House of Lords
Monday 12 July 2021
The House met in a hybrid proceeding.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Chichester.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now begin. Some Members are here in the Chamber, others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. I ask all Members to respect social distancing and wear face coverings while in the Chamber except when speaking. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House.
Oral Questions will now commence. Please can those asking supplementary questions keep them no longer than 30 seconds and confined to two points. I ask that Ministers’ answers are also brief.
Colombia: Human Rights
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made as to whether the reported killings of civilian protestors in Colombia has put the government of that country in breach of its commitments to respect human rights and democratic principles, as set out in the UK–Andean Countries Trade Agreement of 15 May 2019.
My Lords, the United Kingdom remains concerned about reports of human rights violations in Colombia and we have raised our concerns with the relevant state actors since the protests began. We welcome the Colombian Government’s commitment to transparent investigations into allegations of excessive force and to take appropriate action against those responsible. The British Government attach real importance to the principles underpinning the UK-Andean Countries Trade Agreement and expect our partners to do the same.
I thank the Minister for his reply. The UK’s 2019 continuity trade agreement with Colombia commits the UK Government to respect human rights and democratic principles. The violence towards and killings of civilian protesters committed by the Colombian security forces were not only totally unacceptable but in violation of that trade agreement. On 17 January, the Foreign Secretary told “The Andrew Marr Show” that
“we shouldn’t be engaged in free-trade negotiations with countries abusing human rights”.
What, if anything, will the Government do to hold the Colombian Government to their trade agreement commitments, if their investigations show what is obvious to everyone?
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that it is important that we hold countries to their human rights commitments. The actual trade agreement is, of course, yet to be ratified by Colombia. Nevertheless, through the direct engagement of both our embassy and my colleague, Minister Morton, who is responsible for our relations with Colombia, we have spoken directly with the Colombian authorities, which are now pursuing a full range of investigations into alleged misconduct by the police. We welcome those steps that are being taken to strengthen justice and accountability.
My Lords, it is not just the reported killings that are cause for such concern but the return of another familiar tactic from Colombia’s long civil conflict: disappearances. Human rights groups say that they have recorded up to 700 cases in recent months. What representations have the UK Government made to the Colombian authorities about this aspect of the protests?
My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that it is important to focus specifically on the concerns that she has highlighted. We have made representations through ministerial engagement and regularly do so through our embassy on the ground. We continue to support transitional justice within Colombia as a key part of our work.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the FTA was breached when the Colombian police targeted clearly identified journalists and human rights defenders in the recent protests, seriously injuring many of them in an attempt to prevent them from reporting? What, if any, specific representations has the UK made to the Colombian Government about this, especially as we recently co-hosted the Global Conference for Media Freedom?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is correct. We have prioritised media freedom in our work globally and I can assure her that we have raised a broad range of human rights abuses and concerns arising particularly from the recent protests. In this regard, we welcome the concerted attempt to look into investigations and hold to account those who have committed these crimes.
My Lords, it is concerning to learn that 83 people recently suffered gender-based violence during a social protest in Colombia. One young woman who was arbitrarily detained was only 17 and was allegedly raped by the police. She committed suicide as a result. As the UK has taken the global lead on prevention of conflict related to sexual violence, what representation is it making to the Colombian Government on the alleged sexual assault?
My Lords, I will certainly follow up on the noble Baroness’s specific case and ensure that an appropriate representation is made in my capacity as the Prime Minister’s special representative on preventing sexual violence, particularly in conflict—that means building post conflict, as well. This is a key priority for our Government.
My Lords, on a number of occasions, most recently in May, I have raised with the Minister the question of Britain’s training programme with the Colombian police. We have heard from the reports of the demonstrations about violence committed by the police, involving between 26 and 44 deaths and, as my noble friend said, sexual assault. Can the noble Lord explain exactly what measures we are taking to ensure that the Colombian security forces are held to account for their human rights abuses?
My Lords, the noble Lord is correct that he has raised this issue. We continue to ensure that our training of overseas law enforcement officers is fully supported by reviewing all training initiatives and ensuring that human rights are at the forefront of direct engagement. The 220 investigations that I have alluded to are specifically into misconduct by the police. These cases are now open and we are monitoring and following their progress.
My Lords, anyone who has travelled in Colombia knows that it is both one of the most beautiful and one of the most violent places on earth. Agencies such as Human Rights Watch have identified the lack of separation between the police and the military as contributing to the use of force and live ammunition to control protesters. Does the Minister agree that one way we might attempt to use any influence that we have would be to push for greater separation between these agencies?
My Lords, I refer to my interests as recorded in the register. A recent ruling from the transitional justice court named 10 Colombian army officers as responsible for murdering 120 civilians and disappearing 24 in 2007-08. These cases relate to the so-called “false positives”: the Colombian state stands accused of killing close to 6,500 civilians, dressing them as guerrillas, during the Uribe presidency. Given the hostility to the transitional justice court from certain quarters in Colombia, can the Minister repeat Britain’s support for this institution and welcome the positive engagement of former FARC commanders, who have recognised their role in crimes during the armed conflict?
My Lords, I am happy to confirm the Colombian Government’s long-standing commitment to assist former guerrilla fighters in their transition to civilian life following the peace agreement. We remain committed to this and since 2015 have given over £63 million of support directly to Colombia through the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund.
Can the Minister comment on whether the Government joined in the condemnation by the United Nations of the violent repression by the police of protests in Colombia in May, which left at least 18 people dead and 87 missing? What other steps are being considered?
My Lords, I confirm to my noble friend that we have made representations through discussions at the United Nations. As I said, we continue to make representations through my colleague, Minister Morton, and our ambassador to Colombia.
My Lords, as the noble Lord may recollect, the trade agreement has specific articles contained within it, Articles 1 and 8, which ensure that human rights are upheld. We will continue, because Colombia is yet to ratify the trade agreement, to uphold that aspect of it. Equally, as we lend support to Colombia, it is important that we ensure improved trade and prosperity for all Colombians.
My Lords, enforcement of road traffic law and how available resources are deployed to tackle illegal riding of e-scooters is an operational matter for chief officers, according to local police plans. The Government will continue to support the police by ensuring that they have the tools needed to enforce road traffic legislation, including those related to electric scooters.
My Lords, this Government claim to represent the party of law and order, and certainly they often talk about crackdowns, but, when it comes to e-scooters, they have allowed, even encouraged, de facto legalisation without the necessary legislation to protect riders and the public. This has caused problems to escalate out of control in a wild west of lawlessness, where riders are terrorising pedestrians, especially those with disabilities and visual impairment. The Government have also failed to regulate the sale and use of private ones, which probably number in the hundreds of thousands. Why are this Government refusing to act on e-scooters and keep people safe?
My Lords, in terms of the concerns that the noble Baroness expresses, I completely agree with her, which is why trials have been rolled out over the country, which will end in March of next year. In terms of what those trials have yielded, the Metropolitan Police service has seized over 1,000 e-scooters in the last month. I also concur with the noble Baroness in her view about vulnerable people, which is why rented scooters, which are legal, have horns that let people know that they are coming.
My Lords, e-scooters represent one of the dangers to cyclists in ever-increasing number using the cycle lanes. Will the Minister consequently ensure that consideration of a ban of e-scooters might include consideration of a cycle lane code, like the Highway Code, for greater safety of users?
My Lords, that is one of the things being suggested. As a cyclist myself, as I said when I answered the last Oral Question on this subject, it is quite terrifying for these things to come up behind you. You cannot hear them, you cannot see them until they are upon you, and they go really quite fast. So, at the end of the trial, I am sure that all those things will be taken into consideration.
My Lords, I am a big fan of e-scooters and am delighted that the Government are carrying out these trials. Does the Minister know how many miles have so far been travelled on legal e-scooters hired under the Government’s pilot schemes, and is there any estimation of what contribution they have made to reducing both congestion and pollution in our cities?
My Lords, the proliferation of privately owned e-scooters appears out of control, with traffic police turning a blind eye to measures of enforcement. What measures can be taken to avoid e-scooters being driven on pavements or retrofitted to increase their speed, and to prohibit e-scooter drivers from carrying a passenger?
My Lords, several measures can be taken. You can get a penalty fine of £300 and six points on your licence, or ghost licence, for uninsured use of these scooters, a £100 fine and three to six points for no driving licence, and a £50 fine for driving on a pavement.
My Lords, the reality is that our streets are becoming a nightmare for the young, the old, the blind and the disabled. Will the Home Secretary tell the Mayor of London that, although it is an operational matter, some confiscation of e-scooters is not enough and zero tolerance should be imposed on our pavements for e-scooters and bicycles? When did the Minister last see a police presence on the streets of London outside the precincts of Westminster?
I can confirm to the noble and learned Lord that I was on the streets of London on my bicycle on both Thursday and Friday and I have actually witnessed police seizing these e-scooters, as referenced by the figures that I gave earlier. And, just to come back to my noble friend Lord Vaizey, I can tell him that 5 million kilometres of journeys have taken place since the trials began.
The Government have let the problems associated with e-scooters escalate out of control. Retailers are not being held to their legal obligations and pilot schemes are so numerous that it is effectively back-door legalisation without any of the rules. Does the Minister accept that the Government instead should have legislated a couple of years ago with some basic, simple rules on minimum age, maximum speeds, licences and helmets?
My Lords, it is probably worth saying that it is not out of control. The statutory instrument for the trials was laid in June 2020, and you can own a private e-scooter but you cannot legally use one on the road. So the rules are clear and I have gone through the figures for how many e-scooters have been seized. But I do not think that there should be an outright ban on them. We should evaluate the trials as and when they finish next year.
My Lords, the Minister referred to the end of the trials, but, as we have already heard, for disabled people the unchallenged use of e-scooters on pavements is a nightmare that is happening now and needs to be addressed now. When will the Government take responsibility for ensuring that the law is enforced and pedestrians protected?
I thank my noble friend for his question, which he asked me a few weeks ago when we had the previous Question. I can inform him that DfT Ministers have held four round tables with groups representing vulnerable people. He is absolutely right that e-scooters can be extremely hazardous to people who are hard of sight or not swift on their feet. The last round table we had on this matter was last month. Clearly those groups have raised concerns about the trials and, when the trials finish, we will be able to evaluate the framework for the use of these scooters.
Police numbers are still considerably lower today than they were in 2010, and on top of this, the population is higher than it was just over a decade ago. Do the Government agree that, if police numbers were still at 2010 levels, the police would have more resources to stop people using e-scooters illegally, which would also be a greater deterrent to the illegal use of e-scooters?
The noble Lord will know that the Government remain on track—in fact, ahead of track—to deliver the number of 20,000 more police, because we have recognised that the demands on the police are changing and therefore that more police to tackle various types of crime are needed on our streets.
My Lords, the combination of e-scooters and the new electronic bikes, both often ridden dangerously fast along our pavements, is a real threat to the safety of pedestrians. They are also very nippy for criminal activity. What are the Government proposing to do to regularise the position now, not next March? We really want action, not round tables.
My noble friend has a point about the here and now. I said earlier that the police had in the last month seized 1,000 e-scooters that should not have been on the streets—or indeed, as noble Lords have said, on the pavement. They are in a different category from the e-bikes. You have to put some effort into propelling e-bikes forward, whereas scooters are entirely self-propelling.
My Lords, the noble Lord will know that we recognise the importance of the steel sector to the UK economy and in supporting other domestic industries and local communities. Our broad action, led by the steel council, to create a competitive, sustainable and low-carbon future for the sector supports our plan for growth, which succeeded the industrial strategy published more than four years ago.
I thank the Minister for that reply. I welcome the Government overturning the decision of the Trade Remedies Authority on the removal of safeguard tariffs. I fear that, if they had not done this, the consequences for the industry would have been severe. Another severe problem for our steel sector is that the energy costs applied to steel production in the UK are far higher than those of our foreign competitors. Will the Government look urgently at what we can do to reduce this competitive imbalance?
The noble Lord makes a very good point about the high energy costs. We have provided more than £550 million in relief to the steel sector since 2013 to make electricity costs more competitive. Of course, we continue to keep the matter under review and to have discussions with the sector.
If Britain is to have an industrial future, it needs a domestic steel industry. It needs a low-carbon industry to replace one that is a large emitter of carbon dioxide—as are the foreign industries from which we have been importing increasing quantities of steel. To create a low-carbon industry which employs electric arc furnaces and uses hydrogen as a reducing agent requires considerable investment. It also requires protection from foreign competition by a stringent carbon tax. Are the Government prepared to overcome their usual reluctance by providing funds for this investment? Are they prepared to impose such a carbon tax on imported steel?
We have supported the steel sector extensively over the years and I outlined some of the money that we have spent. The noble Viscount will know that decisions on taxes are of course a matter for the Chancellor. I am sure that if there are any actions, he will hear of them directly from the Chancellor.
My Lords, among the Government’s aims to level up and on the net-zero agenda for the British economy, there is a true agenda for steel. The Government have also expressed a desire to improve public procurement of steel. Will there be further proposals so that the tendering process for steelworks contractors includes requirements to provide supply chain plans, advertise steel supply opportunities, report on the origin of steel ultimately used and, finally, justify why they have not used UK-made steel?
We are working hard to make sure that UK producers of steel have the best possible chances of competing for and winning contracts across all government procurement efforts. The joint industry-BEIS Steel Procurement Taskforce, launched on 12 March, shows our willingness to support the sector and aims to work with it to promote the unique selling points of UK steel.
The Government’s recent U-turn to bring forward emergency legislation to extend steel safeguard tariffs is good news, but this goes back to 2017, when the House first debated the Trade Bill. It is a mess of the Government’s own making. Can the Minister explain how the Trade Remedies Authority will be urgently reformed to prevent more anguish and uncertainty for the steel sector as well as for other businesses and industries?
I am pleased that the noble Lord welcomed the decision that was taken with regard to the recommendations of the Trade Remedies Authority. Of course, we keep all these matters under constant review but, as I said, we will continue to work with the sector to see what new opportunities there are and how we can help it in future.
Can the Minister tell the House what plans the Government have to exploit the UK’s lead in the manufacture of the electrolysers used for green hydrogen production—manufacturing which is based in the great steel city of Sheffield—in order to make the UK the global hub for green steel production?
The noble Lord is quite right that hydrogen-based steel making is one of the many technological approaches we are looking at for the sector’s future. We announced the £250 million clean steel fund to support the UK steel sector to transition to low-carbon production, and we plan to establish the net-zero hydrogen fund with £240 million of capital co-investment to 2024.
My Lords, the steel industry is badly undercapitalised and needs investment, both in labour and capital, so that it can modernise. This has already been asked but, first, will my noble friend agree to look again at energy costs? Even with the government subsidy, they are still way above those of our European—and certainly Far Eastern—competitors. Secondly, will he look seriously at putting a tax on scrap metal, which would ensure that it stayed in this country and was used in the newer electric arc furnaces, thereby making them viable?
My noble friend is right to point to the problems for the sector. I mentioned in an earlier answer that we have provided more than £550 million in relief to the steel sector for its electricity costs but, of course, we keep these matters under constant review. We are aware of the problems that high electricity prices cause for the sector. On his question on scrap, we want to ensure that the metals recycling market continues to work effectively for all stakeholders, whether that is for metals recycled by steel producers or the cast metal sector.
My Lords, the UK steel industry has shrunk drastically over the last quarter of a century. In 2019, we produced just 7 million tonnes, which put us eighth in the league of EU producers. Does the Minister have in mind a figure for what the UK steel industry should be able to produce in order to fulfil the plan for growth? Will he also say whether in providing subsidies for automobile manufacturers in the UK, there is a stipulation that they should buy their steel in the UK?
I understand the points that the noble Baroness makes. My noble friend Lord Grimstone is looking forward to considering the outputs of the procurement task force. However, we should recognise the importance of continuing to treat suppliers equally and fairly through open competition. Keeping our procurement market open to international competition ensures better value for taxpayers and for UK industry.
In view of the climate emergency that we are all facing, the Swedish Government have pushed forward on their aims to be fossil fuel-free by 2024, using the hydrogen technology that somebody has just mentioned. How many years behind are the British Government?
I know that the noble Baroness feels passionately about these matters, and we share her enthusiasm for decarbonising the industrial sectors as quickly as possible. She will know that decarbonising UK industry is a core part of the Government’s plan for a green industrial revolution, which I am sure she will support. The industrial decarbonisation strategy commits the Government to work with the steel council on the implications of the Climate Change Committee’s recommendation for UK-based steel makers to be carbon neutral by 2035.
My Lords, the Minister will obviously be aware of the significant role of GFG in our steel industry. Have the Government permanently ruled out the provision of finance to GFG and its plants? If this is only temporary, are the Government investigating GFG and, if so, which departments are doing so and is the Minister confident that a conclusion will be reached shortly?
Ultimately, it is of course for the company to manage its commercial decisions for the future and to find a successful buyer, but we hope this company succeeds with its plans to refinance. With regard to investigations, the noble Lord will know that I cannot comment.
My Lords, I declare my membership of the Community trade union, which represents steel-workers, and my former role as Member of the Scottish Parliament for Motherwell and Wishaw—a proud steel-making constituency, where the number of jobs today is a fraction of what it was in the past but where real quality steel is still made at the Dalzell works. Therefore, I ask the Minister to confirm today, on behalf of the Government, that they will work closely with the Scottish Government, who have a role in both procurement and decarbonisation. We need all levels of government in the UK to work together to ensure a strong future for the UK steel industry, in Scotland as well as the rest of the UK.
I can certainly give the noble Lord the assurances that he is looking for: we will work with all partners, domestic and international, in order to ensure that the UK steel sector has a viable future. Of course, we all know the challenges that it faces, but we are committed to doing what we can to help it. I mentioned the steel council, which was reformed, with government, the industry and the trade unions working together to produce a viable future for the industry. It has met twice already and will meet again further this month, chaired by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.
United Kingdom–European Union Parliamentary Partnership Assembly
My Lords, it is a matter for Parliament to consider the potential shape of the parliamentary partnership assembly, within the framework set out in the UK-EU trade and co-operation agreement. I understand that informal discussions involving Members of both Houses are ongoing.
The partnership assembly is an important organisation: it will be able to get information from and make recommendations to the Partnership Council, which is where the EU and our Government will take decisions—so it is clearly of importance to this House. Could the Minister assure us that he will do everything possible to make sure that it is set up before the Recess so that we can choose our representatives to it and it can get going? Will he also do everything that he can to facilitate a report back to this Chamber from the parliamentary assembly, once it is set up?
My Lords, the Government are wholeheartedly in favour of dialogue between Parliament and the European Parliament, but, as the noble Baroness knows, the primary impetus from the UK side for establishing a parliamentary partnership assembly needs to come from both Houses of Parliament, which is why Members of both Houses are working on a proposal. Reporting back to the House by the PPA, once it is established, is something that the PPA itself will need to decide upon in due course.
My Lords, the treaty itself specifies that these arrangements should be set up—this is a responsibility for Government and not to be offloaded on to Parliament. Are the Government not encouraging the Leader of this House and the Leader of the House of Commons, for example, to immediately engage with the European Parliament so that we have a proper operation up and running by the time we return in the autumn? The Government cannot entirely dodge responsibility and shove it on to parliamentary procedures; it is in a treaty signed by the Prime Minister.
My Lords, as the noble Lord has said, the UK-EU trade and co-operation agreement—the TCA—makes explicit provision for a parliamentary partnership assembly, but on a permissive basis. It is implicit in the wording that this must be for the two Parliaments to establish. However, I can tell the noble Lord that, at the very first Partnership Council meeting, both the UK Government and the EU encouraged the establishment of the parliamentary partnership assembly. At a government level, we look forward to seeing the final proposals from both Parliaments and to providing support to the process where we can.
My Lords, in its April resolution on the trade and co-operation agreement, the European Parliament said that it wanted the parliamentary partnership assembly not only to monitor the full implementation of the agreement but also to make recommendations for improved co-operation. This Parliament currently has a serious scrutiny deficit with regard to the Government’s Brexit activities under the TCA and the withdrawal agreement. Why is the European Parliament often condemned in some quarters as somehow undemocratic, when it would have much greater democratic powers and aspirations than our own?
My Lords, I do not accept what the noble Baroness has said about the transparency that we seek to bring about. We are enthusiastic about the setting up of the parliamentary partnership assembly, as I have said. We hope that the plans progress quickly. In this House, we have my noble friend Lord Frost, who regularly answers questions about the discussions and negotiations that are currently proceeding. It is not in any way our desire to have a process that lacks transparency.
My Lords, until the parliamentary partnership assembly is established, what other channel of communication exists to inform our Parliaments, in the UK and the European Parliament, of the decisions and recommendations of the Partnership Council? Are there any means by which recommendations can be made to the Partnership Council—because we all know how long transitional periods can last?
My Lords, it is open to my noble friend and indeed any Member of this House to table a Parliamentary Question or a debate on a related subject, so I hope that my noble friend will feel able to elicit information that she needs from Ministers in that way.
I know first-hand of the warmth that the European Parliament feels towards the parliamentary partnership assembly. In his capacity both as Deputy Leader of the House and deputy leader of his party, could the Minister return that warmth? Does he agree that there should be a strong interparliamentary dimension as part of a successful mix in our new relationship with the European Union?
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his work on behalf of the House in his capacity as chair of your Lordships’ European Affairs Select Committee. He makes a very good point, and one thinks of other parliamentary assemblies that are perhaps analogous in some respects, such as the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and that of the OSCE, although their respective functions are of course different and distinct.
My Lords, I hope that I am mistaken in detecting a lack of enthusiasm on the Minister’s part, uncharacteristic of him as that is. Does he agree that, in addition to the bodies that he mentioned, the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly might represent a good working model for the proposal of an EU parliamentary partnership assembly? Does he agree that it has the following characteristics: it has both Houses, it has all nations and regions and it is resourced by the UK Parliament? Could we make some progress on this, please?
My Lords, the noble Lord may be aware that, in the intercameral discussions, the interests of your Lordships’ House are being represented by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. I feel sure that he will have heard the recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in this debate.
My Lords, when I was an extremely junior Lords Minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office during the coalition, I was struck by the number of my Conservative colleagues who had no personal contacts, even with conservative Members of other Parliaments across the European Union. On a number of occasions, I was also struck by requests from Conservative Ministers asking me to make informal contact with Ministers in other Governments because I knew them through the European liberal network. Do the Government recognise that informal cross-Parliament and cross-party contact in the very intricate relationship that we will have with the European Union as an outside country would be extremely useful for us as a Parliament and for his Government as a Government?
My Lords, I am delighted to hear that my noble friend is keen to set up this body, and I understand that the EU Parliament itself is ready. Surely, it is very important that this Parliament get on with building mutually beneficial relationships in order to discuss important programmes such as Horizon, Euratom and others, and issues that are relevant to both EU and UK citizens. Does he agree that important ideas can be killed off by inaction?
I agree with my noble friend’s last remark, but I can assure her that there is no inaction in this instance. I understand that a letter addressed jointly to the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Lord Speaker was received last month from the President of the European Parliament, David Maria Sassoli, confirming the recent decision of the Conference of Presidents to establish the standing inter-parliamentary delegation of the European Parliament, so the process is moving forwards at the European end as well.
Hereditary Peers By-election
The Clerk of the Parliaments announced the result of the by-election to elect a Labour hereditary Peer, in place of Lord Rea, in accordance with Standing Order 9.
Only one candidate submitted a candidacy form, so there was no requirement for a ballot to take place. Accordingly, Viscount Stansgate was certified as the successful candidate. A notice detailing the result is in the Printed Paper Office and online.
Business of the House
Motion to Agree
Health Security (EU Exit) Regulations 2021
Coronavirus Act 2020 (Early Expiry) Regulations 2021
Motions to Approve
Occupational Pension Schemes (Climate Change Governance and Reporting) Regulations 2021
Motion to Approve
The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Thursday 8 July.
“Twenty years ago, Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda leadership had turned Afghanistan into the epicentre of global terrorism, where, in the words of the author Ahmed Rashid,
‘everything was available—training, funding, communications and inspiration.’
It was in the mountain ranges of this sanctuary that al-Qaeda operated a formidable network of terrorist training camps, drilling and indoctrinating thousands of recruits. The terrorists who acquired their murderous skills in Afghanistan or who were organised from its soil dispersed across the world, inflicting bloodshed and tragedy on three continents. They detonated truck bombs in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998, killing 224 people. They attacked the USS ‘Cole’ in Aden in 2000, killing 17 people, and then they perpetrated their most heinous atrocity, claiming almost 3,000 lives in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington on 11 September 2001.
Today, thankfully, the situation is very different. The training camps have been destroyed. What remains of al-Qaeda’s leadership no longer resides in Afghanistan and no terrorist attacks against western targets have been mounted from Afghan soil since 2001. We should never lose sight of those essential facts.
On the morning after 11 September, few would have predicted that no more terrorist attacks on that scale would be launched from Afghanistan in the next 20 years. Those gains were achieved by an American-led military intervention mounted with overwhelming international support, including troops from dozens of countries, and the first and only invoking of NATO’s Article 5 security guarantee. We can take pride that Britain was part of that effort from the beginning.
Over the past two decades, 150,000 members of our Armed Forces have served in Afghanistan, mainly in Helmand province, which was, from 2006 onwards, a focus of our operation. In the unforgiving desert of some of the world’s harshest terrain, and shoulder to shoulder with the Afghan security forces, our service men and women sought to bring development and stability. The House will join me in commending their achievements and paying heartfelt tribute to the 457 British service personnel who laid down their lives in Afghanistan to keep us safe.
We always acted in the closest partnership with the Government and the people of Afghanistan, and we owe an immense debt to the translators and other locally employed staff who risked their lives alongside British forces. We have already helped more than 1,500 former Afghan staff and their families to begin new lives here in the UK. This year, we adopted a new policy offering priority relocation to the UK to any current or former locally employed staff assessed to be under serious threat to their lives, together with their close families.
British diplomats and development experts worked alongside our allies to rebuild the country, opening schools and clinics where there had been none and bringing safe water and electricity to millions of people for the first time. No one who lives in comfort, as we do, should underestimate the importance of their advances.
In Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, virtually no girls attended school. They were, as a matter of declared policy, driven from the classroom and forbidden from returning. Today, 3.6 million girls are going to school in Afghanistan, seizing their chance to escape from illiteracy and poverty. The Girls’ Education Challenge fund, established by the British Government, has helped more than a quarter of a million Afghan girls into the classroom.
Our priority now must be to work alongside our Afghan and other partners to preserve those vital gains and the legacy of what has been achieved. Under the Taliban, women were excluded from governance. Today, women hold more than a quarter of the seats in Afghanistan’s Parliament. Since 2002, more than 5 million refugees have returned to Afghanistan under the UN’s voluntary repatriation programme, aided by the fact that Britain, the UN and our Afghan and international partners have together cleared more than 8.4 million landmines or other unexploded munitions, restoring 340,000 acres of land for productive use. In 2018, Herat province was declared clear of mines after 10 years of painstaking work by the HALO Trust, based in Dumfriesshire, in a UK-funded programme.
No one should doubt the gains of the past 20 years, but nor can we shrink from the hard reality of the situation today. The international military presence in Afghanistan was never intended to be permanent. We and our NATO allies were always going to withdraw our forces. The only question was when, and there could never be a perfect moment. As long ago as 2014, the UK ceased all combat operations and brought the great majority of our troops home, reorienting our role and our involvement. About 750 service personnel stayed in Afghanistan under NATO’s mission to train and assist the country’s security forces. Last year, the US decided to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, while the Taliban undertook to prevent
‘any group or individual, including al-Qaeda, from using the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies’.
President Biden announced in April that all American forces would leave by September at the latest, and the NATO summit declared last month that the alliance’s military operations in Afghanistan were ‘coming to an end’. As a result, all British troops assigned to NATO’s mission in Afghanistan are now returning home. For obvious reasons, I will not disclose the timetable of our departure, but I can tell the House that most of our personnel have already left.
I hope that no one will leap to the false conclusion that the withdrawal of our forces somehow means the end of Britain’s commitment to Afghanistan. We are not about to turn away, nor are we under any illusions about the perils of today’s situation and what may lie ahead. We always knew that supporting Afghanistan would be a generational undertaking, and we were equally clear that the instruments in our hands would change over time. Now we shall use every diplomatic and humanitarian lever to support Afghanistan’s development and stability. We will back the Afghan state with more than £100 million of development assistance this year and £58 million for the Afghan national security and defence forces.
We will of course continue to work alongside our Afghan partners against the terrorist threat. Our diplomats are doing everything they can to support a lasting peace settlement within Afghanistan, and they are working for regional stability, particularly by promoting better relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Here I commend General Carter, the Chief of the Defence Staff, for his steadfast efforts.
I spoke to President Ghani on 17 June to assure him of the UK’s commitment, and I was moved once again to hear his tribute to the British soldiers who strove so hard to give the Afghan people better lives. We must be realistic about our ability alone to influence the course of events. It will take combined efforts of many nations, including Afghanistan’s neighbours, to help the Afghan people to build their future, but the threat that brought us to Afghanistan in the first place has been greatly diminished by the valour and by the sacrifice of the Armed Forces of Britain and many other countries. We are safer because of everything they did. Now, we must persevere alongside our friends for the same goal of a stable Afghanistan, but with different tools in our hands. I commend this Statement to the House.”
My Lords, first, I am sure that the whole House would like to pay tribute to the more than 150,000 UK personnel who have served in Afghanistan during the past 20 years. Their bravery and professionalism have denied terrorists a safe haven and helped Afghanistan build its institutions; they have trained and advised Afghan forces and supported the advancement of the rights of women and education for girls.
Those crucial advances were made with huge sacrifices: 457 UK service men and women lost their lives, and many thousands more and their families continue to endure physical and mental injuries. More than 70,000 Afghan civilians lost their lives, and while progress has been made, there remain huge challenges. We owe a debt of gratitude to our Armed Forces and they should be proud of their work and achievements.
In his Statement—which I unfortunately did not get to hear under our current arrangements—although the Prime Minister confirmed that our presence in Afghanistan as part of the international military effort was never intended to be permanent, he rightly conceded that we cannot
“shrink from the hard reality of the situation today.”
Progress made is not necessarily the same as those gains being secured and irreversible. Given the sacrifices made, the Government need to be clear about their ongoing commitment to Afghanistan.
Most of the UK personnel have already left, following the decision of the US Government in April that all US forces would leave in September, when, according to the NATO summit decision, operations were coming to an end. Can the Leader of the House explain the engagement the UK Government had with the US prior to that decision being taken? Did the Prime Minister suggest a different course of action? Did he offer a different timescale, or did he discuss how we could contribute to a lasting settlement?
Many in your Lordships’ House with direct experience of military action engagement have concerns about what happens next. We share those concerns, both for the stability of Afghanistan and for the remaining potential security threat to the wider world, including the UK. It would be helpful if the Minister could say something about the Government’s assessment of the possible return of al-Qaeda. There is evidence that the Taliban is making gains on the ground, and hostile states are now exploring options to fill any military and diplomatic vacuum. Serious questions therefore remain about the future stability of the country. The Prime Minister said in his Statement, which we have not heard:
“We are not about to turn away, nor are we under any illusions about the perils of today’s situation and what may lie ahead.”
Therefore, when the Prime Minister says that he will use
“every diplomatic and humanitarian lever to support Afghanistan’s development and stability”,
what does that actually mean in practice on the ground?
Nobody wants to see British troops permanently stationed in Afghanistan, but we cannot simply just walk away without seeking to ensure that it will not lead to bloodier conflict and wider Taliban control. I do not know if the Minister heard the same BBC interview as I did, in which General Sir Nick Carter outlined three possible, credible outcomes from withdrawal. The first is that the Afghan Government remain in power, supported by what is now a well-trained army. The second, and the most worrying, is that the country fractures and the Government collapse, which would lead to the Taliban and others making advances. The third outcome, which he described as the most hopeful, is a political compromise, with talks, which chimes with the Government’s statement that there must be a peaceful and negotiated political settlement. How are our diplomats supporting that process?
Also, how are we supporting the Afghan Government? Actions have to follow words, and, as we withdraw troops, we are also withdrawing financial support—unlike the US, which is determined to boost development and military aid. We have to ask why. Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world, but our aid fund to the country is being cut by more than £100 million. Why are we out of step with our allies on this? Have the Government assessed the security impact, as well as the social impact, of those cuts?
I am sure that many in this House were relieved to hear the Prime Minister say that we owe an immense debt to the translators and other locally employed staff who risked their lives alongside British forces. The Minister will have heard that issue raised in your Lordships’ House many times over the past few years. The risk to those staff and translators does not disappear when we leave: the likelihood is that it increases. Some staff have already been forced to flee to neighbouring countries, and some have ended up in refugee camps.
Last week, an FT editorial commented: “It is a matter of days, not months, that are critical for the interpreters and their families. The UK has opened up relocation schemes, but it is not enough.” Since the Government launched the new Afghan relocation assistance policy in April, how many applications have they received and how many have now been processed? Will she give a commitment that that will be kept under review and updated if the situation on the ground changes?
The recent NATO summit communique said:
“Withdrawing our troops does not mean ending our relationship with Afghanistan. We will now open a new chapter.”
I have commented previously from this Dispatch Box that we want the UK to be a moral force for good in the world. What we do next in relation to Afghanistan will be a test of the Government’s commitment to that.
My Lords, when the UK first committed troops to Afghanistan in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the mission was clear. It was to destroy al-Qaeda’s ability to mount any further international terrorist attacks from the country. As the Statement makes clear, in this crucial respect the mission has been a success. However, while this is undoubtedly correct, it does not begin to give a balanced picture of the state of Afghanistan as the final British troops leave.
While the original mission was limited to destroying al-Qaeda, it rapidly became something more ambitious: to replace the Taliban regime with one which more closely fitted western norms of behaviour, not least in respect of the treatment of women and girls. At one level, this too has been a success: there has been a series of democratically elected Governments; there has been the education of millions of girls, and there has been a degree of economic development, particularly in and around Kabul, but there has not been stability. The Taliban never went away, and it is now rapidly filling the vacuum left by the departed NATO forces. However depressing this situation is, the Statement is undoubtedly correct that the UK on its own is not in a position to fill the void created as American troops return home. For the United Kingdom, the Statement reflects harsh reality.
Anyone who has heard recent testament of young professional women in Afghanistan who now fear for not only their livelihoods but their lives or who sees the pathetic attempts of thousands in Afghanistan to sell what little they have to leave the country before the Taliban returns cannot avoid the conclusion that the broader aims of the international intervention in the country are under real threat. The Statement says that the UK will not turn away from Afghanistan and that we will use
“every diplomatic and humanitarian lever”
to support the country. If true, this would be very welcome, but what is the commitment likely to mean in practice?
Let us start with aid. The Government are dramatically cutting the amount of development aid they are giving the country, including a 70% reduction in programmes for women and girls. This is harsh and perverse. Will they now reverse these cuts, or are they in reality breaking their promise to maximise their humanitarian response?
After much dither and delay, the Government have recently allowed Afghan interpreters who have worked with British forces to relocate directly to the UK. As the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, pointed out, and as we heard in Questions in your Lordships’ House last week, they are not automatically doing so for such interpreters currently in third countries. Will they now agree to do so not just as a matter of course but as a matter of conscience?
American intelligence currently believes that, as things stand, Kabul could fall to the Taliban within six months. Do the Government share this assessment, and are there any circumstances in which they would consider renewed military intervention to prevent it? The Taliban has claimed that it has changed and become less harsh, not least in its attitude towards women and girls, but such statements are widely mistrusted and not borne out by recent evidence. What diplomatic pressure is the UK seeking to bring to bear in association with its international allies and through the UN to ensure that the Taliban keeps to its commitments?
Today’s Statement reflects the fact that liberal interventionism, as expressed after the twin tower bombings, cannot succeed unless there is a broad consensus in the country where the intervention takes place to follow the norms set by western liberal democracies, but in countries where there is no history of democracy and where there remain deep tribal and regional fissures, and where no such consensus emerges, it is bound ultimately to fall short or fail.
The challenge now is to support those in Afghanistan who seek to promote democracy and tolerance and to put as much pressure as possible short of military intervention on the Taliban to moderate its policies. This will not be easy, but we owe it to the 457 British military personnel who have died in Afghanistan, to the thousands who still carry physical and mental scars and to those thousands of young Afghans, men and women, who are desperate for a brighter, tolerant future for their country to do whatever we can to prevent a return to the horrors of the past.
I thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their comments, and I wholeheartedly endorse their tributes to our brave personnel who served in Afghanistan, to our NATO allies and, of course, to the people of Afghanistan. I also align myself with the comments made by both about the need to make sure that we do not lose the gains. I completely accept that there are many challenges ahead, but progress, particularly in relation to civil society and helping the development of the Afghan Government, cannot be lost. I hope to cover some of those issues as I go through my remarks.
The noble Baroness asked about discussions around the decision. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to US Secretary Blinken before the NATO announcement, and he has had numerous meetings since, as has the Defence Secretary, who met his counterparts from the US, France and Germany, and, of course, the Prime Minister discussed Afghanistan directly with President Biden on 10 June and at the NATO summit. There was also a lot of discussion about it at the summit.
The noble Baroness asked about the threat of al-Qaeda. We assess that al-Qaeda is now less active in Afghanistan than before 2001, but the group has not ceased to exist and remains a threat to both Afghanistan and the international community, so Afghanistan remains a counterterrorism priority. That is why we are working closely with the US and NATO allies to ensure that we are able to protect our shared interest in tackling terrorism, and we will continue to do that.
The noble Lord and the noble Baroness asked about the political process. We have provided crucial capacity-building and technical advice to the Afghan Ministry for Peace and training for the Afghan negotiating team. We have enhanced the inclusivity of the negotiations through capacity-building support to the Afghan negotiation team, women’s networks and civil society organisations to help build women’s meaningful participation and representation, an issue touched on by both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness. We are working closely with international and regional partners to further support peace efforts. The noble Baroness and noble Lord are absolutely right, and we have been very clear about it, as have all our international allies, that any political settlement must protect the progress made in the country, particularly around protection for women and minority groups.
The Prime Minister also spoke to President Ghani on 17 June and underlined our commitment to supporting Afghanistan to achieve a stable and democratic future following the withdrawal of troops. He gave his personal support, and they resolved together to continue working to counter the terrorist threat in Afghanistan. Those discussions will continue through international fora and directly with colleagues in the Afghanistan Government.
I reassure the noble Baroness that we remain committed to working with the US, NATO allies and international partners to support the ongoing training and mentoring of the Afghan defence force, and we will continue to provide financial and sustainment support until at least 2024. That is a commitment that we have already made. Obviously, we are extremely proud of the role we played during our 20 years in Afghanistan in helping to build that defence force and the resilience it has shown. It has been leading the security in Afghanistan for the past six years, and it has been a privilege for us to work with it.
The noble Lord and the noble Baroness asked about our international support. We will continue to support Afghanistan with more than £100 million of development assistance this year; it will remain one of the largest bilateral recipients of UK aid. We will continue to be a significant contributor to the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund, through which we will support rural development, building resilience to climatic shocks and infrastructure development. We will also continue to work to consolidate the substantial development gains that have been delivered since 2001. Through our Afghanistan multiyear humanitarian response programme, we will continue to provide urgent life-saving assistance and respond to immediate humanitarian need.
The noble Lord rightly talked about the significant progress that has been made in Afghanistan since 2001, not only on women’s rights but on the rights of minority groups, media freedoms, freedom of expression and access to education. It is imperative that we continue to work to protect this, and we will do so with our international allies and the Afghan Government to ensure this.
Both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness asked about the ARAP relocation programme. The noble Baroness is absolutely right; we owe a huge debt of gratitude to interpreters and other locally employed staff who risk their lives working alongside UK forces in Afghanistan. We have already supported more than 1,500 former Afghan staff and their families to create new lives in the UK. The noble Lord is right that the ARAP process requires applicants to be in Afghanistan, as they are likely to face the greatest risks, but those in a third country seeking help to relocate can also contact the Afghan Threat and Risk Evaluation Unit for advice, which they will be given, so they can also access support through that. We are significantly accelerating the pace of relocations, in parallel with the military withdrawal, because we understand and accept that the situation for some in the country has changed. We will do all we can to continue to support those people who wish to relocate to the United Kingdom.
My Lords, we come now to the 20 minutes allocated for Back-Bench questions. I ask that questions and answers be brief so that we can hear from the maximum number of speakers.
The Statement highlights some of the progress made on women’s participation and girls’ education, but in recent weeks we have seen thousands of brave women protesting in the streets for the freedoms that they know the Taliban will deny them. I fear for their futures. What programmes focused on women and girls will the UK Government support in the months and years ahead?
I thank my noble friend for her continued passion on this issue and for continually holding our feet to the fire. I reassure her that we remain absolutely committed to supporting women and girls in Afghanistan. She will be pleased to know that there are now 3.6 million girls enrolled in school, which is 27% of children enrolled. Since 2013, UK funding has enabled over one-quarter of a million girls in Afghanistan to receive an education. We will continue to support programmes such as the Girls’ Education Challenge fund, the second phase of which was launched in 2020 and supports more than 70,000 marginalised girls to access education. It is one of the many programmes we will continue to support.
My Lords, the Prime Minister referred more than once last Thursday to working with our friends on an “outside-in approach” to counterterrorism. Does that mean that we will have contingency plans with NATO allies, including offensive air operations, whether or not that is in direct support of Afghan government forces? If not, what does outside-in mean?
I can tell the noble and gallant Lord that we will continue to support and train Afghan institutions, including the national police and the national army, and strengthen their ability and the ability of the defence and security forces to counter security threats. That and other capacity-building work is aimed at increasing the self-reliance of Afghan forces in the fight against terrorism. We will continue to work shoulder to shoulder with them.
My Lords, I am someone who thought it absolutely right to go in to remove al-Qaeda in 2001 and who has always been a passionate supporter of the potential for humanitarian military intervention, but we have to acknowledge that this has not gone as well as we hoped. Why are the Government so reluctant to set up an objective inquiry into lessons learned from the Afghan experience of the last 20 years? It has been a tremendous cost, in human blood, disablement and treasure. We owe it to the people who have suffered to examine this question very deeply.
I thank the noble Lord, and I hope I can reassure him by saying that there have been reviews. After the conclusion of Operation Herrick in 2014, there was a thorough internal review. As he will know, some of the further lessons that have been learned have played a key role in helping to shape our integrated review, so I do not think it is fair to say that no lessons have been learned. However, he is right that we are not at this point minded to consider a Chilcot-style public inquiry. We are not convinced that the benefits would outweigh it, and we are concerned that such an inquiry could take far longer and be far more expensive than Chilcot, which itself took seven years and cost more than £13 million. The relevant time period in Afghanistan was twice as long. However, I reassure the noble Lord that we have learned lessons and continue to do so. We will continue to use the integrated review to follow them through.
My Lords, I declare my interest as an ambassador for HALO, a charity that is active in both mine and ordnance clearance in Afghanistan. I accept that the Government’s intentions are good, but we must take account of the reality of what is happening. Units of the Afghan army are taking their uniforms off and handing their arms and equipment to the Taliban. In those areas that the Taliban now controls, it is already barring girls from school and undermining the rights of women. How in those circumstances, when that is happening locally, can we trust what may be agreed nationally?
I thank the noble Lord. As the Statement set out, while we have had some achievements in Afghanistan, particularly in security, he is absolutely right and we accept that significant challenges remain. We are very proud that, alongside our allied forces, we have helped to train, advise and assist the Afghan national security forces to build them into an increasingly capable force, notwithstanding what the noble Lord said, in providing security. In particular, we helped set up the Afghan National Army Officer Academy, which delivers 70% of the army’s combat leaders annually, equating to 5,500 highly trained officers to date, of which around 330 are women. I do not dispute that there are challenges ahead, but we have made real gains and will continue to support those important institutions to help bring peace to their country.
My Lords, seeing young girls in school and everything that means for the future of Afghanistan reassures me and, I am sure, many others who served there that our efforts were not in vain. The question is whether they will still be in school in three years’ time. That is probably down to the effectiveness of the Afghan national security forces in countering the Taliban. I worry sometimes when we seem to suggest that the answer to all these problems is simply to shovel more cash into Afghanistan. To pick up on my noble friend’s previous answer, I seek her reassurance that we will continue to offer practical training support in the Afghan National Army Officer Academy by having people there, as that is why it has been successful over the past few years.
My noble friend is absolutely right. We are extremely proud of our achievements with the officer academy. Of course, we will continue to work with it and listen to the kinds of support that the Afghan people and Afghan national security forces would like to ensure that they can do their extremely challenging job.
My Lords, in the Statement the Government seem to rely on the Taliban undertaking that it will prevent any group or individual, including al-Qaeda, from using Afghanistan to threaten the security of the US and its allies. In their reliance on this undertaking, what support are they providing to Pakistan, Nigeria, Mali and Mozambique—the list goes on—in terms of their safety, freedom or security, or do the Government believe that those countries are dispensable or unimportant in relying on the Taliban to stick to its pledges?
We certainly do not consider our international allies in the way the noble Baroness seems to suggest. We all need to work together internationally to support the Afghan Government. As NATO partners have said, we have been very clear that this military withdrawal comes in the context of a renewed regional and domestic push for peace in Afghanistan. As she rightly says, the terms of the US-Taliban agreement involve commitments it made on preventing international terrorism in its territory, including its relationship with al-Qaeda, which it must deliver on. However, we will work with all international partners to provide the support we can to the Afghan Government.
The Leader of the House will be aware that the Prime Minister informed the Commons on Thursday that he had pledged to President Ghani that the UK would continue to support the Afghan national security forces with at least £58 million annually. Given that any settlement between the Afghan Government and the Taliban is bound to mean the Taliban’s involvement in government, what would be the policy of the UK towards maintaining these current levels of support in those circumstances? What safeguards would there be to ensure that the money is used for the purposes intended?
Of course we will work to ensure that any funding goes to where it should, and I am sure we will keep things under review as the situation goes on. The Prime Minister has been very clear to President Ghani about our commitment to support him and his Government and our resolve to counter terrorist threats going forward. Of course all these things will be under review as we work together, but we have a close dialogue with the Afghan Government, and that will continue, to make sure that we can support them in the best and most effective way that we can.
My Lords, the Statement emphasises the defeat of transnational terrorism in Afghanistan using Afghanistan as a base, but we all know that transnational terrorism has moved: first to Iraq and Syria and now to the ungoverned Sahel. We understand that Britain now has a significant commitment of forces to the Sahel, in co-operation with the French and as part of a UN agency, but this is not reported to the UK Parliament very frequently. Would the Minister give some commitment that the role of UK forces committed either to the UN operation or to co-operation with the French, across the Sahel, will be reported more fully to Parliament so that we can understand the rationale and the nature of the threat they are facing?
My Lords, we went into Afghanistan to stop it being a global terrorist base. We did it successfully for 20 years and, obviously, we could not stay permanently. Surely now it is up to the Afghan people to decide their own future, but we must ensure that the Taliban are left in no doubt that they must honour the undertaking referred to in the Statement or, yet again, face the consequences. In that connection, I hope that the Pakistan Government will reinforce that message.
I thank my noble friend. He is absolutely right. As I have said, we are under no illusion about the significant challenges that remain within Afghanistan, but there have been achievements. As he rightly said, our primary objective, when we deployed to Afghanistan 20 years ago, was to ensure it was not used by al-Qaeda as a successful base for further international attacks. In that mission, we have been successful; there has not been a single successful terrorist attack launched on the West since then, obviously notwithstanding what the noble Lord said about terrorist threats in other areas. That has been the achievement of our very brave Armed Forces and the people of Afghanistan, and we must not forget it.
My Lords, Afghanistan and beyond, including the Sahel corridor, must become and continue to remain a priority. Aspects of the Statement’s cautiously optimistic messaging disguise ominous signals on the ground, all underlining these perilous times. Does the Leader of the House remember that it was the lawlessness in Afghanistan that resulted in the original acceptance of the Taliban entering Afghanistan from the Pakistan borderlands, and one of the contributory factors to the lawlessness was heroin production? What was accomplished to stem the industry during our time in Afghanistan, or is the industry carrying on as before?
We have provided mentoring and support to dedicated units in the counter-narcotics police of Afghanistan. Since 2010, these units have seized 18 tonnes of heroin, 70 tonnes of opium, almost 1,700 weapons as well as $3 million and $100 million of assets. So, we have been working with the Afghan counter-narcotics police to tackle this trade and we will continue to do so.
Would the noble Baroness agree that, given the rapid advances currently being made by the Taliban, there is little incentive for them to enter into peace talks, and so the turbulence is likely to persist for some time? Given that, what will be the effects on food aid to the needy? What advice are we giving to the aid agencies? What is the effect on the functioning of our embassy? Are we withdrawing personnel at the moment?
The UK embassy in Kabul will remain open after the end of the Resolute Support Mission. We take the protection of our staff extremely seriously and will keep security under constant review. In the immediate term, there will be a small number of troops, consistent with a diplomatic presence, that will remain to offer assurance to the international community in Kabul as we transfer to the end of the mission.
My Lords, the British Armed Forces are to be applauded for their commitment and tenacity on behalf of us all over the last 20 years to keep us safe. Would the Leader of the House say if there will be a residual garrison remaining in Afghanistan to protect British interests, such as consul buildings, and does she believe the Taliban when they say they have changed their views on the emancipation and education of girls and women?
All UK troops assigned to NATO’s Resolute Support Mission will draw down with allies and partners, but as I said in my answer to the previous question, in the immediate term a small number of troops consistent with a diplomatic presence will remain to offer assurance to the international community in Kabul.
My Lords, the departure of the allied forces from Afghanistan under the current circumstance is, frankly, heartbreaking, especially for the families of the 457 Armed Forces personnel who were killed and indeed for the many who came back without legs and other limbs. It is absolutely heartbreaking. Should the Taliban take over in Kabul, as seems depressingly possible, it will be a failure of policy over the last 20 years. It will be a disaster not unlike that of the first Afghan war, the history of which should perhaps have been studied more closely by those who committed troops in numbers to Afghanistan in 2005. If the Taliban should become the Government in Kabul, what would be Her Majesty’s Government’s intention—would we then recognise the Taliban as the Government of Afghanistan?
I am afraid that I am not going to speculate on issues like that. We strongly support efforts to energise the Afghan peace process. The Taliban have no military route to realising their political goals, so if they wish to play a political role in Afghanistan’s future, they must share the goals of stability and security for its population and engage meaningfully in the peace negotiations.
My Lords, many faiths—including a thriving Sikh population of many thousands—have had to flee Afghanistan because of the hardening of extremism, resulting from repeated invasions from Britain, then Russia and, more recently, America and the West. Bombs and missiles cannot change mindsets. Would the Minister agree with the statement by former Prime Minister Theresa May that Britain should stop being the self-appointed policeman of the world? It is a policy copied by others that creates ever more refugees in a suffering world.
There has been significant progress in human rights in Afghanistan since 2001, as I said, in connection to women’s rights, the rights of minority groups, freedom of expression and access to education. We will continue to work with the Afghan Government and international allies to protect this.
My Lords, what recent discussions have the Government had with the relevant authorities in Pakistan? It is acknowledged that Pakistan can play a crucial role in influencing the Taliban and securing the peace process, that could avoid another decent into civil war in Afghanistan. If there have been no such discussions with Pakistan, would the Leader of the House say why?
My Lords, as it happens, today is Malala Yousafzai’s 24th birthday—an exceptionally forceful reminder that the right to education and the relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan simply cannot be ignored. I accept the unwillingness to give a running commentary of who we have or have not talked to. However, we know that things are not going to get any easier. Will the Minister undertake to give more precise details of how the Government intend to, first, deal with Pakistan in that relationship and, secondly, ensure that the right to education for girls will continue to progress in even a slightly comparable way to the progress we have made so far?
My Lords, the Americans, in their discussions with Britain, discussed giving freedom and assistance not only to Afghanistan and other countries but to the women peacebuilders and those women at the peace table. How many women are we going to assist and bring to Britain or a safe country, and how long will it be before the Government make these arrangements? The women are at great risk and some, as noble Lords will know, have already been murdered.
As I said in earlier answers, the Afghan relocations and assistance policy was launched on 1 April. We are speeding up that process to ensure that anyone whose life is in danger in Afghanistan can access this programme and build a new life in the UK.
My Lords, all listed speakers have asked their questions. There will now be a short pause before we commence the next business.
Committee (7th Day)
Relevant documents: 3rd Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 4th Report from the Constitution Committee
I will call Members to speak in the order listed. During the debate on each group, I invite Members, including Members in the Chamber, to email the clerk if they wish to speak after the Minister. I will call Members to speak in order of request. The groupings are binding. A participant who might wish to press an amendment other than the lead amendment in a group to a Division must give notice in debate or by emailing the clerk. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. When putting the Question, I will collect voices in the Chamber only. If a Member taking part remotely wants their voice accounted for if the Question is put, they must make this clear when speaking on the group.
Clause 97: Local nature recovery strategies for England
226: Clause 97, page 99, line 3, after “England” insert “and its territorial waters”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that an area’s adjacent territorial waters are included in a Nature Recovery strategy
My Lords, as some of my amendments are associated with nature recovery network strategies, I once again declare my interest as chair of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Nature Partnership.
I know the Minister has assured us that the marine environment is included in the Bill. It hardly has a high profile, yet our national waters, including the EEZ, have an area of 885,000 square kilometres, whereas the terrestrial landmass of the United Kingdom is a mere 242,000 square kilometres, so that marine environment is three and a half times larger. My contention is that it is just as important and should receive at least the same amount of interest. Last year we had the Fisheries Act, and the Government made it very clear that that was not a piece of environmental legislation. It dealt with fisheries management plans, but those were not environmental management plans. Indeed, we gave credit that the Fisheries Act had a number of objectives relating to the environment and climate change, but that was not the mission of that piece of legislation—yet nature recovery in our marine area is just as important as in our terrestrial environment.
I was interested to see that one of the Government’s targets is to have good environmental status for our marine environment. In 2019—two years ago—they published an appraisal of progress made on having good environmental status for our marine environment, looking out beyond our territorial waters to our economic zone as well. I am afraid to say that of the 15 areas the government report focuses on, in six we managed not to meet targets at all; in five we made partial progress on those targets; and in four we actually achieved them.
I will take the Committee through some of the areas where good environmental status targets were not achieved: commercial fish, non-commercial fish, benthic habitats, invasive species, marine litter and breeding birds. None of those was achieved. There was some improvement in pelagic habitats, the food web, underwater noise, cetaceans—primarily dolphins, as we know them—and seals. As far as I can see, things such as seagrass, which is hugely important not just for the marine habitat but for carbon capture, were not covered at all in that report.
We have a real crisis and challenge out there in the oceans that surround our island and islands, so that is why I have tabled these amendments. The first one is to ensure that local nature recovery networks include not just the land area but the adjacent territorial waters—that is, out to 12 nautical miles—of those areas. They have to be included in those plans. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, said on another marine amendment some days ago, it is not just the fact that they are two different environments; they are connected—literally—so it is important for that reason too that nature recovery networks include marine, littoral and territorial areas.
But it would clearly be unreasonable to ask, say, Sussex or maybe even more so Cornwall to look at its whole EEZ stretching way out into the Atlantic, yet EEZs also require important help in terms of nature recovery out to the 200 nautical mile limit. So, to be practical, I have tabled separate amendments to propose that the Secretary of State should be responsible for creating, producing and revising nature recovery networks for those offshore EEZ areas. Indeed, it would make a lot of sense if they tied up with marine management organisations and marine planning areas, but, again, those plans are not primarily environmental ones. They are mapping and usage ones. They are not primarily environmental plans, but they should come together to do that.
In the other amendment I put down—Amendment 246—I tackle highly protected marine areas. I have to give good credit to the Minister and the Government in this area, because, since I laid down that amendment, at the early stages after Second Reading, the Government have opened a programme and asked for bids for pilots for highly protected marine areas. So there is progress on this already, and, to some degree, this amendment is now redundant—but I would be very keen to hear from the Minister the progress on that and how he sees the timescale in terms of rolling out beyond pilots.
At the moment, we have some 372 marine protected areas around our shores. They cover some 38% of our total waters. That sounds impressive, but the regimes for those marine protected areas are extremely weak in many cases and certainly do not protect the seabed and all the habitats. These highly protected marine areas absolutely have to be done in consultation with the fishing industry and other commercial interests, but it is so important they are rolled out quickly, effectively and as soon as possible. That is why these amendments are important.
In Cornwall, as I have said before, we were lucky enough to have one of the pilots for the nature recovery networks. When we started work on that, Defra may not have been “against” it—that is perhaps too strong a word—but it did not see marine as being included in that pilot strategy. We went ahead and included it anyway, because you cannot talk about the environment of the far south-west peninsula without including marine; it is just impossible. The Minister could hopefully make my amendments redundant—not the EEZ ones, but these amendments—by confirming that it is now government policy that nature recovery networks, when it is appropriate and there is an adjacent ocean or territorial waters, should be included within those nature recovery network strategies. That is my clear message and question. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, with all his expertise. The Government bring legislation to this House so that we can help them improve it—so the expertise in your Lordships’ House can be of benefit to the Government and of course the nation. So I really think that, if the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, were not a Lord already, he would deserve some future honour for all his hard work in contributing to our work here and to the Government. He has highlighted another example of how this Bill has passed a suite of legislative measures without reference to water—to territorial waters, to the sea.
We looked at agriculture and fisheries: they do not tie together in any coherent way, and I do not understand how we can keep on passing legislation that does not tie up. Without these amendments, we are at risk of seeing our seas and fisheries as being separate from the rest of our environment and all our ecological activities. This sort of silo thinking would undermine the realities of the inseparable ecosystems and natural systems. I would be particularly concerned and upset if an upland authority had a nature recovery strategy that failed to take into account what was happening to its downstream neighbours and, ultimately, to the seas where the watercourses will end up. An Environment Bill that allows for that eventuality is fundamentally inadequate and incoherent, with no basic understanding of the environment.
I am sure the Minister will take time over the Summer Recess to ensure that this Bill fits with the Agriculture Act and the Fisheries Act. I am sure that is going to be a priority, so these two important ecosystems can be integrated into the mechanics of this Environment Bill. The alternative is that, inevitably, in a few years’ time, the Government of the day will have to bring in new legislation to try to patch up these incoherencies, with perhaps a decade of lost opportunity to heal the environment in that time. It is much better that we work together now to get it right.
My Lords, I just want to make a couple of quick points in support of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. It is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and I completely agree with her.
According to Greenpeace, supertrawlers spent 5,590 hours fishing in UK protected waters. I had a meeting, by chance, with Minister Prentis from the other place about four weeks ago. She was on her way to Brixham, and she said that about 80% of our fishing fleet’s catches were as a result of bottom trawling. Bottom trawling is effectively like bulldozing your house every time you have lost your car keys. It is an absolute travesty for the seabed, and I do not see any reference at the moment to curbing and taming this industry. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said, these are simultaneous ecosystems that come together, and what happens with fish farming, especially in the north of England, is putting incredible quantities of pollutants into our waters for the sake of cheap fish. It is sold to the consumer on the grounds of being healthy, but the salmon that are reared in this way are unhealthy, unhappy and covered in sea lice.
Finally, in terms of policies not adding up, will the Government agree to stop giving out new oil and gas leases with the North Sea in mind? How is that going to fit with our marine protection commitments at COP? I hope the Minister will answer those three questions.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for, as ever, giving us an excellent explanation of why he has tabled these amendments and for raising these very important issues. I also thank the Minister for confirming in the earlier debate that net gain will be extended to major projects in the marine environment in the future, once a suitable approach has been developed. This is certainly a step forward.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, rightly made the point that our coastal territorial waters are in urgent need of protection and recovery, and, if we do not use this Bill to make that happen, what other opportunities will we have? The latest Committee on Climate Change adaptation report has highlighted concerns about the quality of our terrestrial waters. It says:
“There is clear evidence that warming seas, reduced oxygen, ocean acidification and sea-level rise are already affecting UK coasts and seas … with effects seen in seabed-dwelling species, as well as plankton, fish, birds and mammals.”
It also reports that there has been a decline in the overall condition of protected coastal sites.
So, on the one hand, we need to tackle the hazardous pollution, including plastic waste, that has led to the failure to meet the environmental targets to which the noble Lord referred. On the other hand, there is an opportunity to harness the power of nature in our coastal waters to sequestrate carbon through the growth of seagrasses and seaweed, such as at the innovative kelp farm being developed in Shoreham. But a strategy is needed to provide a framework for the change, which is why preparing and publishing a nature recovery strategy for the UK exclusive economic zone seems such a good idea. It is also why linking our coastal waters into local nature recovery strategies will ensure that those initiatives do not end at the shoreline.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, rightly referred back to our consideration of the then Fisheries Bill and our frustration that sustainable fishing was not allowed to be at the heart of the Bill, despite all our efforts. As a result, it seems that fishing quotas are very much business as usual, and overfishing—above the recommended scientific limits—remains rife. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, that this continues to be unacceptable and needs to be addressed by the Government. A nature recovery strategy would allow the opportunity to revisit that strategy, taking different criteria into account.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, that we need a joined-up strategy between the Agriculture and Fisheries Acts and the Environment Bill. We have said that all along; every time a Bill comes along, we ask, “How come these pieces of legislation do not speak to each other?” She is right to raise again today our need for a joined-up approach.
Finally, I am pleased that the noble Lord has given us the opportunity to implement the recommendations of the Benyon Review into Highly Protected Marine Areas. The limits of the current standard marine protected areas are all too obvious, as damaging human activities are still allowed to destroy the marine habitat. Therefore, we very much welcome the definition of highly protected marine areas as those that allow the recovery of marine ecosystems while prohibiting “extractive, destructive and depositional” human activities. We welcome the amendment that sets out that the proposals for the initial locations should be published within six months of the Bill passing. The noble Lord said that he felt that the Government had caught up with his amendment; he might be on to something, but I feel that there are great advantages to having this spelled out in the Bill just to make sure that that progress is followed through. These are indeed key amendments, which could help to transform the quality of our marine environment. I hope that the Minister agrees and will feel able to turn these into government amendments, which I am sure would receive widespread support.
My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for his powerful advocacy for the marine environment throughout these proceedings and, indeed, last year throughout the proceedings on the Fisheries Act, in which he knows I had some involvement.
I will focus first on Amendments 226, 227 and 229. I sympathise with the intention behind this group of amendments, but the Government do not agree that this is the right approach. Local nature recovery strategies build on the important role that local authorities play as local leaders and decision-makers within their areas, as the noble Lord will know from his time spent on the Cornwall pilot. Clearly, actions taken on land can affect the marine environment and vice versa, and we should not create false barriers to nature’s recovery.
As such, our intention is that local nature recovery strategies should integrate with existing spatial plans of marine areas. This is in order to understand the area’s current uses and its potential in adjacent marine areas. It is something that we have explored through recent pilots, which, as I said, the noble Lord has kindly supported. However, local authorities are not best placed to produce marine strategies, as these areas are largely beyond their remit and authority. I believe that requiring this would lead to significant complications and potentially unhelpful duplication with existing processes. It would include duplication with the Marine Management Organisation, which is England’s main marine regulator and manages the licensing of marine activities, recreation and fisheries beyond six nautical miles. The inshore fisheries and conservation authorities also manage fishing out to six nautical miles and any marine nature restoration strategies should include their input.
Amendment 233 would require the Defra Secretary of State to create a nature recovery strategy for the United Kingdom exclusive economic zone for England. The Government already have a strong framework in place to ensure ocean recovery through the UK marine strategy. Its goal is to ensure that all UK seas are of good environmental status, exactly as the noble Lord’s amendment would require.
In March this year, we published the updated UK Marine Strategy Part Two, setting out the monitoring programmes that we will use to assess progress towards our updated good environmental status targets. This will be followed by the update to our programme of measures, which will set out a comprehensive list of measures to help to achieve good environmental status. As the UK already has a strategy for ocean recovery, this well-intentioned amendment is not needed.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, generously welcomed the Benyon Review into Highly Protected Marine Areas. The Government published their response to the review on World Oceans Day 2021 and accept the majority of its recommendations. In answer to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, about when we will designate HPMAs, that will be done in 2022. We do not agree that HPMAs should be only within existing marine protected areas, which was recommendation 13 of the report, and we will consider designating HPMAs outside the current MPA network to ensure that we can maximise nature recovery. Existing governance structures of ALBs were beyond the scope of the Government’s response to this review.
I note that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, also asked about joined-up thinking, which I know has concerned a number of noble Lords throughout the passage of this Bill, the Agriculture Act and the Fisheries Act. A number of measures in all three Acts will have benefits for the marine environment. The Fisheries Act will benefit the environment, as will the Agriculture Act. They have all been put together at a policy level and have been thought about comprehensively.
Amendments 246, 247 and 251 aim to create highly protected marine areas. The Government have committed to designate HPMAs by the end of 2022, using the definition of the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, as set out in his review, which was carried out before he joined the Government Front Bench. The Government will work with their arm’s-length bodies and stakeholders to identify a list of potential pilot sites for highly protected marine areas. On 5 July, we published the ecological criteria that we will use to identify highly protected marine areas and we will create a list of potential sites this year. We plan to designate pilot sites in 2022 as marine conservation zones, with higher levels of protection than existing zones, using powers under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.
I note that the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, had a number of concerns about controlling harmful marine activities. Introduced under the Marine and Coastal Access Act, marine licensing is a process by which those seeking to undertake certain activities are required to apply for a licence. The requirement for a licence extends across much of our territorial seas, including the foreshore, and covers a diverse range of activities, from depositing a marker on the seabed through to large-scale developments. Authorisation or enforcement decisions must be taken in accordance with the appropriate marine plans.
In answer to the noble Baroness’s other question about drilling for oil and gas and refusal of future licences, I refer her to the Ten Point Plan and to the energy White Paper, which address her questions on oil and gas exploration. The Government have had to tread a careful dividing line and balance between keeping energy costs as low as we can while fulfilling our commitments to the net-zero target.
I assure the noble Lord that the requirements of the amendments are already covered, as the Government have committed to identifying potential sites this year and pilot sites designated as marine conservation zones in England will be covered by the protected site strategy clause. I thank the noble Lord for raising this important issue, which I know is close to his heart, and I hope that he is reassured by the Government’s commitments in this area. I ask him to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, would like to ask a question of the Minister before he decides how to dispose of his amendment.
My Lords, I will sum up in just a moment but I have a question for the Minister. I am very disappointed by her reply. It seems to fly in the face of what nature recovery networks are all about. However, I will come on to that later.
The Minister said that local authorities are not competent to deal with these issues—for example, the six-mile limit. However, she mentioned in particular IFCAs, which are the inshore fisheries and conservation authorities. They are nominated partly by the Marine Management Organisation—I agree with that—but appointments to them are also hugely influenced by local authorities. Local authorities are already hugely engaged in the first six-mile limits; they already have duties in that area. When it comes to the Marine Management Organisation and its licensing, which is within that same area as well, it has to talk to a number of statutory organisations before it can make decisions—for example, Natural England and the Environment Agency—and it has a concordat with local authorities to discuss those developments with them as well. Local authorities are already hugely involved in that area. Why not make it so that there is some structure to that within at least the six-mile limit, so that those decisions become coherent and make more sense—they are also probably more quickly made by the Marine Management Organisation and IFCAs—and so that the whole system becomes better and more efficient, and works for the environment as well? That is my question to the Minister.
I take the noble Lord’s point, but the three coastal pilot areas that we considered—Cornwall, Cumbria and Northumberland—all took very different approaches to voluntarily including adjacent marine areas in their pilots. There will be a sense of duplication in what the noble Lord is suggesting, because the spatial assessments of a marine area, capturing current uses and signalling future potential, are led by marine management organisations. To go further than that, I would like to take this back, consider it and perhaps write to the noble Lord if I can add any more flesh on those bones.
I beg the noble Lord’s pardon; forgive me, I had not spotted the notice—I also have a request from the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, to ask a question of the Minister.
My Lords, I wanted to return to the question of sustainable fishing, which was mentioned by, among others, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. On 22 February, I asked a Question for Written Answer on what the Government’s strategy is for reducing quotas is fish stocks fall below their maximum sustainable yield. The Answer, which was rather long-winded, ended up saying:
“Where appropriate, they will set out actions to improve data collection and ways to establish sustainable harvest rates.”
My question for the Minister today is: is now the appropriate time and, if so, what action will the Government be taking to ensure that fish stocks are harvested at or below MSY?
I call the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and apologise again to him.
No, I apologise for speaking at the wrong time. I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Boycott, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for their support on this amendment. I am seriously disappointed because, if nature recovery networks are right for the land, they are also right for our oceans. For land areas, all sorts of different authorities, whether it is Natural England, the Environment Agency, local authorities, national parks, or even the police, deal with all these areas of environmental enforcement and environmental policy. The nature recovery networks—and this is the reason I support them so strongly—bring those together within a context with a plan and structure, meaning that natural growth in biodiversity and the quantum of nature can start to happen.
Yet it is just all too complicated, apparently, for our marine environment. I do not get that, and I think it is unfortunate. I welcome the Minister’s progress on highly protected marine areas; I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, that one can never be certain until something is in the Bill, but I suspect that this particular thing may not get into the Bill, so I welcome the Minister’s comments in that area.
I am hugely disappointed about the marine environment. I know all the MMO inshore and offshore marine plans, but they are not primarily focused on environment; that is not their purpose. They include elements of it, but it is not why they are about. I was on the board of the MMO when they were written and created—they still have not all been approved yet—and I highly welcome them. They are important, but they are not what this is about. In the meantime, however, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 226 withdrawn.
Amendments 227 and 227A not moved.
Clause 97 agreed.
Clause 98: Preparation of local nature recovery strategies
Amendments 228 to 229A not moved.
Clause 98 agreed.
Clause 99: Content of local nature recovery strategies
Amendments 230 and 231 not moved.
Clause 99 agreed.
Amendment 231A not moved.
Clause 100: Information to be provided by the Secretary of State
Amendment 232 not moved.
Clause 100 agreed.
Amendment 233 not moved.
Clause 101 agreed.
My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 234. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.
Clause 102: Species conservation strategies
234: Clause 102, page 101, line 34, leave out “may” and insert “must”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment requires Natural England to prepare and publish species conservation strategies.
My Lords, I speak in particular to Amendments 234 and 241 in my name. The Government have shown a commitment to tackling the issue of the poor quality of our rivers and freshwater environment. Issues around pollution and declining freshwater biodiversity have been a constant refrain in the media for some time. Freshwater species have declined by 88% since 1970—a greater decline than seen for species in forests or oceans—and one-third of freshwater fish species faces extinction. England is the home of 85% of the world’s chalk streams; we have a global responsibility to protect these ecosystems.
Species conservation strategies can potentially play an important role in conservation, although there is a call to avoid them becoming a default setting for managing the impact of development on nature. The purpose of “must” instead of “may” in this amendment is to strengthen the clause and to underpin the requirement for a conservation strategy for improving the conservation of species. This is not intended to mean all species, but those whose conservation is probably most at risk; for example, salmon and sea trout, where it is thought that there is not as yet a clear conservation plan in place. There is a range of plans, such as the Environment Agency’s salmon five-point plan, but these have not led to any meaningful action in terms of the broad threats in our rivers and coastal waters.
Amendment 241 aims to create a new designation of protection for chalk streams. This analysis has been prepared with the assistance of experts from the Angling Trust and the Catchment Based Approach—CaBA—a restoration group under the chairmanship of Charles Rangeley-Wilson. It is preparing a report to government on the need for restoration and greater protection of chalk streams in England: the chalk stream restoration strategy. This group, made up of representatives from water companies, conservation NGOs and statutory agencies, including Natural England and the Environment Agency, will publish the chalk stream restoration strategy in September. The report will make a series of recommendations, looking at the three elements that make up action to restore our chalk streams to a near-natural state: action to reduce and mitigate the impact of overabstraction, to reduce pollution and improve water quality, and to restore the habitats and ecological functioning of chalk streams. The report is currently out for public consultation.
The first recommendation of the report is supported by all the companies and agencies involved in the report’s production and from stakeholders’ responses. This recommendation is for
“an overarching protection and priority status for chalk streams and their catchments to give them a distinct identity and to drive investment in water-resources infrastructure, water treatment and catchment-scale restoration”.
Currently, few chalk streams have protected site status. We have drivers, such as priority habitats status and the water framework directive but, thus far, these have failed to deliver enough improvements for chalk streams, principally because they lack statutory drivers for investment. Stakeholders are united in the view that there is a clear need for a status mechanism via designation, which can add impetus and drive investment across multiple policy levers. These include water company price review processes; ELMS local nature recovery and landscape recovery; local nature recovery strategies; biodiversity net gain; and protection through the planning process. A new designation should deliver an integrated approach to the protection of the chalk stream channel, its floodplain, surrounding catchment and aquifer, leading to nature and biodiversity recovery at the landscape level.
This amendment would require Natural England, along with Defra and the EA, to explore the appropriate mechanism for introducing a new category of protections, which may include the adaptation of application of an existing mechanism to protect chalk streams. In doing so it would consider including a statutory biodiversity target for chalk stream catchments in the Bill that would elevate the status of all chalk streams and provide long-term certainty about government ambition and commitment to protection and restoration. It would also consider a new form of designation or statutory protection for all chalk streams through a Green Paper on habitats regulation, and a stronger policy steer for chalk streams, for example through the ministerial guidance on river basin management plans and the strategic priorities statement to Ofwat.
Such a status for chalk streams would drive the investment and resources that have been severely lacking—not only for chalk streams, but, as the first report of 2020-21 from the Environment Audit Committee in the other place, Biodiversity in the UK: Boom or Bust, made clear, for the protection and advancement of biodiversity more broadly.
These are not exclusively chalk stream measures. Many other types of river and stream are also in great need of investment. An integrated approach to restoring all types of habitat and associated species through restoration of natural ecosystem function—particularly natural catchment function—will help to deliver multiple biodiversity benefits, alongside a wealth of natural capital associated with restored aquifer recharge, tackling pollution at source and natural flood management, to quote Natural England in 2018.
Nevertheless, the draft report argues that the global rarity of English chalk streams provides a potent justification for singling out this river type, among others. There are other justifications. One is the fact that chalk streams are under particular stress because they flow through a highly developed landscape. They have been particularly stressed by historic management and have distinct biodiversity, cultural and heritage value. For hydrological reasons, they are less capable of self-repair than higher-energy rivers.
There is also a common misconception that chalk streams exist only in the wealthier home counties of Hampshire and Berkshire. In fact, chalk streams are distributed from west Dorset to north-east Yorkshire, and many flow through less affluent parts of our landscape, and through numerous towns and cities, as well as the rural idylls most frequently depicted.
For example, the Eastleigh Angling Society has more than 850 members. Eastleigh, a constituency that I had the privilege to represent, owes its origins to railway development and manufacture, together with other heavy industry outlets. Yet the River Itchen flows through it. There are also several urban chalk streams, including the Wandle and Cray in Greater London. So I ask the Government to support these proposals for the designation of chalk streams. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and his eloquent advocacy for chalk streams. I will speak primarily to Amendment 235, in my name and those of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Jones of Whitchurch. The aim of our amendment is to ensure that the primary purpose of species conservation strategies is to support the recovery of nature rather than to facilitate development.
At first sight, Clause 102 looks very good. It requires Natural England to publish a strategy for improving the conservation status of any species. It must do this for a “strategy area”, which could be as large as the whole of England. The strategy has to spell out which habitat features are important for the species in question and how they may be improved. Natural England must also give an opinion on any consents or approvals that could adversely affect the conservation status of a species, as well as measures that could be taken to compensate for any adverse effects. Planning authorities must co-operate with Natural England in preparing and implementing any conservation strategy, and “have regard to” the strategy.
That looks good, but when you kick the tyres you find that the protections for nature are not quite as strong as they might have appeared at first sight. The clause would enable an approach that allows individual specimens and populations of a protected species to be harmed, in return for a contribution to their conservation on a wider scale, for example by creating new habitat.
The great crested newt has become a cautionary tale for this approach. District-level licensing schemes for the great crested newt are not comprehensive conservation strategies that address all the conservation needs of this species: they are mechanisms designed solely to address the interface between newts and development in areas to which the schemes are applied. Experience of district licensing has been mixed, with varying degrees of success in the different programmes around the country. Overall, the jury is still out on whether it is an effective conservation approach.
It is also far from clear that this kind of policy would work for many other species. For example, many species of bat are long-lived, have low reproductive rates and rely on a complex mixture of habitat features. Many are faithful to site-specific roosts and would not simply move down the road to a new roost in a habitat-compensation arrangement. I would therefore be interested to hear from the Minister which species he thinks would benefit most from a species conservation strategy, and why. It is possible for a good strategic approach to play an important role in conservation, but, for that to happen, the priorities need to change. The strategies must be led by the interests of nature, not commercial interests.
Amendment 235 seeks to strengthen the protection of nature and to ensure that the strategies are used primarily to benefit species in need of help, not developers in need of land. First, it includes reference to the mitigation hierarchy proposed in Amendment 168A by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. Secondly, it narrows and clarifies the objective of a species conservation strategy to ensure that it is about protecting nature and not about achieving an ill-defined balance between conservation and planning approval. Thirdly, it ensures that, unlike district licensing, species conservation strategies are about more than the crunch point between species and houses. It requires a strategy to define favourable conservation status for the relevant species, and the barriers and opportunities for ensuring that that species can thrive.
As with other parts of this Bill, there is a balance to be struck between the protection of nature and the commercial interests of developers. Amendment 235 aims to ensure that the balance is not weighted against nature. As Sir Partha Dasgupta said on Radio 4 this morning, in a slightly different context:
“In this small, densely populated island, we need to make a special effort to ensure that the interests of commerce don’t continue, as they have in the past, to override the interests of nature.”
I look forward to the Minister’s response on this amendment.
However, while I am standing up, I will refer briefly to Amendment 293A in this group, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury. I am not quite sure why this amendment is in this group, but, according to my list, it is, and it is all about the prohibition of lead ammunition in the killing of wild birds and other wild beasts.
I first became aware of this issue about eight years ago, when I was asked to chair a research conference at Oxford University on the scientific evidence pertaining to the harms of lead shot, not just to wildlife but to humans. It is literally a no-brainer, in the sense that we now know with strong scientific evidence that the brains of our children can be damaged by consumption of lead shot through shot game. The scientific estimate is that somewhere between 4,000 and 48,000 children in this country are suffering a lower IQ as a result of consuming lead shot.
I support the intention behind the amendment because, despite clear advice from their expert advisory group, the Government adopted a voluntary approach, and we know from a paper published by Rhys Green and his colleagues at the University of Cambridge in February this year that no progress whatever has been made since nine hunting and shooting organisations said that they would aim to reduce the use of lead shot. Equally, retailers—I have spoken to two of our major food retailers about this over the past few years—are still selling game killed with lead shot. A very small warning says, “May contain lead shot”, rather than, “May reduce the IQ of your children”. I shall not speak any further on this, because I am sure others will speak at greater length, but I support that amendment.
My Lord, I am delighted to follow my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, because the 10 amendments I have in this group very much follow the line of thinking that he just enunciated. Before I speak to my amendments, I will comment on Amendment 293A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton. I support what he is trying to do; it is time that the shooting interests got rid of lead shot in shotguns and we moved to a different form of ammunition. I know that my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury will wax more lyrical on that than I can, but I support what the noble Lord is trying to achieve.
I can break down my 10 amendments into different groups, but their purpose is to try to make this part of the Bill work better, in the same way as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, is trying to do with his amendment. It is right that the Government are adopting strategies to protect nature. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, mentioned district-level licensing of the great crested newt.
My Amendments 237 to 240 are designed to make certain that the measures are integrated into local nature reserve strategies and are fit for purpose. By that, I mean that we need to look to wider considerations than just surveying, zoning and compensating or mitigating measures against impacts from activities such as development. My amendments suggest that species conservation strategies need to encompass all factors, as identified by scientific evidence, not just habitat, and that management measures need to reflect that. I have gone on before about management being the forgotten part of the way to improve nature and biodiversity, but it will be hugely important in areas such as this.
There ought also to be a defined basis for favourable conservation status, so that progress can be judged against it and a timescale for the strategies’ application established. That seems logical. Without that, species cannot continue to receive special protection, despite success in improving their conservation status. As we all know, managing nature is difficult to get absolutely right. In some cases, a species may be a factor in the decline of another at-risk species, so if the conservation status target has been achieved, that could make its management in support of the conservation of a more threatened species more acceptable. There is undoubtedly a role for us humans in all this.
I turn to Amendment 242. The Explanatory Notes to Clause 102(4)(e) suggest how Natural England applies the mitigation hierarchy in relation to activities such as development. I am concerned by the clause’s wording of
“adverse impact … that may arise from a plan, project or other activity”,
because I think it could limit the use of management tools that, based on scientific evidence, are needed. My amendment would include more than just the development impacts and merely requiring Natural England’s opinion on a matter.
Amendment 244 is similar to my Amendment 236, which is an amendment to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. As I said, I support his amendment, but I believe the Secretary of State should publish
“and make available for consultation”
his guidance. It is all very well the Secretary of State publishing guidance, but unless it is properly consulted on, it might not be as effective as it should. Both my amendments require consultation on the guidance. I do not mind whether it is reflected in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, he supports me, or we support each other, as long as we get this clause changed.
Amendments 248 and 249 are to Clause 103. The point of Amendment 248 is that the conservation and management of protected sites need to be based on science rather than opinion. I hope that the Minister will agree with me on that. His fellow Minister, my noble friend Lord Benyon, certainly agrees on that, because, when he answered a Question on pesticides—I do not have the quote with me—he said that scientific evidence was essential to get it right. If scientific evidence is right for pesticides, it is also right in this instance. Amendment 249 seeks to include “landowners”. It is right that everybody with any legal interest is properly covered in this clause, and the omission of landlords does not help.
Amendment 252 to Clause 104 refers to new subsection (3B), which applies to all species licences issued under Section 16(3) of the previous Act. I feel that the existing wording of “no other satisfactory solution” is weak and without meaning. I suggest a different form of words, taken from the general licence, so I hope it will be acceptable to my noble friend. I also feel that
“detrimental to the survival of any population”
needs legal definition, so I propose the use of “status” instead of “survival”. “Population” can mean anything from an individual site colony to the total number of that species in the UK. Therefore, scale should come into any definition of “detrimental to the survival”, as reducing a population at local level may not have a bearing on the overall population due, for example, to infill from the current year’s young of that species.
I have not put down an amendment on my next point, but I raise a question for my noble friend, for clarity. Could he tell me—as it is not clear in the Explanatory Memorandum or when I read this part of the Bill—what are the Secretary of State’s powers? Does the Secretary of State retain the power that he needs? This has not happened in Wales, and there has been a major problem, because the Secretary of State has not been able to retake control, as has been seen here in England in 2019, for general licensing relating to Sections 16(1)(c) and 16(3)(c). I support the Secretary of State being able to take control and I hope that my noble friend will be able to confirm that this is in fact the case.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 293A, in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch, the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, for whose support I am extremely grateful. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and I thank him and the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for their support for the interloper amendment in this group, which I hope does not divert too much attention from their respective meritorious amendments.
Lead ammunition use creates multiple problems for which a straightforward solution exists, and that is to ban its use, and by so doing further catalyse the manufacture and sale of available non-toxic alternatives. In accepting that there are other ways to achieve the same objective, what is proposed by Amendment 293A is—by an amendment to Section 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981—to ban the use of toxic lead shot
“for the purposes of killing or taking any wild animal”
and requiring this regulation to come into force on 1 January 2023. In the circumstances, this is sufficient time for such a change.
There are no safe levels of lead, which is why regulation has ensured removal of lead from petrol, paint and drinking water. The last largely unregulated release of lead into the environment is from lead ammunition. Some 6,000 tonnes of lead shot and lead bullets are released annually into the UK environment, putting at risk the health of people, wildlife, and livestock, and causing persistent and cumulative environmental contamination. The body of evidence of risks from the toxic effects of lead ammunition is overwhelming and growing, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. Perhaps 10,000 children from the UK hunting community alone are estimated to be at risk of impacts on their IQ and other deficits due to frequent household consumption of lead-shot game meat. Lead poisoning from ammunition ingestion kills an estimated 75,000 water birds per year, plus hundreds of thousands of gamebirds and numerous birds of prey. Domestic livestock is put at risk when feeding on ground which has been shot over through direct ingestion of shot or when feeding on harvested silage from such ground.
Regulation of this sort would benefit the health of people, the intellectual development of children, the health of wild and domestic animals and food safety in restaurants and retail outlets. UK policy is lagging significantly behind the practices and organisational policies of many ammunition users. The vast majority of the shooting community is now behind this change too. I am sure that the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, who has a lifetime of expertise in this regard, will pick up on this point. The National Game Dealers Association has committed to sourcing all game, including gamebirds, duck, venison, and wild boar, from lead-free supply chains from 1 July 2022. Supermarkets and game dealers are suspending sales of lead-shot game meat and our own food outlets here in the Palace of Westminster will not sell you food containing this poison. To continue to allow the circumstances which potentially may occasion the sale of poisoned game from other outlets is no longer justifiable. Yet up and down the country, the health of children is being put at risk wherever lead-shot game meat is consumed by them. In recognition of this and the hundreds of thousands of wildlife lead poisoning deaths each year, health professionals, conservation and shooting organisations and wild game retailers are calling for change.
Non-toxic ammunition is widely available. It is effective and comparably priced. In the 1990s, both Denmark and the Netherlands banned the use of all lead shot, with no impact on the number of hunters, proving that a change to using sustainable non-lead ammunition is possible without impact on the sport. The UK Government have been dealing with the issue and legislation around the problem of lead poisoning from lead shot since 1991. The detail of the multiple costly stakeholder groups, compliance studies, risk assessments and reviews set up by Defra and the Food Standards Agency are well known to the Minister. In 1999, partial regulation focused on protecting wetland birds. However, studies have found the current law to be ineffective at reducing lead poisoning in water birds due to a high level of noncompliance.
Now is the time for policy change. It is now 30 years since the first UK working group on lead shot in wetlands, and one year after the nine main UK shooting organisations—recognising the risks from lead ammunition, the imminent impacts of regulation on lead ammunition in the EU, and the likely impacts on UK markets for game meat—called for change on lead shot.
An identical amendment was debated in Committee in the other place on 26 November 2020. Rebecca Pow, in responding to my honourable friend Fleur Anderson, who moved the amendment, supported the intent of the amendment, and appeared to agree with all the arguments for the ban. Indeed, I expect that the Minister knows and agrees with all the arguments too. He is a well-known advocate of this policy, and probably has deployed all of them himself at one stage. In the debate in the other place, Rebecca Pow, while conceding all the arguments, did not accept the amendment because it did not extend to single-use plastics, of all things. She said that all aspects of the sport needed to be considered and that, as it did not “cover clay pigeon shooting”, it was therefore deficient. She alleged difficulties of detection or enforcement action and, as its extent concerned devolved matters, required legislative consent motions from devolved Administrations—all reasons not to accept the amendment.
These are all alleged impediments that can be overcome, if the Government are willing to engage with the amendment. Set against the continuing known risk to children’s health, none of them can be allowed to be fatal to this amendment, particularly since banning toxic lead gunshot is now the Government’s stated position too. On 23 March, the Government agreed to move further towards a ban, and, in Rebecca Pow’s name, Defra published a press release. In it, she is reported as having said:
“Evidence shows lead ammunition harms the environment, wildlife and people”.
But then she went on inexplicably to announce the commissioning over a two-year period of yet a further review of the evidence and a consultation. During that time, lead ammunition will continue to harm wildlife, the environment, and people.
The effectiveness of an amendment of this nature, as a similar ban has proved in Denmark and the Netherlands, is that it will, at a certain date, remove the demand for lead shot. Only regulation will provide a guaranteed market for ammunition manufacturers; ensure the provision of game, free of lead ammunition, for the retail market; enable cost-effective enforcement; and, importantly, protect wildlife and human health. Action on this issue was recommended in 1983 in the report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution on lead in the environment. As Fleur Anderson in the other place said, action is clearly
“long overdue. Now, at last, is the time to act.” —[Official Report, Commons, Environment Bill Committee, 26/11/20; col. 704.]
My simple question to the Minister is, if not now, when?
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord as a fellow advocate. I endorse the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, in moving his Amendment 234, on the need to ensure balance in chalk streams, and their protection. We should recognise how popular the sport of angling is and what a wide ecosystem the chalk streams serve.
I particularly support Amendments 235, 236, 242 and 244 and congratulate my noble friend Lord Caithness on his work in this regard; I lend my support to him and my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury in this regard. I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said about Clause 102. I will concentrate on subsection (5), which says:
“Natural England may, from time to time, amend a species conservation strategy.”
I enjoyed the noble Lord’s cautionary tale on newts and I will share with him a cautionary tale that caused a lot of grief in north Yorkshire at the time. This was a case of bats in the belfry of St Hilda’s church in Ellerburn, in the constituency of Thirsk, Malton and Filey, which I had the honour to represent for the last five years that I served in the other place.
I entirely endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said about achieving balance; part of that balance has to be the rights of humans—in this case, to worship in a place of worship in the normal way. The level of protection that was afforded for years by Natural England defied all logic. I know that this caused a lot of grief within the Church of England and I pay tribute to the work done not just by local parishioners but the Church of England nationally. I do not think that St Hilda’s church at Ellerburn was alone in this regard. The parishioners and worshippers had to evacuate the church, which was effectively closed for human use. There was a huge cost to clean up the church—noble Lords can imagine the damage that was caused by bats flying around in the numbers that there were. As far as I understand it, eventually an accommodation was reached with Natural England.
My greatest concern is that these species should be kept under review. Badger baiting, for example, was finally outlawed in 1968—I forget the actual date—when badgers became a protected species. But these things should always be kept under review. Grey squirrels are now running out of control in many parts of the country and it is almost too late to go back and protect the red squirrel in its natural habitat. So I am very taken by Amendment 236, with its simple request that the proposals be made available for consultation. I would argue that this should be informed consultation for a substantial period of time—at least 12 weeks—so that all parties can be reached.
I hope that we can reach a balance not just between nature and human use but between rural life and urban dwellers. I am not an expert like the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, but one could probably argue that bats now are fairly commonplace in many parts of the country, where they have extensive natural habitats and do not have to occupy dwellings such as churches or, in many cases, farmhouses. Giving them have a higher order of protection than humans who are trying to ply their trade or, in the case of Ellerburn church, to worship, is frankly beyond the realms of logic and common sense.
So I endorse the amendments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and, in particular, my noble friend Lord Caithness, and I hope that, by reviewing the level of protection and the health of an individual species, common sense and logic will prevail.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. There is a huge amount of good in this group and I will be somewhat selective in what I cover. I begin with Amendment 241, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and thank him—on behalf of many people in the UK, I am sure—for his championing of chalk streams. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, referred to how these are held in great regard by anglers, but we should not forget the great regard in which they are held right across the country.
I note that, just last month, the River Cam became the first UK river to have its rights declared, in a special ceremony organised by the local group Friends of the Cam. At that ceremony, a version of the Universal Declaration of River Rights, drawn from indigenous principles and river victories around the world, was read out. A lawyer at that event noted that, while of course legally this had no effect, it showed the strength of feeling and the desire to protect the River Cam and its tributaries. I note also that the River Frome in Somerset recently had a by-law drawn up to offer it some protection. It is now for your Lordships’ House to encourage the Government to show a similar level of concern to that we are seeing in affected communities.
Amendment 234, also in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, is a classic “must” replacing “may” amendment. We are talking here of course about species conservation strategies. As other speakers have done, I will focus briefly and in particular on Amendment 235, which has cross-party and non-party support; had there been space, the Green Party would certainly also have attached our name to it. We have already heard in considerable detail how important this is, but it really is worth reflecting that the experience of species conservation strategies thus far has been that there is a real risk of focusing on facilitating development rather than protecting species and, crucially, the ecosystems that are fundamental to the continued existence and importance of those species. The great crested newt has already been referred to, but that is just one case where we have failed to see alternative, less damaging solutions considered, including on-site avoidance or mitigation of impacts. What these amendments, particularly Amendment 235, would do is ensure that the mitigation hierarchy is always followed in species conservation strategies. This is absolutely crucial. I also particularly note my support for Amendment 248, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness; the stress on evidence is pretty hard to argue with.
Finally, I will take a little bit of time on Amendment 293A, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury. The noble Lord, Lord Browne, referred to this as an “interloper amendment”, but I think rather that it is a simple, clear, effective, deliverable amendment to the Bill, and it is hard to see why the Government should not accept it. We have already heard a little about how damaging lead ammunition is, and it is worth going back to the history. Nearly six years ago, Defra got the completed report of the Lead Ammunition Group, which recommended that lead ammunition be phased out. That group was set up at the suggestion of the RSPB and the WWT. The evidence is that, when lead shot goes out into the environment, birds—particularly those who feed on grain over fields—collect and eat it, then predator and scavenger species such as crows and raptors can eat those carcasses, accumulate the lead and die. We know how much pressure many of our raptors continue to be under from illegal persecution, and it is crucial that we protect them from this unnecessary threat.
In putting a sense of scale on this, I am indebted to Tom Cameron, a lecturer in aquatic community ecology at the University of Essex. He has calculated that, if a commercial shooting estate offered a single day of hunting pheasants with an expected bag of 200 birds, a 1:3 kill ratio might be expected. Using a standard game load of 32 grams of No. 5 lead shot, with each cartridge containing around 248 pellets, that would be 25 kilograms of lead shot from just one day of fairly typical shooting. As the academic says, you could argue for doing a full calculation across the country, but
“it’s clear that it’s a lot”
of lead being put out into the environment—and wholly unnecessarily.
I also note a new study published in the British Ecological Society journal People and Nature, which showed, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Browne, that significant numbers of shooters are comfortable with moving away from lead shot. I also compliment the noble Lord on discovering that noble Lords in this House are protected from the risk of ingesting that lead; however, many children in our society still are not.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, referred to a study conducted last year in lockdown that showed that the voluntary phase-out, which was supposed to begin in February 2020, was not working. It is worth noting a detail from that study on pheasants bought from game dealers, butchers and supermarkets around the UK. Of 180 birds examined by the scientists, 179—all but one—had been shot with lead. A year into this voluntary five-year phase-out, it clearly is not happening. This amendment is simple, clear, extremely deliverable and—to come back to the word “evidence”— extraordinarily well-evidenced. I very much hope that we see the Government taking action.
My Lords, I rise to offer a few words regarding the amendments of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, particularly Amendments 236 and 248, which seek more specificity around the objectives and methods of consultation for species conservation and protected site strategies. As I have repeatedly noted—maybe I sound a bit like a stuck record—the well-intentioned setting of environmental strategies and goals is in danger of belabouring beleaguered farmers and land managers with yet more confusing, conflicting and expensive mandates that will limit their ability to operate productively, if at all.
As the NFU has long stated, it is not possible to go green if you are in the red. However worthy the objectives of species and site protection laid out, they will never be met if we drive farmers and rural businesses out of business. I trust Defra will keep this in mind as it develops policy under these provisions, and I hope the Minister provides substantial assurance that a balance will be met between nature and rural business.
Separately, I will address Amendment 293A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Browne, and others regarding the necessary prohibition of toxic lead shot. It comes as no surprise to your Lordships that Earls of Devon have hosted and supported shoots for many centuries, including of both wildfowl and reared game birds, in which both lead shot and, more recently, non-lead alternatives were used. Contrary to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, I understand that the industry is taking positive voluntary steps to move away from lead shot, as well as single-use plastics, and on a five-year timeline that allows for the development of suitable alternatives that can equal the effectiveness of lead. I do not, therefore, see that it is necessary to legislate for such a change, particularly in such a short timescale.
The principal danger of setting an unduly short timescale is that the industry is left with inadequate alternative loads, which will only increase the likelihood of injury and suffering to quarry. The essential development of alternatives will take time, and the industry, on which many thousands of rural jobs depend, particularly in deprived areas of north Devon, should be permitted to take the time necessary to make these essential changes.
Finally, I note the considerable concern about children eating lead. If we can get children and families eating game—pheasants and partridges—it will be a blessed thing. If we can remove lead from the game before they do so, it will be even better.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and to hear his expertise. I offer my support for Amendment 235, so ably addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and others. I have sat with the noble Lord for a number of years, recently in our environment and energy committees, and his grasp of environmental issues and experience influenced many of our conclusions, so it is a pleasure to follow up by supporting this amendment.
The Bill would be improved if the objectives on which the conservation strategy should focus were in the second paragraph of this clause. I, like many noble Lords, would like to see the Government bring forward their own list of objectives at the next stage of the Bill, as most of us would not like to see the Secretary of State hand Natural England a completely blank sheet, as if it were the inheritors of the desired Henry VIII powers.
The Bill goes on to list the activities that Natural England will be required to fulfil in setting out its species conservation strategy. These would be clearer and more focused if the objectives were listed. Of course, any list may turn out not to be perfect and again, this spills over into what power there will be to make amendments and who will exercise it. This question is similar to that in a later group of amendments we will deal with, in which we will consider the powers a Secretary of State should have to amend regulations in the light of experience.
The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, is an example of the expertise he holds in this area. The House benefited from hearing from him.
My noble friend Lord Caithness has many amendments in this group, and I support him in his efforts to bring greater clarity to these clauses. His Amendment 252 relates to the clause dealing with wildlife conservation licences. When we were dealing with environmental targets, the Minister introduced an amendment that allows him to make regulations to manage species abundance. As I am sure he is well aware—other noble Lords have spoken of this—he may set the targets but, as is increasingly accepted, much of this can be achieved only by other species management. Making sure that the legislation is fully appropriate is increasingly important. In this area, management becomes a question of having feet on the ground.
Only a few days ago on the “Farming Today” programme, there was a report on an RSPB reserve—in Wiltshire, I think—which made sure that all its habitat was suitable for encouraging many endangered small birds. However, this did not happen until it began to deal with what were termed “generous predators”—I find this a rather descriptive phrase—such as foxes, all kinds of corvids and stoats. My noble friend Lord Caithness’s amendment makes sure that the issue of licences is approached in a practical way. Experience in this field will be what counts, so I will listen with interest to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I will add a few words in support of Amendment 235 in the name of my noble friend Lord Krebs and others. Of the various amendments in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, I single out Amendment 242, which seeks to give an express power to Natural England to amend, update or withdraw a species conservation strategy.
The point to which my noble friend Lord Krebs’s amendment is directed is that a species conservation strategy—the “recovery of nature”, as he put it—needs careful planning if it is to achieve its objective. Natural England, which will be responsible for producing these strategies, is well equipped to do this. It already has expertise in dealing with protected species and sites for their conservation and protection, but the strategies will have to be shared with and explained to local planning authorities. Their full co-operation is essential to the success of this strategy.
There can be no doubt that this process will be assisted by a clear understanding of the objective, and the careful, step-by-step approach that the amendment describes. Of particular interest is the reference to informing the definition of the favourable conservation status of relevant species of fauna or flora. This is not just about mitigation of loss. It is about planning for the future, which every conservation strategy should seek to achieve. That requires a clear understanding of the level that conservation must achieve so that each species within the habitat may be secure against loss of that species in the future. That means that it needs protection against its possible competitors or predators and, indeed, against possible harm by commercial interests. Establishing this understanding and the research that will underpin it as one of the objectives will add real value to the success of this new strategy. That is why I am very much in support of this amendment.
As for the amendment in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, about the power to amend, update or withdraw being given to Natural England, its value really speaks for itself. It may be said by the Minister that it is unnecessary, but there is no mention of any power to amend, update or withdraw in the recently published factsheet. An assurance by the Minister that Natural England will have this power anyway, and an explanation of where it is to be found, would be very welcome. Unless the Minister can do that, I hope that he will accept this very sensible amendment, to add clarity to the Bill.
My Lords, I am delighted to be speaking in this short debate. I added my name to Amendment 235, so well introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, but I have very little to add to what has been said.
The poor old great crested newt, which keeps getting mentioned, has had a bit of a bad press. I think it is because of its name, people saying that some of our laws and regulations make it difficult for developers and that “you only have to find a great crested newt and that will stop it”, but even if it is not a flagship iconic species, it is just as valuable. I mentioned the great crested newts of Uxbridge in my maiden speech in the other place in 1997. We have them in several very small pond reserves belonging to either the London Wildlife Trust or the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust.
I say to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, speaking as a member of the Bat Conservation Trust, that bats have a highly protected status. They are easily interfered with. There is an active “bats in churches” study group, because bats can cause disruption within churches, causing dismay to congregations, but they are far from common and increasing. Only the other night I was delighted to use my bat detector to discover some pipistrelles, the commonest species, flying around the garden. We must be careful.
However, I support the idea that we want to be flexible in some of these areas. There are species that may start off needing complete protection but do very well, and their position then endangers other species. My noble friend Lord Caithness put it very well when he talked about managing these things. It is a mistake to think that we can just let nature take care of itself. The majority of our landscapes and habitats are manmade. We interfere and if we are not careful, what we do can cause even more problems.
I had forgotten about Amendment 293A. As the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, said when introducing it, it is perhaps not in context with some of the others. I do not agree with the noble Earl, Lord Devon, that we need more time. We have had as much time as possible. The toxicity and the need to stop it has been raised for years. I have been active on this for many years and my impression is that the game shooting organisations know that this is coming and will be prepared for it. I have spoken to cartridge makers and so on. They have alternatives. A lot of the ideas about the alternatives not being as good have been proved incorrect. To score some points back with my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, the Danes have got it right. It does not interfere with the sport. It is a toxic thing that should be removed.
If my noble friend the Minister wants some help on this, perhaps he can speak to the Treasury. If it could put an incredible surcharge on lead shot, perhaps we could force it out of the market, but the best way is to start by saying that it should not be used for killing wild animals and birds. The toxicity of clay shoots is terrible because it is in the same area. In various places they have had to close while they detoxify the area. It is appalling and incredible that in the 21st century we still allow this toxic chemical to enter the food chain of not only wildlife but humans.
I say to the noble Earl, Lord Devon, that I welcome the use of game in diet. It is a great thing, but we should not be doing it while there is lead in there.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 293A tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, whom I congratulate on bringing this matter forward. I have added my name to the amendment. I declare an interest as a former chairman of the Firearms Consultative Committee at the Home Office. I am a liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Gunmakers, a former chairman and former president of the British Shooting Sports Council, a former president of the Gun Trade Association and a member of BASC and the GWCT. I hope your Lordships will deduce that I know a little about shooting and lead shot.
As we have heard, lead is acknowledged as a poison. It is banned in paints, petrol, fishing weights, water and a raft of other products. Recently, nine major quarry shooting associations—as I said, I am a member of BASC—came together in a statement, saying that their intention is for the shooting sports to cease the use of lead shot, or toxic shot, within five years. Waitrose, the supermarket chain, has told me that it will sell only game shot with non-toxic shot from next year. The National Game Dealers Association, which sells the vast majority of game-bird meat and game meat in general intends to do the same by July 2022. The vast majority of my game-shooting friends and acquaintances, and the majority of those to whom I speak in the game-shooting world, are already planning to move to non-toxic shot in the coming season, including myself.
The technology of steel shot, biodegradable wads and recyclable cartridge cases is being rapidly moved forward by cartridge manufacturers such as Eley Hawk. Indeed, I am personally actively making the switch as quickly as I can. The move away from lead shot is gaining momentum all the way through America, Europe and other countries.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, said, the Lead Ammunition Group recently conducted a major inquiry into lead in shooting. I have to say that it was not done just by the bird-watching enthusiasts, as she said; it was actually done by the shooting world as well. It was led by a gentleman called John Swift, who happened to be the chairman of BASC at the time, so I think that it ought to have a little credit for that.
We have been around this lead racetrack, so to speak, ad infinitum. I repeat that lead is a poison—we all know that. It should not be permitted to enter the food chain, full stop. I agree with noble Lord, Lord Krebs, entirely: Her Majesty’s Government need to place all in the game-shooting industry in a position where they know with what timescale they must comply. This would give assurance to them and mean that they can make the changes necessary. Many of them will have to retool equipment—as I say, lead shot is on its way out—and manufacturers such as Eley Hawk are having to change their ways, and are doing so very successfully.
However, this does not happen overnight. Many guns—London Best guns, for instance—that were built a long time ago to shoot lead shot cannot shoot steel shot, so that has to be looked into as well. This is quite a complicated subject—not an easy “We’ll do it today” job. If the Government were to make up their mind and push the shooting industry into this a little harder, with a date that we know we comply with, that would be a very good thing, and I would strongly support it.
The market for game and game meat is of course substantial. The game dealers and the supermarkets are changing their ways. Waitrose tells me that, by the time it goes toxic-shot-free next year, it may well be able to sell more than a million more game birds— that is just one supermarket chain. That is good for the shooting industry. We need to be able to find decent new markets where we can sell this excellent low-calorie meat.
I am very aware that this amendment probably requires further work, so I ask my noble friend the Minister—we had a brief conversation outside the Chamber before this debate started—if he would very kindly meet with the noble Lord, Lord Browne, and me as soon as possible to discuss this further before Report.
The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter.
My Lords, the discussion on this grouping has been quite lengthy. I echo the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, in thanking my noble friend Lord Chidgey for his excellent championing of chalk streams in this and earlier groupings. I very much hope that the Government will respond positively to the suggestion of this new designation for chalk streams. I will not speak for long because most points have already been covered.
I added my name to Amendment 235 of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, on species conservation strategies, and I very much support his comments. We need to ensure that they support nature recovery and not faster development. It is right that, as the comments that have been made by noble Lords around the Committee showed, there is unanimous support for this amendment. That is indicative of the level of concern that we have about what the Government might be proposing in terms of future planning reforms coming down the track. If we can get this clear in the Environment Bill, that could give us some level of assurance. For those reasons, we on this Bench also support the 10 amendments of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, who is looking to make these species conservation strategies work better. They are a good tool, but they need to work better, so we support all those amendments.
Amendment 293A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, on lead shot has drawn the support of the majority of the Committee, although not that of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, I note. Those noble Lords who know my background are aware that I hold absolutely no brief for supporting the game industry, but it is a sign when people on both sides of the Committee—those who support the industry and those who have had concerns about a number of country sports in the past—can come together to support this amendment, which I do wholeheartedly.
I take issue with the noble Earl, Lord Devon: there are plenty of alternatives, which the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, mentioned. I commend the evidence not only from Denmark but also from the Netherlands, which banned lead shot over 30 years ago. To my certain knowledge, this has not reduced the number of hunters in the Netherlands. The European Union is now looking to ban lead shot, and the industry is in step with that. It is to the credit of the responsible end of the shooting fraternity that it supports this amendment.
We cannot say that the industry has not had time to act. I have been in this House for 10 years and remember asking my first question when the Oxford symposium report of noble Lord, Lord Krebs, was published, and the Government were at that time being rather laggardly in putting a response together. The industry has known that this is coming—there are alternatives and it is time for it to act. I say to the industry—I am sure that that it will not want to hear this from someone like me—that if it wants the support of rural communities for rural sports, it needs to be responsible. Alternatives that work are out there. There are alternatives that will save the health and mental ability of our children.
In a week when Henry Dimbleby will produce his food strategy, to which the Government will have to respond, which is all about producing healthy, sustainable and affordable food, it would be absolute madness for the Government not to act now. As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, so rightly put it, this is a no-brainer. We need to do it to protect the health of our children and ensure the health and well-being of domestic animals and those in the environment. I implore the Government to listen to what has been said by the majority of people around this Committee and the consensus on both sides of the debate—and to accept this amendment.
We have had a really interesting debate—it has covered quite a lot of areas. I offer our strong support for Amendment 241 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey.
I am enjoying our Committee debates, particularly last week’s. Many concerns have been raised about the condition of our chalk streams. We know that they have particularly pure, clear and constant water from the underground chalk aquifers, and they flow across gravel beds, which makes them absolutely perfect sources of clean water and ideal for lots of wild creatures to breed and thrive in. However, we also know that too many have been overused and undervalued, drained almost dry in places and polluted in others. Research shows that a third of the water that we take from our rivers is wasted. The Angling Trust has said:
“The fate of England’s chalk streams is the litmus test in terms of how this country treats its environment.”
So we thank the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for tabling this amendment for better protections for our chalk streams, which are so badly needed. Again, I offer our strong support.
We also strongly support Amendment 235, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, which would ensure that the primary purpose of species conservation strategies is to support the recovery of nature, rather than to facilitate faster development. As the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, said, the debate today has shown huge support for his amendment. A strategic approach to species conservation is essential to preserving biodiversity and enabling nature’s recovery. This should include protecting, restoring and creating habitat over a wider area to meet the needs of individual species. Strategic approaches to species conservation are clearly essential. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, talked about her experience of bats, for example. It is vital that we enable this recovery of nature. Between 2013 and 2018, 46% of conservation priority species in England declined. We know that many of these species would benefit from a strategic plan resulting in all relevant public bodies taking appropriate actions to save and restore them. The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, asked for clear objectives to be set out, and this is clearly important.
The proposal for species conservation strategies must also be understood in the context of the net-gain offsetting that we already discussed in Committee last week. Our fear is that there could be unintended consequences. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, outlined his concerns that, sadly, the overall result could be to allow the destruction of habitats and protected species in return for new habitat creation elsewhere. A developer could be licensed to proceed with activities that destroy habitats and species in return for contributing to habitats that support the wider population of that species. We share the noble Lord’s concern that this could allow a developer to proceed without protecting every specimen of a protected species and without always undertaking the appropriate site-specific survey work. We do not want to speed up development and reduce costs, which would ultimately do the opposite of what the Bill is trying to achieve.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, mentioned the importance of planning authorities having a clear understanding of what is required, and this will be needed if these proposals are to be implemented well. We need to contribute to the conservation of certain species but, if that is managed badly or applied inappropriately, we could end up with it being nothing more than a shortcut to getting around some of the protected species obligations. Can the Minister confirm that, where species conservation strategies are used in cases of development planning, species’ needs will dictate the outcome, with the overriding presumption and priority being for on-site or local, rather than off-site, mitigations? Will he also confirm that biodiversity net gains will be additional to meeting the legal and policy requirements within the species conservation strategies?
We are looking for some serious reassurance from the Minister that the species conservation strategies will not lead to perverse outcomes. We need to ensure that they are delivering gains for nature rather than gains for developers. Can he also confirm that site-specific impact assessments at the time of planning or of other consent applications will still be carried out to ensure that all impacts are identified and addressed? We need assurance that each strategy will be framed around the conservation objectives of the sites concerned, as well as any other conservation considerations.
I will now move on to the amendments tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, who made some very important points in his introduction. I am sure that noble Lords will support his important aim; all we want to do is to make this part of the Bill work better, and his amendments ably try to do that. We need to look to wider concerns that encompass all factors, not just habitats. The noble Earl made an important point when he talked about management being a forgotten activity that will help deliver success to our conservation strategies, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, supported him in that. The noble Earl, Lord Devon, also asked for assurances from the Minister about support for farmers and rural businesses. Again, this is an important area that must not be forgotten.
Turning to Amendment 293A, in the name of my noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton, I thank him for his very detailed introduction. I also thank the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, for sharing his extensive knowledge and experience of this matter. As the EU proceeds towards a ban on all lead ammunition, UK policy is lagging significantly behind the practices and organisational policies of many ammunition users. As my noble friend Lord Browne said so eloquently, there are no safe levels of lead—it affects all major body systems of animals, including humans. As the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, said, regulation has ensured removal of lead from petrol, paint and drinking water. The last largely unregulated release of lead into our environment is from lead ammunition. We have heard that non-toxic ammunition is widely available, and guidance on its use is provided on the website of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation—BASC.
We have also heard in this debate that the UK shooting community is preparing for change, which is coming, but voluntary efforts to move away from lead shot have always failed. We need leadership from government, with legislation, if this change is going to happen. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, said, this amendment is deliverable. Finally, I ask the Minister: what progress is his department making in bringing this legislation forward and ending this practice?
I will start with Amendment 234, tabled by the noble Lord, Chidgey, and Amendment 235, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, but first I will offer some words on the overall objectives of species conservation strategies. The strategies will be developed by Natural England for species that are under threat and would benefit from a more strategic and focused approach to improve their conservation status. They will identify priorities for the species and bring together relevant public authorities, ENGOs and any other interested parties to identify the bespoke solutions needed to tackle the threat each species faces.
I understand the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, to ensure that the strategies contribute to nature’s recovery, but Clause 102 already guarantees this. In line with the intention behind the measure, subsection (1) specifically defines the purpose of a strategy as:
“for improving the conservation status of any species of fauna or flora.”
Subsection (4) elaborates on the elements that the strategy may contain, including creating and enhancing habitats with the explicit purpose
“of improving the conservation status of the species”.
The mitigation hierarchy is also set out in subsection (4), as we are clear that each species will require a bespoke approach to avoidance or mitigation of harm or the creation of compensatory habitat. It is important that Natural England is given a power in the Bill to create strategies where they are likely to have the biggest possible impact. Changing “may” to “must”, as suggested by Amendment 234, would therefore change that power into a duty to create strategies, and this would place an unreasonable obligation on Natural England to create a very large number of strategies, including for species which would see little or no benefit. We think that it makes more sense for Natural England to focus its resources where strategies can provide the most benefit for key species in decline.
Natural England is already working with relevant conservation groups to develop the first strategies; others are in the pipeline, including—to answer the noble Lord, Lord Krebs’s question—for the dormouse and water vole. I think he said that it is also the case that the district-level licensing approach is not considered to be something that would work for bats. That is our view as well, so we will not be using that approach.
On Amendment 241, I share the determination of the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, to protect our chalk streams, as many noble Lords do. Restoring our internationally recognised and important chalk streams is already a government priority. Species conservation strategies, however, are bespoke, targeted measures to help protect specific species at risk. Although they will by their nature and design help restore the habitats and ecosystems without which those species cannot flourish, they are not the best mechanism for achieving that specific aim. While activities to help a particular species may involve necessary actions to improve habitats such as chalk streams, the focus needs to remain on the species itself.
For example, I mentioned that Natural England is working with NGO partners to develop a strategy for water voles. Given that water voles are often found living along chalk streams, any plan for their conservation will invariably include measures to protect chalk stream habitat, but it would need to go further and wider to ensure that all other vole habitat was included in the strategy. I know that the noble Lord is a strong advocate for chalk streams. I assure him that the Government are already working with stakeholders to develop an action plan to restore and protect our valuable chalk streams.
It was said powerfully by the noble Lord as well as by others, including the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, that chalk streams in their natural condition are home to an extraordinary profusion of natural life. Botanically, they are the most biodiverse of all English rivers. They offer a colossal range of habitat niches for invertebrates, fish, birds and mammals. Brown trout and Atlantic salmon are indigenous to all English chalk streams and they provide fantastic habitat for the otter, water vole, water shrew and more besides. As we know, the water vole has suffered extreme decline, mostly as a consequence of the release of the American mink. Chalk streams where the mink is absent or where trapping regularly happens provide extraordinary habitat where the vole can reach high densities.
One of the draft recommendations of the chalk stream restoration group is that chalk streams be given an overarching protection and priority status. The strategy is being consulted on right now. We will look at the recommendations when the final strategy is published, including any recommendations on providing further protection for chalk streams.
I welcome the interest from my noble friend Lord Caithness in the operation of the strategies. On his Amendment 236, we are keen to avoid adding rigid requirements for formal consultation that might delay putting the strategies into effect. We recognise that we will not be able to deliver the best strategies without consulting the experts, a point that he made. Natural England is already working closely with NGO partners such as Wildlife and Countryside Link to draft the principles for the design and operation of the strategies, which will be published in due course. However, adding requirements for formal consultation would delay putting those strategies into effect and add unnecessary hurdles to getting them into operation, which is clearly our priority.
I say in response to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, that Section 14 of the Interpretation Act states that the power to make regulations implies the power to revoke, amend or re-enact them. In our view, that is analogous with the power for Natural England to prepare statutory strategies such as the species conservation strategies.
On my noble friend Lord Caithness’s other amendments, which I shall not list, the clause as drafted is intended to be flexible to allow strategies to be prepared for any species where it will help deliver better conservation outcomes. These proposals risk constraining that flexibility. Specifying elements which “must” be included in a strategy would be unnecessarily rigid, as some elements may not be appropriate; for example, not all species require “consents or approvals” related to granting planning permission, which is one of the elements set out in the clause. The power to amend a strategy includes the power to withdraw it, if needed. Requiring a formal review, including consultation, which could add weeks or months, could delay that process, hindering Natural England’s discretion to make improvements and its ability to make changes rapidly if needed.
My noble friend asked me whether the Secretary of State’s powers in relation to the general licence remain intact. The current system is being looked at; the commitment is that it will be updated if necessary. If there is an update beyond what I have just said, I will write to him with details after this debate.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, asked whether net gain is additional to the species conservation strategies or the protected site strategies. The answer is yes.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, for his Amendment 293A. The Government fully support the principle of addressing the impacts of lead in ammunition. He is also right that I want action in this area and have spoken on this issue numerous times in the past. As he knows, the Government have asked the Health and Safety Executive to produce a UK REACH restriction dossier on the risks posed by lead in ammunition. We made that request in March this year. The noble Lord’s amendment would prohibit use of lead shot in shotguns for the purposes of killing or taking any wild bird or wild animal, but it does not address the use of lead ammunition in other situations, such as clay pigeon or target shooting, where lead poisoning will also occur. We want and need to tackle that too.
The Government have asked the Health and Safety Executive to consider a wider and more ambitious restriction than the amendment currently seeks. I appreciate the noble Lord’s intention in proposing the amendment. It is a key issue, and I warmly welcome this debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said, it really is a no-brainer. As a number of noble Lords have commented, the voluntary methods that have been in play so far have not worked. Reductions in the use of lead have been unimpressive, and, as my noble friend Lord Randall said, alternatives exist. I say with no disrespect to him that my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury made the same argument, and his CV is surely second to none on this issue. I am extremely happy to agree to meet him at a time that suits him and will be in touch after the debate.
Throughout our debates this afternoon, we have heard passionate speeches from noble Lords about the importance of conservation. I hope I have assured them of the role of species conservation strategies as just another, very important tool at our disposal to address the issues affecting our most sensitive habitats and species in a way that is tailored to local needs and encourages innovative approaches. I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I have received one request to speak after the Minister, from the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge.
My Lords, I heard what my noble friend the Minister said regarding the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton. Does he not agree that even if we banned the use of lead ammunition in killing wild birds and animals, although it would not address target and clay pigeon shooting, surely that would set the whole thing off? Would it not be a great first move to make?
I am very keen for us to make progress as quickly as we can. I understand frustrations with the REACH process. My understanding is that that process is best placed to deliver the change we need despite the time that it takes. If it is possible to move more quickly, given that we know that the science is pretty clear and that alternatives exist, I would certainly be open to pursuing those opportunities. If my noble friend would like to join me in my meeting with my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury, he would be very welcome.
I thank all noble Lords and noble Baronesses who have spoken in support of my amendment. The vigour of the debate was very encouraging for me and my fellow Hampshire men and women who are trying to do something to protect our environment and the habitats that we have lived with and cherished throughout our lives.
I also thank the Minister for his remarks. It is encouraging that the Government are taking this issue seriously and are already debating with the proprietors of the chalk stream restoration strategy report, which I understand will be submitted to government in September. That being the case, I look forward to going with colleagues and friends into discussions with government beyond then to see whether we can address these issues, which are so important to our native land. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 234 withdrawn.
Amendments 235 to 245 not moved.
Clause 102 agreed.
Clause 103: Protected site strategies
Amendments 246 to 251 not moved.
Clause 103 agreed.
We now come to Amendment 251A. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in debate.
251A: After Clause 103, insert the following new Clause—
“Protection of National Parks
(1) In exercising their functions under—(a) this Act,(b) any subordinate legislation made under this Act, or(c) any legislation amended by this Act,a public authority must determine whether and how the carrying out of such functions would impact on National Parks.(2) If a public authority determines that their actions would have a material impact on National Parks, that authority must—(a) have regard to the purposes of National Parks specified in section 5(1) of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, and(b) so far as practicable, act in a manner that is consistent with supporting those purposes.(3) Section 11A of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 (duty of certain bodies and persons to have regard to the purposes for which National Parks are designated) is amended as follows—(a) in subsection (2), after “land” insert “or the special qualities found”;(b) after subsection (2) insert—“(2A) All relevant authorities have a duty to co-operate in the production and implementation of any relevant National Park Management Plans.”;(c) after subsection (3) insert—“(3A) In subsection (2A) of this section “National Park Management Plans” means any relevant plan or plans published under section 66 of the Environment Act 1995 (National Park Management Plans).””Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would ensure that where the decisions of public authorities impact on national parks, relevant authorities must have regard to the purposes laid out in section 5(1) of the 1949 Act. In addition, the Clause amends inserted section 11A of that Act to strengthen provisions around protecting the special characteristics of national parks.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the South Downs National Parks Authority. The 10 national parks in England are crucial for delivering our strategy for nature recovery and enhanced landscapes. They cover 10% of our land, while hosting a third of the nation’s international wildlife sites. They have a mission to create more habitats where wildlife can flourish and be enjoyed, while developing strong local partnerships with communities, farmers and businesses to make the parks a living and creative space.
They are all too aware of the significant responsibility they carry to boost diversity and deliver the commitment to protect 30% of our land by 2030. Indeed, my own authority has plans to go further than that. Meeting this challenge is currently hampered by the limitation of the powers authorities currently have under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. In a phrase that will be familiar to noble Lords in other contexts, this section requires all relevant authorities to “have regard to” national park purposes while carrying out functions that might affect a national park. Sadly, “have regard to” is open to many interpretations and as a result there have been many examples of public authorities effectively ignoring this duty and putting their own interests first.
There are many examples from around the 10 parks, but let me give you a couple from the South Downs national park to illustrate the point. Highways England came up with a proposed new route for the A27 around Arundel, which went through the middle of the national park. It was hugely unpopular. It had failed to have regard to the national park’s status or to co-operate with it in drawing up the proposals. In the end, it pulled out of a judicial review just before the hearing, and the South Downs national park was awarded costs, but a lot of time and money could have been saved if it had had a stronger duty to support and co-operate with the park in the first place.
On a slightly different level, the Forestry Commission has built car parks in our national park that have no connection to the park’s attempts to manage visitor numbers and traffic flows to ensure an overall good visitor experience.
The national parks are proud of the work they are doing to develop partnerships with local public bodies, including the production of national park management plans, but this intent has to be reciprocated and this is not always currently the case.
In the meantime, the Government rightly have high expectations of the national parks and the role they will play in nature recovery and transforming farming in protected landscapes, but the parks need the powers necessary to deliver this ambition. This is why I have tabled my amendment, which would strengthen the need for public bodies not only to “have regard to” the purposes of national parks under the 1949 Act but to act in a manner consistent with these purposes. It would build in the co-operation and consultation which already happens successfully with many public authorities and make it the norm for all.
Noble Lords will know that two years ago, the committee overseeing the Glover report on the national parks published its review; I was pleased to see that the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, was a member of that committee. Last month the Government published their response to the report, to which the Minister referred when we debated earlier amendments. One of the report’s recommendations is:
“The existing duty of regard is too weak. We believe public bodies should be required to help further their purposes and the aims and objectives of individual national landscapes Management Plans.”
Since then, much of the emphasis of the report, the debate around it and the Government’s response has been concerned with the structure and governance of national parks. For example, there was a proposal to increase the number of national parks and for them to be bought under the oversight of a national landscape service—an issue we can debate another time.
We are concerned that some of the wider recommendations of the Glover review will be overshadowed, when there is a clear case to strengthen the role of individual national parks in working in partnership with local communities to create the beautiful and diverse landscapes, based on local nature recovery strategies, that we all desire. To do this effectively, the powers need to be strengthened. In the forthcoming consultation on the Glover proposals, will we get a chance to comment on these broader issues? Will the Minister agree to meet to discuss how these objectives could best be captured in any legislation that follows that review? In the meantime, I beg to move the amendment.
My Lords, I am delighted to contribute to this brief debate on Amendment 251A and I welcome the opportunity to talk about the purposes of national parks. As in an earlier debate, it is important to read across to what other users of national parks are being asked to do in relation to the Agriculture Act. In considering protections for national parks, it is entirely appropriate to look those who have wider interests than just maintaining a high level of biodiversity and promoting the enjoyment of the ecosystem, very important though that is.
Here, I would like to mention in particular the interests of farmers, landowners, land managers and tourism providers. Regarding the Agriculture Act and the read-across to the Environment Bill and public money for public goods, how do we expect national parks, farmers, land managers and those plying the trade of tourism to actually be allowed to do the work we are asking them to do? It is extremely important to better integrate farming, land management and, indeed, rural development objectives and advice in this regard. Could my noble friend elaborate on how the public goods and productivity strands of the Agriculture Act, the Bill and future policy will operate to ensure that that happens harmoniously?
I pay tribute to all those involved in national parks—tourism and farming in particular have had a very difficult time. Obviously, I am most familiar with the North York Moors National Park, but I had some experience of the Lake District National Park when I was a candidate there a number of years ago. It is important that we celebrate all that farmers, land managers and those supporting tourism in the national parks do. I hope my noble friend will confirm that “having regard to” does relate to these other interests, and that they will not be compromised in any shape or form. Perhaps she can put a little more meat on the bones of what we are going to ask them to do in terms of public money for public goods, through ELMS, in the context of the Environment Bill and the Agriculture Act.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to again follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and to speak in support of Amendment 251A in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. Indeed, I would have attached my name to it, had I not missed it.
The case has already been very clearly made that we need strengthened protections for national parks—“have regard to” is simply not strong enough in this legislation. I think it is worth going back to the purposes of national parks in the 1949 Act, which include
“conserving and enhancing the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the areas specified”.
This goes back to a debate that we had some weeks ago about how cultural and natural heritage are linked, but the main point to make on Amendment 251A is about “conserving and enhancing” wildlife.
Just last week we saw a campaign launched to raise £100 million to renature 13,000 hectares of land on the South Downs. There was much pride about the fact that this would mean that 33% of the national park is managed for nature, which reports suggested exceeds a UN-backed target of 30% by 2030. Of course, that is a target for all of the countryside; one might reasonably expect that to be much higher in our national parks. Indeed, you would like to see that figure going somewhere towards 100%. Of course, that does not mean that you cannot have agricultural production associated with that; we are back to a very long-running debate about sparing versus sharing. But we must note that what we are doing now is not strong enough. We have to do much more, and we need the Environment Bill to do it.
To take just one example, the Yorkshire Dales National Park is a notorious black hole for raptors. When the national park did a consultation with the public about its management, the illegal persecution of raptors was one of the issues most raised. Just a few months ago, we saw a hideous video released by the RSPB investigations team of two buzzards being lured to their deaths in the area.
We also really need to think about whether there are not—and I am sure there are—more areas of the country that need to be protected, whether it is as a national park or in some other way, as the Glover review highlights. The South Pennines has been identified as a prime candidate for a different approach as the only upland region in England that does not currently have not a legal designation.
My Lords, the 15 national parks in the UK are indeed a natural treasure and one of the glories of our country, some of them have a worldwide reputation. To confine myself to the three in Wales, I know they may be a devolved matter, but the facts about them still indicate the huge significance of national parks generally. The Brecon Beacons, the Pembrokeshire coast and Snowdonia cover 20% of the land surface of Wales. They have a resident population of 80,000 people and account for over £0.5 billion of Wales’ gross added value—some 1.2% of the Welsh economy. They are internationally important examples of how working landscapes can be protected.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, has set out one of the two purposes of national parks as set out in Section 5(1) of the 1949 national parks Act. These two purposes clearly chime in beautifully with the Environment Bill now before us, and it is therefore very important that they should have a specific clause within the Bill. Although there are legal protections for them under the 1949 Act, we live at a time when there is a desperate need, for example, for more affordable housing. The Government have made this a priority, and some of the checks and balances that used to be in place, in the form of the ability to prevent a particular scheme going forward, are being eroded. We saw one public reaction to this recently in the Chesham and Amersham by-election.
The amendment before us would ensure that any local authority seeking planning permission in a national park would have to take fully into account the legal purpose of the park. The Minister may argue that there are enough protections already in the 1949 Act but, given that the national parks are such a crucial feature of our environment and that the pressure for new housing is now so intense, it is appropriate that there is a special clause in the Bill which keeps these protections firmly in the mind of all those drawing up applications in those areas. Of course, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, has mentioned some of the pressures—for example, from motorways—but possible housing developments may perhaps be on the edge of a national park. No doubt it would be unthinkable for a local authority to try to put up a new housing estate in the middle of a national park, but there could be building, industrial or waste developments on the edge of a national park, which would have serious implications for its protected environment.
At a time of increasing pressure, the proposed new clause before us comes under the heading of “You can’t be too careful”, and I support it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, is not speaking on this group, so I call the noble Earl, Lord Lytton.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a property owner with tourism interests within the Exmoor National Park, going back very many years, and I have professionally had an involvement with several other UK national parks.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for giving me advance warning when she tabled this amendment and for giving us an opportunity to have this debate. At an earlier point in our Committee, I had, through my own fault, a rather awkwardly grouped pair of amendments—Amendments 290 and 291—on an enlargement of national park purposes, which were not actually moved in that group. Although they have got a bit lost in the system, I am glad that I have some opportunity to make a few of the points here. In any event, I would rather raise them in the context of Amendment 251A.
I have enormous sympathy with this amendment. For many people, the immediate reaction might be to ask why any adjacent authority would not have regard to national park purposes. But, recalling my own experiences, I can appreciate that this might not be so. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, referred to the A27 at Arundel. Of course, as a Sussex resident, I am quite familiar with the long-running saga of how to deal with the discontinuity on parts of the A27. But, as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, mentioned, this is a two-way affair. National park authorities do not, after all, have full jurisdiction over all areas of local government authority and other aspects. It follows that they must at the very least, for their part, be able to co-operate with those bodies that exercise jurisdiction in the areas they do not control, including highways, police, infrastructure, building control, fire and rescue, services and communications, and those sorts of things.
In the past, I have attended meetings on site within national parks to discuss, in one case, the improvement of an admittedly dangerous farm track exiting on to an unrestricted A-class road. The meeting had been triggered by an incident at that location which could easily have been fatal for a motorcycle rider. But, as it turned out, this matter seemed to be of little concern in national park policy terms. The improvement required would have involved the removal of some length of hedgerow to improve sight lines. Of course, that could have been replicated on the back of the visibility splays, as opposed to immediately adjacent to the current road, but that was not acceptable to the national park authority, despite the obvious problems for farm movements and the safety of highway users. As far as I know, the dangerous exit remains some 20 years later. But I find it very difficult to understand that conservation issues should be unable to take account of public safety or the orderly exercise of farming activities. In another instance, a national park authority apparently permitted substantial works for the installation of a bulk LPG tank for commercial purposes but did not realise that, without an adequate lay-by in addition, the necessary tanker delivering fuel would totally block a narrow unclassified road serving a lot of properties and would do so for periods of up to half an hour at a time.
The issue of breadth of policy and analysis is not helped when narrow thinking occurs, and local government in all its forms, including national park authorities, is not proof against this. I could quote many other examples of the sort of thing I have already mentioned. I think that the potential flashpoints—if I can call them that—are likely to expand, as our most recent cohort of national parks have incorporated more urban areas within their boundaries.
The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, which created the national parks in the first place, was subsequently amended by Section 37 of the Countryside Act 1968. Annotated in a margin of that latter Act are the words:
“Protection for interests in countryside”.
Section 37 was further amended by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 and the Natural Resources Body for Wales (Functions) Order 2013. As I interpret the audit trail, it remains in force. It is therefore perhaps appropriate that I read out what I believe Section 37 now states:
“In the exercise of their functions under this Act, the Act of 1949 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 it shall be the duty of every Minister, and of Natural England, the NRBW … and local authorities to have due regard to the needs of agriculture and forestry and to the economic and social interests of rural areas.”
However, I can confirm that this bit about having “due regard” is sometimes not regarded at all, duly or otherwise. It may be that highway safety and convenience is not regarded as an “economic and social interest”, but unless the Minister or any other noble Lord can tell me that Section 37 does not apply at all, I suggest that there are already provisions in place governing the degree of economic reciprocities that local authorities, and national parks with them, all too often overlook. I noted what the noble Earl, Lord Devon, said in the previous group on the question of economic reality. I get that.
It is worth bearing in mind that, within national parks, a great deal of the landscape that is cherished and valued, and the ecological richness often associated with it, is fashioned by hundreds of years of land management, not least farming and animal husbandry. Does the Minister agree that reciprocity in the recognition of various local authority and other statutory functions, as between national park authorities and others having various statutory functions, continues to pertain? More particularly, where there are differences, how best might these be mediated and settled? Secondly, on the question of economic and social interest, does she agree that Section 37 of the Countryside Act 1968, as amended, still applies and should be respected? Following this last, what does she feel will be the long-term consequences of inadequately taking these factors into account?
My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak in support of Amendment 251A in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, to support the protection of our national parks.
National parks are havens for birds, animals, fish and humans seeking respite from the cares of daily life. They exist all over the world, from Chile up through North America and across Europe. We are exceptionally lucky to have a wide variety of national parks sprinkled across the whole country, from Cornwall to Wales and up to the Cairngorms in Scotland. Each has its own individuality and beauty, sometimes gentle but often rugged and wild. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, mentioned their role in tourism.
These national parks are currently protected by the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, but this should not allow us to take them for granted. Amendment 251A inserts a new clause into the Bill to provide some protection for the parks when public authorities are making decisions which could affect neighbouring national parks. The duties under the 1949 Act are supported by guidance from Defra, but this guidance is out of date and was last updated in 2005—it is not available on the Natural England website and refers to the now extinct regional development agencies and government regional offices. The current duty provides a backstop when conflict arises between competing interests. However, national parks see this as a last resort.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, laid out the reasons why the duty should be strengthened and gave excellent examples of lack of forethought on the part of public bodies. National parks have management plans; these should be promoted with public bodies, which should have due regard to them. The protected characteristics of national parks should be preserved and public bodies should have regard to both the characteristics and management plans, but this is very weak in terms of compliance and protection.
I fear I will go off on a tangent for a moment. During the passage of the ill-fated Housing and Planning Bill, there was discussion about affordable housing for those working in the parks and young people. This was in reference to Exmoor National Park, which the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, referred to. There were agricultural workers, farmhands, firefighters and other essential workers who worked in the park but could not afford to live there. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, referred to the pressure for housing but suggested that it should be on the edge of the parks. While protecting national parks, I urge them all to have provision for affordable homes included in their management plans to enable those working in them—those who would like to—to be able to live nearer to their place of work. Unnecessary travel adds to climate change and pollution. Living close to your place of work on a national park means you may be able to cycle or walk to work.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, supported the argument that the current protection measures are not strong enough, and I agree with her. This amendment gives reassurance and provides the mechanism for local authorities and other public bodies—such as the MoD, which operates on Dartmoor and on the borders of other national parks—to take account of how their actions may affect the park, access to it and those living or working in or visiting the park in future. It should be remembered that people live in the parks. National parks should not be wrapped in cotton wool as anachronistic relics. They should be assisted to be fit for purpose today but protected from harmful developments. I fully support this important amendment.
My Lords, I welcome Amendment 251A from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and the contributions of all those who spoke about the importance of our national parks, on which I think we are all agreed. From the meres and hills of the Lake District to the chalk of the South Downs—and a lot of Wales, I must add—they are some of our most valuable landscapes.
That is why the Government commissioned the independent Landscapes Review, which set out a compelling vision for more beautiful, more biodiverse and more accessible national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. The panel’s report recommended strengthening the duty on public bodies to have regard to the purposes of the national parks and to support implementation of management plans. This would have a very similar effect to the proposed amendment from the noble Baroness.
In a Written Ministerial Statement of 24 June, the Government committed to address the review’s recommendations in full and consult on draft proposals later this year. Those draft proposals will address this recommendation. This has been an unprecedented year for the country, so work since the review was published has indeed been delayed, but the Government are working very closely with partners on their response to it. We have committed to address its recommendations in full and to consult on draft proposals later this year. I am of course very happy to meet the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, as part of the consultation, or we can discuss it earlier if that would be helpful.
The Government support the intention of the noble Baroness to ensure that our public bodies work together more effectively in our national parks. We all agree there has been a problem here. We are currently working closely with partners, including the national park authorities, to consider how best to achieve that aim through our response to the review. However, we cannot accept this amendment, as it is important to work with our partners and consult on any such changes before changing the law, particularly to understand potential implications for those public bodies likely to be affected. The Landscapes Review found strong evidence that public bodies are failing to have adequate regard to the statutory purposes of the national parks. It also found that the effectiveness of the management plans is limited by poor implementation by local partners, including public bodies. The Government take this finding seriously and are working with partners to consider carefully how to address it.
A number of noble Lords raised the question of infrastructure plans in the national parks. The 2010 National Parks Circular and the National Planning Policy Framework are very clear that national parks, the Broads and areas of outstanding natural beauty are not appropriate locations for major development. I will look into the specific cases that they raised and provide more detail on those if appropriate.
I also assure the Committee that, since the Glover review was published, the Government have been supporting important work in our protected landscapes through our nature for climate fund and green recovery challenge fund to restore nature, tackle climate change and connect communities with the natural environment. The Government have also recently announced their new farming in protected landscapes programme, which will provide additional investment to allow farmers and other land managers to work in partnership with our national park authorities to deliver bigger and better outcomes for the environment, communities and places.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked a number of questions, particularly on ELMS. This funding will help to drive forward delivery of the Landscapes Review on people, access, nature and job creation, responding to the public appetite from Covid-19 for better access to nature. Specifically, the fund should help to support delivery of the Landscapes Review recommendations on connecting more people to protected landscapes, delivering the new environmental land management schemes, increasing the diversity of visitors through tourism, creating landscapes which cater for health and well-being, expanding volunteers and rangers and providing better information and signs. Specifically, this funding will help farmers to shift towards delivering environmental benefits which, in the future, could be supported by environmental land management, particularly the components that support local nature and landscape recovery.
I thank the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for his contribution. Sadly, I have not been able to receive divine intervention quite in time to respond to his specific questions, particularly about earlier legislation, but I will write to him and put a copy in the Library. I hope that I have now provided assurance to the noble Baroness that we share her aims for national parks: we just need a bit more time to work with public bodies, including national parks themselves, to get this right. I therefore hope she will agree to withdraw her amendment.