other end of the market—supermarkets, as the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, just mentioned. They are saving a lot of money by selling plastic-wrapped vegetables, which forces people to buy more. I did a little price comparison in Lidl in Sheffield, and the loose vegetables were roughly twice the price of the plastic-wrapped ones. That is certainly a reflection in part of the fact that they are cheaper for supermarkets to handle: they need fewer staff and plastic-packed goods can be more roughly handled. You would have to put a very major cost on that plastic to ensure that there is a truly significant deterrent effect. I ask the Minister to respond on his claim that “We will see less waste”—how can he be certain about that?
To pick up the other point, the Minister said that the plastic ban has a risk of encouraging the use of other equally, or similarly, damaging materials. I come back to our debate on day 1, when we talked about the need for a limit on, or reduction to, our resource use in total, and a target to see a total resource-use loss.
Finally, my noble friend has asked me to tell noble Lords—she has been having conversations on Twitter—that if you are now wearing a blue plastic face mask, you can wash these several times and they will survive several washes. Having given that important information, I will sit down.
I thank the noble Baroness for that final comment. As I have said many times, extended producer responsibility provides us with the apparatus that would, if used correctly, lead to a dramatic reduction in waste. But of course there is an “if”: we have to set the incentives, or disincentives, at a level that will have the desired impact. This is not an exact science, so there will no doubt be trial and error.
The fundamental point is that, whatever the cost, it has to reflect at least the cost to society of the generation of that waste in the first place. The problem at the moment is that there are companies generating waste but leaving the cost of dealing with it to society. In effect, this is an indirect subsidy. In answer to the noble Baroness’s question, this very much hinges upon getting those incentives right—of course, it is my intention, and the Government’s, that we will get those incentives right.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I am grateful to the Minister for his encouraging response but I remain convinced, as are other noble Lords, that some form of plastics reduction target must be in the Bill if the Government are to show that they are serious about this subject.
The Minister said that 2042 was the target deadline, which is far too far away. The noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Lady Meacher, referred to the scourge of wet wipes and other personal products containing plastics. We have moved some way on this, but there is still a great deal to be done.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, especially about extending producer responsibility. I would welcome the opportunity to work with the movers of Amendment 28 to see if we can reach an accommodation on the way forward on this vital aspect of plastic pollution.
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, raised the issue of the disintegration of brown paper bags. The supermarket that I frequent sells substantial paper carriers. They are compostable and can withstand rainstorms—I have been caught in one with them. They can be used several times before being put to good use in the composter.
The noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, referred to plastic litter, especially from fast-food outlets. This is a prime example of where producer responsibility could make a real difference.
It is important that the role of compostable materials be recognised in any target. The Government have a way to go in their thinking on this. I share the Minister’s disquiet at the use of plastic tea bags. We switched several years ago to using loose tea—along with our coffee grounds, we spread it on the garden. I recommend doing this. It is a very good dissuader of slugs.
The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, spoke eloquently about food waste generated by consumers having to buy more than they really need because of the packaging. I support her comments and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. We must make certain that we have a total ban on plastics, especially those used for food wrapping.
I reiterate my request to meet the Minister, along with the movers of this amendment; I do not think I heard him agree to do so. I hope his office will contact me with a date. Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, could come along as well. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 13 withdrawn.
Amendment 14 not moved.
My Lords, we come now to the group beginning with Amendment 15. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.
15: Clause 1, page 2, line 5, at end insert—
“(c) the reasons why that particular target and that particular date have been chosen, and the evidence on which those choices have been based.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is to enable people affected by the targets to understand how they have been arrived at.
My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 15. The targets the Government intend to set will impose substantial costs and obligations on us, one way or another. Any costs imposed on a business ends up with the consumer. These may well require substantial changes in our behaviour. I would like the Government to commit to empowering us, to taking us along with the process they have followed in arriving at those targets, and to telling us why they have chosen those targets and accompanying dates. I would also like them to set out in full and make accessible to us the evidence on which those targets are based.
If we empower people in this way, they become fellows—people who are with us in setting out to tackle the problem, rather than being compelled, often unwillingly, to go along with government diktats. The more we can persuade people, the more we can take them with us, the easier it will be and the further we can go. I would like a system which would clearly incentivise the production of evidence. Where it is weak—regarding the harm done by microplastics, for example—there should be a clear incentive for the Government to sponsor research and investigation to underpin any target they may wish to put in place.
We have a history of legislating in this area based on inadequate evidence. For instance, the original decision to ban tungsten lightbulbs in favour of other systems was based on the idea that the heat they create is wasted. In this country, this is only true during four months of the year; during the other eight months, the heat is extremely useful. The decision to allow only low-powered vacuum cleaners was based on extremely thin evidence and may well have resulted in people expending a lot more energy and time than would have been necessary, had they had higher-powered vacuum cleaners. If we are to use resources effectively in dealing with pollution and other problems, we absolutely must base it on evidence. This evidence, and our thinking, must be shared with the people we want to take along with that decision.
My Lords I shall speak chiefly to Amendments 16 and 18 in my name. I also want briefly to support the sentiments behind Amendment 15 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. However, generally speaking, history shows us that, as more evidence is collected, regulations and restrictions are far too weak at the outset and need to be strengthened further. I question the two examples he gave but I will not disappear into the weeds of those details.
I also support Amendment 43 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, to which my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb has added her name. This partly relates to my amendments. Amendment 43 talks about a statutory duty to meet interim targets. My two amendments—particularly Amendment 16—say that there should be
“at least one interim target”.
We are talking about targets of 15 years or more.
I asked the House of Lords Library—it is an invaluable resource, and I thank it—to find out how many Secretaries of State in the last 100 years held that single post for more than 10 years. It came up with a list of two: Gordon Brown, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, both of whom were Chancellors. No other Secretary of State held that post for longer than 10 years.
This is a question of responsibility and of people taking action, and being able to demonstrate that they are taking action, over a relatively short period of time. I will not reopen Monday’s debate about our being in a climate, biodiversity and environmental crisis. We are in a crisis, and we need action quickly. Fifteen years is a very long time. If the target is that far away—a minimum of three Governments away and, based on current case studies, perhaps considerably more—it is very easy for it not to be addressed and for no real progress to be made. That is why I am suggesting at least one interim target in those 15 years.
That brings me to my second amendment, Amendment 18, which states that these long-term targets should be no longer than 20 years. In my reading of the Bill—I should be very interested if anyone can tell me I am wrong; I do not claim to be a lawyer—it says that targets will be at least 15 years away; there is no maximum target. The Bill—we are talking about what is written in it—could allow the Government to set a 50-year target for water pollution or biodiversity, which, of course, is no kind of target at all.
These amendments are small and modest, and I am not necessarily wedded to the numbers in them. They are an attempt to open up the debate about the fact that we cannot just say, “Right, here’s a 15-year target, and we can all sit back and worry in 12 years’ time where we have got to.” We need targets set with appropriate reporting towards them. I point out a situation where we have interim targets set. This is by the Committee on Climate Change. In its most recent reports, it has set out the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, which run from 2023 to 2027 and 2028 to 2032 respectively. We are not on track to meet either of those. That demonstrates the importance of setting statutory interim targets and committing to their delivery.
My Lords, I am speaking to Amendment 43 in the name of my noble friend Lady Jones, which is also supported by the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge. I am also pleased to be speaking ahead of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, in case he wants to comment on this amendment.
We support the principles of Amendments 15, 16 and 18. It is important that we understand how and why decisions have been taken and are able to ensure that actions and remedies are in place when required. Amendment 43 may be small, but it makes an important point in this legislation. By inserting the phrase “interim targets are met”, in effect it places a duty on the Secretary of State to meet those targets.
As we have heard, the Bill requires interim targets to be set on a five-yearly basis. In the environmental improvement plans, the Government are required to set out the steps they will take over that 15-year period to improve the natural environment. However, environmental improvement plans are not legally binding; they are simply policy documents. This is concerning, because targets are most effective when binding, making it more likely that early action is taken and is sustained by successive Governments.
Indeed, voluntary environmental targets have been badly missed on a number of occasions. I shall give some examples. The target set in 2010 to end the inclusion of peat in amateur garden products by 2020 was badly missed. The target set in 2011 for Defra to conserve 50% by area of England’s sites of special scientific interest by 2020 has been abandoned and replaced with a new target: to ensure that 38.7% of SSSIs are in favourable condition, which is only just higher than the current level.
In the Bill as it stands, an environmental improvement plan, which sets out the steps the Government intend to take to improve the natural environment, needs to be reviewed and, potentially, updated every five years and reported on every year by the Secretary of State. The OEP will also prepare an annual report on progress made towards improving the natural environment and meeting targets, including the interim targets, to which the Secretary of State must respond, addressing any recommendations.
The Government claim that this triple-lock mechanism will be sufficient to drive short-term progress, but this is not the same as legal accountability. Interim targets should be legally binding to guarantee that they will be delivered, and it is vital to have a robust legal framework in place to hold the Government and public authorities to account, not just in the long term but in the short term. As things stand, the Government could, in theory, set a long-term legally binding target for 2037, as suggested in the legislation, but then avoid having to actually do anything about meeting it until 2036.
It is important that the Secretary of State is given a duty to meet the targets, because that then means the Government will have to introduce mechanisms to ensure that they are met. I am sure the Minister will agree that we need to take interim targets seriously, so we must ensure that they are credible, achievable, workable and play a full part in the process of meeting the long-term targets that are set. But there is a lack of focus, drive and certainty. Legally binding interim targets in the Bill would give a sense of direction and be something against which the Government could be held to account.
It is also worth pointing out that environmental targets are interdependent. Because of the complex interdependencies in the natural world, missing a target in one priority area may make it harder to meet one in another. A target to improve freshwater biodiversity relies on meeting water quality targets. Early and sustained action is needed across all priority areas to ensure that long-term targets are met, so interim targets need to be strengthened to avoid the risk of failure.
Politics and government have a notorious reputation for looking only to the short term, yet real environmental improvement requires a long-term focus. The Climate Change Act has demonstrated the difference the existence of statutory requirements can make, strengthening the hand of civil servants, who can tell reluctant Ministers that it is the law to meet emissions targets in the near term.
This is not an issue just for Defra. If we are to meet environmental targets, other departments have to play their part. For example, meeting targets on air quality requires action from the DfT, BEIS, local government and others. Other departments will have their own priorities, so may well need the encouragement of legally binding targets to actually take any necessary action.
To finish, we must not forget about business. The Aldersgate Group, which is a business alliance championing a competitive and environmentally sustainable economy, has said:
“To deliver much needed investment in nature restoration, businesses require legally binding interim targets in the Environment Bill to drive rapid policy action”.
It goes on to say that an amendment calling for legally binding interim targets
“will reinforce the credibility of the Bill’s long-term targets and deliver a much clearer policy and regulatory framework which businesses can invest against.”
Our amendment would hugely strengthen the outcomes of the Bill, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, that it has been extremely useful that she has spoken to her amendment before we all comment on it. I congratulate her on the way she did it and support a lot of what she said.
I thank my noble friend the Minister for sparing the time to have a meeting with me before we started Committee. At that meeting, I said to him that one of my main focuses was going to be how this works in practice on the ground—how it will be implemented in reality, rather than in theory. That is what I want to start to explore with this amendment, in support of my noble friend Lord Lucas. He rightly asked why the targets have been set and how.
We all want better biodiversity—it is on that area that I shall focus in the short time for which I shall speak—but we must have a sensible and practical target for it. If my noble friend issues a target that he wants lapwing and curlew numbers to be increased by 50%, we must look at some hard evidence and facts. Here, I call in aid the work of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust. It has been researching this area for more than 20 years, combining a productive farm at Loddington in Leicestershire with benefits for wildlife. I urge my noble friend the Minister to visit that farm as soon as practicable, and certainly before Report, because he will be fascinated by the research that the trust has done.
The trust has done research into lapwing. It did a pilot study with Peak District farmers. It was backed up by Natural England. The farmers did all the right things: the grass was the right length, the vegetation was absolutely right. They got full marks, they got a lot of funding, but there was absolutely no increase in lapwing; in fact, there was a decrease. That was because other factors, in particular, predation by animals, had not been taken into account. An awful lot of money has been wasted on projects similar to this.
I back that up with the curlew project in Shropshire that it was involved with. For two years, it monitored and looked after sites, but no chicks survived. Mostly, that was due to egg predation by badgers and foxes, which has caused real problems; indeed, it got to the stage where nests were electric-fenced off to protect them. Three nests hatched but, once the chicks had got out from under the electric fence, there was no stopping the predation. Therefore, I thoroughly support the aims of my noble friend Lord Lucas’s proposal and ask my noble friend the Minister: how will these targets work in practice regarding biodiversity? Given the examples I have just mentioned—and I have a lot more to come out during later amendments—how will this work on the ground for the benefit of wildlife?
My Lords, I wish briefly to speak on the two principal targets of these amendments—first about reasons and secondly the targets themselves. I warmly support Amendment 15. First, experience throughout my life has shown that if you are required to give reasons, you make better decisions. I do not believe that this will be burdensome because the civil servants advising the Minister will have to set out why particular targets are chosen. Secondly, I support the view that evidence should be provided, because that enables the cogency of the reasons to be examined and their transparency becomes obvious to all. Thirdly, setting out reasons and the evidence will provide a firm basis for certainty about the targets themselves. This is a small but very important amendment and I do not believe that it will add to the burdens of our very hard-pressed Civil Service because this is the kind of thing that it does internally. Why not follow transparency and make it public?
As regards targets, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, may well be right in her view in Amendment 18 that there should be a restriction on the length of the long-term target because there does not appear to be one in the Bill at the moment. That is why interim targets are so important. As is accepted, it is the interim target that the current Government are likely to concentrate on, not the more distant target—if it is more distant than 15 or 20 years away, no one will concentrate on it at all. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, has so eloquently explained, there is so much evidence that targets are missed. In dealing with targets in ordinary day-to-day life, it is accepted that unless there is something behind a target to give teeth to it and impose a clear duty, then it can easily be ignored.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has explained, the Government say that the triple lock will work. I do not accept that that is tough enough. Why not acknowledge a duty? The Government accept that there is a duty in respect of long-term targets, why not therefore a duty in respect of the interim targets? We all know that if you are under a duty—both legally and morally—you will seek to discharge that duty. It will be interesting to hear the Minister’s explanation as to why the Government simply will not accept a duty.
My Lords, I support Amendment 43, which places a statutory duty on the Secretary of State to meet any interim targets. I am merely a pale shadow compared to the previous speaker who put it very eloquently. I share exactly the same position as him and, indeed, the position of the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Parminter, my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch and the noble Lord, Lord Randall, in putting forward this amendment. It is important that interim targets are just as legally binding on the Government as any other targets.
Interim targets have a huge benefit. They keep up the momentum. They give certainty to businesses and, indeed, several business groups have already called for legally binding interim targets. They would also give certainty to local government and the public. The process of setting interim targets under Clause 3(2) means that they can be met, so there is no impediment to the Government accepting that meeting interim targets should be a legal requirement if they have already determined that the targets are able to be met in the process of setting them. It will also have an added benefit that the office for environmental protection will be able to take enforcement action if the Government do not meet interim targets, which I believe it could not do if the targets are not legally binding.
We only have to look at climate change efforts in the past to see how statutory interim targets can really drive change. The Climate Change Act introduced statutory interim targets and they do drive change, as opposed to the non-statutory early programmes which, quite frankly, wallowed and did not get cross-government buy-in in any way. Ministers and Governments come and go, but legally binding interim targets march on and will provide certainty for all. I hope the Minister can accept this amendment.
My Lords, I wish to speak in support of Amendment 43 on the need for binding interim targets. I also support Amendments 16 and 18 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and, in many ways, support Amendment 15 about the need for evidence, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. The Government’s position on interim targets, as presented by the Minister in another place, Rebecca Pow, appears to be that legally binding targets would not be appropriate because of the unpredictability of the environment. In other words, events may make the targets hard to achieve. However, by this logic, the Government should not set themselves any targets at all, as unpredictable events will surely intervene.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, Lady Hayman of Ullock and Lady Young of Old Scone, all referred to the Climate Change Act as showing us the value of legally binding interim targets. As we have already heard, the Climate Change Committee advises on the five-year carbon budgets that are—I underline this—the cost-effective road map to net zero. One important point that the Climate Change Committee makes is that you cannot back-end all the actions because it will cost you more. You have to take early steps to save later on. So far, the Government have accepted the first six carbon budgets, taking us through to the mid-2030s, so they are legally binding commitments. These budgets not only provide us with transparency about whether the Government are on track but also a clear indication of where progress has been good and where it has not. That is why we know that the Government, in spite of good progress in some areas, are not currently on track to meet their longer-term target of net zero by 2050.
I see no compelling reason why we should not do the same for nature’s recovery. I admit that in some ways it is more complicated than cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The path to net-zero emissions by 2050 can be measured in a single, common currency—carbon dioxide equivalents—and we have clearly defined ways of decarbonising our economy, whether it is through renewable energy, better insulation of homes or electric vehicles and so on. For nature’s recovery, there is as yet no single, common currency nor are there the well-defined building blocks for achieving long-term targets.
However, the Government will have to work out the answers to these questions if they are to meet their longer-term targets, so why not start right away and meet legally binding interim targets? Statutory interim targets would enable all of us to see how the targets are being calculated—which relates back to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas—what progress is being made and what needs to change. You can see what happens without binding interim targets by looking at progress on climate adaptation. In contrast to the Climate Change Committee’s advice on mitigation—cutting our greenhouse gas footprint—its advice through the Adaptation Committee on building resilience for the inevitable future climate change that we will experience is not translated into binding targets. I should note in parentheses that I served for eight years as the first chair of the Adaptation Committee, as a member of the Climate Change Committee itself.
Last week, the Adaptation Committee reported on its latest climate change risk assessment. It said:
“Alarmingly, this new evidence shows that the gap between the level of risk that we face and the level of adaptation underway has widened. Adaptation action has failed to keep pace with the worsening reality of climate risk.”
That is what happens if you do not have binding interim targets, and I fear that without legally binding interim targets we will find exactly the same failures by the Government with regard to the commitments in this Bill.
My Lords, I always feel rather humbled when I follow such eminent noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Krebs.
I added my name to Amendment 43 and support the general thrust of these amendments with regard to targets and interim targets. If we are not careful, targets just become aspirations. Without being too flippant, I have a target to lose a number of pounds—perhaps stones—in weight, but, without a statutory requirement to do so within a particular period, I am afraid that the time slips by and I find a good excuse, whether it is lockdown, the weather, all sorts, not to do it now but to do it next month. If we are serious about this, it is important to have interim targets that are statutory. I will not go on, except to echo the sentiments of my noble friend Lord Caithness in very highly recommending to my noble friend the Minister a visit the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Allerton project in Loddington, which has done a lot of research.
My noble friend is absolutely right that you cannot just magic-up these things without detailed research. There are some uncomfortable truths. He mentioned curlews, for example, and he is talking about predation. There is a possible problem that by increasing woodland we are providing more cover for predators, so, where that is near habitat that might be good for curlews and redshanks, we are actually providing more refuge. These things are complicated, but we must have the interim targets on a statutory basis, otherwise they can just get lost in the sands of time.
My Lords, I thank those who have participated so far in this short debate on targets. Like other noble Lords, on these Benches we support the principle of evidence-based targets that was made powerfully by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, in his opening remarks, and we also support the principle of the two amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle.
As other noble Lords have already indicated, I have put my name to Amendment 43, which would put a duty on the Secretary of State to meet legally binding interim targets. We think that this is an important step forward. I do not intend to say much on the arguments, given that they have been set out so powerfully by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, who made the case particularly coherently, reminding us that there are businesses out there which are asking for this. I know that the Government do not always want to listen to those of us who come from other parts of civil society, or from other groups, but they do tend to wish to listen to businesses. Therefore, the noble Baroness’s argument about responsible businesses asking for a duty for the Minister to meet legally binding interim targets was a powerful one.
Equally, the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, made the case well that this step will be important to help the OEP do its job. We will come on to a lot of debates about the OEP, including on its overarching remit and function, but, as the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, said, we must always be thinking about how this will be translated on the ground, not just in terms of how it will affect the biodiversity of species but in how it is being delivered on the ground by this new organisation that will be set up to be the government watchdog. Obviously we only have an interim OEP at the moment, but I would have thought that this is something that the Government would really want, to help it to do the job that the Government have said that they want it to do and which all of us in this Chamber want to help it to do when hopefully it is set up permanently, later this year.
I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, dismantled the arguments put by the Minister in the other place as to why the Government were not prepared to accept this proposal. Other Peers have made clear and convincing arguments about why this is an important step and that there is a parallel that we know already works: the Climate Change Act. So, in supporting these amendments, I say to the Minister that he will have to do rather better than he did in his remarks at Second Reading, where he seemed merely to echo the comments of the Minister down the other end. The contentions from people around this Chamber is that this is an important step which is absolutely critical to help the OEP do its job and which businesses want. If we want to deliver on the ground, this needs to go ahead. Therefore, I look forward to his remarks and hope that they will be, to put it delicately, a little more convincing than they were at Second Reading.
I thank noble Lords for their contributions and welcome their engagement with this area of the Bill.
Turning first to Amendment 43, I respectfully ask the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and other noble Lords, to consider the potential effect of this amendment and how it could undermine the long-term nature of the targets framework, which we have purposely designed to look beyond the political cycle of any one Government. No one disputes that there is a logic in having long-term targets. Long-term targets will provide much-needed certainty to businesses and society, enabling us to invest confidently in the innovation required to achieve our ambitions. However, at the same time, we need some flexibility to adapt the interim targets, while keeping the long-term fixed targets, so that we can reflect on what is and what is not working.
With huge respect, I am not sure that the characterisation by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, of the arguments of my colleague, Rebecca Pow, is completely fair. It is not so much about the unpredictability of nature. There may be times when we will want to take actions that are more ambitious but which might not bear fruit in a few years. We must be able to avoid rushed policy-making just to score a quick win, which we would have to do if there were shorter-term legal targets.
In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, I say that there is always a natural temptation for any Government on a five-yearly target-setting process to set eye-catching short-term measures in their manifesto, but everything that we know about the complexity of these environmental targets shows that they transcend any one Administration, or five-year period. We are, after all, talking about living, non-linear systems, and there will be plenty of measures the effects of which will take many years to bear out. For example, in response to my noble friend Lord Caithness, for certain habitats, such as peat bog, native woodland and elements of the marine environment, significant change is unlikely to occur within a five-year period. We would not want to deprioritise key areas of the environment with longer recovery times in order to meet those five-year targets.
There are actions we can take on air quality, particularly those requiring new infrastructure, which may temporarily increase PM2.5 concentrations but nevertheless have significant long-term benefits. For example, building significant cycling and walking infrastructure would deliver long-term benefits through the modal shift from polluting modes of transport such as motor cars, but the construction work to deliver that infrastructure would increase PM2.5 concentrations in the short term, as well as congestion while people get used to a different flow of traffic. All the evidence backs both those contentions.
Requiring the Government to achieve complex targets in five years would discourage these types of large-scale changes, and instead focus action on simple, quick wins. We need some flexibility if we are to innovate to tackle the greatest environmental challenges of our time. I believe that this amendment risks curtailing that necessary flexibility, inadvertently reducing overall ambition and detracting from our critical long-term targets.
However, I reassure noble Lords that every year we will be required to report on progress in meeting the interim and long-term targets in our annual progress reports, covered in Clause 8. This will be a visible, transparent and accountable process. The Government will be held to account on those reports and progress by the OEP. I know that the noble Baroness has put forward this amendment because she wants, unsurprisingly, to be confident that we will deliver results, but with transparency, regular reporting and scrutiny by the OEP, I assure her that we will unlock significant environmental improvement.
Moving on to Amendment 18, from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, I stress that 15 years is just a minimum. Given the scale of the challenges, our targets need to be ambitious and able to deliver long-term sustainable results. We also need to give businesses and the public sufficient time to make whatever changes are necessary to help us get there. Limiting target duration to 20 years would provide an arbitrary cap that would constrain our ability to set the most appropriate and impactful targets. We want to develop targets that are driven by taking action in areas that matter most and which drive environmental outcomes that benefit future generations. There could be valid reasons for delivering environmental outcomes in a period that spanned longer than 20 years—for example, for habitats which require a longer period to recover, such as native woodland and so on.
Moreover, regarding her Amendment 16, I reassure the noble Baroness that setting interim targets for up to five years’ duration will provide a sufficiently regular check on progress and allow for alignment with the five-yearly environmental improvement plan review cycle, where necessary and appropriate.
Regarding my noble friend Lord Lucas’s Amendment 15, I hope that he and my noble friend Lord Caithness will be reassured to know that we expect to publish a public consultation in early 2022 on the proposed targets. This will include a rationale for the proposed targets, proposals for their deadlines and a summary of the evidence used to inform them. An impact assessment will accompany the consultation and consider the environmental and socioeconomic considerations associated with each target.
I hope that I have at least gone some way towards reassuring noble Lords, and I ask my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the support that I have received from my noble friend Lord Caithness and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd.
I am also mostly happy with what my noble friend the Minister has said. It sounds like a good standard Civil Service practice, but I very much hope that, when the time comes, he will go beyond just publishing a summary of the evidence. This ought to be something people can engage with in detail. They ought to be able to see exactly what has been said, to read the underlying research papers, to go in depth into the evidence that has been collected and, with the help of organisations with expertise in these matters, be able to criticise on a level basis the targets that have been set and suggest improvements, with good reasons. That will come if the Government are fully open about the basis on which they have reached their targets. However, my noble friend will not be surprised that I am greatly encouraged by what he has said, and I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 15 withdrawn.
Amendment 16 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 17. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.
17: Clause 1, page 2, line 7, at end insert—
“(5A) Regulations under this section must make provision about undertaking research into the reasons why a target is not being met, regionally or nationally.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is to make sure that the reasons why targets are not being met is understood and evidenced so that remedies can be accurately and efficiently targeted.
When the Government come to review the performance against targets, I very much hope that they will commit to undertake detailed research into the reasons why the targets have not been met, not only nationally but regionally, because for most of them the underlying reasons will be significant at a local level but perhaps not so nationally.
To take the example of air pollution in Eastbourne, where I live, we often record quite high figures, but no one has the slightest idea why. There does not seem to be that much traffic; we do not seem to be in a place where you would expect fumes to be trapped; there is not a lot of wood-burning going on. We end up ascribing things to container ships in the channel. However, all this is soluble if we do a bit of research. Every bit of this pollution has a chemical signature. With some money put into it, we would know quite rapidly what lay at the root of the problems we experienced and could therefore accurately understand what we should be doing over the next planned period to reduce it.
Without that sort of research, we are operating blind. We are operating on a set of national suppositions as to where this pollution comes from—diesel engines, wood-burning stoves, whatever—none of which has any obvious application locally. However, it is locally that the efforts must be made to reduce it. In this amendment, I ask the Minister to put us in a position to take effective action locally to drive through the achievement of his targets. I beg to move.
My Lords, the amendment in my name suggests that the Government should be talking to other bits of government when creating policy. Its wording might go back to some earlier bits of this clause—nearly one and half days into this, we are not half way through the first clause, but that is quite normal for the start of a Bill. I am thinking here about some of the targets on recreation and enjoyment of the countryside. If I do not like it, I should have stood up earlier and said, “Move it”, but we are where we are.
The Department of Health has a considerable investment in, and has spent a lot of time, making sure that people take exercise. The countryside is an incredibly good potential facility for getting more people to take exercise in a pleasant manner. They will not do it if the environment they are in is unpleasant, dangerous or difficult to reach. We can go on in this way for quite a long time. Will these two departments work together coherently? We may discover from the Minister that “They should possibly consult, that is definitely a good idea”, but in reality they will not, because we have two people defending their own little bailiwicks—“This is where we have authority; this is where you have authority—get your tanks off my lawn.” They might throw a few expletives in there as well, because that is the normal relationship. People like to be in control of what they are doing.
This is an attempt to make sure that two bits of government that should be working together are doing so. It might be the case that we go back and put in a couple more amendments about the new office for health promotion—by naming it I might be expanding this slightly—but if we are to make sure that activity can take place outside, we must know what is going on.
On the other hand, if you are suggesting that everybody should go out and march up and down hills, you have to know how much damage you will do to the environment in certain circumstances and whether that should not happen for environmental reasons. We have talked about mountain bikes ripping up paths, and will talk about it again. We will talk about where walkers are and where they should not be. All these things should be discussed sensibly in government, with somebody having some duty to make sure there is some form of coherent whole coming out of this.
I could expand at considerable length about certain well-meaning groups in the countryside finding themselves totally at the throats of other well-meaning groups in the countryside. They all want similar things but none are prepared to compromise—“And, by the way, we normally fight, don’t we?”. Okay, I will say it: the canoeists and the anglers. If we are going through this, we need some form of guidance from government to make sure they will work together. I suggest that giving some idea of how this will happen in future would not hurt the Bill in any way.
My Lords, I have one amendment in this grouping, Amendment 34. I am grateful for the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and my noble friend Lord Teverson. It is quite a tightly worded, small amendment in some regards and aims to require the Secretary of State to seek the advice of the OEP on whom to consult before setting targets. As it stands at the moment, the Secretary of State gets to set the targets and choose the advisers the Government consult on what those targets might be. That seems to be not a very rational approach and not a very solid process.
I suspect that in summing up, the Minister will say, “Well, under Clause 29 of the Bill, we can ask the office for environmental protection for advice on such matters”, and of course that is reasonable—but it is only that they can ask. If we look at the parallel body, the Climate Change Committee, although I know it is not an exact parallel, we see that the Government have to seek the advice at the start of the target-setting process.
It seems to me that the OEP should be involved right at the beginning of the process of setting the targets for the future of our environment and should therefore be asked to have a say in who the Government should consult—the best experts who can provide the best current advice, from which the Government can then cull a view on what those targets might be. If it does not do that, it seems to me that the Government have undue discretion. I therefore urge the Government to accept this small but important point of process.
My Lords, I declare my interests as a farmer with forestry and renewable energy interests, chairman of the Fleet District Salmon Fishery Board and a director of the Galloway Fisheries Trust.
I will speak to Amendments 36, 38, 45 and 50 in my name in this rather wide group. They all relate to the same issue: that the Bill does not take account of any negative impacts, risks or costs that may arise, inadvertently or otherwise, as a result of the environmental targets set under Clause 1. I noted what the Minister, who is not in his place at the moment, said on the last group about impact assessments for targets, which was very welcome, but there is nothing in the Bill with respect to that. This is important, because we do not always get it right. Most environmental actions involve some form of trade-off or cost, whether environmental, social or economic. That is not to say that we should not take the actions, but surely it cannot be controversial to say that we should ensure that the costs or damage that might result are not disproportionate to the benefits achieved.
On 10 June, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services—not renowned for being unenvironmental in their outlook—jointly sponsored a workshop report, Biodiversity and Climate Change. I believe that the Minister was at that workshop. The report points out that actions taken to deal with climate change can have negative impacts on biodiversity—and the other way around, although that is less common.
The report gives examples of such negative trade-offs. For example, it says:
“Afforestation, which involves planting trees in ecosystems that have not historically been forests, and reforestation with monocultures, especially with exotic tree species, can contribute to climate change mitigation but are often detrimental to biodiversity”.
That is a subject very close to my heart. Living in south-west Scotland, as I do, I see every day the damage that can be done. I am a member of the Fleet catchment steering group, which is working to try to reverse the damage to watercourses and peat-land caused by Sitka spruce plantations from the 1960s.
In another example, the report says:
“Technology-based measures that are effective for climate change … can pose serious threats to biodiversity. They should be evaluated in terms of their overall benefits and risks.”
It refers to the impacts of rare-earth mineral mining on land or in the ocean for use in
“wind turbines, electric car motors and batteries”
and the lack of clean methods of disposal or reuse. Despite the IPCC and IPBES saying that measures
“should be evaluated in terms of their overall benefits and risks”,
there is nothing in the Bill, as currently drafted, to do that.
A real-life example of a target that had disproportionate negative consequences was the promotion of diesel cars to reduce CO2 emissions. As we now know, the policy directly led to an increase in emissions of harmful nitrogen oxide and particulates, leading to health problems, including deaths. We simply got it wrong. The environmental, social and economic costs turned out to be disproportionate to the CO2 reduction benefits.
Other noble Lords have given other examples of trade-offs as we have gone through the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, referred to the possible impacts on marine life from offshore wind farms. The noble Lord, Lord Randall, raised the possibility that biomass may be contributing to global deforestation. The same could be said of biofuels. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, pointed out that there can be negative impacts from greater public access. I read in the papers only yesterday how work to save the Tasmanian devil in Australia has resulted in the destruction of important sea-bird populations. There are trade-offs throughout the systems.
Of course, the potential costs are not just environmental. For example, it is not difficult to imagine a poorly designed target that has the effect of making a UK industry uncompetitive. That might simply result in the export of the environmentally damaging activity to a less well-regulated country, creating unemployment and economic damage here with no global environmental benefit at all. Surely, we must ensure that those kinds of social and economic impacts are not disproportionate to the benefits. We must look at it globally, not just locally.
Amendment 36 makes it a requirement that, when setting a target, the Secretary of State must be satisfied
“that the environmental, social, economic or other costs”
will not be “disproportionate to the benefits” that will arise from meeting the target. I hope that is not a controversial idea.
Amendments 45 and 50 require that, when reviewing and reporting on whether a target has been met and whether the significant improvement test has been met, the Secretary of State must also report whether
“the environmental, social, economic or other costs”
have in fact been
“proportionate or disproportionate to the benefits.”
As the Bill is currently drafted, those costs do not have to be reported on at all. In the example I gave of the dash for diesel, if that had been a target under this Bill it would have been reported as a success, because the target of encouraging diesel cars was met. The disproportionate air pollution would not have been considered in the review of the target, which cannot be right.
Clause 3(3)(b) gives a power to the Secretary of State to
“revoke or lower a target”
“the environmental, social, economic or other costs of meeting it would be disproportionate to the benefits”,
but only if that is because of a change in circumstances. Again, in the example of the diesel cars, the Secretary of State would not have been able to use this clause to revoke the target, because there was no change in circumstances. The polluting impact of diesel vehicles was not new; we got it wrong. As Clause 3 is currently drafted, the target could not have been revoked or reduced—and that cannot be sensible.
Amendment 38 removes the “changes in circumstances” wording and enables the Secretary of State to revoke or reduce the target in any situation where the environmental, social, economic or other costs turn out to be disproportionate to the benefits. I know that by drawing attention to costs and risks, I am in danger of being seen as a kind of environmental sceptic. I hope that what I have said has clarified that this is not the case; it is certainly not the intention behind these amendments.
On Monday, the Minister said:
“There are enormous cost savings in doing right by the environment.”—[Official Report, 21/6/21; col. 97.]
He was quite right. But that does not change the fact that there are often trade-offs with environmental, social or economic consequences, and we do not have a great track record of getting it right every time. Hopefully, we have learned from the mistakes of the past, but it would be naive, even arrogant, to believe we will not make similar mistakes as we do our best to try and improve the environment.
I hope the Minister can accept the concept behind these four amendments, or at least explain how the Bill will ensure that we properly evaluate not only the benefits but the environmental, social and economic costs of our targets, wherever in the world those costs arise, and ensure that they are not disproportionate.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow that last contribution, because important points arise in the context of having to balance one risk against another. There will be trade-offs, and we have to establish the priorities. Clearly, some of the global priorities must take precedence, but that may not be the view in every country. Therefore, it is an immensely difficult challenge to legislate in a meaningful way to meet these issues.
I will address Amendments 41A and 41B, standing in my name, shortly, but first I wish to speak to Amendment 17. I support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, in moving this amendment. As someone who, prior to entering Parliament, was a financial controller in the manufacturing industry, I know full well how easy it is to establish targets and then, with 1,001 plausible excuses, find ways of explaining away any failure to meet them. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, given his background in accountancy, may well share my view.
A target is of no earthly use to man or beast, or to the environment or government, unless there is a means of assessing whether it has been met and, if not, a systematic and detailed analysis of the reasons why and a pinpointing of personal responsibility for allowing that failure to occur. If there is reason to believe that there may be different levels of performance from region to region, and if responsibility is likewise distributed on a regional basis, then a regional review of performance against target is absolutely appropriate. Hopefully, such a systematic approach will lead to identifying the factors that led to failure; determination of the necessary remedies, as rightly stated in the explanatory statement to Amendment 17; a reallocation of resources if necessary; and a better performance in future, with a higher likelihood of hitting targets.
This is all fundamental to any system of management by objectives and is basic in the world of industry. But I sometimes wonder whether the necessary culture and discipline exist in governmental sectors to apply such an approach systematically and rigorously to their responsibilities. It is to the Government’s credit that they are willing to apply a target-driven approach to these issues in the Bill, but that approach will not deliver unless there is a commitment to follow through with remedial action. Amendment 17 tests the seriousness of the Government’s intention to see their targets lead to real change, and I therefore support it.
Amendment 41A seeks to clarify the applicability or otherwise of regulations made under Clauses 1 and 2 to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The amendment states quite simply that any of these regulations shall not apply to the three devolved nations without the prior consent of their respective Parliaments. Environmental matters are overwhelmingly devolved, and if aspects of Westminster policy apply in any of the devolved territories, it is both sensible and courteous to solicit the agreement of the devolved Governments. If the Government wish to legislate in any of the three territories under the umbrella of this Bill, will the Minister give examples of such topics? Surely, he accepts that it would be both sensible and courteous to secure prior agreement, rather than foisting policies on them without agreement.
I realise that Clause 138, the “Extent” Clause, states that Chapter 1 applies to England and Wales but not Scotland and Northern Ireland—that this goes beyond the normal issue of England and Wales jurisdiction. Indeed, Clause 1(9) implies that regulations may be introduced through this clause that will apply to Wales. Can the Minister explain why there is this difference in approach to the Bill’s applicability to the three devolved nations? Can he give an example of where he foresees legislating for Wales under the provisions of Chapter 1? If so, what steps does he foresee being taken to avoid acrimonious disputes arising in relation to the devolved powers?
Amendment 41B relates specifically to the vexed question of the control of water resources in Wales. I will not rehearse the difficult history relating to water abstraction and the drowning of valleys, of which the Minister and the Committee will be well aware. For the avoidance of doubt, will the Minister please accept this amendment or bring forward his own to the same end, so there will be no doubt that control over water resources and attendant water policies in Wales lies firmly and unambiguously with Senedd Cymru? I shall be grateful for his response.
My Lords, I support the comments of my noble friend Lord Lucas in moving the amendment. I also listened with great care to the noble Lord, Lord Vaux of Harrowden. I hope the Minister will read his speech with care, because what he said was hugely important to the proper functioning of our aims.
I turn Amendment 48, in my name, which would amend Clause 6, entitled “Environmental targets: review. I wish to amend subsection (3), which relates to the “significant improvement test.” The clause says the test ticks the boxes if it
“would significantly improve the natural environment in England.”
I do not think “improvement” is good enough. It is not sufficient, as it provides no condition or basis by which to judge the improvement. I take it for granted that my noble friend does not want to encourage a “trash and improve” system, but that is what is going to happen unless this amendment is accepted. An approach like that would be detrimental to biodiversity and the natural environment. Therefore, I have proposed what I think is a much more sensible and appropriate wording. Instead of “improve the natural environment,” I want to insert
“improve the maintenance, restoration or enhancement of the natural environment.”
There are many places where the natural environment is in very good condition at the moment. No significant improvement test will be met when it is in good condition now. But if it is maintained in an excellent and pristine condition, it should meet the significant improvement test.
I hope my noble friend will give more consideration to this amendment than he gave to my comments on the last amendment.
My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, who is dedicated to these issues. I want to speak to Amendment 34, which I put my name to. First, I offer my support to my noble friend Lord Addington, who constantly fights against silo management within government and makes sure that the health aspect is always included in these debates. I also want to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, whose comments I found particularly interesting. As he so eloquently said, the recent meeting between the secretariats of the United Nations climate change organisation and the biodiversity secretariats was a landmark one from which very important lessons can be learned.
However, to be honest, my answer to that is that we have the wrong architecture in the Bill altogether, as I said at Second Reading. If I was writing it myself, I would—given the great reputation of the Climate Change Committee and its work—give all the advisory side of biodiversity to that body and increase its remit, while making sure that the OEP remains and concentrates on environmental protection and enforcement, with regard to biodiversity as well as climate change. That is clearly the right way to go forward but I accept that that is impossible at this stage. I was very interested in the noble Lord’s parallel thoughts around carbon leakage in the climate change area and the threat to British industry and how we might have biodiversity leakage. That is probably the strongest argument I have heard so far against the UK-Australia trade deal, so it is an interesting way to put that.
For me, Amendment 34 states the obvious: that the Government must under these circumstances consult the office for environmental protection. What else is it there for? It specifically has this role as part of its remit. The Government might say, “We have the ability to consult the OEP, therefore we are most likely to do that.” However, that is not good enough. The OEP needs to be independent, and at times it will be in conflict with the Government. If it is not, it will not be doing its job properly. For that reason, I believe it is very important that that consultation is mandatory.
There are a couple in. Indeed, one of the reasons why so many millions voted to leave the EU—not Europe—inspired by the democratic spirit, was to escape top-down, immovable regulations imposed from on high. What grated was that any challenge to subsequent policies was met with a shrug: “There is no alternative—they are the EU rules”, given an extra moral force when associated with international agreements. In that context I support the very sensible amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Vaux of Harrowden, maybe with a different reasoning, but I thought he put forward an excellent explanation of his thoughts.
These amendments all contain the spirit of flexibility and call for us to consider, as well as environmental concerns, what the social and economic costs of meeting targets in the Bill might be, to ensure that they are not disproportionate to the alleged benefits. The amendments ask us to take into consideration the possibility not just that circumstances might change but that evidence might mean a rethink, and that would mean a different cost-benefit analysis. Cost-benefit analyses are essential in a democracy to give both politicians and, more importantly, voters a choice of priorities—a sense that there is always an alternative. I therefore want to address targets, not so much missing them or whether they should be long-term or interim, but rather the dangers of making them overbinding.
It is important to ensure that citizens know what is being legislated for in their name, that the social and economic costs and trade-offs of environmental targets are not removed from public debate with a “There is no alternative; it’s binding and in the law” dismissal. Make no mistake: targets in one area regularly have a cost elsewhere. For example, the net-zero target is regularly bandied about as an aspiration we all agree on reaching at any costs, but when Andrew Neil asked the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, on GB News last week to break down those costs and put figures on them, that was not so comfortable, and there is no transparency when there are no figures. What is clear is that net zero as a target will have a cost, not only for the Treasury—potentially at the expense of other spending priorities such as social care or job creation—but it will land exorbitant costs on householders in terms of making their homes net-zero compliant, such as the compulsory demand to replace gas boilers. I have noticed when I have raised this issue in the House that the regular reply is: “We need to take the public with us. We need to educate the public so that they understand why they need to change their behaviour and why we need to reach net zero”; in other words, reaching the target is treated as a given—a fait accompli. I note that this means the target usurps choice, so I want to reflect a little on choice.
If you say to the public, “You should support this net-zero target because it’s necessary to save the planet from climate catastrophe”, of course it is a no-brainer. However, if you say, “Do you support the net-zero target with its trade-offs, which could mean reducing living standards?”, or if you say, “We’ll abolish every petrol or diesel car and discourage driving in general, but if you insist on driving we’ll make it an expensive electric car”—and, by the way, yesterday I googled electric cars and the cheapest I could find was £18,500, and the most popular UK electric, Tesla, is an eye-watering £42,000, which for most people would be quite a challenge—or if you describe in detail the impacts on individual lives of decarbonising the economy, there may be less enthusiasm for the target once the trade-offs are known. People have a right to know.
With this Environment Bill, if we tell the public that it is about reducing fly-tipping and toxic pollution, stopping sewage being dumped in rivers, reducing flooding or protecting wildlife in the country, I am sure there will be lots of nods of approval, including from me. But if you explain that legal targets throughout the Bill could mean regulatory barriers to economic bounce-back, holding back industrialisation, and creating material limits to much-needed housebuilding and economic development, there might be a different response.
I said at Second Reading that a tension is already being posited between this Bill and the planning Bill, or planning reforms. I fear that the result of the Chesham and Amersham by-election may fuel this, with an unholy alliance of shire nimbyism and green activism. I am very much on the side of relaxing planning regulations and releasing land for new building, infrastructure and housing and, yes, even some building on the green belt. That is not because I want to concrete over the countryside or because I am opposed to protection of green spaces per se but because the green belt is being treated as sacrosanct or untouchable, yet is 13% of England’s total land and is much larger than the 7% of developed land. So it at least needs to be looked at again.
For me, the social priorities are solving homelessness, tackling the problem of young people excluded from the housing ladder, and the distorted and ever-growing costs for renters. But that is all just my opinion. Many people here do not support it, and that may not be a popular set of opinions outside of here. However, it is precisely these sorts of arguments, weighing up the costs and benefits and the trade-offs of policies, that we need to have in the public sphere. I fear that immovable and overbinding targets in law can only obscure transparency and rule debate on the implications of this Environment Bill off limits.
My final thought is that targets can too easily become the end, not the means to an end. During the 15 months of the pandemic we have seen targets taking an almost Soviet-style command and control form, with daily reports of numbers tested and Nightingale hospitals built—even if not used. Too easily, targets can be bean-counting exercises: the impression of activity but often a cover for the lack of transparency over detail.
I therefore hope that these amendments are adopted and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, does not mind me backing him. I am sure we will not agree on many things but I thought they were very important. These amendments could at least remind the Government to conduct cost-benefit analyses of actions associated with the legislation, and they are an important acknowledgement of the importance of social and economic challenges, as well as solving the practical problems in relation to the environment. It is also an antidote to the ubiquitous demand here, in every amendment that I have heard, that there should be ever more binding targets, because I fear that these could undermine democratic accountability.
My Lords, in following the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, I should briefly offer a defence of targets—particularly the target of ensuring that everyone in the UK has a warm, comfortable and affordable-to-heat home. I hope that no one would disagree with the target of ending our utterly disgraceful excess winter deaths that come largely as a result of the poor quality of our housing stock. I also wish to defend the targets that we are talking about here in terms of our natural environment, on which our entire economy and lives depend.
I will be fairly brief. I want to speak in favour of Amendment 34 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, that would seem to be an easy, obvious amendment for the Government to accept. As the noble Baroness said, their ability to ask the office for environmental protection for guidance on the targets is simply not good enough and does not reflect the provisions of the Climate Change Act. We are very much creating a parallel here between action on climate and action on biodiversity. To mirror those two things would seem to be an obvious, simple and not difficult step.
On Amendment 19 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, I would go broader than consulting the Department of Health and Social Care. The noble Lord in his introduction spoke particularly about recreation and the value of the natural environment to recreation. When we think about the health of human beings, the health of the natural environment is related in much deeper ways. I should point noble Lords to an interesting United Nations scheme called HUMI—the Healthy Urban Microbiome Initiative—which addresses a fast-growing and developing area of science: understanding the human microbiome and how it is related to our physical and mental health, and how what is happening around us in the natural world is utterly integral to a healthy microbiome.
I also wish to speak in favour of Amendments 41A and 41B in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. Again, we are in what could be described as no-brainer territory. We surely should not be imposing anything in terms of environmental regulation on the devolved nations without their “prior consent”—words that are important. This matter also raises a subject that we have not broadly discussed and might like to think about further. As the noble Lord said, rivers and waters do not suddenly get to a national border, stop and turn around, saying “Oh, I’m Welsh water and am staying in Wales”. That is also true of birds, insects, mammals and the whole ecosystem. A question to the Minister, either for today or a future date, is on how the Bill, this Act-to-be, will fit within the common framework and co-ordinating efforts of the nations of these islands. How will that work? I think also of many of our debates on the internal market Bill, now an Act.
My Lords, I will be brief. It is a delight to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle.
When I first read this series of amendments, I wondered whether they were really necessary. However, the more I reflect, the more I have become concerned and I now believe that these amendments, or something like them, are required. The Government will set targets as permitted within the Bill and we will debate that matter again later. However, it will be difficult to determine the unintended consequences of setting targets, which can distort behaviour, as we know. We have seen this in the NHS and other sectors in which the Government have intervened and set targets.
I understand the need to have a clear sense of direction and the discipline of knowing what we are driving to achieve within a given period. However, let us be clear, as far as possible, on the need to be aware of the costs involved and the consequences of fixing targets. Even the best-researched impact assessments with a range of assumptions can be wrong. I therefore encourage the Minister to take this issue seriously and establish systems with which to monitor the potential negative consequences as well as the benefits.
My Lords, I wish to speak in support of the amendment, Amendment 17, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. As he explained, it aims to ensure that the Government commission the relevant research so that they understand what they are doing when they aim to meet environmental targets.
If we take biodiversity targets as an example, it is one thing to set a target of halting the reduction in biodiversity but it is quite another to figure out how to achieve the target. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, entertained us a few minutes ago with stories of lapwings and curlews, and the research carried out by what used to be called the Game Conservancy Trust but, I believe, now operates under a different name. If noble Lords will forgive me for a short digression, I will complement the noble Earl’s story about lapwings and curlews with the narrative of the large blue butterfly.
That butterfly was extinct in this country by 1979, despite over 50 years of effort to halt its decline. Today it thrives in 33 different sites in south-west England. This is one of the classic cases of how restoring a species and increasing its abundance depended on detailed research. The secrets of success lay in the complex life history of this species, the caterpillars of which are taken into ants’ nests and tended and protected by a particular species of red ant, called Myrmica sabuleti. In return, the caterpillars secrete a nutritious liquid for the ants to feed on—an example of a mutualistic relationship. Professor Jeremy Thomas, then at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, discovered that the ant species is sensitive to temperature, which, in turn, depends on the length of the grass in the ants’ habitats. Changes in agricultural practice, combined with the decline in rabbit populations due to myxomatosis, had resulted in a small increase in grass length sufficient to cause the ants to disappear and, hence, the butterflies to die out. As a result of his research, slight changes in agricultural practice allowed us to maintain the grass at the right height and successfully restore butterfly populations.
Unfortunately, that conservation success story is the exception rather than the rule. As Professor Bill Sutherland of Cambridge University has documented, many, if not most, government-led initiatives to enhance biodiversity and restore nature have failed because they were based on hunch rather than proper scientific evidence. This includes the CAP Pillar 2 environment schemes. I know that from my own experience. My research group at Oxford was funded by the Ministry of Agriculture, as it was in those days, for many years to work out how to alter arable farming practice to support winter populations of farmland bird species. Although we discovered simple and effective remedies, they were never implemented.
Therefore, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is absolutely right to emphasise the importance of evidence on which to base the targets. However, in closing, my question for the Minister is: who will commission and pay for the necessary research to underpin the ambitions of the Bill and ensure that we do not blunder blindly, as we have done all too often in the past? The major research funding body in this country is UK Research and Innovation, whose website I checked this morning. Although the environment is one of eight priority themes, if one looks within that theme, no mention is made of biodiversity, habitats or conservation. Furthermore, UKRI is facing a £539 million cut in its funding this coming year, which will mean that all its research programmes are likely to be reduced. If not UKRI, who is going to fund the research that we will need if the Bill is to achieve its high ambitions?
It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. I loved that story about the blue butterfly, because I have been to one of those sites, beside a railway line, outside Somerton, so I know about that brilliant ant. The noble Lord is absolutely right and I would also like to know the answer to the question he asks the Minister: who is going to fund this? After all, we all know that the Aichi targets have been more or less a total failure and nobody knows quite why. I also support the proposals on health from the noble Lord, Lord Addington; it could not be more important.
Primarily, I want to support the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and her Amendment 34. The Secretary of State has to seek advice from the OEP. Over the years, we have seen how advice can be handed in by cronies or the local person you know on the end of the telephone. Think of some of the really bad things that have happened: advice about how particulates in the air do not matter to health, advice that smoking is fine, or advice that fossil fuels will not cause damage. We have to make sure that when, say, you want to put an endless chicken farm on the bank of the River Wye, you get advice from someone who has been passed and guaranteed by a body such as the OEP. Of course the Minister does not have to take this advice but, if this amendment is passed, he will at least have to explain why he took the advice that he did and, if it is found wanting, he can be challenged.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. I am going to speak about something a bit different and refer back to Amendment 41A, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, with which I am very much in sympathy.
As the noble Lord pointed out, the amendment has to be read in the light of Clause 138, which defines the extent of the Bill. We are told in that clause that Chapter 1 of the Bill, of which Clauses 1 and 2 form part, applies to England and Wales only, except for Clause 19, which deals with statements about Bills. At first sight, therefore, the Secretary of State would not have power under these clauses to make regulations that would be applicable to Scotland or Northern Ireland, to which the amendment refers. That must be so, in so far as regulations might seek to make directions as to what may or may not be done there. So it might be said that the amendment is directed to something that in those parts of the United Kingdom could not happen.
However, these targets relate to the natural environment itself, which is not capable of being divided up or contained in that way. Its effect, for good or ill, spreads across borders. Rivers flow, winds blow, and birds and animals move about, irrespective of whether national borders are being crossed. Measures taken in one part of the country may affect what happens in another, because that is the way the environment works. Just as no man is an island, because we all depend on each other in one way or another, so it is too with the environment which we enjoy in the various parts of the United Kingdom.
In its report on this Bill, which has just been published, the Constitution Committee, of which I am a member, stated that
“Close co-operation between the UK Government and the devolved administrations … will be important in improving environmental protection across the UK.”
That makes obvious sense, for the reasons I have just been giving, and, it could be said, is really what this amendment is about.
I would prefer it if the words
“if they are, or may be, applicable in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland”
were expanded, so that they said “if they have effects which are, or may be, applicable” to them. That is what this amendment is really talking about. The message it conveys to the Secretary of State is that targets that he may set for the natural environment in England and Wales may affect other parts of the UK too. That is something to which he should have regard; it is not just sensible, but a matter of courtesy. I also agree with the suggestion in the noble Lord’s amendment that, where appropriate, consents should be obtained.
My Lords, this is an important group of amendments about targets. Without ambitious targets being set in the Environment Bill, the Government will not achieve their goal of increasing biodiversity, tackling pollution and climate change, and moving the country forward.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is right to want to ensure that we fully understand and evidence the reasons why we are taking targets and why they are not being met, so that remedial action can be taken. The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and others have supported this. However, unless targets are set and strategies set to reach them, we will not move forward in the way the Minister hopes for from this Bill, and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity will be missed.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, gave us an excellent example of conservation success based on scientific evidence. My noble friend Lord Addington is right that the health of the population, taking exercise and the state of the environment are inextricably linked. Improving the environment improves the sense of well-being of each of us, and therefore improves our health, both mental and physical.
My noble friends Lady Parminter and Lord Teverson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, supported by other Lords, made a very strong case for the Secretary of State to obtain the advice of the OEP about consultation on the regulations in Clause 1—although my noble friend Lord Teverson would prefer that the advice come from the Climate Change Committee. The OEP is a vital body that will need considerable strengthening to be effective and deliver. It has expertise provided by the excellent chair, Dame Glenys Stacey, and her newly appointed non-executive members, but it needs legal independence and authority to operative effectively.
The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, quite rightly reminds the Minister that the Government should not make decisions that are applicable in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland without the consent of the devolved Administrations. This is particularly important when it comes to water.
The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, pressed for the inclusion of the maintenance, restoration or enhancement of the natural environment in the targets. Again, this is vital if we are to return to our biodiversity of former years. Some areas are in very good condition, but many others are not.
The noble Lord, Lord Vaux of Harrowden, made a powerful argument, especially around trade-offs, but I regret that I remain to be convinced. Setting ambitious targets and having realistic strategies to meet them is what the Environment Bill is all about. While the cost of meeting targets may appear high, in some cases the economic cost to the planet of not meeting our biodiversity and environmental protection targets is incalculable. The diversity of species in plant, animal and insect life has for too long been a question of cost. The cost of the loss of that diversity has now reached epic proportions and must be halted and reversed, otherwise the cost to humanity as a whole, as David Attenborough has reminded us, will be utterly devastating. To my mind, the case for a cost-benefit analysis has been made but, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, demonstrated, there is no indication of how the measures in the Bill will be funded. I look forward to the Minister’s response to these comments and the questions posed.
My Lords, I am speaking to Amendment 34, to which I have added my name, and all the other amendments that were so ably introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, explained, Amendment 34 addresses the specific question of where the Secretary of State will get his advice from before setting any environmental targets. As the wording stands, it is for the Secretary of State to determine who is independent and who has relevant expertise. As we have already begun to identify, this concentrates considerable power in the hands of the Secretary of State, who will, under this wording, effectively determine not only what targets are set but who will advise him on what targets are appropriate. Our amendment would make the simple but important change to require the Secretary of State to seek advice from the OEP on who these experts might be. It seeks to add an extra layer of independence into the target-framing process.
It is also worth noting that there is no requirement in the Bill, at the moment, to seek any independent advice on the setting of interim targets. Compare this with the requirements for the Climate Change Committee; it sets the targets and it decides which independent experts to draw upon. It is a much more robust and independent process, which is why there is considerable confidence and respect for its final recommendations.
I turn to the other amendments in this group. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, makes a good point about the evidence and research and the fact that, if targets are not being met, we need to be sensitive about the remedies that can be introduced. I welcome that approach, but I was concerned to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, that UKRI does not even have any details of funding for biodiversity activities on its website, which again raises the rather urgent question of where that research is going to come from. We agree that the target-setting and evaluation process should have enough flexibility over the course of the term to be adapted and amended if the details of the research change.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, makes the good point that these targets should be not just for Defra but for the whole Government. There are particularly acute health implications to be factored in, whether it is the positive impact of social prescribing through activities in the countryside or the negative impact of air pollution contributing to around 40,000 deaths a year.
The noble Lord, Lord Vaux, raised the important point about carrying out a cost-benefit analysis. I was pleased to hear that he described himself as not an environmental sceptic. I thought he was making good points, but I was rather wary about the exact wording of his amendments. Unless we could be confident of the true cost of not carrying out the targets, there would be a concern about whether or not we were measuring like for like and measuring in full. Both the Natural Capital Committee and the Dasgupta report made it clear that we are nowhere near having a nature accounting system that could adequately measure the human and economic cost of biodiversity decline. As Professor Dasgupta has said, we face extreme risks and uncertainty for our economies if we continue down the current path, where demand on nature far exceeds its capacity to supply. Until we can put a proper price on that, I would be reluctant to adopt the noble Lord’s wording, which might instead lead to short-term expedient cuts in work programmes on the basis of what might be inadequate calculations of the true cost.
We support what I would describe as the probing amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, about the devolution aspects of these clauses. I hope the Minister is able to provide some assurances on that. I also thought the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, made important points about nature not respecting borders. Whatever the outcome, we need close co-operation, but that has to be mixed with full respect for our devolution settlement.
Finally, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has sought to amend the significant improvement test of environmental targets in Clause 6. I very much welcome his contribution. Again, I take only slight issue with his wording: I would have hoped that we could have been more ambitious than simply measuring whether the natural environment had been maintained. Apart from that, I very much endorse what he said.
I welcome the debate and look forward to the Minister’s response. I hope he will look particularly favourably on our Amendment 34 as a helpful extra guarantee of independence in the target-setting process, and perhaps, in due course, come back with a government amendment to encompass that proposal.
I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. I hope it will reassure them to know that targets will be set through a robust and evidence-led process. I have already spoken about our published targets policy paper, which provides an overview of how we intend to develop and bring forward targets by October 2022. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, the process will seek independent expert advice and provide a role for stakeholders, other government departments and the public, and it includes scrutiny from Parliament and the OEP.
In relation to Amendment 19 in particular, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, the process also involves regular discussions with other government departments, including the Department of Health and Social Care. For example, we are working closely with Public Health England and the DHSC and its expert committee to ensure that our process of developing air quality targets is informed by the latest health evidence. Defra also intends to work closely with the new UK Health Security Agency and the office for health promotion, as soon as they assume their full functions.
On Amendment 34 from the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, there is a concern that it could be difficult for the OEP to act impartially when investigating complaints regarding target-setting if the OEP advised on the experts used to set those targets. I want to provide assurance on the substantial role of the OEP in relation to long-term targets. Each year, the OEP will comment on the progress reported in the EIP annual report. That provides the opportunity for the OEP to flag up early on where it believes there is a risk that the Government may not meet their legally binding long-term targets. It may make recommendations as to how progress could be improved, to which the Government would then have to respond.
If the Government have missed a target, they must, within 12 months of confirming that they missed it, publish and lay before Parliament a remedial plan, which is covered in Clause 5. The OEP could highlight in a report on the implementation of environmental law whether the steps set out in the remedial plan would be sufficient to ensure that the target was then achieved. I hope that will also reassure my noble friend Lord Lucas that his Amendment 17 is not needed. The OEP will also have the power to bring legal proceedings if the Government breach their environmental law duties, including their duty to achieve long-term targets.
With respect to Amendments 36, 45 and 50 from the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, while the Bill does not specify particular matters that must be considered when setting targets, as part of sound policy-making the Government will look to identify and consider a wide range of matters. These are likely to include environmental, economic, social and fiscal factors, as well as international commitments. When we consult on the proposed targets in early 2022, we will provide an impact assessment that will consider the environmental and socioeconomic considerations associated with each target. We think the target-setting stage is the most appropriate time to consider the costs and benefits of individual targets, rather than when conducting the significant improvement tests. That is because the significant improvement test considers targets collectively, which allows for a more holistic assessment of improvements across the natural environment.
The Government are developing their plans for implementing the significant improvement test. My noble friend Lord Caithness has provided some useful ideas for how improvement might be understood for the purposes of that test. However, his proposed Amendment 48 would take away important flexibility, and I therefore cannot accept it.
In response to one of the points that my noble friend made, I shall briefly explain how the significant improvement test works. At least every five years a Government will look to assess whether meeting the legally binding targets set under the Bill’s framework, alongside any other statutory environmental targets, would significantly improve the natural environment in England. The Government will then be required to report to Parliament on their conclusions and, if they consider that the test is not met, set out how they plan to use their new target-setting powers to subsequently close that gap. In practice, that will most likely involve plans either to modify existing targets or to make them more ambitious, or even set new ones.
It seems appropriate to provide the Secretary of State with the flexibility to consider how significant improvement should be understood in relation to the natural environment, because the natural environment is complex and interconnected and requires a considerably more complicated approach than would be expected, for example, simply in relation to carbon. Aspects of the natural environment such as water quality could respond slowly, even to ambitious interventions. Furthermore, our understanding of environmental change will likely evolve over time, as new data sets become available and the evidence base improves. I add that we take “significantly” to mean that only a marginal or fractional improvement of the whole natural environment, or on the other hand dramatic improvement in only a few narrow areas of the environment, would not be acceptable.
My noble friend mentioned at the end of his speech that he felt he had asked a question, presumably on interim targets, that I had not addressed, in which case I apologise. I have gone through the notes and cannot see any gaps, so I am afraid I am going to have to rely on him. If he wants me to follow up on that, I am happy do so by telephone or in writing, but I might need a bit of guidance from him, so that I know that I am responding to the appropriate point that he made. I apologise for missing that question.
Moving on to Amendment 38 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Vaux of Harrowden, government can only lower or revoke a target if satisfied either that meeting the existing target does not result in a significant benefit compared to not meeting it or meeting a lower target, or that the costs of meeting the existing target would be disproportionate to the benefits due to a change in circumstance. I also note the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, on that point. She made the perfectly valid point that, if we are to embark on something as profound as achieving net zero by 2050, it is important that people are aware of what the consequences and implications are. But that is not just about the costs of meeting net zero; it would need to include the opportunities as well. It is hard to imagine an economic transition of the sort and scale we are talking about without numerous opportunities arising at the same time. For example, we are already seeing that investment in new renewables globally greatly exceeds investment in fossil fuel infrastructure in terms of new capacity. That has been true year on year for quite a few years.
In truth, the market for low-carbon technologies greatly exceeds any of the predictions we have had in recent years. For example, solar prices have dropped by 80% since the banking crisis, which I do not think anyone predicted. We would also need to factor in the costs of not achieving net zero by 2050 into any such analysis, although this is much more complicated. If any of the predictions on climate change are accurate, the costs of not achieving net zero by 2050 at the latest are severe, to put it mildly. But I do not dispute the central argument that the noble Baroness makes, which is that we need to have that discussion and that it needs to be an honest one—warts and all.
To go back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, the long-term targets may be amended or revoked only by secondary legislation subject to affirmative procedure, which means that Parliament would, of course, have a vote. This opens up the process to parliamentary approval and creates a strong check on any future Government, while still providing for some flexibility for government to respond to changing circumstances and evidence.
On Amendments 41A and 41B in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, I reassure him that the Bill’s environmental targets clauses extend to England and Wales only, and this is set out in Clause 138. I will write to him to provide more assurances, and I will copy in the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, both of whom also raised this issue. But, in addition, Clause 1(9) prevents the Secretary of State making any provision in any targets regulations, relating to water or otherwise, which would be within the legislative competence of the Senedd Cymru. We are committed to ongoing co-operation with the devolved Administrations on environmental matters, and the dialogue and exchange between my department and theirs has been thorough and will continue to be so.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, asked about funding for research, and his question was supported—or perhaps repeated—by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. I shall answer it in two ways. The first is to talk about the expert panel we are creating to advise on target setting. There are already a number of well-established advisory groups in place for things such as air quality target development—for instance, the Air Quality Expert Group and the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants. But we have set up new groups of independent experts, where they did not previously exist, for priority policy areas we have outlined in the Bill to advise on developing evidence for the targets we are obliged to introduce.
These expert groups are providing guidance on evidence processes bespoke to individual targets, and their advice might include appropriate analytical methods, datasets, the evidence to be used, et cetera. They are advising Defra on how to produce the best available evidence, and the terms of reference for these groups are available on GOV.UK. In addition to that, as with any department embarking on important initiatives and projects, we will be bidding greedily at the next spending review to help secure the funds we will need to deliver these ambitious targets. We need to make the case and the Treasury will then respond. It is very hard to predict how that will go, but we will of course do our best.
I now broaden this out to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, about funding, in relation to having missed things such as the Aichi targets. She is right: every country in the world missed the Aichi targets. Again, I am going to answer this in two ways, but more briefly this time. First, the central message of the CBD is that we should not have specific pots for biodiversity—not that we should not have investment, but our focus should be on having a biodiversity thread running through all decisions of government. We need to mainstream nature so that every decision we make—political, economic, investment-wise, et cetera—takes nature into account. That is clearly right. This was the central theme of the Dasgupta review, which was mentioned again in this debate by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and will no doubt be mentioned again many times.
Having said that, we are stepping up; we have doubled our international climate finance to £11.6 billion. As of next year, we are spending nearly a third of that, £3 billion, on nature-based solutions, which will have big implications for biodiversity. Here in the UK we do not quite know how much money will enter the system as a consequence of biodiversity net gain, but it will be a significant sum. We know that shifting from the common agriculture policy to the new environmental land management system means billions of pounds entering a market which basically did not exist before. In addition, we have the Nature for Climate Fund of £640 million, which will help us to restore our peatlands and plant a lot of trees. So there is a lot of new money there for biodiversity, but the fundamental challenge is to mainstream nature so that we do not have to pay with one pot in order to correct mistakes made by the rest of the pot. I apologise; that was a much more long-winded answer than I was expecting to give.
I think I have reached the end of the amendments, so I will end by simply saying, as I have before, that I hope this reassures all noble Lords, and I ask them to withdraw or not press their amendments.
I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff. I call the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.
My Lords, may I press the Minister a bit further on the local nature of pollution, particularly air and water? To pick another example, phosphate in rivers can be a problem, but in the southern Hampshire rivers it is a particular problem because of the sensitivity of the estuarine ecologies to excess phosphate, whereas it might not be such a problem in another ecology. In that circumstance, it becomes crucial to know where the phosphate is coming from; how much comes from agriculture and sewage; which particular bits of land it comes off; and what practices are available to reduce it and are effective in reducing it in those circumstances. That needs a local level of focus and research, and I did not hear anything in his answer—and indeed there was a good deal to worry about in what the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said—which gave me a clue about where that evidence can come from.
I thank the noble Lord for his question. In addition to the answer I gave the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, where new skills are needed—and, as the noble Lord says, new skills will be needed—we are committing, and we have committed throughout the Bill, to support local authorities, delivery partners and other relevant stakeholders in properly developing or, if necessary, acquiring those skills. There is no doubt that there is a gap, but our commitment is that, with government support, we will ensure that it is filled.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for the assurance that he is working well with Ministers in the devolved nations. Indeed, in Wales we now have a climate change Minister. Could he clarify, in the event that one of the devolved nations sets a target or policy which does not align completely with one coming from central government—I expect that the local one for Wales may be more stringent than the one coming from Westminster, given the concerns over the environment in Wales—which legislature will take precedence? In the event of legal action being brought against, for example, the Welsh Government for having tighter controls which someone in industry perhaps does not wish to comply with, what will be the position on compensation for legal fees for the Welsh Government?
I thank the noble Baroness for her question. This is relevant where the contaminant or the issue that we are talking about crosses the border. Sorry, that is a clumsy answer. Where the issue crosses the border—and an example was put to us by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead—that is where the complication arises. So, if the problem, if there is a problem, is contained one country or another, or one region or another, I think the question that the noble Baroness has asked would be moot. Where the pollution or the problem crosses the border, my understanding is that the targets that are set in this Bill, by this Parliament, are the targets that would prevail. I will have to write to her to confirm that. She raises an important point and I want to make sure that the answer I give is correct, so I will get back to her and I will publish the answer in the Library.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the support I have received from my noble friend Lord Caithness, and the noble Lords, Lord Wigley and Lord Krebs. I remain concerned. Perhaps it is inevitable, in the structure of government, that it can find the funds to create a target and do that well, but to promise money for a few years down the road to see if that has actually turned out well, and why it has not, is a much harder thing for Governments to do. However, I accept my noble friend’s assurances.
I share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, on costs and how we need to look at them and not just the benefits—again, not just initially, but on how it works out. What is happening? What effects are the target having? What costs actually turn out to be real? It can be really difficult to predict what negative effects a policy will have, because people find all sorts of interesting ways of adapting to it. A lot of the things one fears do not, in the event, happen, and other things do happen that one had not expected. It is very important to have a process where you revisit initial assumptions and really question how the process is going.
I have a lot of sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Addington, was saying. It really echoes an amendment I was chasing yesterday, on connecting people with nature. If you do not give, in the structure of what you are doing, a real incentive—a focus on being connected, one department to another, together with the people—those things get neglected because we have set out other priorities. I hope this is a general area that we will return to on Report, but for now I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 17 withdrawn.
Amendments 18 and 19 not moved.
Clause 1 agreed.
Clause 2: Environmental targets: particulate matter
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 20. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.
20: Clause 2, page 2, line 21, leave out subsection (2) and insert—
“(2) The PM2.5 air quality target must—(a) be less than or equal to 10µg/m3,(b) so far as practicable, follow World Health Organisation guidelines, and(c) have an attainment deadline on or before 1 January 2030.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment sets parameters on the face of the Bill to ensure that the PM2.5 target will be at least as strict as the 2005 WHO guidelines, with an attainment deadline of 2030 at the latest.
My Lords, In moving Amendment 20 I shall also speak to Amendment 49, both in the name of my noble friend Baroness Jones of Whitchurch and in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Finlay of Llandaff, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge. I express support for my noble friend Lord Whitty’s Amendment 21, and Amendment 29 from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I shall also speak briefly to Amendment 156 in the name of my noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark.
Amendment 20 sets parameters in the Bill to ensure that the PM2.5 target will be at least as strict as the 2005 WHO guidelines, with an attainment deadline of 2030 at the latest. Amendment 49
“strengthens the significant improvement test outlined … in Clause 6 by requiring explicit consideration of the extent to which air quality targets under section 1 and the PM2.5 air quality target under section 2 are compatible with WHO guidelines.”
It also requires the Secretary of State to outline,
“in the event of divergence … why they believe this is in the public interest.”
Air pollution has been breaching legal limits across the UK since 2010 and is recognised by the Government to be the single largest environmental risk to health in the UK. It is linked to cancer, asthma, strokes and heart disease and, in the UK, contributes to the early deaths of an estimated 40,000 people. Toxic air also drives health inequalities. Government analysis confirms air quality tends to be poorest in the poorest communities, and that those communities are also more likely to have health conditions that make them more vulnerable to the effects of polluted air. This Bill gives us the opportunity to address this crisis of pollution and set the UK on the pathway to become a global leader in environmental protection, but without ensuring the PM2.5 targets as in our amendment we will waste this opportunity.
The Government should be ambitious in what they set out to achieve, as it is possible to make sufficient improvements in urban areas to achieve the WHO target. The Mayor of London, for example, has produced evidence to show that London can achieve WHO guidelines, even in the hardest areas to tackle. Recent monitoring data shows that parts of the city are already meeting this standard, demonstrating that it could be achieved across London, and in cities across the country by 2030. Without this vital provision, not only will action be unacceptably delayed but it will be possible to remove or even to water down targets should they prove challenging to meet, which would fundamentally undermine the whole purpose of target setting. Due to the Government’s constant delay in action to meet existing legal limits for air quality—I remind noble Lords that this led to the Government losing a number of court cases—greater urgency and ambition is now needed for the protection of human health.
Amendment 156, in the name of my noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark, addresses air pollution and public health and we strongly support this amendment. The coroner’s conclusion that exposure to excessive air pollution contributed to the death of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah in 2013 has underlined the need for all levels of government to do much more to tackle the deadly scourge of air pollution. In April this year, the need for legally binding targets based on WHO guidelines was raised by the coroner as an area of concern in his Prevention of Future Deaths report and is even more urgent given the emerging evidence linking air pollution with the most severe impacts of Covid-19. In response to this report the Government have said they will launch a consultation on new targets for PM2.5 and other pollutants next year, with the aim—I repeat: the aim—of setting new targets in legislation by October 2022, and will also develop a more sophisticated population exposure reduction target.
Only this week, medical leaders are urging the Government to cut levels of air pollution to below WHO limits in response to Ella’s death. Leaders of the BMA, more than 20 nursing colleges, the Lancet and the British Medical Journal have written to the Prime Minister to urge the Government
“to use this bill to make a legally binding commitment to reducing fine particulate pollution … in the UK to below the maximum level recommended by the WHO by 2030.”
This Bill clearly provides the Government with the opportunity to implement the coroner’s recommendations through our amendments, and through those in the name of other noble Lords. What response have the Government made to this letter?
As the UK moves to a post-pandemic, green recovery, action taken through the Environment Bill to tackle air pollution is crucial to ensure a healthy, resilient population. I beg to move Amendment 20.
My Lords, I very much welcome the appearance of Clause 2 in this Bill, but it would be seriously sharpened up and given impact by the adoption of Amendment 20 by my noble friend Lady Hayman. I support that amendment and Amendment 156 in the name of my noble friend Lord Kennedy.
My Amendment 21 is slightly different. It is, in essence, a probing amendment. It starts to deal not with the setting of targets, but the way in which those targets could be delivered. It is arguable that the amendment should come somewhat later in the Bill, but Clause 2 specifically deals with PM2.5 and I thought it was relevant here. I will not press the amendment with its current wording, but it is intended to provoke a discussion and, hopefully at later stage, a form of words to address the practicalities of delivering an effective air quality strategy for the targets to be set under Clause 2, particularly in relation to PM2.5. Indeed, it should extend to ultrafine particles, which were not previously covered by EU regulations.
The focus on PM2.5 as the cause of the most harmful lung and pulmonary diseases is important. My noble friend has underlined the implications of the recent coroner’s recommendations following the tragic death of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah in south London. The target needs to be ambitious, much more challenging than current standards in the EU and elsewhere, and to reflect the WHO targets, as my noble friend said. For it to be delivered, we need to focus on the key role of local authorities and others and ensure that they are fully effective. That requires resources, in terms of both money and powers. It also requires their efforts to be brought within a coherent national strategy, as well as a system of parliamentary reporting on progress all the time—particularly on the interim targets.
However, the targets will not work unless we have a proper system of monitoring toxic and noxious emissions and very small particulates. We also need a strategy for the specification of increased quality of air quality monitoring. Currently, most monitors measure nitrous oxides and derive from those measurements an estimate of particulate exposure, mainly from road traffic. Ideally, we need to be able to measure the particulates directly and it is important that we have a clear quality specification of the technical parameters of those monitors. We also need a clearer strategy for the placement of monitors: by the roadside, away from the roadside, at schools—since children are the most susceptible to lifelong lung malfunction from diseases induced by particulate ingestion—around construction sites, around self-standing generators and on some industrial premises.
Most importantly, we need a system of communication. There is no use in even extensive monitoring unless we both inform the public and follow up with analysis where the targets are not going to be met and where there are exceedances or near exceedances by location and with particular forms of action that are needed. Communication to the public is therefore key; we need to link the monitoring system to automatic warnings to the population in the streets, at bus stops, outside schools and colleges and so on. We also need to ensure that local authorities, particularly highways authorities including Highways England and Transport for London, have the legal responsibility for establishing the network of monitors, collating information from them and informing the public of the levels of poison gas and particulates including, in particular, PM2.5.
I recognise that Amendment 21 as worded envisages a regulation on local authorities, but it also requires regulations elsewhere in terms of transport vehicles and machinery specifications. I accept that there must be a better way to reflect the need for those specifics in the Bill. I am looking to the Minister to come forward before the completion of this Bill with a way of ensuring that local authorities and others are both required and resourced to set up a comprehensive system of monitoring and communication to the public, and that there is a clear follow up where limits are exceeded and targets not met. That is what the amendment is about.
I should declare my interests as president of Environmental Protection UK, once known as the National Society for Clean Air, which has focused for decades on this issue. I ask the Minister to come forward before the end of this Bill with a better version of this.
My Lords, I am delighted to see all these amendments and I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Lords, Lord Whitty and Lord Kennedy, for bringing them forward.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, gave an excellent introduction. I just have one slight problem with it: while the current Mayor of London is doing a lot on air pollution, he is also building a road that will negate virtually everything he is doing and has done. The Silvertown tunnel should be stopped immediately with not another penny spent on it. We all have to understand that building new roads is a mistake anywhere in the country, but especially here in London, when we should be concentrating on better, cleaner methods of transport.
I have worked the issue of air pollution on since 2001. The mayor at the time, Ken Livingstone, made a very good stab from a standing start at reducing air pollution, even though at the time it was just a warning flag that we were about to break EU limits. He did what he could in terms of the congestion charge and encouraging cycling, even though he was not a cyclist himself. Sadly, as soon as the mayoralty was taken over by the current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, things went a little bit skew-whiff. He did not get the whole issue of air pollution and that is a big problem because we know that, if you do not have targets for reducing something, it is likely to not get done. If we are going to clean up our toxic air, this Bill has to set binding targets.
The sources of air pollution are widespread: industry, transport, buildings and agriculture are all major contributors. We have to understand how each of those can be cleaned up and improved, not just for all of us who breathe it in in the cities, but for farmers who also experience a huge amount of pollution in their daily lives.
Air pollution has been found to cause death after a coroner ruled it was a cause of death for Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah. I pay tribute to Ella’s mother Rosamund, who campaigned and fought for so many years to reach this verdict. Ella is the first person to ever have air pollution as a cause of death and it is now official that Ella’s painfully cruel death was unnecessary, preventable and should never happen again to any child or adult. If the Minister is in any doubt about putting targets on air pollution into this Bill, I urge him to meet Rosamund, who fought a fantastic campaign virtually alone when she was suffering immeasurable grief from losing her eldest child. I think he would be convinced and would take it back to the department to insist that we put targets on air pollution into this Bill.
The coroner in Ella’s case said that
“there is no safe level for Particulate Matter”
in air and recommended a reduction in the national pollution limits to bring them into line with World Health Organization guidelines, which is exactly what my Amendment 29 would do. It would hook air pollution targets to the latest WHO guidelines and require the targets to be updated as the science develops. I believe this is the only safe way to proceed and the only way to be true to Ella’s legacy, so that no more children will die from choking on toxic air.
My Lords, I support the intention behind all the amendments in this group today. I agree with the contributions of my noble friends Lady Hayman and Lord Whitty, and with virtually everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, said. However, I will restrict my remarks to Amendment 156 in my name in this group.
The amendment seeks to put Ella’s law into the Bill. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, mentioned, on 16 December last year, the coroner in the case found that the death in 2013 of nine year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah, who had a severe case of asthma, was caused by “excessive air pollution”. Ella lived in Lewisham, in south London, very near to where I live. The fact that this poor child suffered a terrible death from breathing in toxic particles should be a matter of concern for us all. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, did, I want to pay tribute to Rosamund, Ella’s mother, for her tireless campaigning over seven years to get the verdict on 16 December last year. Ella is the first person in the UK to have had air pollution listed as a cause of death. We all know that thousands of people die every year due to respiratory failure, but Ella’s doctors, and others, were clear that the filthy air she was breathing was suffocating her and contributed to her death, and that is now recorded on the death certificate.
Amendment 156 in my name seeks to place duties on the Secretary of State in the Bill to ensure that the health of members of the public is put centre stage. I hope that the Minister and all Members of the House will support that. The amendment may not be perfect, but it sets out clear targets for the Secretary of State for particulate matter, at WHO levels, and a plan to achieve compliance, along with the monitoring of air quality, the publishing of live data and providing information to the public. It also seeks to ensure proper education, training and guidance for healthcare professionals.
I am hoping for a very positive response from the Minister today. I want to hear him say very clearly to the House that he is prepared to meet me, my noble friend Lady Hayman, Ella’s mother Rosamund and members of the Ella’s law campaign to see if we can get an agreement to put this in the Bill before we come back to this issue on Report. I assure the Minister that we will come back to this issue on Report, and I hope to be able to do that on the basis of co-operation and agreement. I look forward to the Minister confirming, at the end of this debate, that he is prepared to meet me and the other people I have listed.
My Lords, I am delighted to have the opportunity to support this group of amendments, because this is the point where general environmental and climate change benefits directly coincide with health benefits. It is therefore plain common sense to give them total priority.
Reducing emissions of NOx, CO2 and PM2.5 are vital targets. I read this week that research by Imperial College London has revealed that, in London and other cities, there is still lead in our atmosphere—in the air. Lead was banned from petrol 20 years ago, so we need to bear in mind how long it takes to produce a long-term solution to these problems.
The problem with the Bill as it stands is that, although it commits to targets, they are too vague and much too far in the future. The Environmental Audit Committee drew attention to what it called the “needlessly long timeframe”. The details of the target will not be in place until the end of next year, when it could be in place as soon as the Bill passes through both Houses, and there will be no requirement to meet the target until at least 2037. That is so distant as to absolve the current Government, and the one after that, of any sense of responsibility and incentive to take the difficult decisions required. Even the aviation industry, which has the greatest technical challenges in dealing with emissions, is urging the Government to set shorter-term interim targets. It argues that only shorter-term targets will incentivise investment in nascent clean technologies.
We can be forgiven for being sceptical about the Government’s long-term commitment to improving air quality. A couple of months ago, the Government gained good publicity by announcing that they would include shipping and aviation emissions in their sixth carbon budget. This legislation came to the other place this week, with no mention of those commitments. This matters: both shipping and aviation are highly polluting and must be taken into account. This is a prime example of the Government caring more about the press than the planet.
Clause 3 allows the Secretary of State to lower or revoke any long-term air quality target set. Amendment 20, to which my noble friend Lady Walmsley has put her name, would ensure that the PM2.5 target will be at least as strict as the 2005 World Health Organization guidelines and will have to be attained by 2030 at the latest. This future-proofs the Bill much more effectively and avoids providing the temptation for a future Government in danger of failing to meet targets to decide to water them down. It also provides the sense of urgency that our climate and health crises deserve.
Emissions from transport—road, rail, air and shipping—make up around one-third of the total, and much more in certain hotspots. Unlike other sources of pollution, transport emissions have not fallen in recent decades, despite new technologies. This is largely down to two factors. First, there are more vehicles on our roads and more planes in our skies, and although very many of them produce less or no roadside CO2, they still emit PM2.5. Worse than that, CO2 and NOx emissions are bolstered by the popularity of SUVs, many of which are highly polluting. This is an example of the difficult choices that the Government need to make to change the structure of vehicle and fuel taxation to reward the least polluting vehicles and penalise the worst, thereby incentivising change. I remind noble Lords that only 0.5% of vehicles on our roads are ultra-low emission vehicles. That demonstrates the massive task ahead.
I want specifically to support the intention behind Amendment 21 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, made clear, the tragic case of Ella Kissi-Debrah highlighted for us that average levels of air pollution are pretty meaningless as a statistic, because concentrations occur, particularly near busy roads. These unseen concentrations are lethal. They affect us whatever age we are, from the womb to the point of death—our brains, hearts, lungs, bloodstreams and much more. This is an equality issue, likely to affect the poorest and the most physically vulnerable. There is a clear and straightforward role for local authorities and highway authorities generally to monitor roadside pollution on a systematic basis and, very importantly, to report and advertise the results of their monitoring to warn residents.
Rapid government action is even more important following the pandemic because we are experiencing a car-led recovery. Car use is back at around 90% of pre-pandemic levels, while, outside London, buses are carrying only 60% of their normal number of passengers; trains are at 37%. Many of us are still working from home, yet road traffic is as bad as ever in many places, and the decline in numbers using public transport threatens future investment. If the Government are truly committed to improvement, they first need to take a scythe to their £27 billion road investment strategy.
The Government say that they want to leave the environment in a better state than they found it in. I regret that the Bill fails to do this in respect of air pollution. It needs improvement, and these amendments are a good start.
The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, will not be taking part in the debate, so I will move straight on to the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green.
My Lords, I have found this a fascinating debate. I put my name to Amendment 49, but I support the general approach of all these amendments. Clearly, air pollution is a key issue for the Government. I hope that, when we look at this, we do so in the round.
I cannot agree with the some of the statements, I am afraid. I heard the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, say that we have to ban all roads and we must not build any more. That assumes that those towns and cities that are being heavily polluted because the roads go through the town centre should have to put up with that. Similarly, she referred to the Silvertown tunnel. The argument for that is that the current Blackwall tunnel constantly gets blocked and the traffic queues cause more air pollution. There have been many occasions during this debate when people have said that we need to look at the evidence—we do.
More generally, I regard the investment that the Government are making in more cycle lanes as fundamentally important, as is encouraging young people to cycle or walk to school. The irony of it is that those children who think—or whose parents think—that they are safely protected in their SUVs are actually breathing in more pollution than if they were out walking or cycling. Of course, if they were doing those activities, they would also be getting the benefit of exercise. I welcome the targets; they are important. How we achieve them, through monitoring, et cetera, is important.
I too read that article on leaded petrol, which remains in the city 20 years on. Above that article, and perhaps even more interesting in some ways, was one on smart traffic lights smoothing the way to reducing emissions by a quarter. It said:
“A new generation of smart traffic lights could be introduced after a government-backed trial showed that eliminating unnecessary stops at junctions can cut emissions by a quarter.”
That stresses the importance of ensuring that we do not forget that innovation will play an important part in reducing these emissions. I hope that, when the Minister responds, he will take into account—I am sure that he will—a holistic analysis, if you like, of what the Government are doing.
There may well be more cars on the road because people are a bit reluctant to travel on public transport at the moment. As someone who cycles every day and has had an electric car for a few years—I am lucky to be able to afford one—I like to think that I play my part. We are seeing changes in attitude. There are many young people these days who are not bothering to learn to drive or do not own their own car—they hire or share—so we should not be too pessimistic about the situation. It is serious, which is why I put my name down—I felt that this was a necessary probing amendment.
I hope that, when the Minister responds, he will give us that holistic analysis of how the Government intend to meet these targets and how they feel that they can respond to the very real and present impact of particle pollution, whether it is nitrous oxide or carbon emissions.
My Lords, I added my name to Amendments 20 and 49, but I support the general thrust of all the amendments in this group. I am old enough to remember that, when I was a very young boy in 1962, my father had to wear a mask—we have got used to them these days—because of the smog in London. It was not the Great Smog, which was a few years earlier, but it was a serious incident of air pollution that killed a significant number of people. At that time, it showed up that, although the Clean Air Act had been brought in in 1956, there were serious gaps in it: it dealt with emissions of smoke but not sulphur dioxide. If we are not careful, there is a danger that we will think that we have solved this problem and things are getting better—there are indications of that, but we are far from perfect.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, I have been raising this for a long time: I remember having an Adjournment Debate in the other place in 2003 on air quality in London. That was based not just on my concern for the welfare of my fellow Uxbridge citizens but on my own experience of how I could feel the ill effects of increased pollution. Where we live in west London, there is Heathrow and the major roads, and we often seem to exceed the legal limits.
We have already mentioned one thing that convinced me that we have to go further: Ella’s campaign. A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to meet Rosamund, Ella’s mother, and I have not met a more courageous and forceful advocate for this. Despite the obviously terrible tragedy that she endured, she was able to be extremely convincing in all the arguments; she did not have to rely on the personal issue. We owe it not just to Ella but to all the other young people. As has been mentioned, it is very often those who live in less well-off areas.
There are difficult decisions. Of course, sometimes, as the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, has just said, there are occasions when traffic congestion could be eased, and smart traffic lights could provide one of those. The only trouble that I have with building more roads is that they inevitably get filled up. I remember that, when the M25 was first built—little sections of it—it was a joy because no one was on it, but it filled up quite quickly and sometimes is the largest car park in London, as I think many noble Lords will agree.
This is a really serious issue, and the Government must take forward the view that we must have ambitious targets. We should accept the WHO targets. This is something that I feel very strongly about.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak after the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge. I think the last time I spoke after him was to congratulate him on his maiden speech. He brings, of course, great focus and authority to this debate. I welcome this group of amendments generally and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and the other noble Lords who have tabled the amendments on bringing forward the issue of targets and particularly the PM2.5 measure.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, I accept the importance of these targets while pointing to other types of air pollutant of possibly equal toxicity and potential for harm. I am informed about this because over the years I have had many emails in my parliamentary mailbox with personal accounts from those whose health is significantly and adversely affected by air pollution, particularly by being near to major road systems.
Fundamentally, all these targets have to drive a culture change. I think of my three London-resident children who during the pandemic reported how air quality in the metropolis had improved and, sadly, how it has once again deteriorated as things return to what we might call normal. While I commend municipalities bringing in ultra-low emission zones for urban centres, I think that permitting owners of polluting vehicles to pay for the privilege gives the wrong message.
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, referred to a range of non-vehicular polluting activities, including those from construction with which I am familiar. Not so many months ago I witnessed a group of contractors engaged with public pavement repairs using a petrol disc cutter to trim concrete slabs. This was taking place in a busy London shopping street. I will not bore noble Lords with a detailed description of the noise, uncontained dust and odours that were released into the air, but it could just have easily have been welding, sanding, atomising sprays, evaporating solvents or material handling that was releasing pollution into urban air. I also observe that far too many food premises emit odours and fumes at unacceptable levels. One I know well in a major Surrey town blasts motorists as they wait at traffic lights with the outpourings of its extractor system. I suppose one might say that that was a form of poetic justice.
Only recently I learned that the metropolitan Clean Air Act, to which the noble Lord, Lord Randall, referred, permits the burning of firewood in homes. I thought that had been banned a long time ago. The Prime Minister’s comments about insisting on seasoned firewood are very welcome, but the wood also needs to be dry, kept dry and not be full of resins, as are some softwoods. As somebody who uses a wood burning appliance—but not in an urban area, noble Lords will be glad to hear—I question how good the understanding is of these factors concerning supplies of firewood and the knowledge of consumers. Urban atmosphere is, after all, a vital common good for health and well-being, tourism, productivity and, in turn, commerce.
The noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, is right that we cannot simply all take a hairshirt approach and that the laws of unintended consequences beset us as we try to move from one mode of transport, perhaps, to the other. He rightly referred to the role of innovation. However, to repeat my earlier comment, most of all we need collective cultural change, better information and regulation that drives such responses as we wish to see come out of this Bill.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for tabling Amendment 20 which triggers other important amendments in this group. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for introducing this group of amendments in such a knowledgeable way and, indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for her very pertinent contribution on transport-related pollution.
I spoke about the problems of air quality at Second Reading. The noble Lord, Lord Randall, spoke about the London smog in the 1950s. I was a student at Manchester University in early 1960s and I recall bus conductors having to walk in front of their buses because the smog was too thick for the driver to see the front of the vehicle. This problem, which has come very much more to my attention during the Covid lockdown, has come for the converse reason. I have found myself constrained to the finest possible surroundings in Gwynedd, two miles from Caernarfon Bay and the Menai Strait and some six miles from Snowdon. I did not visit London for fifteen months until yesterday. That is the longest period since I was a toddler for me to be confined to the delights of rural Wales.
Of course, it has been enjoyable despite the tragic backdrop. One of the unexpected benefits has been the very noticeable, even tangible, improvements in my health, in particular my lung and chest functioning. I have even been able to get back on my bike. It is only now that I have come to realise how detrimental to my health is the poor air quality in Cardiff and London. I have increasing sympathy for industrial workers—coal miners, slate quarrymen, cotton workers and many others —whose exposure to industrial diseases is exacerbated by poor-quality air that they struggle to breathe.
Since speaking at Second Reading, I have received a volume of information, drawing detailed attention to the research work that has been undertaken on the impact of polluted air on human health. I am grateful to everyone who has contacted me. I have not yet been able to read all that material; I hope to do so between now and Report and, indeed, to study more generally the information available on these matters. In this time of Covid, we are surely obliged to ensure that this Bill addresses this issue. For now, I thank colleagues who have drafted these amendments, which I support wholeheartedly. I am sure the Minister will want to see some strengthening of the Bill on this matter which must be affecting millions of our fellow citizens and even our children, as the tragic case of Ella has taught us. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I am just popping up, as one does in Committee, to add my support to Amendment 20 and to most of the other amendments in this group. I do not have much to add to what the proposers and subsequent speakers with their great expertise have said. I support the ambitions behind this group. I am not quite sure whether—or for that matter why—the Government might set their sights on a target more damaging to health than the WHO recommendation, but I believe that we should insist on having challenging targets.
I have read that between 2010 and 2017 there were reckoned to have been more than 30,000 premature deaths per annum in the UK due to air pollution, many of them stemming from excess PM2.5 particulates. In the EU, the figure was reckoned to be 390,000 premature deaths per annum. It occurred to me that if these deaths were being caused by a respiratory viral infection from Wuhan, I suspect that we might have to be in permanent lockdown. However, this pollution has built up gradually and somehow we have become complacent about it.
There are many different sources of PM2.5 particulates and if we tackle them all in a measured way with the right research and a variety of regulations and encouragement, it should be possible to make a big difference. After all, we have managed to achieve a big reduction in nitrous oxide and sulphur dioxide—NOx and SOx as they are called—in recent decades without impinging too much on anyone’s quality of life while actually enhancing everyone’s quality of life. I am confident that we can build on that success with the right research, encouragement and regulation and, as the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, said, public information.
I realise that a target of 10 micrograms per cubic metre is going to be hard to achieve by 2030 and even measuring it is, I believe—and as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, confirmed in his excellent speech—not a simple matter. For the safety and health of our children alone I believe we must be ambitious on this issue, so I strongly support these amendments.
My Lords, I have added my name to two amendments in this group, Amendments 20 and 49. These amendments deal with the same fundamental problem—the impact of air pollution on health. I declare my interests as I chaired the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee inquiry into allergies. I am a Bevan commissioner in Wales. Sadly, I also have family who are exposed to very high levels of pollution because of schooling.
The dignified campaign of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah’s mother, following her daughter’s tragic death, has shown us why health must be at the centre of air pollution strategies. These amendments are widely called for from across paediatric and child health, chest medicine and related disciplines, and by the Royal College of Physicians, the British Lung Foundation, Asthma UK and others.
Simply meeting limit values is not enough because there is no safe level of pollution exposure. Research in the last five years has shown that air pollutants reach every organ of the body with deleterious effects, ranging from damage to the foetus’s developing lungs in the womb, and the heart and brain, right through to damage to the adult body, causing accelerated ageing of organs throughout life. Very small particles—less than 2.5 micrometers—from anthropogenic sources are a particular problem. They stay suspended in the air for prolonged periods and have a propensity to penetrate deep into parts of the lung where gas exchange occurs. Ultra-fine particles are especially problematic because, in many ways, they behave like a gas. These particles damage the end organ in the lung, the alveoli or distant air sacs where essential lung function occurs.
The UK has the worst death rate from asthma in Europe and is one of the countries with the highest incidence overall. Exposure to air pollution is likely to be a key driver in this disorder, which takes lives and costs the NHS dear. As particles become smaller, their relative surface area increases, which means that chemicals carried on the surface also increase. They are then released into cells and, internally, within parts of cells such as the mitochondria where energy is produced, and they are the source of damaging oxidant chemicals.
The WHO guideline values for particulates are health based. They must be the basis of the minimum targets set, recognising that, in July this year, these will be further revised downwards. Large epidemiological studies have shown that there is no safe level of pollutant exposure and therefore no safe threshold. We have a huge problem. Eight thousand schools are in places which exceed air quality limits. Some 25% of all car journeys are school runs. One in four hospitals and one in three GP surgeries is in an area where air pollution is above the WHO limit for fine particulate matter. Twenty years ago, the Government’s own Air Quality Expert Group recommended,
“Impact analysis of policies or specific developments, whether for industry, transport, housing etc., should take account of the interlinkages of emissions of air quality and climate change pollutants.”
To the shame of us all, this has not occurred.
Simplistic thresholds are not good enough for health. Health will not improve unless the chemical characteristics and sources of particles are tackled. Those from anthropogenic sources, such as diesel engines, and road and brake wear are likely to be far more toxic than particulates originating from geological or natural sources.
Daellenbach and colleagues’ recent research, published in Nature last November, points strongly to this type of man-produced particulates being most closely associated with adverse health outcomes. This type of particle is closely associated with tissue damage. They derive principally from traffic—from diesel, brake wear and tyre friction on the road surface, as well as from domestic biomass burning, such as log burners. Simply eliminating diesel engines will not be enough, unless braking systems, road surfaces and activities that generate particulates are tackled. It is worth noting that, during Covid, there have been reports of such air pollution actually worsening in some areas, due to the large number of small lorries and trucks involved in domestic deliveries.
The amendments to which I have added my name push the Government to adopt the WHO limit for particulate matter. I support the requirement in the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, that there should be long-term targets for particulate matter, at levels no weaker than those set out in the WHO guidance. It is also essential to have greater investment in air quality monitoring in places such as schools where vulnerable groups are gathered for significant lengths of time. Where the monitors are placed is particularly important. Work from California, where a neighbourhood-scale analysis of pollution has been cross-referenced to health data, has shown the direct impacts of pollutants on health. A study has revealed the major impacts from a single, two-hour car commute on human stress metabolism, with marked differences between normal and asthmatic people. Those with asthma have greater toxic metabolomic responses, showing their particular sensitivity to pollutants. All this supports poor housing and the location of schools close to traffic as being a problem both now and for the future well-being of our population, particularly the next generation’s. It has been suggested that air pollutant exposure may enhance susceptibility to other serious illnesses, including serious illness from Covid infection.
I am sure we shall return to this on Report, when the amendment on air quality will have been better refined in the light of this debate. In the meantime, will the Minister say whether the Department of Health and his department are actively engaged with the UK car industry to develop our own electric vehicles, with electromagnetic induction braking? Secondly, what work is being undertaken with Highways England to decrease particulate production from the friction of tyres on road surfaces? The type of road surface determines the amount of particulate produced. Thirdly, what work is being undertaken with the Department for Education and local authorities to stop school-run journeys, other than in exceptional circumstances?
We have an increasing problem of young people with asthma and an enormous bill for the NHS for acute and chronic respiratory disease. Can the Minister tell us what monitoring of air quality in schools and hospitals is currently being undertaken and what is planned, particularly where they are adjacent to major traffic routes?
My Lords, I declare an interest as a sufferer from asthma. I add my congratulations and thanks to Rosamund Kissi-Debrah on her effective and courageous campaign for clean air. She, and anyone who knows anything about health promotion, knows that we should not rely on the Department of Health and Social Care alone to achieve it. It is the responsibility of the whole Government. Defra and the Department for Transport play particularly important roles.
Anyone who knows anything about ill health will also know that prevention is better and cheaper than cure. As my noble friend Lady Randerson pointed out, this group of amendments is about the prevention of ill health. My comments are from this standpoint. As my noble friend also pointed out, the beauty of the amendments in this group is that they bring together two vital issues for our country—the promotion of human health and the health of the planet. The prevention of global warming protects the future of our species. The practical measures needed to reduce PM2.5, which will prevent sickness, will also contribute to saving the planet.
As the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, mentioned, these amendments also provide an opportunity for our innovators and industry to show what they can do to achieve the target by giving us a clean, green and more healthy recovery.
Amendment 20 requires an ambitious target, equivalent to that of the World Health Organization, for reducing air pollution, and it futureproofs the Bill. Amendment 49 puts pressure on the Secretary of State to do it quickly. We on these Benches support the spirit of Amendment 49, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, Amendment 29, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and Amendment 156, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, which summarises a lot of our objectives, as well as Amendments 20 and 49, to which I have put my name.
In this debate we have heard about the massive number of people whose health and development are seriously affected by polluted air, particularly by toxic microparticles of PM2.5 and smaller. We have heard that the Government currently meet their own average target of limiting this fine particulate matter to no more than 20 micrograms per cubic metre of air. However, this limit is too high and is an overall figure; local levels are much higher. We need much more granular measurement and enforcement. I welcome the Government’s commitment to adopting a new exposure reduction target, as this would drive further improvements in areas that already meet WHO guidelines, but this must go along with an ambitious target on ambient concentrations.
We have seen from Defra’s own technical analysis and from work by King’s College London that this is feasible and can be achieved, but it requires political leadership and funding. We have heard from the WHO and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, that no level of these microparticles is safe for human health, and that the legal limits in other countries are much lower than ours. We have also heard that the current limit recommended by the World Health Organization is 10 micrograms per cubic metre—half the UK limit—but that this is predicted to be reduced soon. Its guidelines also urge countries to reduce their own levels as quickly as possible. That is what we want our Government to do. The Government plan to set a new target by 2023. It must be an ambitious one. The Government should mandate themselves to keeping within that target and lay down a road map, with dates, as to how it will be done. Accepting these amendments would do that.
This Bill addresses many important issues but this one is by far the most far-reaching for our health, particularly that of our young children. Because these microparticles are so small, they can cross the placental blood barrier and enter a developing foetus, interfering with the development of the brain. If anything else did that, it would be banned by any right-thinking Government. This harm is hidden, so we do not know its human or economic cost. The dangers of rising levels of these particles have crept up on us, as the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, said, but they can be stopped.
The Government like to claim that they are the “best in the world” at all sorts of things. Here is an opportunity to really achieve that position on damaging air pollution. If, by supporting this group of amendments, we can persuade the Government to take a more ambitious approach to reducing air pollution, we can save lives, save years of good health, save money for the NHS, stimulate the green economy and help save the planet. As they say, “What’s not to like?”
I thank noble Lords for their contributions on this important subject. I start by saying, as a number of noble Lords have, that the death of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah was an absolute tragedy. I pay tribute to her family and friends, particularly her mother, who have all campaigned so tirelessly on this issue and continue to do so.
Turning to Amendment 20, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, the Government recognise the importance of reducing concentrations of PM2.5 and the impact this has on our health. That is why we have included in the Bill the requirement to set a target specifically on PM2.5 concentrations. The Government are following an evidence-based process to inform this and the long-term air quality target. I reassure my noble friend Lord Randall, the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that it will be ambitious. However, at this stage the full mix of policies and measures required to meet the current WHO guideline level of 10 micrograms per cubic metre is not yet fully understood, and nor is the impact these measures would have on people’s lives. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, mentioned the mayor’s study. I am pleased to say that the workings of that study were published last week. Officials are going through them and taking them into account. The letter on this issue recently sent to the Prime Minister by the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, the BMA and a collaboration of medical colleges will also be taken into account.
Until the Government complete the work and consult the public about the type of restrictions that would need to be placed upon us, particularly in large cities, it would not be appropriate for us to write this limit into law. The target is not being ruled out but, as I said at Second Reading, there is work to do. For example, meeting 10 micrograms in London and other cities is likely to require policies such as a total ban of solid fuel burning in cities and reducing traffic kilometres across our cities by as much as 50%. It is not right for us to set a target at the stroke of a pen that would impact millions of people and thousands of businesses without first being clear with people and understanding what would be needed. The Government have committed to setting out detailed evidence, including for public consultation, early next year, ahead of setting this target in secondary legislation, which will come before this House for a debate and a vote.
Turning to Amendment 29, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, Amendment 49, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and Amendment 156, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, the Government are working with a broad range of experts to ensure that air quality targets are based on the best available science, including the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants, the UK’s air quality expert group, and a wide range of sector experts. We will ensure that our process is informed by the latest health evidence, including World Health Organization air quality guidelines. Given the breadth of potential targets that could be set under this framework, the WHO guidelines might not be relevant to all targets. Therefore, it would be inappropriate to require the Government to take account of the guidelines when setting or amending all targets. Nor would it be appropriate to require the Government to prepare explanatory statements pertaining to the guidelines for all targets, or to require all targets to be reviewed when the new WHO guidelines are issued.
However, we have baked a review mechanism into the target monitoring and review process. At least every five years, the Government must consider whether further policies are needed to achieve the interim and long-term targets they have set under the Bill. This will mean considering new evidence, including in the context of air quality target updates to World Health Organization guidelines.
Turning to Amendment 156, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, the Government already make air pollution information available through a range of channels, but we are committed to improving the quality of that information first, to ensure that we have clear messaging and strong platforms to host this information. We will be doing this through comprehensive reviews of UK AIR, and the daily air quality index, and dedicating a significant part of the £8 million air quality grant to improving public awareness in local communities of the risks of pollution. This will also help health professionals in advising patients when poor air quality is forecast. We are also looking at working with relevant health charities on longer-term campaigns aimed specifically at vulnerable groups.
Moving to Amendment 21, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, I reassure noble Lords that the Government recognise that in setting new air quality targets, it is important to have in place suitable means to monitor progress and to demonstrate whether the targets have been met. To answer noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, there is an established network of air quality monitoring in the UK, and work is ongoing to understand what additional monitoring would be required to underpin the new air quality targets. As stated in our clean air strategy, we are committed to ensuring continued investment to update and improve this infrastructure, in order to ensure that appropriate assessment is possible and that progress can be tracked. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, also made that point.
It is not possible to monitor the air in every single school location, although we are monitoring in a great many. As we cannot monitor everywhere, modelling enables us to assess air quality in locations without monitoring stations and, on the back of that, to make future projections.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, asked whether Defra is liaising with the DfT and the sector on the not completely understood issue of particulate matter coming from tyres, which is particularly associated with electric vehicles. The answer is yes; a lot of work is going on in that space, which will inform our next steps. Details of the targets set, including requirements for monitoring, will be set out in secondary legislation, following a public consultation at a later stage.
A number of noble Lords questioned the progress being made or commitment by the Government to take action. The Bill is an important part of our process towards tackling issues such as air quality, water quality, biodiversity and others, but it does not exist in isolation. There is a long list of actions we are taking, specifically to tackle air quality associated with transport. Just in recent months, we committed £3.5 billion for charging infrastructure, £1.2 billion to the cycling and walking investment strategy, £2.5 billion to improve local transport through the transforming cities fund, £5 billion for cleaner buses and to boost cycling and walking, £2 billion over five years to cycling and walking and £200 million to the Covid-19 active travel fund, which was announced by the Secretary of State. As noble Lords know, we have committed to ending the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030. We brought that forward based on the evidence we received. I believe the original target was 2040, then 2035. We now think that 2030 is in reach, because of the evolution of technology. We have introduced two clean air zones, in Bath and Bristol, and more are on the way.
In fact, I am going to stop, because the list goes on and on, but a lot of stuff is happening. I say that partly to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Young, who asked for a bit of optimism. I certainly would not pretend that we are completely on top of the issue, in the sense that an enormous amount of work remains to be done, but there is room for optimism. As noble Lords can see from the Government’s actions and what we are proposing in the Bill, we recognise the gravity and urgency of the situation and are taking action.
The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, was surprised that it is still possible to burn wood in people’s homes. I remind him that we recently introduced new legislation to restrict the sale of the most polluting solid fuels, which has been in play from May this year. Only the cleanest stoves will be available for sale as of next year and we have consulted on options to reduce ammonia emissions from solid urea fertilisers.
From looking through my list of questions, I think I have addressed the key concerns that were raised—I certainly hope so. On that basis, I ask noble Lords not to press their amendments.
I have received requests to speak from the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark.
My Lords, I thank the Government Whips’ Office and the usual channels for sorting out the inadvertent omission of my name from the speakers’ list for this group. I am grateful to them and for being allowed to speak after the Minister. I support all the amendments in this group but, in the interests of time, will limit my remarks to Amendment 21 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for tabling his amendment because it gives me an opportunity to raise an issue I campaigned on during my time as the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Wimbledon, when the residents there raised concerns about a proposed planning application to build new homes on a small piece of land on an industrial estate bounded by railway lines. Sole access to it was from the corner of a busy, right-angled bend near Raynes Park railway station, where traffic lights meant that stationary vehicles often idled there and local geography restricted air movement. It was in a designated air quality management area. It transpired that a monitor that had been monitoring air quality there had disappeared. From digging through Merton Council’s report on air quality in designated AQMAs, I found that the last recorded reading showed appalling air quality that breached the EU guidelines substantially, particularly with respect to particulates and fine particulates. No one could say what had happened to the monitor or why it had been moved. It prompted me to start an alliterative campaign called Merton’s Missing Monitors.
I raise this because it is all well and good that a local authority must prepare an action plan to improve air quality in a designated AQMA, as laid out in Schedule 11, but unless air quality monitors are in place to measure improvement the whole exercise is rendered pretty useless. I totally agree with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, about, as well as having monitors, the importance of the siting and methodology that is used for measuring the air quality.
In fact, the whole interface between central government, regional authorities and local authorities on the issue of air pollution is riddled with tensions. Can the Minister say who currently bears ultimate responsibility for cleaning up our air and who will have it after the Bill becomes law? Can he also tell us what the process is for allocating resources between the three levels of Government? Could he comment on whether local authorities have the funds or the skills they need to carry out the action plans?
I would like to raise one other issue, which is the source of fine particulates—PM2.5—from vehicle traffic that was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff. The sources of particulates that arise from the friction between rubber on tyres and road surfaces and from dust resuspension will remain unmitigated even as the EV revolution reduces exhaust emissions over time. Local authorities currently have the power to introduce 20 mph speed limits, which help reduce fine particulates from non-exhaust vehicle sources, both because of the slower speeds and because of the fact that driving at slower speeds involves less braking and accelerating abrasion. But experience has shown that an ad hoc approach by local authorities to designating 20 mph limits gives a patchwork of limits and causes confusion to motorists. Has any thought been given to a default local speed limit of 20 mph, and then allowing local authorities to increase the speed limit on certain roads—that is, to reverse the status quo? It would, of course, have the added benefit of reducing the number of people killed and seriously injured on our roads.
I should clarify that I am speaking about 20 mph speed limits, not 20 mph zones, which are characterised by traffic-calming measures such as speed bumps and chicanes—all unpopular with motorists and ambulances. Areas with 20 mph limits are designed with only painted road markings and roadside notification if you are driving too fast. They are popular where they have been introduced. I should also add that 20 mph limits are supported by Public Health England, for obvious reasons, and the UN General Assembly.
This measure would reduce air pollution, help our fight against climate change by making easier a modal shift in transport towards more walking and cycling, and reduce KSIs. Before I end, I should put on the record that I was the founding member of 20’s Plenty for Merton. I look forward to the Minister’s thoughts.
I tried to explain our approach to air quality monitoring in response to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, but the noble Baroness has taken up the issue as well. There is a network of monitoring across the UK. It is not complete or perfect, but we keep it permanently under review and have committed increased investment both to fill in the gaps and to upgrade and update the infrastructure, just to make sure that the network is doing what it is supposed to.
The noble Baroness asked where the responsibility lies. While the responsibility for meeting the national target that we will set as a consequence of the Bill, the PM2.5 target, will clearly be with national government, there is a huge role for local authorities when it comes to delivering those reductions. This will happen only as a result of partnerships. There are things that local authorities can do to tackle air pollution, but there are things that they cannot do and areas in which they rely on national government. For example, the initiative on cars—the transition to electric vehicles—can be helped by local authorities via charging networks, but fundamentally it will result from national policy.
The noble Baroness mentioned idling. Ultimately, that will have to be enforced by local authorities. I was involved in campaigns of that sort, specifically on idling, as the Member of Parliament for Richmond Park. It was extraordinary how many people would unthinkingly leave their engines on at a level crossing that would sometimes be down for nearly 10 minutes. Once they were politely asked to turn their engines off, they always did—not surprisingly—and we found that behaviour improved dramatically over just a few months. The local authority became better at issuing fines for repeat offenders. That was not the objective—no one wanted to see an increase in fines—but it was effective as a deterrent.
It is a complicated answer because ultimately, if we are to get where we need to go, it will be through collaboration between local, regional and national government.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response to this important debate. When I spoke to my Amendment 156, I made a request to him to meet me, my noble friend Lady Hayman, Ella’s mother, Rosamund, and members of the Ella’s law campaign. He did not address that when he spoke, so I ask him again: will he please agree to meet us before we get to Report?
My Lords, this has been a really important and interesting debate, and I thank all noble Lords for their contributions.
My noble friend Lord Whitty made some important points about monitoring and the need for proper support and resources for local authorities. We benefited from the extensive knowledge and experience of campaigning on this issue of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge.
The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, and other noble Lords supported the fact that we really should have challenging targets if we are genuinely to tackle air pollution and the damage it causes. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, rightly pointed out the UK’s appalling death rate from asthma and its links to poor air quality. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, powerfully explained even further the hidden damage caused in her detailed contribution.
I also commend my noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark for his contribution, and for his support for Ella’s family. I join him, and echo his recognition—shared by the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Walmsley, the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, and the Minister—of the huge achievement of Ella’s mother, Rosamund. In the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, we recognise her “dignified campaign” in this area.
I was glad to hear from the Minister that officials are going through the Mayor of London’s studies, which I mentioned earlier, and will take account of the letter that medical leaders have written this week to the Prime Minister. However, if account is being taken of all that, and the studies are being taken seriously, I simply cannot understand why the Government are not prepared to discuss further setting the targets that we have been debating, which seem to have widespread support.
This has been an important debate, and all contributors have expressed their support for improving the Bill in this area. As drafted, it simply does not do enough, and I am afraid that I am not convinced by the Minister’s response. I am sure that we will return to the issue on Report, but in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 20 withdrawn.
Amendment 21 not moved.
Clause 2 agreed.
22: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Environmental targets: species abundance
(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations set a target (the “species abundance target”) in respect of a matter relating to the abundance of species.(2) The specified date for the species abundance target must be 31 December 2030.(3) Accordingly, the species abundance target is not a long-term target and the duty in subsection (1) is in addition to (and does not discharge) the duty in section 1(2) to set a long-term target in relation to biodiversity.(4) Before making regulations under subsection (1) which set or amend a target the Secretary of State must be satisfied that meeting the target, or the amended target, would further the objective of halting a decline in the abundance of species.(5) Section 1(4) to (9) applies to the species abundance target and to regulations under this section as it applies to targets set under section 1 and to regulations under that section.(6) In this Part “the species abundance target” means the target set under subsection (1).”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause requires the Secretary of State to set a species abundance target, to be met by 31 December 2030. There are amendments throughout the Bill to ensure that the species abundance target is subject to the same regime as targets set under Clause 1.
I rise to move government Amendment 22, and to speak to the government amendments in my name grouped with it. These amendments will require the Secretary of State to set a new, historic, legally binding target for species abundance for 2030, aiming to halt the decline of nature. It is a core part of the Government’s commitment to leave the environment in a better state than we found it.
We hope that this measure will be the net zero equivalent for nature, spurring action of the scale required to address the biodiversity crisis. As noble Lords know, nature has been in decline for decades, and tackling that long-term decline will be challenging. But through this new target we are committing ourselves to that objective. A domestic 2030 species target will not only benefit species; the actions necessary to achieve it will also help drive wider environmental improvements —for example, to the habitats in which they live, and on which they depend.
The details of the target will be set in secondary legislation, brought forward by the end of October 2022, alongside our wider priority area targets. The 2030 species target will be subject to the same requirements as the long-term legally binding targets set under the Bill. Our focus now must be on the detailed work to develop a fully evidenced target. I met stakeholders on this issue just last week. We are developing the scientific and economic evidence to underpin this target, and will consult on all our proposed targets early next year. I look forward to hearing the contributions of noble Lords on this important amendment. I beg to move.
Amendment 23 (to Amendment 22)
23: After subsection (1) insert—
“(1A) In the range of species which contribute to the target, at least one must be a species that is significant to chalk streams and its abundance an indicator of the health of its ecosystem.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment aims to ensures that at least one of the species which contributes to the target should act as a proxy for being able to assess the health and abundance of species within chalk streams, which in turn will act as a clear indicator of the overall health of chalk streams.
My Lords, allow me first to declare my interests—first, as vice-chair of the All-Party Chalk Streams Group, and as a past chairman of the town council of Alresford, in Hampshire, and a Winchester city councillor at the same time. Alresford lies in the headwaters of the River Itchen, astride the Alre, and it has been around a while—since Bishop de Lucy constructed a causeway taking the road out of Alresford to Basingstoke. Behind it, he constructed a massive freshwater lake, which in the day was teeming with fish of all descriptions. Winchester, of course, lies further down the Itchen, and is a major city of our nation.
Sadly, the eminence of the water pursuits and the value of the river have declined very seriously over the years. This is the primary reason why Amendment 23 in my name, together with Amendments 22, 24, 25 and 26, covers different aspects of the importance of species abundance in our rivers and streams. In this regard, the inclusion of a target-setting framework is a welcome part of the Bill. Putting targets into law brings certainty and clarity, to the benefit of all.
Depletion of species is not a new problem. It is a problem for Governments around the world, which, generally speaking, they have failed to reverse. The UK, however, has failed more than most. We are at the bottom of the league for G7 nations, based on the biodiversity intactness index. The latest State of Nature report showed that around one in seven species is threatened with extinction and more than 40% of species have declined since 1970, according to Greener UK.
Government Amendment 22 is thought to place a very weak duty in the Bill; it does not provide a legally binding commitment to halt the decline in species abundance, which the cross-party Amendment 24 addresses.
My Amendment 23, however, recognises the very great importance of species abundance in our chalk streams and chalk rivers in the south and south-east of England, which are a vital source of clean water, serving the needs of many millions of people across the region. It aims to ensure that at least one of the species which contribute to the species abundance target should act as a proxy for being able to assess the health and abundance of species in chalk streams, which in turn will act as a clear indicator of the overall health of chalk streams.
It is understood that the target proposed in the new clause will be constructed from a range of indicator species, which, taken together, can give an assessment of the level of increase in abundance. It is felt that at least one of these species should act as a proxy for being able to assess the health and abundance of species in chalk streams, which in turn will act as a clear indicator of the overall health of chalk streams.
To achieve the necessary improvements in abundance, action will be required to tackle issues around flow and abstraction, water quality and the need for habitat restoration. In the context of this amendment, it may be helpful to mention some of the indicator species the Government may wish to consider, all of which are good proxies for the overall health of chalk streams. These include the distribution and abundance of: blue-winged olive flies, brook water crowfoot and, naturally, brown trout. In addition, the distribution and abundance of gammarus, a shrimp-like invertebrate measured by riverbed kick samples in chalk streams, are a clear indicator of the overall health of a river.
I look forward to the Minister’s response to what seems to me a fairly simple request. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 24 in my name, and I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for joining me in supporting it. I apologise to noble Lords for a lengthier contribution than I normally aspire to, but for me and many thousands of others this is a crucial issue.
Like others, I have been pressing for a state of nature target to be inserted into this Bill for some time. Indeed, a current petition has well over 200,000 signatures. I was therefore delighted to hear my honourable friend George Eustice’s recent speech at Delamere Forest, when he said:
“Nature is going to be key pillar of our work as host of the UN Climate Change Conference COP26. We were the first major economy in the world to set a net zero emissions target in law. To meet that target we must protect and restore nature, with nature-based solutions forming a key part of our approach to tackling climate change.”
He went on to say something we all know:
“The UK is sadly one of the most nature depleted countries in the world.”
“We want not only to stem the tide of this loss, but to turn it around and leave the environment in a better state than we found it. I want us to put a renewed emphasis on nature’s recovery. And, that is why today we will be amending the Environment Bill to require an additional legally binding target for species abundance for 2030, aiming to halt the decline of nature. This is a huge step forward, and a world leading measure in the year of COP15 and COP26. We hope that this will be the Net Zero equivalent for nature, spurring action of the scale required to address the biodiversity crisis.”
My noble friend the Minister has just echoed those words.
After that speech there were many virtual cheers, not only from conservation and environmental NGOs but from those thousands of our fellow citizens who care deeply about this issue, myself very much included. Indeed, I am sure that many Conservative MPs were equally delighted to be able to report back to their concerned constituents that this Government, my Government, were taking the steps required to start the decline of our nature.
At the recent G7 summit, part of the communiqué stated:
“We therefore confirm our strong determination to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030, building on the G7 Metz Charter on Biodiversity and the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature as appropriate.”
However, I have to say, very regretfully, that when these much-heralded government amendments were laid they were disappointing—really disappointing. I take no pleasure in saying that so much expectation was dashed to the ground so quickly. I suspect that my noble friend the Minister shares some of that disappointment —I will not press him on that—and that somewhere, the original aspiration and maybe even an earlier draft of these government amendments were squashed. I cannot think where. It cannot be the Treasury, as it commissioned that excellent piece of work, the Dasgupta review, which laid out clearly the economic case for restoring nature. It is all a bit of a mystery to me. Perhaps my cynicism is misplaced and my noble friend will be able to assure me that our simple amendment now has the green light. That would save us all a lot of time.
Why is this state of nature target needed? As I said, the Government have accepted the need to halt the decline of nature. I have already said that this has been managed in the G7 nature compact, the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature and the Dasgupta review. The Government have stated their intention to
“halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030.”
Previous global agreements to halt nature’s decline failed because global goals have not been matched by domestic implementation. The UN Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 showed that the world had failed to meet any of its targets to halt biodiversity loss set under the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Environment Bill is of course largely framework legislation, without a definite environmental objective. Adding a meaningful state of nature target would help upgrade the Bill to landmark legislation, setting a clear direction for environmental improvement.
The Government’s proposal for a species abundance target just does not lock in a level of ambition to halt species decline by 2030. Instead, it merely requires the target to “further” the objective of halting nature’s decline. This means that there would be no fixed date at all for achieving the ultimate objective of stopping biodiversity loss. Under the Government’s proposed approach, the level of ambition for the species abundance target would be set by statutory instrument, along with other targets, in October 2022 at the earliest. Setting half a target of this kind undermines the very purpose of a statutory target. It does not provide a fixed point of accountability, give certainty to investors or create a clear requirement for all government departments to achieve a clear goal.
The Government may argue that it would be appropriate to wait to set the target following consultation. However, I believe that there are three problems with this approach. There is no guarantee of ambition: the final target could fall far short of an objective to halt species decline by 2030 and there would be no statutory obligation to set that target for a later date. This would also show a regrettable failure of leadership. Part of the reason for setting a state of nature target is to inspire action in other countries, but the Government’s approach would mean the target being set after the COP 15 Convention on Biological Diversity talks.
Finally, and very importantly, it would mean a critical delay in implementation. The state of nature target is achievable but challenging; there are just nine years for action. Waiting until 2023 for certainty on the target would mean a critical delay in the action and investment needed to halt nature’s decline.
I have to say as well that I fear that some things that may accelerate the decline might take place before that. Perhaps my noble friend could look into the proposals that widespread reptiles, along with other species, should be removed from Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, which were put forward recently by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee in its quinquennial review. That would mean, for example, that it would be perfectly all right to kill adders and collect reptiles and amphibians. I have a sneaking feeling that this might be something to do with planning, and in my opinion it is very concerning. However, I digress.
A species abundance target would be based on an index of hundreds of species aggregated to show an overall trend in biodiversity, and the objective would be to bend the curve of the index so that the decline is halted by 2030. The State of Nature index is one example of how that could be done. It measures the fortunes of 696 terrestrial and freshwater species—including, perhaps, those in the chalk streams that the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, has just mentioned, and I have a great deal of sympathy regarding such streams. The index shows a significant decline of 13% in average abundance since 1970 and has fallen by 6% over the past 10 years. Since 1970, 41% of species have decreased in abundance and 26% have increased, while 15% are threatened with extinction from Great Britain.
The index should be designed to cover terrestrial, freshwater and marine species and could include plants as well as mammals, birds and insects, and the precise details of the index could be agreed by statutory instrument in 2022. The important thing is to set the overall level of ambition in law now in this Bill. Ideally, an ambitious target would also set measures for the extent and condition of wildlife-rich habitats and for avoiding individual extinctions. However, a well-designed species abundance target could serve as a reasonable proxy for the overall state of the natural environment, with more detailed targets set later. Realistically, could we achieve this? A 2030 species abundance target should be the first step towards the 25-year environment plan promise of passing on the environment in the best condition, so further long-term targets should aim for the recovery of species and habitats.
After many decades of decline, halting the loss of biodiversity by 2030 will be challenging, but well-established conservation science shows that it is indeed achievable. It will require a combination of halting the main pressures on biodiversity, chiefly from intensive agriculture, unsustainable development, pollution and the over-abstraction of water, as well as positive action for restoration, such as investment in habitat creation.
Many policy options needed to achieve the target are already in development. A strong environmental land management programme, farming regulation, biodiversity gain requirements in development, and protection of 30% of the land and sea for nature could deliver much of the effort required to meet the target. Setting the target would help to ensure that those policies were designed and delivered with the necessary consistency and ambition and that all departments played their part in meeting that goal.
Sadly, without a state of nature target the Environment Bill is, I regret to say, rudderless. It does not set a direction of travel for environmental improvement. Government Amendment 22 falls far short of the net-zero for nature promised by the Secretary of State, because it does not set that level of ambition. A failure to halt the decline of biodiversity would lead to species extinction and economic losses and would compromise the health and welfare of future generations. Without a target in the Bill, this crucial opportunity for the UK to show global leadership ahead of COP 15 will be lost.
Amendment 24, requiring a target to be set that will “meet” the objective of halting the decline of biodiversity rather than the very unambitious “further”, would be a simple and achievable way for the Government to inspire the action and investment needed to help avert continuing ecological decline and begin to restore our natural world. I have to say that this issue will not go away and that I intend to pursue it if the Government do not move further. However, I have every hope that they will do so in order to ensure their credibility on this issue.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, and to commend him, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, on Amendment 24, to which the Green group would have certainly given its support, had there been space on the paper for it.
I will, however, go back briefly to Amendment 23 from the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, because it is crucial that we acknowledge the importance of chalk streams. It is something I have in the past done a great deal of work on, with concern about the arrival of what has been called unconventional oil and gas extraction and its potential impact on them. I will admit that seeing the noble Lord’s amendment also made me want to revisit amendments that I tabled to the then Agriculture Bill on meadows and hedgerows. They are all things we need to include when we are talking about the species abundance target more broadly.
However, what I mostly want to address is new subsection (4) in the Government’s amendment and the proposed amendments to that subsection. As the noble Lord, Lord Randall, has already set out extremely clearly, this simply does not live up to the promises that the Government made on the species abundance target: the words we heard from the Secretary of State in what was billed as a landmark speech.
Amendment 24 would leave out the word “further”. The Government’s amendment states that they will “further the objective”, and Amendment 24 says “meet” the objective, which is a considerable improvement. However, I have tabled Amendment 26, which would go further. I apologise to noble Lords, because I realise, looking at it, that in the Explanatory Statement I did not really get on top of the complexities of explaining it. The key difference in this context is that I say, rather than to “further” or to “meet” a target, “delivering an improvement”. We have the Government saying, “We’re going to try to at least not get worse”; Amendment 24 says, “We’re going to at least meet a target for species abundance”; and I say, “We have to see an improvement.” That is what would be written into the Bill.
I shall go back, as did the noble Lord, Lord Randall, to the speech of George Eustice in Delamere Forest. I have a couple of quotes from it. It used the phrase “building back greener”. I put the stress on the “er” in that: an improvement. He said that
“restoring nature is going to be crucial”—
we are restoring, we are improving. He said:
“We want to not only stem the tide of this loss but to turn it around and to leave the environment in a better state.”
I would say that to deliver on what the Government say they want to achieve, they need the words “delivering an improvement”, or words very similar to those, in the Bill to commit to seeing an improvement.
I shall give just a short reflection on what that means, and I shall go to the RSPB:
“More than 40 million birds have disappeared from UK skies”
since 1970. What the Government are offering is, “We’re going to try and stop losing more”; Amendment 24 says, “We guarantee to at least stay where we are”; my amendment says, “We’re going to bring at least some of those 40 million birds back.” That is what it is aiming to do.
We can reflect on a phrase which has been very much popularised by George Monbiot, the Guardian columnist and writer: “shifting baseline syndrome”. Older Members of your Lordships’ House may well say, “Well, nature just doesn’t look like it used to when I was a child”—but their grandparents would have said exactly the same thing. We have had a long-term, centuries-long collapse, and if you could get someone in a time machine from 200 years ago and put them into our countryside now, they just would not recognise it, with its total lack of wildlife.
It is also worth looking at the Government’s reaction. The noble Lord, Lord Randall, referred to the Dasgupta review. The Government have, of course, already put out a formal response to that in which they talk about a “nature-positive future”, which I suggest implies that there has to be an improvement: if you are going to do something positive, you are increasing it. That explains why I have worded Amendment 26 in this way, in terms of delivering improvement.
I want briefly to address the rest of Amendments 26 and 27 on the issue of species abundance. I have talked to some of the NGOs that have been instrumental in the petition that the noble Lord, Lord Randall, referred to—250,000 people had signed it the last time I looked to say that they want an improved species abundance target—I will be very happy if the Minister can correct me, but no one has actually defined what a species abundance target means. We go back to our debate on Monday about what biodiversity means: whether it is biodiversity of genes in a large population which has a large diversity of genes, one hopes; whether it is species; whether it is the fact that to have abundant species, you need a rich ecological environment. All those things fit together. Amendments 26 and 27 are my attempt to get the Minister to reflect now, or if not now, later, and explain to us what the Government really mean by a species abundance target.
What I have suggested, in trying to address those different aspects of biodiversity, is to look at the mass of wild species—we are talking about bioabundance. Keeping a few handfuls of tiny populations of every species going is not enough; we need to have lots of the popular species, lots of all species and also population numbers of red and amber list species, trying to address those rarer species on which a lot of the attention in terms of extinction is focused. I am sure all noble Lords have received many representations about Amendment 24, which is certainly a great improvement on government Amendment 22, but I ask your Lordships’ House, as we go forward to the next stage, to think about some wording in the Bill that guarantees building in improvement, not just ensuring no decline.
My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. She and her colleague from the Green Party can certainly never be accused of falling down on the job. They are persistent; I do not always agree with them, but I salute them for keeping their cause going.
I was greatly impressed by my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge’s speech but I must say to my noble friend, whose personal credentials I do not question for a moment, that his amendments this evening are disappointing, to put it mildly. The speech of the Secretary of State, George Eustice, to which reference has already been made, excited expectations. The amendments that my noble friend has tabled do not—if they will fulfil those expectations, there is a great difference between promise and performance. It is not just the road to hell that is paved with good intentions; in this context, the road to extinction is paved with good intentions. It is not a question of my noble friend’s intentions but of the performance that I think will follow.
I suggest that on Report my noble friend should toughen this up. I ask him to convene a meeting of those are speaking in this debate and others to see whether we can come to a consensus and amendments that will really reflect what I believe is his genuine intention, and what is certainly the desire of a large majority of your Lordships’ House. I urge him to do that, because I do not want this to become a politically contentious Bill; it is one that ought to command the allegiance of people in all parts of the country and in all political parties. I salute the Government for bringing it forward, but say to them, please do not fall down on this. It is crucial that in 10 years’ time, looking back upon 2030, people do not say, “There was a great opportunity that was badly missed.”
My Lords, I agree with the earlier speakers that this part of the Bill needs to be strengthened. I should say to my noble friend Lord Goldsmith with regard to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, why just chalk streams? I know how vital they are but any river will tell you about the environment of that area and its quality within the river.
I have a little bit of good news for my noble friend on the Front Bench. I recently spent three days in Dorset and, driving back, I had to wash the windscreen of my car to get rid of the bugs. It is the first time in many years when I have had to do that. If bugs are getting on to windscreens, it means that something is turning around slowly in nature. It is a good start and I hope that we will all be doing what I had to do on a much more regular basis. I agree that it is desperately boring to do, but it is far better to be bored doing it than not to have nature.
Virtually all land in the UK is managed. There is very little, if any, truly wild land left. When we are considering biodiversity, we must not forget that the land also has to produce food for the population. I again ask my noble friend on the Front Bench the question I asked at Second Reading, or possibly on the first day of Committee—I cannot remember. Does he agree with the figure that 21% of our agricultural land has to be taken out of agriculture and put into bioenergy fuels and trees? If that is the case, it means a 10% increase in the productivity of all the other agricultural land. That will mean a lot of intensification but it can be done if we do that cleverly with supporting biodiversity.
Here I want to talk about something that has almost become a dirty word: management—land management and biodiversity management. We could improve the biodiversity in this country very quickly if we followed the simple rules of getting the right habitat, the right species protection, proper winter feeding and control of predators. That is the four-legged chair on which biodiversity depends. I know that the Agriculture Act will address some of that but it will not necessarily address winter feed and certainly not predator control. The winter feed situation has been hugely compromised by the increasingly efficient agricultural machinery that farmers use and the height at which crops can be cut, leaving little for wildlife.
I mentioned foxes and badgers earlier. It was in that context that I felt that my noble friend the Minister had not answered my questions. What will the Government do to ensure that there is proper predator control carried out in a humane way? I am not talking about the extinction of species but getting a balance. If we are going to get back lapwing, curlew and waders, predators will have to be controlled. It is not just a question of foxes and badgers but deer. They have ruined hedgerows for ground-nesting birds and nightjars, and decimated some trees. In an increasingly urban southern half of England, deer control is becoming a major problem to undertake but if we do not do so we will affect wildlife in a hugely different way. It is not just a matter of our actions as human beings but of nature working within nature.
I know there are certain things over which we have no control, such as climate change. It is bound to affect our biodiversity in ways we do not know. As the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, will know, warmer winters and cooler summers are affecting salmon migration and its appearance in rivers. It is to be hoped that we will do something about that in long term, but it is not a short-term problem that we can solve. Nor can we solve the problem the north winds this spring have caused the bat population—that is not strictly within our hands. My friend, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, talked about the blue butterfly, which is weather-dependent. We have seen a huge increase in the red admiral thanks to a slightly warmer climate, but the other side of that equation is that we have lost a whole lot of butterflies because of the change in the climate. I wonder whether the blue butterfly that the noble Lord mentioned will suffer in the future.
In this debate, on getting an abundance target and improving biodiversity, I hope my noble friend will tell us about the practical problems that organisations are trying to solve. These organisations, such as the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Nature Friendly Farming Network, are doing huge amounts. They will need some more help and some more drive from the Government as well. Rather than just setting targets, it is the practicalities on the ground that matter.
I am delighted to follow my noble friend Lord Caithness. I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on bringing forward government Amendment 22 and all the amendments in this group. I hope he is not too disheartened by the reaction around the Committee this afternoon. Really, the Government have taken the bull by the horns.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, on his industriousness in all the positions he holds. No wonder we do not see too much of him here in the Chamber, but I congratulate him on all his work, at every level of democracy, which he outlined today. I am delighted that he talked about the plight of chalk streams, which I was heavily involved in at one stage in the other place. The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, highlighted—indeed, it is a theme of the briefing I was delighted to receive from the Green Alliance—that this is not a problem unique to this country. My noble friend the Minister outlined this when he moved and spoke to the amendments before us this evening. It is not so much that this is a new problem as that we need new solutions to be adopted, but I urge my noble friend to be slightly cautious if we go out on our own limb, as it were, and set very ambitious targets. Is it not the case that we are not the only Government who did not achieve the 20 Aichi biodiversity targets agreed in Japan in 2010? Surely, if we are concerned about being a global leader and about biodiversity in the wider world, he should use his good offices and those of his colleagues in government to ensure that other Governments follow our lead. I was slightly disappointed that my noble friend Lord Randall did not touch on that aspect and took, perhaps, a uniquely domestic approach in the words he used.
My noble friend has set an ambitious target in the amendments in this group. How achievable is meeting those targets by 2030? Obviously, it is something we have signed up to internationally, so I would be interested to know how realistic and achievable those targets are. It is welcome that they will be subject—as I understood him to say—to the same legally binding targets elsewhere in the Bill. Will he use the species abundance provisions set out in these amendments to ensure that there will be timely and regular reviews of all the species, however the Government is going to define them? I am wondering whether we have actually defined these anywhere in the Bill, and I would be grateful if my noble friend would point to where those definitions are.
We all have our favourite species. Mine is the red squirrel, and one of the joys of visiting Denmark each summer is seeing how widespread it still is in parts of Scandinavia and elsewhere. I believe that hedgehogs are under increasing threat; I frequently lift one up and move it from the drive so that it does not make its way on to the main road, where I know that, a few days later, I will see that it is no more. Will my noble friend use this opportunity to look at all our favourite species—I would argue for red squirrels and hedgehogs—and make sure that, where they have been threatened but are now in abundance, we take cognisance of that? I think particularly of the protections that we gave to badgers in 1968. Should these now be reviewed, in 2021, along with those for all species of bats and newts?
I was taken by the arguments made by noble friend Lord Caithness about achieving a balance. He is absolutely correct, and I support him in this, that we should recognise predators such as deer. I hope that the green lobby will bear with me and that I do not get attacked like I did when I said this before: we have to recognise that TB is spread through predators such as badgers and deer and protect our herds of domestic cattle from that. I hope my noble friend the Minister will take cognisance of that balance. This may be in one of the amendments and I have missed it, but I would welcome his commitment to a review of each species, perhaps every five years, being considered. However, I support the amendments in the name of my noble friend.
My Lords, I restate my interests: I chair the Cawood group, which carries out analytical testing of soil, water, waste et cetera; and I am a trustee of Clinton Devon Estates, which is involved in ELMS trials and testing. I fully support the Bill and am enthusiastic about its potential. As has been stated numerous times, it needs to sit in sync with the Agriculture Act and I will comment on that later. I absolutely understand the need for the suite of amendments tabled by the Minister, beginning with Amendment 22.
There is clearly a need to have appropriate targets; otherwise there is a serious risk of not being able to measure success. As I said earlier in the debate, it is important to have a clear sense of direction to motivate all involved in delivery. I listened carefully to the Minister’s response, in an earlier debate, on why soil quality is not included as a target in the Bill. I have to say that it was not very convincing. If the determinants are still a work in progress, the Government should commit to introducing soil when these have been resolved. The setting of targets is, potentially, one of the most controversial parts of the Bill, as is clear from interest in the topic and comments so far. I will issue a cautionary note, so far as the farming sector is concerned. My old farming business participated in stewardship schemes for about 30 years before I retired two years ago; it was one of the first to enrol in stewardship management. We did halt decline in some species and saw a revival in others.
Modern agricultural practices encouraged by the common agricultural policy and, to be clear, by successive Governments in the UK, to produce cheap food—particularly the move from spring to autumn cropping during the 1970s and 1980s—have had an influence on species loss. Farmers have been following government policies and have been subsidised to produce cheap food for the past 70 years, which is why the Government have an obligation to adequately support family farms through the transition period, as outlined in the Agriculture Act, over the next seven years. The Government also need to incentivise those same farmers to deliver measures within the ELMS to address species loss and help deliver the targets that will be set as a consequence of the Bill. This is where the two pieces of legislation need to be absolutely compatible. I stress again that the Government have an obligation and these family farms are vital to the management of the countryside. They are crucial in delivering economic and social sustainability, as well as environmental sustainability and the outcomes that the Government hope to achieve through the Bill.
I am sure that the Minister will reassure the House that the Government intend to support farmers through the ELMS, but everything depends on the values attached to public goods, including the measures required to deliver biodiversity gain, which are as yet unknown. Establishing the value needs careful consideration. Even though farmers have been pilloried in the past by the environmental lobby as the culprits for ruining the environment in the pursuit of cheap food, in my experience, the vast majority of farmers care deeply about their environmental responsibilities and want to see well-functioning ecosystems.
Species decline has taken place over a long period, and restoration for some species will take a long time. In my experience, it may prove to be impossible for some because the factors are complex and not just linked to farming practices. Climate change is a huge influence, the impact of urbanisation is a significant factor and the increase in predators is understated, as mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. This applies particularly to those that prey on farmland birds, which are one of the key current indicators.
There are more predators today than at any time in my lifetime, from badgers to raptors to magpies and even the domestic cat. A pheasant nesting in our garden this spring had 12 eggs; 10 hatched, but within a week she had only five chicks left and, sadly, only one has survived. Ground-nesting birds are seriously threatened today. I hope that the department will consider all the relevant research, including the work of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust at Loddington, which has been mentioned a number of times, as well as that of the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts, in determining appropriate measures to address these challenges.
I absolutely support the case for selective rewilding in parts of the countryside, and there are some impressive examples of it. However, a lot of idealistic nonsense is talked about the balance of nature, which many believe can be restored through rewilding. There has not been a balance in nature since the garden of Eden, due to human intervention. Given free rein, some species will dominate and others will decline or even disappear.
I will make one more important point. I suspect that the Government will set national targets as part of the Bill. However, the environmental challenges vary significantly from region to region and parish to parish. Each river catchment is unique, so measures that are introduced need to be targeted in each area to address specific environmental issues, whether of water quality or individual species decline. This carries a risk of introducing complexity into a scheme that the Government have committed to reducing and simplifying as part of their promise, having left the EU with its burdensome bureaucracy. Let me restate what I said earlier: in light of these concerns, the Government will need to consider the setting of targets very carefully. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us.
My Lords, there was much wrangling over the “state of nature” amendment in the other place. Of course the noble Lord, Lord Randall, also drew the attention of the House to the public petition on this issue, which has now reached almost 200,000 signatures. It is clearly an important issue. I welcomed the Government’s intention to come forward with their own amendment on it but it is a bit of a disappointment. It fails to deliver the Government’s own commitment to reverse, not just halt, the decline of biodiversity by 2030. Other noble Lords outlined the basis of that, but I will simply recap: the Government promised targets that were equivalent to net zero for biodiversity, but these amendments simply do not deliver that.
All this is rather strange because the Prime Minister has played a leading global role in the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature and, most recently, the G7’s nature compact. Both those initiatives aim to halt declines by 2030. This welcome ambition needs to be firmly secured in the legislation and in this element of the targets. If we do not set an ambitious target in the Bill, we will look rather foolish at COP 15 and COP 26.
Government Amendment 22 has some wonderful weasel words in it. It talks of furthering
“the objective of halting a decline in the abundance of species.”
We need an unequivocal statement. The Climate Change Act has the 2050 net-zero target; we need something equally clear and unequivocal for biodiversity. That is one element but the other is that it needs to be a target that refers to not just halting decline but starting to reverse it. In his letter of 8 June, following Second Reading, the Minister said the Government would not set the final target until after COP 15, when global targets are going to be set. In keeping with global Britain, the UK should be leading, not following—not waiting for the global conference but setting the pace and ambition.
After all, for many years we have been fiddling while Rome burns. The noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, talked about 70 years’ worth of agricultural impact on biodiversity, regrettably. When I was chief executive of RSPB in the mid-1990s, NGOs drove—and the Government eventually endorsed—the Biodiversity Action Plan, which aimed to halt and reverse declines in species and habitats. It was a very worthwhile and inclusive initiative but, by 2020, government commitment to that excellent process had evaporated and it was left without any resources. Let that be an object lesson on the commitment, energy, resource and, in today’s case, the statutory backing required if we are to reverse biodiversity decline. We cannot afford to fail this time, as the rate of species decline and habitat loss increases, irrespective of the noble Lord collecting insects on his windscreen.
A chilling statement was made about species decline and extinction, and I do not think it overdramatic to say that every extinction foreshadows our own. It is that important. I support Amendment 24 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Randall and Lord Krebs, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, which
“would set a clear requirement for a target to halt the decline in the abundance of species by 2030.”
I also support Amendment 25, in the name of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch, which talks of not just halting the decline, but ensuring the abundance of species then increases.
I also commend Amendment 202, in the name of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch. It restates the need for a target to not just halt but reverse biodiversity decline. More importantly, it lays out the parameters of a target to be more rounded than simply species abundance—a true “State of nature target”. It adds to abundance and distribution of species
“the extent and condition of priority habitats”.
I too would like to see habitats as part of the target.
My colleagues in the green NGOs advise me that we should grab a species target while the going is good, and that a well-designed target in species abundance could, as the noble Lord, Lord Randall, said, serve as a proxy for the overall state of the natural environment. I want the Government to be more ambitious and adopt a habitat component to the target, as well. Species and habitats are mutually dependent. Without habitats, species are a bit like the old Morecambe and Wise joke about Eric’s piano playing; all the notes are there, but not necessarily in the right order. The habitats bring the assemblages of species together.
I hope the Minister will consider embracing the spirit of these amendments. As the Minister knows and regularly tells the House, the Government have launched a large range of initiatives which have the potential, if properly delivered and co-ordinated, to halt and reverse the decline of biodiversity. The Government should have the courage of their convictions and establish a much more ambitious and robust state-of-nature target.
The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Earl, Lord Devon.
My Lords, I rise to consider, as a number of other noble Lords have, the definition of species abundance, and to ask what such targets might mean for land management, particularly at a local level. I echo and endorse the excellent earlier comments of the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, and others, on Amendments 36 and 45, noting the unintended consequence of worthy targets. I remind noble Lords of my interests as listed in the register.
I particularly want to speak about the Exminster marshes, a SSSI Ramsar and RSPB nature reserve, traditionally famed and farmed for its early spring lamb—the earliest in England and a staple at Easter Sunday lunches before subjugation of New Zealand’s native ecosystems allowed us to have lamb year-round. The Exminster marshes are now renowned for overwintering wildfowl and waders, as well as ground-nesting birds and much else. I knew the marshes well as a child, which was not yet so long ago, and there is now nothing like the diversity of bird species there was when it was traditionally farmed, even if the abundance of certain species may have increased dramatically.
Since the RSPB acquired part of the marshes, the increase in birdlife has, for the most part, been seen in the non-native Canada goose, traditionally well controlled. Likewise, there has been an increase in the abundance of foxes, badgers and other marauding mammals, as noted by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, which has caused the RSPB to surround its field with electric fences to protect the few nesting peewits that remain. In the surrounding hills, the quantities of wild deer are now so high that young tree plantations all fail and Kenton’s allotments are surrounded by deer-proof fencing that makes them look like a prison camp. Meanwhile, the mitigation cost for one pair of cirl bunting on those same south Devon hills is set at £75,000—yet I have never even seen a cirl bunting.
Species abundance, as many noble Lords have commented, is very complex, and interventions to improve it can have dramatic and unforeseen consequences. Indeed, I have heard the Minister’s brother extolling the virtues of rewilding when launching the Devon environment fund last year. He spoke with particular passion on the introduction of carnivorous wild cats to Dartmoor. I hope he consults with the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, if he ever considers such a target, as the Dartmoor hill ponies would likely object to becoming their prey.
The Minister has already said there will be consultation and impact assessments completed before any targets are introduced, but could he please expand on the extent of that consultation? In various places in the Bill, notably in relation to local nature recovery, species conservation and protected site strategies, there are explicit consultation requirements set out. But nowhere do I see an obligation to consult with local land managers—the very people who will be most impacted by the targets and are most responsible for achieving them. Land use is a particularly local issue, as the noble Lord, Lord Curry, has explained. Each of our landscapes has been developed by local communities over centuries, for particular purposes sympathetic to that specific landscape and those who live and work within it. Centralised target setting, or target setting by national agencies alongside local planners, will not be sufficient.
I also note that the date for meeting the proposed species abundance target is December 2030. While I applaud the Government’s desire to set ambitious nature targets and be seen to be taking action now, I would note that this is only a year or two after the end of the agricultural transition period prescribed by the Agriculture Act. Therefore, at exactly the same time as farmers and land managers are wrestling with the largest upheaval in agriculture regulation in generations, they will be required also to meet as yet ill-defined species abundance targets about which they will not be consulted.
If we are not very careful, we will have dead ponies, no trees and wetlands full of Canada geese—until the badgers get their eggs, too. That is not nature recovery.
My Lords, I rise—metaphorically—to support Amendment 25. My support of this amendment is similar to my support of the target for the PM2.5 particulates in the last grouping. In essence, I believe that we have to be ambitious, so I also support Amendment 26 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. But, first, I thank the Minister —he seems to be getting a slightly hard time tonight—for coming up with his Amendment 22 in the first place. However, as others have said, I realise that there are no serious commitments within it as yet—but it is a start and we all hope that we can draw out some firmer detail as a result of this debate.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, I believe that just halting the decline of species—that is, a net zero loss of species—is not ambitious enough. We have lost too much of our biodiversity over recent decades. Our generation of land managers, including myself, has been caught napping on our watch. So I think we should be ambitious to positively put right our mistakes, particularly as many of the species which have declined have begun in recent years to level out. I think we should be encouraged by that fact to go for a truly positive turnaround.
Perhaps I can give a small snapshot of this issue—and I have to stress that it is only a small snapshot from a non-scientist. First, there is abundance change and distribution change, and the two results are not currently merged, which strikes me, as a complete amateur, as slightly strange. If a species in question is slightly declining in abundance where it has previously been measured in, say, Dorset, but is now really thriving and growing in Yorkshire, perhaps due to climate change, we ought to count that as a success and feed it into the statistics. But, as I say, I am not a scientist.
In terms of abundance change, in all four nations of the UK there are 2,890 priority species, which have seen a decline of 36% since 1970—that is big. But, sadly, the 670 species on the English list have gone down by approximately 50%, which is obviously worse. Of course, the results are variable: over this long-term period, 21% of species increased, but 63% showed a decline. The worst decline was among the moths, which make up 431 of the 670 species. That in itself is an issue: do we have the weighting of different species right? Should moths represent 64% of the species being measured? This is obviously a complicated matter, on which I am definitely not qualified to comment.
Some species—for example, bryophytes, lichens, pollinating insects and others—are now beginning to level off and indeed rise, possibly because of the warmer climate enabling species to expand their range, but most are still well below their 1970 stats. Birdlife is also beginning to level out. I notice that they seem to be flourishing around the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, and her place, if the birdsong accompanying her speech is anything to go by.
Farmland, woodland and wetland birds are still slightly declining, but seabirds and wintering waterbirds are showing early signs of recovery. The bat index of 10 species is also now very much on the way up. Butterflies have certainly recovered well in recent years but, as we know, their numbers fluctuate dramatically according to spring and summer temperatures. The latest figures we have on butterflies are for 2019, but I imagine that they boomed last year as well. In terms of plants, the declines in bog, wet heath, broadleaf woodland, hedges and lowland grassland are all now showing signs of levelling off.
So, as your Lordships can see, I would not go so far as to say that a turnaround has already started, but many of the species have long since reached their nadir. Therefore, a net growth in species abundance is not such an impossible dream for the Government to aim at if they focus hard on habitat restoration and good environmental management. Mind you, it all depends on where you set your baseline for recovery—that is, from when.
Of course, it is hard to forecast what will make a whole raft of species recover. We already have some clear success stories in individual species: the cirl bunting, which was just mentioned, bitterns, ladybird spiders, chalk-hill blues, greater horseshoe bats, et cetera. These are mostly habitat specialists and it is possible to predict what will happen if you restore their habitats, but it is harder to predict what will happen to the wider generality of species. However, it is my belief that we can make a difference if we work hard to create more local habitats both through ELMS and, in particular, through local nature recovery networks.
We can make this work only if every county and every special landscape—national parks and AONBs—really focus on what their local environment can do for this agenda. I support other noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Devon, in saying that it is really all about local input into this agenda, and we must focus on that. As I say, if we work hard at this and, in particular, use our field margins to soften the agricultural desert, we can make a big difference. If, for instance, in an area you could get 50% of farms to put 10% of their land into HLS schemes or the ELMS equivalent, I believe that you would see a massive and measurable turnaround.
Talking of measuring, I say that nowadays the monitoring of species abundance is becoming much more accurate. For instance, if you want to analyse the life in any watercourse—river, lake or pond—you no longer have to trap or catch that life; you just take samples of the water and analyse all the various DNA you find in it. It has proven to be very accurate and, I am sure, could certainly help the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, to measure life in the Itchen. Coming from Inverness, I have jokingly suggested that if only we had the DNA of the Loch Ness monster, in spite of Loch Ness being the largest quantity of freshwater in the UK, we could now definitively tell whether he—or maybe she—is there or not.
There is also now an E-Surveyor tool, which is an app that uses computer vision to classify plant species and report on the condition of habitats for pollinators. Farmer-led moth traps also allow the farmer to photograph what is there each morning, and artificial intelligence provides the identification results along with the condition of the farmland habitats. Citizen science has advanced a long way, with data capture tools for butterflies, birds and pollinators. It is my belief that, if we use all these tools at our disposal to give us instant feedback on what works or does not work, we can very soon calculate the best way to restore the right habitats in the right places for our biodiversity to flourish.
I repeat: let us be ambitious about our target-setting. Most species are already beginning to level out and, bearing in mind that we are entering a whole new agricultural world, and that the Bill introduces a whole new raft of boosts for nature—biodiversity gain, conservation covenants, local nature recovery strategies, et cetera—I firmly believe that we can turn this around sooner rather than later. I know that ELMS are still a few years away, and I realise that species abundance reporting is always two years behind the curve but, being an optimist, I would like to hope that we can achieve an overall positive turnaround by 2032. I am sure the Minister will be able to persuade his officials that, given the right focus, both across the nation and on a localised basis, this is definitely doable.
My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment 24, along with the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Jones of Whitchurch. I also support Amendments 25, 26, 27 and 202.
I was going to speak in some detail to Amendment 24 but the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, did such a brilliant job of introducing it that I do not need to repeat anything he said—he said it far better than I could. What I want to say is this: just over 20 years ago I wrote an article entitled “The second Silent Spring?” Those who follow the environmental literature will know that in the 1960s Rachel Carson wrote a book called Silent Spring, which was really the beginning of the environmental movement. She showed how pesticides, particularly DDT, were causing irreparable damage to wildlife. My article analysed how intensive farming practices have silenced the birds in our landscapes. We now understand that reasonably well; as I mentioned in an earlier debate, we have some good evidence on which to change farming practice.
Without Amendment 24—indeed, without going further than Amendment 24, as suggested in the other amendments in this group—I will be able to write an article in 10 years’ time, in the early 2030s, called “The third Silent Spring”, which will talk about how government inaction has left us without nature recovery.
Why is it urgent to act now? I will mention a few reasons; they have already been described in earlier debates. The Minister himself pointed out this afternoon that you cannot conjure up habitats overnight. If you need a habitat such as ancient woodland, lowland heath or marshland, you need years to restore those habitats. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, said, the species we are concerned about preserving and increasing depend on the habitats they live in.
Secondly, if the cause of decline has been pollution, it will take years for pollution to disappear from the environment and for us to find alternative insecticides or herbicides that are less damaging to wildlife.
Thirdly, as we heard from the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, among others, some species are already affected by the impacts of climate change. In the latest climate change risk assessment, published last week, risks to biodiversity and habitat from climate change are listed as one of the eight priority risks for action in the next two years. It estimates that more than a third of species are at risk of adverse effects of climate change. Unless we take action now to improve the condition of those species, they will disappear.
My final point in explaining why action is urgent now is that some species will be adversely affected by chance extreme events. For instance, the population of Dartford warblers in Surrey declined by 88% in 2009 because of a cold snap in the February, in spite of the creation of special protected areas of lowland heath. That emphasises that if we are to build resilience to future chance events, we have to act now and not dither and delay. A legally binding target will oblige the Government to come clean about what they mean by Amendment 22 and how they will deliver it, and will prevent further dither and delay while some species decline and disappear.
I have two more points. The noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle and Lady McIntosh, and the noble Earl, Lord Devon, among others, asked what the amendment actually means by a “species abundance target”. I am sure all noble Lords would agree that not all species are created equal. For instance, would it be counted as a success if the Government’s policies achieved a target of increasing the abundance of clothes moths, hair lice or food poisoning bacteria such as salmonella? Some people may think those are important species to increase the abundance of, but when people think of halting species’ decline or restoring nature they are surely thinking of a wider range of species—and probably none of those three species.
Amendments 26 and 27 try to provide a more precise characterisation. We have heard a number of suggestions. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, suggested, for example, that species at risk of decline or extinction be a possible starting point. The noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, suggested the species in the NGO State of Nature report. Another obvious alternative would be to include the 943 species and 56 habitats covered under Section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006.
I hope the Minister can shed a bit of light in his response on what sort of group of species will be included in the target. I also hope the target will be strengthened, as the amendment suggests. Can he also suggest how the expert group he referred to will combine these different species into a single metric? This will involve some weighting of their relative importance, as the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, mentioned a few minutes ago.
I have one final point. The Government should be explicit about how potential trade-offs, which my noble friend Lord Vaux of Harrowden referred to earlier, might be managed. Restoring a habitat for one priority species may result in loss of habitat for another. Species A may need more marsh habitat, while species B may need dry meadows. The supply of land in this country is very limited, so choices may well have to be made. I hope the Minister will tell us a bit about how this might be done.
In summary, while government Amendment 22 looks at first sight to be a fantastic commitment, the more you look at it, the more questions it raises. I very much hope, as other noble Lords have said, that the Government will take it away and revise it, to meet the concerns that have been raised about its current form.
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the Committee will now resume. I ask Members to respect social distancing.
I much appreciated and enjoyed the previous speeches and I think we have made a very good case for the amendments that propose to set targets. I speak in support of Amendment 202 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, which I believe is the most comprehensive of all the amendments as it takes in the vast scope of what we are collectively trying to do. Like many people, I applaud the Government for both the ELMS and the steps they have taken to start to even think about trying to quantify biodiversity and to set targets.
Biodiversity is, as we all know, fantastically difficult; its loss is as much of a threat to mankind as climate change, but it has only a fraction of the public profile. It is incredibly difficult because it is not a thing you can quantify like electricity or transport. It is complicated and messy but, at the end of the day, it is the thing we all care about. I have just a couple of points to make, as many others I wanted to make have already been raised.
The first is the food system which, despite the excellent recent contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Curry, is neglected across the Environment Bill. It is factually established that food contributes 30% to climate change. It is and has been the driver of biodiversity loss. While the noble Lord, Lord Curry, is absolutely right that no farmer wants a farm that is devoid of wildlife, if you go into certain areas of Norfolk or parts of England with really industrial farming, it is like being in a factory; it is not like being in the countryside.
It worries me that, throughout the Environment Bill, the question of what to do with food is being left at the door of the food strategy. I am an adviser on the food strategy and have seen a lot of what will come on 15 July. I assure the Committee that it is absolutely fantastic and has a huge section on the relationship between climate, biodiversity and the food system. But it still worries me that we do not have more on that in the body of the Bill.
I also support Amendment 202 because it makes the point that everyone must be responsible for this. I have talked about it before in this House, but the Knepp rewilding estate in Sussex is, at this moment, at threat of having 3,500 houses plonked on its perimeter. It is ironic because, just recently, Natural England—the Government’s own body—designated Knepp a national nature reserve. The Government have said in the 25-year environment plan that:
“New development will happen in the right places, delivering maximum economic benefit while taking into account the need to avoid environmental damage.”
Many noble Lords have made the point that we cannot just settle with what we have, we must increase it if we are to turn the tide and increase the amount of biodiversity. Knepp has done some extraordinary things: it has 2% of the country’s nightingales, an extraordinary quantity of purple emperor butterflies and has reintroduced storks, not to mention that you can go there and understand how the interaction of the grazer, browser and habitat really work.
It seems absolutely illogical that planning permission should be given to that estate. However, as Isabella Tree has said, it is a question of the odds, and the level is “build, build, build”. She said:
“As usual nature is shouldered out of the ring.”
For its local plan, Horsham District Council is expected to meet a staggering target of 1,200 new houses every year from 2019 until 2036. That is within one small council. Obviously we must have homes, but can we not have a little more thought?
It is worrying that we do not have enough joined-up thinking, because if we do not have that, all the gains that we make will come back and bite us. The great brilliance of the Dasgupta review is that it has looked across the board at the economic value of nature. If we undermine it at this early stage, in the year of the CBD and the COP, taking one of our “national treasures” of rewilding and wildlife, and, in effect, destroying the corridors around it that enable the animals to keep moving would be a deep irony.
My Lords, I thank the Minister, who is now in his place, for his introduction of the Government’s amendment on the state of nature target. As other noble Lords have said, expectations were high but a word that has been used in response in this Chamber by Members from right across the House is that there has been a level of “disappointment” in the resulting amendment.
I shall speak on Amendment 24, which I co-signed, and was ably introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Randall, but I want to give a nod to my noble friend Lord Chidgey and his championing tonight of chalk streams, and on many occasions. He is right to raise the issue and I am sure that when a target eventually appears, it will look to address the need to protect the creatures in our rivers and habitats. We are right to raise the issue tonight.
I also thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle and Lady Jones, for proposing targets that look not just to halt the decline but to improve the quality or our species. They made important points on which I hope the Government will reflect.
I was struck by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, when he said that the road to extinction was paved with good intentions. That is what we are talking about. We are already seeing extinctions of British species and while we do not quibble with the Government’s, indeed the Minister’s, intention to put our wildlife on a stronger footing for the future, we have to make sure that the footing is the strongest possible. It is clear that the state of nature target proposed in Amendment 22 is not that.
As I said, the noble Lord, Lord Randall, gave a brilliant exposition of what our amendment seeks to do and I am not going to tire the patience of the Committee by repeating it. I shall add just one point about why the target is important and it relates to the upcoming CBD conference in October. As the Minister will know, the committee that I chair, the House of Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee, is looking at the outcomes that we want to see from the CBD and what the Government need to do. I am grateful for the evidence that he gave to the committee last week.
Yesterday, we took evidence from a panel of four witnesses, ranging from the green groups to business representatives and economic experts. We had witnesses from the World Economic Forum, the RSPB, Unilever and the International Institute for Sustainable Development. We asked them what they wanted the Government to do to help ensure that we get the best possible outcome at the CBD in October. They were in agreement—the economists, the business representative, the green groups and the international sustainable development experts—that they wanted to see the Government leading from the front with a strong, legally binding target in domestic legislation in order to drive up other people’s and other countries’ ambition.
We know that this is important because of the climate change situation. This is a bottom-up target, not a top-down target, with countries coming together, being inspired by each other and levelling up, respecting the sovereign authority of individual countries working collectively. We need a strong domestic target in this piece of legislation which says to other countries “Come with us on this journey; come with global Britain and let’s leave the world in a better place.” The strongest possible target needs to be in the Bill. That is why Amendment 24 is critical, and why the Government need to act on it.
In conclusion, I pay tribute, as other noble Lords have done, to the work of the many Green charities, both large and small, right around the country which have mobilised the voice of people who are passionately concerned about species and want something done. These charities have done a great job and a service to our democracy in mobilising that support. The Government now need to listen, and I look forward to what the Minister has to say.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction and all noble Lords who have spoken so passionately and eloquently in this debate. I have added my name to Amendment 24 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall. As other noble Lords have said, he made such a compelling case that we do not need to repeat all his arguments. I will comment also on Amendments 25 and 202, standing in my name.
As I said at Second Reading, what set out to be a landmark Bill two years ago now seems to be behind the curve in content and ambition. Nowhere is this more obvious than in this debate. The truth is that the Government are running to catch up on this issue—and they still have some way to go.
Noble Lords have given a number of stark examples of the crisis we face in biodiversity decline. Reference has been made to the RSPB report, which describes a lost decade in the UK in which 41% of our species are declining and 10% are threatened with extinction. They include red squirrels—a particular passion of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh—water voles, ghost orchids and meadow clary. A third of wild bees and hoverflies have now been lost. A total of 97% of our wildflower meadows have gone since the 1930s. This crisis is caused by agricultural practices, pollution, urbanisation, habitat loss and climate change. It needs action now.
At the same time, globally, WWF’s Living Planet Report shows that we are losing forests and habitats at an alarming rate, with a species decline of 68%. The UK is adding to this problem through its huge consumer appetite for commodities, which is adding to global deforestation.
Meanwhile, despite all previous government commitments and targets, biodiversity decline has deteriorated further. As has been said, the Government have missed 17 out of the 20 agreed UN biodiversity targets. The Government’s progress report on the 25-year environment plan shows an alarming number of downward arrows for issues such as species abundance and the distribution of priority species. These are important for conserving biodiversity. It seems that all the trends are going in the wrong direction. Something has to change, and it has to change now.
So we are debating today the government amendment on their species abundance target. Of course, we begin by welcoming the target date of 31 December 2030. But, beyond that, it leaves much to be desired.
I will follow up on the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, at Second Reading, and which he raised again today. He asked for a definition of “species abundance”, which the Government now seem to favour. He and other noble Lords have raised this issue. I share that query, so can the Minister give a precise reason why this phrase was used? Will there be a clear definition of what it means in regulations or guidance? By what means can we be assured that proper metrics will be produced and that there will be proper measurement? Can you measure a phrase such as “species abundance”?
Furthermore, I hope the Minister, when he reflects on the wording of his amendment, can see how inadequate it really is, because I know he wants to do something about this decline. But what exactly does it mean to “further” the objective of halting the decline in abundance of species? How will “furthering” ever be measured? Will it be another hollow target with no substance to back it up? I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, that the Minister needs to toughen up these proposals, or live to regret it in the longer term.
So I hope the Minister can see the sense of our simple amendment to change the current intention of creating targets that
“further the objective of halting a decline”
to simply spell out that the Government will set targets that will “meet” the objective. It is a simple ask, but it is much clearer about its intent.
It is not enough to halt the decline when we know that the damage that has been done already to our environment. This is why we have tabled Amendment 25 to the Government’s amendment, which would halt and then reverse the decline in species abundance. As the noble Lord, Lord Randall, said, conservationists and all sorts of scientific experts are absolutely confident that a combination of reducing pressures on biodiversity and positive action on species recovery can indeed bend that curve so it goes upwards again. I agree very much with the point the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, made, which was that it is not just about setting the national targets; we can do so much locality by locality, habitat by habitat. Indeed, the ELMS programme has much to deliver on a local level. So we believe that this should be the ambition and intent of the Government, and that it would be hugely popular if it was carried through, as demonstrated by the enormous number of names now added to the public petition on this matter.
I also refer noble Lords to our Amendment 202, which sets out in detail a new “state of nature” clause. This encapsulates the ambition we ought to expect in a Bill of this importance—to bring our neglected landscapes and wildlife back to life. The amendment would set the deadline of 2030 to halt and then begin to reverse the loss of biodiversity. It requires the target to be set before Parliament within six months of the Bill being passed. It requires interim targets to be set. It covers the inclusion of both terrestrial and marine wildlife, and it flags the much-needed need to restore habitats. I thank my noble friend Lady Young for her support on this, and particularly for the birdsong in the background of her contribution. It gave all of us a bit of a lift in this rather dowdy environment. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for adding her support, particularly for that amendment.
While the noble Baroness was talking, she did also mention the problems of the Knepp estate. I do not know whether the Minister feels able to, but it would be really helpful if he would put something on record about these problems—which I know he will know about—of the proposed housing development, because that is a very precious site. If we cannot act to protect biodiverse environments such as that, what are we able to do? I hope the Minister can give some reassurance on this.
Our amendment is a much more ambitious programme than the one we have before us from the Government. It is hugely frustrating, given the number of recent government pledges which have been made but do not seem to be reflected here. Noble Lords have documented a number of them. For example, the Government have tabled their amendments since they have published their response to the Dasgupta report. That response says that the Government are committed to a “nature positive future”. Will the Minister say what that means, if it does not mean reversing the decline in biodiversity?
The response also says that the Bill will be amended to ensure that new national infrastructure projects will provide net gains for nature. This has now been tabled as Amendment 201A, and that is welcome too—but that amendment, too, has some limitations, which we will discuss when we get to that part of the Bill. Given this small flurry of recent amendments, I suggest to the Minister that it might have made more sense to consult on the wording—to consult stakeholders, perhaps, and even some of your Lordships, before these amendments were tabled, to ensure that they were fit for purpose and likely to have broad support.
The Government have also agreed to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030, as part of the G7 nature compact. Again, a number of noble Lords have referred to that. It seems odd that they are prepared to make all these statements in public, but are not prepared to follow them up in terms of the legislative programme. We are therefore interested to know where these commitments will land, if not in this Bill. How will they be reflected, in the Bill or elsewhere? Perhaps the Minister can clarify how all those commitments will be taken forward.
Obviously, if we do not take this opportunity to tie down those commitments through this Bill, our reputation will, as noble Lords have said, take some hammering at COP 15 and COP 26. The discrepancies will become all too apparent to the developing nations and other nations that we are hoping to impress. So I hope that the Minister will join the dots between the public declarations and what is in the Bill, and explain how the two fit together.
I said at the outset that the Government were running to catch up with the global pledges on environmental action, and with the expectation that those will have the targets and resources to match. I hope that the Minister has heard the frustration—and the unity, across the Chamber, about the fact that we need to be more ambitious. This is an issue that will not go away. I hope that if he is concerned to reverse the decline, but is anxious about how that can be done, he will meet us to discuss it. We have the evidence, and we have the people who can come forward and show how it can be done, to give him some confidence that we can meet those targets, put reversing biodiversity decline on the legislative programme, and make it happen. I hope that he will feel able to respond to those points.
I thank the noble Baroness, and my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge, for tabling these amendments. Before I respond to them, I must again apologise for not being in my seat at the start of the debate. I do not think I missed more than a few moments of my noble friend’s contribution, and I have been kept up to speed.
Noble Lords have highlighted the importance of setting targets for nature, and of course I share their view, as do my colleagues, on the importance of setting ambitious goals for biodiversity and addressing species decline. The facts speak for themselves, and numerous noble Lords have cited some of the bleaker facts. We know that we are in a period of extinctions that is almost unprecedented; it has been described as the sixth extinction experience. We are told by IPBES that about 1 million species face possible extinction—including, according to Kew Gardens, two of every five plant species. We are losing about 30 football fields’ worth of forest every single minute, and the devastation on land is mirrored by what is happening in the seas. No one can argue that this is not an emergency and a crisis.
I hope that noble Lords will agree that there is no disagreement about the nature of the crisis that we are facing, or that, logically, given everything that we know, this is the biggest concern we face as a species. It is hard to imagine anything that comes close. Interventions cannot be made, or targets set, in isolation so, as far as possible, we are trying, as I have explained on previous groupings, to take a system-based approach to setting the targets. We consider the targets collectively, and understand their interdependencies and how they work together, and this approach will mean that we can set targets greater than the sum of their parts.
The 2030 target for species abundance will therefore sit alongside numerous other legally binding targets in, and developed under, the Bill’s framework. The proposed objectives for these wider targets include improving the condition of our protected sites and restoring and improving the quality of habitats, all of which would improve the “state of nature”. I have spoken already about the importance of ensuring that our targets are based on sound evidence. That is no less the case for this target. Biodiversity is inherently complex and assessing the impact of policies and interventions aimed at recovering our biodiversity demands nothing less than a rigorous, evidence-based process, and that is the approach that this Government are taking.
I reassure the my noble Friend Lady McIntosh, that the significant improvement test—I am not sure which it is—applies to this target as well, which means that every five years the target, like other targets, will be reviewed. That test will assess—and it will be reported to Parliament—whether meeting legally binding targets alongside any other statutory and environmental targets would significantly improve the natural environment in England. The test will capture the breadth and amount of improvement to the whole of England’s natural environment and our new 2030 target will, of course, be captured by this test. The detail of the target, including the metric by which we will measure success, will be set following that evidence-led process. That will include seeking independent expert advice and there will be roles for stakeholders, Parliament and the public. It is really a very wide cross-section of society.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Randall, and the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, who both made powerful speeches, as an individual with a commitment to these issues but also as part of a team that share that commitment, I am committed to using absolutely every lever I can and whatever political capital I have to make sure that we deliver the strongest possible target at the second stage, one that genuinely can be said, even by people who are sceptical, to match the full scale of the crisis that all of us today in various ways have acknowledged.
Finally—not finally overall but finally in relation to that point—there is a strong case for ensuring that we do not jump the gun with this target, and that we align it as much as we can with our international commitments under the new global framework for biodiversity. We hope and expect that to be agreed at the CBD’s 15th Conference of the Parties, if things go to plan, just before we host COP here. I think we are probably working harder than any other country to deliver the maximum possible ambition at that COP. We have been engaging in diplomacy on an almost unprecedented scale, trying to get countries to step up and make similar commitments to those that we have been making.
The noble Friend Lord Caithness, asked whether it was correct that 21% of our land would have to shift from agriculture to bioenergy and trees. That is a figure —it is not a made-up figure, but it is not a government policy. The simple truth is that nature enhancement, biodiversity recovery and agriculture are not mutually exclusive. Yes, it is the case that unsustainable agriculture, as the noble Lord, Lord Curry, pointed out, incentivised through the destructive common agriculture policy, is responsible for much of the denuding of nature that we have seen over recent decades. It is not the case that agriculture is necessarily unsustainable. There are plenty of examples of farms where food is produced and nature is enhanced. Our job is to reconcile the two, and I hope the new system of environmental land management will do that.
Secondly, there is a lot of marginal land which is not much use to agriculture but which could be regenerated, such as land either side of our waterways—not all of it is marginal but much of it is—where we are creating an incentive to plant or naturally regenerate, whatever is most appropriate, to try to create a nature corridor linking up the entire country. That will not take food out of production. There are also highly unproductive areas that are grazed—overgrazed in some cases—by sheep, where the landowner or the small farmer will have a direct incentive through the new ELM scheme to earn money by delivering public goods, by doing things that the market does not currently recognise. There is huge potential there.
In response to my noble friend, our national parks, as many people have noted, do not have the kind of species abundance that we would like. The New Forest, for example, is one of the most beautiful environments on earth but it is massively overgrazed. There are things that we need to do in order to change the incentives. If the incentive today is that you pay £400 or thereabouts for a head of cattle if they are grazed in the New Forest, then of course there are going to be lots of cattle in the New Forest overgrazing. The same is true of ponies, whose numbers have soared to unsustainable levels.
I acknowledge my noble friend’s comment about the bugs on his windscreen. I want to take this opportunity to commend Buglife on the development of the Bugs Matter app to measure the increase in bug life in this country. I encourage everyone to download it and undertake what Buglife calls a splatter survey between now and the end of August; perhaps the noble Lord can retrospectively take part in it. In addition to that, I reassure noble Lords that we are doing everything we can to bend the curve of insect decline, which is critical to our future and to the sustainability of this country.
My noble friend Lord Caithness and numerous other noble Lords raised the issue of predators. He made a very good point, and I will not counter anything that he said because it was correct. It is an important consideration if we want to enhance biodiversity: we need to recognise that this country is not in a natural state—we do not have the predators that we had thousands of years ago—and therefore there is clearly a role for control, a point made by the noble Earl, Lord Devon. There is the argument that we are never going to achieve the kind of balance that existed in this country 10,000 years ago and it would be absurd to pretend that we could, but the reintroduction of certain species is already having an impact. The pine marten is having a huge impact on the grey squirrel population in some areas of Ireland, and I hope we can emulate that here. There is evidence that the very recently released white-tailed eagles on the west coast of Scotland are consuming vast numbers of foxes; I believe that one nesting site had something like—I hope I am not exaggerating here—30 fox pelts underneath it. So there is a potential solution there, not a complete one but a partial one.
The noble Earl, Lord Devon, talked about big cats being released on Dartmoor, an idea that he says my brother mentioned at some event they were both at. In fact, he was recommending releasing the native wildcat. I absolutely assure the noble Earl that wildcats do not eat ponies. They eat rodents, and they might stretch to a rabbit if they are feeling very brave, but there is nothing to fear—they will not eat him or his ponies.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, gave a typically powerful speech on what is undoubtedly the most important issue that we face. I understand her concern that the targets that have been discussed, including those of the NGOs and even those in the amendments here, acknowledge and accept that there will be an element of decline. That is inevitable. It is an appalling thing to legislate for decline, but decline is happening. We are on a downward trajectory both here and elsewhere in the world. That is why our challenge and our objective is to bend that curve. I hope we can do so very soon but there is a bit of bending to be done, and until that curve has been bent we will continue to see decline. That is why—to her point—benchmarking matters so much. What we do not want to see is massive decline over the next eight years and then in eight years’ time we still meet the target, having bent that curve.
I was asked by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Boycott and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, about Knepp. I have gone on the record both here and in other fora to say that it is one of the most extraordinary rewilding sites in Europe, and it is probably our number one rewilding site in this country. We in Defra are learning an enormous amount from the experience of Knepp. So, yes, it would be an absolute tragedy if that work were curtailed by inappropriate or clumsy development or indeed overdevelopment. I have already made that point and I very much hope that, whatever developments take place in, around or near Knepp, they are done in such a way that they do not interfere with that work. That is not something that I can absolutely guarantee because it is not within my remit, but I sincerely hope it is the case.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh discussed the global context and the global challenge. She is right: not one country met the Aichi targets. That is why we are engaging in so much CBD diplomacy; why we are pushing for the biggest possible targets; why we led the 30x30 campaign to protect 30% of the world’s land and ocean by 2030, to which 80-plus countries signed up; why we are pushing more than any other country for the mechanisms to hold Governments to account for the targets, to try to avoid a situation where the next round are missed as the Aichi targets were missed; why we are pushing for more finance on nature; why we are pushing for the multilateral development banks to mainstream nature through their portfolios; why we are pushing for countries to commit with us to breaking the link between commodity production and illegal destruction; and why we are pushing for subsidy reform. Our international nature agenda is radical and ambitious, and we are seeing progress. Amazingly, countries that we least expected to join us are joining us, so we are beginning to see progress.
Before I conclude, I want to acknowledge the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who questioned why we are focusing on species rather than habitats, a point also made subtly by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. There has been a lot of debate in this area. I have had debates within Defra and with NGOs to try to figure out the best approach. It is not an absolute science, but the view is that if you focus on species, you can measure much more easily. If you focus on the right species, that necessarily means improving habitats, because without habitat, you do not have species. Obviously, if our targets were rats, crows and such things, that would not apply, but we will choose the right species, the indicator species, and that means that we will end up with the habitat improvements that we are all so desperate to see.
We are leading the way with our 2030 species target, which will help to demonstrate our commitment to ambitious domestic action and, we hope, will encourage international partners to make similarly ambitious commitments. Regarding the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, the target will cover a wide range of species. I just mentioned the point about habitats. The species target, if we get the right species, will deliver recovered habitats, including the chalk streams of which the noble Lord spoke so admiringly—and rightly so.
It is important that we get this right, it is important that we do not rush or guess, so I thank noble Lords for their contributions. I think we are all pretty much starting from the same place and wanting the same outcome, even if we are arguing about the process. I hope noble Lords will withdraw and not move their amendments and support the inclusion of this target in the Bill.
My Lords, I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Neville-Rolfe and Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, so I now call the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green.
My Lords, I apologise for using this vehicle to make a contribution; I had intended to put my name to these amendments. As I explained to the EU Environment Sub-Committee, ably chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, my knowledge of farming was gained mainly from listening to “The Archers”, watching “Countryfile” and growing a bit of fruit and veg in my garden. However, those programmes educated me considerably, and as I look around the Chamber and on the screens, I see that most of our committee seem to be present in this debate.
I do not dispute the genuine concern of the noble Lord, Lord Randall. However, rather like the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, I feel that the indefatigability of the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett and Lady Jones, cannot be denied; it is the hyperbole and, sometimes, the extrapolation and the certitude that give me concern. As someone once said, “Think you in your bowels you could be mistaken?”
Malthus predicted the end of the world through population explosion, which proved wrong. The Chinese experience to control their population is now taking an about-turn. Never underestimate the ability of the human species to react—not always in the right ways. During the pandemic, surely the vaccine development has shown what we can do globally when we work collaboratively. Innovation will play an important part in combating species extinction.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for reminding us of that seminal work by Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, and his warning of a third silent spring. Before I come back to that, the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, accused me of optimism: damned with faint praise, in this debate. Actually, I wanted him to give a holistic analysis of the steps the Government were taking to combat air pollution—which, fortunately, he did.
To return to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and his warning of a third silent spring—
I will do in a minute. I just want to make this point. Surely the fact is that we have changed farming considerably: 30,000 miles of hedgerow are not being destroyed, fertilisers are being more accurately applied and there is no tilling.
The Minister has answered most of my concerns. My question is: does he feel confident that the totality of the Government’s approach, whether it is ELMS or the other policies, will indeed enable us to set what he said will be evidence-based targets?
My Lords, I am sorry that I was unable to be present at Second Reading. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, for counselling us to take care on these amendments.
I have two questions on the new target in Amendment 22, with a view to informing discussion on Report. First, it seems that we should be concerned about the loss of species and biodiversity in the aggregate and not in any specific catchment. A balance must be struck. The EU-based regulations, which this Bill replaces, made it possible for planning proposals, for a hospital or for homes, for example, to be questioned under planning law in lengthy and expensive inquiries and even turned down if there was a species issue. If there were a loss of some bats or toads or orchids in a certain area, a proposal could be blocked, even if the species was abundant elsewhere in the UK or in a neighbouring catchment. Obviously, that can slow down important and beneficial investment of the kind promised in our manifesto—and the accompanying planting of trees, new flora and so on. Can my noble friend the Minister reassure me on this issue of specific catchments versus overall targets?
Secondly, picking up on something that the noble Lord, Lord Vaux of Harrowden, has been saying, it is important to have an eye to cost benefit. Will there be an impact assessment or cost-benefit analysis of the plans the Minister is making for the targets or sub-targets? I would argue that this could be very helpful to him in reaching conclusions on the targets that are set in any regulations, and on the arrangements for enforcing them.
On the second point, yes, when it comes to the individual steps that would be taken by the Government to achieve those targets, they will be fully costed. That applies across the board, whether they are Defra steps or MHCLG.
On the first point, we want a sensible approach. We are choosing species for the targets because, as I said earlier, if we choose the correct indicator species that tells a story about the health of the wider environment. This is slightly different to the point that my noble friend was making, but we also want to move away from a “computer says no” planning approach which is not based on common sense. That is why there are powers in the Bill allowing us to tweak and reform the habitats directive, for example, but I assure the House that the absolute intention there is that whatever changes are made to speed the process up, the outcome for the environment will be at least as good as it currently is under those rules. The whole purpose is to deal with the problems that she has just identified.
May I remind noble Lords that questions after the Minister are short questions for elucidation.
My Lords, the Minister suggested that my proposed amendments and my approach were perhaps too ambitious, and that bending the curve was very difficult. He also said that interventions cannot be made in isolation, but does he agree that over decades and centuries, we have made many interventions that could be stopped?
I refer specifically to the issue of predators. The noble Earls, Lord Devon and Lord Caithness, the noble Lord, Lord Curry, and the Minister, referred to the problem of predators and the impact on populations of waders, for example. Until at least 2019, one of the interventions being made was the release of 4 million captive reared pheasants and 9 million red-legged partridges, which, inevitably, is essentially laying out a feast for predators. Stopping that intervention would have an immediate and strong impact; indeed, Wild Justice has already had such an impact.
Again, there is also No Mow May, a hashtag that many may be aware of. I think it was the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, who referred to all the insects hitting the windscreen. We are seeing big changes happening already, so did—
Of course, there are interventions which are taking us in the wrong direction and could be stopped. That is my point about subsidies. It is a classic example: we spend billions of pounds incentivising destruction, and we could spend the same amount of money incentivising renewal. That is what we are trying to do internationally. In principle, I agree with the noble Baroness: dealing with damaging interventions should absolutely be part of this.
On her first point about bending the curve, it is difficult —although that was not the point I was making. My point is that the curve needs to be bent, and it will not happen today or tomorrow. There will be a point between now and the next eight years or so when, I hope, we will have bent the curve. Until we have done that, there will be more continued decline. That is the nature of the journey we are on; it is an unfortunate and tragic thing. But we are trying to bend that curve. That means accepting and acknowledging that, in the meantime, the curve continues to go down until it has been bent. We just need to bend it as quickly as possible.
I thank all noble Lords who contributed to the debate on Amendment 23. First, I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, that whether she sees me or not in the House, much of my parliamentary work takes place with developing democracies, mainly in Africa. That is a long shout from here and tends to be out of the gaze of Westminster.
I thank the Minister for his comments. I am a little unsure and uncertain about how committed the Government are to recognising the importance of indicator species in chalk streams. Some people say that England’s chalk streams are the equivalent of the Okavango Delta—if you know what that is, you will know how important it is. Nevertheless, we will no doubt return to this on Report, so for now I would like to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 23 withdrawn.
Amendments 24 to 27 not moved.
Amendment 22 agreed.
Amendments 28 to 32 not moved.
Clause 3: Environmental targets: process
33: Clause 3, page 2, line 34, leave out “section 1 or 2” and insert “sections 1 to (Environmental targets: species abundance)”
Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanatory statement for new Clause (Environmental targets: species abundance).
Amendment 33 agreed.
Amendment 34 not moved.
35: Clause 3, page 2, line 37, leave out “section 1 or 2” and insert “sections 1 to (Environmental targets: species abundance)”
Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanatory statement for new Clause (Environmental targets: species abundance).
Amendment 35 agreed.
Amendment 36 not moved.
37: Clause 3, page 2, line 40, leave out “section 1 or 2” and insert “sections 1 to (Environmental targets: species abundance)”
Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanatory statement for new Clause (Environmental targets: species abundance).
Amendment 37 agreed.
Amendment 38 not moved.
Amendments 39 to 41
39: Clause 3, page 3, line 6, leave out “section 1 or 2” and insert “sections 1 to (Environmental targets: species abundance)”
Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanatory statement for new Clause (Environmental targets: species abundance).
40: Clause 3, page 3, line 17, leave out “section 1 or 2” and insert “sections 1 to (Environmental targets: species abundance)”
Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanatory statement for new Clause (Environmental targets: species abundance).
41: Clause 3, page 3, line 21, at end insert “and
(c) the species abundance target,”Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanatory statement for new Clause (Environmental targets: species abundance).
Amendments 39 to 41 agreed.
Amendments 41A and 41B not moved.
Clause 3, as amended, agreed.
Clause 4: Environmental targets: effect
42: Clause 4, page 3, line 26, at end insert “, and
(c) the species abundance target set under section (Environmental targets: species abundance) is met.”Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanatory statement for new Clause (Environmental targets: species abundance).
Amendment 42 agreed.
Amendment 43 not moved.
Clause 4, as amended, agreed.
Clause 5: Environmental targets: reporting duties
44: Clause 5, page 3, line 28, leave out “or 2” and insert “, 2 or (Environmental targets: species abundance)”
Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanatory statement for new Clause (Environmental targets: species abundance).
Amendment 44 agreed.
Amendment 45 not moved.
Clause 5, as amended, agreed.
Clause 6: Environmental targets: review
Amendments 46 and 47
46: Clause 6, page 4, line 14, leave out from “under” to “in” in line 15 and insert “sections 1 to (Environmental targets: species abundance)”
Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanatory statement for new Clause (Environmental targets: species abundance).
47: Clause 6, page 4, line 19, leave out “and 2” and insert “to (Environmental targets: species abundance)”
Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanatory statement for new Clause (Environmental targets: species abundance).
Amendments 46 and 47 agreed.
Amendments 48 to 50 not moved.
51: Clause 6, page 4, line 29, leave out “section 1 and 2” and insert “sections 1 to (Environmental targets: species abundance)”
Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanatory statement for new Clause (Environmental targets: species abundance).
Amendment 51 agreed.
Clause 6, as amended, agreed.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 52. Anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in the group to a Division must make that clear in debate.
Clause 7: Environmental improvement plans
52: Clause 7, page 5, line 11, leave out subsection (4) and insert—
“(4) An environmental improvement plan must include, as a minimum—(a) measures which, taken together, are likely to achieve any targets set under section 1 or 2 and will ensure that the next interim targets included in the plan are met,(b) measures that each relevant central government department must carry out,(c) measures to protect sensitive and vulnerable population groups (including children, older people, people with chronic illnesses and outdoor and transport workers) from the health impacts of pollution,(d) a timetable for adoption, implementation and review of the chosen measures, and the authorities responsible for their delivery,(e) an analysis of the options considered and their estimated impact on delivering progress against the relevant targets, and(f) measures to minimise, or where possible eliminate, the harmful impacts of pollution on human health and the environment.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment strengthens environmental improvement plans by introducing a number of minimum requirements, including (but not limited to) ensuring a link between proposed measures and targets established under this Bill.
My Lords, Amendment 52 is in the name of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and is supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Randall of Uxbridge. I would also like to express our support for Amendments 53 and 55.
Amendment 52 strengthens the environmental improvement plans by introducing a number of minimum requirements. It seeks to provide clear content requirements for each EIP, including an analysis of how specific measures will contribute to relevant targets, timetables for the adoption, implementation and review of each measure, and allocations for the delivery of each measure. It also seeks to bridge the narrative gap in the Bill by ensuring that the measures in this clause relate back to the targets at its beginning, thus providing a crucial link between targets and EIPs as a delivery mechanism.
Those targets are very important in relation to any environmental improvement plans that will come out of the Bill. Such plans are necessary to provide the comprehensive long-term vision that will guide legislation and policy to deliver better protection and the enhancement of our environment. If we have an environmental improvement plan that does not relate to those targets, there is a risk that it will be nothing more than an abstract, descriptive narrative, with meaningful actions backloaded towards the end of each 15-year period that it covers.
Clause 7 also sets out requirements for the content of EIPs. We consider that these need to be strengthened to ensure that all EIPs include timebound, specific measures which are more explicitly linked to the delivery of long-term targets and the interim milestones.
The Bill describes the process by which an environmental improvement plan can be developed and put in place, but then says that an environmental improvement plan is, in effect, already in existence. A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment is specifically referred to as being the present environmental improvement plan. That document clearly demonstrates why we believe that Amendment 52 is necessary. Among other things, the 25-year plan does not address itself to the structure of the Environment Bill. It says a lot of very interesting things but is essentially a narrative document, containing long descriptive passages, with hundreds of possible actions, many of which are difficult to measure. There is a limited attempt to quantify the benefits of actions and to prioritise the most environmentally effective, or to demonstrate that they will lead to particular environmental outcomes. Both updates on the delivery of the current EIP and future plans need to be much more focused on actions and benefits if they are to drive a significant improvement in our natural environment.
Greener UK has suggested that EIPs should be more like plans to achieve the carbon budgets, as set out in the Climate Change Act 2008, or plans to achieve air quality objectives, as set out in the Air Quality Standards Regulations 2010. Both of those require clear plans and steps to meet targets. Can the Minister say why this approach has not been taken for EIPs? Why does he believe it is not necessary to make the link between EIPs and the targets at its start? This amendment comprehensively makes those connections and introduces important minimum requirements that are necessary if the EIPs are really to make a difference. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have Amendment 53 in this group, which is, in effect, another way of tightening the wording with regard to the requirements on the Government to report on the success or otherwise of meeting the environmental improvement plans. I strongly support Amendment 52, which the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, introduced so well just now, and which I co-signed, and Amendment 55, from the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay.
As it stands in the wording at the moment, the Government basically have to identify “steps” in the environmental improvement plans to meet their targets. That word is incredibly vague. I could take a step, but it would not be very clear what it is. If they so wished, the Government could argue that a step would, for example, be to set up an advisory group or working group. It is not a concrete, clearly defined action. My very strong feeling is that we should borrow the wording in the Climate Change Act, which says very clearly that the Government have to “prepare such proposals and policies”. That is clear and specific, and those are measurable. To my mind, the term “steps” is insufficient. In this House, we know that words matter.
I am not trying to impugn the Government’s motives; I think it is just an oversight that the word was chosen. But if we are to enable the OEP to do the job we need it to do—to hold the Government to account—the wording in the legislation has to enable it to do that as easily as possible. I strongly believe that asking the Government to outline their policies and proposals, as opposed to just “steps”, would enable the OEP to do its job, which we know the Government want it to do, as undoubtedly does this Committee. In summing up, I ask the Minister to make the case clearly for why he thinks the word “steps” will enable the OEP to do the job we need it to do.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 55 in my name. In doing so, I shall express my support for Amendments 52 and 53.
The purpose of Amendment 55 is to give investors greater clarity and confidence about their potential or expected role and contribution. For businesses to be able to play their full part in delivering future environmental objectives, they need a clear line of sight that covers both national targets and a single delivery plan that sets out the policies and activities needed to achieve those targets. They need to know not only what needs to be achieved but, crucially, how and when implementing measures will be put in place. That knowledge, line of sight and predictability will give businesses the greater degree of confidence and certainty that they need to plan for the future and, more importantly, to invest in the future. Amendment 55 seeks to achieve this by making explicit that environmental improvement plans must include the policies and actions that the Government intend to take to enable long-term environmental targets to be met.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, and indeed to build slightly on his points. I speak particularly in favour of Amendment 52, to which I would have attached my name had there been space. I note the strong cross-party support for it. The other amendments in this group also take us in the right direction.
What the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, said about steps brings us to the core of the problem, and what the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, was just saying reflects what I heard this morning at an event for the Westminster Forum on net zero, climate change and the food, drink and agriculture industries. From the farmers, land managers and the people who advise them, I heard a real sense of confusion and lack of direction—a feeling like we are being pushed in all these directions and asked to do lots of different things, but no one is giving us a route. It is a step here and a step there, as the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, said.
I believe that Amendment 52 in particular, which explicitly links time-bound measures to the delivery of long-term targets, is truly essential if we are to give people the clarity they need to make decisions about planting trees, managing land and all the things they have to do today, tomorrow, next week or next year. That is entirely lacking at the moment.
The noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, have all withdrawn from this debate, so I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone.