Report (4th Day) (Continued)
118: After Clause 136, insert the following new Clause—
“National Food Strategy
(1) Within two months of the day on which this Act is passed, the Secretary of State must review the National Food Strategy (the “Strategy”) in the light of this Act, in particular the Strategy’s approach to addressing the effect of food production and agriculture on—(a) biodiversity, and(b) greenhouse gas emissions.(2) In conducting the review the Secretary of State must consider—(a) the implications of this Act for the Strategy and any changes that should be made to the Strategy as a result,(b) how the provisions of this Act, including functions given to the Secretary of State by virtue of it, should be implemented to give effect to the Strategy, and(c) any related matters.(3) The Secretary of State must publish the review and lay it before Parliament.”
I thank the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Lady Hayman of Ullock, for supporting this amendment. I also need to declare my various food interests, in particular in this instance that I was an adviser on the food strategy—although I have to confess that it really was all done by Henry and the people in Defra.
I have tabled this amendment because the role and significance of food in its own right is lacking in this Bill. During the passage of the Agriculture Bill, food was, again, never considered as a whole—from what we eat to how we grow it and how we sell it. It was never appreciated, it seems to me, as a system of high complexity, and it is not appreciated here in the Environment Bill either. The only way I know of trying to address what I see as alarming oversights is in encouraging the Government to take the Dimbleby review very seriously. I will try to explain why—and will try not to take too long, as it is late.
The elevator pitch, if you will, is that we cannot make it to net zero without changing the food system. The key word here is “system”: food is integrated into all parts of lives, our trade and our commerce. It is the primary cause of deforestation, damage to oceans, overfishing, plastic waste, methane emissions—the list is incredibly long. The system as a whole, whether it is agriculture, food production or distribution, releases more greenhouse gases than any other sector apart from energy. It is responsible for 25% to 30% of global emissions; that is overwhelming when compared with the 3.5% accounted for by all aeroplanes. Here in the UK, the food system accounts for a fifth of domestic emissions, but that rises to around 30% if we start to count our emissions honestly, namely by including all the food we import. I might eat a blueberry from Chile one morning, but the emissions are accounted to Chile, not to me.
There are four ways in which food specifically contributes to climate change: the damage to wild areas when they are converted to farmland or deforested; the release of carbon from farmed land that is deep ploughed; the use of fossil fuels throughout the food system, from pesticides to plastics; and the release of methane and nitrous oxide, the two most potent greenhouse gases.
Then there is the question of biodiversity. Ecologically, the food system is a disaster. Many noble Lords have expressed deep concern about biodiversity during these debates. As we know, it is crucial to our societies worldwide. Biodiversity enables carbon to be stored directly in soil and maintains its fertility. Through pollinators it provides the food we eat and supports the production of all our food through pest control and soil health. Biodiversity also provides crucial cultural benefits and well-being. We should no longer argue about the benefits to mental health that accrue from spending time outdoors. That is now abundantly clear.
Despite that undeniable and fundamental importance, thousands of species have gone extinct in this century and the primary cause of that is the production of ever more food through industrial methods. Habitats are lost, freshwater rivers are first abated and then contaminated by run-off from chicken farms and other agricultural chemicals that flood the water and destroy aquatic species. However, the biggest driver has been the conversion of natural ecosystems into crop production or pastures. Currently, land for food production accounts for 40% of the whole world’s land that is not desert and uses a staggering 70% of our available fresh water. Instead of wild animals, farmed animals now dominate—mostly cows and pigs, which now constitute 60% of the global biomass of all mammals. Humans—us lot—account for 36%, with wild animals a woeful 4%. For birds, the figures are 29% wild but 57% chickens. More than three-quarters of all agricultural land is now used to feed those animals directly or by growing stuff for them to eat. Overall, agriculture is an identified threat to 24,000 of the 28,000 terrestrial species under threat of extinction.
While current food systems threaten our biodiversity, a sustainably managed food production system can support and enhance it. At a global level, according to the recent report by Food Tank, we produce more food than we need per capita—approximately 40%. That brings us to another axis where the food system crosses environmental problems. Food waste, as all noble Lords agree and have talked about, is a scandal, and a preventable one, but single-use plastic and plastic waste in general is so much the responsibility of the food system. Food wrapping and production accounts for 8.2 billion kilos of the 20 billion kilos of plastic that comes to Europe, so much of which ends up in our seas and on our land.
Plastics are not just a problem when they are thrown away. They are a problem when manufactured, as it takes petroleum, chemicals, minerals, water and energy to make them. UK households use over 500,000 tonnes of plastic per year to wrap up or preserve food. A scrap of that is recycled. But if we change our farming system, shop more locally, buy vegetables individually and take them home in paper bags or, better yet, in reusable containers, and use less ready-made and fast food, we can crack down on this too
As someone who has worked in this field for many years, I know that tweaking bits and pieces of the food system does not really work. Yes, we have amendments in the Bill that, to achieve demands, will ask for changes to the food system such as banning plastic spoons, forks and cups. That is all great but, faced with this mountain, it is a bit like using a fork to plough a field.
Food is a system. It covers many Ministries and crosses many boundaries. As was the case when we debated the need for land reform and a land use strategy, it is not just the responsibility of Defra but should be considered in education, culture and the Treasury.
Henry Dimbleby’s report is the first such strategy that attempts—and, in my book, succeeds—in looking across this complex system of dynamics. It ranges across health, trade and inequality. I have not mentioned health today, but we all know what the food system is doing to it. The system overlooks the impact that food has on nature, climate and carbon emissions. We must take this issue seriously. It would be such a waste, literally, of an opportunity if the proposed strategy ends up gathering dust on a Ministry shelf.
When food came up during the Agriculture Bill, one of the solutions offered was the establishment of the Trade and Agriculture Commission, so I have communicated with Tim Smith, who is the head of it, who gave me permission to read some of his email in reply. He said the key issue is that
“months after we delivered the report we’ve had no response from ministers despite them being briefed throughout our working between July 2020 and February 2021.”
He further said that the Government’s response to its recommendations has not been bad, but very slow, specifically on
“animal welfare … environment … balancing consumer protections with trade liberalisation”
“establishing the statutory TAC to scrutinise”.
Tim also said:
“I’d add my concern at the response to Henry’s report – the industry gets it even if ministers don’t.”
Tonight, I would like to say that we can do this. The good news is that, if we take the plunge and start transforming this system, through land policies, nature-based solutions to capture carbon and so on, the results would be a win-win. It would certainly be a lose-lose if this fine report ends up going nowhere.
My Lords, I was delighted to add my name to the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. I congratulate her on moving it so eloquently. Given this opportunity, I just ask my noble friend when the Government will respond to both parts 1 and 2 of the national food strategy. When does he expect the Government to publish the food strategy plan and what will the timetable for its adoption be? That will be the conclusion of a fantastic debate, started by the Dimbleby report, both parts 1 and 2, on the national food strategy.
I say in passing that farming wishes to play an active role in reducing emissions and achieving net zero. There are additional ways to those outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, such as seeking to substitute food imports with home produce. Closest to home, Shepherds Purse cheese is benefiting from this, with Mrs Bell’s Blue and other of its blue cheeses competing favourably with Roquefort. That is not to say anything is wrong with Roquefort, but the food miles are less if we buy cheese closer to where it is produced, and it contributes to the local economy and provides jobs, as well.
I also echo earlier disappointment. I congratulate the new incoming International Trade Secretary, and hope this is something she runs with, but I hope the Government pay more than lip service to maintaining high standards of animal welfare in imported food and ensuring food standards of any imports into this country match the very high standards that our farmers meet. I believe this is a timely amendment, and I hope my noble friend uses this opportunity to tell us more about the Government’s thinking about the food strategy plan.
My Lords, I have my name on this amendment. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, on the way she introduced it and am grateful to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering for what she just said. The timing of this amendment today is particularly appropriate. It is Back British Farming Day, and I am glad that the Minister supports that. I hope that he, like me, will congratulate all the farmers in this country, who have done so much to produce good food, as well as to maintain and try to improve our biodiversity and nature. They have had severe difficulties because of what we politicians have asked them to do in the past. That is why biodiversity has been declining in some areas, but a lot of farmers have bucked that trend and, with the help of organisations such as the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, have increased biodiversity on their farms and farmed profitably.
It must be galling for a farmer to produce first-class food, only for it to be turned into processed rubbish that is fed to the processed food capital of the western world—the UK. That processing of food has undoubtedly affected the way farmers farm and if we, with the help of the national food strategy, can change our diets, it will help to change the farming system, as well. That can only be to the benefit of this country and farmers. We must never again go down the route of nature being separated from farming. I know that my noble friend is particularly keen that we get back to a more united and comprehensive approach to farming, and I thoroughly support him on that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, was absolutely right to mention the disappointment that so many of us feel that the Government have not responded before now to the Trade and Agriculture Commission’s report. It is so unfair on the commission and breaks many of the good words that were said to us during the Agriculture Bill. Given the concessions that we had to make on the trade deal with Australia, it is even more important that we recognise the importance of the national food strategy and that the Government take it seriously.
Given these two examples, I have my doubts that the Government will take this seriously, but I hope that my noble friend can reassure me.
My Lords, I rise briefly to offer the Green group’s support for this amendment—there not being enough space, given the cross-party and non-party signatures already on it. I particularly compliment the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, on her comprehensive introduction, and the following two speakers on their excellent additions to it.
The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, made a point about processed food, particularly ultra-processed food, a definition which the Government unfortunately still have not accepted, despite it being widely accepted around the world in terms of nutrition. Ultra-processed food accounts for 68% of the calories in the British diet. That is so-called food that bears no relationship to what started out on the farm. We know what we need for public health and for the state of our natural environment: far more production of vegetables and fruit, ideally produced here in the UK, meaning real changes in our farming systems.
I note the reference by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, to the Climate Change Committee’s land use report. That said that we need to see a 20% reduction in food waste and a 20% reduction per-person in the consumption of beef, lamb, and dairy. Essentially, we need to see a massive reduction in factory farming, in methods of production that are causing enormous environmental damage, and we must stop food waste. Feeding perfectly good food to animals to produce a small amount of protein is food waste.
It was very disappointing that, in response to the Dimbleby report, we heard, though not in this place and perhaps not even within Parliament, some very dismissive comments from Ministers, yet we went right through the Agriculture Bill, the Trade Bill, and this Bill, being told: “Wait for the Dimbleby report, wait for the Dimbleby report.” That was supposed to be providing the direction. If the Government do not adopt that, we need to see this on the face of the Bill.
My Lords, sadly, I was too slow to get my name on to this amendment, but I think that it has complete support around the House. I have just one point, which is that this is something that we must be focused on not only in the UK but globally. As the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, said, we must have farming that is absolutely hand in glove with nature. When the Select Committee on Environment and Climate Change looked at COP 15 and some of the essential issues that must be tackled, this whole issue of addressing the global food chain was absolutely critical. Therefore, we commend the noble Baroness for all her campaigning on this issue and hope that the Government take the food strategy seriously as all of us in this House know that they should.
My Lords, I am very pleased to support Amendment 118, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, to which I have added my name. I commend her for the way she so ably introduced it—her knowledge is far greater than mine.
We have strongly welcomed the National Food Strategy and its recommendations that aim to deliver “healthy, affordable food” and build a sustainable agriculture sector in an efficient and cost-effective way. However, we support the noble Baroness’s amendment because it draws government attention to critical aspects of the impact of the ways in which we farm and produce our food, which, as she quite rightly says, are absent from the Environment Bill.
Amendment 118 first looks at the effect on biodiversity. There is no doubt that the precious biodiversity that sustains our food systems is in decline. The first ever global report on the state of biodiversity for food and agriculture, launched two years ago by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, confirms this. The National Food Strategy rightly observes:
“The global food system is the single biggest contributor to biodiversity loss, deforestation, drought, freshwater pollution and the collapse of aquatic wildlife. It is the second-biggest contributor to climate change, after the energy industry.”
The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, explained that, in the UK, agriculture contributes to, and is affected by, climate change. Every stage in the food production cycle—from preparing, growing and harvesting, through to production, storage, processing, packaging, transporting and cooking—releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Methane produced by livestock during digestion has received a lot of media coverage, while nitrous oxide emissions from mineral nitrogen fertilisers are also a problem. The Government have demonstrated that they are working to tackle this through the new ELM schemes, for example, but, as the strategy confirms, this will not be enough on its own.
The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, spoke up for our farmers and, very importantly, said that never again should nature be separated from farming. The National Food Strategy also contains recommendations to address the major issues facing the food system, including climate change, biodiversity loss, land use, diet-related disease, health inequality, food security and trade. So it makes absolute sense to me that the approach should be reviewed, as proposed in this amendment, to ensure that it is making progress and continues to do so.
Amendment 118 also looks at the effect of greenhouse gas emissions and asks for a review in this area. If you read it, the National Food Strategy has an awful lot to say on emissions. For example, it says:
“Agriculture alone produces 10% of UK greenhouse gas emissions”
and that our
“food system accounts for a fifth of domestic emissions—but that figure rises to around 30% if we factor in the emissions produced by all the food we import.”
So there is no point in making UK farmers do all the hard work necessary to reduce carbon emissions and restore biodiversity, only to open up the market to cheap food produced to lower standards abroad. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, talked about trade and referred to the impact of food miles. If we export all the environmental harms that we wish to avoid, while undercutting and potentially bankrupting our own farmers, we achieve nothing.
It is not a simple task to dramatically reduce emissions from food production or to monitor and review progress. This all needs to be an integral part of the process. So I commend the noble Baroness’s amendments to the Minister and look forward to a positive response.
I thank noble Lords for their contributions during this debate, and I also offer my thanks, in addition to those already given by the Secretary of State, to Henry Dimbleby and his team for their comprehensive review of our food system. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, not just for tabling this amendment but for her erudite and thoughtful speech, the contents of which I very much agreed with. Although the amendment here largely relates to domestic policy, all of the arguments that she raises are driving the policies and campaigns in the run-up to COP 26.
In the last debate I mentioned breaking the link between commodity production and deforestation. Even more important, perhaps, is the campaign to try to build an alliance of countries committed to identifying and then shifting those subsidies that often drive destruction. It is an extraordinary thing that the top 50 food-producing countries spend $700 billion a year subsidising often the very destruction that we are debating here today. That is four times the world’s aid agency budgets combined. It is also the same amount that scientists believe we will need to spend if we are going to get out of the hole that we are in from a biodiversity point of view. That is a really important campaign and one that I very much hope we will see some success with.
The Government have committed to carefully considering the review that Henry Dimbleby put together and responding in full with the government food strategy White Paper. This will cover the entire food system, from farm to fork. That White Paper is an opportunity to achieve our net-zero, nature recovery and biodiversity commitments, building on work already under way in the Environment Bill, as well as docking into wider government priorities, including net zero and the 25-year environment plan.
This is one of the Government’s top priorities, as we have said. Defra is working with the relevant departments across the whole of government to explore options to reduce carbon emissions from food production, to incentivise land-use change, to sequester more carbon and to restore nature at the same time, as well as preserving natural systems and natural resources. The White Paper that we produce will consider the food system in its entirety, as I said, along with its impact on the natural environment, the nation’s health and our exceptional British food producers. I echo the remarks of my noble friend Lord Caithness in his tribute to our farmers.
The White Paper will be published shortly after the passing of the Bill. I cannot provide an exact date, I am afraid, but it will be imminent—assuming that the Bill gets Royal Assent, which we all very much hope it does. It will also reflect and build upon the work of the Bill to address the impact of agriculture and food production on greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity.
We are committed to listening to opinions from stakeholders across the entirety of the food system. We are actively engaging with internal and external stakeholders on the development of the White Paper, and we will factor the helpful views of your Lordships’ House from this and previous debates during the passage of the Bill into the White Paper, and we will continue to engage following its publication. So while the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, is right to seek assurances as to its progress, I hope she agrees that there is no real need for the amendment.
I thank the Minister and all noble Lords who have spoken in support of the amendment. Many interesting points have been made. I definitely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, about ultra-processed food. In fact, I was chairing something this morning where someone put up a slide pointing out that if you spend £1 in a British supermarket at the moment, you can get three peppers, six apples or a very large packet of biscuits. Obviously, if you have really hungry children at home who are craving food, you are going to end up with the biscuits. There is huge distortion within our food system, which is why the response has to be systemic change.
It was really good to hear from the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. I am sorry that I forgot Back British Farming Day—many noble Lords here today are wearing ears of corn—but I know that farmers want to get this right. It is important that we must never separate nature from farming; they go hand in glove with each other. The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, echoed the same point, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, in her excellent speech, from which I learned a lot. She is absolutely right to say that we must not open up the market to cheap food.
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said that farming wants to play a role. I absolutely believe that; I do not think any farmer wants to grow something that they do not think will end up providing nice, nutritious food. I was also glad to hear what she said about cheese. I come from the West Country. Last night, I had a lot of people to dinner, and I had seven different West Country cheeses, all of which were eaten by the dog just before everyone arrived. The dog was quite ill.
I thank the Minister very much for his response. I know he means everything he says. I am pleased that, in the run-up to COP 26, we are going to be looking at many of these issues and that, most importantly, the food strategy is going to be considered across government. This issue does not just belong to Defra, and that is the most important thing.
On the strength of what the Minister has said—and I think he understands the commitment of everyone in the House to trying to make this work—I am happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 118 withdrawn.
119: After Clause 136, insert the following new Clause—
“Economic and environmental goals
Within six months of the day on which this Act is passed the Secretary of State must publish plans to incorporate a metric for reducing greenhouse gas emissions as a coefficient of GDP growth.” Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would require the Secretary of State to publish plans on a metric for greenhouse gas emissions as a coefficient of GDP growth (i.e. the degree to which greenhouse gas emissions are growing more or less than GDP). The metric could be published alongside regular GDP updates with the intention that the coefficient should, over time, reduce.
My Lords, it is obvious that in the international system there is a bit of a crisis in knowing how to take the world consensus forward. We are looking forward to Britain making an active contribution leading up to Glasgow. I say this because the international system has at some point got to agree specific concrete parameters so that we do not have an endless debate about China, India, Indonesia, Russia or Brazil, as it were, not playing by the same rules as other people. There has to be an understanding, which I think is to be supported, and an acknowledgement that the third world will have different rules from the second and first world. You can imagine the difficulty of agreeing internationally how to define those ideas.
I have great sympathy with the Government for trying to put together a leadership role for the meeting in a month or so in Glasgow, but this is very relevant to what is in this amendment. In practice, it is narrowing down to the question of how we in this country decide how to set targets for greenhouse gas emissions. One very important way of doing it is to define those targets or metrics in relation to the growth of national income. Everybody knows that there is some connection between the growth of national income and the growth of greenhouse gases. If people say that it is not possible to have a reduction in greenhouse gases without doing something to reduce the growth of national income, I say that the fact is that one can do that. We are doing it in this country already, partly because of the accelerated reduction in emissions arising from the use of coal to generate electricity.
We have to come to some conclusions about what exactly it is that we are concretely proposing. In this amendment, we have an idea that a 1% increase in the national income should be associated with a 1% reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases. That is a very crude example, but it is impossible to make progress on the short-term link to the long-term aspiration of zero emissions without trying to find some way in which people can go forward—ideally with international agreement—on how we are going to change this coefficient. That is what is in this amendment.
I am very pleased to have had the chance of an initial talk with the Minister of State last week about how these propositions can be taken forward. I look forward to hearing what he has to say. I am encouraged that some constructive thinking is emerging from the proposition in this amendment.
This also means that there has to be quite a big change in how Whitehall and government generally set targets. We do not have short-term targets at the moment. We have excellent reports from the Committee on Climate Change and associated budget work, but we have reached the point where we have to bite the bullet and look seriously at trying to acknowledge that we have to reduce the coefficient around the world, where climate change is a risk because carbon and greenhouse gas emissions are growing at greater speed than national income. We have to reverse that.
I hope the Minister will accept that work should be taken forward on the idea of these metrics to reduce that coefficient and give a positive response to the principle involved. I look forward to his response. I beg to move.
My Lords, I added my name to my noble friend’s amendment. When he first proposed it to me I was not quite clear what the intention was, but it is quite clear what it requires. It gives us a metric —a figure—to display to the public what is a central matter of political dispute in this and many other countries, namely the claim that to achieve green growth and a reduction of greenhouse gases is in direct conflict with the ability to grow and become more prosperous. This country is one of the few countries that has managed to resolve that over the past 20-odd years. In most years we have grown the economy and reduced our greenhouse gases. That will be more difficult in the future and it is more difficult around the world.
All the amendment is asking is that the Government, the Treasury and the Bank of England in particular adopt some metric as an objective of economic policy and turn the ratio between growth and the reduction in greenhouse gases into a forward-looking metric that reduces our dependency on fossil fuels while assuring the public that we are still increasing prosperity. It is possible that the econometricians, statisticians and everybody else can work out a more complex or a simpler figure, but we need one figure that on a rolling basis measures the past and gives us a target and a tool for the future, so that we can counter a very insidious position where the climate pessimists say it cannot be done.
Of course, the polemicists in this argument on social media and more broadly not only emphasise that position in this country; it is making life difficult in many other countries. It defined Trump’s America and to a degree still hamstrings the American Government. It means that, however sophisticated their regimes, the oil producers still trot out the conflict as an excuse for not doing anything that will lead to a meaningful delivery of either the Kyoto or the Paris commitments. Of course, the conflict and the political argument are at their most acute in the poorest countries, where constraints on fossil fuel-based energy are seen as a barrier to raising the living standards of the poorest and most wretched on the earth.
That is why having a clear metric might help us in international negotiations as well. At present, the post-Paris commitments of each signatory are expressed in different terms. Most of them are absolute reductions in greenhouse gases, some are reductions in what they call energy intensity, and others are just lists of particular measures. It is quite difficult to determine the relativity between these different commitments and impossible to compare the level of their commitment with what are supposedly the Paris objectives.
If we started here and the Government committed to getting the Office for National Statistics and the other relevant bodies to address this issue and to come up with a single, clear measure—one that carries at least the broad range of political opinions in this country —we could then move on to convince the OECD and the rest of the world. We can start here. Whether in this Bill or in some other context, the Government really need to commit themselves to having a clear metric here, and I hope the Minister can give some encouragement to that view tonight.
My Lords, I rise briefly, in a slightly curious position, to speak on Amendment 119 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, and signed by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I continue to support this amendment while disagreeing with most of what they just said.
I will start with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, on prosperity and GDP growth. If we define prosperity as a good quality of life and a healthy life, GDP growth is profoundly not coupled to what I would call prosperity. In both these contexts I point noble Lords to an excellent, if now slightly old, book, Tim Jackson’s Prosperity Without Growth, which started out life as a government report. Professor Jackson continues to work with the APPG on Limits to Growth to produce excellent further reports on that.
However, I am sure noble Lords will be pleased to hear that I will not reprise the whole growth debate at this stage of the evening. What I will point out is that we have people coming from different sides saying that we need a decent measure. Further, on the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, the figures we have for our reduced carbon emissions exclude emissions produced offshore and used by us. As the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, said earlier, we are not counting the emissions associated with the blueberries we consume from overseas. We need to have counting. This is one measure of having true accounting of the actual cost.
Finally, on GDP, it is appropriate in the Environment Bill to look at how faulty GDP is as a measure. If you cut down a forest, you count the cost of selling the timber in GDP figures but not the cost of the lost forest. That really is a demonstration of how utterly faulty GDP is as a measure.
My Lords, I first thank the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, for his Amendment 119; I will speak very briefly. He talked about having an international system of climate parameters, a uniform approach and targets ahead of COP 26. I listened very carefully, as I always do, to my noble friend Lord Whitty on the importance of having a metric that measures performance, past and future. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, put across a really interesting point about GDP growth, prosperity and making sure we do not lose that prosperity in economic figures. A lot of interesting points were made in this very important debate, and I hope to hear the answers from the Minister.
I will address Amendment 119, which was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall. I thank him for his time last week and also briefly earlier today. There is a lot of crossover in this debate between what we are discussing now and the debate led by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, in Committee, where we talked about GDP and its uses, weaknesses and shortcomings.
We agree that domestic accountability is important. As the noble Lord knows, the Climate Change Act 2008 already commits us to reaching net zero by 2050 and the forthcoming net-zero strategy will set out our plans for transitioning to a net-zero economy across all departments of government. We are considering the most appropriate way to monitor the delivery of the decarbonisation measures set out in the strategy. We are also encouraging private firms to disclose their climate impacts to investors and the public and to set out how they will achieve net zero by 2050 or before. It is at a much earlier stage, but we are doing what we can to accelerate moves by the private sector to identify, with a view to disclosing and then minimising, the risk to environmental harm generally, not just carbon.
Bringing other countries with us is obviously vital. In 2019, the Prime Minister committed to doubling our international climate finance to £11.6 billion until 2025. That will help developing countries to make the transition to low-carbon and climate-resilient development and more nature-positive economies.
The proposed statistic in the amendment can, I am told, already be computed using publicly available ONS data and OBR forecasts of economic activity, together with the data published in the Government’s greenhouse gas inventory. The noble Lord made the point very well that a simple relationship between economic growth and emissions is, in itself, insufficient to assess progress towards emissions targets and is not necessarily the best metric by which to compare every nation’s progress towards decarbonisation. Ultimately, we need to break the link between GDP and emissions, the use of scarce resources and extraction generally. To some extent the UK’s record in recent years demonstrates that that is possible, as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, pointed out, but in a narrow sense relating purely to emissions. We have not yet demonstrated that in relation to use of natural resources and our wider impacts on the natural environment, but we must.
I assure noble Lords that we are carefully considering the links between economic growth and the environment. The independent Dasgupta review highlights how economic growth and activity has damaged nature and will continue to do so unless there is a substantial change, one that involves ensuring that we learn properly to value essential things such as natural systems—nature—and those things we depend on, and attach a cost to waste, pollution and plunder. The Government agree with the Dasgupta review’s central conclusion: nature and the biodiversity that underpins it is profoundly important to all of us and sustains our economies, livelihoods and well-being. We are actively supporting and developing tools to drive sustainability in the finance sector, including as part of our response to the Dasgupta review. Over the past three decades, we have driven down emissions by 44%, which is the fastest reduction of any G7 country—I am not sure that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, provided the figure, but he was hinting at it. At the same time, we saw economic growth and set some of the most ambitious targets in the world for the future, while driving forward net zero globally through our COP 26 presidency and associated diplomacy. We have an enormous amount more to do. The noble Lord makes an important point: we need to be able to measure and understand. I hope he accepts that that work is under way and I ask him to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister in particular for acknowledging the importance of understanding how we can set targets. It is very easy to accept the case for saying that GDP or some other measure should not be mentioned, but we live in a world where international agreements have to be made using consistent units. The OECD or the UN is not the place to argue that we can suddenly revisit the national income accounting methods created by John Maynard Keynes and others in Cambridge in, I think, 1944-45. There has to be some international agreement about how you measure the economy.
Some people say, “Let us measure the value of forests”, and I have very great sympathy with that, or the destruction of habitats and the elimination of species—the lion, the tiger and so on. We need a practical way to see how far—and this leads up to the Glasgow debate—there can be any agreed view around the world on how we break the link that we all know exists between economic growth and emissions, which are becoming a very dangerous trend in relation to extreme temperatures, to mention only one point.
In light what the Minister has said, there should be something more specific for people in the next few years. It has not been mentioned but it is important that the people of the country as a whole understand the answer to a widely stated nostrum that we cannot do anything about climate change or we will get poorer. We have to have a narrative, with the Government behind it, so that we can actually do something about it. Changing the coefficient is a technical way of saying it, but we must get to a position where the people of this country can ask, “How are we doing on this?” and the answer is that we are doing something here and now and helping it to become part of the standard world metric. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 119 withdrawn.
120: After Clause 136, insert the following new Clause—
“Assessment of cumulative impact of offshore windfarms
(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations provide that, before planning permission is granted for the construction of an offshore windfarm, an independent assessment must have been undertaken on the cumulative impact of the construction of such windfarms on—(a) the environment,(b) marine life, and(c) the countryside,both onshore and offshore.(2) Regulations under this section are subject to the affirmative procedure.” Member’s explanatory statement
An assessment of the cumulative impact is intended to ensure that any potential damage to the environment will be strictly controlled and limited.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to bring forward on Report a revised amendment to that which I moved in Committee. I am grateful for the opportunity to debate it and look forward to my noble friend’s reply. I am asking that the department provides regulations before planning permission is granted for the construction of an offshore wind farm, and that an independent assessment must have been undertaken on the cumulative impact of the construction of such wind farms on the environment, marine life and countryside, both onshore and offshore.
Since we debated this in Committee, there have been a number of developments. I pay tribute to the Government for the research they have commissioned, in the form of a new database aiming to avoid an economic impact assessment for offshore wind. I hope there might still be an opportunity for doing such an environmental impact assessment where necessary, but I understand that Defra is working with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, alongside BEIS and other interested parties, with the aim of supporting the knowledge base for the sustainable development of new offshore wind farms. The remit is quite limited at the moment, and I understand that they will be looking mostly at establishing the impact of noise generated from disposal of unexploded ordnance and on applying biodiversity net gain offshore.
Will this research be extended to cover areas, for example, that have been identified by the recent report of the Fisheries Committee in the European Parliament? This said about the construction of offshore wind turbines:
“Underwater sound has been shown to have an effect, mainly on fish and marine mammals and mainly during the construction phase.”
The report also states:
“Impacts from permanent, continuous electromagnetic fields could change the behaviour of electro sensitive species”.
I have no doubt that the reason a number of sea mammals, such as whales, are banking on our shores is because of the impact not just of the construction phase but of the perpetual noise of the operation of these wind turbines. I hope that the Government will extend the research to approach that.
The point was backed up by the evidence that we heard in the EU Environment Sub-Committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. One of the witnesses, Helen Quayle, who is the policy officer of the RSPB, stated that
“we urgently need a new approach to offshore wind, how we deploy this technology”.
While I welcome the research, it is very limited at the moment, and I urge my noble friend and his department to extend its basis.
I was delighted that my noble friend acknowledged, in response to an Oral Question in June, that there is a tension between different uses such as fishing and shipping in the same marine environment in which these now extensive wind farms are operating. I invite him to set out how he and the department expect to resolve that tension before we see even more wind farms being introduced. For example, is my noble friend aware that the US Government have looked into an estimate that offshore wind projects could displace some of their commercial fisheries by as much as 25%? I understand that the US Administration are studying plans to pay and compensate the fishing industry for losses incurred from the planned expansion of offshore wind developments. Given the importance of the fisheries industry to Scotland and other parts of the UK such as Yorkshire and the south-west of England, to what extent will the Government consider compensation to be justified? My noble friend has accepted that, particularly as regards inshore fisheries and wind farms, there is a notable tension already.
I would like to ask my noble friend about pylons, which is why I inserted the words “onshore and offshore” into the amendment. Pylons will have to be constructed, as I understand, to transmit the electricity generated by offshore wind farms into the national grid. I had some experience of this as the MP for the Vale of York, when we had one line of pylons. That did not have anything to do with offshore wind farms; it was just for generating electricity in the north-east and introducing it via Yorkshire into the national grid. There was a big campaign entitled REVOLT, rebelling against extra overheard pylons. We were told that, if the second line of pylons was introduced, the first would be dismantled, but a second line was introduced that sat alongside and a few metres away from the first, so people in north Yorkshire were understandably not best pleased. Will my noble friend consider whether the wires transmitting electricity to the national grid could be sent underground, rather than by overhead line transmission? It would also mean that less electricity was lost through transmission, which would make economic and environmental sense.
I would like to ask my noble friend, as I have not had the opportunity to do so to date, what the Government’s plan is for dismantling and decommissioning wind turbines. I am not aware that any information on this is in the public domain. Given the large numbers of offshore wind farms and the difficulty of placing them and embedding them in the seabed, it is potentially a problem that will escalate. Will my noble friend be able to share that information on the costs of decommissioning with us this evening, or, if not, will he write to me?
I very much look forward to hearing my noble friend’s response to these genuine concerns. I am delighted to have the opportunity to raise much of the work that was done in the EU Environment Sub-Committee at that time and update it.
My Lords, I will speak briefly to the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. This amendment discusses the control and limiting of any potential damage to the environment by the construction of wind farms.
The UK is a global leader in offshore wind, with that energy source powering millions of homes across the country. It is also an area that the Government have identified for growth, with the world’s largest wind farm under construction off the north-east coast. Wind farms form an important part of our energy mix. We have heard concerns voiced about their impacts on the environment, including the potential disruption to ecosystems. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, mentioned an important point: that the construction of offshore wind farms has meant a loss of 25% of fisheries. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to that point as well.
However, one can only assume that the construction of offshore wind farms must have had an impact assessment, and that it must have been done with some diligence—obviously, before the big announcement made by the Prime Minister when he launched the UK’s huge wind farm venture initiative and compared the UK’s wind farms to Saudi Arabian oil. I hope that the Minister is able to explain the work being undertaken by the department and reassure the noble Baroness on the construction of offshore wind farms.
I thank noble Lords for their contributions to the debate. This is an extremely important issue and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, is right to raise it. In delivering net zero, it is crucial that environmental protections are maintained. I can assure her that existing planning processes are designed to ensure thorough consideration of cumulative effects prior to consenting. The need to consider cumulative effects in planning and decision-making is already set out in planning policy, in particular in the energy national policy statement, the marine policy statement, the habitats regulations assessment process and the infrastructure planning regulations of 2017, which cover the environmental impact assessment.
The regulatory framework also includes independent scrutiny by statutory nature conservation bodies—for example, Natural England. These regulatory frameworks ensure comprehensive identification and assessment of all significant environmental impacts, including the cumulative effects of the project, whether these be to the marine or terrestrial environment.
We have also brought forward amendments to the biodiversity net gain provisions in the Bill, extending the policy to terrestrial nationally significant infrastructure projects. As the noble Baroness will know, we have included provisions within the amendments to extend net gain to the marine environment once we have established the appropriate approach.
The noble Baroness asked a number of specific questions. The first was again in relation to the tension between inshore fisheries and offshore wind farms. Defra is working closely with Natural England, Cefas and the Marine Management Organisation to try to better understand the tensions and then consider the appropriate solutions. We have recently commissioned work looking at opportunities for co-location and are considering examples of good practice, such as the work done in Grimsby that enables fisheries and offshore wind farm operators to work well together. This also pays dividends for the marine environment, reducing the cumulative impacts of both.
The noble Baroness mentioned the example of the US Administration, who are currently considering a compensation scheme for the fishing industry as a result of losses incurred from the expansion of offshore wind developments. In the UK, offshore wind farm developers already pay disruption compensation to fishers temporarily displaced from their grounds by offshore wind construction. Members of the Defra programmes on offshore wind-enabling actions and marine planning are meeting US Administration officials and BEIS on Monday 20 September to discuss approaches to managing the deployment of offshore wind to minimise disturbance to the marine environment and other sea users.
The noble Baroness is right that onshore pylons are unsightly and, no doubt, not environmentally friendly. Electricity from offshore wind farms is transmitted to land, as she knows, via subsea cables. The offshore transmission network review, which was led by BEIS and Ofgem, is working to increase the co-ordination of offshore transmission to reduce the overall amount of new onshore infrastructure needed to meet the Government’s offshore wind targets.
Finally, the noble Baroness asked about decommissioning. Decommissioning is considered in the consenting process for offshore wind. In addition, Defra is discussing future options for decommissioning with developers who have programmes currently going through the consenting process. Some arrays may be repowered; however, other legacy infrastructure has been colonised and now provides important biodiversity benefits. We are working with the industry to understand how decommissioning can be delivered to maximise the gains while removing any unnecessary and avoidable pressures from the marine environment.
I hope that answers the questions that the noble Baroness asked and she feels sufficiently reassured to withdraw her amendment.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Khan, for his remarks, and I am especially grateful to my noble friend the Minister for his reassurance on these points. He certainly put my mind at rest on many of them. I am not sure that the idea of colonising wind turbines on wind farms sounds very appealing, but he has satisfied me. It is helpful to know of the meeting on 20 September. I would be grateful if my noble friend could update us in that regard. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 120 withdrawn.
Amendment 121 not moved.
122: After Clause 136, insert the following new Clause—
“Non-application to smoke emissions from heritage vehicles or historic buildings
(1) For the avoidance of doubt, this Act has no application to the emission of smoke from—(a) the chimney of a railway locomotive, the chimney of a road vehicle or portable or stationary engine, or the funnel of a vessel in respect of which the emission of the smoke is an intrinsic feature of the functioning of the motive power concerned and in respect of which such motive power has been preserved, restored or recreated for heritage purposes; (b) the chimney of an historic building or the chimney or other outlet of a museum intended to portray the means of internal heating of the rooms in such building or museum or facilities for the cooking of food or the provision of other services therein.(2) In this section—“heritage purposes” means a state of affairs intended to display a transport mode or machinery in a past setting for educational, recreational or tourist purposes;“smoke” includes grit, dust or other matter derived from the burning of solid, liquid or gaseous substances.”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 122, tabled in my name and those of noble Lords across the Chamber, including the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean—whom I am pleased to see in his place—I shall speak also to Amendment 127, which is in my name and supported by the same noble Lords. I declare my interest as president of the Heritage Railway Association.
The Heritage Fuels Alliance, which encompasses heritage railways and locomotives, steam road vehicles, steamboats and ships, engineering museums and historic houses, has worked hard to win the argument that to ban coal burning by its members would be disproportionate and absurd. It has demonstrated that it would inflict untold damage on a sector which, in the case of heritage railways alone, brings so much pleasure to 13 million visitors a year, engages 22,000 active volunteers, provides 4,000 jobs and contributes £400 million to the national and regional economies.
The vast majority of heritage railways, road steam events and steamboat operations are located in rural areas. This means the economic benefit is all the greater, especially where some heritage railways are the leading visitor attractions in their area, while any environmental impact is well away from clean air zones. Indeed, three national parks—the North York Moors, Snowdonia and Exmoor—all welcome and actively encourage their heritage railways. As an indicator of how much they matter to the country, and to the Government too, those in England and Wales received around £25 million from the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund to help them survive the Covid pandemic.
Turning to coal burning, the latest available figures, from 2018, show that emissions from coal boilers were 0.023% of total carbon dioxide emissions. The total heritage coal use is around 35,000 tonnes, compared with total UK coal consumption of 8.2 million tonnes. The sector has accepted with reasonably good grace that, in future, the coal it burns will not be mined in Britain, despite enormous untouched reserves, but imported. It is also working hard to reduce emissions and to trial the use of biocoal.
The heritage steam sector has received assurances from Ministers, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist, that the Environment Bill and particularly its clean air provisions will not apply to them, but they have so far resisted suggestions that they should put these assurances in the Bill and make it clear that primary legislation would be required if this were ever to change.
An identical amendment to Amendment 122 was debated in Committee on 5 July and supported by all noble Lords who spoke to it, including the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe—in her place this evening—who warned in a memorable phrase that
“this Bill could bring about the death of Thomas the Tank Engine and his or her nautical steamboat equivalent.”—[Official Report, 5/7/21; col. 1106.]
The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, posed a question which I put again this evening. He said:
“It is important that people have the assurance of primary legislation, especially when we see so much legislation that contains powers for Ministers under Henry VIII clauses, pretty well to do as they like, and which this House can do nothing about by tradition because we do not vote against secondary legislation. Will the Minister say why the Government are resistant to putting a clear commitment in the Bill that heritage vehicles not only are not within the scope of the Bill but are protected from the whims of any Minister?”
I hope we will get an answer to that this evening too. I cannot resist just quoting one memorable phrase earlier in his speech when he described Ministers as being
“here one day and gone the next—indeed, they can be here one afternoon and gone by evening.”
“It is not enough, despite Pepper v Hart, just to have an assurance from the Dispatch Box.”—[Official Report, 5/7/21; cols. 1111-12.]
Amendment 127 includes a reference to other subordinate legislation to include, for example, by-laws brought in by local authorities or other public authorities to ban coal burning by heritage organisations in their localities. I hope that the Government have reflected on these amendments and agree that not only would their Bill be strengthened by incorporating them on the face of the Bill but that they would also send a message of encouragement to a much-loved sector which gives so much pleasure to millions of people, contributes enormously to the national and regional economies, and which they, the Government, have supported financially through recent difficult times. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will not repeat the eloquent arguments that the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, made; I pay tribute to him for the wonderful work which he does in support of the heritage steam and other sectors.
I should declare an interest as president of the Steamboat Association of Great Britain, a post which I obtained unopposed, rather like the chairmanship of the Association of Conservative Peers today. It is not very onerous. It simply involves, from time to time, as we did on Lake Windermere to celebrate its 50th anniversary, turning up with one’s little steamboat and 37 others and bringing enormous pleasure to many people in our country. As I said at an earlier stage in the consideration of this matter, it is extraordinary how people will crowd to see a steam train or a steamboat passing and how it brings smiles and pleasure to their face.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord for having repeated the arguments so that I do not need to repeat them again today. I understand that my noble friend Lord Goldsmith has a problem with how to respond to this amendment in terms of putting something on the face of the Bill. However, if we had an undertaking from my noble friend, who has been very helpful, that the Government normally have no intention of preventing the use of coal for heritage steam purposes, that would be helpful. It would be even more helpful if she would give an undertaking that it would require primary legislation to do so, so that the interests of others were met.
I will make just one point. I am not a sceptic on these matters—I have an electric car and do everything I can to help the environment. However, I find it quite difficult that, although we were on Windermere with our steamboats, the proposition is that, in future, we cannot possibly dig the coal out of the ground from Cumbria, the county where we were, but that we have to import it from Russia in order to save the planet. I do not know whether “bonkers” is a parliamentary expression, but this strikes me as absolute bonkers. It is also counterproductive, in that it makes people whom we should have on side on these matters sceptical about the application of common sense.
I am not an expert on these matters, but it is striking that these vehicles require a high calorific content of coal which is less polluting. It seems extraordinary that we have ended up in this position. Fortunately, I am not in the Government and my noble friend will be able to explain why this makes sense in the course of a reply to this debate. However, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, and I am very happy to support his amendments on both occasions. At this late hour, I do not think the House probably wants to spend a lot of time talking about steam.
My Lords, it seems ridiculous that anyone could object to railway enthusiasts restoring old locomotives and preserving our heritage. Although old train engines and boats do contribute to air pollution, they will be fairly localised and minimal compared with other emissions being pumped out by, for example, the Government building new roads or opening new coal mines—or indeed allowing the growth of incinerators all over the country that operate without proper regulations. Those incinerators pump out unmeasured quantities of PM2.5; I say “unmeasured” because there is no daily monitoring of particulates to see if they exceed the Government’s annual guidance, nor of fine particulates—counted separately—despite those being the most deadly of particulates. We should allow this amendment on the basis that the Government will stop building new incinerators, stop building new roads and understand that they have a duty to fight the climate emergency which, at the moment, they are simply not doing.
My Lords, the recognition that coal is polluting is true, but we need to judge every proposal on its merits, as I think the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, has said in a roundabout sort of way. As in all things, we need balance and we need to avoid perverse effects. I do not resile from my comment that the Bill could bring about the death of Thomas the Tank Engine.
By making it impossible to use British coal for heritage trains, boats and steam engines, we could be consigning these, in time, to the slag heaps of history. Either they will use coal imported from Russia, adding the damage of travel emissions, or these activities will die out, with the loss of valuable employment, as the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, has explained. The vehicles, engines and boats concerned will create their own waste pile and diminish the tourism industry inspired by Thomas the Tank Engine and the Fat Controller. I would like to press this amendment, but I look forward instead to the assurances that I believe the Government are prepared to give the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, on this important occasion.
My Lords, I rise to support this amendment. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester on the work that he has done over so many years as the HRA president. He has kept this issue at the forefront of everybody’s concern and, of course, the latest idea that you cannot have the right coal in this country and you have to import it from Russia just demonstrates what a stupid situation we have got ourselves into, I suppose.
Heritage railways are loved by millions. They do not operate very fast or very frequently and, as other noble Lords have said, the issue has to be proportionate. It is not just trains; it is road vehicles—road tractors, I think most people call them—and boats, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, has mentioned. Of course, fixed engines are also used to pump water supply; there is a very good one at Kew Bridge, which works very well. All these things have something in common, which is their Victorian engineering. It is amazing that these enormous great bits of steel, beautifully machined and very accurately made, work really well—when they do work, which is not very frequently.
I hope that the Minister will support and accept this amendment, but I have to remind my noble friend that he and I have a track record of causing trouble. About 10 years ago—the House was much emptier than it is tonight; there were probably about 25 Members here, which was below the limit—we got very angry about something. I cannot even remember what it was now, but we decided to divide the House. However, unfortunately, because there was not a quorum, it did not count. Noble Lords can imagine the kind of talking to that we got from our then Chief Whip in the morning, but it was absolutely worth it. I do not know whether my noble friend will do that tonight—he has probably got saner with age—but I hope that the Minister will look at this and say that it is a really good idea and accept it.
My Lords, I rise to support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, and I draw the House’s attention to my role as a non-executive director of the Great Central Railway in Leicestershire. The arguments have been well rehearsed, and, at this late hour, I do not want to detain the House, but I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, that the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, has not got any less enthusiastic in his support for steam and heritage railways in the time I have known him, since we together set up the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Heritage Rail.
As we have heard, heritage railways across the country provide huge enjoyment, but they are also major catalysts for local economies in terms of tourism, jobs, apprenticeships and investment. All I say to the Minister, whose remarks I very much look forward to, is that I cannot believe that the Government intend to ban the burning of coal by steam railways or any other steam vehicles. I understand why the Government do not want to put this in the Bill, but I hope that the Minister is able to provide sufficient and very strong assurances. I know that noble Lords will listen very carefully to what she has to say.
I also add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester. I draw the House’s attention to my honorary presidency of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, which is the most visited tourist attraction in North Yorkshire, year after year. I am full of admiration for the mostly volunteer drivers and engineers who man it.
I was not going to speak, other than to support the work of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, both in tabling the amendment today and on the heritage railway generally. However, I beg to differ with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb: in my experience, incinerators are heavily regulated and will continue to be so. I commend the work done in Denmark, Sweden, Austria and Germany on using incineration—or waste from energy, as it is now called—to get rid of both household and other waste and reintroduce electricity into the national grid.
If the Minister cannot write this into the Bill, I hope that she will give a verbal commitment that accords with the wishes expressed by the House this evening. That would be most welcome indeed.
My Lords, I have no expertise in this area and no interest to declare, but some of the happiest memories with my two young girls were taking them to see Santa on the steam train at the rural life centre in Tilford every Christmas.
However, tonight, I speak at the request of my colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, who cannot be with us because he has had a fall. I make it clear to the Minister that there is still cross-party support for the intentions of this amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said, this will affect the enjoyment of many thousands of people. I would not wish people to think that environmentalists are killjoys—we are not. We want to go forward on the environment in a positive way, but there are certain initiatives that, for heritage and educational purposes, need to be considered so that we can see where we have been and where we are.
Therefore, I hope that there are the strongest reassurances, and I commend the four Peers who have done so much, under the leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, to bring this issue repeatedly to the attention of the House.
My Lords, I rise to speak briefly to the amendment introduced so eloquently and passionately by my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester. I, too, congratulate him on his work on heritage rail.
Some interesting points have been made across the House today. If I understood right, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and others questioned the true pollution levels of steam engines and railways. Perhaps the Minister can give us some facts. Is it true that heritage steam engines may have a negligible impact on the environment? I invite noble Lords across the House to visit my home town, Burnley. We have the Queen Street Mill and, in it, the heritage steam engine that powered the biggest cotton mill in the town. It would be great to see noble Lords there. As the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, said, heritage steam railways are a huge part of our culture, especially for young children. They are a massive tourist attraction. We must make sure that we get the balance right. I understand that discussions are ongoing—indeed, I have had discussions with experts and researchers —about the true impact of heritage steam engines.
Finally, for my sake and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, please do not kill off Thomas the Tank Engine. It will destroy my childhood memories.
The noble Lord can come and see Thomas the Tank Engine, who lives in Didcot, at any time.
I understand the concerns raised by noble Lords. As I said in Committee, the Government are very much aware of the important contribution that the heritage sector makes to the culture of this country, particularly the rural economy. We engaged with heritage bodies during the inquiries of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Heritage Rail, and we listened to their concerns during consultation. As I made clear in Committee—I am pleased to confirm it again today—there will be no direct impact on the heritage steam sector as a result of this Bill and the Government are not looking to introduce policy that would have a direct impact on it. I reiterate that nothing in the Environment Bill covers the heritage steam sector and putting it in scope would require a vote in both Houses of Parliament.
Clause 73 of and Schedule 12 to this Bill will make it easier for local authorities to enforce the Clean Air Act 1993, which, among other things, regulates smoke emissions from the chimneys of buildings. The smoke control area provisions in the Act, and the amendments to them in this Bill, do not and will not apply to smoke from steam trains. Indeed, Section 43 of the Act clearly indicates that the smoke control area provisions do not apply to any railway locomotive engine. I reiterate that this will not change. Nothing in the Bill will have an impact on the burning of coal for steam traction. Any powers that exist in other Acts of Parliament would require a vote in both Houses, but I can confirm that the Government do not intend to bring forward any restrictions on these uses. As noble Lords have set out, steam trains are a tiny source of pollution and carbon, and we have much larger sources of pollution to be worrying about. I hope this reassures noble Lords that the Bill will not have an impact on the heritage rail sector and that an exemption from the Bill is therefore not required. We cannot exempt from the Bill a sector that is already exempt.
On historic buildings, I can confirm that local authorities already have the power to exempt specific buildings, or classes of buildings, when declaring a smoke control area under Section 18 of the Clean Air Act. This means that they could exempt specific historic houses, or historic houses in general, from the requirements applying to the smoke control area. That will not change under this Bill. I want to clarify something I said to noble Lords on the fifth day in Committee. To confirm, I am aware that there may be a potential impact on canal boats in the heritage sector, as the Bill will enable local authorities to bring moored inland waterway vessels into the scope of smoke control areas should they have a specific issue in their area. However, we will consider the practicalities of implementation and will set out further detail in statutory guidance, which will be published next year.
Once again, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, for the discussion on this issue that he and others, including my noble friend Lord Forsyth, had with my noble friend the Minister earlier this year. I can reassure noble Lords that we are all very much still here. I, for one, am relieved because, had the Minister been called out during the course of this afternoon, I would have had to deal with all the groups of amendments on day 4 of Report.
I should like also to reiterate that my noble friend the Minister and his officials are happy to continue to engage with noble Lords as guidance is developed, and I hope that I have been able to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, that the Government share his views about the importance of the heritage sector and that nothing in the Bill will impact on historic houses or the heritage rail sector. Thomas the Tank Engine is truly safe. I hope that with those assurances, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Perhaps I may ask my noble friend about her reference to canal boats. I should declare an interest as I spent the weekend on a canal boat in Wales. She implied that they might be at risk. Can she be absolutely clear that they will not be at risk because they are also an important part of our tourism industry and are very important to a number of rural areas?
I brought up canal boats because, if they are moored in an inland waterway, they may be caught by the scope of smoke control areas brought in by local authorities in an urban area. That is why I particularly mentioned that they might be brought into scope, with reduced capacity to burn coal, if the canal boats are on an inland waterway in the smoke control area of a local authority.
Can I ask a question of the Minister again before she sits down? There are at least two types of canal boat. There are those that run on diesel engines, which may or may not pollute and be subject to some sort of regulation in the future. But then, of course, there is the odd steam canal boat. They are as much part of our heritage as steam trains, fixed steam engines or my noble friend’s big steam engines in Burnley. Just because a canal boat is moving on water rather than on rails or road, perhaps the Minister could look at that matter and perhaps help us.
I know that we are on Report, but this matter is important. The Government at a previous stage of the legislation indicated that heritage steam vehicles and, indeed, the amendment as broadly drafted would not be affected. As the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said, on canals there are steam boats that have an important heritage. The assurance that I thought my noble friend had given was that they would not be covered. Given the assurances, if there is a loophole that would enable local authorities to include steam boats, it needs to be closed.
The House is a little confused by that exchange. I have to say that if my Amendment 127 were to be agreed to, there would be no question of local authorities being able to bring in by-laws or other restrictions on heritage organisations from burning coal, whether on canal boats, steam boats, railway engines or historic houses. It would be a lot easier for the Minister if she were willing to accept these amendments so there would be no doubt at all that the assurances she has given can be fulfilled.
However, the hour is late and there is still a number of groups to go. I do not intend to delay the House further. I should, however, like to thank all noble Lords who have spoken—particularly those who have done so from their own experiences with heritage railways or steam boats. I thank the Minister, too, for her attempt to get us to somewhere where we certainly were not when we started on the Bill. We are close to the sort of assurances that I was looking for, which is a guarantee that the introduction of a ban would require primary legislation. If she were able to say exactly that, it would help considerably. Perhaps I may give her the opportunity to do so before I ask the House to allow me to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 122 withdrawn.
Amendment 123 not moved.
124: After Clause 136, insert the following new Clause—
“Encouraging the use of reusable nappies
(1) The relevant national authority must work with industry and retailers to develop a strategy for the reduction of single-use nappy waste with measurable targets and deadlines.(2) The relevant national authority must work with industry and retailers to adopt a single, coordinated national reusable nappy financial incentive scheme in every local authority in England to improve accessibility of reusable nappies and to promote the environmental and financial benefits to families.(3) The relevant national authority must encourage local authorities to complement this national scheme with local education and support for parents, caregivers and nursery settings, including support for nappy libraries, or through hiring dedicated local nappy education providers.”
My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 124, which is exploratory in character, on encouraging the use of reusable nappies. I am grateful for the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and I have been working with the Nappy Alliance to try to inject some momentum and common sense into a subject that affects every one of us at some point in our lives. Disposable nappies comprise around 8% of residual waste in England, costing local authorities £140 million a year and making the waste pretty awful for the bin brigade.
Rebecca Pow, the responsible Minister, was kind enough to write to me to confirm that we have wide powers in the Bill to do whatever might be needed in terms of labelling or standards. If we go down that road, I would share the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for consistency in labelling products that go into the waste stream. Ideally, this should apply across the UK to make it easier for manufacturers of nappies to comply. I add that reusable nappies are much more convenient and easier to handle these days than the terry nappies and pins that I used with my four boys.
I think there is also a need for some seed corn funding. There is a big saving from using reusable nappies—£420 for three years of nappies, compared to £2,250 for disposables, according to the Money Advice Service—but it is a bit more work, especially in the early stages, and you have to find cash up front. A number of nappy libraries are helping with this, but we need a source of funding for mothers who cannot afford the outlay.
Society will also save. We spend at least £70 million a year on landfill for nappies and, in London alone, 47,000 tonnes of nappy waste is generated annually. Could we use the landfill tax or some other source of funding for green purposes to prime and promote a national scheme, as the Nappy Alliance would like?
Finally, the Minister explained at a very useful meeting that Defra is awaiting the imminent results of the independent environmental assessment being undertaken on the detailed costs. Can she tell me who is doing this work and when it will report? Will she undertake to write to me and the Nappy Alliance, as soon as the results are available, with a plan to support the use of reusable nappies in a way that is friendly to our hard-pressed parents, so is voluntary and easy? I beg to move.
My Lords, I offer my support, as I attached my signature to the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe. It may come as a surprise to the House to see both of us on the same amendment, but that shows its breadth of support. Given the hour, some people may feel like they have started to dream; for the Minister, it is possibly a nightmare. But I am not going to speak at length, because we have canvassed on this, both in Committee and on an earlier amendment that appeared in my name on the labelling of single-use nappies.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, just outlined, there are real reasons in savings for families. The figures that she gave translate to a saving of £11 a week over the average time that a baby or toddler is in nappies. This is where we perhaps part company, because I will point out that that would almost make up for half the cut in universal credit that is approaching.
It is interesting that, overnight, we saw significant investment in a UK maker of reusable nappies. This is a chance for the Government to be promoting a good, positive, green industry—something they often talk about. There are huge environmental, social and economic benefits to this amendment. It is common sense and has support from across the House, so I hope we hear something positive from the Minister.
My Lords, I will not repeat what I said in our previous debates on this, but I very much support the noble Baroness’s amendment. We agree that the Government should take action to encourage reusable nappies, including, where necessary, incentives for the low paid to be able to access them in the first place. The sooner we use innovation to encourage alternatives to single-use nappies and that whole industry, the better. On that basis, as the late hour is descending on us, I look forward to hearing what the Minister says.
My Lords, I know the hour is late, but this is a very important subject, just because of the quantity that goes into landfill. I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate and my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe for a very informative meeting yesterday. I know that she is passionate about this issue and is keen to see progress, but it is also important to ensure that our policy-making is evidence-based. That is why the department has commissioned an independent environmental assessment of the relative impact of washable and disposable nappies, the most recent study having been done some time ago. This research is being carried out by Giraffe Innovation Ltd and will cover the waste and energy impacts of washable and disposable products, disposal to landfill and incineration, and recycling options. We expect to publish the final report later this year, following peer review, and I am very happy to write to my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe and the Nappy Alliance about our plans once we have the results of the research.
We will use an evidence-based process to consider what, if any, action is appropriate. This could include backing voluntary initiatives or introducing measures such as standards and consumer information and labelling. I also confirm that existing powers in the Bill, in the schedules on resource efficiency and information, will allow us to, among other things, set standards for nappies and introduce labelling requirements.
We are delighted that some local authorities currently operate reusable nappy schemes as part of a local decision on how to prioritise funding, which may be available from a number of sources. However, we do not need primary legislation to develop a strategy or support a scheme on reusable nappies. In relation to the landfill tax specifically, reducing the number of nappies sent to landfill through reusable nappy schemes should save local authorities money over time by reducing their landfill tax bill. The amount of money saved can be spent according to local priorities. I know that certain charitable funds are available from landfill taxes. I cannot comment specifically on those, but, as we discussed yesterday, that is an avenue well worth exploring by local authorities.
Once we have the results of the independent assessment, expected later this year, we will be well placed to prioritise and develop a plan if appropriate, so I beg that this amendment be withdrawn.
Amendment 124 withdrawn.
Amendment 125 not moved.
126: After Clause 136, insert the following new Clause—
(1) It is an objective of Her Majesty’s Government to support the negotiation of an amendment to the Statute of the International Criminal Court, done at Rome on 17th July 1998, to establish a crime of ecocide.(2) In pursuance of subsection (1), a relevant Minister of the Crown must promote discussion of such an amendment, either independently or jointly with other sovereign states, within the Working Group on Amendments of the International Criminal Court within 12 months of this Act being passed.(3) In this section “ecocide” refers to unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts.”
My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Boycott, Lady Whitaker, and Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, for offering their support to Amendment 126, on ecocide. A number of other Members of your Lordships’ House would have brought extra cross-party support to this amendment if there had been space.
I have been asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, one of your Lordships’ House’s foremost advocates of human rights, to share, with your Lordships’ permission, a few words from her. She wished to say: “Criminal offences are not to be created lightly, and I have resisted so many, but the repercussions of ecocide go way beyond those of most criminal acts. The emergency demands this measure, as should our grandchildren.”
Returning to the discussion in Committee, noble Lords will remember that I moved two amendments, one of which called on the Government explicitly to back the creation of ecocide as an offence under the Rome statute, to join other crimes against humanity. The other called for the creation of a domestic offence of ecocide. Noble Lords will have noted that what has come before us on Report is a very much softer amendment. Proposed new subsection (2) of the amendment calls on the relevant Minister of the Crown to
“promote discussion of such an amendment, either independently or jointly with other sovereign states, within the Working Group on Amendments of the International Criminal Court within 12 months of this Act being passed.”
This is a call for the Government to make it a commitment to promote debate—a very moderate step forward into something where many other nations are already leading. If the UK wishes to be world leading, as it so often claims to be, it surely should be in this debate, particularly given the UK’s long-term heritage of involvement in leading on human rights issues through many decades.
I hope the Minister will agree that international law has a key role to play in transforming our relationship with the natural world by shifting it from one of harm to harmony. Despite significant progress, the clear inadequacies of environmental governance at a global scale are widely acknowledged. There are laws that are supposed to protect our natural systems, but they are clearly inadequate and failing.
I referred to the international discussion already ongoing. Thirteen member states of the ICC are having discussions at a parliamentary or government level. Two states, Vanuatu and the Maldives, have officially called on member states of the ICC to consider amending the Rome statute. As we discussed in Committee, a consensus on the definition of ecocide was reached in June. This is the definition referred to in proposed subsection (3) of the amendment.
It really is a great pity that the nature of the arrangements in your Lordships’ House make it impossible for me to test the opinion of the House tonight. I formally give notice that I am not planning to do that. I also think it is a great pity that that is clearly restricting our debate tonight, and I have restricted what I was planning to say in the interests of the hour. I hope we will hear from the Minister the strongest possible words acknowledging that this is a crucial issue. This is absolutely foundational for the future of our world. It should be a fundamental part of the Bill. With those words, I beg to move.
My Lords, I am very pleased to support this amendment. It is very late so I want to say that this would become the fifth offence that the ICC would prosecute. I will quote the words of my friend Philippe Sands, who has co-chaired the panel. He says:
“The four other crimes all focus exclusively on the wellbeing of human beings. This one of course does that but it introduces a new non-anthropocentric approach, namely putting the environment at the heart of international law, and so that is original and innovative.
For me the single most important thing about this initiative is that it’s part of that broader process of changing public consciousness, recognising that we are in a relationship with our environment, we are dependent for our wellbeing on the wellbeing of the environment and that we have to use various instruments, political, diplomatic but also legal to achieve the protection of the environment.”
I certainly believe that it sits alongside the other four crimes because the environment takes life, takes livelihoods and takes away our future.
My Lords, it is late and I have little to add to the excellent introduction to Amendment 126 from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and the important perceptions of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. The noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, did not give the impression of having any substantive objection to the proposal when it was mooted in Committee, just that there was no international consensus for it when it was last discussed, when the ICC was created. First, the world has moved on since then, and we are all more aware of the immense importance of biodiversity in averting the worst effects of climate change.
Secondly, we have very good diplomats, whose job is to build consensus. They should be tasked to make a start on this case. We need to make a good showing at Glasgow, do we not? A start on the process of securing agreement to this provision would give us a leading position.
Lastly, I see from the very good briefing provided by Peers for the Planet that my late husband is credited with supporting this idea, in 1985. I am not sure that he confided this to me at the time, but it is a poignant and happy reminder of how much we agreed on. I am proud to continue in the family tradition.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and other noble Lords who signed this amendment, for bringing forward the interesting concept of ecocide. I am sorry that I missed the debate in Committee.
It was the use by the United States of Agent Orange as a means of destroying the Viet Cong’s forest cover in northern Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos which brought to the attention of the international community the devastating environmental harm that it causes and the ensuing refugee crisis. When Saddam Hussein burned 600 Kuwaiti oil wells, the resultant atmospheric pollution spread as far as the Himalayas and caused a severe threat to the surrounding fragile desert ecosystem. There have been many other examples of armed conflict causing environmental destruction.
The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court deals with the four core crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. Article 8(2)(b)(iv) of the statute specifies that, within the scope of international armed conflict, the following actions could constitute a war crime:
“Intentionally launching an attack in the knowledge that such attack will cause … widespread, long-term and severe damage to the … environment which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated”.
As part of the review of the genocide convention in 1973, a draft international convention on the crime of ecocide was prepared for UN consideration by Professor Richard Falk. He outlined an offence, including the use of chemical herbicides to defoliate and deforest natural forests for military purposes and the use of bulldozing equipment to destroy large tracts of forest or crop-land. This was all within the concept of military conflict. Of course, it is a precondition of a war crime that there is a war, or at least armed conflict, and that there is a commander who can be made responsible for his conduct. This amendment might be appropriately considered as a military offence in the Armed Forces Bill currently before the House. But I suspect that the noble Baroness is more ambitious and would wish to include in her definition of ecocide deliberate destruction of the environment outside a war setting.
The problem then becomes twofold. What is the actus reus and what is the mens rea? If President Bolsonaro were to decide, as a matter of policy, to destroy the rainforest to increase open grazing land for cattle, he does not do so merely out of a malign desire to destroy but with the intention of increasing the economic prosperity of his country. He may be right, or he may be completely mistaken, but has he caused widespread, long-term and severe damage to the environment which is clearly excessive in relation to the economic advantage anticipated? Would a court question his political decision?
To bring the matter nearer to home, if Prime Minister Boris Johnson or Nicola Sturgeon were to agree to the exploitation of the new Shetland oil field, many would argue, including me, that it would do immense damage to the environment and contribute significantly to climate change. Even if the members of the International Criminal Court agreed with that assessment, they are hardly likely to lock up the Prime Minister or the First Minister of Scotland.
Rachel Killean, of Queen’s University Belfast, has thoughtfully gone in a different direction. She seeks to develop the concept of a separate chamber of the ICC with a jurisdiction to deal with environmental destruction. She believes in “‘greening’ the Rome Statute” and argues that
“the reparation framework adopted by the International Criminal Court”
for war crimes—the payment of compensation—
“offers an opportunity to … respond to environmental destruction”.
She postulates that the court could have jurisdiction in respect of states as well as individual politicians, and could award
“reparations that explicitly recognise the harm caused by environmental destruction”.
It would be difficult to expand the jurisdiction of the court from its existing concern with genocide and war crimes—
I have one sentence further.
The pressure of climate change and its effect on world populations will give the concept much more resonance. Ecocide may lead to genocide. Wanton destruction of habitat, as in Myanmar, causes a flood of refugees, and that is a crime against humanity. I look forward to further developments in the future.
My Lords, I will make a few points, which can be very briefly made. The first is to commend the Minister on his acceptance of the two base problems: first, that ecocide is a serious crime; and, secondly, that it is not dealt with effectively.
There are, in turn, two solutions. The first is a model law; we are not on that tonight, so I need say nothing about it. The second is the ICC, and on the ICC there are again two points. First, the Minister said on the last occasion that reform of procedure is needed. I agree, but reform of procedure can go hand in hand with a reform of substantive law. We do it in this country all the time, as they do in almost every other country. If you left procedural reform as a precondition of moving forward substantive law, no country would ever reform its law.
The second point relates to whether it is worth the effort. On the last occasion, the Minister cast doubt on whether there was sufficient wind behind this for it to be worth investing in. From my experience of what is happening on the continent of Europe, I say there is a very significant movement in favour of doing something about ecocide. I very much hope that the Foreign Office will now show a bit more leadership on that count.
That takes me to my last two points, on leadership. First, this must be an opportunity for global Britain to show leadership on one of the most serious criminal offences of our time. We can do it, and we should not fail. Secondly, on the last occasion the Minister kindly agreed to refer these technical legal points to the Law Commission. I will not go into one single technical legal point at this hour of the night; I know it would be greatly welcomed by some but, I am sure, entirely deprecated by almost everyone else. I therefore wish to say that we in this country have always shown leadership in the law. The Law Commission is an outstanding body, and I hope it can be given the opportunity, by what the Minister said on the last occasion, to show leadership by dealing with the technical difficulties and showing that we can come up with a solution both to procedure and substantive law that would be broadly accepted across the world. If I may say so, I commend the Minister on the huge work he has done on this. It just needs a little push more, and we will be back in the leadership on such a vital point.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, for tabling this amendment and for her very comprehensive introduction. We had an interesting discussion on ecocide in Committee following the amendment then tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and we have done so again today. As the noble Baroness and others have clearly laid out the arguments on this issue, I do not intend to give a lengthy speech; the hour is late.
In her amendment today, the noble Baroness asks the Government to set an objective
“to support the negotiation of an amendment to the Statute of the International Criminal Court … to establish a crime of ecocide.”
In Committee, the Minister said that he strongly agreed “with the premise” of the noble Baroness’s argument. My noble friend Lady Whitaker has noted that he did not seem to really have any strong objections to the proposals. This was then caveated when the Minister said that pursuing this course of action
“would require an enormous amount of heavy lifting diplomatically, with little prospect at this stage of succeeding.”—[Official Report, 14/7/21; col. 1905.]
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, stressed the importance of leadership in this aspect, and I hope that the Minister would agree with him and, as he says, push it a little further. My noble friend Lord Khan, in his response in Committee, called for a “constructive role” for the UK in negotiation and this would be a positive first step.
As the noble Baroness explained in the introduction to her amendment, unlike her amendment in Committee, she is calling for the Government to promote discussion of this. This seems to me to be a thoroughly reasonable request and so, with COP 26 on the horizon and the opportunity it presents the UK for global leadership on the climate and ecological crisis, I ask the Minister—who we know understands the reality of ecocide—to end this debate on a positive note and give the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, some hope in this matter.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and Stop Ecocide International for agreeing to a meeting following Committee stage of the Bill. I found the debate we had in Committee and the subsequent engagement hugely insightful. As the noble Baroness knows and as I have made clear in my contribution during that debate, I very strongly agree with the premise of her argument.
As she knows, ecocide is not a crime recognised under international law and there is currently no consensus on a legal definition. Before the ICC and the crimes it has jurisdiction over could be established by the Rome statute adopted in 1998, ecocide had to be removed in the drafting stages because of the lack of agreement among states parties to the court. The Rome statute provides some protections to the natural environment in armed conflict. It designates international attacks that knowingly and excessively cause widespread, long term, and severe damage to the natural environment as a war crime. But ecocide in the broader sense, in the manner in which the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, described it, as an internationally punishable crime, has not yet been recognised by the United Nations.
The UK’s current priority regarding the International Criminal Court, as I said in Committee, is to reform it so that it functions better and can deliver successful prosecutions of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. I know noble Lords on all sides of the House share that ambition. As I understand it, if an amendment to the statute was adopted, it would only bind states parties which have ratified it. If not ratified, the court has no jurisdiction over those states. It is likely, and certainly possible, therefore, that the biggest culprits in relation to ecocide and egregious environmental damage would be exempt.
However, reform of the court is a long and complicated process. The independent expert review of the court made over 300 recommendations to improve the workings of the court, some of them fundamental. It will take time to implement these recommendations and that is a priority not just for the UK but many other states parties to the Rome statute. A significant amendment such as that proposed is currently unlikely to achieve the support of two-thirds of the states parties necessary to amend the Rome statute to make ecocide an international crime. As I said in Committee, pursuing it would require enormous heavy lifting on our part, with—at this stage—little prospect of success. There is a concern it could detract from the goal of improving the court’s effectiveness, which in any case would be a prerequisite for a meaningful application of ecocide.
Although I am afraid that I cannot commit here and now to promoting this campaign or concept internationally, I very much share the noble Baroness’s interest in this area, as she knows. I cannot take action as part of this Environment Bill but I am keen to continue discussions with the noble Baroness on how she and others believe the UK, through these international channels, can better lead in recognising and tackling egregious environmental crimes. In the meantime, I very much hope she will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate and I thank the Minister for his response. It is probably rare that we have seen such quality and intensity of debate on an amendment at this time of the evening, and I sincerely thank everyone who has contributed to that. I particularly thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Boycott and Lady Whitaker, who have been my stalwart supporters throughout this debate. It was wonderful to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, about her long family connection to this campaign.
That ties in with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, who outlined the long-term history of the development of this concept. I am not going fully to engage in the legal issues and the questions that he raised, given the hour, but I will point out that the definition of ecocide in subsection (3) of the amendment was developed after a long process involving a distinguished panel of jurists, of whom Philippe Sands—a name well-known to many Members of your Lordships’ House—was co-chair. The interesting approach of holding states responsible is something I will certainly look into further.
I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, who also engaged on this issue in Committee. The point that he made—that reform of procedure can go hand in hand with legal reform—very much answers one of the points made by the Minister. The noble and learned Lord pointed out that there is significant momentum in continental Europe. I would also point out that there is significant momentum within the UK, in Scotland. Indeed, a briefing was held there in the last few days with wide parliamentary engagement, so I come back to the point about this Parliament really needing to catch up.
The point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, was significant. The Minister, in Committee and again tonight, repeated the suggestion that this would involve enormous heavy lifting and would require lots of resources from the UK Government in order to make progress. The amendment does not ask the Government to pursue a drive for the creation of the crime; it asks them to promote a continuation of the discussion. I do not believe the phrase “enormous heavy lifting” is an appropriate label for the promotion of discussion.
Before I conclude, I want to pick up on what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, said about the Law Commission. That issue was also raised in Committee and I do not think we have had an answer from the Minister in either of those discussions. There was a commitment to refer to the Law Commission. Can the Minister inform me now of progress on that, or at least commit to writing to me as progress is made on reference to the Law Commission?
Amendment 126 withdrawn.
126A: After Clause 136, insert the following new Clause—
“Right of access to land(1) Within two years of the day on which this Act is passed, the Secretary of State must publish a draft Bill to provide for a statutory right to access land for recreational purposes and educational activities, including building of understanding of natural or cultural heritage, provided that the land is accessed responsibly in accordance with a code of practice, with landowners having the responsibility to take reasonable action to ensure the right can be exercised.(2) The Bill must provide that the right to access land must extend to rivers and other waterways.(3) The Bill must provide that the right to access land does not extend to land on which a building or other structure, plant or machinery, or a caravan or other structure stands, and the curtilage of such, a sports field or land planted with a crop.”
Yes, my Lords, me again. I have been begged to keep this brief, given the hour, and I am going to do my best, but this is also an important amendment. Looking back to the debate on day one of Committee on 21 June, I have not calculated how many hours of debate ago that was but “a lot” will probably suffice. We have had extensive debates about the need for people to be able to get out into the natural world, to spend time in it, to engage with it, to develop their understanding and love of it and to deliver positive benefits for it with their time and attention.
I shall just mention Amendment 8, creating targets for public access, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market; Amendment 9, connecting people with nature, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas; and Amendment 56, making a change to the current provision in the Bill to say that the Government must take steps to connect people with nature, also proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market. There was also Amendment 284 in my name, calling for a report on these issues. There were, I think, others, and I apologise for not making a complete list. I was surprised and a little disappointed to find that none of those amendments reappeared at Report, given the importance of the issue, and that the Bill already states that the Government may include steps to
“improve people’s enjoyment of the natural environment”
in its environmental improvement plans.
We all know that many NGOs, campaigners and members of the public have been engaged in this debate all the way through, in ways that might not always be visible to the public but certainly have impact in the House. It is important, as it was on Monday night, to give due weight and hearing to their efforts, however inconvenient the hour that our procedures have forced the debate into. I have shared with a number of noble Lords, and would be delighted to do so with anyone else I might have missed, an extensive briefing on this amendment from the Right to Roam campaign, which calls for an extension to the Countryside and Rights of Way Act in England, so that millions more people can have easy access to open space and the physical and mental benefits it has been proven to bring, as well as enabling them to bring benefits to nature from their presence.
The amendment that I present here is modest. It calls for the start of a debate in the form of a publication within two years of a draft Bill. I sincerely thank the Bill Office for assisting me in its preparation; its relatively late arrival at this stage is entirely my own fault. The draft Bill would provide for statutory right to access to land for recreational purposes and educational activities, including building understanding of our natural and cultural heritage, provided that the land is accessed responsibly in accordance with a code of practice, with landowners having responsibility to take reasonable action to ensure that the right can be exercised. That is an outline based on the Scottish legislation.
In looking back to the Committee debate, I have to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, for doing some very useful research for me. He noted that the population density of England is 279 people per square kilometre, which is more than four times that of Scotland, at 67 people per square kilometre, and nearly twice that of Wales, at 151 people per square kilometre. The noble Viscount used that figure to suggest that we could not have the right to roam in England, but I would turn it around and suggest instead that those figures are a powerful argument for opening up as much of the countryside of England as possible to give those people space to breathe and roam. The argument is even stronger for England than it is for Scotland and Wales.
Just 1% of the population own half the land in England—a rather significant number of them in your Lordships’ House—with the other 99% having the right to roam on just 8% of the remainder. Open access land under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act is only mountains, moorland, downland, heaths and commons and, more recently, the English coastal path. There are also rights in Forestry Commission forests. However, by their nature, these are spaces largely remote from where people live. As many noble Lords agreed in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, among them, we need far more public transport into these areas—but that is an issue for another day.
Looking back over the debate in Committee, I think that we extensively canvassed the benefits for the public of access to nature, so I shall not go over the same ground. However, I want to raise one additional point that was not really discussed in Committee. We know so little about the fast-changing natural world, subject to the pressure of exotic animals and diseases and, of course, our fast-changing climate.
There are significant benefits to the landscape, to the environment, to nature, of having many more people in that environment. Citizen science has a growing place in growing our understanding. The RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch is billed as the world’s largest wildlife survey—how much larger and more wide-ranging it could be with the right to roam. The British Trust for Ornithology monitors the population changes of 117 breeding bird species across the UK, thanks to the dedication of almost 3,000 volunteers who survey randomly selected 1 square kilometre spaces each spring, spaces to which they are given access.
On this Bill and others, the House has widely canvassed the issue of litter in the countryside, but people can, of course, pick litter up as well as deposit it, and with significant parts of countryside litter being blown or washed from other places, they can help ensure the protection of wildlife and a more pleasant landscape by doing that. The specific issue of fly tipping has also been widely canvassed in our debate. More pairs of eyes in the countryside will be a deterrent to the fly tippers and increase the opportunity for them to be caught in the act on the handy mobile devices roamers are almost certain to be carrying.
I suspect the Minister may respond that the Government are reviewing public access to nature in the Agnew review. I have been able to uncover very little about this in the public domain and would be delighted if the Minister could tell us more, or indeed inform us later. It was commissioned by the Treasury earlier this year and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Stephen Barclay, has reportedly told Whitehall departments that he wants to see a quantum shift in public access to the outdoors.
For the reasons given on the earlier amendment, it is not my intention to push this to a vote. I regret that our debate will inevitably be very much truncated by the hour, but this is an issue I will be returning to. In the meantime, I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for her amendment. She has indeed raised important issues about the limitations of the current right to roam legislation. As a member of the Ramblers for many years, I am hugely committed to improving public access to land for recreational and educational purposes and, as the noble Baroness said, our experience during Covid brought home the huge public enthusiasm for greater access to the countryside, with all the mental and physical health benefits that derive from it. But our recent experience also highlighted the constraints, with public roads blocked, car parks full and footpaths overrun as access was limited to the established, well-trodden paths.
I do not believe that the new-found love of the countryside will subside once the pandemic is over, so we need a new contract with landowners to make sure that everyone can benefit from the peace and tranquillity of nature. This is why we welcomed the provisions in the Agriculture Act which will reward landowners for opening up new routes of access across their land, but I am disappointed that greater public access is not one of the first sustainable farming initiative pilots. Perhaps the Minister will update us on when we might see those pilots introduced. I agree with the noble Baroness that we need greater right to roam, but we need more time to consider her proposals for a draft Bill. As her amendment stands, the provision for such a Bill is rather prescriptive. We know the limitations of the current Countryside Code, but I would have liked more time to explore what is meant by “a code of practice” in her Bill, and how it would be applied.
The new clause’s proposed subsection (3) provides a very limited group of exemptions and raises questions about such things as access to SSSI sites and other precious landscapes where we would want to prioritise habitat and species recovery. I hope the noble Baroness recognises that the proposal needs to be refined before becoming a draft Bill; nevertheless, we support the general principle and hope that the noble Lord will feel able to do so as well.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, for her amendment. Without going into the arguments, everything she said about the benefits of access to nature, I and colleagues fully support and agree with. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 allows the establishment, recording and appeal of rights of way to agreed standards and sets out people’s rights and responsibilities.
The refreshed Countryside Code helps the public enjoy the countryside in a safe and respectful way, and we are supporting and enhancing access to the countryside in a number of different ways, including laying legislation to streamline the process of recording and changing rights of way. We are completing the England coastal path and creating a new northern national trail. Our agricultural plans set out examples of the types of actions that we envisage paying for under schemes which include engagement with the environment. We are incentivising access via our new England woodland creation offer. There is already extensive access to rivers and other waterways which are managed by navigation authorities, with licences available for recreation and leisure use. The Government’s position remains that public access to nature is a fundamentally good thing. However, the Government’s view is also that access to waterways which are not managed by navigation authorities should be determined through voluntary agreements between interested parties.
I hope that what I have said demonstrates to the noble Baroness that the Government very much share her concerns and aspirations in relation to access to nature and that she will be willing to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for her positive and cheering contribution. I very much echo the point she made about how disappointing it is that the sustainable farming initiative pilots do not contain such provisions and that it would be nice to see progress on that. I also thank her for highlighting the way Covid has brought about a sea change in many people’s relationship with the natural world.
On the questions the noble Baroness raised about the prescriptive nature of the amendment, it is very much based on Scottish law, which is already in place and has worked through exactly what the code might look like. It has been very well worked through in Scotland—so the model is very much there.
On the Minister’s response, I am pleased to hear his acknowledgement of the benefits of having people out in the countryside. That is something I will certainly be taking up with him in future. I also point out that he raised the issue of rivers. It is perhaps not very well understood outside certain communities that 90% of our rivers are off limits to wild swimmers, paddle-boarders and kayakers. Of course, wild swimming is a very fast-growing, popular and healthy pastime, and this is something that people are increasingly discovering for themselves and are very disappointed by, and it is something that very much needs to be raised.
None the less, given the hour—I hope we will have a more extensive debate on this at a more reasonable hour very soon—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 126A withdrawn.
Amendment 127 not moved.
Clause 142: Extent
128: Clause 142, page 129, line 4, at end insert—
“( ) section (Report on elimination of discharges from storm overflows) (report on elimination of discharges from storm overflows) extends to England and Wales;”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides for the duty of the Secretary of State to prepare a report on the elimination of discharges from storm overflows to extend to England and Wales.
Amendment 128 agreed.
Clause 143: Commencement
Amendments 129 and 130
129: Clause 143, page 130, line 4, at end insert “and section (Report on elimination of discharges from storm overflows) (report on elimination of discharges from storm overflows);”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides for the duty of the Secretary of State to prepare a report on the elimination of discharges from storm overflows to come into force two months after Royal Assent.
130: Clause 143, page 130, line 29, at end insert—
“(la) sections (Reporting on discharges from storm overflows) and (Monitoring quality of water potentially affected by discharges) (reporting and monitoring duties relating to discharges from storm overflows etc);”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides for the proposed new duties of sewerage undertakers relating to reporting and monitoring to come into force by commencement regulations.
Amendments 129 and 130 agreed.
House adjourned at 11.08 pm.