Committee (5th Day)
Relevant documents: 3rd Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 4th Report from the Constitution Committee
Schedule 8: Deposit schemes
Debate on Amendment 133 resumed.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, even after a five-day interval and in a debate truncated by a perhaps now unnecessary withdrawal of a number of noble Lords. For the convenience of the Committee, I remind everyone that we are speaking about amendments that are all about the long-awaited and much-delayed bottle deposit scheme for England, an area in which we are notably world leading in foot dragging.
I shall give a few statistics. Ten other countries in Europe are operating these schemes, with bottle-recycling success rates running from an outstanding 98.5% in Germany, where of course they have had lots of practice since they started in 2003. Even down at the bottom of the pack, Estonia has a very respectable—certainly by our standards—83.7% bottle return rate. That is why Amendment 133, which sets a deadline for implementation, is so important, and I would have attached my name to it had there been space. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that it should be earlier still; it could have been delivered years ago, but January 2023 is practical. It certainly should not be left outside the term of this current Government—assuming of course that they continue for that long.
I want to speak in support of all the amendments in this group, with the partial exception of Amendment 134B, which would exempt small brewers. That is not because I do not think we need to consider such small producers, but rather that Amendment 134A in the names of the same noble Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is broader and more useful, covering all kinds of producers. There clearly needs to be some easy and simple way for start-up businesses, such as brewers or soft drink or juice producers, to access the scheme. One route might be to require larger companies to allow smaller companies to piggyback on their schemes.
I will focus my contribution on Amendment 134, which appears in my name. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for her expression of support for the amendment. As with the earlier amendment on nappies, I declare the support from the aluminium industry association, Alupro, in preparing and discussing this amendment. I am sure that many noble Lords are aware that, for all the UK’s inadequate performance on recycling, it does relatively well in recycling aluminium compared to other materials, for reasons including the value of the material, with aluminium packaging recycling reaching its highest ever rate in 2020, with 68% of the material placed on the market being recycled. That includes 82% of all aluminium beverage cans. Of course, this is a material that can be recycled indefinitely, unlike most plastic.
We should not forget that the best option, at the top of the waste pyramid, is to reduce packaging materials and have no container at all, followed then by reusing packaging. But for recycling, aluminium is a good choice. Alupro put it to me—and I see the force of the argument—that a scheme with a flat deposit amount for all containers, regardless of the size of the material, would lead to switching from multipacks of aluminium cans to larger format plastic bottles, due to the cumulative cost of the deposit fee on multipacks. For example, a 20p flat deposit fee would add £4.80 to a 24-pack of cans, yet the deposit fee for the same volume of liquid in four plastic bottles would be just 80p. A 2019 poll of consumers found that a 20p flat deposit fee would encourage more than 60% of individuals to switch to large PET bottles at the expense of aluminium.
Alupro commissioned the research consultancy London Economics to look at consumer behaviour and the differential impacts of a flat or variable rate scheme. It found that the variable rate, as used in the successful Nordic schemes, would deliver significantly higher return rates in the first two years, while a flat-rate deposit would increase the amount of plastic sold and could lead to higher amounts of product wastage and increased portion sizes, which has an obvious impact on public health. It would also have a dramatic impact on the aluminium packaging sector, meaning up to 4.7 billion fewer cans, a very significant loss of revenue, and somewhere between 24% to 73% reduction in demand for aluminium cans in large multipacks. This is an industry with a case, and the practical sense of the bottle deposit varying according to the size of container is evident. Having seen such variable schemes in operation in various parts of Europe, with the scanning of bar-codes expected anyway to be part of the scheme, I think it presents no practical difficulties.
I know that the Minister, in the letter that he kindly sent to noble Lords on Friday afternoon, said—I paraphrase—“Let’s leave it to regulation and the implementation stage”. But why? Why not set out the basic ground rules now, in the Bill, to make sure that the scheme we get is fit for purpose and to give manufacturers time to prepare for implementation of the scheme as speedily as possible? That is what the very important Amendment 133, with which we started this group, seeks to attain.
My Lords, I declare my interests as stated in the register. I am pleased, as always, to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, although I regret that the mover of the lead amendment, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, spoke five days ago; I had to look up Hansard to remember what she said. I have some sympathy with her Amendment 133, and agree that deposit return schemes should be introduced as soon as possible. I also believe that it is crucially important to get them right. It is worrying that Scotland has rushed ahead with its own scheme in an area where we definitely need UK-wide compatibility.
I support Amendment 133A in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, and others, that the scheme should, at a minimum, apply to PET, glass, aluminium and steel containers of volumes under 3 litres. I was a non-executive director of Lotte Chemical, at Wilton, on Teesside, for nine years, until the end of 2019, when the company was taken over by Alpek Polyester. It holds a 70% to 75% market share in the UK and Ireland as the leading supplier of polyethylene terephthalate. The plastics tax is likely to disadvantage PET producers in favour of glass and aluminium producers, with the unintended consequence that producers will switch from PET to glass and aluminium containers, which have a carbon footprint four or five times higher than PET.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, proposed exemptions from the plastics tax in her Amendment 141. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, expressed concern that the deposit return scheme might lead producers to switch from aluminium or glass to plastics. My concern is the reverse: besides the much lower carbon footprint associated with PET, does the noble Baroness really want to go back to the days when we cut our feet on discarded glass bottles on the beach?
The answer is not to penalise PET but to introduce a deposit return scheme as good as Germany’s, where 98% of PET bottles are collected for recycling. We have a long way to go. Germany is not often held up as an example of a unitary state with centralised powers, but the successful German deposit return scheme is a national scheme applied in all the Länder identically. If the United Kingdom is to prosper and global Britain is to succeed as we expect and hope, it follows that the leaders of our devolved authorities might be less impatient and more willing to work together to agree the details of one national scheme across the whole United Kingdom.
I will speak to Amendments 134A, 134B and 138A tabled in my name and the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for whose support I am most grateful. These amendments take account of the needs of small producers, including small brewers, within the proposed deposit return scheme and recognise that the proposed measures will introduce significant, disproportionate costs and regulatory burdens for small businesses. I strongly support a deposit scheme such as that proposed in the Bill in principle, because it would help to tackle our waste and littering problems, but I ask my noble friend, is he mindful of the burdens on small businesses introduced by the Bill that may make it difficult for them to compete against much larger producers?
Many small brewers have had great difficulties surviving through the pandemic. With pubs closed, the only way that they could keep their products on sale has been to sell them in bottles and cans. It is very expensive for small brewers to make the necessary changes to packaging and labelling. It is likely that the four large brewers, which hold 88% of the beer market, will absorb the cost within their profit margin, thereby driving small challengers and craft beer manufacturers out of the market. Besides this, the costs and difficulties of participation in the scheme seem disproportionate for small brewers.
The fact that Scotland is ahead of the rest of the country is another problem. Brewers sell beer through wholesalers that sell in both England and Scotland. The brewers do not know how much beer their wholesalers sell in each part of the UK, yet the Scottish Government, in the operation of their scheme, have suggested that brewers will have to provide vast swathes of information that they do not currently possess. It is important that any deposit scheme adopted is completely interoperable with the Scottish one. Can my noble friend confirm that we will have, in effect, an identical scheme operating across the whole country? Is it not a problem that the Scottish scheme does not require recyclable products to be clearly labelled as such? There may well be unintended consequences if the schemes are not completely aligned.
Can my noble friend also say whether the Government accept the need for public education about the new scheme, which will be necessary to change public behaviour towards recycling? Does he agree that there is at least a strong case for exempting small breweries producing less than 900,000 pints a year from the new requirements? Indeed, the Government’s better regulation framework states that the default position
“is to exempt small and micro-businesses from … new regulatory”
requirements. While the Government have proposed in the recent consultation to allow small retailers to apply for exemptions under the deposit schemes, the same exception has not been extended to small producers.
In both the extended producer responsibility and the plastic packaging tax, the Government have included a de minimis threshold. In other areas, such as nutritional information, those with fewer than 10 full-time equivalent staff and a turnover of below £2 million are exempt. Therefore, I have tabled these amendments and ask my noble friend to consider how the Bill will support our small producers in a similar way to small retailers.
Under the proposed deposit scheme, small producers will have to redesign their labels to incorporate bar codes and logos at significant cost. They will have to pay a producer fee per container, which could cost the beer industry alone £200 million a year—the equivalent of a 6% increase in beer duty. They will have to collect and provide a great deal of additional information, which could lead to a delay of six weeks or more before they can bring new products to market and will impact innovative small brewers that produce seasonal and one-off beers.
Amendment 134A would allow the DRS to take account of the size of the producer when setting its fees and scope, allowing the Government to vary the scheme accordingly. Amendment 134B would exempt the smallest brewers, which produce less than 5,000 hectolitres a year—the equivalent of 900,000 pints, or enough beer to serve 15 community pubs. This is in line with the Government’s current small brewers relief scheme, which allows small brewers to pay a proportionate amount of duty to the Treasury. This Bill will create a scheme administrator called the deposit management organisation, which would be responsible for the operation of the DRS. Amendment 138A would provide a safeguard to hold this body to account for how it treats and takes account of small producers.
I hope that my noble friend can consider and address the issues raised in these amendments.
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and the noble Lords, Lord Berkeley and Lord Lucas, have withdrawn, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Carrington.
My Lords, I add my support to Amendment 134 proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. She has put the case for a variable rate dependent on container size most forcefully. There is nothing I can add without repetition, so I would like the Minister to comment on the reason given by the Minister, Rebecca Pow, in the other place. When she gave evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee, Rebecca Pow, who is the Minister responsible for the DRS, said that the department was inclined to introduce a variable rate of deposit.
However, Defra currently wants to leave it to the scheme administrator to make the ultimate decision. The concern is that the administrator may not assess the need for a variable deposit independently and impartially, as it will be run by the industry itself, with all its vested interest to take into account. Can the Minister assure us of the independence of the administrator and how the appointment process for the administrator will work? A variable rate should be mandated in the legislation at this stage to avoid these potential problems.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 133A, to which I have put my name, which was tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and is also supported by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. This amendment is about what is known as an all-in deposit scheme, which means it catches as many items as possible. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, is absolutely right that our priority ought to be to reduce waste in the first place and so, if we are going to reduce waste, we need a comprehensive deposit scheme. We must stand back and look at what we are trying to do, which is to protect the environment. The bigger and wider the deposit scheme, the more chance we have of keeping the environment in the state in which we would like it to be.
However, I know this causes an awful lot of worry for those who have set up return or deposit schemes at the moment, have invested money in them and do not want to change. It is the nature of industry that there will always be vested interests, but I hope that my noble friend will stand back from them and say that this is needed in the interests of the environment.
My noble friend Lord Trenchard rightly mentioned that any scheme must be pretty much the same across the whole United Kingdom. However, I challenge him on one thing. He said that Scotland had rushed ahead; no, I think that England is the laggard. Why should Scotland have to wait until England finally gets its house in order and its act together? Scotland has once again led the way, and it is time that England got on and followed suit.
Getting a UK comprehensive plan will be very important. There was a consultation on an all-in deposit scheme in 2019, which was overwhelmingly endorsed as the right way forward. All I ask my noble friend the Minister is that, when he introduces a scheme, he keeps it as simple as possible; I ask him please to use the KISS principle with this if he is going to get us to participate in this scheme and make it work in the best way possible.
My Lords, I have put my name to Amendments 133 and 133A because the DRS is one of the most important parts of this Bill. It will have a seismic effect on consumer behaviour, improve our environment and strengthen the circular economy. I and many noble Lords have already spoken about the blight of litter. Two-thirds of roadside litter is estimated to be made up of drinks containers.
The scheme is so important that it needs to be wider in scope and swifter in implementation. The present target of late 2024 at the earliest is far too slow for such an important measure. It was first announced by Michael Gove in October 2017; the initial consultation promised implementation at the start of 2023; now we are told it will be the end of 2024 at the earliest. This chronology means that the present target for the much-anticipated DRS will mean at least six and a half years before implementation, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said.
I know this scheme is complicated, but it is so important that all speed is needed to implement it. I ask the Minister to listen to the words of his colleague Michael Gove who, in praising this scheme in his 2019 speech at Kew Gardens, cautioned:
“Time is running out to make the difference we need; to repair the damage we as a species have done to the planet we have plundered.”
Does the Minister agree with the Environmental Audit Committee, which described the 2024 target as “disappointing”?
I also support Amendment 134 as the Government need to ensure that the scope of the scheme is as wide as possible, as the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, said. They need to embrace the all-in scheme; I can see why the on-the-go 750-millilitre criterion has been posited as an option, but a recent survey of stakeholders in the beverage container sector, which includes supermarkets, manufacturers and consumers, shows 69% support all-in while a mere 15% support on-the-go. To quote Michael Gove’s Kew Gardens speech again,
“I believe an ‘all-in’ model will give consumers the greatest possible incentive to recycle.”
The UK’s recycling record has been dire in recent years. This is an opportunity for us to slack off that shocking record and lead the world in recycling.
It is not hard to understand why all-in is the preference of so many. It allies simplicity and maximum benefit for the environment, and goes to the heart of the circular economy. Studies estimate that an all-in scheme will recycle 3.2 times as many drinks containers as an on-the-go one. The Minister knows only too well the limitations of kerbside collections. Recycling centres have problems separating out the wide variety of materials, and often there are problems finding ways to use the recycled material effectively. I ask the Minister to listen to manufacturers, which say that the specially designed reverse vending machines in the scheme must be much more effective at separating different materials and consequently creating a much higher quality of material for recycling. As a result, the use of recycled material will increase. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said, reverse vending machines are proving effective in other countries; obviously, the more types of materials and sizes of drinks containers included in the scheme, the more material will be recycled.
The extra materials covered by the amendment would allow clarity for both manufacturers and consumers and conformity with other nations in the UK. The cut-off point of 750 millilitres for drinks containers could distort the market in unthought-of ways. It could encourage consumers to buy bigger bottles of unhealthy fizzy beverages to cover the deposit’s charge, and manufacturers could invent methods to avoid the scheme. A distortion in the market leads to all kinds of unintended consequences. I will give an example from Germany: the exclusion of milk products from such a deposit scheme resulted in soft drinks companies introducing milk protein into their drinks to make sure they were excluded from the scheme. As a result, Germans who were lactose intolerant suddenly could not buy or drink soft drinks. Surely it would be better to make this deposit scheme as simple and wide-ranging as possible to avoid such a distortion.
One of the aims of the Bill is to dazzle the COP 26 with our world-leading environmental legislation. What better way to do that than by the Government putting a DRS on the face of the Bill which would be quick to take effect and wide-ranging in its impact? It would be a statement to the world that Britain intends to reduce its carbon emissions and litter problem and become a recycling superpower.
My Lords, we very much agree with what the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, said about the potential of this deposit return scheme to show us to be a global frontrunner as we move towards a more circular economy. We also very much support the opening amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, which highlights the laggard nature of the Government in bringing forward this DRS, with the latest consultation showing that it will not come in until the end of 2024. We absolutely agree with her that the Government ought to get on with this by next year as an initial step.
We agree with almost all noble Lords that this must be an all-in scheme. There are costs to that, which the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, highlighted; another is the cost to local councils, as with an all-in system you remove aluminium, which is one of their most valuable recycling assets. However, we very much believe that the benefits outweigh those costs. We must resist those voices saying not to go down the all-in route. The Government’s impact assessment shows that there are very strong benefits to all-in, in the amount of recycling and the impact on cutting littering. That is important, but for me the issue mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, about consistency with Scotland is the strongest case for all-in. We know where the Scots are going with their DRS; we feel very strongly that, to get the maximum benefits from DRS, there should be consistency with Scotland.
On that basis, although I listened to the very articulate arguments put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, on the case for a differential rate for sizes, I am not sure I want that put in the Bill at this stage, as there is an issue about ensuring that consistency with Scotland is uppermost in our mind. I therefore wish the Government to look at that again but do not support that going in the Bill at this stage, although I understand and accept the arguments she made. I hope the Government will look at them carefully. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, deposit return schemes are another important reform introduced by the Bill to maximise our resource productivity. It was heartening to hear support across the House for their introduction.
This Government are determined to crack down on the waste and carelessness that destroy our natural environment. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, was right to point out in her opening speech that in our manifesto we committed to introduce a deposit return scheme this Parliament. We remain absolutely committed to delivering on that commitment. I thank her for Amendments 133 and 133A. We are currently analysing responses to our consultation from environmental NGOs, businesses and trade organisations on the deposit return scheme, which consulted on implementation timelines for 2024, the scheme design and the exact responsibilities of a deposit management organisation. This also included proposals on the size of containers and materials to be included. We will publish our response as soon as possible.
I appreciate that noble Lords are keen to see the introduction of a DRS for drinks containers introduced as soon as possible—so am I. But realistically, particularly following the impact of the pandemic, we need to make sure we balance this anticipation with the needs of businesses, which will need time to adapt their processes to a DRS. The impact assessment for this measure identified that the net costs to businesses were likely to be £266 million a year, so we need to make sure that we fully consider the time needed for them to adapt.
The recent consultation explored the implications of different timelines on businesses. Businesses have been clear that they need some time to ensure that scheme infrastructure and operational contracts are in place before a scheme can be introduced. But, again, to be clear, we remain committed to delivering a DRS in this Parliament.
In response to Amendment 133A, I am pleased to confirm to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, that Schedule 8 already makes provision for any item to be specified as a deposit item for the purposes of a DRS. This includes specifying the material from which the item is made, as well as the size of that item. In response to questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and my noble friend Lord Trenchard, our recent consultation proposed that the scope of the deposit return scheme should include polyethylene terephthalate bottles, steel and aluminium cans and glass bottles. I know that the noble Baroness, and many others across this House—including the Government—want to see ambition at the heart of a future DRS. I am therefore also pleased to confirm that options for future schemes are broad and could look at a range of items such as food pouches, coffee cups and even mattresses.
Regarding Amendment 134, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, I am happy to say that Schedule 8 allows provision to be made in regulations to set either a fixed or variable deposit rate, as requested by the amendment of the noble Baroness. The case for a fixed rate is that it will help ensure simplicity and might be easier for consumers to understand. However, a variable rate deposit level could be set to reflect the size of the drinks container and might help reduce the impact on sales of containers that are part of a multipack, for example. Ultimately, in designing this part of the Bill, we wanted to allow the deposit management organisation to have the flexibility and control in setting the deposit level to whatever is most helpful for it in meeting statutory collection targets. I hope that the noble Baroness will agree that this is the most pragmatic approach.
With regards to my noble friend Lord Carrington’s comments on the deposit management organisation, there has been strong support for a deposit management organisation to be an independent, not-for-profit and private organisation. This has been a model that has been successfully utilised internationally and ensures that the scheme can be managed in the most cost-effective manner. It is currently the model that we intend to use for the purpose that we have just described.
The Government fully share the concerns raised by my noble friend Lord Trenchard in his Amendments134A, 134B, and 138A. I fully agree with his points around protecting small businesses, as I am sure we all do. It has been a tough year for small businesses and breweries right across the country. We want to protect the smallest drinks producers from the cost burden associated with the introduction of a deposit return scheme. Schedule 8, therefore, allows exemptions to be made with regard to the size of supplier or producer, and to take account of the impact on small producers, including breweries, as suggested by my noble friend’s amendment. Our recent consultation proposed allowing smaller producers to pay minimal or no annual registration fees, which I hope my noble friend welcomes.
A number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Caithness and, I believe, my noble friend Lord Carrington as well, made comparisons with progress that we have seen in Scotland. It is true that the Scottish Government were ahead of us in planning for the introduction of their DRS. The primary powers underpinning their legislation were enacted in 2009. It is our intention that the schemes in Scotland and England will work together to ensure a coherent approach to returning items. We will continue to work with Scotland to develop these proposals. We want to make sure that any DRS that is right for England draws on the evidence of what works elsewhere in the world and achieves our goals of reducing litter from drinks containers and improving their recycling. Ultimately, we want to have an ambitious but realistic timetable to ensure that we are implementing a DRS that will be as effective as possible. The second consultation has just closed, which includes details of the proposed timeline for introduction of a scheme.
In summary, I would like to reiterate our commitment to a deposit return scheme for drink containers as soon as possible—in a way which improves our resource efficiency, tackles litter and brings businesses with us—and to reiterate our ability to bring forward more schemes in the future as well. I hope that noble Lords are reassured. We have tried to find a sensible balance in driving ambition and pace, while recognising that businesses need a sensible lead-in time. I therefore respectfully ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I have received requests to speak after the Minister, from the noble Lords, Lord Berkeley and Lord Marlesford.
My Lords, I am grateful to be allowed to intervene—briefly, I was withdrawn from speaking in this group—and I would like to support what the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, has said about the concerns of small breweries. I was to some extent heartened by the Minister’s response that there is provision for making special arrangements in the regulations, but I would just like to ask him whether he recalls, five or 10 years ago, the rather serious activities of the major brewers in kicking out and treating badly many small pub landlords, which ended up with a lot of fuss. In the end, a Pubs Code Adjudicator was appointed to try to protect the independent landlords and, to some extent, the beers that they supplied. We have to remember that the big brewers are not charities. It is really important for the growth of the industry and the variety that the new brewers provide that there is a real, solid protection for the small brewers when it comes to the deposit return schemes. I hope that the Minister can confirm that.
I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. I remember well the scandal of five to 10 years ago. Indeed, there were a number of people in my own former constituency who were affected, and I was very much involved in the all-party group that called for the Pubs Code Adjudicator, so I very much note his comments. I hope that the noble Lord was reassured by the reassurances that I provided in relation to small businesses and our attempts to insulate them as far as possible from any avoidable cost.
My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister recollect that, in the state of Oregon in the United States, where the returnable container schemes were pioneered many years ago, the key to success was that when the affluent discarded them, the less affluent picked them up and returned them?
I was not aware of the example from Oregon, but there are plenty examples from around the world of people at the very bottom of the economic ladder deriving livelihoods from being involved at one level or another in the recycling sector. That is certainly the case. I thank my noble friend for his comments.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in support of our amendments. As I said in my opening remarks, there is already considerable evidence from Europe that deposit return schemes drive up recycling levels of bottles and cans and thereby cut back on litter and landfill. That point was echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, among others. The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, rightly highlighted the success of Germany and the fact that it has been organised on a unitary basis across the German state—there are lessons to be learned from that.
The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, latterly put the question about the affluent and the less affluent. It is true that, once you put a small value on an empty bottle, people will be less inclined casually to throw it away, and even if some individual cannot be bothered to collect the deposit, there will always be others who will pick it up for that reason. However you go about it, it will undoubtedly reduce levels of litter and drive up recycling.
I agree, of course, with the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, and others that what we need is an all-in scheme for it to be really successful.
There is no reason why this scheme cannot be operational by 1 January 2023. Indeed, there could be perverse consequences if Scotland had such a scheme ahead of other nations. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said that England has become a world leader in foot-dragging, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, said that England is becoming a laggard, and I agree with both of those sentiments. I think that we all agree that a united scheme across the four nations is the way to go, but we cannot expect Scotland to hang around while we make our minds up about this, so we have to move at pace and move together.
I thought the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, made a sensible point about deposit fees having to vary with the size of the container. I understand some of the complexities around that, but we need to make sure that we are not incentivising a switch to plastic that might otherwise occur.
The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, raised the issue of small producers and small breweries, and I agree that there need to be arrangements for start-ups and new businesses. There are, of course, many small drinks companies bringing new products on to the market—indeed, many of them are promoting healthy drinks. I am not convinced that small breweries need a special exemption, but I understand the point he makes. Of course, the scheme is not intended to place an extra burden on small businesses, and we have all said that it needs to be simple and straightforward to administer. I would have thought that all those companies—the breweries and other small producers—would welcome schemes that prevent their empty containers becoming litter or landfill just as much as anyone else. I remind noble Lords—some of us have been around for rather a long time—that we had bottle deposit schemes in the past, so in a sense this is nothing new.
I listened carefully to the Minister’s response, but nothing he said explains why we cannot have a DRS by 1 January 2023, and I disagree that he is on target to meet the Conservative manifesto commitment on this. Businesses have known that this is coming for some time; we have had time to make the transition, and there is still time within the next 18 months to complete that transition. The Minister also talked about Schedule 8, but the problem, as with all those schedules, is that it is not specific; it is just enabling. It does not guarantee anything. It just says that these things “may”—going back to our famous word—happen.
I will, therefore, reflect on the Minister’s comments, but I hope he has heard the strength of feeling around the Chamber today: people want action on this, and they want it quickly. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 133 withdrawn.
Amendments 133A to 138A not moved.
Schedule 8 agreed.
Clause 54 agreed.
Schedule 9: Charges for single use plastic items
Amendment 139 not moved.
Schedule 9 agreed.
Clause 55 agreed.
Amendments 140 to 141A not moved.
Clause 56: Separation of waste
Amendments 142 to 145 not moved.
Amendments 146 and 147
146: Clause 56, page 38, line 2, at end insert—
“(6) The requirement in subsection (5) may be met by consultation carried out before this section comes into force.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides that the consultation requirement in inserted section 45AZC(5) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 may be met by pre-commencement consultation.
147: Clause 56, page 38, line 36, at end insert—
“(4A) The requirement in subsection (4) may be met by consultation carried out before this section comes into force.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides that the consultation requirement in inserted section 45AZE(4) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 may be met by pre-commencement consultation.
Amendments 146 and 147 agreed.
Amendment 148 not moved.
Clause 56, as amended, agreed.
Clauses 57 to 60 agreed.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 148A. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.
Clause 61: Transfrontier shipments of waste
148A: Clause 61, page 51, line 37, leave out “may” and insert “must”
Member’s explanatory statement
These amendments seek to strengthen Clause 61 of the Bill to mandate a total ban on the export of plastics.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 148A, I will speak to Amendments 148B and 148C, for which the rationale is self-explanatory, and try not to get cross. In essence, the case behind the amendments is that we in the UK should be self-sufficient when it comes to waste. There was a great deal of publicity around China refusing to take our plastic rubbish but very little around the destinations the Government found to replace shipments to China: Turkey, Malaysia and Poland. There has been much talk in recent years of ours being a nation that can stand on its own feet. That being the case, there is no excuse for us to send waste for processing—certainly not to the poorest countries of the world, and not to our neighbours, partners and friends in Europe either.
Concerns over plastic exports continue to grow following a recent report by Greenpeace which showed plastic waste shipped from the UK to Turkey was being illegally dumped and burned. It was intended that it should be incinerated in certified licensed plants, but this was not happening. Released in May, Trashed presented detailed findings from a Greenpeace UK investigation in March 2021. At 10 sites dotted around the outskirts of Adana in southern Turkey, investigators documented piles of plastic waste dumped illegally in fields, near rivers, on train tracks and by the roadside. In many cases, the plastic was on fire or had been burned. We would not tolerate this in our countryside. Greenpeace says that plastic from the UK was evident at all these sites. It included packaging and plastic bags from high street retailers including Tesco, Asda, the Co-op, Aldi, Sainsbury’s, Lidl and Marks & Spencer, as well as Lucozade and Fanta bottles and a UK car number plate.
The UK generates more plastic waste per person than almost any other country in the world, second only to the USA, which for generations has been a throwaway nation. In 2018, the UK generated an estimated 5.2 million tonnes of plastic waste—enough to fill Wembley Stadium six times over. Having watched the football, we all know just how big Wembley Stadium is. However, inadequate infrastructure means that the UK exports the majority of its plastic waste abroad, often to countries which cannot process it. This is inexcusable.
From 2017 to 2019, two-thirds of plastic waste separated for recycling in the UK was sent abroad for processing. Those households which are diligently separating their waste into recyclable and residual have no idea that this is happening and would be appalled if they did. Some 105,000 tonnes of UK plastic were exported to Malaysia alone in 2017 and 2018. Many of the countries in the global south receiving the UK’s rubbish have high rates of plastic waste mismanagement, resulting in piles of the UK’s waste littering their roads and environment. This is often set on fire by locals and becomes an extremely toxic hazard for children playing close by. We would not allow this to happen to our own children, so why do we expect it to happen to other people’s?
Not surprisingly, countries have since begun to reject the UK’s plastic waste, with Turkey the most recent to implement a ban on plastic waste imports. Our reaction to that should not be to cast around for other countries to receive our waste but to reduce the amount of waste we produce in the first place and to work to deal with what is left right here on our own shores.
We have already discussed a number of amendments, on the first day of Committee and last Wednesday, about reducing the amount of plastic that is produced in the first place. We have heard the case for a range of measures: a target to reduce plastic packaging production; a regulatory environment that encourages compostable alternatives to conventional plastic in food contact packaging; a total ban on single-use sachets; and transparency from the supermarkets about the amount of plastic they use. If the Government believe that we as a country still need to export our plastic waste, the case for those reduction measures is even stronger.
In short, it is simply unacceptable for the UK to send its plastic waste abroad for others to deal with, and we should use the Bill to set out that principle in law. If we have more plastic waste than we can dispose of within our shores, we must produce less plastic and find an environmentally friendly way to deal with this.
I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, and I congratulate her on bringing forward these amendments. I also congratulate the Government on introducing, in Clause 61, the transfrontier shipment of waste clause that sets out the power to prohibit the transport of waste for export and, I understand, later in the clause, the transit of waste for importation as well. I received a very good briefing—I think the same one the noble Baroness received—that shows that the UK generates almost more plastic waste per person than any other country in the world; we are second only to the US. Apparently, in the last two years for which there are reported figures, we exported two-thirds of plastic waste separated for recycling that was collected in the UK. I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister, when she comes to conclude this debate, will confirm that this is a very real problem that is increasing because our landfill sites are full, and they would be the natural place for the plastic waste to go. I am not saying that they are the right place, but they are where recently the waste has been sent. So I welcome the fact that we have identified the lack of infrastructure in these amendments, as set out by the noble Baroness who tabled them. We should set up the appropriate infrastructure in this country.
Many may recall what I call the “first” Hartlepool by-election, in the early 2000s. I visited the Able plant near Hartlepool, where there was a very successful operation for dismantling “ghost ships”—I think that is what we called them. They were rusty bucket ships that had previously been sent to India and other places, where they did not have the infrastructure to dismantle them. We had, in that plant, an extremely successful operation where they had built up the expertise and the skills to use here in this country. It meant that we were disposing of these ships safely. We need to learn that lesson and convert it to the recycling and disposal of plastics.
I commend the University of York: in One Planet Week in February 2019, its researchers created a new system for recycling single-use plastics used in some of their successful scientific experiments. The technique that they have developed will prevent one tonne of plastic per laboratory ending up in landfill sites each year—or, as the amendments would indicate, otherwise being exported, which seems to be the current trend. The successful technique involves the implementation of an in-house decontamination station. If that can be used on site in one university, I hope we can adapt that technique and roll it out across other parts of the country. I hope my noble friend the Minister will commend that and look to set up similar infrastructure, which is obviously inexpensive to set up and probably just means tweaking the current operations that are already in operation throughout the country. That way, we will be able to dispose of much more of our own plastics in this country and will no longer be seeking to export them abroad.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness opposite. I support all these amendments; they are very simple, very short and very small, but they do actually fix a problem. I think the noble Baroness has every right to get cross. I am furious most of the time when I am speaking to the Government, because, for example, they have falsely claimed that they have achieved their CO2 reduction targets, when in fact—when we look at this sort of behaviour: exporting plastic waste—we are exporting our CO2. That is why the Government can falsely claim that they have hit those reduction targets. I very much regret that I did not sign these amendments, and I certainly will if they come back on Report.
We all know that the international waste economy is a nasty, polluting system, where the richest countries are using the poorest countries as dump sites—as giant landfill sites. Many people would be outraged, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, said, to see that the recycling that they so carefully do is just baled up and dumped on poor countries and among poor communities, who then have to suffer the pollution that it causes.
So the export of waste is nasty, but I am also concerned about the increasing capacity of UK incinerators. From what I can see, the planned capacity of these incinerators will soon far exceed the amount of waste that the UK produces. Many local authorities are, of course, tied into 25-year contracts with such businesses. This means they will be looking around for waste to burn. So either these companies and their investors will sustain losses or—and this is a much more concerning option—they will begin to import waste from abroad into the UK. So I would very much appreciate the Minister giving us the Government’s opinion on incinerator companies importing waste from abroad. Will the Government allow it, or will they join me, and I am sure many others, in calling for it to be banned? These amendments render a very simple option: to clean up our responsibility—our pollution—towards the rest of the world. I hope the Government accept them.
It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. I absolutely agree with her and would also like to add my voice to asking the question about the payments that go towards incinerators for waste. This also happens sneakily in the food system, and you end up with the absolute absurdity that some food companies are actually manufacturing food in order to be able to meet their commitment or contract with a waste incinerator, which is meant to have waste food—I will come to that later.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, I have also watched “Trashed” and it would make a very good film for a lot of people to see. It is pathetic that people spend their time recycling, only for it to end up being burned in a Turkish field, surrounded by little boys who are poking through the rubble on the off-chance that they will find something sellable. At least they see some kind of value in the plastic that we of course do not because, culturally, we have been told this is worthless. So I would also like to add my voice to support all schemes around bottle return. We have to see plastic as valuable: after all, it has taken air, oil, water, sky, soil et cetera to make it.
One of the things that also came out from the Greenpeace briefings was that, when we send waste out of the country, we send vast trailers. Someone attempting to check it who pulls the front down will see four bales when, in fact, the container probably has 400. So there is no possibility of knowing anything about this. The brokers are in it for the money and they do not take their duty of care seriously.
There was another point that came up. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, mentioned the Adana region, where Greenpeace was working. Greenpeace went to the Environment Agency and said, “Can we have a list of approved addresses where waste in Turkey is being sent?” It was given eight to check and four did not even exist. So we know this is a scam, and we know it has to stop. I am extremely pleased that Turkey has put its foot down—although it is a bit embarrassing that places such as China and other countries like it have put their foot down before we were able to put our foot down and start asking ourselves why we produce so much and what we are going to do about it.
It seems to me that of course we have to a good extended producer responsibility scheme. We have to ban our plastic waste—we cannot just send it away—and we have to have legally binding deposit schemes. But on a big level, on a cultural level, we need a real level of behaviour change from the supermarkets, everybody in retail and, in particular, from Amazon. It sends the most staggering amount of packaging with very small things. It seems that we shift our plastic problem from one place to the next. I do not know about other noble Lords but, certainly during this pandemic, I have had things arrive from Amazon that I am frankly embarrassed to have. Nobody ever touches that kind of area, and I think that we should. I am really glad the Government are getting on top of this. I will support these amendments wholeheartedly and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said, I will support them if they come back on Report.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 148A, 148B and 148C in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. To reinforce what other noble Lords have said, I agree with all those who have spoken on this important issue. In fact, we have been talking about the scourge of plastic throughout the debates on the Bill. We support these amendments wholeheartedly and we recognise the frustration expressed by a number of speakers. I will not go on for too long; I just want to reinforce some important points.
Some 61% of plastic packaging for recycling was exported in 2019 because of the lack of a domestic processing capacity. That lack of capacity is not a new problem; investment has been needed for many years, and the lack of progress calls into question the Government’s dedication to transitioning the UK to a circular economy. While the UK has continued to export its plastic waste, other countries, as noble Lords, and the noble Baroness in particular, have mentioned before, have become less willing or able to accept and process it. China closed its doors in 2017, Malaysia has tightened up regulation and just last week, as other speakers have said, Turkey—the biggest single recipient of UK waste—ended imports of most forms of plastic waste.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, made a very pertinent point about the exposure of illegal dumping. She talked, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, about the Greenpeace investigation and our 5.2 million tonnes of plastic waste; we are just shifting our plastic problem. The point she made was very touching: if we do not want our own children to play on these dumping sites and look for plastics, why should we expect people in other countries to allow that? It is a global problem: we cannot just end it by passing it on to other countries.
In recent years, a number of case studies have highlighted how carefully sorted plastics from the UK have ended up being fly-tipped or burned in other countries rather than being turned into new products. This highlights an important ethical case for change, on top of practical arguments about creating new jobs and transforming the economy.
While we may not be able to end our reliance on export overnight, it should be an ambition. The British Plastics Federation estimates that with the right drivers in place, the UK could eliminate low-quality exports entirely and reduce the overall volume of exports to just 9%. Additional investment and an export ban such as that proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, could improve the situation further.
My Lords, I, like many of your Lordships, find the news reports showing plastic waste from the UK being dumped and burned abroad very disturbing. It is illegal activity and we are working hard with partners abroad to find a resolution. As outlined in our manifesto, the Government are fully committed to banning the export of plastic waste to non-OECD countries, using the powers in the Environment Bill.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, brought up the Greenpeace campaign, which claimed that all UK plastic waste is exported to be dumped and burned overseas. That is false. It is illegal to export waste from the UK to be burned or dumped overseas. Any UK operators found to be illegally exporting waste can face a two-year jail term and an unlimited fine.
Waste exports need to be made in accordance with the legislation, which implements our obligations under the Basel convention and the OECD decision on waste, and we have a system of inspections in place to verify compliance. Over the last 12 months, monitoring by the Environment Agency has had a particular focus on preventing illegal plastic waste exports. In 2020, the Environment Agency prevented the illegal export of 46 shipping containers of plastic waste to Turkey, and this year it has already prevented the illegal export of 122 containers of plastic waste to Turkey.
Defra officials and the UK waste shipment regulators have been liaising with the Turkish authorities to forge better working relationships. The Environment Agency has developed a good relationship with the Turkish Ministry of Environment, which has expressed its thanks for the UK’s collaborative approach in preventing illegal exports of waste to Turkey.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering mentioned ghost ships. I reiterate that ships which reach the end of their lives must be recycled in accordance with the relevant legislation. As with any waste that is exported from the UK, it is illegal to export waste for disposal except in exceptional cases.
A number of noble Lords mentioned capacity, including my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, the noble Lord, Lord Khan, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. Certainly, implementing a ban on exports of plastic waste to non-OECD countries will have wide-ranging effects on local authorities, our domestic waste infrastructure and businesses. It is important that delivering the manifesto commitment does not result in unintended consequences such as plastic waste being diverted from recycling operations to landfill or incineration. Defra has commissioned research looking at the available reprocessing capacity in the UK and the OECD, which will inform policy development ahead of a consultation in 2022. However, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, for her amendments.
Clause 61 provides full powers to update our existing regulations on waste shipments as necessary, now that we have left the EU, including prohibiting the import and export of waste to any country in the world, so we could, for example, put Turkey on that list. Although the intention behind the noble Baroness’s amendment is welcome, unfortunately it would narrow the available power’s effect so that it could be used only very strictly to make regulations connected with prohibiting waste imports and exports. That could preclude us from making additional reforms that I know the noble Baroness would welcome: for example, to update reporting and monitoring requirements in connection with the regulation of waste imports and exports in future. It is appropriate to provide the Government with flexibility in this case as to when and how such provisions and regulations are made. This will ensure that regulations can be updated and revised as needed to crack down on the harmful export of polluting plastic waste to developing countries.
A number of noble Lords raised the question of the incineration of plastic waste. In particular, my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering mentioned an innovative scheme from, I think, the University of York. A number of small firms are evaluating myriad scientific methods of reusing and recycling all forms of plastic, in particular those that cannot be got rid of in any other way. They include one which breaks down the plastic in question’s relevant chemical components, which then can be made into an oil that can be used to provide power. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, will be reassured that these are not processed for incineration. I do not have enough lines to satisfy the noble Baroness on the question of general incineration, so I commit to write to the House about other ways in which we can prevent plastics ending up being incinerated.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate and to the Minister for her response. I am aware that it is illegal to export waste for it to be dumped; nevertheless, that is what is happening. I am aware too that the Local Government Association does not support this amendment as it believes that the cost of dealing with plastic waste will fall on local authorities, at a time when their budgets are under severe strain. I sympathise with that viewpoint. However, as I have said, I do not believe that householders who are taking the trouble to separate their waste for it to be recycled understand that their plastic waste is being sent to countries where it is not being treated in an approved manner. More investment is needed in infrastructure. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, mentioned in-house recycling plants. I have also visited such plants and know how effective they can be. In some cases they can convert waste to energy, which is very useful.
I am grateful for the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. Deposit return schemes are an important part of the answer but the Government need to be proactive on their behalf. There are many instances where each one of us can take steps to reduce the amount of plastic we buy and use, and publicity will be key to ensuring that this is a success. I regret that neither the LGA nor the Government are taking reducing the production and use of plastic seriously enough, and I may return to this issue on Report. However, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 148A withdrawn.
Amendments 148B and 148C not moved.
Clause 61 agreed.
Clause 62 agreed.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 149. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in the group to a Division must make that clear in debate.
149: After Clause 62, insert the following new Clause—
(1) This section applies to a retailer who—(a) generates more than 10 tons of food waste per year, or (b) operates stores which with a floor area of more than 400 metres squared.(2) A retailer to whom this section applies must recycle wasted food products, having regard to the following steps listed in order of priority—(a) preventing food waste (for example, by not ordering more of a food product than they expect to sell);(b) using unsold food which is fit for human consumption (for example, through food donation or processing);(c) recovering unsold food which is fit for animal consumption into feedstock;(d) converting food waste into compost for agriculture or for energy recovery, including biogas.(3) A retailer to whom this section applies must make an agreement in relation to each store which it operates with at least one charitable organisation which distributes donated food, having taken reasonable steps to ascertain that the charitable organisation uses appropriate processes to distribute food through a clearly advertised address.(4) A local authority may impose a financial penalty on a retailer in relation to a store within its area if the authority is satisfied beyond reasonable that the person has breached subsection (2) or (3).(5) The amount of the financial penalty is to be such amount as the authority determines but not to be more than £5,000.(6) A retailer to whom this section applies or a large food manufacturer must disclose to the Secretary of State the volume of food waste in their supply chain.(7) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision about the requirement in subsection (6), including the definition of “a large food manufacturer” and what details must be disclosed and to whom.(8) The Secretary of State must make regular reports to Parliament about the volume of food waste being reported under subsection (6).(9) The Secretary of State must consult those likely to be affected by this section before making regulations under this section.(10) The Secretary of State must ensure that the volume of food being wasted is at least—(a) 60% lower than the 2020 baseline for 2025;(b) 80% lower than the 2020 baseline for 2030.(11) The Secretary of State must conduct a public education campaign on the issues caused by food waste including but not limited to—(a) climate change, and(b) biodiversity loss.(12) In this section—“food waste” and “food waste reduction” are to be defined by the Secretary of State by regulations, taking account of such terms as have been validated by or are in accordance with—(a) the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,(b) the Waste and Resources Action Programme, and(c) the waste hierarchy as set out in the Waste (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2012 (SI 2011/988) and Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011 (SI 2012/1889), save that methods of “food waste reduction” for the purposes of this section may not include any form of waste disposal. “retailer” means any person carrying on (or actively seeking to carry on) a business in any part of the United Kingdom for the supply of groceries to consumers.”
My Lords, I really wish that I was not having to move this amendment. I speak as the chair of Feeding Britain, and all through this pandemic we have been giving out meals to an extraordinary amount of people—the numbers have doubled. We have got food from many different food redistribution companies, notably companies such as FareShare and individual supermarkets. Many supermarkets have stepped up to the challenge over the last 18 months and have given away a great deal more food, but there are still lapses in the system. This is, essentially, an extremely simple amendment that just says that big supermarkets must, by law, have a relationship with a food redistribution centre. This was introduced a few years back by Kerry McCarthy in the other place. Indeed, the now Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, signed her 10-minute rule Bill supporting this idea, and such a proposal is now law in France.
We have just been listening to lots of statistics about waste. The most recent one that I have found is that the UK’s biggest supermarkets bin 190 million meals a year. Is that true? I do not know, but it comes from WRAP. My guess is that it is true, and that a lot of food that is up to its sell-by date but still perfectly edible is chucked out the door. That is really what I want to see changed—and I want it to change culturally. At the moment, food is very cheap; I want people to see that it has a value and importance. In the end, with this amendment, as the chair of Feeding Britain, I would like us all to be put of business; at the moment, we are not out of business and are, in fact, incredibly needed. As people come off furlough, the numbers who are using Feeding Britain feeding sites are rising, not going down.
One of the other things that I talk about in this amendment is that we need to get to the food waste pyramid. Food should always be thought of as food for humans: if it has not been sold, it must go for donation; if we cannot eat it, it should feed an animal; and if that cannot happen, it should feed the soil. There is a very exact pyramid to show the way that this works.
The amendment also seeks penalties for retailers which do not do this and to ensure that the volume of food being wasted is at least—and this is where I challenge the Government, because I know that this is above their targets—60% lower than the 2020 baseline for 2025 and 80% lower than the 2020 baseline for 2030.
I did not make this up. I consulted Dave Lewis who, from 2014 until last year, ran Tesco. I asked him what it would take, what we can do, who we can push, and what we can achieve. He came back with these figures. I know the figures will be repeated in the food strategy, so this is doable and challenging. As we all know, this is the year of COP. Food waste is responsible for so much: relevant to the last group of amendments, food waste is the reason we have so much plastic floating around. All these things connect. It is about getting the public to understand that food is valuable and plastic is valuable, and therefore must not be thrown away. We need to do it in the right way.
My other point in this amendment is that the Secretary of State must conduct a public education campaign around the question of food waste and making people understand that, every time we throw food away, we are adding to our environmental problems. As many noble Lords have just said, throwing food away with the plastic adds to all sorts of environment and social problems, but food itself costs air, soil and energy. As the Dasgupta reported showed, these things are valuable and valuable to our society.
I hope that at least part of this quite long amendment will be taken up by the Government. There are currently 13 million people in this country, mostly kids, who are what you could call food-stressed—they do not have enough food and cannot afford enough healthy food. If you want to eat 1,000 healthy calories, it costs about five times more than it does to eat 1,000 unhealthy calories. Much of the food that hits its sell-by date is good, proper food. It has been grown, processed and packaged; a lot has gone into it and we chuck it. We could, very easily—and culturally it would be a big deal—just put this amendment in the Bill and be like the French. Their food recycling went up immediately by 20%—that is a lot of meals.
My Lords, I am very happy to put my name to the noble Baroness’s amendment. She has moved it extremely well and there is very little for me to add, except to say that I want to go a bit further than she does. Therefore, I have also tabled Amendment 149A in my own name, which focuses specifically on supermarkets.
Noble Lords might very well ask why I am focusing on supermarkets when they have very little waste. I am focusing on them because I want supermarkets to take responsibility for their supply chains, and not just the food on their premises. To do this, we need mandatory reporting at farm level, which is currently not reported at all, and could account for as much as 25% of all UK food waste. Transparent reporting will reduce the food waste by big retailers, benefitting the environment, the climate and natural resources. A levy ought to be charged on supermarkets proportional to the food waste in the UK supply chains.
Why is mandatory reporting so important? There has been voluntary reporting, but it does not work; the firms are not reporting. Only 60 companies are reporting their data publicly, and more than 500 large companies are not reporting at all. It has to be mandatory reporting. The targets also need looking at because, under the voluntary commitments, UK food businesses have carefully achieved measurable food waste reductions of just 0.23 million tonnes between 2011 and 2018. It is estimated that between 3.78 million and 6.38 million tonnes of food waste occurs in primary production, manufacturing, retail, and hospitality and food services. The saving that has happened—which everyone will praise—is less than 1% a year. That is not satisfactory; that is not good.
The Government’s timetable is slow. It could be speeded up, and I recommend that it is. The Government have been inactive for far too long. Indeed, Tesco itself says that mandatory reporting and a speeded-up programme are absolutely vital to meet sustainable development goal 12.3. My amendment is an important addition to the one moved by my friend the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. In conclusion, it is worth just pausing to think that Tesco makes £4 billion annual profit from food that its customers waste at home. The point of my amendment is to try to reduce that.
I am delighted to follow my noble friend and I support both him and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, in the sentiments behind their amendments. In looking at the factsheet that was circulated by the department in connection with this Bill, I welcome the fact that the Government are minded to introduce regulations to, in the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, move food waste further up the hierarchy, so that there will be less left at the end. I particularly welcome the two amendments in this group as probing amendments, and ask my noble friend: is there not a degree of urgency that we need to do this?
I may have one point of disagreement with the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. She and I both have family living in Denmark, I understand, and I have been immensely taken by the contribution that the Danes, other Scandinavians and Austria and Germany have made to enhancing energy from waste. I prefer to call it “energy from waste”; I know others call it incineration. I had beer poured over me once in my surgery when I was a Member of the other place; since then, I have called it “energy from waste”. This is the ultimate circular economy, because you are taking potential food waste and putting it into the system—the residual; I accept the hierarchy, and it should be the absolute minimum. The community benefits because it would go, ideally, into the local grid. There is a now a big incinerator in what was my original constituency, the Vale of York. The gripe I have with it is that it goes into the National Grid, whereas, as north Yorkshire is very cold, it should go into the local grid.
The factsheet also set out the importance of reducing the amount of food waste—as do both the amendments in the names of my noble friend Lord Caithness and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott—which is currently estimated as producing 25 million tonnes of CO2 gas emissions every year through 9.5 million tonnes of food and drink which is wasted annually post farm gate. I take those figures as being accurate, as I understand that they are in the factsheet we received.
I press my noble friend when he sums up that there is a sense of urgency here: however we address it, we need to reduce that waste. I pay tribute to the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, not just on feeding Britain, as I think she called it, but for the national food strategy, as one of the team with its author, Henry Dimbleby. I look forward to hearing the official government response to Part 1 of that report.
My Lords, I declare my interests as on the register. Like my noble friend Lord Caithness, I support the thrust of both these amendments, though neither goes far enough, in my opinion, including my noble friend’s amendment.
Amendment 149 applies only to retailers generating more than 10 tonnes of food waste and in stores of more than 400 square metres. I would reduce those sizes by half and apply them to everyone producing food waste: retailers, manufacturers and the catering industry. We have no idea of the extent of food waste in the catering industry. Today’s uneaten roast chicken should be tomorrow’s soup or curry.
Similarly, Amendment 149A in the name of my noble friend Lord Caithness is absolutely right in concept, especially the idea of reducing food waste across the whole supermarket supply chain. We often concentrate on the food that is unsold in shops at closing time, but we really need to tackle the rejected misshapen carrots, the less-than-perfectly shaped tomatoes and all the other food that is thrown away before it gets to the shops or caterers. A lot of organisations, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, referred, usually charities, are seeking to use up food before supermarkets throw it away. My noble friend Lord Caithness is right to seek to reduce all food waste across the supply chain, before it gets to the ultimate shop or caterer.
In my opinion, it is wrong to set the bar at supermarkets with a turnover of £1 billion. That is too high. I would apply it to all retailers, manufacturers and catering outlets with a turnover of more than £200 million. As an aside, if I may say so—probably improperly—I hope there is still a Morrisons supermarket in five years’ time we can apply it to, after the vulture capitalists have loaded it with debt, robbed the pension fund and asset-stripped it. But that is possibly for another day.
Neither of the amendments deals with the appalling waste of food in our homes but, again, that is not a discussion for the Bill today. If my noble friend the Minister cannot accept the amendments, I hope he will stress to all those in the food supply business that at some point, the Government will be bearing down on them to drastically reduce all food waste at all points in the food supply chain and across all food outlets.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Blencathra is quite right to point up food waste at home. Here in Eastbourne, we have a universal system to deal with that, and a pair of them is nesting on the roof above me as I speak: very little goes to waste here. But on the broader front, yes, we absolutely must not accept the idea of waste. This comes back to the point I was making on previous amendments: the necessity of looking at things in the round. One of the prime ways to reduce waste is plastic packaging. The less you use plastic packaging, the more food waste you generate. We need to look at things as a whole, not at little bits. Within the area of food that, however packaged, has reached or is reaching the end of its shelf life, we indeed need to make it compulsory that it is offered to people, particularly charities, so that they can distribute it as it is needed and that, if there is no market there for it, that it is used in the most efficient way possible. By doing that, we will generate efficient ways to use it.
The other day, I came across a fascinating company called C3 BIOTECH, which is using biotechnology to convert food waste into useful fuels and other materials. These things flourish because we create the circumstances in which they can. If we do not mandate that people deal effectively with food waste, it just gets thrown away and the opportunity to do better things never arises. It is really important that the Government take action in this area. I wish the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, well: if not in the detail of its drafting, very much in its spirit.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, on their excellent amendments. They are really good but, sadly, I have to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra. That is not something I usually do, but he is absolutely right: we must go even further on these issues. Food waste is a scourge on our society, We should be horribly embarrassed about it. Unfortunately, we are trying to get the Government to catch up, and I just do not know how we can do that; they are so far behind the general public on such issues.
I slightly disagree about how much individuals can do, because this is not an issue for individual behaviour change. A bit of education, perhaps: teaching people not to take those large packs of something that will end up with half rotting in the fridge, or whatever, but generally, this is for businesses—supermarkets—and for the Government to start legislating. These two amendments do quite a comprehensive job of covering all the issues: the waste hierarchy, practical solutions such as producing feedstock, setting targets and reporting.
I volunteered for a homeless charity for some years. Every Monday morning, I would go out on a very early tea run. Some companies, mainly cafés such as Costa, gave us their food from the day before to distribute to the homeless, which was very welcome. One Christmas, a big supermarket gave us 25 turkeys, which was a little more than we could handle and took quite a bit of redistribution. It happens from time to time, but we must make it normal to do that, so that nobody thinks it is okay to put waste food in a bin.
Personally, I think the Government would be well advised to accept these amendments. It is only by going after supermarkets and businesses that we can actually change the way we treat food waste.
My Lords, I am happy to speak in favour of this small but very important group of amendments. I have added my name to Amendment 149, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. With so many families and individuals struggling to find enough money to feed themselves, we should do all we can to prevent food waste.
The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, who is an expert on avoiding food waste, has spoken passionately on this issue. Proposed new subsection (2) of the amendment gives a short list of actions that food retailers must take to prevent food waste. Proposed new subsection (2)(b) ensures that where food is fit for human consumption, it goes either to food banks or for further processing. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, spoke passionately about that and I completely agree with her.
As we approach the end of the school term and the beginning of the long six-week summer holidays, many families will be very concerned about how they will feed their children from the end of July until the beginning of the new school term in September. This is a time when food banks are likely to see an increase in the number of people using their facilities. Redundant food from supermarkets and food retailers has a role to play here, and food waste indeed has a value and should not go to landfill. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, quite rightly raised the issue of uneaten roast chicken being made into tomorrow’s soup or curry. That is what happens in our household; however, it cannot happen for homeless people who are accommodated in bed and breakfast facilities, where they have no access to cooking facilities. They are dependent on food banks and other feeding stations not to starve.
Proposed new subsections (3) to (11) give the criteria for how the Secretary of State will prevent food waste, the consultation and the need to report to Parliament on just how much food is being wasted. The public have got behind the campaign to prevent food waste and will be lobbying their MPs to ensure that they support it. Reporting to Parliament is the way in which MPs can reassure their constituents that everything is being done to prevent food waste and ensure that those living in poverty, who are hungry, are able to take advantage of excess food production. Proposed new subsections (10) to (12) give realistic targets for reducing food waste and ensuring a public campaign on the effects of food waste on climate change and biodiversity loss.
The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, in Amendment 149A, ensures that the supermarkets and food producers neither order nor produce more food than is needed. I agree that this amendment should be in the Bill. These businesses have been in operation for many years and, by now, should be aware of just how many items of a particular sort they are likely to sell and how many crops will need to be grown to meet demand. They cannot, of course, be expected to know whether a particular item is going to feature on a television cookery show, which will cause a spike in demand but, with that excluded, the science of supply and demand is well known to both producers and retailers. Ensuring that this is calculated and measured is key to preventing food waste.
At a time when not only in GB are people living in food poverty and going hungry, but large areas of Africa and other continents are suffering devastating loss of crops due to climate change and the aftermath of war, it is simply unacceptable for this country, one of the richest in the world, to be producing food to be wasted. I agree with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, fully support this group of amendments and look forward to the Minister’s response.
I commend the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, for bringing forward these amendments, which we strongly support. They both made important points in the introduction to their amendments, and I thank them for that.
In recent years, there has been a lot of discussion, both in politics and the media, about food waste. Some countries have already made laws to try to reduce food waste. In France, supermarkets are not allowed to waste their food; they have to give it, for free, to homeless people. France consistently tops the world rankings for its lack of food waste because of this, and Germany now has similar laws on food waste, so I strongly urge the Minister to follow in their footsteps and take note of these amendments.
Globally, food waste is estimated to cost £2.9 trillion a year. That is enough food to feed every hungry person in the world twice over, yet food insecurity and hunger still exist in both developing and developed countries. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, talked about the problem of school holidays for children who are dependent on free school meals and issues with crop failure in the developing world.
WRAP estimates there is the potential to redistribute a further 190,000 tonnes of surplus food from the retail and food manufacturing sectors. Some of the surplus is difficult to make use of; it could be costly, in that it would need to be reworked or repackaged, and some surplus would not be edible. But WRAP still estimates that around 100,000 tonnes are both accessible and edible. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, mentioned food that is rejected—perhaps it is misshapen. It is a nonsense that we throw away perfectly good food.
It is clear that we are not adequately distributing the food we produce. It is also clear that the environmental costs in water, energy and space to grow food that is not eaten is more than our environment can take. When food waste ends up in landfill, even though it will decompose, it contributes to increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as it biodegrades. The amounts it produces during this process are on a level with the use of cars and fossil fuels. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, that education is an important part of what we need to do to resolve these problems.
We have heard how much we throw away in the UK, but the 25 million tonnes of CO2 emissions just from the UK’s food waste is more than Kenya’s total annual emissions—a country of 53 million people. This is disgraceful. Even if you count only the edible food wasted, it comes to a total of 14 million tonnes. If we eradicated this, according to the Government’s latest data, it would be equivalent to taking one in five cars off the road. Considering this Government have set a target to reduce greenhouse gas levels by 68% of 1990 levels by 2030, reducing or even eliminating food waste seems like an obvious and easy step to take towards that goal.
Supermarkets are partially to blame for the global food waste catastrophe. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, made this point well and looked at responsibility in the supply chains. We know that supermarket food waste comes to around £230 million a year, but also that they can be part of the solution, with significant power to have an impact on the amount of food we waste. The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, rightly talked about how they stepped up during the pandemic. They can behave differently.
We can look at ways in which this can be done. Expiry dates is one. We know that consumers get confused about what the dates for food safety mean and, because of that, a lot of edible food is thrown away at home. There is not enough understanding of the difference between sell-by, use-by and best-by dates. We could do something about this confusion and lack of consistency. Supermarkets can play a role in standardising this information, so that consumers have it in an accurate easy-to-understand format. One personal bugbear is whether we really need a date for fresh fruit and vegetables; it is obvious to me when something has gone off. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, talked of a need to find a use for all foods, which is really important.
The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, talked about food banks, FareShare and the role that supermarkets can play. They can and do donate, but food banks have a limited amount of time to turn overripe produce around before it goes bad, and they are prohibited from giving away food that has passed its use-by or best-before date. Again, perishable foods can end up in the bin. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, we need to find ways to use all food.
Two years ago, in June 2019, more than 100 of the biggest players in food, including all the UK’s major supermarkets, signed a pledge to take action to drive down food waste and raise public awareness of the issue. The Government have also expressed their commitment to supporting UN sustainable development goal 12.3 to help halve food waste by 2030 and to report on progress and prioritise action. I ask the Minister to provide an update on progress on that pledge and the actions that are being prioritised to meet our obligations on SDG 12.3.
Food waste in the UK is a huge problem. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, rightly said it is a scourge in our society, and it is time for the Government to legislate. As well as an environmental disaster, it is a social catastrophe, when we consider the 10.5 billion meals that wasted food could have provided to deprived people. I appreciate that the Government have cut down on their food waste in recent years, but there is still an awfully long way to go. As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and other Lords, have said, I look forward to reading the Government’s food strategy. They must grasp this opportunity and do something about this. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for her unwavering dedication to this issue. We have discussed it on numerous occasions, both recently and before I became a Minister, and she knows that I share her passion.
The impacts of food waste are profound. I was going to give some examples, but they have just been given by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and I will not repeat them. It is true, however, that the impacts of food waste on unnecessary land use, unnecessary conversion of intact ecosystems and emissions are enormous. If food waste were a country, it would be the third or fourth largest emitter in the world. The madness of throwing food away at these levels is evident when there are people who do not have food to eat.
I turn to Amendment 149, which covers a lot of ground, and a similar amendment from my noble friend Lord Caithness, Amendment 149A. Through powers in Clause 49 and Schedule 4 to the Bill, the Government will be able to place obligations across the supply chain on food producers, retailers and supermarkets, making them responsible and liable for surplus food and food waste at all levels of the waste management hierarchy, including prevention and redistribution of food waste. I am pleased to confirm to my noble friend Lord Caithness that this could be through obligations such as food waste reduction targets, as outlined in his amendment, and moving food up the waste hierarchy with a focus on prevention and redistribution. In response to points raised by my noble friend Lord Blencathra, I confirm that the Government will be able to place obligations across the supply chain, from producers to manufacturers to caterers. We will also have powers to enforce these obligations if any producers were to breach them.
I reiterate that the Government are fully committed to meeting the UN sustainable development goal 12.3 target, which seeks to halve global food waste at consumer and retail levels by 2030. Of course, we have a long way to go, but significant progress has already been made, with a reported 27% per capita reduction to date, excluding inedible parts. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, I felt it a little unfair to say that the UK is miles behind. It is true that there are miles remaining to go to tackle this problem, but the UK is a world leader in food waste prevention. We have, for example, been singled out by the World Resources Institute for the work we are doing. There is much more to be done, and there are lots of steps which have been put forward by noble Lords today in this debate which we should seriously consider, but it is not true to state that we are miles behind other countries.
To ensure we are on track to meet the sustainable development goal target, the Government have put in place a range of measures to tackle food waste across the supply chain and in households. For example, we already have powers to introduce the public reporting of food waste by businesses and are about to consult on that. The consultation will cover implementation timelines, the inclusion of primary production food businesses and proposes a range of food businesses including retailers which would then be in scope. Regarding the noble Baroness’s amendment, we will first assess progress by food businesses to reduce food waste through various government measures which already exist, and which we are including here. We will then review progress after mandatory food waste reporting regulations have come into force. We have powers in this Bill to then propose or amend producer responsibility obligations broadly in line with the noble Baroness’s amendment. Unless we see serious progress, the Government will necessarily act.
I would like to mention some of the things which the Government are already doing to tackle this problem. For example, we have funded WRAP to work on the Courtauld commitment 2025 to introduce the food waste reduction road map, an objectively ground-breaking industry-wide toolkit with commitment from more than 250 businesses. We are supporting several WRAP’s campaigns, including the citizens strategy, the Love Food Hate Waste campaign, and we backed the UK’s first food waste action week in March this year. These campaigns are clearly designed to shift consumer behaviour, which is a major part of the solution.
Key policies in the resource and waste strategy include more effectively redistributing food to those who need it most before it can go to waste, backed up by £15 million of funding, and a forthcoming consultation and annual reporting on food waste by food businesses, as I have just mentioned. We have published a food surplus and waste hierarchy to support businesses to prevent, recycle, and dispose of waste. We have appointed Ben Elliot as the food surplus and waste champion, supported a cross-sector collaboration to reduce food waste through the Courtauld commitment 2025 agreement, and worked with WRAP to address household food waste, including those campaigns which I have just mentioned and others.
I hope I have gone some way at least toward reassuring noble Lords that the Government share their commitment to reduce food waste, through this Bill and through action that we have taken and will be taking. I therefore respectfully request that the noble Baroness withdraws her amendment.
My Lords, I have no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott.
I thank your Lordships, and the Minister, whose final words were telling in that the Government have gone some way towards fixing this problem. I congratulate the Government on all the work which has been done through WRAP. The Love Food Hate Waste campaign has been terrific. However, the target is not high enough, and all sorts of things are not yet good enough.
I thank the noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, in particular the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. I completely agree with him that the food waste at the top of the supply chain is one of the biggest culprits lurking out there, and that we must get at it. In social supermarkets which I have set up, we extracted extraordinary amounts of products which were useless because the labelling was wrong, advertising the football, for example. Where does that food go? That is where we really need government support and transparency.
I was interested in what the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said, and I agree with her that energy from waste is a very good way to describe it. I know that Ludlow at one point ran its school bus on the food waste which people put in buckets at the ends of their drives. It was very effective because people got involved, and it helped them to understand that there is proper energy, life and all sorts of good stuff in food. As she said, I indeed have lots of relatives in Denmark who are unbelievably good about it, and also do bottle deposit schemes.
I found myself in complete agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, that it should apply to every sort of supermarket.d I disagree with him only when he mentioned the catering industry. On the whole, caterers are very canny with their money, and tend to get the right amount of food to feed people. I am always incredibly impressed when I find myself in the same place as a caterer. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, although I wonder where his children were. Were they on the roof, or was it some birds? I saw a whole load of storks this weekend, not far from Eastbourne—perhaps they came down to feed on his waste food, as they are very hungry all the time. He was completely right about plastic packaging—we must use less.
As always, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, said the key things, noting that the public are far ahead of the Government on this. We all want this. This has to be done, because we must get at the industry. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, for her support. I echo her view about the coming summer holidays, which should be lovely, but are in fact scary for a huge number of parents. Supermarkets should know how much to get, and not wait for the cookery shows.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, gave a fantastic speech. I am so glad to get all that incredible data on the record. I did not know the statistic about one in five cars, which is really staggering—so I thank her for that.
I shall leave noble Lords with a couple of thoughts about France. Data obtained by the Independent from the Carrefour supermarket chain, the second largest in France with a socking great 20% market share, shows that in 2020 it donated 30,371 tonnes of food from its supermarkets, the equivalent of 72 million meals, meaning that a single French supermarket exceeded the donations of all 10 UK supermarkets by more than 6,000 tonnes. France is now ranked number one by the Food Sustainability Index.
The point about that is that people really liked it. It is a very popular law. Meanwhile, the UK’s top 10 chains donated less than 9% of their surplus food for human consumption. We could really change this. After the end of this pandemic, for the Government to say “This is going to go into law” would be incredibly popular. The supermarkets are already three-quarters of the way along the road, and if we can take on board the fact that it should be all of them, we would have a win that would be a good one. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 149 withdrawn.
Amendment 149A not moved.
Clauses 63 to 65 agreed.
Schedule 10 agreed.
Clause 66 agreed.
Clause 67: Littering enforcement
Amendment 150 not moved.
Clause 67 agreed.
Clauses 68 to 71 agreed.
My Lords, we come now to the group beginning with Amendment 150A. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.
150A: After Clause 71, insert the following new Clause—
“Air quality: speed limits
(1) The national speed limit for restricted roads in England is 20 miles per hour.(2) Nothing in this section affects the power of traffic authorities responsible for such roads to make exceptions to the national speed limit where appropriate.”Member’s explanatory statement
The purpose of this amendment is to reduce the number of fine particulates released into the air from non-exhaust emissions (NEE), such as brake, tyre and road surface wear. The Air Quality Expert Group, an expert committee of DEFRA, has found that one of the most effective mitigation strategies for NEE is to lower the speed of traffic and promote driving behaviour that reduces braking and higher-speed cornering.
My Lords, this amendment is in my name and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, and my noble friend Lady Walmsley. I strongly support Amendments 151A and 151B in the name of my noble friend Lady Randerson. The amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, have similar aims and also have my support.
The amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Tope and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, are ones that I strongly agree with. They are very comprehensive in nature and, if accepted by the Government, would help immeasurably to bear down on the non-traffic-related causes of urban pollution. They dovetail nicely with my amendment, which aims to bear down on traffic-related air pollution.
I should declare an interest as a founder of the campaign group 20’s Plenty for Merton. My amendment is simple: to reduce to 20 miles per hour the speed limit on “restricted roads”, which are defined in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 as being roads on which there are streetlights
“not more than 200 yards apart”.
Emissions from vehicles arise from two sources: the exhaust emissions—the noxes, the oxides of nitrogen, carbon dioxide and particulates—and non-exhaust emissions, the NEEs, which noble Lords might not be so familiar with. NEEs are particulates, the majority of which are fine particulates, PM2.5s and smaller. They arise from the friction of rubber on tarmac, brake wear and road dust re-suspension.
Two things happen when vehicles slow down. First, exhaust emissions from vehicles are reduced—much more so from diesel vehicles than from petrol. Secondly, non-exhaust emissions are also reduced, because slower speeds lead to smoother driving, with much less stop and start and therefore fewer finer particulates from tyre and brake wear and road dust. It is these non-exhaust emissions that my amendment is particularly aimed at. No legislation is currently in place to reduce non-exhaust emission particles so, while legislation has been effective at driving down emissions of particles from the exhausts of internal combustion engine vehicles, the NEE proportion of road traffic emissions has increased and will continue to do so.
Those emissions contribute to total ambient particulate matter, in particular the tinier PM2.5s and smaller particles that are so damaging to human health, with an estimated 40,000 premature deaths in the UK alone and many millions more overseas. Just last week, in another debate on air pollution on this same Bill, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, spoke with knowledge and authority on the many ways in which these invidious small particles can damage human organs, particularly young ones. The noble Baroness and many other noble Lords cited the tragic case of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, whose asthma, aggravated by preventable air pollution, led to her premature death. Her death and those of many thousands of others need not have happened.
Data from the UK National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory indicate that particles from brake, tyre and road wear contribute 7.5% and 8.5% of all primary PM2.5 and PM10 emissions. That is a good 16%, which is quite substantial. The above data is taken from the 2019 air quality expert group report on non-exhaust emissions that was prepared for Defra and the devolved Administrations—so it is a government report that I am referring to. The report recommends that policy development with respect to non-exhaust emissions should recognise that such emissions are an important source of ambient concentrations of airborne particles and—I repeat again—will become more so as emissions from exhausts are phased out. Is that important recommendation something that the Government acknowledge and accept?
A key finding of the report is that the most effective strategy to reduce non-exhaust emissions is to lower the speed of traffic and promote driving behaviour that reduces braking and higher-speed cornering. This is effectively what my amendment aims to do.
I will offer some background. Noble Lords will know that 20 miles per hour speed limits are now widespread across the UK, with more than 21 million people living on such streets. Many of our large cities, including London, Manchester, Bristol, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Liverpool and many more, are largely made up of roads with 20 miles per hour limits. Wales is planning to introduce a default 20 miles per hour limit from 2023. It is currently running a pilot in Cardiff and other areas, not to test the concept, which is proven, but to iron out administrative glitches.
Not only are 20 miles per hour speed limits overwhelmingly popular with the public where they have been implemented, they are influencing modal shifts in towns and cities as more people feel safer and more confident about walking on roads where traffic is calmer. There is a real societal shift in behaviour where these lower speed limits have been introduced.
There are a number of other advantages. In moving from 31 miles per hour to 19 miles per hour there is a two-decibel to three-decibel reduction in traffic noise, so noise pollution comes down. Another advantage is that electric vehicles are far more efficient at lower speeds, leading to lower demand on the grid. As a member of the Lords Science and Technology Select Committee I have been listening to evidence to our batteries and fuel cell inquiry, and more than one witness has expressed concern about meeting the demand for green electricity that the move to EVs will generate. We must prepare and plan for that, and any measure that reduces demand will help enormously.
The last advantage I want to mention is “levelling up”, a term that the Government use quite often. Child pedestrians are four times more likely to be injured in the most deprived wards than in the least deprived wards, and air pollution in deprived wards is substantially worse. Therefore, lower speed limits would benefit the most disadvantaged, and that is no mean consideration.
Wales and Scotland are making huge progress in bringing in 20 mph limits. Can the Minister say whether this is a devolved matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly?
The introduction of a 20 mph default speed limit across the UK would really stamp this as a landmark Bill and show that the UK means business both on climate change and on air pollution, which so adversely impacts public health. It would provide instant support for local authorities to implement measures to reduce all traffic-generated emissions and do away with the costly and time-consuming processes they currently face to introduce lower speed limits. A 20 mph limit has the support of the National Heart Forum, the Association of Directors of Public Health, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and the World Health Organization, as well as the UN General Assembly.
I really cannot see any negatives to reducing speeds on restricted roads in towns and cities to 20 mph. It would be a fitting legacy to the coroner’s landmark decision that saw Ella’s death as the first recorded death directly attributable to air pollution for this Bill to have the immediate positive impact that reducing speed limits would bring to public health. I hope to hear in reply from the Minister that the Government are giving my amendment serious consideration. To that end, I hope that she will agree to meet me and colleagues to discuss the issue further.
My Lords, I shall speak specifically to the amendments in my name, Amendments 151A and 151B. I also support the other amendments in the group. As my noble friend Lady Sheehan ably and clearly set out the issues in relation to emissions and particulates from vehicles, I will not repeat what she said, for the sake of brevity, but I wish to underline the importance of the information that she has dealt with.
The purpose of my amendments is simple: to set out clear obligations on local authorities to monitor air pollution at those points where it is likely to be highest, such as near busy roads, and where it is most damaging to human health, such as near hospitals and schools—because children are especially vulnerable. They would oblige local authorities to take action as a result of such monitoring and to publicise that action plan.
Local authorities already have powers to monitor air quality, and additional powers to encourage environmentally-friendly behaviour that improves it. For example, stationary idling of a car is an offence under Section 42 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. It can incur a £20 fixed penalty under the Road Traffic (Vehicle Emissions) (Fixed Penalty) (England) Regulations 2002—that penalty going up for late payment. So this is old hat, but the key point is that the fine is imposed only if the driver fails to switch off their engine when asked.
It is local authorities which issue those penalties rather than the police. As all noble Lords will know, local authorities are massively overstretched, with multiple responsibilities and inadequate funding. For many of them, this simply is not a priority, although there are some that make it so. For example, Islington Council had a crackdown on idling vehicles in 2014, and again in 2016, but it is an exception and not the norm. With a host of other powers, such as safe routes to school, pedestrianisation, 20 mph zones—as my noble friend has outlined—low emission zones, the provision of charging points for electric vehicles et cetera, some local authorities are much more enthusiastic than others, and some are simply better resourced to use the powers effectively.
My noble friend referred to the devolved Administrations. In Cardiff, where I live, we are well used to 20 mph zones, which are dotted around the capital city of Wales. Although there was a minor controversy in the early months of their introduction, it has been notable how widely effective they are and how people accept them. Traffic speeds have undoubtedly reduced as a result.
My amendments would establish a baseline which would raise the game for local authorities and ensure that the Government set the high standards and proactive approach, and provide the leadership which will be needed if the UK is to get anywhere near government targets by the dates that they have set. It should be emphasised that if local authorities are to take a uniformly more proactive approach, they need the funding to do so.
Those of us who work with these issues are sometimes surprised that public knowledge and understanding of the impact of traffic and other forms of air pollution is so poor. The tragic death of Ella Kissi-Debrah, referred to by many noble Lords, and the coroner’s ruling on it turned statistics into an understandable human story. She lived close to the South Circular road, but the link between her asthma and her living conditions was not properly understood back in 2013. There is now research evidence from a large study in Lambeth that a period of high levels of air pollution, particularly diesel-related air pollution, leads immediately to a spike in the number of people going to see their GP with breathing difficulties. That spike includes a disproportionately high number of children.
Local authorities have public health responsibilities, and a natural part of those must be to take a more proactive approach to reducing air pollution and to informing their residents of those areas to avoid because they are heavily polluted.
My Lords, I am extremely happy to see so many noble Lords interested in this issue, because it is a massive national health issue that we really have to do something about. I agree completely that “20’s plenty”. Reducing the speed limit to 20 mph would not only reduce emissions and improve the health of people living alongside those roads but reduce the number of casualties—the road deaths and injuries—that cost the nation a fortune in social services, the NHS and policing. Anything to do with lowering the speed limit has a lot of benefits. The only negative appears to be a few irate car drivers who think that it is okay to drive at 80 or 90 mph in towns and cities.
My amendments seek to create a comprehensive system of targets, monitoring and funding to reduce air pollution levels to World Health Organization guideline levels. I know that we are not supposed to get involved in money or government finances, but it is not possible to end this crisis without significant public spending. The Government must make the money available to local authorities to transform their communities and clean up their air.
I first became aware of the huge problem of air pollution in London when I was on the London Assembly. I lived through Ken Livingstone’s eight years and the Boris Johnson’s eight years in power; Ken Livingstone did seem to get this, and the congestion charge obviously helped. In Boris Johnson’s time, we were in the build-up to the Olympics. At that point, there were only two monitoring stations in London from which the EU—it oversaw and monitored our air pollution—accepted information. One of the stations was on Marylebone Road, opposite Madame Tussauds. It is still there, and the intake pipe is some 12 feet above the road. Anybody who understands anything about air pollution knows that it is mostly lower, and that is why we should be very careful with children in prams, but this was 12 feet up. Our air was still polluted and higher than EU levels, so that gives an indication of how dirty our air was then.
My amendments are based on my clean air Bill that I keep putting into the ballot to be debated here. It has had a lot of legal input; I clearly think it is the best, but I am prepared to discuss this. One measure that Boris Johnson put in place because of the air pollution on the way to the Olympic Park was to install quite a lot of potted plants along the roadside. They were very attractive, but I am not sure that they did much to reduce the pollution—but he had been told that they might, so he put them in.
It is obvious that local authorities also need tougher powers to clean up other dirty sources of pollution, so my Amendment 153 proposes powers to prohibit the use of fireplaces, wood-burning appliances, diesel vehicles and other sources of pollutants in air pollution improvement zones. The Government have recognised that something needs to be done on air pollution, and this is a very good Bill to do it in. It will be very embarrassing if we get to COP 26 and still have this sort of pollution problem.
In summary, air pollution is a national health crisis: it costs us billions every year. It affects the old and the young. Several of us have mentioned Ella Kissi-Debrah, who lived next to a dirty, filthy road and died at nine years old because of her asthma. It is children who will have health problems all their lives because of living near polluted roads. This Bill is an ideal opportunity to fix this problem. We know what the solutions are, and they are here in these amendments, so I hope that the Government accept them.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and co-president of London Councils, the body that represents the 32 London boroughs and the City of London Corporation.
I will speak to Amendments 156A to 156M in my name. In doing so, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, for adding her name to them, and the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, who has confirmed to me her support for these amendments but sadly was a little too late to add her name.
We are starting now to consider the part of this Bill on air quality and it is, perhaps, interesting and relevant to note that today is the anniversary of the date on which Royal Assent was given to the first national Clean Air Act, back in 1956. The problem is still very much with us; indeed, in many respects, it is much worse than it was then. Air pollution is a very serious problem which affects us all. It contributes to up to 40,000 premature deaths in the UK every year, so I welcome the Government’s acknowledgment of the risk that poor air quality presents to human health.
I also welcome the Minister’s recognition—repeated in his letter to all Peers, dated 10 June—that,
“local authorities will have an important role to play in delivering reductions in PM2.5.”
My amendments come as a package and seek to give substance to that recognition by the Minister.
In the last Session of Parliament, I introduced the Emissions Reduction (Local Authorities in London) Bill to change this and I have been trying to reintroduce it again in this Session. That Bill had the support of both the City of London Corporation and London Councils, and sought powers for local authorities in London to control emissions from combustion plants if their borough had air pollution above WHO guidelines. That Bill was restricted to London but, of course, it is a much wider problem than simply in London, and I recognise that. My amendments, therefore, cover the whole of the country and are not restricted to any particular areas. They introduce a series of proposed new clauses to the Bill, mirroring the clauses of my previous Private Member’s Bill, but applying them well beyond London to all local authorities.
Local authorities have a statutory duty to reduce emissions in their areas. However, they do not have sufficient powers to take effective action to achieve such reductions. Public attention has rightly been focused on the need to cut emissions from vehicles, but very little has been said of non-road pollution and emissions of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, dangerous carcinogens that penetrate deep into our lungs and bloodstream. Many emissions are from these non-road sources, collectively referred to as “combustion plant”. As we make improvements in reducing emissions from vehicles, we must shift our focus to these other sources of pollution.
The pandemic saw a drastic decrease in road use and a consequential reduction in road emissions. For example, lockdown resulted in levels of nitrogen dioxide in the City of London 40% lower than in 2019. However, the pollutant most damaging to human health, known as PM2.5, remained at roughly the same level. The negligible impact on PM2.5 of such a significant reduction in transport activity highlights the importance of reducing non-road emissions.
The proposed new clauses introduced by these amendments would give local authorities additional discretionary powers. The amendments have the support of the City of London Corporation, which has a long history of involvement in cleaning up London’s dirty air, and of London Councils, the representative body of the London boroughs. However, as I said before, the clauses in this Bill relate to all local authorities in England. Amendment 156A would insert a new clause that grants any local authority in England the power to designate an area within its borders an air quality improvement area—with the acronym “AQIA”—if the air quality of that area exceeds WHO air quality guidelines for one or more pollutants. This designation is, in effect, a gateway to implementing the range of air quality measures provided for in the rest of this group of new clauses.
At present, some local authorities attempt to use planning controls to regulate various types of polluting plant. This has proved to be ineffective, which is not surprising because planning controls were never intended to be used in this manner. The system of regulation established by these new clauses would empower local authorities to take action to reduce emissions and enable the Secretary of State to set emission limits that will have practical implications.
Amendment 156B provides the power to ensure that, where it applies in an Air Quality Improvement Area—AQIA—the amount of nitrogen oxides emitted by certain gas-fired boilers within the area must
“be less than an amount specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State.”
It also creates an offence in relation to the “installation” of such plants.
Amendment 156C has a similar effect in relation to “non-road mobile machinery” such as gardening equipment and construction and agricultural machinery. It applies limits to the amount of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter that can be emitted by this machinery within an AQIA and provides for offences for operating non-compliant machinery.
Amendment 156D applies limits specified by the Secretary of State to the amount of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter emitted by certain “stationary generators” within the AQIA and creates offences, as before. Many office buildings have back-up diesel generators for the event of a power cut. Instead, they are operated to lower the building’s electricity costs by selling electricity back into the grid. This frequently occurs during periods of high atmospheric pressure, temperature inversion, cold weather and high pollution, when the nitrogen oxide and particulate matter cannot easily be dispersed and becomes trapped. This new clause would enable local authorities to set periods when the operation of these generators would be prohibited, except in the case of a power cut.
Amendment 156E inserts a new clause that provides that, in an AQIA, the amount of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter emitted by certain solid-fuel boilers
“must be less than an amount specified ... by the Secretary of State”,
with similar installation offences. Amendment 156F provides similar powers in relation to
“Combined cooling, heat and power”
Amendment 156G inserts a new clause in relation to any offence created by Amendments 156B to 156F, so that, where such an offence has been committed by a body corporate, an individual can also be held liable.
Amendment 156H provides a defence to these offences if the person charged “reasonably believed” the plant to have been “designed to comply” with the regulations, “not modified” and
“maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.”
Amendment 156J allows a local authority to
“require the occupier of any premises within an air quality improvement area ... to supply such information as may be specified in that notice”,
with offences for non-compliance.
Amendment 156K relates to the “stationary idling” of vehicles, to which my noble friends have already referred in this debate. More action must be taken to reduce this avoidable pollution, which often occurs outside schools, causing serious harm to children’s developing lungs. As my noble friend Lady Randerson has already said, stationary idling is already illegal, but the penalty of £20 is hardly a deterrent—and she has already referred to the limitations on its enforcement. This new clause increases the penalty within an AQIA to £100, rising to £150 in certain circumstances.
Amendment 156L inserts a new clause that obliges the Secretary of State to make regulations specifying the maximum nitrogen oxides and particulate matter emissions permitted for each type of plant described in Amendments 156B to 156F. Finally, Amendment 156M defines key terms used in other clauses in this group.
These amendments come as a package, intended to give local authorities effective power to actually bring about the reduction in emissions that we—including the Minister—are all seeking to achieve. It is reassuring to see increasing public understanding of the silent killer of air pollution, but we can and should go further. We have an opportunity in this Bill to empower local authorities across the country to tackle more effectively the problem of non-road emissions, with the potential to make a significant impact in combating England’s poor air.
I look forward to the Minister’s agreeing that these amendments do indeed give substance to his recognition that local authorities have an important role to play in improving air quality—and that the Government will support them.
My Lords, this is my first appearance in the Chamber for many a long year—it seems even longer than it actually was—but it is a great pleasure to follow a tour de force by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, in his speech, the range of his amendments and his resilience and perseverance in getting them on the statute book.
I asked to speak on this group for two reasons. First, I should declare an interest: I am still a vice-president, and was until recently president, of Environmental Protection UK, which, in its former existence, was the National Society for Clean Air. It was very instrumental in creating the Clean Air Act 1956, to which the noble Lord, Lord Tope, has just referred.
Primarily, however, I put down my name because I had earlier put down a separate amendment to Clause 2 that leads in to what is being discussed in these amendments. We had a self-congratulatory session on Clause 2 because it is of course a very important principle that we set targets, and I congratulate the Government on making one of their first targets the reduction of PM2.5.
My amendments pointed out that that would require substantial monitoring, systems of enforcement and, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and others have said, effective powers and resources for local authorities. Of course, it would also have to be recognised that it is not simply vehicular traffic that causes air pollution in our towns and cities but a range of other sites and machinery, to which the noble Lord, Lord Tope, has drawn attention. A comprehensive approach requires a serious transfer of resources to local authorities and a sharpening up of the powers they currently have, as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, have already said.
I think that this justifies my earlier intervention, and I hope that the Government and Minister can signal tonight that the Government have taken on board the ideas of the noble Baronesses, Lady Randerson and Lady Jones, the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and my noble friend Lord Kennedy, who is not in his place. I hope that, before the Bill completes its passage, we have a comprehensive proposition from the Government, covering all these areas, which will genuinely give the powers and resources to local authorities to implement these measures, and that will make a real dent in the problems of air quality in our towns and cities. I hope that, at the end of this debate, the Minister will be able to indicate that that is precisely what the Government intend to do.
My Lords, I am delighted to support the idea that we should go for 20 miles per hour speed limits. The consequences of accidents at 20 miles per hour are much reduced. It makes for a much friendlier environment for walking and cycling and, as the noble Baroness said, it absolutely results in improvements in air quality. We do not need the centres of our towns and cities to be places of rush and danger, particularly with the decline in the viability of our high streets. We want them to be places where people feel comfortable, enjoy being and want to go to for all sorts of reasons. It ought to be easy and conventional. It ought to be the rule that, where people are numerous and we want them to be at ease, we go for a 20 miles per hour speed limit. It is absolutely justified in terms of the objectives of this Bill.
So far as air quality generally is concerned, I come back to the point, which I made in earlier debates, that we must have better research. We are quite capable of it. It is not very helpful to talk about PM2.5 as if this is some universal characteristic; it is just a size. It does not tell you anything about where the particles came from and what, therefore, can be done to reduce their concentration. As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, pointed out, in some places lockdown resulted in sharp drops in nitrogen oxides and other such pollutants but no drop in PM2.5, so what is going on here? Were the particulates really coming from diesel engines, or have we, again, been barking up the wrong tree? It is not difficult to find the answer. All you have to do is pick out individual particles, analyse them and find out what their origins are. A particle that comes from burning wood is very different from a particle that comes from diesel—at least on average. A particle from emissions from a heavy industrial source is very different from one from a light engine. We need to do this research, and we need to do it locally, so that we can undertake actions that make a difference.
The main difficulty that I have with the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, is that they seem to assume the sources of pollution are all local. How do we know unless we have done the research? If we do the research, that immediately gives us the moral and intellectual authority to take action against a particular source of pollution. If we just generalise about these things, we will end up hitting lots of imaginary enemies as well—perhaps—as a real one. It is really important that we get the level of research well up. We should make it local and consistent so that we really understand what is going on when it comes to air pollution.
I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has withdrawn so I now call the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff.
My Lords, I have my name on several of these amendments—namely, Amendment 150A and Amendments 156A to 156M—and I support the others in this group.
Following the 1952 smogs, the Clean Air Act, as we have already heard, came in in 1956 and cut coal smoke from homes. In the 1970s, the output from power stations was high in sulphur dioxide, causing acid rain. Now, there is a lot of research to show that a major source of different particles is exhaust fumes from burning liquid fossil fuels. In 2018, the World Health Organization recognised the effects of these ultra-fine particulates, which are implicated in about 8.8 million excess deaths—around 13% of all deaths globally.
The report The Lifelong Impact of Air Pollution, from the Royal College of Physicians, has shown that it costs £20 billion in the UK alone, through 40,000 deaths per annum, ranging from heart disease, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, diabetes and dementia—which are all linked to atmospheric pollution.
Our death rates from asthma are the worst in Europe. Three people die every day in the UK from asthma. It costs us £1 billion a year and there are more than 5.5 million people having treatment for asthma now. People with a genetic predisposition to asthma living by main roads have worse outcomes. It does seem there are some groups in the BAME community who have a particular genetic predisposition to a type of asthma that is particularly liable to lead to death. There have been 12,700 asthma deaths in England and Wales since 2010.
The role of atmospheric pollution was shown clearly and graphically by Professor Stephen Holgate to map against Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah’s very severe asthma attacks, including her final and fatal attack, with spikes of nitrous oxide and particulates corresponding clearly to her severe exacerbations. These particulates from fossil fuel exhausts also cross the placenta into the foetus, resulting in a higher incidence of asthma and impaired brain development.
This means it is essential that we tackle this on every front to come into line the WHO guidance as a minimum. We cannot tolerate continuing to allow particulate air pollution, and we must harness positive behaviour and change behaviours. The impact, in fewer heart attacks, strokes and deaths from asthma and lung cancer, would be phenomenal. That is why I added my name to Amendments 156A to 156M, because there is a need to give local authorities the power that they need to protect their own populations.
I will turn briefly to speed restrictions, so comprehensively introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan. I endorse every point that she made. Let us not forget that 20 million children have their homes and schools in areas of high air pollution, particularly from traffic.
The report The State of the Evidence on 20mph Speed Limits, by Dr Adrian Davis from Bristol, provides a comprehensive review of the literature. Dropping the speed limit from 30 mph to 20 mph decreases particulates from petrol and particularly from diesel, as well as decreasing nitrous oxide and CO2 emissions from diesel cars. Road traffic is responsible for 80% of particulate production, and diesel produces tenfold more particulates than petrol. When children are sitting in a car in a traffic jam, their exposure is even higher because cars draw in the surrounding air, which is laden with exhaust from other vehicles.
It has been estimated that a cut from 30 mph to 20 mph on urban roads would result in a drop of over 115 deaths from particulates alone, quite apart from the lower death rate in accidents. When traffic is less aggressive and moving more smoothly in urban areas, there is almost no significant delay in getting somewhere but the whole driving experience is calmer and safer. I should declare that I experience this, because I live in the Cardiff pilot area that has dropped from 30 mph to 20 mph and the benefit is tangible. I hope that the Government can support these amendments.
My Lords, I declare an interest as one of the 5.5 million people with asthma. In winding up this debate on behalf of these Benches, I first thank the Minister for the fact sheet about the air pollution measures in the Bill. It certainly shows willing, but it also falls short of what we would wish to see and gives rise to a number of questions. In particular, why do the Government remain to be convinced and want a whole lot more consultation about the feasibility of the pollution reductions that we are seeking, despite confirmation from many experts that these things can be achieved and would be accepted by the public?
I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, will forgive me for focusing on the amendments of my noble friends, but we also support her amendments, which very much overlap with ours. I support Amendment 150A, moved by my noble friend Lady Sheehan. If the Government were to support Amendment 150A, not only would our air be cleaner and healthier but injuries and lives would be saved because of the reduced speed.
As my noble friend said, electric cars reduce NOx and CO2 emissions, but they still produce NEE particulates from tyres and brakes. A default 20-mph limit would reduce these particulates as well as noise, and injuries and deaths through accidents. Children in particular would be protected from accidents and from organ damage caused by particulates. Will the Minister note what my noble friend said about how people in disadvantaged demographics are more likely to live in areas with high levels of PM2.5?
I accept that local authorities can already designate roads with a 20-mph limit, but my noble friend’s amendment would make it much easier for them, as 20 mph would become the norm in relevant streets. Local authorities are already strapped for cash and have been given additional responsibilities through this Bill, such as imposing civil sanctions where once there were criminal offences, liaising with air quality partners and other matters. However, it is important to consider how legislation could help them to carry out some of their many responsibilities.
There is already considerable support for this measure in Wales and Scotland. In May, as soon as we were allowed, my husband and I went to Scotland for a short break. We noticed how many villages now have 20-mph limits. The traffic moved smoothly, there were no jams and people moved around safely. It was a good example of what can be done and there are similar examples in Wales. If the Minister will not accept this amendment, how do the Government intend to encourage 20-mph zones?
In her Amendments 151A and 151B, my noble friend Lady Randerson wants local authorities to “raise their game”, to be more ambitious about monitoring air pollution and, critically, in publicising the levels specifically in sensitive areas to encourage a change in behaviour, and to be funded to do so. This is particularly important for the future health of our children as well as adults. I hope that the Minister looks at my noble friend’s proposals very seriously. I note the measures already taken, but the fact remains that awareness of pollution levels is low. There may be websites and air quality alert systems, there may be leaflets about smoke control areas and recycling household waste, but the most effective information is gathered and distributed locally, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said.
I welcome initiatives such as the one in Liverpool funded by the air quality grant, which involves children in monitoring the area around their school. I am sure that they would be exerting pester-power and encouraging their parents to walk or cycle them to school, and certainly not to sit outside in their cars at the end of the school day with the engine running, as I have seen outside my local school. However, we need more. Can the Minister explain why we do not need my noble friend’s amendments?
I turn to Amendments 156A to 156M in the name of my noble friend Lord Tope. I welcome the Government’s acknowledgement of the risk to human health presented by poor air quality. That is a major step in the right direction. As we have heard, local authorities have a statutory duty to reduce emissions in their area, but even the Government have recognised that they do not have sufficient powers to take effective action to achieve such reductions, hence some of the government changes in this Bill. Public and government attention has focused mainly on the need to cut emissions from vehicles, but non-road pollution is a major problem, too often ignored, also emitting nitrogen oxide particulate matter that provides a major public health hazard, as we have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. As we make improvements in reducing emissions from vehicles, we must shift our focus to these other sources of pollution too, which is what these amendments do.
We heard from my noble friend Lord Tope about the negligible impact on PM2.5 of the significant reduction in transport activity in London during the pandemic. This highlights the importance of reducing non-road emissions as well as speed, as emphasised by my noble friend Lady Sheehan. These amendments introduce a series of new clauses which would give local authorities additional discretionary powers. Through Amendment 156A, they would be able to designate an area as an air-quality improvement area. If the air quality in that area exceeded WHO air quality guidelines, the Secretary of State could set limits for emissions for a range of these pollutions and equipment. The amendments provide for offences for users and installers who break the regulations, and certain legitimate defences. There are also powers to time limit the use of certain plant which might have a legitimate use in case of a power cut, and to require users to provide relevant information.
Why are these powers necessary? We have heard from my noble friend Lord Tope how hard it is for local authorities to use planning controls to regulate various types of polluting plant, because they were not designed for this purpose. The system of regulation established by these new clauses empowers local authorities to take action to reduce emissions, which will have real practical implications. I am particularly supportive of Amendment 156K, which relates to the stationary idling of vehicles. More action must be taken to reduce this avoidable pollution. It is already illegal, as my noble friends Lady Randerson and Lord Tope pointed out, but the penalty of £20 is derisory. This new clause proposed in the amendment would increase the penalty to £100, rising to £150 in certain circumstances.
It is reassuring to see increasing public understanding of what my noble friend Lord Tope has rightly described as the silent killer that is air pollution, but we can and should go further. We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, the detail and impact on public health of air pollution. We have an opportunity in this Bill to empower local authorities across the country to tackle more effectively the problem of non-road emissions and on-road emissions, with the potential to make a significant impact in combating England’s poor-quality air. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, previously in Committee we have discussed the fact that polluted air is a growing national health emergency, and many noble Lords have talked about the terribly sad death of Ella Kissi-Debrah. The Bill provides an opportunity to improve people’s lives, which we must not miss. We support these amendments, which seek to do so.
On Amendment 150A, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, regarding the number of fine particulates released into the air from non-exhaust emissions and the role that speed reduction can play, noble Lords have spoken strongly in support of 20-mph speed limits and the wider benefits to society that those could bring. The noble Baroness talked particularly about the findings of the air quality expert group’s report. I also mention the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants, which has made a statement on the evidence for health effects associated with exposure to non-exhaust particulate matter from road transport. These emissions currently comprise just under 10% of UK primary particulate emissions, but they are expected to become proportionately more important as vehicle exhaust PM emissions from road transport are expected to decrease over the coming years.
The committee said that as non-exhaust particles have a different composition—for example, higher metal concentrations—and a different size distribution from those emitted in vehicle exhausts, they may have different toxicological properties and health consequences. As this component of traffic emissions will become proportionately more important in future years, the recommendation from the committee is that new epidemiological and toxicological research should be undertaken to further understand the potential health risk of this aspect of vehicle pollution and to improve a basis for further policy. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas talked about the importance of carrying out research so that we have better understanding. Does the Minister’s department have any plans to undertake or commission such research? Are the Government considering speed reduction in areas of highest pollution?
I turn to Amendments 151A and 151B in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. As we have heard, all local authorities have a duty to review and assess air quality within their district. The aim is to identify all areas where air quality is exceeding, or is likely to exceed, the air quality objectives. We agree with the noble Baroness that monitoring air quality standards at schools, hospitals and major roads is critical. In 2019, over 8,500 schools and almost 3,000 health centres were in areas with levels of PM2.5 above that recommended by the WHO, putting at risk the health of millions of children, patients and health workers.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, mentioned the funding of local authorities, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. The burden of monitoring is on the shoulders of local government. If monitoring and compliance are likely to be increased, and given the chronic lack of funding for our local authorities, how do the Government intend to resource monitoring in order to ensure a sufficient degree of data integrity? My noble friend Lord Whitty spoke about the importance of this.
Amendments 153, 154 and 155, all in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, consider the duties of the Secretary of State, local government mayors and the Committee on Climate Change, and how the monitoring of air quality and availability of related data to the public can be improved. She stressed the importance that this information must be accurately collected. But the need for improvements to the monitoring and assessment regimes should not be used as a reason to avoid setting the direction of travel now. As I have already said, we should use this Bill to start driving much-needed action, as soon as possible. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, rightly reminded your Lordships’ House about the increased impact on deprived neighbourhoods if we do not take action.
I come to Amendments 156A to 156M in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff. This series of proposed new clauses covers the control emissions from combustion plants. The noble Lord reminded your Lordships’ House that it is the anniversary of the Clean Air Act 1956. It would seem that the problem has not gone away; it has just changed. Combustion plants are a chief source of the power that lights and heats our homes. With a growing population of almost 70 million people, there are understandably tens of thousands of such facilities across the country. According to the latest figures collated by government, there are estimated to be between 30,000 and 35,000 medium combustion plants. As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, rightly says, we must have a focus on those emissions—but also local authorities will need the power to take appropriate action to tackle this area of poor air quality.
Finally, I pay credit to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, who has done so much work in this area. I believe that she made the critical points in the debate about the cost to our health and the number of avoidable deaths. The seriousness of this discussion cannot be underestimated, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister what further action the Government intend to take through this Bill to start to resolve these problems.
My Lords, I start by thanking all noble Lords who have spoken with such passion, interest and informed intelligence on this subject.
I start with Amendment 150A, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan. I am sure the noble Baroness knows that local authorities already have the power to set 20 mph speed limits where local needs and conditions suggest that it is required—for example, in a built-up area or near a school. The Government agree with her that 20 mph speed limits can be a useful tool to improve road safety and reduce air pollution, as acknowledged in the Department for Transport’s guidance for local authorities on local speed limits, but they may not be the solution everywhere. Imposed in the wrong places, lower speed limits may increase congestion and journey times, which may in turn increase PM2.5 emissions.
The noble Baroness is right to focus on non-exhaust emissions; we accept the need to reduce them and have legally binding emission reduction targets, including for particulate matter. Non-exhaust particulate matter emissions have become more significant, as emissions from exhausts and other sources, such as coal power stations, have decreased—and this is a phenomenon identified by a number of noble Lords.
The Government are also working with their international partners to develop procedures to test and evaluate emissions from tyre and brake wear, with the potential to produce future regulatory standards. To reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, and my noble friend Lord Lucas, in February, the Department for Transport commenced a significant research project to understand better the measurement techniques, materials, properties and control parameters of brake and tyre wear emissions from road vehicles.
On the general subject of more research needing to be done, I shall write to the noble Baroness, because I think that there is more that we can say to both noble Lords about what the department is doing in this area.
It is therefore appropriate to allow local authorities, working with air quality partners such as Highways England, to determine whether lower speed restrictions are appropriate locally. Schedule 11 to this Bill strengthens the local air quality management framework by increasing joint working between local authorities and relevant public authorities for precisely this purpose. The Government will shortly consult on designation of the first of these relevant public authorities, Highways England.
In addition, last year, the Government announced their plans to implement the moving traffic enforcement powers in Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004. This will enable local authorities in England with civil parking enforcement powers to take responsibility for enforcement of moving traffic offences. This can include enforcement of no entry, banned turns, access restrictions, box junctions and cycle lanes, but also includes idling. Although we encourage local authorities to make use of the powers available to them, which include issuing fixed penalty notices, this issue will not simply be resolved through fining. Local authorities, as existing guidance makes clear, should utilise a range of methods to encourage motorists to change their behaviour, including public information campaigns. The Government continue to invest in infrastructure for active travel, including a £2 billion fund for cycling and walking. An additional £200 million was allocated in the previous financial year as part of the Covid-19 active travel fund.
I think the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, was a little churlish about Boris Johnson’s initiatives while he was mayor. He did introduce the Routemaster bus and Boris bikes, and he also introduced potted plants, which may have had a little bit of an effect. I just defend him on that front.
We hope that this investment will enable and encourage people to switch from polluting methods of transport such as private cars to cleaner, greener and healthier transport modes such as cycling and walking, which we hope that all noble Lords will welcome. The solution to less air pollution from traffic is less traffic, not just slower-moving traffic.
On Amendments 151A and 151B, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and Amendment 155, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, we need to be careful not to be too prescriptive. Local authorities are required to review and assess local air quality and decide what action to take based on local needs. The Government already have a national network of 533 air quality monitoring sites across the UK, which measure air pollutants, operated by the Environment Agency. I hope that that gives some reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. It is not possible to monitor in every location, as this would be prohibitively expensive, so modelling enables assessment of air quality in locations without monitoring stations, allowing more effective investment on implementing policies that will deliver air quality improvements. Local authorities are already required to make their air quality action plans freely available, and they are advised in statutory guidance to do so on their website, as requested by the amendment from the noble Baroness. Specifically on Amendment 155 from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, my noble friend the Minister has previously set out the Government’s action on provision of air quality information, including our daily air quality index.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for also tabling Amendment 154. The Government agree that action is needed on air quality, and I reassure noble Lords that the Bill includes several measures to achieve this. In this Bill, the Government are committing to set a new national concentration target for PM2.5 under Clause 2, as this is the pollutant that has the most significant impact on health. We will also set a second ambitious target to reduce the exposure of the population to PM2.5 on an ongoing basis through our long-term air quality target, which must be set under Clause 1.
As my noble friend the Minister has already set out in this Committee, we are taking account of the World Health Organization’s guidance on this matter when setting air quality targets, and will continue to do so, but we simply do not yet know the policies that will be required to meet the WHO’s guidance level for PM2.5, especially in London. Therefore, we do not believe it is appropriate to set such a target, which would affect millions of people’s daily lives, without first levelling with them about the choices and changes that will be required as a result.
Turning to Amendment 153 from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and Amendments 156A to 156M—which I recall the noble Lord, Lord Tope, tabled as a Private Member’s Bill last year—I want to reassure the House that there is already a local air quality management framework in place which we are strengthening through this Bill. Under the current framework, local authorities already have a duty to monitor and assess air quality and to reduce pollution where statutory limits and local air quality objectives are breached. The Environment Bill strengthens this framework by fundamentally broadening the range of bodies required to co-operate with local authorities to improve local air quality and strengthens requirements for local air quality action plans—for example, it requires clear dates by when measures will be taken and provides an action plan if further measures need to be taken to secure air quality objectives.
The noble Lord, Lord Tope, specifically mentioned nitrogen oxide and particulate matter for generators. We introduced specified generator controls which require new generators to meet nitrogen oxide emission limits from January 2019. Additionally, since 2019, operators of existing diesel generators which may pose a risk to local air quality have been required to hold an environment permit and comply with permit conditions to protect local air quality. Other existing generators will be subject to emission limits from 2025 or 2030, depending on their size.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asked specifically about vulnerable populations, particularly children and those with health conditions. While targeted action can be taken, for instance around schools, children will also be exposed at home, when travelling and during other activities. Action focused on vulnerable groups needs to be part of a much wider programme of action. In the Bill, the Government have committed to reviewing and updating the air quality strategy within 12 months of the measures coming into force and every five years thereafter. We will use this review to consider whether local air quality standards and objectives for a range of pollutants need to be revised.
I highlight that local authorities already have several levers to improve air quality in their areas. They can declare air quality management areas and smoke control areas—which are strengthened by this Bill—to tackle emissions from domestic burning and can implement clean air zones, supported by funds from central government. In summary, more legislation may not necessarily be the answer, but rather targeted new measures and greater collaboration with local authorities to ensure they use their full powers to crack down on air pollution. The Environment Bill has been designed with this in mind.
We also know that funding for our local authorities is key, which is why our air quality grant scheme has awarded nearly £70 million to local authorities over its lifetime. Recent examples include projects to deliver electric cargo bikes in Colchester, reducing air pollution from deliveries in York, electric taxis in Slough and retrofitting double-decker buses in Brighton. We have also funded the retrofit of thousands of buses across the country through the clean bus technology fund, including in Gateshead, Essex, Oxford, Coventry, the West Midlands, Manchester and Liverpool.
On non-road mobile machinery, including construction equipment, generators and so on, there are already emissions standards that such machinery must comply with before it is sold. I am sure your Lordships are also aware that the Bill contains measures to allow the Government to compel manufacturers to recall non-road mobile machinery that does not meet the relevant environmental standards.
I hope the detail I have set out about the Government’s existing air quality regulatory framework and the improvements we are making through the Environment Bill, in addition to the significant funding provided by the Government directly to local authorities, enabling locally led solutions to air quality problems, provides some reassurance. I am obviously happy to learn of the success of Wales in introducing traffic-calming measures, particularly in Cardiff, my home town, and I was also interested to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, correctly identifying concerns about the capacity of green electricity as we increase our use of electric cars. The Government have been addressing this through myriad proposals in the 10-point plan and the energy White Paper. On that basis, I ask her to withdraw her amendment.
I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. I call the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.
My Lords, I would be very grateful if the Minister—in writing if not immediately—could let me know what steps the Government have taken or intend to take to enable local action in this area? My particular concern, as ever, is the town of Eastbourne. We are told from time to time that our air quality is bad; we are never told why. What support can the Government offer for properly testing the air pollution we are said to have, so that we can have a proper diagnosis of where it is coming from and therefore direct our local efforts accurately at dealing with it?
Similarly, the current system for trying to get speed limits moved to 20 miles per hour is very time-consuming and difficult and imposes a lot of burdens on the higher county authority. Is there not some simpler way in which an expression of local will might convert into something happening without the need for deep, long consultations? This is a matter of policy and of the direction we want to take a community in. It really should not have to justify itself at every cobblestone.
I am grateful to my noble friend. I think I answered in general terms how much the Bill enables greater local action on air pollution by improving local air quality management frameworks and ensuring that responsibility for addressing air pollution is shared across local government structures and other relevant public authorities. If I can offer him more detail, I commit to writing to him. On that last subject, the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, asked two questions that I failed to answer: traffic management in Northern Ireland is a devolved issue and I would of course be very happy to meet the noble Baroness to discuss further matters.
My Lords, reflecting on the Minister’s response to my noble friend on the current Prime Minister’s record on air pollution, would she acknowledge that it was the then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, who in February 2008 unveiled the plans for the London cycle hire scheme? Will she also acknowledge that the New Bus for London, commonly known as the “Boris bus”, had complete battery failure in 80 models, meaning that they only ever operated in diesel-only mode and emitted 74% more harmful particles than the old diesel buses they replaced?
Ken Livingstone may well have had the original idea, but it was certainly Boris who breathed life into the whole project. I think the new buses were much better than the old Routemaster, and I do not think one can blame him for trying to reduce emissions in London.
My Lords, I start by thanking all noble Lords who have spoken in support of 20’s Plenty. It has been much appreciated. I know it has not been discussed in this House much before, if at all; it is a new concept but I think it is a really worthy one. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, did not feel able to express his support, but I hope in time to convert him to the cause.
I found the Minister’s response disappointing and complacent. Air pollution is such a devastating killer, and it is not a pleasant way to pass away—particularly in light of the compelling and chilling evidence from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, who speaks with huge knowledge in these matters. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, had already asked about the Minister’s assertion about 30 mph limits being in place and the opportunity for local authorities to change that to 20 mph. That is exactly the situation we are trying to reverse; it is complicated and costly, et cetera, and it would be far better to have a default limit of 20 mph and for local authorities to have the power to change it to 30 mph or whatever speed limit they think appropriate.
The Minister also asserted that we are looking for less traffic, not slower traffic. The point is that all the evidence shows there is less traffic in areas with 20 mph speed limits, because people are more willing to switch to walking and cycling when traffic around them is calmer. These 20 mph limits are really popular. The national attitude survey on transport shows that substantially more than two thirds of the public are in favour of this. The Atkins report also showed the public were in favour.
I think the Minister was referring to the Atkins report when she said there was evidence that, in some areas, 20 mph limits can lead to higher casualty rates. That report has been challenged extensively, and I believe the 20’s Plenty campaign group wrote to the Government to say it was concerned about some of the report’s findings and to ask what evidence the Government could provide on the use they made of the various comparators in particular. The group has yet to have a reply from the Government; maybe this is an opportunity for it to receive that reply, which would be much appreciated.
The 20 mph limit is popular, practical, cheap and affordable, and there are numerous bodies of evidence to support the social and environmental benefits it would bring. It would be a bold step; it would help tackle climate change and public health issues at a single stroke. I hope the Government will take the amendment seriously, but, for now, I beg leave to withdraw it.
Amendment 150A withdrawn.
Schedule 11: Local Air Quality Management Framework
151: Schedule 11, page 190, line 41, at end insert—
“(4A) The requirement in subsection (4) may be met by consultation carried out before this section comes into force.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides that the consultation requirement in inserted section 81A(4) of the Environment Act 1995 may be met by pre-commencement consultation.
Amendment 151 agreed.
Amendments 151A and 151B not moved.
Schedule 11, as amended, agreed.
Clause 72 agreed.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 152. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.
152: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—
“Air quality and human health in rural areas: application of pesticides
(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations make provision prohibiting the application of pesticides for the purposes of agriculture or horticulture near—(a) buildings used for human habitation, and(b) public or private buildings and associated open spaces where members of the public may be present, including but not limited to—(i) schools and childcare nurseries, and(ii) hospitals and health care facilities.(2) Regulations under subsection (1) must specify a minimum distance from any of the locations listed under subsection (1) to be maintained during the application of any pesticide.(3) In determining the distance in subsection (2) the Secretary of State must be guided by the optimum distance that would make a significant difference in air quality for people using the locations listed in subsection (1).(4) In this section “public building” includes any building used for the purpose of education.(5) Regulations under this section are subject to the affirmative procedure.”Member’s explanatory statement
In order to improve air quality and thereby protect human health and the environment in rural areas, this new Clause would require the Secretary of State to make regulations to prohibit the application of chemical pesticides near buildings and open spaces used by residents and members of the public.
My Lords, we now come to another aspect of air quality. I move Amendment 152 with a strong feeling of déjà vu. I and my cosignatories, whose support I very much appreciate, argued for a similar amendment to the Agriculture Bill a few months ago. The Committee will recall that the House agreed that amendment. Regrettably, the House of Commons, advised by the Government, did not and rejected it. Ministers’ reasons for rejecting it were partly on the grounds that it would be better considered in an Environment Bill. So, here we are.
I never quite understood the Ministers’ argument since the application of pesticides is surely a matter of agricultural practice, and the amendment was and is about the impact of that practice on human health and well-being. It obviously also has implications for the environment and for biodiversity. I certainly argue the case on both those grounds, but centrally this is about for human health: the health of residents and others in danger of ingesting or touching pesticides because they are close to where crops are being sprayed. Those who are frequently close to, and often subject to repeated exposure from, multiple sprayings—in some cases over years, often of cocktails of pesticides—can develop severe illnesses. Anyhow, we now do have an Environment Bill, so I hope for a more positive line from Defra Ministers. I am encouraged by the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, is responding to this amendment.
The health impacts of chemical pesticide ingestion and skin contact are well documented, here and around the world. We have medical records of exposure through contact with airborne pesticides causing chronic conditions, including in the respiratory, nervous and immune systems, and including cancers, reproductive problems and a range of other serious problems, as well as serious acute problems including damaged throats and vocal chords, chemical burns and rashes, asthma attacks, vomiting, violent headaches and nausea. In the past, these effects were recorded in the Government’s monitoring system, although the previous form of that system has apparently been dropped, for no obvious reason. The same symptoms are constantly brought to the attention of campaigners and local medical services. Indeed, the former chief scientist to Defra, Ian Boyd, spelled this out clearly in his approach to the use of pesticides worldwide.
In response to the amendment on the Agriculture Bill, the Government said two things. First, they said that the EU regulation of pesticide—now transposed into UK law—is the most stringent it the world. I am not sure on what criteria that is based; more than 2,000 pesticides are authorised in this country, and they are often in cocktails of pesticides whose net effect is not very clear and has not gone through that authorisation process. Secondly, they argue that the government-backed pest management approach is developing and becoming more effective, and will solve any remaining problems.
We have had a consultation on the action plan on pesticides, and I regret to say that I do not think it goes far enough. As I have expressed before, I have had misgivings about the nature of our pesticide regulation at both EU and UK level since I was a Minister. I fear that government departments and the industry are far too close on this issue. There is a major gap in all authorisations when they relate to tests on single chemicals and their effects, when pesticides are, by and large, applied to crops and orchards in combination. That has not properly been assessed. It may well be that our system is better than in many other parts of the world—in Brazil, China, or even in the USA or Australia, whose products we are now on the verge of accepting—but it does not do enough to protect the interests and the health of rural residents.
Integrated pest management includes some important guidance for growers and farmers to improve efficiency and targeting, and hence reduce the total volume of inorganic chemical pesticides and exposure. But there is no focus in that on vulnerable populations in our rural communities. Although there are references in codes of practice to notification of residents and occupiers of adjacent premises, those neither have the backing of law nor require full disclosure of the type of pesticide being sprayed. In practice, that notification often does not occur, and when it does the recipients of that notification do not have the details of what kind of pesticide or combination of pesticides is being sprayed near their premises.
The Government’s references to consultation and their current consultative document on the action plan do not really help. The paper, which went out for consultation, did not really mention rural residents, let alone propose any action except tightening up the code of practice, which, as I say, is not directly enforceable and is in general protective—rightly so—of farmers and farm workers who operate the pesticides, but not of residents and their families. Progress towards reducing drastically the use of chemical pesticides remains painfully slow. I therefore have some fundamental doubts about the totality of the strategy towards pesticides that the Government have adopted.
However, Amendment 152 itself is much more modest. It does not deal with the need to develop alternative methods in the longer term. It deals simply with the issue of reducing the exposure of rural residents, workers and citizens, meaning that it is key to the health of thousands of rural citizens and their children. It simply and straightforwardly calls for limited protection for rural residents in their homes and gardens and for others using schools and public spaces near to crop spraying, so that the incidence of crop spraying is moved well away from those places. It aims to get the Government to regulate a safe—or at least safer—distance between crop spraying and residences, public buildings and public spaces. The amendment only calls on the House to accept that principle, and leaves it to the Government to come forward with regulation. The principle is that there should be a distance between rural dwellings and institutions and the spraying of crops and orchards. It leaves much to the Government. The regulations are not prescribed in any detail in the amendment; neither is the distance required. That will be a matter for consultation with all parties and for taking note of the science. The drafting of the regulations is, therefore, in the hands of the Government, subject to that consultation in which all parties, the agricultural interests in particular, will have their say—as will, crucially, the residents themselves.
During the passage of the Agriculture Act, I quoted a range of residents and others who have suffered or whose families have suffered from exposure to pesticides. They were pretty intense quotes, revealing real distress and illness. I could read them all out again today—I have them here—but I think the point has been made. This Bill needs to have room for this amendment. It is a massive Bill. It is about the environment, so let us remember that the excessive use of chemical pesticides is damaging also to vital pollinators—as Amendment 254 seeks to address—to biodiversity generally and to the soil, water quality and the air.
The Bill is also about people and the dangers to those who live and work in our countryside. I fear that government departments—such as the European Food Safety Authority beforehand—claim that there is a low incidence of serious disease from pesticides because they rely on occupational health standards. However, farmers, farm workers and park staff are required under health and safety regulations to wear protective clothing, masks and gloves. It is true that they did not always observe those rules historically, but they generally do today. Of course, there are warnings on virtually all pesticide products about their toxicity and the danger of touching or exposure, so the users are well aware that they have to wear protective clothing and be very careful when spraying.
This is a key issue of air quality in our countryside. We have just debated a whole group on air quality; I strongly support the direction in which we are going on that. We are rightly proposing legally binding targets; monitoring and limits for exposure to particulates from vehicles and elsewhere; a whole new regime for air quality emissions from vehicles; manufacturing standards; traffic management approaches; and many controls on other sources of pollution. Poor air quality is a real threat to the health of residents and pedestrians, but those residents and pedestrians at risk are mainly in our urban and suburban areas.
We also rightly have detailed regulations on pesticide and fungicide residue on the fruits and vegetables that reach our shops and markets. So, under this Bill and other measures, the urban population is to be more protected; farm workers are largely protected by the H&S requirements; and consumers of the products are protected. However, those who live and work closest to the growing of crops, and are therefore exposed most frequently and on a more long-term basis, are hardly protected at all. Pesticide exposure causes similar diseases and afflictions to those caused by vehicular and other emissions. It is wrong that our rural population should not be equally protected. The simplest and most effective improvement in protection in the immediate term is to prohibit spraying near their homes, schools, gardens and open places. I beg to move.
I understand that there has been a slight change in the order of speakers. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff.
My Lords, I am most grateful for this slight change being allowed for the convenience of the House.
I am glad to be able to speak in support of these very important amendments. I added my name to Amendment 152 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. As he said, we are doing exactly what we were advised to: we are bringing this issue back in the passage of the Environment Bill.
I will not repeat what I said on the Agriculture Act—it is all there on the record already—but I did point out in Committee of the then Agriculture Bill last year that synthetic chemical pesticides were originally developed as chemical warfare in the 1930s and 1940s. These highly toxic substances have now been used in farming for more than 75 years. They carry warnings on them, such as “risk of serious damage to eyes”, “possible risk of irreversible effects through inhalation” and even “may be fatal if inhaled or ingested”. In 1975, the then Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food stated:
“The repeated use of pesticides, even in small quantities, can have cumulative effects which may not be noticed until a dangerous amount has been absorbed.”
Here we are, 46 years later, and I am not sure that we have heeded that warning.
Although spraying equipment and the protection of employees doing the spraying is regulated, residents in an area downwind from any spraying have no protection in law at all. These pesticides are known to cause different cancers and have been thought to be associated with birth defects and a wide range of diseases, particularly neuroendocrine and autoimmune conditions. All this is a mounting cost to the NHS but, more importantly, it destroys people’s lives and the quality of their lives.
Amendment 152 aims to provide protection to residents. These airborne droplets in pesticide vapour can settle on the ground and be revaporised in subsequent high heat or windy weather conditions. Several studies have shown pesticides being transported in the air for many miles from where they were originally applied, which then exposes babies, children and pregnant women to these chemicals. We cannot carry on allowing the next generation—whether in utero or after they have been born—to be poisoned by chemicals that are often used as a convenience in farming rather than being absolutely essential.
I also strongly support Amendment 254. Without our pollinators, we will have no food. This Bill is the place to protect this essential part of our food chain.
My Lords, I am speaking to Amendment 254 in my name and fully support Amendment 152 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I am grateful for the information I have received from the Crop Protection Association, Buglife, Friends of the Earth, the UK Pesticides Campaign and others.
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, have long campaigned for tighter control of pesticides in order to protect human health and the environment. As the noble Lord has already said, these are issues which we explored in depth during the passage of the Agriculture Bill. Undeterred, we are back again to explore the dangers of pesticides to both humans and pollinating insects.
Pollinators are essential to a healthy countryside and to agricultural production, but in recent years pesticide use has caused a decline in key populations of wild pollinators, resulting in many species disappearing from large areas of the countryside. Amendment 254 sets out in detail the measures necessary to protect our pollinating insects from the harm which pesticides do to them. The widespread use of neonicotinoids resulted in a reduction in the overwintering success of honeybee hives and a decline of 40% in wild bee species. Despite a ban on the use of Thiamethoxam, its use on sugar beet was authorised by the Minister earlier this year, despite advice from his own advisers not to do so. This is a very harmful substance to bees.
Currently, the reapproval tests that pesticides have to pass look at data only on short-term effects on honeybees. No account is taken of the long-term effect on honeybees and other pollinators. Different groups of pollinators are affected by pesticides in different ways, so it is important that a range of pollinators is included in the pre-approval testing process. This should include acute and chronic effects on honeybees, bumblebees, solitary bees, butterflies, and hoverflies. Independent scientific advice should be considered when reaching decision on whether to proliferate their use.
Glyphosate-based herbicides can cause high levels of mortality in bumblebees. It is not the active ingredient that is harmful, but the other ingredients included in the pesticide product. Great care is needed in the testing regime to ensure that all the ingredients are not likely to have a harmful effect on pollinators. Research undertaken by the UK Pesticides Campaign has highlighted that it is the mixture and cocktail of pesticides sprayed on crops that is so damaging to humans, and to bees and other pollinators. Bees and other pollinators that come into direct contact with the mixture of different pesticides are particularly at risk. Often, any one pesticide application will consist of four or five different products mixed together.
Amendment 152 seeks to protect human health from agricultural pesticides when sprayed in certain areas. If this amendment is accepted, it would prohibit the use of pesticides in these areas and could help other species there, such as bees, other pollinators, and birds. Proposed new subsections (2) and (3) would ensure that scientific advice is independent and free from political and vested-interest influence. I fear this was not the case when the Government relaxed the ban for the sugar beet growers. I understand that the Government come under pressure from producers and business interests to relax rules and regulations in order to allow for greater productivity and profit, but this should not be at the expense of our pollinators. If we have a declining population of pollinators, other producers and crop growers will suffer, as they rely on those very pollinators in order for their crops to prosper. I look forward to the Minister’s favourable response on this vital group for our countryside.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and also to follow the very expert testimony of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. I am speaking to Amendment 152 and 254 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, respectively. Noble Lords will have noted that both have cross-party, and indeed non-party, backing. It is worth repeating, again, as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said, that the House has already agreed something very similar to Amendment 152 in the Agriculture Bill.
These are apparently two separate amendments about pesticides: one focused on public health, the other more on nature—but of course those two things are not distinct but very much interrelated. They reflect the countryside that is increasingly soaked in poison. That is what pesticides are, by definition. We have been applying stronger poisons, and more of them, more often. In the first half of the last decade, three metrics—the area treated, often measured as spray hectares, the frequency of applications and the number of active ingredients used—all leapt significantly. So, while UK cropland covers about 4.6 million hectares, the area treated is many times larger. Defra figures show that that increased from 59 million spray hectares in 2000 to 73 million spray hectares in 2016: a rise of 24%. The average number of active ingredients per field has risen from 12.8 per hectare to 15.9 per hectare.
Let us imagine actually living next to that field. I am sure everyone has seen the videos: spray nozzles practically brushing people’s windows, other nozzles right up against garden hedges. Imagine being a pollinator—a moth or a solitary bee—going about your business. Your body is gradually being degraded, and your behaviour modified disastrously: all the impacts that we have just started to understand, with 16 active ingredients—poisons—introduced right into the depths of your world and your home.
The person applying the pesticide, quite likely from an air-conditioned tractor cab with protective equipment, has protection—still not enough, but protection. You, the local resident or pollinator, have none. You have no idea what it is in that spray, and even the experts really have no idea what impact that cocktail of chemicals will have. I refer to Defra’s own former chief scientific adviser, Professor Sir Ian Boyd, who, in an article in Science in 2016 said the impact of “dosing whole landscapes” is being ignored, and the assumption that it is safe to so behave is simply false. Even the person applying the pesticides will suffer ill-effects, as a recent Annals of Agricultural and Environmental Medicine journal entitled Influence of Pesticides on Respiratory Pathology set out. It notes that there is a
“significant increase in respiratory problems within the population”
of people working in agriculture because of this.
Turning to look particularly at the pollinators, many of the UK’s most valuable crop, including apples, strawberries and runner beans, are pollinated by insects. The monetary value of that—if you can put a monetary value on it—is put at £430 million a year. Honeybees are important, and there is often a lot of focus on them, but they probably do only 10% or 15% of the work. These wild creatures are crucial, and they are perhaps the ones that are suffering the most.
We are talking about food security being at risk, and in particular the supply of healthy food: fruit and vegetables. The chemical industry will say, “We need these chemicals to grow food”. I would very much agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and others that the closeness between the Government and the industry is a grave concern. There is something of an infamous paper from 2011 titled Without Pesticides, Apple Production in the United Kingdom Would Not Be Viable. Well, I ask noble Lords to look back and think about before we had pesticides: we actually had apples, a lot of apples.
This is where I would, perhaps, slightly disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, who talked about convenience. I think what we have is a broken system. Farmers are being forced to use these chemicals, and forced to use production methods to suit the supermarkets and multinational food production. We can produce the food in different ways, and it may be sold in different ways. Potato blight has caused much use of chemicals. There are varieties that can do very well with little or no application of chemicals, that are blight resistant, but they are not necessarily to the exact specification of the international fast food giants, who want their chips all around the world to look and taste exactly the same. But each field is not a global field; it is a local field, and we need to be growing the right crops in that field for the right conditions. This is something noble Lords may already be aware that I am quite passionate about, but I am going to restrain myself here and just make one final point.
In Defra’s 2019 report on pesticide usage on food crops, there is a graph entitled “Area treated with the major pesticide groups”. In that graph, fungicides tower above the rest. The weight of fungicides increased by 5% from 2017 to 2019. Yet, increasingly, as we were discussing a few weeks back in the soil amendments, we understand that fungi are a crucial part of healthy soils. We are heaping a specific targeted poison on our environment to kill the essential life in our soils. This is also, of course, damaging the pollinators that this amendment refers to, and is having impacts on our health.
There is also the issue of antimicrobial resistance. Here we come back, as so many debates do, to Covid. There is something called “black fungus”, which is a problem particularly in India. Its technical name is mucormycosis. It is infecting—utterly horribly—patients already very ill from Covid. Treatment is prolonged and difficult. We have a huge problem with resistance to anti-fungicide drugs. We have also seen, in the US and the UK, increasing levels of infection from Aspergillus and from Candida auris. All these fungi that we target out in our natural environment are a threat to our health. We are using the same kinds of drugs in the environment that we are then using to treat the diseases in our bodies.
In summary, we have a natural world—a world of air and ground in which we live—that is out of balance: a poisoned world. These amendments are very modest. They are small steps towards turning that around. When we were talking about the state of nature and about a species target, the Minister said, “Well, things are going to have to get worse before they get better”. He said we need time to turn the curve around. Well, I would say that in this area there is no time. We absolutely have to act on pesticides now.
My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and indeed the other speakers to this amendment. I have added my name to both of these amendments. There is really very little to add to what has been said. I found that my main theme was slightly taken by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. I was going to emphasise that, when we talk about pesticides, we are talking about poisons. If you refer to them as “poisons”, perhaps that has a little bit more significance for people.
As has been said, one amendment is about human health—very important—and the other one is about the natural world and pollinators. Although I put my name to it, I could have added some other pollinators that have been left off. I have a feeling that moths and bats were not there. Moths are very important. However, I am not going to quibble about this.
The real point is that we are doing as the Government wanted because, as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said, the Government said during the passage of the Agriculture Bill that the place for it was not there but in the Environment Bill. So I am delighted that we are doing the Government’s work in bringing this back. I am sure it will have the same reaction in your Lordships’ Chamber and that we will be passing it back to the Commons, so I would have thought it would be wise for the Government to accept these amendments when they can.
Because I am in a particularly generous mood today, I am not going to refer to an earlier life of the Minister, who did sterling work in this area before he had to accept responsibility for government positions. I understand his position admirably and I think that he is doing a fantastic job. I know he has got extremely good history on this and I hope he can prevail with the powers that be.
I look forward to hearing his response—and, indeed, the Government’s response when this comes back on Report, if it is not accepted.
My Lords, I declare my farming interests as set out in the register. I also declare my interest as someone who is involved in a major beekeeping operation.
As has been pointed out, this is not the first time that noble Lords have discussed this issue, and no doubt nor will it be the last. I would like to speak against Amendments 152 and 254 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and other noble Lords.
Neither of these amendments achieves anything that is not already covered by existing regulations and practice, but both might be not only counterproductive but harmful to food production in this country. Farmers need to grow healthy, affordable, sustainable food, at the same time as addressing environmental and climate-change issues. It does not make sense to push farmers out of food production, with the consequence of increasing imports from countries with lower standards. We need to accept that the UK has one of the most stringent regulatory systems in the world for the use of plant protection products.
With regard to Amendment 152, the existing PPP regulations cover the impact on bystanders and residents living or working near the area of treatment. There is already a strict code of practice, and incidents of harm and noncompliance are investigated. Operators must have appropriate qualifications and equipment is regularly tested under various protocols and insurance schemes. Please remember that farmers spray only when it is strictly necessary as part of integrated pest-management approaches. PPPs are targeted and not used in isolation. However, failure to use PPPs for weeds, pests and diseases can result in significant crop losses, which have been estimated by some at around 30% to 40% of our food.
Turning to Amendment 252, appropriate and robust risk assessments on all active substances are already performed. With the current pressure on farming to improve sustainable practices, as it moves from the blunt instrument of the basic payment to that linked to public good, there is considerable likelihood that the amount of land under food production will decrease. This will be compounded by pressures for land from forestry and housing. Therefore, improvements in productivity are essential. This will be brought about largely by technology, and agritech in particular. Plant breeding, precision farming and pest control, together with gene editing, are all part of the armoury to make sure that we can feed people in a sustainable and affordable way. Investments in these areas need to be encouraged, not discouraged by introducing more regulation regarding areas that are already sufficiently regulated, with the regulations recognised as being among the most stringent.
Humankind faces many challenges and I applaud this Bill for addressing many of them. But we need to bear in mind proportionality. Let us not, albeit guided by the best of intentions, limit our capacity to feed the population of this country in an affordable way. Just look at the number of food banks in the country today. Empty stomachs have caused many a revolution and riots.
My Lords, I speak in support of Amendment 152 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and colleagues, and Amendment 254 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, regarding the use of pesticides and their impact on the environment. I vividly recall similar debates last year in Committee and on Report during the passage of the Agriculture Act.
I believe, like the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that there has to be a level of proportionality and balance, but I live in a rural area and I know what it is like to be impacted by the use of pesticides. There is a clear need for a pesticide management plan, because there has been an excessive use of pesticides, which have been damaging not only to the pollinators, as expressed through Amendment 254, but to human health and the environment, as conveyed by Amendment 152.
Amendment 152 is a cross-party piece of proposed legislation and is crucial in that its focus is the protection of human health and the environment in rural areas by prohibiting the use of agricultural pesticides near specified areas and the vulnerable groups within them, such as rural residents’ homes, schools, childcare nurseries and other healthcare facilities. As detailed in the UK Pesticides Campaign’s submission to the Public Bill Committee, it is highly noticeable that, although human health and the environment are inextricably linked—particularly when it comes to the use of agricultural pesticides—and the Environment Bill includes priority areas for regulations to be set, including in relation to air quality and the listed air polluting impacts, there appears to be a total omission of any requirements for the protection of human health and the environment from agricultural pesticides. Quite clearly, a level of balance and proportionality is required in the use and the location of pesticides.
As it stands, the Environment Bill does not appear to recognise in any capacity or even have any specific reference to pesticides, when in actual fact they are the biggest contributor of damage, pollution and contamination of the air, soil, water and overall environment in rural areas. The UK Pesticides Campaign asserts that the existing pesticides standards here in the UK fail to protect human health and the environment in rural areas.
Because improving air quality is a major public health issue, long-overdue regulations for the protection of human health and the environment from agricultural pesticides now need to be set in the Environment Bill, most importantly for the protection of the health of rural residents and communities—hence the need for Amendment 152 to be put on the face of the Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, outlined.
Furthermore, on Amendment 254, the reality of crop spraying in the countryside is that it involves the dispersal of innumerable mixtures and cocktails of pesticides sprayed on crops, so the critical point about the exposure of any species—whether it be humans or bees and other pollinators—is that it will be to mixtures of different pesticides.
There is also the risk of adverse impacts on bee health from the cumulative effects of multiple exposures to mixtures of different pesticides. The only way to properly protect bees and other pollinators is to prohibit the use of such harmful pesticides in rural areas. Maybe another way to address this issue would be if farmers were allowed to set aside greater areas that were fully covered by all the subsidy schemes.
The Soil Association wants to see a different approach to farming and the use of pesticides. It believes that the Government and society should support UK farmers to transition to whole-farm agroecological systems, ensuring that there is no lowering of environmental or health standards as a result of any new trade deals, and that they should introduce a clear quantitative target for significantly reducing the overall use of pesticides in agriculture.
Therefore, pollinators must be protected from pesticides as Amendment 254 requires. I look forward to the response from the Minister and I hope that he will see fit to accept both amendments to ensure that our environment, our natural life and biodiversity and the human health of individuals in rural areas can be protected from the harmful impacts of pesticides.
My Lords, it is very good to have the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, in the Chamber. He has been very active on the screen but there is no substitute for being here in the flesh. I very much hope that it will not be too long before we see the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, here too. She also has been very assiduous in taking part in debates and making her contributions, but I ask her to come here if she possibly can, please, because that is what proper debating is about.
My heart is entirely with those who have moved these amendments, but we owe a great debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for making this a proper debate. I was a Member of Parliament for a rural constituency for 40 years. I got to know many farmers and many of them became close friends. A person I would like to quote is perhaps the greatest countryman I have ever known. Some of your Lordships may remember Phil Drabble and his programme “One Man and His Dog”—he was its originator—but he was far more than an accomplished shepherd. He had his wilderness, about which he wrote books, which was a wonderful corner of Staffordshire with the second largest heronry in the country. I often used to talk to him about these things. He used to say to me, with his inimitable burr, which I will certainly not try to imitate, that it is a question of getting the balance right.
Nobody could dispute that pesticides are indeed poisonous, as my noble friend Lord Randall said, or that their indiscriminate or careless use causes enormous damage. It is right that colleagues in this debate should point out some of the dangers—the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, was particularly forceful on this. It is also very important indeed that the dangers to pollinators should be properly recognised. Without pollinators there is only one end, which is extinction, and we have to be conscious of that. But the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, was right when he asked us to consider whether the current regulations are adequate. He came down on the side of saying that they were. I am not absolutely convinced, but we have stringent regulations and, although one case of poisoning through pesticides is one too many, there have not been enormous numbers and we have to bear that in mind.
The Minister, who will reply in a few moments, is, as someone said a little while ago, someone with a good track record in this field. I hope that he will bear in mind that your Lordships’ House—as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and several others reminded us—voted for a similar amendment during the passage of the Agriculture Act. I well remember the debate and the graphic and gruesome examples that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, drew to our attention. But, at the end of the day, farming is there for one overriding purpose: to produce the food to feed the nation.
It is terribly important that we are as self-dependent as possible on quality food and crops grown and animals reared to the highest possible standard. It is very important that we recognise that overriding role for agriculture and the importance that this Bill should help and encourage responsible farming and certainly not do the opposite. I think that the regulations—and here I slightly part company with the noble Lord, Lord Carrington—need to be put under a microscope, and this Bill gives us the opportunity to do precisely that. Committee is the stage when we probe to see what needs to be done on Report before the Bill finally becomes an Act of Parliament and goes on the statute book.
I think it would be very good if there were fairly intensive discussions between the Minister and people such as my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and others—including, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington—to make sure that, when this Bill emerges, we are better protected than we are at the moment and that farming is not inhibited to the point where farmers give up and become custodians of prettiness and not producers of food. However, there is nothing incompatible between beauty and the production of food because that way lies a balanced and proper environment, with a countryside we can all enjoy and the benefits of the food that we need to sustain us.
I very much look forward to what my noble friend the Minister will say when he comes to wind up this interesting debate. I hope there will be an opportunity to strengthen regulations—if that is needed, and I believe it is—when we come to Report.
My Lords, I declare an interest through my involve at Rothamsted, which carries out research on pesticides and pollinators.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Whitty—and welcome him back—for introducing his amendment on the impact of pesticides on human health with such knowledge and such detail. I am also grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, for championing the very important case of pollinators, to which I have added my name.
As my noble friend Lord Whitty reminded us, these issues were debated in some detail during the consideration of the Agriculture Bill, and it is right that we return to them today. I very much commend his Amendment 152 because I think that it is a common-sense and reasonable proposal that we have before us today.
During this debate, noble Lords have shown considerable concern, passion and determination about these issues. As noble Lords have said, we are talking about the application of poisons here, so we cannot take these issues lightly. My noble friend Lord Whitty and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, have given powerful examples of the public health concerns which can arise from close contact with pesticides. As they said, asthma, respiratory problems, skin disorders and even cancers are destroying people’s lives. Sadly, all too often, our experience has been that the health problems come to light when the damage has already been done. We discover in retrospect that what was promised to be safe turned out not to be. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, pointed out, we are still learning and we are also storing up problems for the future, for example, given our understanding of the impact that antimicrobial resistance can have on public health.
The point at issue here is the particular concern about the impact on those living and working adjacent to fields that are regularly sprayed. As my noble friend Lord Whitty said, at least farm workers have access to protective clothing but no such provision is made for the local population. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said that spraying is already covered by the regulations, but the problem is the difference between the regulations and practice. It is obvious that the rules are not being adhered to in their current form, which is why we need to spell out more specific protections. This is what my noble friend Lord Whitty’s amendment does and why it particularly singles out spraying adjacent to homes, schools and health facilities. I would have thought that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, would have understood and agreed with that. We are not trying to ban the wholesale spraying of crops; we are just trying to put some limitations on it.
The UN report The Right to Food, published in 2017, highlighted that chronic exposure to agricultural pesticides is associated with a range of diseases, including cancer, sterility and developmental disorders. The local population, rather than professionals, were often subjected.
We welcome the Government’s commitment to reduce levels of pesticide use, combined with integrated pest management. We can all see the potential of harnessing the natural power of biodiversity and the advantages of precision applications in the future. But I agree with my noble friend Lord Whitty that the action plan on pesticides does not go far enough. We have to bear in mind the huge vested-interest lobby trying to draw out the reforms, which are needed more urgently. This does not answer the problem addressed in this amendment: we need to have confidence that, in any consultation, the voice of residents will have the same weight as that of the farming community. This is why we need the best independent scientific evidence to underpin our policies.
The Government clearly feel that we can farm with fewer pesticides. They have said that during the Agriculture Bill and in the action plan since. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, presented us with a false dichotomy. It is not a choice between growing food and public health; we can cut back on the application of pesticides and still grow food but live a healthier life.
However, for the foreseeable future, spraying will still take place and, as the UK Pesticides Campaign makes clear, the real problems often lie in exposure to mixtures of pesticides. Therefore, we cannot just sit back and wait for the technology or for nature-friendly applications of the future. We need measures to protect people from the suffering that is occurring now. It is clear that the regulations in existence are inadequate to protect the local population. I hope that the Minister has listened to this debate seriously and will give assurances that the Government will take these concerns on board.
We also wholeheartedly welcome the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, which would provide added protection for pollinators, particularly bees. We are now much more aware of the importance of pollinators to our crops and to levels of biodiversity, yet since 1990 the UK has lost 13 out of its 35 native bee species. All the evidence shows that pesticides, and particularly neonicotinoids, are seriously harmful to our dwindling bee population. This is why the EU has a ban on the use of neonicotinoids.
We understand the concerns of sugar beet farmers, but sugar beet is a complex crop and ending the ban is not necessarily the solution to tackling crop blight. To quote a much-quoted Michael Gove again,
“Unless the evidence base changes again, the government will keep these restrictions in place after we have left the EU.”
In a Commons debate on the issue earlier this year, the Minister Rebecca Pow said:
“We supported the ban in 2018 and we stand by that now”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/1/21; col. 262]
So we have to ask what has changed, because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, has pointed out, the Government have now lifted the ban, even though evidence of its harm has not altered. To the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, I say that a risk assessment was carried out, but the Government chose to ignore it.
This is why we support the eminently sensible amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, which would take the decisions out of the hands of politicians and pass them to an expert scientific authority. We need to be assured that the Government are not being put under undue pressure from the business sector to maintain its market access. I therefore hope that the Minister takes both these amendments seriously and comes back with a government proposal that adequately addresses these concerns.
I shall start by addressing Amendment 152 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. Noble Lords are right to shine a light on this topic today, and I hope I can reassure them on the Government’s position. The Government fully agree that pesticides should not be used in a way that harms human health.
Under the current regulatory system, pesticides are authorised for use only where a comprehensive scientific assessment determines that there are not expected to be any harmful effects on human health. The assessment, carried out by the Health and Safety Executive, covers all situations where people may be exposed to pesticides. It specifically covers the potential impacts on those who live, work or take their leisure around treated areas. I am not going to pretend that it is a perfect system—if it was, we would not be having this debate. Historically, there has been an unnatural, unhealthy closeness between the regulated and the regulators, here and across the European Union. I remember the lobbying efforts which were deployed to prevent the European Commission introducing a tough approach to the regulation of endocrine-disrupting chemicals. It was probably the biggest lobbying exercise that I have ever witnessed, and I remember writing about it years ago. That situation is true of the UK too, and I suspect of most countries. There is no doubt that despite the existing protections—which the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, described as one of the toughest approaches, which is probably true—harmful chemicals have been poured into our soils, our waters and throughout our food chain. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, is right that the status quo is not sufficient. I agree with my noble friend Lord Cormack that it needs to be put under the microscope.
With that said, authorisation is frequently refused because the proposed use of the product is not demonstrated to be sufficiently safe to people or the environment. These controls allow pesticides to be used where they are deemed to be safe and where they are considered necessary for UK farmers. Unfortunately, in the current system, pesticides are a core part of the control of pests, weeds and diseases. Without them, it is estimated that UK farmers would produce around one-third less food. At the same time, we must—and do—recognise the need to change the current system and to reduce our dependence on the use of pesticides. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, talked about productivity, and I want to throw into the debate that it is not always the case that large intensive monocultures for export are more productive than the smaller, more diverse and perhaps more traditional farms that they often replace. A seminal report was conducted by the UN FAO and the World Bank, which surprised themselves by discovering that the small diverse mixed farm was productive per unit of land, where the large intensive monoculture for export was often more productive per unit of labour. In terms of getting food off the ground, it is not always the case that modern industrial farming produces more.
Under the 25-year environment plan, the Government committed to developing and promoting integrated pest management. Applied properly, this approach maximises the use of non-chemical control techniques and minimises the use of chemical pesticides, including by pursuing nature-based, low-toxicity solutions and precision technologies. This will reduce risks from pesticide use and the amounts used over time. In addition to that, as noble Lords will know, we are moving to a system away from the common agricultural policy toward the environmental land management system which will be rewarding and paying farmers for the delivery of public goods. That means, among many other things, a clean environment. I add that in their consultation on the draft revised national action plan for the sustainable use of pesticides, the Government also committed to reviewing the code of practice that governs all professional users of pesticides. The code’s statutory basis means that it can be used in evidence if people are taken to court for offences involving pesticides.
Turning to Amendment 254, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, she is of course right that the use of pesticides must not put pollinators at unacceptable risk, for all the reasons that she gave and which I will not repeat. It is impossible to exaggerate the existential damage that would be done were we to see the continuing decline of pollinators on the scale that we have seen in recent years, so I will not take issue with her at all on that.
Current legislation requires that active substances and pesticide products must have
“no unacceptable effects on the environment, having particular regard to … its impact on non-target species”.
Decisions on pesticide authorisation are based on assessments by the Health and Safety Executive, and the independent UK Expert Committee on Pesticides advises on novel scientific issues. The scientific risk assessment relies on detailed data requirements and processes carried across from EU law at the end of the transition period. The Government will ensure that they are updated so that they keep step with developments in scientific understanding.
In relation to comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, about the lifting of the ban on neonicotinoids, we have not reversed the ban. It remains in place, but under EU legislation it is possible to grant emergency authorisations. A number of countries, including Belgium, Denmark and Spain did exactly as we did, although I am pleased to say that, having created the space for this emergency authorisation, it was not in fact used, which I think we can all agree is a good thing. Risk assessments made for active substances are subject to public consultation. These assessments establish the key risks posed by pesticide substances in representative conditions of use.
I hope that I have managed to persuade noble Lords that the Government are committed to reducing pesticide use and recognise that, in order to do so, we need to change the manner in which the land is managed so that we reduce our dependence on pesticides. We cannot afford to remove pesticide use and see food production collapse but, as many noble Lords have pointed out, that link is far from inevitable. We continue to look very closely at this issue, and I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that I of course take these amendments extremely seriously and I share the intention behind them. The Government will continue to take measures to reduce pesticide use across the board to protect people and nature so for the time being, I respectfully ask that the amendment be withdrawn.
I have received one request to speak. I call the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge.
I am most grateful, and I thank my noble friend for his answer. He may have said this in his reply, but I ask again because I could not pick it up. When authorisations are given for substances, is the mixture—the toxic cocktails, if you like—actually checked? I am no scientist, but I do know that when you mix certain chemicals together, they have a different effect from what they have when they are on their own. I am just wondering whether that is checked to make sure that the effects are not harmful.
My noble friend raises an incredibly important point and I have to be honest and say that I cannot give him an authoritative answer. He is right that the synergistic effect of mixing chemicals creates entirely new qualities, and two relatively harmless chemicals, or not particularly dangerous chemicals, mixed together can create something that is lethal. A decent, proper and thorough regulatory system absolutely would test new chemicals as they enter the market on the basis of how they are likely to interact with chemicals that they are likely to meet. I am afraid this is not an area I have any expertise in, but I will look into it as a matter of urgency, and I will write to him and place my answer in the Library.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and all noble Lords who supported my amendment. I find the Minister’s reply slightly equivocal. I have been in his shoes, and I know that sometimes you have to read out stuff with which you do not entirely agree. I rather think that, in the light of his final remarks, that is the position the Minister finds himself in today. Nevertheless, there are some points that we on our side have to take into account, but I ask that the Minister takes our position into account.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for welcoming me, but he was wrong to say that there are relatively few cases. There is a significant number of cases, some of which are due to historic exposure but, nevertheless, there is a large number of cases—thousands. Around the world, there are several tens of thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, of people who are seriously medically affected, in some cases lethally, by the use of pesticides.
I applaud the Government's long-term aim of reducing pesticides, in one sense. I would prefer the long-term aim to be the elimination of non-organic pesticides, but that is for the long term. The amendment deals with a very specific and, as I said, modest proposition in the more or less immediate term.
To reply to the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Cormack, the present regulations are not effective. They largely depend on codes of practice, which are not directly legally enforceable. The rights of residents are only minimally covered. I agree that we need to put those regulations under the microscope, but my belief—and that behind the amendment and shared by those who support me and the thousands of people who have been affected by pesticide exposure—is that, having put them under the microscope, we must reach the conclusion that those areas where people permanently live, work or attend must be permanently removed from airborne crop-spraying application of pesticides.
It is not a simple question, and there is not a simple scientific argument, about how far that should be, because the wind changes and methods of application change. I was slightly alarmed, although I think it was supposed to be reassuring, that part of the medium-term development of pesticide application could be the use of drones. On one level, they may be more precise, but on another, they are less controllable. Rural residents will certainly be fearful of that.
All those issues must be taken into account. Some of us may want different and more radical long-term objectives, but the amendment relates to the distance between places where people are in our countryside and where toxic material is being put into the air which they can breathe and which touches them and can affect them and their children.
Any putting under the microscope of the present situation would reach the same conclusion: we need a distance. As I said earlier, the exact distance and regulation is a matter for further discussion with the Government, but the principle needs to be in the Bill, and I shall return to this at a later stage. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 152 withdrawn.
Amendments 153 to 156M not moved.
Schedule 12 agreed.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 157. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in the group to a Division must make that clear in the debate.
Clause 73: Environmental recall of motor vehicles etc
157: Clause 73, page 63, line 29, at end insert “, train, ship or aircraft;”
Member’s explanatory statement
This Clause appears to enable the Government to recall pieces of internal combustion engines that are no longer compliant with emissions legislation. This amendment, as well as others in Lord Berkeley’s name, is to probe why trains, ships and aircraft are not included as they are capable of similar emissions.
My Lords, I shall also speak to Amendments 158 and 159 and comment on the other amendment in this grouping. This is to do with the environmental recalling of motor vehicles, which covers everything in Clause 73(3). As I read it, this is for the purpose of the environmental impacts, which in Clause 73(6) include
“any impact on the environment caused by noise, heat or vibrations or any other kind of release of energy or emissions resulting from the use of the product.”
I have tabled this amendment to probe Ministers as to why the clause relates only to motor vehicles, which I think are effectively road vehicles, and does not include emissions from trains—there are a lot of diesel trains around—from ships, certainly within UK territorial waters, or aircraft. We have had many debates about emissions from aircraft, although fewer about ships and trains. They all have the same ability to emit harmful emissions and do everything mentioned in Clause 73, a clause that I of course support.
Amendment 159 relates to similar pieces of equipment. Construction equipment, bulldozers and cranes, and agricultural plant or equipment are all powered by motors that emit possibly—in fact, almost certainly—harmful emissions. I want to probe the Minister on why these are not included in this rather excellent piece of legislation. It will be quite difficult to get them into the regulations. On the principle that most of this equipment has motors that cause noise, emissions or a combination of the two, I think they should be included in the same clause.
Some vehicles are major polluters because there are so many of them, and you can include cars and trucks in that. There are probably fewer agricultural vehicles, such as tractors, but some of the ones that I have seen certainly do their bit to pollute the environment. I would be pleased to hear from the Minister why they have been excluded.
There has been a lot of talk of biomass being able to fuel aircraft in order to make them zero carbon, but if we ever got to a stage where aircraft could be powered by a fuel that was 100% biomass, it would need so many hectares of land on which to grow that biomass that we would probably all starve around the world. That is not a long-term solution. Aircraft cause just as much pollution as everything else. Obviously we need to have international agreements on all these issues, but we still need to do our national bit.
So those are the big numbers. Conversely, Amendment 279 in the name of my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester and other noble Lords is a plea for an exception to Clause 73. Railway locomotives, road vehicle chimneys and even stationary steam engines emit quite a lot of harmful emissions, but there are so few of them around that one could argue from a heritage point of view that they should be excepted from Clause 73. I shall listen carefully to what noble Lords say about this amendment, but because there are so few of these vehicles around there is a strong argument for excepting them from the clause. I look forward to the Minister’s reply and I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to my Amendment 279, which is grouped with the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. I tabled it with noble Lords from across the Chamber, the noble Lords, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean and Lord Bradshaw, and the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, because we believe that the members of the heritage steam alliance—heritage railways, steam boats and ships, steam road vehicles, engineering museums and historic houses—are entitled to have confirmed the guarantee given by the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, in a private meeting on 25 May and repeated by him at Second Reading on 7 June, that they will be permitted to continue to burn coal. That guarantee should be placed in the Bill and enshrined in the Act when it finally passes.
At Second Reading, the noble Lord said:
“The Government are very confident, as am I, that heritage railways will continue to operate, because although our electricity systems will no longer rely on coal, it can still be used by a range of industries that need it”.—[Official Report, 7/6/21; col. 1306.]
In our meeting a fortnight earlier, he said that banning heritage coal use would be a disproportionate response to the clean air and climate change agendas and would damage the great cultural and economic value of the steam sector to our tourism economy. There is no need for me make again my Second Reading speech about the value of the heritage rail sector and other aspects of the heritage steam alliance to tourism and the regional economy in particular. I simply make the point that all Amendment 279 does is to put it beyond any doubt that the assurances Ministers have repeatedly given us that the heritage steam sector will remain in being have the force of law and cannot be reversed without fresh primary legislation.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe.
My Lords, like all noble Lords, I support this Bill in the round. Having said that, it contains hints of an ugly intolerance; it sometimes gives the impression that those responsible for it know all the answers. A more open attitude would pay dividends and avoid error. After all, a short while ago, some of the same people were confidently and wrongly demanding that we all switch to diesel engines. The truth is that science evolves and new discoveries are made all the time. Humility in scientific matters is essential.
My concern in this group is with a small matter, economically speaking, where I fear an error could be made. It matters because this Bill could bring about the death of Thomas the Tank Engine and his or her nautical steamboat equivalent. Noble Lords will recall my repeated requests for cost-benefit analyses and my concern about the perverse effects of legislation, however important and well intentioned. I rarely receive a satisfactory answer, but that does not mean the request was not valid.
By making it impossible in practice to use British coal for heritage trains, boats and steam engines, we would, I fear, be consigning them in time to the scrap heap. This is unjustified. It is not in the spirit of reuse and recycle, which some of us supported earlier in Committee. Without a small exemption for the use of coal sourced in the UK, we will be importing coal from elsewhere. This would be worse for climate change, as you would have travel emissions as well as the impact of coal use. Also, as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, explained to me this morning—we often agree across the political divide—we are talking about small and often impecunious operators who need one or two suppliers to source, pay for and distribute this coal. What supplier would think of taking that risk if it had to be imported from Russia?
Alternatively, of course, we will be consigning these heritage vehicles to a sad death. That would lead to a loss of tourist engagement and income as travellers move elsewhere, often overseas by air. The rotting of the vehicles and railways would create its own waste pile, and the whole dismal process would be a wholly unnecessary and self-inflicted harm and error. As is often said by our Green colleagues—I am sorry that they are not here this evening—we must look in the round at these resource issues. I am very hopeful that my noble friend the Minister will listen to the concerns expressed by me and others and propose a suitable amendment on Report. Like others, I support Amendment 279.
My Lords, I too support Amendment 279 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester. Steam locomotives, in particular, and the associated steam engines employed elsewhere are generally now maintained to the highest standards by the most enthusiastic people, and they bring lots of tourists into the most remote areas of the country. The effect on the areas where these railways and other such things operate is immense. Many areas such as north Wales would be immeasurably harmed if the use of steam locomotives was banned. I want simply to say that I support Amendment 279 with enthusiasm. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, said that he has received assurances from the Minister. I hope this is true, and I agree with him that including this in the Bill would be something we would all look back on with pride.
My Lords, I want to address two aspects of Amendments 157 to 159. First, looking at the underlying clause, what do the Government intend to use these provisions for? Once a motor vehicle has been out in the world for a while, it tends to have drifted a long way away from the ability of the original manufacturer to do anything about it. Is the clause saying that a second-hand car that someone cheerfully bought a year or two ago will be hauled in and scrapped? If so, where is the provision for compensation? If that is not what the clause means, what does it mean?
Secondly, I will take the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, a bit further. If we are looking at aspects of our lives that emit a lot more carbon dioxide than they need to, why are we not looking at cement? Standard cement is a very heavy emitter of carbon, and inevitably so, as it involves taking the carbon dioxide out of limestone. But, as the Romans knew, you can get a very strong material by mixing about 70% standard cement with 30% volcanic ash, in the Romans’ case, or in our case maybe steel slag. You can get a material which is just as strong and durable, yet there does not appear to be any focus on doing that. I hope it will be possible to pursue this with officials between now and Report, to help us understand in which bits of our lives it is considered important that we focus on CO2 reduction, which bits are to be left alone and, in each case, why.
My Lords, I share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, about exactly what this provision in the Bill refers to. The word “recall” usually implies some kind of faulty manufacture which does not live up to the technical specifications. It can also mean something that, when manufactured, seemed safe but has since been proved to be unsafe. At what point has a fault that develops in a motor vehicle got nothing to do with the original manufacture? It could be due to the way it has been used or misused.
When I first read this, I thought that I entirely understood why the Government wanted this clause in the Bill, because I thought that it referred to a series of incidents a few years ago where some car manufacturers made false claims about the environmental emissions efficiency of their vehicles. They went further than that: they taught them to cheat in the emissions tests that we were then following as EU standards—we are still following the same set of tests, but we refer to them rather differently now. At the time, I was aware that the UK Government took rather less strenuous action on this than some other Governments. Therefore, as a result of various government statements, I was led to believe that perhaps the Government did not have the powers that they felt were necessary. When I first read this part of the Bill, I thought that it was a very reasonable requirement by the Government that they should want more powers to deal with this.
It is rather difficult to get through to the true meaning of this because so much of it is going to be left to regulations. If you read this section of the Explanatory Memorandum, it has sentence after sentence saying to us “This is going to be left to regulations” and “That is going to be left to regulations”. It is such a bald original statement with so much to be filled in by regulations. So I look forward to the Minister’s explanation as to exactly what the Government are concerned about.
However, if I am right on that, can I then ask the Minister why the recall is restricted, apparently, to motor vehicles? It seems to me like a remarkable lack of imagination to do so, because manufacturers of component parts in trains, ships and aircraft will have as great an incentive to cut corners, misrepresent or downright cheat in the future as car manufacturers have had in the past. The environmental restrictions and limits that have been placed on car manufacturers in the past will very soon come to aviation, shipping and the rail services, so there is every reason to apply this throughout the transport industry. I ask the Minister to explain why that has not been done so far. I support the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, in his amendments.
Finally, I have a sentence about Amendment 279, which I might refer to as the heritage exceptions. It is an indicator of the interests in this place that more speakers have discussed this than the substantive amendments on recall, but it is a very important issue because it gets to the heart of appealing to people with common sense. If the heritage railways, for example, are not able to function in the future because of a stupid piece of bureaucracy—as people will see it—then you will lose hearts and minds. You have to have a sense of proportion about this when there is a small group of people doing something that is so socially worth while in so many ways. Therefore, it is of course only common sense that they are exempt from any restrictions of this nature.
My Lords, I shall speak briefly to Amendments 157 and 159, in the name of my noble friend Lord Berkeley, and Amendment 279, in the name of my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester. As has been outlined, the amendments in this group have different intentions, but, nevertheless, they allow us to reflect on the fact that, when we consider emissions, it is not just cars that we need to worry about.
Amendment 279 focuses on heritage vehicles and buildings, which have already been the subject of some debate. I listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and other colleagues across the Committee speaking on this very important point. We need to make sure that we recognise the great value of the heritage vehicles sector. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to add on this particular point.
My noble friend Lord Berkeley’s amendment speaks to other transport modes, including aviation, where progress towards cleaner technologies has been slow compared to the car market. Indeed, when the sector asked for dedicated support during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government missed an opportunity to strike a deal with airlines and airports to improve environmental performance. The Government also have a somewhat questionable record on rail modernisation. While HS2 is going ahead, Ministers have cancelled the electrification of certain rail lines, meaning that older diesel-powered trains will continue to run.
My noble friend Lord Berkeley touched upon aviation and recognised that it is an area that we have to do a lot more about. I ask the Minister specifically about the discussion around the sustainable aviation fuel concept that the Biden Administration in America are looking at. I know that this is not the focus of these amendments, but it has been mentioned by speakers. What discussions are the Government making in this particular area?
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for his amendments, and I thank other noble Lords who have participated in this debate. Regarding Amendments 157 and 158, I assure the noble Lord that the Government’s intention in Clause 73 is to ensure that polluting vehicles and non-road mobile machinery not meeting environmental standards will be taken off our roads and brought back into compliance. The policy was designed for motor vehicles, their components and non-road mobile machinery, and it was designed in line with the regulatory framework governing their environmental standards.
In response to the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, this is analogous to an equivalent power in relation to safety standards—so, yes, vehicles can be recalled by manufacturers long after they have been on the road if we find that they are not compliant with the relevant environment regulations. Specifically to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, this power could be used to recall vehicles that do not meet the standard that they should have met when they were originally authorised for sale, not standards that have since come in. However, I shall write on the detail of what we should put in those regulations.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, I should say that all recalls will be fully funded by the manufacturer, and there will be provision for the Government to compel the manufacturer to pay compensation to the owner. I am also pleased to confirm that train engines, as outlined in the amendment, could be recalled under the legislation as drafted without these amendments.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and others mentioned the incentive to cheat. Increasing the scope to include aircraft and ships would add significant complexity to this regime. These would also be outside the remit and expertise of the intended enforcement authority, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, and would not be within the scope of the Bill nor necessary to achieve the wider policy aims. I reassure noble Lords that there are already robust systems in place to ensure that aircraft and ships comply with environmental standards. Compliance for marine engines already exists through our enforcement of requirements under the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships. Civil aircraft are required to meet the environmental certification standards of the International Civil Aviation Organization before they are allowed to operate. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, that biomass may not be the way forward to fuelling aircraft but, as the noble Lord, Lord Khan, said, we must encourage research into alternative fuels.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, brought up something that is really rather out of scope of the Bill—cement. It is indeed a heavy carbon emitter, but I am aware of really innovative and attractive solutions being worked up in the private sector that could in time transform heavily carbon-emitting cement.
I move on to Amendment 159. The legislation specifically enables the Government to recall the engine of non-road mobile machinery if it is found not to comply with environmental standards. Again, I want to be clear for the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, that his amendment would fall within the definition of non-road mobile machinery, termed “machinery that is transportable” in the Bill, and would already be subject to the proposed recall regime. I thank the noble Lord for his contributions, and I agree with him that it is important to ensure that all vehicles are properly regulated, especially in relation to emissions in air quality. I hope that I have provided reassurance that this is the case such that he will not press his amendments.
I turn to Amendment 279 from the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner. The Government understand the important contribution that the heritage sector makes to our national culture, and I appreciate the concerns raised by the noble Lord and others who have participated in this debate. I can confirm for noble Lords that heritage vehicles are not within the scope of the legislation, and that includes trains and boats. As for historic buildings, I confirm that local authorities, when declaring a smoke control area under Section 18 of the Clean Air Act 1993, have the power to exempt specific buildings or classes of buildings under Section 18(2)(c) of that Act. They could exempt specific historic houses or historic houses in general from the requirements applying to the smoke control area. The Bill will not impinge on that ability. We listened to the concerns raised by the heritage bodies during consultation on the measures, as well as engaging with the inquiries of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Heritage Rail. I can confirm that there will be no direct impact on the heritage steam sector as a result of this Bill. The Government do not intend to bring forward policy that would have a direct impact on it.
I reiterate that I understand the concerns raised by the noble Lord. I thank him for the recent discussion that he and others, including my noble friend Lord Forsyth, had with my noble friend the Minister on this issue. The Minister and his officials are happy to continue to engage with him as guidance is developed. I hope that the assurances that I have set out at the Dispatch Box are persuasive and that I am able to reassure noble Lords about the Government’s view about the importance of the heritage sector and that nothing in this Bill will impact on it. I hope that the noble Lord withdraws his amendment.
I have had one request to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for her assurances in respect of the amendment concerning steam-powered vehicles. I declare an interest as president of the Steam Boat Association of Great Britain and as the owner of a steamboat. Can the Minister explain why she is not prepared to put in the Bill the exemption for historic vehicles of the kind to which she says the Government are committed?
I was very grateful to my noble friend Lord Goldsmith for agreeing to a meeting with the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, myself and others where he gave that assurance. However, Ministers are here one day and gone the next—indeed, they can be here one afternoon and gone by evening. It is not enough, despite Pepper v Hart, just to have an assurance from the Dispatch Box. We are dealing here with a major industry. I was on a steam train on Friday, the Jacobite Steam Train that runs from Fort William to Mallaig. It was absolutely packed with people—and not all of them were tourists; there were also people from the UK. At every point along that journey where it was possible for people to gather, they did so in order to wave at the steam engine; you could see the smiles on their faces. It is not a lot to ask of the Government to make it absolutely clear that there will be an exemption for these important vehicles.
There are some 400 steamboats in the country that regularly go to events and gatherings. They support an industry and skills that would otherwise die. We are the leading makers of steam engines in the world, with people such as Roger Mallinson and others. The costs of operation are enormous, many of them supported by volunteers for heritage railways and their kind. There are hundreds of thousands of pounds invested in steam traction engines, which we see at every country fair, and in their maintenance. It is important that people have the assurance of primary legislation, especially when we see so much legislation that contains powers for Ministers under Henry VIII clauses, pretty well to do as they like, and which this House can do nothing about by tradition because we do not vote against secondary legislation. Will the Minister say why the Government are resistant to putting a clear commitment in the Bill that heritage vehicles not only are not within the scope of the Bill but are protected from the whims of any Minister?
After all, it was only a few years ago when Michael Gove announced that all coal was going to be banned in households, which has wiped out both coal merchants and the distribution system. It meant that, on Friday, when I asked the driver of the steam engine that I was on where he got his coal from, he said, “We’re having to get our coal from Russia now. That is where we get it from.” I asked, “How much coal does your steam engine burn?” and he said, “Three and a half tonnes a day, and there are two of them and there are many like them.” I find it very difficult to understand how it is protecting the environment to bring coal in on ships and then trying to find a new distribution system to those vehicles. I urge the Minister, as was put so eloquently, to recognise the cultural importance of this and not throw the baby out with the bath water.
My Lords, I understand the passion that I could detect in my noble friend’s voice. However, I repeat that we cannot list everything that the Bill does not apply to. I can reassure my noble friend that the Government are not doing anything that would impact on heritage vehicles, nor would they plan to do anything that would. An exemption is just not needed because these are not caught within the scope of the Bill. Again, I say that the Minister and his officials are happy to continue to engage with him and others as this guidance is developed.
My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken on this group. We have had a really good discussion, especially about older steam engines. I certainly would support an amendment that put this in the Bill, because it is a really serious issue, and it does affect stationary engines as well as moving ones, as noble Lords have said.
I shall also read with interest and in detail the Minister’s response to my three amendments. I find it odd that we are not looking at legislation that applies to all machines—if you can call them that—that emit emissions. Whether they are air, sea, river or road-based, they all emit emissions, and so to me, they should all be treated in the same way in this legislation.
There was one other issue: I was surprised to hear the Minister say, I think, that the manufacturers will be penalised and made to compensate if they get it wrong and contravene whatever regulations we find. That is fine for a company such as Volkswagen, if it is caught out—I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, who said that companies are not charities and will do everything to get around this legislation, for good economic reasons, as they see it—but some manufacturers will, over the years, go bust, and some of the equipment, particularly farm equipment, has a life of several decades. There may not be very many such instances, but I think everybody should be treated equally.
Again, I thank all noble Lords who spoke on this group of amendments. I will read what the Minister said with great interest, and I may even request a meeting, but we will see about that. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 157 withdrawn.
Amendments 158 to 160 not moved.
Clause 73 agreed.
Clauses 74 to 76 agreed.
My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 160A. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in the group to a Division must make that clear in the debate.
Clause 77: Water resources management plans, drought plans and joint proposals
160A: Clause 77, page 68, line 13, leave out “may” and insert “must”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment places specific requirements upon water companies to engage stakeholders in the development of plans.
My Lords, we now enter the chapter in this Bill on water, which has attracted a lot of attention in both Houses and in the outside world. The first thing to say is that undoubtedly Defra and the Government have recognised the concerns across the nation about the state of our waterways and, in this chapter, have tried to put in place actions to improve the situation. So at least from my perspective, there is none of the indignation I felt when trying to sort out the set-up of the OEP.
I hope all my amendments to this chapter are as helpful as intended. I, and others, are trying to make certain that what the Government are trying to do really works for all those whose lives are touched by our aquatic environment—and that is probably most of us.
Amendment 160A is on “may” or “must”. I know the Minister, in his letter to us today, indicated that the point of the word “may” is to allow the Government to consult, but the Defra fact sheet that also came out today indicates that it has already consulted the water companies on this matter. I guess my point is that, if the idea is good and the water companies have been consulted, it must be done—and this is a good idea.
We know for a fact that some parts of England, notably the south-east, will be stretched to provide enough water for all human needs over coming decades, let alone for nature. If we are going to build 1 million new homes along the Oxford-Cambridge arc and 300,000 new homes every year, which we probably need to, if Southern Water is predicting a supply-demand deficit by 2030 equivalent to 50% of its current supply, and if we are going to get hotter summers, meaning less rain and more evaporation, we have to do some serious planning sooner rather than later, as proposed new Section 39F in Clause 77 rightly suggests we do.
I like the idea of moving water between catchments; I also like the idea of more reservoirs, probably numerous smaller reservoirs, which might be easier to plan, bearing in mind that there have been no significant reservoir constructions in England for over 40 years. I know we are coming on to abstraction later in the Bill, but this is a serious issue that needs serious long-term planning. There is no “may” about it; it quite clearly “must” be done.
The purpose of my next two amendments, Amendments 160B and 160C, is just to bring the necessity of putting the all-important wider consultation process, and the stipulation of who is to be consulted, under the “must” part of the clause as per Amendment 160A. Note that this is consultation on what the regulations should cover, not on whether they should actually be introduced because, in my view, they should all be “must”s. I beg to move.
My Lords, I declare my environmental interests as in the register. I support the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, and his Amendment 163A, which encourages sewerage under-takers to consider nature-based solutions for wastewater treatment.
We have new and emerging threats in trying to treat wastewater. We have microplastics and increasing levels of hormones and other pharmaceuticals, as well as an increasing range of chemicals flushed down toilets to clean them. These are called contaminants of emerging concern—CECs—and the traditional approach would be to use different and even stronger chemicals to neutralise them, although I am not sure how one can neutralise microplastics. This is where nature-based solutions can play a big part. We all know that nature-based solutions near and on rivers can reduce flooding, cut down on nutrients getting into rivers and the sea and improve biodiversity. They can do the same thing before treated water even gets to the rivers.
In the next group is the new clause from my noble friend the Minister on stormwater overflows, which is long overdue. We must stop ordinary rainwater from entering the sewerage system and adding millions of gallons of clean water to wastewater, making the whole lot in need of treatment. In addition, we need a campaign to educate householders not to pour gallons of poisonous cleaners down the loo. I think we are still trapped—well, some older noble Lords might remember this—in the old Harpic advert of the 1980s, with its slogan of it being essential to clean “right round the bend”. It was a great slogan that has encouraged millions of us to use unnecessarily powerful chemicals to tackle a non-existent problem of cleaning sewerage pipes and not just the toilet itself.
In addition to reducing the amount of water which becomes wastewater in need of treatment and reducing the poisons we add to it, we need sewage treatment works to adopt, where possible, alternatives to chemical treatment. The main alternative has to be reed beds, which work exceptionally well and do a perfect job. Of course, reed beds and treatment require space and they are not the solution for many urban areas but they can be a much greater solution than they are now. Amendment 163A merely states that a sewerage undertaker in its management plan must address
“the opportunities for nature based solutions”.
As I read it, there is no compulsion, no fixed targets; it merely asks them to look at the opportunities to do it. In my opinion, that does not impose an unreasonable burden on them and I urge my noble friend the Minister to accept it, or accept the concept, anyway.
I welcome this part of the Bill. I refer to my interests as in the register, in particular that I am vice-president of the Association of Drainage Authorities and that I worked with the Water Industry Commission for Scotland for a number of years. I also declare my interest as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Water Group. I welcome Amendments 160A, 160B, 160C as probing amendments and would like to follow up the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, and my noble friend Lord Blencathra.
In the regulations to which the Government refer, and as referred to specifically in the amendments by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, it would be helpful to know who the consultees are. I wish to place on record what an enormous difference it has made since the Environment Agency became a statutory consultee to applications for major new developments. I know that at one stage drainage boards themselves would have liked to have been considered as statutory consultees in relation to similar amendments, but they are focused more now on the provisions of the Bill which relate to drainage authorities, which I personally welcome, and which we will come to later. It is essential in my view—and I do have an amendment down to this effect—that water companies be considered as statutory consultees, for reasons which we will discuss elsewhere.
I welcome the references to water efficiency in earlier parts of the Bill, and I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, referred to water moving between catchments. Catchment management control is a very positive way forward. He also referred to reservoirs. Has my noble friend the Minister had the chance to look at—and, if not, will she look at—the most recent advice given by Professor Balmforth on reservoirs? I particularly support what the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, said about smaller reservoirs, particularly in the context of what my noble friend Lord Blencathra said about nature-based solutions. We had an extremely successful scheme with the Slowing the Flow at Pickering pilot project, which only involved public bodies, and I am delighted to say that Pickering has not flooded since we have had this scheme in place. I pay tribute to all the partners—albeit public partners—that have been involved. We can slow the flow not just by building reservoirs, as those of a particular size do pose problems because of the current legislation, but smaller bunds and dams, and smaller reservoirs all have a role to play.
I welcome these as probing amendments to see specifically what form of consultation the Government have in mind in the context of these provisions in Part 5.
My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and I welcome the amendments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, on the important issue of consultation.
As noble Lords are aware, the Bill as currently drafted would delete subsection (8) of Section 37A and subsection (7) of Section 39B of the Water Industry Act 1991, which provide for a list of statutory consultees that “shall” be consulted, to use the wording in that Act. It replaces those subsections of that Act with a new Section 39F which would allow, but does not require, the Secretary of State to make provision for preparing and publishing a water resources management plan, a drought plan and a joint proposal. It fails to set out the list of stakeholders which must be consulted, as required in the existing Act. The amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, would address that.
I note that, back in 1991, it seems that Bills that came before Parliament were a lot less equivocal than what we have now. The word “shall” rings out throughout the Water Industry Act 1991, whereas the word “may” is the dominant phrase of this Bill. Of course, the use of “may” puts far more power in the hands of Ministers and far less power in the hands of Parliament. Beyond the issues directly addressed in these amendments, there are a number of subsections in the new Section 39F which involve “may” where, in my view, a “shall” would be much the preferred formulation. Section 39F(5), for example, provides that
“regulations may make provision for the purposes of ensuring that persons likely to be affected by the plan or proposal have a reasonable opportunity to make representations to the Minister.”
Again, it would be useful if that was a “shall”, and the Bill would be considerably improved if most instances of “may” became “shall”. But for the moment, we on these Benches are happy to support the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron.
My Lords, I speak to Amendments 160A, 160B and 160C in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington. This is the first of a number of debates on water. While they cover different aspects, they are all important and we hope that the Minister will have detailed responses to the questions asked this evening. This set of amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, is relatively straightforward but could have a significant impact on the success of the various plans envisaged under this chapter of the Bill.
Consultation is an area that has been raised repeatedly thus far, with many colleagues feeling that the requirements throughout the Bill—whether on targets, environmental improvement plans, waste or water—are insufficient. The Minister may well say that water companies are already subject to a variety of requirements around consultation and community engagement, but current arrangements clearly are not working. Environmental performance is not good enough, and neither is customer satisfaction.
I totally agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Oates, said about tightening the language. As the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, said and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, later agreed, nature-based solutions will play a big part. I totally agree that “opportunity” is vague. We need to have stronger and more definitive language to ensure that the process of consultation and working with stakeholders in relation to this landmark Bill does not end up being a process of post hoc rationalisation of predetermined decisions.
I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, for tabling these amendments. Before I turn to them, the noble Lord made a point about the use of “may” versus “must” in legislation, which I hope is helpful to touch on in a general sense before I go into the specific use of “may” in relation to his amendment. The Environment Bill, as with other primary legislation, provides powers for the Secretary of State to make some regulations by using the word “may” and others using the word “must”. I assure the noble Lord that where we have used “may”, it is because we want to regulate effectively, allowing for effective consultation and proper consideration. The term “must” is used to impose a statutory duty to take a specified action—for example, to make regulations—as soon as it can reasonably be achieved; the term “may” provides a power to take that action while preserving some flexibility to make regulations as and when appropriate.
On Amendment 160A and the specific use of “may” here, the Government understand that water undertakers need certainty about the requirements for fulfilling their duties when preparing water resource management plans, drought plans and joint proposals. However, when exercising these powers, Ministers will need flexibility to be mindful of when to introduce new water planning requirements. This is to avoid causing unnecessary impacts on the preparation of water companies’ plans, which are revised every five years and prepared by water companies at different times within their own five-year cycle.
On Amendments 160B and 160C, the Government recognise that planning for water resources is strengthened by the involvement of a range of stakeholders. It is the Government’s intention that these stakeholders are involved in the preparation and delivery of these plans in England. Clause 77, as drafted, enables Ministers to set out in regulations who should be consulted. Under existing powers, Ministers have set out a long list of relevant consultees in the Water Resources Management Plan Regulations 2007 and the Drought Plan Regulations 2005. The clause as drafted will enable the Government to set out in regulations all existing statutory consultees—including, for example, water companies, the Environment Agency and Ofwat—as well as a range of other stakeholders to be consulted. Therefore, I am pleased to confirm that the intent of the noble Lord’s amendment is already delivered by the clause as drafted.
A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Khan and Lord Cameron of Dillington, mentioned reservoirs. These measures will support ongoing work to improve regional water resources planning, as set out in the Environment Agency’s national framework for water resources. They will help to improve the assessment and selection of water resources, such as water transfers or shared new reservoirs, which will provide shared benefits.
I thank all noble Lords for their contributions and hope that I have provided enough reassurance for the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who took part in this very short debate. These amendments were very much probing amendments that were designed, I hoped, to provoke a robust declaration of intent from the Government—which, if I understood the noble Baroness’s remarks correctly, we actually got, so I am pleased to thank her for that. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, for his remarks on nature-based solutions, and I will save my remarks on those for a later grouping, if I may. So, again thanking all those who took part, and in the hope of further positive statements on water from the Government, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 160A withdrawn.
Amendments 160B and 160C not moved.
Clause 77 agreed.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 161. Anyone wishing this press this or anything else in the group to a Division must make that clear in the debate.
161: After Clause 77, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty on water companies: untreated sewage
In Part 1 of the Water Industry Act 1991, after Chapter 1 (appointments) insert—“CHAPTER 1ZADUTY ON WATER COMPANIES: UNTREATED SEWAGE17ZA Duty on water companies: untreated sewage (England)(1) A water company in England must take all reasonable steps to ensure that untreated sewage is not discharged into inland waters.(2) The Secretary of State, the Authority and the Environment Agency must exercise their respective functions under this and any other Act to seek to secure compliance with that duty.(3) In this Chapter, “water company” means any company holding an appointment under Chapter I of this Part (appointments).17ZB Requirements in connection with section 17ZA duty Reasonable steps to be taken by water companies in accordance with the duty under section 17ZA include, but are not limited to—(a) maintaining and publishing a register of combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and any other sewer catchment assets from which discharges of treated or untreated sewage may be made to inland waters;(b) publishing biannual reports on the operational status of those assets;(c) progressively installing capacity to monitor continuously all discharges of treated or untreated sewage into inland waters from those assets and publishing the data so obtained;(d) monitoring and publishing reports on the quality and duration of discharges made from CSOs;(e) as part of drainage and wastewater management plans, setting out steps to ensure that—(i) biological or nature-based treatments are progressively installed where practicable and made operational at wastewater treatment works discharging to inland waters that do not otherwise provide for the tertiary treatment of effluent; and(ii) reliance upon CSOs is progressively reduced; and(f) any requirements specified by the Secretary of State under section 17ZC(2)(b).17ZC Report on measures to assist water companies in fulfilling section 17ZA duty(1) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report on measures to assist water companies in fulfilling the duty in section 17ZA—(a) within one year of this section coming into force; and(b) in every calendar year after the year in which that first report is published.(2) Each report under subsection (1) must for each of the measures listed in subsections (3) to (7) set out—(a) the Secretary of State’s assessment of the contribution that measure could make to reducing treated and untreated sewage discharges to inland waters in England; and(b) what steps, if any, the Secretary of State intends to take in connection with that measure, including any specific requirements on water companies in relation to their duty under section 17ZA. (3) Measures intended to separate surface water and sewage collection including—(a) requiring all new developments of more than two residential or commercial buildings to have separate surface water and sewage collection systems;(b) bringing Schedule 3 to the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 into force for England;(c) requiring all new surface water collection systems to incorporate sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDS);(d) requiring all major retrofitting or redevelopment projects of buildings where practicable to incorporate SUDS and separate surface water and sewage collection systems; and(e) amending strategic guidance to the Authority to require it to facilitate capital expenditure on—(i) nature-based drainage systems, such as integrated constructed wetlands, and(ii) SUDS.(4) Measures intended to reduce the volume of sewage produced by domestic properties, including—(a) requiring by 2025 all domestic properties to have a metered water supply when being leased, rented or sold;(b) requiring the Environment Agency to maintain a register of all private sewage treatment systems;(c) amending Building Regulations to require efficient processing of grey water (sullage);(d) requiring all new domestic and commercial outside ground-level surfaces where practicable to be made from permeable materials; and(e) introducing water efficiency labelling on household appliances.(5) Measures to reduce the polluting content of sewage, including—(a) establishing a regulatory standard for flushable products;(b) prohibiting the use of plastics in sanitary products and wet wipes;(c) reducing the use of microplastics in flushable products; and(d) prohibiting the disposal of fats and oils into sewers by food service establishments.(6) Measures intended to reduce the impact of CSO discharges, including—(a) requiring the Environment Agency to work with water companies in reducing harmful discharges from CSOs; and(b) directing the Environment Agency to research the effects of CSO discharges on water quality in inland waters and water bodies.(7) Measures intended to promote improvements in bathing water quality in inland waters, including—(a) setting statutory targets for the increase in the number of bathing waters classified as “good” or “excellent”;(b) designating a minimum of two inland bathing waters, to include one in-river inland bathing water, in each water company area for each year of any price review period; and(c) amending strategic guidance to the Authority to require it to facilitate capital expenditure on the improvement of water quality in inland bathing waters. 17ZD Reports on performance against section 17ZA duty (1) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report on the performance of water companies against the duty in section 17ZA—(a) within one year of this section coming into force; and(b) in every calendar year after the year in which that first report is published.(2) Reports under this section must include assessments of—(a) the performance of the sewerage assets of each water company; and(b) the quantities of treated and untreated sewage discharged into inland waters from those assets.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment inserts into the Environment Bill the provisions of the Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill, which was prepared by Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP in the last parliamentary session.
My Lords, I am moving Amendment 161 in my name and those of my noble friend Lady Hayman and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. Our amendment would insert a new clause based on the wording of the excellent Private Member’s Bill tabled in the Commons by Philip Dunne, which fell without a Second Reading. It sets out the requirement for water companies to take all reasonable steps to ensure that untreated sewage is not discharged into inland waters. It sets out the responsibilities of the Government and the Environment Agency to ensure compliance. It sets out the monitoring, reporting and wastewater treatment plans that need to be in place. It sets out the requirements to separate surface water from sewage, reduce the volume of sewage, reduce the polluting content of sewage and increase the quality of inland bathing waters. It would require the Secretary of State to report on progress in delivering this duty within one year of the section coming into force, and every year thereafter.
I gather that there have been a number of discussions with Philip Dunne since his Bill was published and that the Government committed to take his Bill forward. I understand that this is what the Minister’s Amendments 165 and 300 are meant to achieve. But, by any measure, the Minister’s amendments are pale imitations of the original. Gone is the obligation on water companies to ensure that untreated sewage is not discharged into inland waters, combined with the obligation on Governments and the Environment Agency to secure compliance. Instead, in the Minister’s version, the Secretary of State must simply prepare a plan, which may include proposals to reduce sewage being discharged by storm overflows. It also includes several exemptions, which could undermine the whole intent of the clause. This is more than a difference of semantics; it fundamentally changes the tone and the urgency of the amendment, when what is needed is swift and strategic action to end the pollution caused by storm overflows.
We therefore also support the series of amendments to the Government’s amendment tabled by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, which put the original bite back into the clause by adding back the duty on water companies, taking out the exemptions and adding in dates to give a greater sense of urgency. These amendments achieve much the same as our original Clause 161 but by a different route.
This issue is urgent. Our rivers and inland waterways are being routinely polluted by raw sewage. It is affecting our biodiversity and wildlife and putting human health at risk. A recent report from the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology shows that water companies are being allowed to unlawfully discharge raw sewage into rivers at a scale at least 10 times greater than the Environment Agency’s prosecutions indicate. Professor Peter Hammond found that, although there were 174 prosecutions of water companies between 2010 and 2020, in the same period there were 2,197 potential breaches recorded.
Earlier this year, Thames Water was fined £4 million when the sewage treatment pumps failed one night in 2016, allowing what was described as an “avalanche of foul waste” to spread over Green Lane recreation ground. Enough toilet paper to fill 2,500 refuse bags was recovered from the scene. It seems that our outdated sewage infrastructure cannot handle the pressures of increased population and climate change that cause these storm surges.
At least that case finally came to court. The fact is that the Environment Agency can no longer cope with the pressures on it, due to huge funding shortfalls. In a letter to the Secretary of State this year, the chair of the Environment Agency, Emma Howard Boyd, wrote that the drop in grant had forced it to reduce or stop critical work such as responding to environmental incidents, allowing it to attend only the more serious ones. In the meantime, the latest data shows that every river in England is polluted and is failing to meet the minimum water quality test—and, as we know, we have the lowest bathing water quality of any county in the EU.
So this is an urgent issue, and the Government’s proposals in the Bill are just not good enough. I therefore hope noble Lords will support our amendment and those in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. I beg to move.
Amendment 161A (to Amendment 161)
161A: After Clause 77, in inserted section 17ZC, after subsection (3) insert—
“(3A) Measures intended to reduce reliance upon septic tanks and cesspits in rural communities, including requiring the progressive connection of such rural communities to main sewers.”
It was—I was going to say “delightful”, but that sounds rather patronising and I do not mean that at all. It was “reassuring” to hear the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, because I cannot find a single word to disagree with. Nevertheless, I have a few points to add to this debate. I hope to speak to Amendment 161, the insertion of the Philip Dunne Bill, but also Amendment 161A in our name, on the reduction of the number of septic tanks, and Amendments 165 to 174.
We are advised that, despite years of investment, sewage and agricultural pollution still plague the UK’s rivers and coasts. Only 16% of inland waterways in England meet good ecological status, none of them passes the chemical tests and the UK now ranks last for bathing water quality in Europe. We could have a separate, long discussion about where the assets of our water companies throughout our land have gone since the companies were privatised; they certainly have not got into investing in and improving the facilities.
Water users who interact with water are also being put at risk of contracting harmful illnesses and antimicrobial-resistant bacteria, and I want to return to that issue later. The overwhelming cause of this pollution is the UK’s outdated infrastructure, which cannot handle the pressures of increasing population, urbanisation and climate change. Water companies are therefore routinely relying on combined sewer overflows, CSOs, so graphically described by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, to manage demand.
Amendment 161 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, brings back into play the provisions of the Private Member’s Bill prepared by the right honourable Philip Dunne MP, which, I am actually appalled to hear, never got to Second Reading in the previous Parliament. Its provisions will be a welcome addition to the Bill. Again, we shall return to that later, I am sure.
Amendment 161 seeks to achieve the progressive reduction of managing domestic sewage waste through septic tanks discharging into rivers. They are mainly located in rural or semi-rural areas unconnected to mains sewers, and are often inefficient and poorly maintained. I understand that in continental Europe, septic tanks are being progressively phased out and are becoming increasingly rare, yet in the UK it has become a national issue yet to be addressed as a primitive legacy of a pre-industrial age.
This is again primarily a question of investment in sewerage infrastructure to connect to the large number of sewage works already handling sewage from smaller communities. As part of that investment, phosphate strippers should be fitted at sewage works serving communities of 5,000 or more. This would start to address the extensive algal growth now known to be as likely to be associated with sewage works as with farming. The investment comes at a cost, but it should be to investors rather than customers.
Returning to Amendments 161 to 175, the BBC and others recently reported that according to figures published by the Environment Agency, water companies discharged raw sewage into rivers in England more than 400,000 times in 2020. The worst culprits were United Utilities in the north-west, at close to 114,000 times, while the chalk streams regions together totalled some 84,000 times. I mention this because, as we know, the aquifer for chalk streams is particularly vulnerable. Overall, water companies discharged sewage into rivers for more than 3 million hours of storm overflows in 2020, releasing untreated effluent and human waste.
Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, said that it was working actively—I do not know how you can work inactively—with the water companies to ensure that overflows were properly controlled. However, the Rivers Trust, which I am sure is working actively, said:
“This is a shocking volume of untreated contaminated wastewater reaching our rivers and shows that our current approach and infrastructure, managing storm water in particular, needs a radical overhaul.”
The Environment Agency claims that releasing sewage into rivers and streams after extreme weather events is a necessary part of the existing sewerage system. Some would call it a panic measure. It asks open-water swimmers, kayakers, paddlers, and dog walkers, to avoid contact with water during and after sewage spills.
England’s rivers are clearly being routinely polluted by raw sewage flowing through from combined sewage overflows, degrading the environment, and putting water users at risk of contracting serious and, not infrequently, fatal illnesses. I ask the Minister, in the interests of public health, what records are being kept and analysed by the Environment Agency and local authorities of reported incidents of serious illness following raw sewage discharges, particularly those associated with consumption of faecal matter? Where are the records kept and who has access to them? I would be very grateful if the Minister could respond.
My Lords, my Amendment 161B does not sit very well with the rest of the amendments in this group. It is effectively about the reduction in demand for treated water, whereas most amendments in this group deal with sewage. I strongly support those amendments moved by my noble friend Lady Jones, and tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey—particularly in relation to chalk streams—and the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington.
However, my amendment deals with something entirely different; I tabled it because I thought that as soon as provisions on water appeared in this Bill there ought to be a declaration that one of our main aims is to reduce the demand for water in our system, which not only puts pressure on the system but has carbon implications. At present there is no real regulation driving more efficient use of water in the home or in industry. Therefore, my amendment would require the Minister to set a 10-year strategy to reduce domestic demand. Many of the experts say that it needs reducing to be sustainable and resilient; it must be reduced by about a third. Our domestic use of water is considerably higher than that of many of our European neighbours. In order to achieve that, we will need measures of metering, new water efficiency schemes, water appliance standards and labelling, and much stronger building regulations that require efficient appliances and piping to be installed.
I realise that others want to get on to the sewage amendments. I also realise that there are other amendments covering the same territory as mine, which come after Clause 87. I still think that it would have been useful at the beginning of the section on water to make a declaration about water efficiency. If it is not there, however, I will support amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, when we reach that group after Clause 87.
My Lords, I am very pleased to speak after the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. Her Amendment 161, as she said, is nearly identical to an excellent Private Member’s Bill tabled in the other place in the last Session of Parliament by the right honourable Philip Dunne, Member of Parliament for Ludlow, to whom I pay tribute. It is an excellent Bill; it is a pity that it never got a Second Reading, but my concern is that, as an amendment, there is so much in it that I doubt whether there is a majority in this House to vote for it in its entirety.
At the beginning of this Session of Parliament, the Government announced that they would take over most of the components of Philip Dunne’s Bill by tabling amendments in this House. The result this evening is government Amendment 165. However, I do not think—and I think the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, feels the same—that Amendment 165 goes nearly far enough. Therefore, I have tabled a number of amendments which we are now debating in this group. I have also tabled some amendments to Clause 78, which will be debated in the next group.
I must describe first to your Lordships the purpose of all my amendments. To me and to many others in this House and elsewhere, it is completely unacceptable that in the 21st century raw, untreated sewage continues to be discharged into our rivers. I suspect that the two respected Ministers, the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, and Rebecca Pow in the other place, also find it unacceptable, but government Amendment 165 commits the Government to lay before Parliament by September of next year a plan only to reduce such discharges. To my mind, and I hope the Minister will not mind me saying it, this is an inadequate response to a most disagreeable state of affairs affecting the environment in general and the quality of water in our rivers in particular.
My Amendment 166 would place an obligation on the water companies to prevent any untreated sewage being discharged and not just to reduce the discharges, as the Government propose. The amendment would also require the Secretary of State, the office for environmental protection and the Environment Agency to use their powers to secure compliance by the water companies. Regrettably, there is evidence that illegal and unjustified discharges are occurring regularly with apparent impunity.
My Amendment 167 would strengthen the government amendment by inserting “and eventually eliminating” after “reducing”. The Government are not being bold enough if they plan simply to reduce discharges, which must surely be eliminated in a country which is trying to leave the environment in a better state for future generations.
My Amendment 168 seeks to replace “may” with “must” for a number of provisions in the government plan. A plan which only “may” reduce the need for discharges, “may” require the treatment of sewage discharged by storm overflows, “may” monitor the quality of watercourses and “may” obtain information on storm overflows is clearly inadequate in the face of 403,000 discharges in England last year.
My Amendment 169 requires that the plan includes proposals for nature-based solutions, which my noble friend Lord Cameron of Dillington has already referred to. It is surely desirable that reed beds, for example, should at least be considered, where possible.
My Amendment 170 proposes a new subsection to the government amendment, to ensure that progress is made every year and that, by 2025, full monitoring is in place. It is essential that those who enjoy rivers—swimmers or anglers—have access to information on discharges in real time.
My Amendment 171 seeks to bring forward the date by which Ministers must bring their plan to Parliament. The proposed plan was announced in May; for the department to have given itself 16 months to do the work shows a certain lack of urgency. These revolting discharges are happening every week, and it seems appropriate to put Ministers and their officials under greater pressure to come up with a solution.
My Amendment 172 would add, through the Secretary of State, some important further requirements on the water companies. It will be necessary to report in detail the extent to which discharges have occurred and the adverse impact on public health. The effect on public health of these regular discharges of raw sewage is, to my mind, not yet fully understood, neither by the experts nor the public.
As I go through these amendments, I would like to say in passing that I support Amendments 172A and 172B in the name of my noble friend Lord Cameron. Storm overflows should certainly only ever occur in extreme weather conditions.
My Amendment 173 is similar to Amendment 172, but places the obligations on the Environment Agency in its reporting to address the extent to which the water companies have complied or will comply, and to give its assessment of the impacts on public health.
My Amendment 174 would effectively delete the let-out clause in the government amendment, whereby the water companies would not have to report discharges if there had been an electrical or mechanical failure or a blockage elsewhere in the system. To me, that is a most surprising exemption—a huge loophole. Disclosure and publication of these very problems would undoubtedly make the water companies tackle the issues concerned with greater urgency.
I also support Amendment 175, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and others. Installation of grey water systems is eminently sensible and long overdue.
To conclude, government Amendment 165 is very welcome, but it really needs strengthening, and my amendments seek to do that. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and the noble Lord, Lord Oates, for signing them. These matters should never be party political, and I hope that there will be cross-party support for our attempts to improve the Bill and to make significant progress in cleaning up the rivers of England.
My Lords, it is a real honour to follow the powerful and authoritative speech of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. I agree with every word he said.
I will first speak to Amendment 161, to which I would have put my name had there been more room or had I got there soon enough. Although most of the content of this amendment has now been superseded by other amendments to this Bill, as a general approach to the appalling pollution of all our rivers it still holds good. However, we will cover CSOs, SuDS and water metering in this and future groupings, and we have already spoken about flushable products, so I will not touch on those aspects at this time. But there is one area in this amendment—I am sure there are others—which is not really covered by other amendments and which caught my attention: the question of designated bathing spots.
Anyone who watched the April “Panorama” programme on the state of our rivers would think twice now about bathing in them, and yet there is an unprecedented demand for outdoor or wild swimming. In the latest data I can find, we know that 1.2 million people swam outdoors in 2018—not just paddled, but swam. I am sure that the next Active Lives survey data will show that this figure has risen exponentially, if other river activities during Covid are anything to go by. For instance, canoeing has gone up by 176%, paddleboarding by 173% and angling by 230%. Yet in our 1,500 rivers in England, we have only one designated bathing area, compared to 570 in France and 75 in the small country of Belgium. Poland, for example, designated 101 inland bathing sites in 2019 alone, but we still have only one. As I said at Second Reading, we have once again become the dirty man of Europe.
I will come on to my plea for more oomph—a good parliamentary expression—to be given to our catchment-based partnerships. I am certain that, to put pressure on water companies and the Environment Agency on this matter of designated bathing areas, these partnerships must at least partly provide a solution.
Meanwhile, moving on to my Amendments 172A and 172B, I first thank the Minister for putting down his Amendment 165 on storm overflows, which is gratefully received but I fear needs a little tightening. As I have said, I also totally support the amendments in the names of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and the noble Lord, Lord Oates. The noble Duke spoke so strongly on these amendments that I will leave them to support theirs and focus on my own amendment in this group, because I believe that the clarification in my Amendments 172A and 172B is one worth making.
The main purpose of a CSO is, as everybody knows, to allow water companies to dump raw sewage into rivers during “storm conditions”, when not to do so might involve the sewage backing up in the pipes and spilling into people’s homes. However, one of the main problems with the current system is that there is no definition of “storm conditions”, and, as we know, water companies have been taking advantage of this lacuna in the legislation blatantly to usurp their privilege by dumping raw sewage into our rivers, for days and sometimes months on end. However, when talking to officials and hydrologists about this, they tell me that to define storm conditions on a national basis would be an impossible task, and therefore this can be done only by catchment or even on an individual CSO basis—although with some 15,000 CSOs that might take some time.
My amendments therefore seek to charge the water companies with setting strict criteria on local rainfall and its duration before they are allowed to start discharging from any local CSO and, probably more important, on when they have to stop. That has been the problem in the past—they have not stopped. These amendments also involve using the Environment Agency as an auditor of the water companies’ performance, both during the setting of the criteria and in the monitoring of the on-the-ground performance afterwards.
I come on to my Amendments 188D and 170A, which are slightly different. They are designed to ensure that local catchment-based partnerships have the right clout and means to act as genuine local watchdogs and enthusiasts for their rivers, so they can ensure that their river remains clean and managed to the highest standards.
I doubt that being emotionally attached to one’s local river is a uniquely British characteristic; in fact, it is probably even stronger in drier countries where running water really is the source of all life. But there is no doubt that our quietly flowing and often meandering rivers, all with their unique characteristics, engender a great deal of local love and enthusiasm. From the great rivers of the Thames, the Tyne and the Severn and so on, to the small streams, becks and brooks that feed them, there is something in these waters that inspires us all. So, let us harness that inspiration and enthusiasm to bring our waters back into good heart.
I know that catchment-based partnerships have been piloted, expanded and found to be successful in recent years and I am not suggesting that very much changes, but I would like to see more made of them. I hope that putting them on the face of the Bill and ensuring that they have the proper resources to operate will show their memberships how important they are in the overall scheme of things.
For a start, I believe we now have just over 100 partnerships, but we have 1,500 rivers in England and, while I am not suggesting 1,500 separate partnerships are needed, we do need many more. Nor am I suggesting that these partnerships do the work of the Environment Agency in physically testing the quality of the rivers. That is technically quite a tricky job which is best left to scientists.
On that point, I want to say something about the greater use of continuous monitoring of our waters through telemetry. I know these pieces of equipment are currently expensive but, like solar panels, I believe that greater use will dramatically bring their price down. I have heard the worry expressed that this equipment will drown us in a flood of data and unwanted superfluous information, which would not be helpful. That is not the case. It actually remains dormant until, say, a phosphate intensity level is breached. Only then does it wake up and send analysis of a whole range of chemicals back to the lab at regular intervals. A witness to the Environmental Audit Committee this April said:
“you can find out more from continuous monitoring in two weeks than you would probably find in many, many years of random sampling. You can then investigate problems, sort things out and move on … It is certainly not expensive in the terms of cost-benefit”.
Defra and the Environment Agency should work together to use this equipment to help sort out the pollution in our rivers.
I apologise for that little diversion and will go back to my catchment-based partnerships. Even without the technical and scientific knowledge, it will be obvious to the local partners when something is really going wrong in their river. Whether they are swimmers, canoeists, anglers, members of a local authority or an NGO, or even of the water company itself, they will know. When they are alerted, they will be able to prod, poke or shout to make certain that action is taken. They can watch over the CSOs, check on the quantity of water coming out of local springs and aquafers and use their local knowledge to make suggestions to avoid the worst flood risks. They can help designate more bathing sites, as I have already said, and, being good citizen scientists with good phone apps, they can help monitor the wildlife that we desperately need to encourage in, on and around our rivers.
I see their very local input as being a great force for good. Every catchment is different and has different problems, all of which need different and almost certainly local solutions, so we need to ensure that these catchment-based partnerships are encouraged, multiplied and properly resourced.
My Lords, this is one of the groups of amendments which really ought to be just swallowed wholesale by the Government. It has some excellent amendments in it.
I have signed Amendment 161, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, because it is a really good amendment with some very practical solutions for cleaning up our rivers. The way that we as an industrial society treat our rivers is one of the grossest examples of the way we trash our planet. We see rivers as little more than a dumping ground we can use to dispose of our rubbish when we cannot be bothered to sort out our waste disposal systems. It is time to stop that.
In particular, Amendment 161 emphasises the importance of nature-based solutions and other ways of separating our sewage from the clean water that falls on the surface as rain. It is absolutely absurd that we mix these two things together, instantly turning clean rainwater into raw sewage that, as far as we are concerned, is good for nothing. There are a great many nature-based solutions for treating sewage water. In the US, more than half of sewage is treated to become organic fertiliser, although some recent studies show that this can be contaminated by the inclusion of industrial waste. As long as we remove or cut out this waste, there is no reason why the UK cannot develop a well-regulated, safe industry to turn our domestic wastewater into useful resources like that. Alternatively, there are fascinating natural wastewater systems such as constructed wetlands, which use a combination of natural processes to create safe water, with the excellent secondary benefit of creating central wetland habitats.
I know that the Minister is keen on nature-based solutions, so I hope that he can expand on the Government’s plans for using nature to clean up our water and reach zero river sewage. Quite honestly, if I had to pick one amendment as the most crucial, it would have to be Amendment 166 tabled by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, which sets the essential target of zero discharges of untreated sewage into rivers. This is the level of ambition that we should be working towards as a matter of urgency.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and other noble Lords who have spoken in support of this group of amendments dealing with sewage overflows. As I stated at Second Reading, action is needed now because time is short, particularly as we are experiencing much longer periods of heavy rainfall. It is imperative that water companies upgrade their facilities to address this issue and help improve our environment in the light of climate change. I am pleased to have the opportunity to add my voice to these amendments, which address the problem of untreated sewage and propose other measures to prevent further destruction of our aquatic environment.
We are witnessing a gradual but destructive process which is reducing wildlife habitats and choking plant life; it cannot continue. The Environment Bill should be strengthened to place a legal duty on water companies to reverse these impacts on the environment and, in particular, public health, and to help reduce the negative impacts for both young and old, who enjoy aquatic leisure pursuits.
Water companies must take all reasonable steps to prevent the flow of untreated sewage from storm overflows into our rivers, lakes and coastal waters. It has to be stopped. We simply cannot keep saying that just a reduction is necessary; we must go much further, working towards eliminating these discharges. The harm caused by sewage discharges is a serious issue and must be a priority for the Government, who manage approximately 15,000 storm overflows in England. A plan to increase the continuous monitoring of storm overflows by sewerage companies by 2025, with much more detailed data being published at the earliest opportunity, obtained in as close to real time as possible, will stop sewage being spewed into our waters.
Finally, we need to address the use of technical failures as a justification for untreated sewage discharges, which last year increased by 46% compared with 2019 figures. This cannot continue to be condoned. Time is no longer a luxury we can afford. The sewage pollution crisis is here today and needs radical action; the general public know that and support action now.
I am delighted to follow my noble friend Lady Redfern. There are a number of extremely interesting and pertinent amendments in this group. In a way it is a pity the group could not have been attached or somehow linked to the amendments in the group which follow—obviously it would have been too big. Were the amendments I shall be speaking to in the next group to be accepted, there would be no unwanted sewage overflow or discharge. They refer back to the well-researched and constructive proposals put forward by Sir Michael Pitt, who was responding to the 2007 surface water flooding of that year. Obviously it is regrettable that many of his recommendations have still not been put into effect.
The amendments in this group carry a lot of favour, not just within the House but from bodies such as the coalition of Surfers Against Sewage, the Rivers Trust, Salmon & Trout Conservation, Wildlife and Countryside Link, Windrush Against Sewage Pollution, and the Angling Trust, many of which have been working in particular with my noble friend the Duke of Wellington to put meat on the bones of these amendments, which obviously aim to reduce the sewage overflow. Amendment 161 in particular, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, looked to my right honourable friend Philip Dunne’s Bill in the other place. The aim of that amendment and others in this group is to stop the discharge of untreated sewage going into inland waters. Obviously, I commend that. However, these amendments are only part of the solution.
It is unacceptable that water companies are being forced, in many respects, to connect to major—and sometimes even only minor—new developments but where those connections are unable to be made safely. It inevitably leads to the situation that this group of amendments seeks to address. The amendments in this group are, therefore, a necessary part of the solution but they would go only so far in placing a legal duty on water companies to stop the discharge of water sewage, which I think is what both the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and my noble friend the Duke of Wellington are seeking to achieve. I hope that we can go further back in the process and look to prevent many of these false or unsafe connections being made in the first place. I am delighted to say that the coalition of Surfers Against Sewage and others is aware of that and it is their intention to support my amendments in the next group.
The reason why I care so much about the amendments in this group is because, when I was an MEP, I participated in a number of Blue Flag awards for beaches in my then Essex constituency—for the first five years I had the whole of the Essex coastline in my European Parliament constituency and, for the next five years, it included part of the Suffolk beaches and most of the Essex beaches. As an enthusiastic swimmer, I went and had a swim after one of these Blue Flag awards—it would have been at some point in the 1990s—and I regret to say that 48 hours after that short swim I went down with gastroenteritis, and I have a pretty good idea of the reason why.
I hope that my noble friend will look favourably on many of these amendments and will also marry up to this idea that the connections should not be made in the first place. I welcome the amendments in this group, but we are dealing with pollution after the event and that pollution could be prevented in the first place. However, I commend to my noble friend Amendment 161 and the amendments in the name of my noble friend the Duke of Wellington and the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, as something we should very seriously consider adopting as part of the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Cormack has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone.
My Lords, this is a rather substantial group of amendments, and I am a very insubstantial person right at the end of list. Nevertheless, I will have a go, because it is a very important group.
Climate change has an increasing impact. We are seeing lower flows in rivers, more intense rainfall flowing rapidly off land and hard surfaces into watercourses and more occasions when storm overflows are spilling untreated sewage into our rivers. We need to take swift action to ensure that less rainwater and surface run-off gets into the foul water spill-off system. Noble Lords have previously remarked on that; it is a very ridiculous way of managing a drainage system to put clean water with dirty water.
Some 50% of our storm overflows that are in the firing line tonight are in fact probably okay and operating within acceptable limits. However, 30% have unknown impact: we do not know what harm they are causing and there is an urgent need for better understanding of that impact. Meanwhile, 15% are already known to have totally unacceptable impacts and need either engineering or catchment base solutions, so that they do not spill. This means bigger storm tanks, conveyance by pipes to alternative treatment works, increasing the capacity of some sewage treatment works and possibly UV treatment, as well as reducing the amount of surface water that goes into the foul water system.
Currently, drainage from roads can automatically be discharged into the foul water system. Can the Minister assure us that the Government will make it mandatory for all major new roads to have substantial drainage systems with sufficiently large tanks in flood conditions to ensure the foul drainage systems are not overloaded with unacceptable resulting spillages?
For all these reasons I support Amendment 161 in the names of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb—one can never have too many Baroness Joneses—and my noble friend Lady Hayman of Ullock. It inserts the provisions of Philip Dunne’s Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill, which has been praised already by several noble Lords. In my view, this lays out a fairly comprehensive and effective strategic approach with a menu of options. That is very different from the Government’s rather limp and inadequate Amendment 165, which is all about monitoring and publishing and not about doing.
I also commend the spirit of Amendments 166, 167 and 168, tabled by the noble Duke, Lord Wellington, the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and the noble Lord, Lord Oates, which seek the elimination, not just the reduction, of untreated sewage. These amendments talk about using “all reasonable steps”. I suspect that the Government’s judgment of what is reasonable—if we can take their woolly, wishy-washy amendment as a yardstick—would be different from what may be judged reasonable by noble Lords.
I also support Amendment 172A, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, which seeks to ensure that CSOs are discharged on a temporary basis only in agreed, genuine storm conditions in terms of volume and duration of rainfall. Too many CSOs regularly discharge in conditions that are far from storm conditions.
I also comment on and commend my noble friend Lord Whitty’s Amendment 161B on reducing domestic and non-domestic water consumption. As he noted, it appears rather oddly in this group since it is concerned with water quantity rather than quality. We simply cannot live with the fact that a rising population could be allowed to lead to a rising demand for water, as increasingly erratic weather patterns could mean more frequent periods of low rainfall and consequent drought and the current over-extraction from rivers and aquifers for agricultural industry use is already a problem.
There are some fascinating statistics in this area, and we may well rehearse them again when we get to clauses covering water quantity. Currently, the average Brit uses 142 litres per day, while the average German person uses 121. The gradient is even more marked between London and Berlin: the average Londoner uses 150 litres per day, and the average Berliner uses 110. To my certain knowledge, using a scratch-and-sniff test, I have not yet detected any difference in the hygiene levels of Berliners, who are using almost a third less water than Londoners. Added to that, customers with a water meter use 129 litres per day, while those without one use 171.
There is clearly big scope for increased water efficiency, and the amendment of my noble friend Lord Whitty would require the Secretary of State to set targets to reduce both domestic and business consumption, which would drive a long-overdue change.
My Lords, I am pleased to support the amendments in the names of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, to which I have also put my name. As we have heard, they seek to strengthen the new clauses that government Amendment 165 introduces. As the noble Duke said, it is completely unacceptable that, in the 21st century, we are discharging raw, untreated sewage so regularly—or indeed at all—into our rivers. I also welcome the amendment in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Hayman, which has similar objectives and, as we have heard, takes up the initiative of Philip Dunne’s Bill in another place.
There are other important amendments in this group, including Amendment 161A, in the name of my noble friend Lord Chidgey, who made a powerful case for the amendments as a whole, but particularly for his, on the issue of septic tanks and rural connections to mains sewerage, which is a very important issue. He mentioned that, in continental Europe, septic tanks are progressively being phased out. I am lucky enough to have regularly visited a village that is beside the River Charente in south-west France, and I can confirm and attest that, some six or seven years ago, they phased out all septic tanks there and put the whole village on the mains sewerage system. The beautiful cleanliness of the Charente is testimony to the effectiveness of that: it is a great place to swim—unlike some of our own rivers, I fear.
Amendments 170A and 188D, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, and my noble friend Lord Teverson, need to be addressed by the Minister. As the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, explained, they highlight the important role of catchment partnerships and the need for their key role to be recognised in the Bill. I also strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, on the need to reduce domestic demand, but, as he said, that issue will be dealt with in other groups that we will come on to.
It is welcome that the Government have at least acknowledged that the existing Bill was substandard in the important area of discharges into rivers, and have brought forward an amendment to tackle that. However, from the debate that we have had this evening, it is abundantly clear that the amendment put forward by the Government falls woefully short. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, said, it is a very pale imitation of Philip Dunne’s Bill, which it is supposed to take the place of, in some way. As we have heard, it does not impose a duty on water companies to take all reasonable steps to prevent sewage outflows; it aims only to reduce the frequency, duration and volume of discharges and has no ambition to eliminate them. It also does not set any specific targets for reductions.
It does require the Secretary of State to prepare a plan, but, as the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, said, it provides only that that plan “may” include proposals to reduce
“the need for anything to be discharged by … overflows”
or to treat “sewage that is discharged”, or “monitor water courses”, or “obtain information”. It is all “may”—there is no requirement that the plan must include these critical elements. In the previous group we were speaking on, I was not convinced at all by the Minister’s explanation, nor indeed by the explanation in the letter that we received ahead of this Committee stage, on “must” and “may”. We know that “may” puts the power in the hands of Ministers, and they may decide not to do any of the things that we wish them to do. So, that “must” is very important.
The amendments from the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, address many of the weaknesses that have been highlighted this evening—as does the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, albeit in a different way. Noble Lords have spoken eloquently in introducing these amendments, so I will not dwell on all of the issues that have already been tackled, but I do want to focus on one specific aspect of the government amendment that Amendment 174, from the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, seeks to address. That is the exemptions from the already very limited reach of the amendment for
“discharges occurring as a result of … electrical”
“mechanical power failure at sewage … works,”
or “rising main failure”, or
“blockage of any part of the sewage system downstream of the … overflow.”
Let me just give one example of why this is so manifestly wrong. I am lucky enough to live about a mile’s walk away from the Hogsmill River, which is one of the earth’s rare and precious chalk streams. It is a beautiful haven for plant life and wildlife, and a place that was a particular source of enjoyment for me and many others in the local community during the period of the Covid restrictions. On 26 May this year, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, cited, Judge Francis Sheridan fined Thames Water £4 million for what he described as the “utterly disgusting” pollution caused by Thames Water when untreated sewage was discharged into the Hogsmill and into a local park.
This case underlines exactly why the exemptions must not apply. The discharge occurred because of a power failure at the local sewage works. The local sewage works is not manned at night, so, over a period of five hours, almost 50 alarms were set off, which should have sent an engineer immediately to the treatment works to try to fix the problem. Every one of those alarms went unchecked and was ignored. As a result, 79 million litres of sludge escaped, which took 30 people over a month to clean up and caused much distress in the local community.
While the power failure may not have been the water company’s fault, its failure to respond to the warnings most certainly was. It should be noted that, in making its judgment, the court also took into consideration other offences of discharging into this precious chalk stream river, the Hogsmill, in January and October 2018, and other discharges in September 2019 from the sewage works. So providing exemptions such as those proposed in the government amendment will simply disincentivise water and sewage undertakers from having the necessary back-up systems and proper mechanical upkeep to ensure that such discharges do not happen, with such an appalling impact on the local environment. I feel that there is no justification whatever for these exemptions.
Like other noble Lords, I am deeply disappointed by the very modest amendment that has been brought forward by the Government. Ahead of Report, I very much hope that the Government will think again and bring back an amendment, in consultation with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, that can satisfy the House. As the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, said, this is absolutely not a partisan matter; it is a matter of fixing something that has to be fixed. If the Minister is unable to come forward with a government amendment, I am sure that the noble Baroness and the noble Duke, between them, would be able to come forward with an amendment that would command the support of the whole House.
I begin by thanking all noble Lords for their contributions on storm overflows. I am grateful to those both in this House and in the other place who have dedicated so much time to giving this issue the attention that it rightfully deserves. We have listened to noble Lords and parliamentarians in the other place, and we are all united in our view that action is needed. This is why we have tabled government amendments to change the Bill.
I shall move Amendment 165, in my name, will commit government to produce a statutory plan to reduce discharges from overflows and the harm this causes by September 2022. Work is already under way to develop the plan, including via the Storm Overflows Taskforce, made up of Defra, the Environment Agency, Ofwat, the Consumer Council for Water, Blueprint for Water and Water UK. I hope that noble Lords can appreciate that, if the plan is to deliver the change we want to see, it needs to be evidence based and developed in consultation with all key stakeholders. When we talk about stakeholders, that is not just the water companies but the NGOs and organisations battling to protect our rivers, as well as Members of this House and the other place. We need to get this right.
Government will be required through this new amendment to report to Parliament on progress towards implementing the plan. These reports will align with price review cycles so they can inform decisions about sewerage company funding. The amendment will also require water companies and the Environment Agency to publish annual data on storm overflow activity. This will improve transparency by ensuring that information on the activity of overflows is made available to the public, and ensure that Governments are held accountable for making progress.
I shall also move Amendment 300, which provides for the new clause after Clause 78, relating to storm overflows, to come into force two months after Royal Assent. Once in law, these measures will become an important step in tackling the scourge of sewage pollution in our rivers. I am pleased to say that they have been very warmly and enthusiastically welcomed by Philip Dunne, who tabled the initial Bill. The key word there is “step”—it is not the end of the journey but a step within that journey.
I turn to Amendment 161 from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. My amendments also impose similar requirements to publish information on the activity of overflows. They do not, however, include precise legislative provisions on how a reduction of discharges from storm overflows could be achieved. That is to ensure that options are not limited before due consideration is given to the most productive and effective approaches. However, the plan itself, which the government amendment will require us to publish, will include specific measures to reduce discharges and the harm that they cause. The Government will consider a range of options during the development of the plan, including many of those outlined in the noble Baroness’s amendment, and there will be many opportunities for stakeholders to feed into its development. It is for these same reasons that it would also be inappropriate to change the wording from “may” to “must”, as Amendment 168 from the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, proposes.
Amendment 169 was also proposed by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. I would first like to thank the noble Duke and my noble friend Lady Altmann for taking the time to meet with me again last week. I want to put it on record that I and the Government absolutely agree that we should be making much more use of nature-based solutions, particularly with regard to storm overflows. Nature-based solutions can play a key role in meeting flood resilience objectives in addition to numerous objectives in the Government’s 25-year environment plan at the same time. The beauty of nature-based solutions is that, while they are deployed to tackle one problem, they tend to answer so many other problems at the same time. They are not a silver bullet for all locations and all issues, and we will need to rely on a wide range of solutions to tackle the harm caused by storm overflows, including a combination of green, blue, and traditional grey infrastructure. But where a workable and appropriate nature-based-solution exists—I say this in answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb—our view is that it should be the default option. Government and water companies are also already investing in nature-based solutions to deliver multiple outcomes for the water environment and for biodiversity.
For example, in the Hanging Langford flood alleviation scheme, the Environment Agency used innovative permitting to allow Wessex Water to discharge, on the requirement that it provide a reed bed to treat the overflows. As a result of this nature-based solution, these sewage discharges are treated naturally and have negligible bacteriological impact on the River Wylye. This is exactly the sort of scheme we wish to see more of, and we are working with the Environment Agency and Ofwat to encourage greater take-up of nature-based solutions. I might add that the process that I have just described on the River Wylye would not qualify as elimination of storm overflows, as specified in Amendment 166—it would be regarded as management—but it is absolutely the kind of solution that we need to back. We need many more such solutions, but the language there is key and I will come back to that later.
I also assure the noble Duke that the current duty in the Bill allows for the government plan to use nature-based solutions where they are the most effective tool. On this basis, the Government do not believe it is necessary to specify them as a requirement in the Bill.
The noble Duke’s Amendment 166 was addressed by most noble Lords who have spoken today. All discharges to the water environment, including from sewer overflows, require a permit issued by the Environment Agency. The Bill contains clauses to place a statutory requirement directly on sewerage companies to produce drainage and sewerage management plans. This will ensure they are able to better deal with sewage discharges and tackle future risks. The statutory plan introduced by the Government’s new amendment will be based on robust evidence and consultation with all stakeholders, as I said earlier. It will be vital to have that evidence base and stakeholder participation to make sure that we have a plan that really works. I promise the noble Duke that the intention of his Amendment 166 is one that I and colleagues in Defra firmly share. We will take it into account as we draw up the plan.
On the noble Duke’s Amendment 167, storm overflows are a last resort in modern sewer design, but the age of our sewerage system means that their complete elimination is a major undertaking. For example, I am told that replacing all combined sewers with a separated sewer system would cost in the region of £200 billion to £500 billion, and would not eliminate the need for overflows in the system to cope with emergency situations. That does not mean that it is impossible or that things cannot significantly improve.
The agreed goal of the Storm Overflows Taskforce is to eliminate harm from storm overflows in the long term. The reason that the harm bit matters relates to the point I made earlier about the difference between appropriate management through nature-based solutions and elimination. The task force is working on options to achieve this goal and has commissioned research to gather evidence on the costs, benefits and feasibility of different options. This research project is due to be completed in early summer. The Government will take full account of the task force’s research findings and recommendations, other relevant evidence and views from the full range of stakeholders in drawing up our new statutory plan. We will decide on the precise details of our plan based on evidence and from weighing up the costs and benefits of all the different options. As I said when we spoke last week, I am keen to continue discussions with the noble Duke and other noble Lords with an interest in this, so we can discuss the options in more detail and look at them exhaustively.
On the noble Duke’s Amendment 170, the Government agree that transparency and monitoring are essential for creating a complete picture of the health of our water environment and to inform our decisions.
On the noble Duke’s Amendment 171, the Government also agree with the need for urgent action on this issue. To deliver a proper, comprehensive and robust plan, September next year does not feel like an exaggerated delay. We need to make sure that the plan is the best it can be, and is based on robust evidence, enabling all the appropriate consultation with all the relevant stakeholders and understanding the impacts of the plan on business, water customers and the environment. We do not yet know what the cost of the full solution would be, and we need to know that before we pass legislation.
On the noble Duke’s Amendments 172 and 173, the Government are already placing new duties on water companies and the Environment Agency to report on storm overflow activity. This includes information on investigation and improvement works. Clause 78 requires sewage undertakers to develop a drainage and sewerage management plan. These set out how they will maintain an effective system of sewerage and drainage and will include considerations of storm overflows.
Amendment 173, specifically, goes beyond information the Environment Agency currently owns, but additional transparency and reporting measures relating to undertaker performance will also be considered in developing the plan and through the task force. The Government do not feel it would be right to pre-empt this work by implementing additional reporting requirements at this stage.
The Government share the ambitions of the noble Duke in his Amendment 174. However, this amendment risks expanding the definition of “discharges” beyond the EA’s permits and creating confusion between the treatment of permitted and illegal discharges. The purpose of proposed new Clause 141E(2) is to define what a storm overflow is and this definition ensures that our amendments to prevent the harm caused by storm overflows apply only to permitted discharges. We already have a robust regulatory regime in place for tackling illegal discharges. They are subject to enforcement and fines by the Environment Agency and therefore it would not be appropriate to bring them into the scope of this proposed new clause. As most noble Lords have said today, the key issue is not illegal discharges but what is currently legally permitted in our waters.
Similarly, in Amendments 172A and 172B in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, storm overflows occurring due to rainfall or snowmelt are permitted by the EA. The permits contain the necessary conditions to regulate the discharge and limit the impact on the water environment. They take into account receiving water and size and type of sewerage catchment. I reassure the noble Lord that creating a threshold for local rainfall is therefore not needed. Discharges that occur in dry weather are illegal and, as such, are not considered in the reporting. They are dealt with by the enforcement regime that I mentioned earlier.
Moving on to Amendment 170A, I value the contribution catchment-based partnerships make as convenors of local partners. We will, of course, continue to engage with them. The main strength of catchment partnerships is their convening power and work through consensus-building to deliver the necessary environmental improvements. Their non-statutory nature has allowed flexibility and fostered creativity in developing projects and responses to issues. Formalising catchment partnerships as managing committee structures risks ossifying them and stifling the attributes that make them such a success as the system currently stands.
On the noble Lord’s final amendment, Amendment 188D, the catchment-based approach is a framework for co-ordinating partnership action between the public, private and third sectors. Since its launch in 2012, the catchment-based approach scheme has grown from 25 pilots to more than 100 catchment partnerships. To support this, we fund catchment co-ordinators whose role is to facilitate this close working. We are already committed to this approach so that catchment partnerships can draw on the best available information, and we remain committed to catchment-based approaches. On that basis, while we welcome the intention, I am afraid we do not think that the amendment would add to the approach we already have in place.
Moving to Amendment 161A, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for raising the important issue of septic tanks and cesspits. All wastewater systems, including septic tanks, are already subject to regulations to protect our environment. If a system does not meet the general binding rules, it will have to be replaced or upgraded or an environmental permit secured. If an individual chooses, they can request a connection to a main sewer through their local sewerage company. It is already the case that new developments must be connected to public foul sewers in almost all circumstances. However, for some isolated properties, the septic tank is the most appropriate method of safe waste management and it would be disproportionately costly and disruptive to create an obligation in the Bill to connect large numbers of remote tanks to the mains system.
Finally, regarding Amendment 161B, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, the Environment Bill creates a power to set long-term, legally binding environmental targets. It requires the Government to set and achieve at least one target in four priority areas, and one of those priority areas is water. In our policy paper published in August last year, we set out the objectives for targets currently under consideration in order to improve the natural environment. For water, a statutory target on overall water demand is being explored. This is a starting point from which specific targets will be developed by the Government to meet the criteria and principles outlined in that paper.
The proposed target objective for overall water demand is intended to address both household and non-household water consumption and leakage. Policy measures to reduce water demand were announced in a Written Ministerial Statement on 1 July 2021 to ensure that we are driving forward action on this key issue even while we are considering which targets to set on water.
I hope the government amendments and actions that I have set out today and the assurances that I have given alongside those actions demonstrate that the Government share noble Lords’ desire to tackle the harms generated from storm overflows. I reiterate my commitment to continuing dialogue with those noble Lords with a real interest and expertise in this area. Like noble Lords, I am committed, as are my colleagues in Defra, to delivering a solution that adequately addresses what is a very serious problem. I thank noble Lords for their contributions and I respectfully ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
I have received a request to speak after the Minister from the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington.
My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for such a detailed response to this series of amendments. I must admit to some disappointment that we do not seem to have persuaded the Minister—yet—to move very far. It seems generally accepted in the Committee that government Amendment 165 is not strong enough, and I hope it will be possible to strengthen it. As noble Lords will be aware, many of my amendments have been intended to persuade the Government to take water quality as seriously as they clearly take air quality, as we heard in the debates this afternoon. I will continue to press some of these points. I am most grateful to the Minister for agreeing to meet me and others between now and Report to see if we can strengthen the new government clause, with the intention—which we all have—of cleaning up the rivers of England. I thank the Minister and look forward to meeting him in the coming weeks.
I simply thank the noble Duke for his interest in and commitment to this area, and reiterate that I am absolutely persuaded and committed to ensuring that our approach as a Government to tackling this problem matches the scale of the problem itself. To that end, I look forward to future discussions with him and other noble Lords.
Amendment 161A withdrawn.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken and supported our amendment this evening. I also pay tribute to Surfers Against Sewage for its excellent campaigning role in highlighting the terrible current state of our water quality.
To pick up on some of the contributions, the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, rightly raised the environmental damage that can be done by septic tanks and the need to link them to the main sewerage system. As he said, their existence is a primitive legacy of a pre-industrial age and a symptom of a lack of investment in the infrastructure over many years.
My noble friend Lord Whitty has a considerable background in the water industry, and I bow to his greater knowledge on all of this. He rightly pressed the point that we need to reduce household consumption of water within a deliverable timescale. As he said, we will have a chance to debate some of these issues in more detail in one of the later groups, so I will hold many of my comments back for that. But I agree with him that a declaration about reducing water consumption at the front of this part of the Bill would be very important. Again, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, raised issues that are coming up in later groups but equally relevant to this one; we will come back to those.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, for his thoughtful and detailed contribution. He raised the important point about the need to involve local catchment partnerships in preparing the policies to reduce sewage discharge and the need for stricter criteria on when such discharges should be allowed. He made the point that they could also have a role in designating bathing sites, and I am grateful to him for alerting us to the fact that 1.2 million people are involved in outdoor swimming. We all seem to know somebody involved in it these days, so its popularity is clearly increasing. It is obviously something to be welcomed in terms of health. We also need to know the adverse health effects if people are swimming in these waters. That point was also well made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh.
The noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, and I were in exactly the same territory. He echoed a number of the issues that I had raised about the government amendment. As he said, it is not good enough to reduce sewage discharges; we should instead resolve to eliminate them. That point was echoed right around the Chamber this evening. The noble Duke has clearly not been too impressed by the discussions that he has had with the Minister so far. His amendment would also improve other loose wording in the government amendment; again, his thoughtful corrections are very welcome. We could discuss tactics and the right way forward later but, whether we have one amendment or a number of smaller ones, I think the noble Duke and I agree on what the ultimate objective should be.
I welcome the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. She rightly stressed the context of reforms needing to be based on nature-based solutions, and her point was very well made. She and my noble friend Lady Young raised the importance of setting out as soon as we can to separate storm and drain water from the sewerage system, which would obviously alleviate pressure on some of the discharges.
The noble Lord, Lord Oates, made a very important point about why the exemptions which the Government currently have in their amendment simply should not be allowed to apply. His example of the discharges into the Hogsmill illustrated that very well.
I listened carefully to the Minister’s response. We obviously welcome the task force and the extra money that has been made available. I also agree with him that we owe a great deal of thanks to the engineers, who often battle with outdated plant when they come out in difficult circumstances and weather conditions and at all times of the night. It is not an easy job, but their job would be considerably enhanced if they were able to deal with more modern equipment. I will need to consider the Minister’s points, which he raised primarily in response to the amendments of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, in detail, because I know that he went through them point by point.
However, none of this captured the urgency of the situation and the need to get a better grip on the performance of the water companies. This is at a time when they are still paying huge bonuses to their executives, rather than fixing the outdated sewerage infrastructure in a timely way. So I reiterate that the solution to our amendment would be for the Government to table a revised and improved amendment which more clearly matches what was originally put forward by Philip Dunne, which my colleagues in the Commons certainly felt was destined for the Lords and to be in the Bill—so there is disappointment in that Chamber as well as this one that that is not where we are at the moment.
I would be happy to have further discussions about this, if that can be arranged. There is a solution to be had here but, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 161 withdrawn.
Amendment 161B not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 162. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in the group to a Division must make that clear in debate.
Clause 78: Drainage and sewerage management plans
162: Clause 78, page 70, line 5, at end insert “with a requirement to improve every year the grade of sewage treatment of the sewerage system and also to separate the operation of the drainage system from the sewerage system.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is intended to secure continuous improvement of sewage treatment plants and to secure the separation of drainage systems from the sewerage systems through a legal obligation placed on the water companies.
My Lords, the amendments in this group are all to Clause 78 and would place obligations directly on the water companies and others concerned with drainage and sewerage management. In some ways, of course, this is a repeat of the interesting debate we have just had on the new government clause, but it is essential to strengthen the duties placed directly on the water companies. Otherwise, there will always be a doubt in law—I am not a lawyer—as to whether the Secretary of State or one or another agency, or one of the water companies, is ultimately responsible for compliance.
At this point, I would like to thank the Minister for seeing the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and me last week, which he mentioned in the earlier group. We were very grateful for his time.
Amendment 162 in my name, signed by the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, places on the water companies an immediate obligation to improve their sewerage systems each year. Without a requirement for immediate and continuous improvement, I fear that the water companies will devise proposals which will stretch out into the future. This improved clause will in turn put pressure on Ofwat to authorise expenditure and to agree methods for financing the necessary improvements.
On this point of paying for these improvements, I should perhaps briefly repeat part of what I said at Second Reading. I was dismayed by the Minister’s estimate in the previous debate on the total cost of renewing our sewerage infrastructure, which he said would be many hundreds of billions of pounds. Of course, I do not quite understand where that figure came from, but I recognise that it is a very large capital investment which is required, and it will have to be paid for from a combination of sources. These could include government grants, long-term borrowing, reduction of dividend payments for a number of years—paid by the water companies—and increasing water charges for both domestic and commercial consumers. This will be a green investment, with an immediate benefit for the environment and for all wildlife, not to mention human health as well.
For the reasons that I have just given, I also strongly support Amendment 162A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron.
My Amendment 163 adds a new paragraph to subsection (3) of the new Section 94A introduced by Clause 78. This would require the water companies, in their management plans, to address the impact of sewage discharges on the quality of river water. I have not yet read anything which persuades me that water companies do take full account of what their discharges are doing to water quality in rivers. The second and third paragraphs inserted by Amendment 163 would place a legal obligation on water companies to register and publish not just storm overflows but other discharges from sewage treatment works. These are, unfortunately, all too frequent. The legal obligations placed on them will force the companies—and others whom the Water Industry Act 1991 described as “sewerage undertakers”—to comply with the law, and to invest the necessary funds to release us from the horrendous curse of sewage discharges into rivers.
These two amendments will place such a strong legal duty on companies that they will have to negotiate with Ofwat, the Secretary of State and the Treasury how they may comply with these obligations imposed on them by law. I realise that all this does place a heavy charge on the water companies, but surely this is no greater than the large investment required of motor manufacturers who must invest in new technology to comply with the ban from 2030 of the sale of petrol and diesel engine motor cars.
I also wish to support in this group a number of amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and others. The Government have not chosen to table their own amendment to Clause 78, but I hope that the Minister will agree that all these various amendments will improve the Bill. They will help to achieve what I believe both the Minister and Rebecca Pow in the other place would want from this Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, once again, it is a real pleasure to follow my noble friend the Duke of Wellington and to support his Amendment 162, which seems a very good response to the Minister’s claim in respect of the last grouping that it was altogether far too expensive to prevent CSO discharges and the damage done to our rivers by our sewage treatment works. My noble friend’s amendment asks for continuous improvement of sewage works, and it should be accepted.
I shall speak to Amendment 162A in my name. It is probably superfluous, and I am merely probing to get an assurance from the Government. In the light of what we know about the state of our rivers and of getting to grips with some of the future problems—for example, the necessary but dramatic rise in planned housing provision and the fact that we probably have too many people per cubic metre of water in many parts of our country—it is important that the drainage and sewerage management plans work.
The amendment is designed to ensure that the plans work not only for present and future customers but for the environment. Above all, and I stress this, it is important to get this emphasis on the environment into this part of the Bill, so that Ofwat, in its authorisation of capital expenditure by water companies, is aware that environmental considerations are a legal necessity. I hope the Minister will be able to reassure me on that specific point.
Turning to my other amendment in this group, Amendment 163A, on nature-based solutions, I realise that this has already been touched on today, but I thought I would use the amendment to drive home the message. “Nature based solutions” is a better name than the alternative of a sustainable urban drainage system, or SUDS, the point being that these solutions are just as important in rural areas as in urban.
Like trying to fit modern heating systems into old houses, it has to be admitted that retrofitting natural drainage solutions into existing communities can be expensive and difficult, but it is crucial that, starting right now, we insist that all new developments consider nature-based solutions from the start. It should be a compulsory part of the planning system. The main message I wish to get across is that Schedule 3 to the 2010 Act, as mentioned in Philip Dunne’s Bill, must be implemented in England as it already is in Wales, because these schemes have to be planned before the design of the site even starts. They are dependent on gravity, whereas every other service to a site can, as it were, flow uphill. The positioning of these nature-based solutions is therefore crucial, and they should be the first thing designed into any new site.
Let me give a brief example of a retrofitted nature-based solution which also perhaps helps explain what it is all about, and which could even be a model for new developments. I refer to the Greener Grangetown scheme, as it is called, near Cardiff. It consists of 12 streets and is now a series of rain gardens. The water is cleansed, and many trees grow there. What is essentially a drainage scheme has become a community garden scheme looked after by people of the community. The CSO is no longer needed, as storm conditions are already catered for. I admit that such a scheme is probably too expensive for mass replication, but, with its many outputs, it attracted many willing partners and investors. Businesses and local government wanted to get involved, so it is not totally unrepeatable with the right local driving force. When the Severn Trent Mansfield pilot has produced some results, we might be able to introduce more schemes across the country, confident that we know what works and what positive outcomes we can expect.
It is worth stressing that one of the major purposes—in fact probably the main purpose—of nature-based solutions is that they deal successfully with much of the problem of road run-off, which is such a contaminant of our rivers. As well as the oils and grease from roads, 63,000 tonnes of rubber tyre particles go into our rivers every year, plus suspended solids which coat the bed of the river, hydrocarbons and dissolved metals which are toxic to fish, and benzo(a)pyrene, which is very carcinogenic. Highway run-off needs treating, and most sewage treatment works are not really designed to deal with its particular pollutants. Meanwhile, at the moment, highway authorities can connect their drains to sewage works without the water companies being able to deny them. We must do all we can to introduce nature-based solutions, wherever we can.
To summarise—and I apologise if this is over labouring my point—nature-based solutions have four main benefits. First, they slow the flow, which of course helps the CSO problem; secondly, they act as filtration plants to remove road oils, grease, hydrocarbon pollutants and microplastics; thirdly, they clean the water, whether it is going back into the river or down into an aquifer; and, fourthly, and not unimportantly, they provide beauty and habitats. As I said, they should be everywhere.
My Lords, it is genuinely a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, who always gives us a master class. Whereas I tend to rely a bit too much on rhetoric, he gives us facts, which are far more robust and demanding of a government response. I shall speak to Amendment 175, although I also put my name to Amendment 175A, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, which I support. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, for their support.
It was more than 15 years ago that a member of my family opened a printing factory in Cornwall and I heard the term BREEAM for the first time: a building standard demanded at the time because it was partly financed by the European Regional Development Fund. There was a reasonable expectation—in fact, a necessity—that certain standards be built into that building. One of them concerned grey water. I remember saying, “What the heck is greywater?” The answer was that it is recycling water—not water that has gone through the lavatories, or loos, but the rest of it—to make sure that water demand comes down. It was one of the most obvious examples of what we would now call the circular economy. Those technologies can save something like 50% of water consumption.
In those days—all of 15 years ago—it would have been completely unrealistic to apply such a system to domestic houses, because they were not available at that scale. But even then, for commercial buildings, it was the case that those systems worked, and worked well—the system in that building is still working very effectively and reducing water demand. But now those systems are up for use in domestic housing as well. They work. There are criticisms of them: obviously, the cost, technically—I shall come back to that—but also that they raise the demand for electricity, and so the carbon footprint may go up. We should always remember that domestic buildings will probably last for 100 years. We know that we will decarbonise electricity generation anyway, I hope, well before 2050, so that carbon footprint will not be an issue for very long.
I say to the Government that surely we have a real opportunity here to save a major proportion of water consumption. It will not solve leakage, which I appreciate has to be done elsewhere, and there are other amendments to deal with that, but on water consumption we already have a solution which, if it is rolled out in new buildings, whether commercial or domestic, the difference on the cost of that building is far from great—perhaps a couple of thousand pounds. Over the life of that building, clearly there will be savings in both resources and the cost of water.
It is one of those areas where it is just so obvious that we need to improve the future homes standard. I do not know where that has got to at the moment. As we have said before, it seems to me an absolute tragedy that the aim of zero-carbon homes for 2016 and commercial buildings for 2019 was thrown away back in 2015, under pressure from the then Chancellor, George Osborne; that happened along with a number of other negative green things at that time. One reason that happened, we understand, was that Persimmon Homes lobbied the Treasury extremely hard to stop those standards and was successful. I am concerned to read today that Taylor Wimpey is still putting pressure on the Government not to put up the standards that I think everyone in this House would accept are needed on the carbon footprint and resource utilisation of all buildings into the future.
George Eustice, the Secretary of State, made a Statement last Thursday, going through the whole issue of water use. He talked about leakage, business water use, water meters and bringing down the consumption of water to 110 litres per person per day in the country, but he did not say that we are going ahead with an existing, tested solution to make up to 50% water resource savings and put grey water systems into new buildings at a specific point in the future. I accept that 2023 might be slightly early in planning for this, but I am trying to be ambitious in this area. I will accept the Government saying that it might be two years later, but seriously: let us get on with this. Let us use one of the best examples of circular economy, of saving water and of saving costs to consumers, and let us move this country ahead in its building standards.
Debate on Amendment 162 adjourned.