Commons Reasons and Amendments
1A: Because the provision made by the Amendment is unnecessary.
With the leave of the House, I will also speak to Motions B, B1, C, C1, D and D1. This historic legislation is now not only within sight; it is within reach. I thank Members for their conversations with me and my officials and for the debates that have taken place in this House.
I begin with Amendment 1, on biodiversity and the climate emergency, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and I thank him very much for the meetings he has had with me. I hope he noticed that last week, the Prime Minister pledged that:
“We will meet the global climate emergency but not with panicked, short-term or self-destructive measures as some have urged”,
but with the actions he set out in the net-zero strategy, and indeed through actions in this Bill.
We introduced in your Lordships’ House a duty to set an additional legally binding target to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030—a clear and significant response to the biodiversity emergency we face. However, as I have said previously, addressing these twin challenges requires action, which this Government are taking.
The net-zero strategy builds on the action from the 10-point plan, the energy White Paper, the transport decarbonisation plan, the hydrogen strategy and the heat and buildings strategy. It sets out ambitious plans to reach net zero across all the key sectors of the economy. The net-zero strategy outlines measures to transition to a green and sustainable future, helping businesses and consumers to move to clean power, supporting up to 190,000 jobs in the mid-2020s and up to 440,000 jobs in 2030, and leveraging up to £90 billion of private investment by 2030. It includes £3.9 billion of new funding over the next three years for decarbonising heat and buildings so that homes and buildings are warmer and healthier. We will boost the existing £640 million Nature for Climate Fund with a further £124 million of new money, ensuring total spend of more than £750 million by 2025 on woodland creation and management, peat restoration and so on. This will enable more opportunities for farmers and landowners to support net zero through land use change. Furthermore, the Bill’s powerful package of measures, including biodiversity net gain, local nature recovery strategies and a strengthened biodiversity duty on public authorities, will drive action towards our biodiversity targets and objectives.
We are playing a leading role in pressing for an ambitious post-2020 global biodiversity framework, to be adopted at CBD COP 15. This is my number one international priority, but it is also the Government’s. Putting the declaration in Amendment 1 into law is therefore not necessary. However, I hope noble Lords are reassured that the Government are taking action at pace to deal with these crises, and that calls from a number of noble Lords to hear the phrase “climate emergency” from the Prime Minister’s mouth have now been answered.
Turning to Amendments 2 and 2B, on soil health, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, first, let me first make it clear that the Government take soil health seriously. As Minister Pow said in the other place:
“It is the stuff of life.”—[Official Report, Commons, 20/10/21; col. 793.]
It is a priority, and I do not think anyone doubts that. This is why we are currently working with technical experts to develop the appropriate means of measuring soil health, which could be used to inform a future soils target.
However, an amendment to make soil health or soil quality a listed priority area would require us to bring forward an objectively measurable target by October 2022, and I am afraid we do not yet have the data to do that. Until baseline data and a metric to measure success are developed, we cannot commit to setting a robust soil target at this time. However, as I have also said, that is not to say that it is not a priority for us. Defra is working with partners right now to develop the baseline data and metric needed to set that target.
As I announced on Report, we will deliver a new soil health action plan for England. Noble Lords will find more detail on this action plan in the Written Ministerial Statement published last week, but I highlight that it will provide clear strategic direction to develop a heathy soil indicator, soil structure methodology and a soil health monitoring scheme to support the delivery of a future potential soil target.
We refer to the use of “soil health” over “soil quality” because soil quality sometimes refers to a measurement of the current status of a soil while soil health more accurately captures how well the soil is functioning. The soil health action plan aims to help soil to function better to deliver a wide range of ecosystem services and wider benefits and outcomes, such as increased biodiversity, carbon storage, food production and flood mitigation.
I recognise the compelling arguments of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and commend their very successful efforts to raise this issue up the agenda. I hope that the action I have set out, and the new soil health action plan for England, demonstrate our commitment to this critical aspect of our natural environment. This includes our commitment to improve the health of our precious peat soils, in line with the England Peat Action Plan published earlier this year and supported by the extra funding I mentioned earlier.
On Amendments 3 and 3B, on air quality, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, I thank her for her time spent meeting with me on multiple occasions. I recognise the strength of feeling on this issue both in this House and in the other place; it is a feeling I share. The two targets we are currently developing—a concentration target and a population exposure reduction target—will work together to both reduce PM2.5 in areas with the highest levels and drive continuous improvement across the country. This unique, dual-target approach is strongly supported by our expert committees, the Air Quality Expert Group and the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants. They will be an important part of our commitment to drive forward tangible and long-lasting improvements to the air that we breathe.
Colleagues in the other place last Wednesday rightly called for urgency in tackling air pollution. I emphasise that we are not waiting for these targets to be set before taking the necessary action. We already have legally binding national emission reduction targets for five key air pollutants for 2030. Our Clean Air Strategy was praised by the World Health Organization as
“an example for the rest of the world to follow”,
and sets out the actions we are taking to deliver on these targets. For example, legislation to phase out the sale of house coal and deal with wet wood, and to introduce emission standards for manufactured solid fuels for domestic burning across England, came into force from 1 May 2021. We are also delivering a £3.8 billion plan to clean up transport and tackle nitrogen dioxide pollution.
This House will have heard these points before, but I want to emphasise that delivering our ambitious reductions in PM2.5 will require co-ordinated action. The more ambitious these targets are, the greater the level of intervention that will be needed—from national and local government, as well as businesses and individual citizens. To achieve a level such as 10 micrograms in our cities would require fundamental changes in how we live our lives; for example, significant changes to farming practices to reduce ammonia, which reacts in the air to form particulate matter. This would be likely to be in addition to a total ban on solid fuel burning, including wood, and restricting traffic kilometres by as much as 50%. That would include electric vehicles, which release non-exhaust emissions from tyre and brake wear, for example.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for her further amendment, which challenges us to go further and set a target of 5 micrograms by 2040, in line with the latest recommendations from the World Health Organization. While we recognise that there is no safe level for PM2.5, it is also important to acknowledge that PM2.5 is not a pollutant that can be fully eradicated. The reasons for that are manifold. First, contributions to PM2.5 from natural sources and from outside the UK, particularly in the south-east of England, are currently modelled at around 5 to 6 micrograms. That is before we take into consideration the everyday activities of the millions of people who live in those towns and cities in the south-east. Essentially, our current evidence strongly suggests that it is not possible to achieve reductions in PM2.5 concentrations to levels as low as 5 micrograms in numerous locations in England, particularly in the south and south-east. Setting an unrealistic target would be disingenuous, and the target would be meaningless as a result, as well as ineffective and potentially counterproductive.
Before setting targets, we need to understand what reductions are possible, the scale of measures required to achieve them and the impact and burdens that would be placed on society. Members of the public will want, and deserve, to understand the specific health benefits and then we can decide upon the fundamental changes that would be required. So we will hold a public consultation on these targets early next year. Once we have carefully considered the responses to the consultation, we will bring forward the final, statutory targets by October 2022. That is a legally required date that we cannot and will not miss.
Our targets are being developed through a robust evidence-based process. We are collaborating with internationally renowned experts, including modelling teams at Imperial College London and the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the Air Quality Expert Group, chaired by Professor Alastair Lewis of the University of York, and the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants, chaired by Professor Anna Hansell of the University of Leicester. We will also share our findings with the World Health Organization.
I assure noble Lords that we are working at pace—we are not kicking the can down the road or shying away from difficult decisions—but it is important to get this right and follow a process that is informed by science and allows for genuine engagement, in order to bring society along with us to deliver ambitious air-quality targets and cleaner air for all. The amendment would pre-empt those critical steps, so the Government cannot support it.
Turning to Amendment 12, and Amendment 12B tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, I would also like to acknowledge the work of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman of Ullock and Lady Parminter, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, on this issue. Introducing legally binding interim targets, as these amendments propose, is unnecessary and would be detrimental to our targets framework, as I will explain, and to our policy response to the environmental issues that we are facing. We do not want to create a system that incentivises the deprioritisation of key aspects of the environment with longer recovery times just in order to meet a target in five years.
If obliged to meet legally binding targets every five years on environmental systems that are immensely complex, the Government would be forced to prioritise achieving an interim milestone over the long-term target itself, and I believe that would undermine the long-term nature of the targets framework. As noble Lords know, in certain habitats, such as our precious temperate rainforests, significant improvement is unlikely to occur within a five-year period, but, with the immense pressure of meeting a five-year target, it is hard to believe that any Government would not choose to park that challenge to one side in order to focus on easier short-term challenges.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, for the proposed compromise that she has put forward and for her time in the numerous discussions that we have had during the course of the Bill. The amendment in lieu, in addition to requiring that interim targets were met, would require that if interim targets were not met then the Government must consult the OEP on the steps needed to meet the interim target. It would also require the Government to prepare a report setting out the steps that it would take, and then to take those steps.
Even with that additional process, though, I am afraid that making interim targets legally binding is not a position that the Government can support. There is already a robust process in place to drive progress on interim targets without the need for the kind of perverse incentives that I have previously outlined. The OEP must monitor progress towards meeting interim and long-term targets and must prepare an annual progress report. In fact, it is expected that the OEP’s regular scrutiny will help to prevent the Government from missing those targets. If the Government are not on track to meet their interim targets, or if the interim targets are missed, the OEP’s progress report could include recommendations on how progress could be improved. The Government will have to respond to those published reports and any recommendations made, and they will be laid before Parliament.
While I recognise the concerns raised by noble Lords, it is our view that, even with the proposed additional process, the changes would have a detrimental impact on environmental enhancement. I hope I have reassured noble Lords that our position is well considered, and indeed considered in light of the contributions that have been made in this House throughout the passage of the Bill. I look forward to hearing noble Lords’ contributions today. I beg to move.
My Lords, I always think that ping-pong can be rather a brutal affair. I have spent months working on an amendment; the combined House of Commons comes back and says
“the provision made by the Amendment is unnecessary”—
and there we are, it has been written off. However, the House of Commons, in its wisdom, is absolutely right: the amendment was unnecessary because all it actually needed was for the Prime Minister and this Government to declare, as many local authorities have, a climate and biodiversity emergency. Therefore, I accept what the Minister has said. The Prime Minister in his foreword to the Net Zero Strategy—a document that we all welcome, although it is rather late, before COP 26—says:
“We will meet the global climate emergency”.
I truly welcome that; it is a shame in a way that he then says
“but not with panicked, short-term or self-destructive measures as some have urged.”
That somewhat takes the shine off it—but I accept that that declaration is there; it is by the Prime Minister and it is published in one of the most important documents that the Government have released in recent times, in the run-up to COP 26. However, I also point out that it does not include the biodiversity crisis, which is particularly pertinent to this Bill. The motive for this amendment was to give equality to both those emergencies, and to stress their interconnectedness—the vital relationship between the two.
However, that declaration is there. The other Motions that we are going to debate during this afternoon are, perhaps, of greater practical importance to the future of the environment, our country and our planet, so I shall not contest this. I thank the Minister and his officials for the conversations that we have had since passing the Bill in this House and today in finding ways in which to solve this area. I shall not contest this judgment, brutal as it was, by the House of Commons.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and to agree with every word that he just said. I thank the Minister for his introduction to this debate and thank him and his officials for the very detailed and useful discussion this morning, particularly with such a lively avian accompaniment.
I shall take a second to reflect on the place of your Lordships’ House. I had a discussion a couple of days ago with a Cross-Bench Peer for whom I have the greatest respect, who expressed great frustration at the huge amount of work done in your Lordships’ House, which so often—as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, has just said—gets casually dismissed in the other place. Yet we are so often told, “Oh, we can’t send too many things back to them; we can’t resist too hard; we’re the unelected House.” That, of course, raises a whole other question about the constitution. None the less I fear—and we have seen some cases of this already—that many of our strong, fine Peers are getting fed up and really considering whether they are going to continue to devote their time to your Lordships’ House. It is crucial that we recognise that we are in a different political time and that we are crucial to the future of this country, its environment and people, and we need to stand firm.
I have come under strong pressure, as I am sure many are aware, not to push forward with the soils amendment. Those looking closely will notice that I have not pushed forward with the same amendment as was sent to the other place. My amendment in lieu simply refers to soil quality rather than soil quality and soil health, as in the amendment sent to the other place. Health very often talks about the biology of the soil; quality is frequently used to refer to the structure. I am guided here particularly by the Sustainable Soils Alliance but also by academics, independent experts and farmers, who say that it is possible to use the metrics from the soil structure monitoring scheme to establish a target specifically for soil structure which would fit the definition of quality. As the Minister said on Report, targets can be iterative—they can be developed, evolved and finessed over time.
I acknowledge that the Minister here and those in the other place have spoken often and very clearly, and clearly are engaged with the issues of soil that are so crucial, but we all know that Ministers change. The only thing that will guarantee a way forward is with soil being on the face of the Bill. I put it to noble Lords that this Bill will be fundamentally deficient if we do not have soils there with equal weighting and place alongside air and water. I am afraid that the Minister in debate also said at one point that, if we were looking after air and water, we will sort of be looking after soils as well. I am afraid that very powerfully makes the argument for me—that soil risks falling into a second order unless it is given the same status.
I note that, in your Lordships’ House on Report, the margin by which this vote was won was equal top with that for the amendment on sewage tabled by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. This was a very clear voice from your Lordships’ House on Report.
I also particularly wish to acknowledge the very strong efforts in this area by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, who has done a tremendous job and has seen some steps forward from the Government. But those steps are still not enough.
I finish, given the pressure of time, by noting that I do not believe that the amendments we are looking at today are either/or. All the amendments that have been retabled today are crucial. My noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb will address interim targets in more detail, but I stress that that is crucial as well. I also want to acknowledge the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Deben, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, in supporting my amendment last time. I urge your Lordships to show that we are really here to make a difference. I give notice of my intention to push this Motion to a vote.
My Lords, I rise to support the amendment on soil from the noble Baroness who has just spoken. This is a crucial issue. But first I want to ask my noble friend the Minister a question about what he said when he introduced the discussion on this. He quoted the Prime Minister, who said that there is a climate crisis that will be solved but not by panicked measures. That seemed to indicate that he thought some of the amendments put forward by this House were “panicked measures.” If that is the case, I would be grateful if my noble friend could tell us which of these amendments, which we so carefully debated in Committee and on Report, could be classed as a “panicked measure”.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, was absolutely right to tell us that the Prime Minister did not acknowledge that there is a biodiversity crisis. One-quarter of the world’s biodiversity crisis is in the soil, and that is a major problem for us. There ought to be an alignment between the Environment Bill and the Agriculture Act. We got soil into the Agriculture Act and we were then told that that was not the right place for it and that it ought to go in the Environment Bill; now we have got to the Environment Bill and my noble friend tells us it is not necessary in this Bill. It is necessary in this Bill. It should be put into this Bill.
Only 0.4% of 1% of England’s environmental monitoring budget is spent on soil. That is derisory. Could my noble friend tell me what he anticipates that spend to be within one year and within five years? Soil is the basis of everything. The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, which has done a huge amount of research over many years on soil, says that we cannot reach net zero without dealing with soil. That has been taken up by the Climate Change Committee, which has said exactly the same thing, and even my noble friend the Minister has said that we cannot solve the problem without addressing soil; yet soil is not going to be in this Bill.
I remember my noble friend Lord Deben said something on Report to the effect of: unless it is in the Bill, it is not going to be done. At that stage, I backed my noble friend the Minister against my noble friend Lord Deben’s advice. This time, I back my noble friend Lord Deben and say that this ought to be in the Bill.
My Lords, I merely say this: I really wanted to support the Minister and I thank him for the conversations we had. I understand the argument that says soil cannot be exactly parallel with water and air because we have an agreed measure for both which enables us to put a date, but there is no reason we could not have a date, but a different date, to make sure that this Bill actually covers soil. I say this to my noble friend: I have been very disappointed that the promises made by the Government on trade have so clearly not been fulfilled. Therefore, it is very difficult to ask this House to accept the Minister’s personal support for this—which I entirely believe; I do not think there is any doubt about that. But we now have to accept that, unless we have soil in the Bill, it will not have the incredibly important emphasis that it needs.
I end by saying once again that the Climate Change Committee has made it absolutely clear that it cannot see how we reach net zero unless we do something serious about soil. I declare an interest, because I am a farmer in a small way, and I have a son who is particularly interested in, and financially concerned with, sequestration. So I could be said to have a personal interest, but that is not why I am speaking. I am speaking on behalf of the Climate Change Committee, which has made that very clear statement. I hope very much that the Minister will give us some hope that he will find a way to set a date. If we have a date, it seems to me that he will have won his case. If we do not, I think we have to say, once again, that soil is too important not to be dealt with.
My Lords, I understand democracy. I have been elected. Indeed, I have been elected under two voting systems: proportional representation and first past the post. So I understand that the other House takes a priority over your Lordships’ House—I understand that. But, at the same time, the way the other House rejected our amendments so casually and so arrogantly hurt me. We worked for days on these amendments; we refined them and discussed them and, I hope, we actually convinced the Minister and the Whip that we were right. And yet the other House decided that they were of no value. I will be voting “content” today with anyone who wants to press their Motion to a vote.
I particularly want to speak in favour of the air pollution amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, but, as I say, I am voting for all the amendments today. Air pollution is an issue I care very deeply about. We are talking about changing the law to make sure our toxic air becomes safe to breathe. This is a health issue. It is also a social issue, and we should understand that many people in our towns and cities suffer very badly. It also becomes an economic issue, because it hits the NHS, through people having to go into hospital with lungs that are badly damaged or through early death. Throughout the health crisis of the pandemic, the Government constantly said that they were being led by science. This is another health epidemic. It is toxic air, and it is time to listen to the scientists again, and to the World Health Organization, which says we need to bring our air pollution down to the levels in this amendment.
This is not an abstract issue. The young girl Ella Kissi-Debrah has been mentioned many times in your Lordships’ House—she was the first person in the world whose death certificate recorded death from air pollution. She suffered and died because of the toxic air where she lived and around her school. One child’s death is a tragedy, but there are probably thousands more who suffer with their lungs and die young who we do not even know about.
The House of Commons’ reason says that
“the powers conferred by clause 2 should not be limited in the manner proposed.”
Why on earth not? I do not understand. Without this amendment, it is left completely to the Minister’s discretion as to what level to set the target. That discretion is absurdly broad, and personally I do not trust the Government to do the right thing on air pollution without the intervention of your Lordships’ House. Quite honestly, the other place should have brought forward its own amendment on this; it should not just have swept our amendments away. It should have acknowledged the work, effort and expertise that we put in, and should have brought forward its own amendment. Instead, it just returned to the Government’s original wording.
I know that your Lordships do not like to defeat the Government too often, particularly in ping-pong, but this Bill is exceptional in terms of scale and scope. There are an exceptional number of issues that your Lordships ought to ask the House of Commons to consider again. I very much hope that we can pass this amendment along with all the others and that the other place will at least consider a compromise amendment that takes the issue of air pollution seriously.
I also want to speak briefly in favour of Motion D1, on the interim targets. I could not understand what the Minister said. I have huge respect for him, but, quite honestly, when he reads out, “If we have interim targets, they will not allow us to get to the final target”, I say that that is the whole point of them—we can actually measure progress towards the long-term target. It felt like an Alice in Wonderland speech. I feel very strongly that the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, has been generous to the Government and added an element of compromise to her amendment. I would not have compromised, but I can live with it, and I support it. I feel very strongly that we should ask the other place to look again at this issue of interim targets as well.
My Lords, I intervene at this stage with a degree of real diffidence. During the Third Reading debate, I urged the other place—there are those present who know that I did—to recognise the wisdom and experience of your Lordships’ House and not to bother sending back a lot of amendments so that we could move forward and get the Bill on the statute book by the Minister’s target date of before the end of the COP conference, which is just about to begin. I meant that.
However, I have been provoked into speaking this afternoon by two Members for whom I have very genuine and real respect: the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, who was one of the best chairmen whom I have sat under in 51 years in Parliament, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, whom we all hold in great affection. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, got it right and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, got it wrong. The noble Lord would not have been wise in persisting with his amendment, and he made it plain that he would not.
There are amendments on the Marshalled List today that I shall be inclined to support—one of them is in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington—but we have to have a real awareness of our constitutional position in this House. I believe in this House passionately—I think that noble Lords know that—but it is not the elected House, and, although I sometimes think that the elected House behaves without due regard for what we have suggested that it does when it thinks again, it is nevertheless the elected House.
There were amendments, particularly that of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, on which there was a sizeable rebellion in the other place. Where there is that indication, it is an encouragement to say, “A sizeable number wants us to think again”. I am not for a moment suggesting that we should roll over on every amendment this afternoon, but I am saying that we must not be prodigal in our treatment of the other House. We must listen with care and act with discretion.
If we really and truly feel, as I do with the amendment from the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, that there is a sizeable number of uneasy Members sitting on the Government Benches in the other House, we can be encouraged. Where that is not the case, we have to say that this is the end of the road. We regret that they did not reconsider sufficiently sensitively and carefully, but we recognise that they have the ultimate political power.
I say this because I believe so passionately in your Lordships’ House. There would be no point or purpose in this House if we did not defeat the Government from time to time and ask the other place to think again. If we are indiscriminate in the way in which we use our grapeshot, we might put our own position in jeopardy. I would never wish to do this.
At this early stage in the Bill, let us approach this afternoon’s business with care and discretion. By all means, let us say on one or two occasions, “Please, you really must think again on this one”. On others, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, with a degree of reluctance but with real statesmanship, let us say, “Well, I have something, and I am going to accept it”. That was a wise counsel which we should all be extremely wise to follow.
My Lords, Amendment 12B would make interim targets statutory. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for her support. I add my support to the request of the noble Lord, Lord Deben, to the Minister to respond with a date for including soils.
I thank the Minister—as others have already done—for talking to me about this amendment on interim targets and for explaining the Government’s position. The Government feel that there is a need for flexibility in interim targets and are concerned that the short-term focus that a five-year statutory target would impose could inhibit the long-term action which is so needed for nature.
This amendment precisely covers these points of concern about flexibility and lack of action now for the long term. Nature and the environment need urgent action now for benefits which will come in 10, 20, 30 or more years’ time. There is a real challenge with funding actions now for future, long-term benefit, when funding is tight and where there are competing, more immediate priorities with short-term outcomes. It is always hard to argue for those future benefits. It is always easy to think that we could delay action for just one more year, especially when interim targets can be revised or replaced at every annual review of the environmental improvement plan. It is just too easy to discount the future.
I congratulate the Government, as others have done, on the world’s first comprehensive net zero strategy. It is a great example of climate change action at work and of the value of statutory, independently set five-year targets.
If the Minister will be patient with me, I should like to ask him a series of questions. First, is he able to provide assurance that funding will be committed to the delivery of the interim targets in this Bill?
Clause 11 sets out the conduct of the reviews of environmental improvement plans. Clause 11(1)(c) requires the Government to assess whether they should take further or different steps to improve the natural environment. Can the Minister confirm that this assessment of steps will include whether the legislative framework itself should be improved; for example, whether statutory interim targets would be helpful? Can he tell us when and how Parliament will have the opportunity to scrutinise the interim targets the Government will bring forward, and when and how Parliament will be involved in scrutinising the proposed long-term targets before the laying of the statutory instruments in October 2022, given how important these are to the Government’s overall environmental strategy? I recognise that this is quite a shopping list of requests, so if the Minister is unable to respond to them now, I would be grateful if he would write to me with the answers.
My Lords, we on these Benches support the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, in her Motion Cl and her Amendment 3B in lieu. I will be brief, because I know she will give a great deal more detail in her winding-up speech a little later, but before I go into that, may I just disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack? When I came into this House 21 years ago, I was told that our job was to ask the Government at the other end to think again. Given the way party loyalties have changed in those 21 years, and given the very short amount of time the Commons have had to debate the amendments we sent to them, I think we have every right to send some of our amendments back at least once—in fact, I know we have the right to do it more than once as long as we do not trespass on the governing party’s manifesto.
We have listened to the Minister’s objections to our earlier amendments on having greater ambitions to reduce small particulates, known as PM2.5, and have proposed instead an amendment which allows the Government a little more leeway on exactly which targets to set and when to set them. But it does hold the Government’s feet to the fire on the mean targets they can impose, aligned with the current and planned international WHO targets. I will not go into all the details of why it is so important to our health to do this, because noble Lords have heard this several times, but the Government’s net-zero strategy, published on 19 October, includes plans to phase out petrol and diesel land transport, and that is very helpful in relation to CO2 emissions. However, it does not tackle the whole problem of the small particulates which are so harmful to health. Much of this comes from brakes and tyres, as the Minister rightly said in his introduction, and some of it comes from industry, from static generators and other diesel engines. Therefore, we need an ambitious target for reducing small particulates from all sources, which would of course drive change in these areas too.
It is all very well to decarbonise our power system and make sure that we drive electric cars, but more is needed on the demand side. The Climate Change Committee has just done its independent assessment of the net-zero strategy and I note that one of its criticisms is on the lack of emphasis on consumer behaviour change. It said:
“The Government does not address the role of diets or limiting the growth of aviation demand in reducing emissions, while policies to reduce or reverse traffic growth are underdeveloped. These options must be explored further”—
in order to, among other things—
“unlock wider co-benefits for improved health, reduced congestion and increased well-being.”
This reference to “improved health” undoubtedly refers to the microparticles in the air we breathe; that is why we need Amendment 3B and the ambitious targets for clean air that it contains. Before I sit down, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, that the answer lies in the soil.
My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Brown of Cambridge, who has already laid out why interim targets are so badly needed. When the chairs of the Climate Change Committee stand here and tell us that this is something we need, I think we—and, more importantly, the Government—must take heed of what they say.
None of us has a clue what is going to happen in the next 28 years and 2 months before we get to 2050. Because of the very poor state of our ecosystems, these are likely to be the most unpredictable years this world—and we—have ever seen. When the Climate Change Act was drafted in the mid-noughties, the Government had foresight and created five-yearly carbon budgets that had to be legislated for. One of those was legislated for in the weeks after the Brexit referendum when there had been a change of Government and a huge amount of upheaval and political distraction. Would this have happened if it had not been a requirement? Maybe it would, but maybe not. The point I am making is that when something has to happen because it is a requirement based in statute, it happens. That is what the machinery of this Government is programmed to do.
This Government often refer to themselves as world leading. The Natural History Museum would agree with that but, unfortunately, we are going in the wrong direction. We are leading the world is in nature depletion. We are bottom of the G7 and in the lowest 10% globally, coming a long way after China. In fact, we have little over half—just 53%—of our biodiversity left. I think that frames why we have to pull every lever to stop and reverse this, something the Government are on board with, and using binding interim targets is one of those levers. Are the Government afraid of putting in more targets and, if so, why? This seems an extremely important amendment and I absolutely will vote for it.
I would like to follow up on the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. In this instance, I too disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. I think it is the job of this House to keep going at something, and to not give in because what it faces, at the other end, is a government majority that just demands that the Whips make a few telephone calls. This is actually the important part of the debate. We cannot, for the sake of decorum or whatever, just wave our hands and let these things through. Quite frankly, the future of our planet may depend on it, even if only a little.
My Lords, when the Minister, Rebecca Pow, introduced the government amendments in the other place last week she said:
“The Bill is packed with positive measures … I am delighted that the Government have improved it even further.”—[Official Report, Commons, 20/10/21; col. 791.]
But many of these improvements were ones that the Government had resisted as being not necessary or counterproductive until your Lordships intervened. However, the Government have not listened to noble Lords’ concerns on air quality, and I am disappointed that the Bill has not been changed to reflect these very serious concerns. I thank noble Lords who have expressed support for my Motion C1.
In the debate in the other place, senior Conservatives expressed concern at the Government’s lack of action on this matter. Neil Parish, chair of the EFRA Committee, said that he completely agreed with the intention behind our amendment and that we had to ensure that this is one of our great priorities, questioning whether the Government were taking the issue seriously enough. Bob Neill MP commented:
“When a coroner issues a prevention of further deaths letter, it is not done lightly”—[Official Report, Commons, 20/10/21; col. 811.]
and called for “prompt and urgent action”. Rebecca Pow, the Minister, said that
“there is no safe level of PM2.5”.—[Official Report, Commons, 20/10/21; col. 797.]
Doctors are so concerned that a team of 30 paediatric healthcare providers are, right now, cycling from London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital to the Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow to raise awareness of the impact of air pollution on health, ahead of COP 26. I am genuinely at a loss as to why the Government are dragging their feet, when delay costs lives.
The revised amendment before your Lordships’ House today takes into account the reduction in the World Health Organization’s air quality guidelines, which were published after our Report stage, on 22 September 2021. I find it worrying that the Minister said in his opening remarks that it is not possible to meet these new guidelines in many areas. They add to the evidence that air pollution causes early death and has been linked, as we have heard before, to lung disease, heart failure, cancer—I could go on. Across significant parts of the UK, air quality still fails to meet the guidelines that were set by the WHO in 2005, let alone the new levels. According to analysis by Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, just over a third of people in the UK are breathing levels of PM2.5 over the 2005 WHO guidelines. This is truly shocking.
These new guidelines should act as a road map to clean air, with the ambition and impetus to reach them set by central government now in order to catalyse the changes required to reduce the levels of PM2.5 in particular. The Environment Bill is still the golden opportunity to set this commitment to work towards the more robust WHO guidelines and help reach our net-zero targets, while bringing forward the health benefits. My amendment would require the Government to do just that. Government delay means that people, particularly children and the vulnerable, are paying the price with their health.
Earlier this week, I spoke to Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, who told me that today is the 11th anniversary of her daughter Ella’s first becoming ill. Have the Government not waited long enough to act? I thank the Minister and his officials for taking the time to listen to our concerns. I now urge him to accept this amendment; otherwise, I am minded to test the opinion of the House at the appropriate time.
On Motion A, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that there is an imbalance regarding biodiversity that needs to be addressed.
I turn briefly to the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, on soil quality. I congratulate her and other noble Lords, such as the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, on pressing the Government on this matter sufficiently that they have made a commitment—which was welcomed by us and Members in the other place, including Caroline Lucas—to publish the new soil health action plan for England. It was also good to hear Rebecca Pow state that
“soil will be one of the top priorities in our new environmental land management and sustainable farming initiative schemes.”—[Official Report, Commons, 20/10/21; col. 793.]
I listened to the noble Baroness’s introduction to her amendment, and she raises some important questions that the Minister needs to answer.
I will now turn briefly to the revised amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, and I thank her for making her case so clearly. Of course, we all accept that environmental change cannot happen overnight and needs long-term planning, which is what the 25-year environment plan seeks to do. But you can and must be able to measure progress along the way, and that is why statutory interim targets are so important. We have heard again the argument that interim targets would undermine the long-term nature of the target and make it more complicated to meet the current 25-year environment plan. However, I draw attention to the Natural Capital Committee’s Final Response to the 25 Year Environment Plan Progress Report, published a year ago, which states that
“this report … highlights the lack of progress, and some worrying declines: nine of the 25 years have already passed, and it is now looking very likely the next generation will inherit a poorer set of natural assets.”
Rather than being in contradiction, the combination of binding interim targets and legislated long-term goals is complementary. The report clearly shows that unless you have something binding, it is not necessarily going to happen. This amendment is essential for delivering sustainable progress towards our environmental goals. I hope the Minister will reflect on the noble Baroness’s amendment further and reconsider his current position.
I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. I begin by particularly thanking the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for his comments and his probably slightly reluctant acceptance of the position we find ourselves in. I also very much appreciate the comments of my noble friend Lord Cormack.
There was really only one question, raised by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, on “panic measures”. I am certain that the Prime Minister was not talking about any of the amendments tabled in this House, none of which could be described as “panic measures”, even by people who disagree with them. It is more likely—indeed, it is clear—that he was talking about the calls made by some of the more radical protest groups, perhaps associated with Extinction Rebellion and others, some of which exceed what I think any expert would believe to be a possible and realistic solution. I do not think it is in any way a reflection on this House.
On Amendments 2 and 2B, again, I thank noble Lords and, in particular, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. The Government cannot accept this amendment for the fundamental reason that the metrics are not in place at the moment. If we were to accept the amendment, it would mean a requirement to introduce a target before those metrics are there. This is therefore a practical issue rather than an ideological one. It is not the same as the Government—or me, certainly—saying that soil is not a priority. It clearly is a priority, and that has been repeated time and again by me, the Secretary of State and Rebecca Pow in the other place. It is not a question of the amendment being unnecessary; no one would regard action on soil health as unnecessary. It is a question of the practicalities of this amendment and the timing.
I reassure my noble friend Lord Deben that it is not just about my assurances, although I very much appreciate his comments about the importance he attaches to them. I recognise that Ministers come and go and not all are as passionate about a particular issue. However, the commitments made in the soil health action plan and associated commitments are not ones that I made up at the Dispatch Box. They required approval across Westminster, as with all the concessions and agreements made during progress on this Bill. They are not decisions I have been able to make alone.
As ever, the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, made a powerful case. However, she is wrong to say that the Government are afraid of setting more targets. The Bill paves the way for numerous additional targets and it is pretty clear that a very large number of them will be set. I hope she will be reassured that, while some of those targets have not been expressly pencilled into the Bill, it is clear in the paving that we are creating that a number of those targets are coming, and soil health is one of them.
Finally on soil health, we have introduced—I think this is a world first—the 2030 biodiversity target. Again, the pressure applied in this House very much strengthened the argument for it. It is simply impossible to meet that target without a serious amount of effort going into restoring and protecting soil health, for all the reasons that my noble friend Lord Deben gave.
Moving to Amendments 3 and 3B, we believe that we need to consult with the British public before we legislate for this type of target, which would have serious implications for people’s lives. We believe that we need to bring people with us as much as possible as we raise the bar on air quality and, indeed, a number of other issues. We will continue to collaborate with experts to ensure that consultation on targets is based on all the best available science. As colleagues in the other place said, there is clear evidence on the health impact of PM2.5; nobody is doubting or pushing on back on that. However, there is much less evidence on the pathway towards significant reduction, especially in any one country’s specific context.
For example, in the UK, around 15% of particulate matter emissions comes from naturally occurring sources such as pollen and sea spray alone. Up to one-third drifts in on south-easterly winds from other European countries. Evidence strongly suggests that it is not possible, based on our geographical location, for 5 micrograms per metre cubed ever to be reached in all locations across the entire country, particularly in the south-east and London, which I mentioned earlier. We therefore cannot accept a commitment to 5 micrograms as this is likely to prove unachievable. In addition, the amendment pre-empts what we think is a crucial process of collaboration and consultation with the public, so that they can give us as much approval as possible to enable us to take what will undoubtedly be quite radical measures.
Turning to Amendments 12 and 12B, on interim targets, the Government are confident that the framework’s long-term design works best for the environment, and I ask noble Lords not to insist on this amendment. On the issue of funding, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, as you would imagine, we are bidding through the spending review to secure the funds we need to make our ambition on environmental targets and environmental improvement plans a reality. We would expect a blend of public funding from the new environmental land management scheme, private funding via the new net-gain policy, for example, and other sources as well.
The OEP will also flag up, early on, when it scrutinises the Government’s progress with the environmental targets and environmental improvement plan. As I said earlier, when the OEP reports to Parliament, the Government must respond, and Parliament will have the ability to scrutinise that response as well.
I will make one final point on an issue we discussed this morning. It is very clear that among all of us—the public, their representatives in the other place and noble Lords in this place—interest in, concern for and passion for the environment is going only one way. It is growing, almost exponentially, and that is a wonderful thing. There are people in both Houses who have previously shown no interest whatever in the environment who are now fully on board, engaging in this debate and making strong contributions. That will not change.
Therefore, if a Government are not taking those interim targets seriously and are clearly seen to be missing those targets, or on course to miss them, the pressure on them will be immense. There is tremendous value in that. However, at the same time the Government must have flexibility in order to pursue those longer-term measures which will not bear fruit in the first five or perhaps even 10 years. That is essential, because I do not believe that any Government can be relied upon to take those long-term positions and implement long-term policies if the pressure is all on meeting five-year targets.
I thank noble Lords for their contributions throughout this debate. I understand the strength of feeling—
I apologise; I thought I had answered. I will certainly reply on any questions that I have not answered—I commit to that. I am afraid I cannot do so now as I am not sure which questions are unanswered.
I understand the strength of feeling and thank noble Lords for the amendments they have put forward. I would be grateful if, in return, they could carefully consider the arguments made today.
Before the Minister sits down, he has not answered the points raised by my noble friend Lord Deben. Notwithstanding the evidence that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and I have received that you can in fact set a target by the appropriate time limit within Clause 1, my noble friend Lord Deben raised the point that you could have a different date for bringing in soil quality targets. As I understand it, the only way that that is possible is for the soil amendment to be passed by your Lordships and for the Government to bring in an amendment in another place to meet the specific concern. If the Minister is convinced that his advice is right and the advice I had is wrong, he could at least bring soil into the Bill with a deferred date by which the target ought to be brought in.
My noble friend is right that I did not answer that question. I apologise—it was not deliberate. The reality is that I cannot tell him when the metrics will be ready, because I do not know; I am not sure Defra knows either. I cannot give him the deadline he requires.
I have said this before, but I think it is critical. There is zero chance of meeting any of the other targets we are setting in law unless we pay particular attention to soil. This is a matter of process rather than outcome. We will achieve the outcome, because we are legally obliged to do so and part of achieving it means dealing with soil. This does feel like a bit of a distraction.
I am sorry to trouble my noble friend again. I want to be on his side on this because I know he is really on my side. He knows that if you have to write an article, a deadline is rather important. If you do not have a deadline, you will not write the article. It is like that here. We need to have a date, even if it is further ahead than we would like, otherwise we will not have the concentration that we need. Can my noble friend think again about the possibility of having a date, even though he might disappoint me in how far forward it might be?
I hear my noble friend’s arguments, but without the baseline, we do not know when we can deliver. However, we have a date, which is the 2030 biodiversity target, and if we do not meet that target, we will fall foul of the law. As he himself said, not just today but in previous debates, it is not possible to meet that legally binding target without major effort to protect and restore our soil. Therefore, we have that, and at the very least it is a pretty blooming powerful fallback position.
Motion A agreed.
2A: Because it is not necessary for soil health and quality to be a priority area in order to set a target.
Motion B1 (as an amendment to Motion B)
2B: Clause 1, page 2, line 1, at end insert—
“(e) soil quality.””
Motion B agreed.
3A: Because the powers conferred by clause 2 should not be limited in the manner proposed.
Motion C1 (as an amendment to Motion C)
3B: Clause 2, page 2, line 21, leave out subsection (2) and insert—
“(2) Regulations under subsection (1) may appoint different PM2.5 targets for different dates but must include targets for the annual mean level of PM2.5 in ambient air to be—
(a) less than or equal to 10µg/m3 before 1 January 2030, and
(b) less than or equal to 5µg/m3 before 1 January 2040.””
My Lords, I am sorry things are taking a bit longer. The voting in the Table Office is adding extra time.
Motion C agreed.
12A: Because the Secretary of State should not be placed under a statutory duty to meet interim targets.
Motion D1 not moved.
Motion D agreed.
28A: Because it affects the areas of taxation, spending and the allocation of resources within government, and the Commons do not offer any further Reason, trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient.
My Lords, with the leave of the House I will speak also to Motions F, F1, G, G1, N and N1. We are now discussing the second half of our new, transformative system of environmental governance. This new system has been tailored specifically to a UK context, embeds the environment in future policy-making and takes the essential steps needed to strengthen environmental oversight.
I turn to Amendments 28 and 28B, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. I sincerely thank her for our discussions on this issue and for her proposal to narrow the amendment specifically to cover “safeguarding national security”. However, I am afraid that even with this revised amendment it is the view of the Government that the original exemption for the Armed Forces, defence and national security is still required to provide flexibility to protect and secure the nation. The Government therefore cannot accept the amendment.
The primary function of the defence estate is to support our operations and maintain military capability. It provides homes for those who defend our country, offices for work, space for training, and conditions to prepare to meet the ever-changing threats that the UK faces. This means that defence land, defence policy and national security are inextricably linked. MoD land cannot be separated out; it touches on decisions across the Armed Forces, national security and defence. “National security” does not cover all defence activities. If the coverage of the exemption is reduced, as proposed in the amendment, that directly risks the readiness of our defence capabilities and could impact our responsiveness.
I know that this is a matter in which noble Lords have a keen interest and I emphasise again that these exemptions do not apply to SSSI management, where the MoD is on track to meet the 25-year environment plan target for SSSIs in favourable condition for the sites under its management. Natural England has assessed 48% of the department’s English sites as in favourable condition, which compares well with the English average of 39%.
I reassure the noble Baroness, on the back of the discussions that we have had, that the department will be providing further reassurance in writing of its intentions in relation to the protection, good conservation and improvement of the land under its management. I hope to be able to provide that to her soon.
I turn to the office for environmental protection. I will speak to Amendments 31, 31A, 31B, 31C, 75, 75A, 75B and 75C together, tabled by my colleague Rebecca Pow in the other place and by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. I reiterate the Government’s commitment to establishing the OEP as an independent body. This guidance power is required to ensure appropriate accountability and that the OEP continues to operate effectively because the Secretary of State is ultimately responsible to Parliament for the OEP. There are other examples of independent arm’s-length bodies where provision has been made for the Secretary of State to give guidance; for example, under Section 41 of the Climate Change Act 2008 the Secretary of State can give guidance to the Climate Change Committee regarding the exercise of its functions. We are seeking only to do the same in ensuring appropriate accountability and that the OEP continues to operate effectively by focusing on the most serious, strategic cases with national implications.
None the less, I acknowledge the concerns that have been raised about this power. In recognition of noble Lords’ comments, we introduced a new provision to ensure that Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly can scrutinise draft guidance before it is issued. The Secretary of State must respond to that scrutiny before final guidance can be laid and have effect. This has been reinstated in the other place, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for adding it to his amendment in lieu. I hope noble Lords will recognise that their concerns are being listened to with this measure.
I turn to the other parts of the amendment. I should be clear with noble Lords that we are confident that the right appointment processes are in place for the OEP. These are equivalent to those for other independent scrutiny bodies, such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission. This retains the right balance between ministerial accountability and operational independence. Furthermore, as set out in the Written Ministerial Statement on 7 September:
“The Government took the necessary steps to ensure that the role of Chair was listed as a significant appointment with the Commissioner for Public Appointments … The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Environmental Audit Committees conducted a pre-appointment scrutiny hearing before the appointment of Dame Glenys Stacey as OEP Chair Designate.”—[Official Report, Commons, 7/9/21; col. 19WS.]
I am happy to reiterate our intention that future chair appointments should follow a similar process, ensuring fairness, accountability and independence in future, as was set out in the Written Ministerial Statement.
I hope that that provides some reassurance for noble Lords and indicates why the amendment therefore is not necessary. Ultimately, Ministers are accountable and responsible to Parliament for public appointments. While we are committed to ensuring parliamentary scrutiny, it is appropriate that Ministers should retain the ability to make the final choice.
Amendments 33 and 33B, on enforcement, were tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, and I am grateful to him and the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for the engagement that they have given us over the preceding weeks and months. The OEP’s enforcement powers will operate more effectively than those of the European Commission as the OEP will be able to liaise directly with the public body in question to investigate and resolve alleged serious breaches of environmental law in a more targeted and timely manner.
Through environmental review, the OEP can apply for judicial review remedies—subject to appropriate safeguards—that will work to ensure compliance with environmental law. The Court of Justice of the EU cannot issue these kinds of remedies to member states and therefore the OEP could have a far more direct impact on third parties than the previous system. The protections for third parties brought into the OEP’s process of environmental review have therefore been specifically designed in recognition of the unique nature of this type of legal challenge.
We also have to consider the direct impacts that the OEP’s enforcement function may have on third parties. Through environmental review, the OEP will be able to bring cases to court outside of standard judicial review time limits, potentially long after the decisions in question have been taken. For instance, if a quashing order was placed on planning permission or consent for a new shopping centre many months or even years after the decision was taken and where significant building work had already taken place, this could result in substantial hardship for the various parties involved, which would not be fair. We need to ensure that the key principles of fairness and certainty are upheld for third parties who have acted in good faith on the basis of certain decisions and balance this with the need to protect the environment.
Furthermore, the principle behind the provision to protect third-party rights on environmental review is not new. As I have noted in previous debates, it is an extension of the existing position for legal challenges, including under the Senior Courts Act 1981 and the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007. These Acts grant the courts discretion to refuse relief where there has been undue delay, and this would be likely to substantially impact third parties or be detrimental to good administration. We are building on these precedents here in a way that reflects the nature of environmental review.
While I thank the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, for proposing Amendment 33B, I am afraid that it does not offer such protections for third parties against the quashing of decisions outside of normal time limits. The factors that it sets out, which the court would have to have regard to, would not provide sufficient protection or certainty, and therefore we cannot support it. The Government have reflected on this new amendment, but I am afraid that it still offers no further protections for third parties. I hope that noble Lords can understand our position on this matter and on the other amendments that we have been discussing.
Motion E1 (as an amendment to Motion E)
28B: Clause 18, page 11, line 24, leave out paragraph (a) and insert—
“(a) safeguarding national security,””
My Lords, I beg to move Motion E1, as an amendment to Motion E—I believe that is the correct phraseology. I read carefully in Hansard the debate on our amendment on the exemptions that we were calling for on the policy statement on environmental principles. I am disappointed that the Government did not support it, but I am grateful for the support for this case from the Labour Benches, the Greens and the SNP.
The Government cited financial privilege as a reason why we should not proceed with this amendment, and of course I accept that on the basis of the reference to the tax-and-spend points in the amendment that we proposed, when it went to the Commons. I am grateful that, in the Commons, the Minister made the point that all departments will be obliged to subject their policy decisions to the rigours of the policy statement on environmental principles. I am mindful that, clearly, the macroeconomic points that the Treasury has are outwith that—but I am grateful.
However, the Government gave no reasons for refusing the point, made by this House, that the MoD should not be completely exempt from having to take account of the policy statement on environmental principles. The Minister’s comments seemed to suggest that there was a fear of legal challenge. I find that quite surprising. I am not a lawyer, but I am well aware that the courts are very well equipped to filter out unmeritorious cases, as they stand. Equally, while we were in the European Union, the MoD was subject to all these provisions, with a very tiny exemption with regard only to security matters pertaining to munitions and arms. So it has been subject to all these requests to take account of environmental principles for, effectively, the last 30 years. There have not been any challenges, and it does not seem to have caused any problems. However, that is the reason that has been cited, so it is the one that I had to address.
For that reason, I narrowed the scope of the disapplication purely to “national security”, in the hope that that would reassure them. Again, I am not a lawyer, but my understanding from lawyers far more eminent that me is that the courts will always defer to the Executive on matters of national security. Therefore, it seemed to me that the proposal that I put forward was reasonable and met the needs, as they saw it, of the MoD to protect its fear of being challenged on urgent operational matters. It seemed to me that it also met this House’s clear desire that all government departments should be subject to having consideration of the environmental principles, with certain particular tightened safeguards. That was also the position of the Environmental Audit Committee, the EFRA committee in the other House and the office for environmental protection, when it gave its first and only advice to the Government, earlier this year.
I think that the amendment that I proposed today was reasonable and fair, but I hear what the Minister has said, and I spot a red line when I see one. At this stage in the game, I will reluctantly up stumps—but I serve notice to the team opposite that this is an issue that this House takes extremely seriously. I heard the Minister say that I will be provided with reassurances. I am looking for a clear statement from the MoD that there is equivalence in how it deals with climate change and with nature protection. Under the Climate Change Act, it is obliged to take climate change seriously. I want to see the word “equivalence”. I say again to the team opposite that, if we do not get that, this House, which takes this matter very seriously, will bring out its fastest spin bowlers, among whom I count my committee, the Environment and Climate Change Committee—I see members of it in this House today—and we and other Members will knock for six any pathetic excuses that the Government come up with, if they do not keep to that commitment.
On that basis, I am grateful for what the Minister has offered—a letter of reassurance. I hope that he can see that, again, I am trying to be consensual. If those words are in there, I will be temporarily reassured, but please be mindful: this is not an issue that will go away.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Motion F1, which would amend the government Motion F. I also support Motion G1, which we will come to shortly. The issue at stake with my amendment is simply this: does the Bill give the office for environmental protection sufficient independence to allow it to fulfil its function of holding public authorities, including Ministers, to account in relation to breaches of environmental law?
Clause 24 gives the Secretary of State wide-ranging powers to issue guidance to the OEP on the matters listed in Clause 23(6). These include whether a failure to comply with the law is “serious”, how the OEP determines
“whether damage to the … environment or to human health is serious”,
how the OEP exercises its enforcement functions
“in a way that respects the integrity of other statutory regimes”,
how the OEP intends to “avoid … overlap” with relevant ombudsmen and
“how the OEP intends to prioritise cases.”
The Bill also gives the Secretary of State powers to determine the budget of the OEP and to hire and fire the board, including the chair. Many of us feel that this does not add up to creating a truly independent watchdog.
Therefore, on Report, I moved an amendment, with support from across the House, to rewrite Clause 24 in order to ensure that it gave independence to the OEP in its enforcement role and budget. It also gave parliamentary oversight of both the budget and the hiring and firing of board members. This amendment was passed by a majority of 29. The Government proposed an alternative amendment that would have involved more consultation with Parliament but did not remove the guidance powers or change the substance of Clause 24. This amendment is essentially the same as Amendments 31A and 31B that we have in front of us today.
In the other place, on 20 October, my amendment was rejected, in spite of the fact that, according to my reading of Hansard, the speeches that referred to it strongly supported it. In her response, Minister Pow made three points. First, she said that paragraph 17 of Schedule 1 requires the Secretary of State to “have regard to” to the OEP’s independence. But we all know that “have regard to” is a weak requirement.
Secondly, she said that the Secretary of State cannot intervene on “specific … cases”. But by intervening on a category of cases—say, new nuclear power stations—the Secretary of State could, in theory, preclude the OEP from investigating a whole raft of individual cases within that category; for example, if it was advised that it is not a priority.
Thirdly, Minister Pow said:
“The OEP does not have to follow the guidance where it has clear reasons not to do so.”—[Official Report, Commons, 20/10/21; col. 823.]
It is a bit paradoxical to justify the existence of the guidance power by saying that the OEP does not have to take any notice of it. Furthermore, you could argue it would be a brave OEP that ignored the guidance from the individual who has the power to determine its budget and hire and fire the board, including the chair.
I am still not satisfied that the Bill will protect the independence of the OEP without further amendment. This new amendment—my Amendment 31C—is a genuine attempt at compromise, and I hope the Government will recognise this and therefore accept it. Let me briefly summarise. Subsection (1) sets out that the OEP has complete discretion in relation to its enforcement policy and functions and in preparing its budget. This would make it comparable to the Office for Budget Responsibility and the National Audit Office. Subsection (2), importantly, retains the guidance power for the Secretary of State but narrows its focus to certain strategic issues concerned with enforcement, as described in Clause 22(6)(c). Subsection (3) requires the OEP to have due regard to the guidance but allows for circumstances in which it may choose to disregard it. Subsections (4) and (5) refer to consultation and parliamentary scrutiny of the guidance, and subsection (6) involves the relevant parliamentary committees in the hiring and firing of board members.
The long-term success or failure of this Bill will in large part be measured by the effectiveness of the office for environmental protection. All the good intentions of the other parts of the Bill could come to naught without a fully independent watchman. We all had high confidence in and high regard for Dame Glenys Stacey, and for her board. We also have high regard for and confidence in the good intentions of current Defra Ministers. But I believe we have to prepare for the long term and that this amendment is fundamental to protecting the OEP’s independence in the long term.
My Lords, I will be brief, as this issue has been debated thoroughly at previous stages of the Environment Bill. I rise to move my Amendment 75C, under Motion N1, which would replace government Amendments 75A and 75B. This mirrors Amendment 31C, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and would achieve the same outcomes for the OEP’s independence in Northern Ireland as his would for the OEP in England.
My amendment would safeguard the OEP’s independence in the long term by amending the power of DAERA to guide how the OEP will hold Ministers to account on any environmental wrongdoings, to make it more targeted. It would also provide the OEP with complete discretion to undertake its activities in Northern Ireland and establish a role for the Assembly’s AERA Committee in overseeing the appointment of the Northern Ireland member on the OEP’s board. As the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said on Report:
“If the Government accept that the OEP should have complete discretion, surely a matter of this importance should be in the Bill.”—[Official Report, 18/9/21; col. 886.]
The recent DAERA consultation in Northern Ireland on environmental plans, principles and governance indicated strong support for the establishment of the OEP in Northern Ireland. I am in no doubt that that will be a huge boon for our environmental governance, but unless its independence is enshrined for the long term in this Bill, we will have missed a serious opportunity to ensure that this important new body is protected from future political whims. I say that with great reluctance, but we have to consider the political dynamics that exist in the Northern Ireland Executive and the Northern Ireland Assembly. As the EFRA Committee chair Neil Parish MP said in the other place last week,
“we need to ensure that those offices are independent for all time.”—[Official Report, Commons, 20/10/21; col. 804.]
In summary, I disagree with the Government’s amendments in respect of the OEP in Northern Ireland and the need for it to be independent, and I hope the Minister will change his mind on this issue.
My Lords, in logical sequence, I will speak to Motion G1 and Amendment 33B, which concerns the conditions that must be satisfied before the High Court can grant a remedy to the OEP on an application for environmental review. Your Lordships will recall that as the Bill stands, in notable contrast to the normal position under judicial review, no remedy whatever may be granted on environmental review unless the court is satisfied that there is not likely to be any substantial prejudice or detriment to a developer, landowner or any other third party, and that there will be no detriment to good administration. So, the mechanism that appears to allow public authorities to be held to account for the non-performance of their environmental duties will in practice be ineffective in all cases where there are serious conflicting interests.
We accept that the interests of developers and landowners can and should be placed in the balance when courts are making decisions about remedies, but it is perverse and without precedent to suggest that those interests should automatically outweigh all other factors, including the public interest in a clean environment and having the law enforced. In any judicial system worth the name, the court must at least be able to have regard to those factors, which is our modest and limited objective.
We bent over backwards in Amendment 33 to accommodate the Government’s concerns, to the point where my noble and learned friend Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, who signed the original amendment, said:
“I cannot see what greater protection any Government could legitimately seek.”—[Official Report, 8/9/21; col. 897.]
We have risen to my noble and learned friend’s challenge and, in response to the other place, imprecise though its comments were, we have been more accommodating still.
There are two additional reasons Amendment 33B should commend itself to the House. First, when listing the factors to which the court must have regard when deciding whether to grant a remedy, we have largely borrowed the list of factors used by the Government themselves for comparable purposes in Clause 1(8) of the Judicial Review and Courts Bill, which has its Second Reading in the other place today. Those factors specifically include the interests and expectations of developers, landowners and others who have relied—no doubt in good faith—on failures by a public authority to comply with environmental law.
Secondly, my noble friend Lord Krebs has conceded, in his linked Amendment 31C, that the Secretary of State may issue guidance to the OEP on the matters listed in Clause 22(6)(c): that is, the exercise of
“its enforcement functions in a way that respects the integrity of other statutory regimes (including statutory provision for appeals).”
Even if my noble friend’s amendment is accepted—and I hope it is—the Government will have every opportunity to ensure that environmental review, which we accept is designed to deal with systemic problems, is not used to circumvent the short statutory deadlines that apply in planning cases. That fundamentally changes the landscape in which my amendment features.
I am acutely aware that we have to tread delicately at this stage of a Bill, but make no apology for stressing the particular importance of this amendment. Arguments about the precise ambit of the environmental duties to be imposed on public authorities will be to little effect if those duties cannot be enforced in court in the normal way at the request of the body established for the purpose. If this in many ways admirable Bill cannot be made to achieve this, it will have a fundamental weakness at its core. For that reason, and unless the Minister can offer the necessary assurance, which I understand from our continuing dialogue may be unlikely at this stage, I propose to test the opinion of the House on Amendment 33B.
My Lords, I will pose a couple of brief questions to my noble friend the Minister. He will recall that I supported the original amendment on the independence of the OEP at earlier stages. I cannot think of any other body to which a department has issued guidance that is meant to be overseeing that department. To be honest, I preferred the original Amendment 31 and am struggling entirely to understand the contents of the new Amendment 31C.
Can my noble friend confirm that the Scottish equivalent—Environmental Standards Scotland—does not have to follow guidance set by the Government of Scotland but is left to get on to apply environmental law as it best understands it? I also refer him to the report adopted earlier this year by the European Union Committee, specifically the Environment Sub-Committee on which I have the privilege to sit, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. The report is titled Beyond Brexit: Food, Environment, Energy and Health. In paragraph 164, we concluded:
“Environment law will be more effectively enforced if the UK’s supervisory authorities cooperate closely with one another and with the European Commission. We urge them to enter into this cooperation openly and with the goal of ensuring the maximum level of protection for the environment.”
In evidence given by the Secretary of State to that committee, he was very open-minded about that co-operation and, if that is the case, I urge my noble friend that such co-operation take place and he allows the OEP, under the chairmanship of Dame Glenys Stacey, to work as effectively and independently as it possibly can.
My Lords, as someone who spoke passionately about the independence of the OEP at earlier stages of the Bill, I support my noble friend Lord Krebs in his amendment.
The OEP will be at the centre of our country’s new environmental future: post Brexit, post COP 26 and post COP 15. The world is changing fast, and I am pleased to say that, as the Minister mentioned earlier, we are slowly waking up to the environmental dangers we face and gradually—very gradually—moving in the right direction.
We all have great hopes for and expectations of the OEP, and within the nation’s ambitions to drive a cleaner, more sustainable and more biodiverse future, I cannot stress how important it is that we get the OEP right. The success or otherwise of everything in the Bill depends on it. At the moment, it still looks as though it will be a tool of the very department it should be overseeing, as has been mentioned.
Let us not forget that Defra is in charge of and funds our most important environmental bodies: Natural England and the Environment Agency. Even local authorities do much of their environmental work in partnership with Natural England and the Environment Agency, so the auditing and bringing to book of these, our most important environmental bodies, will be crucial. Sadly, in my experience of working with NDPBs within the Defra family, I believe this is unlikely to happen if Defra is allowed to exert undue influence over the OEP. As I said in debates at earlier stages, the OEP has not only to be independent but to be seen to be independent, and at the moment there is a severe danger that it will be neither.
This House’s views on the vital importance of the independence of the OEP have been expressed again and again by noble Lords from all sides of the House with much more eloquence than I can muster, so I will not go on, but I urge Defra, which originally fired the arrow of an independent OEP when Michael Gove was Secretary of State, to now let it fly. This is the department’s chance to do that.
This excellently crafted compromise amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Krebs is, like all compromises, probably not to the satisfaction of all, but I strongly believe that the Government and all noble Lords should now grasp this opportunity to resolve the impasse and give us an OEP we can be proud of by voting for my noble friend’s Motion F1.
My Lord, extremely briefly, I offer the Green group’s support for all the opposition amendments in this group. On Motion E1, I have a question for the Minister. Will he acknowledge to the House that we cannot keep the same mantra of “It is either deal with climate change or deal with national security” and acknowledge that, as the integrated review says, the climate emergency is the number one threat that the Government should be focused on internationally?
On introducing this debate on Motions F1 and G1, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said that he was not commenting on any individual involved in the OEP. I shall comment on individuals, to note the two noble Lords moving those Motions and urge noble Lords to support those extremely distinguished Members of our House in their area of absolute expertise and get behind them.
My Lords, when these amendments were dealt with in the House of Commons, the Minister said that she was very satisfied to have the office of environmental protection independent. That is what I want, and I believe that that is what the Government want, but she went on to say that the Secretary of State will be accountable for the OEP. I am in difficulty about the precise nature of that accountability. This is not the easiest question to answer, so I gave notice this morning that I proposed to ask it, so that my noble friend might have an opportunity, if he wished, to think it over. Obviously, the Minister dealing with this in the House of Commons must have had an idea in mind.
This arises in connection with the giving of instructions. The strange thing about the instructions and guidance is that the guidance does not need to be followed. It has to be seen by the Houses of Parliament before it passes, but once it is passed, it need not be performed. To my mind, that is a rather exceptional situation. Why should Parliament be asked to study carefully what the department—the Secretary of State—is proposing but then the organisation that is to receive the instructions need do nothing about it? That is a remarkable situation, but it ties into the idea of the accountability of the Secretary of State for this independent body.
I should be glad to know precisely how this operation is supposed to work. How is the Secretary of State responsible, apart from saying that the OEP is independent and he must secure that at all costs? If that is all, very good, but I suspect that the Minister in the Commons was thinking of something a little more complicated than that, and I hope the Minister can explain it to us in due course.
I think that the Motions in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Anderson, are pretty essential to the working of this arrangement, but the principal fact that I wish established is that the OEP should be independent, as the Minister said in the House of Commons.
My Lords, I took the opportunity to support the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Anderson, in the previous rounds of this proposal, and I will continue to do so.
The office for environmental protection is the beating heart of the Environment Bill. We are about to embark on an extraordinary gathering of people about climate change here in the UK, in Glasgow. The eyes of the world are upon us. There are suspicions that this particular element of the Environment Bill is not as strong as it needs to be. The amendments that have been put forward are a useful adjustment to previous amendments and I believe that they are workable. Without them, the pressures that we put upon Dame Glenys Stacey will be immense. The suspicion will linger always that she is somehow or other beholden to the Government in one fashion or another, and there will be continued requests for clarification, and for clarity about her behaviour as well as that of her board and her team—this will go on.
We need the absolute certainty of independence, which we can achieve here today, through these amendments. If we can do that, we can set sail upon a fine voyage—we set sail just before COP, with a very clear successor body to the European Commission, which can do what the European Commission once did—that is, hold power to account.
The amendments are before us. It is up to this House to decide what to do with them.
My Lords, first, I am grateful to the Minister for the discussions that he has had with us since Report. Secondly, we are disappointed that the Government have not seen fit to make a concession to the revised amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, to include defence in the scope of the Bill. However, we understand her generous decision to pull up stumps at this point, bearing in mind some of the other pressures on us this evening. Thirdly, we are very grateful, as ever, to the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Anderson, and my noble friend Lady Ritchie for continuing to pursue the independence of the OEP and the need for effective remedies.
These noble Lords have all made hugely impressive and convincing contributions this evening; they do not need me to repeat their arguments. I also thank all other noble Lords who have added their voices in support. I hope that the Minister is getting a sense of the mood of the House on these issues. We very much hope that he can therefore agree to revisit them. If this is not possible, we urge the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Anderson, to test the opinion of the House.
I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. Beginning with Amendment 28B, the Government maintain the position that exempting the Armed Forces, defence and national security from the environmental principles duty is required to ensure the flexibility for our defence capability. I appreciate the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, but I am afraid that, as I said in my opening remarks, this is a red line for the MoD. I will secure the reassurance that we were promised together on a call that we made, which has been followed up since, and I very much hope that it directly addresses the plea that she has made to this House. We will continue those discussions afterwards.
In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, I am very happy to reiterate something that I, she and many others have said many times: nature and climate change are inextricably linked. Indeed, climate change is in many respects the fever that the planet is experiencing as a consequence of the degradation of its natural environment. All the science tells us that there is no pathway to net zero, or to staying within 1.5 degrees, without massive efforts to protect and restore nature on a scale that we have never seen before. That is absolutely understood. I simply add that it is not just a reflection of my view but the position of this Government as they take us towards COP 26. We have sought to put nature at the very heart of our response to climate change, both here and internationally. I think, and hope, that we will see some real movement over the coming weeks from the global community.
I turn to amendments 31, 31A, 31B, 31C, 75, 75A, 75B and 75C. We believe that the guidance power is necessary to ensure that the OEP continues to operate effectively and provide appropriate accountability. To elaborate on a point I made earlier in response to comments by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, the OEP will have an extremely broad scope and remit, encompassing all environmental law and with powers to investigate alleged serious breaches by any public authority, ranging from a local authority to a Minister of the Crown. Given this huge breadth, the guidance power is important to ensure that Ministers who are ultimately responsible for the OEP’s use of public money can ensure that it is functioning as intended, focusing on the most serious strategic cases. My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked for comparable examples of such guidance being issued. My understanding is that the Secretary of State has the power to provide guidance to the Climate Change Committee, and that power is enshrined in the Climate Change Act.
I want to respond to the comments and questions put to me by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern. As a non-departmental body, the OEP will be operationally independent from government. It will set its own strategy and have discretion in deciding how best to deliver on its principal objective by exercising its statutory functions, including whether to provide advice to Ministers and publish reports on its own initiative. The Bill also specifies that the Secretary of State must have regard to the need to protect the OEP’s independence.
The Government believe that Ministers should be properly accountable to Parliament for the governance and performance of their departments’ arm’s-length bodies, including in their use of public funds. For this reason, the Government consider the guidance power under Clause 24 to be necessary. The Secretary of State will agree with the Treasury sufficient funding for the OEP to carry out its functions and make the final decision on public appointments.
The OEP will be subject to routine monitoring of expenditure during the year and will have a duty also to arrange for its key financial reports to be laid before Parliament. The responsible Minister will account for the OEP in Parliament on all matters other than in respect of the OEP’s enforcement decisions and the content of its advice or reports.
In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, the Bill makes provision for an equivalent guidance power for the Northern Ireland department. A similar Lords amendment seeks to remove this power.
Finally, on Amendments 33 and 33B, I am afraid that, as they would remove the protections for third parties, even despite the relevant factors for the court to consider, which the noble Lord has added, we are unable to accept them. Again, to elaborate, as the court will have access to court orders outside of the normal judicial review time limits, there is significantly increased risk that third parties may be negatively affected by the grant of a remedy. If it is necessary to prevent or mitigate serious damage to the environment or human health, the OEP can apply directly for an urgent judicial review, without going through its earlier notice period. In cases such as these, all remedies would be available at the discretion of the court.
I suspect—indeed, I am certain—that we will have to disagree at this time, but I do so acknowledging in all sincerity the case that the noble Lord has made and the constructive and compelling manner in which he has made it. I am afraid we are not able to accept the amendment.
I thank all noble Lords who have contributed today, and in personal conversations with myself and my officials, on these measures. I hope that noble Lords have been reassured by my words and I commend the Motion to the House.
Motion E1 withdrawn.
Motion E agreed.
31A: Clause 24, page 14, line 35, leave out subsections (3) and (4)
31B: Clause 24, page 14, line 38, at end insert—
“(6) Before issuing the guidance, the Secretary of State must—
(a) prepare a draft, and
(b) lay the draft before Parliament.
(7) If before the end of the 21 day period—
(a) either House of Parliament passes a resolution in respect of the draft guidance, or
(b) a committee of either House of Parliament, or a joint committee of both Houses, makes recommendations in respect of the draft guidance,
the Secretary of State must produce a response and lay it before Parliament.
(8) The Secretary of State may prepare and lay before Parliament the final guidance, but not before—
(a) if subsection (7) applies, the day on which the Secretary of State lays the response required by that subsection, or
(b) otherwise, the end of the 21 day period.
(9) The final guidance has effect when it is laid before Parliament.
(10) The Secretary of State must publish the guidance when it comes into effect.
(11) The “21 day period” is the period of 21 sitting days beginning with the first sitting day after the day on which the draft guidance is laid under subsection (6).
(12) “Sitting day” means a day on which both Houses of Parliament sit.
(13) The Secretary of State may revise the guidance at any time (and subsections
(6) to (12) apply in relation to any revised guidance).”
Motion F1 (as an amendment to Motion F)
31C: Leave out Clause 24 and insert the following new Clause—
(1) The OEP has complete discretion in the carrying out of its functions, including in—
(a) preparing its enforcement policy,
(b) exercising its enforcement functions, and
(c) preparing and publishing its budget.
(2) The Secretary of State may issue guidance to the OEP on the matters listed in section 22(6)(c).
(3) The OEP must have regard to the guidance in preparing its enforcement policy, unless there are material considerations that indicate otherwise.
(4) Before issuing the guidance, the Secretary of State must—
(a) prepare and consult on a draft,
(b) lay the draft before Parliament, and
(c) publish a response to the consultation.
(5) The Secretary of State must publish the guidance when it comes into effect.
(6) In making or terminating appointments under paragraph 1 and paragraph 5 of Schedule 1, the Secretary of State must obtain the consent of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Environmental Audit Committees of the House of Commons.””
33A: Because the circumstances in which the court may grant a remedy on an environmental review should not be altered in the manner proposed.
Motion G1 (as an amendment to Motion G)
33B: Clause 37, page 22, line 23, leave out subsection (8) and insert—
“(8) Where the court makes a statement of non-compliance it may grant any remedy that may be granted by it on a judicial review other than damages.
(8A) In deciding whether to grant such a remedy, the court must have regard to—
(a) the nature and circumstances of the non-compliance;
(b) any detriment to good administration that would result from granting or failing to grant a remedy;
(c) the interests or expectations of persons who would benefit from the grant of a remedy;
(d) the interests or expectations of persons who have relied on the failure by the public authority to comply with environmental law;
(e) any other matter that appears to the court to be relevant.””
My Lords, as well as Motion H, with the leave of the House I will also speak to Motions J, J1, K, L, M, Q and R. It is a pleasure to open this debate focusing on the protection of nature, and I am grateful to noble Lords who have contributed throughout the passage of this Bill on these issues.
I begin by speaking to Motions H in my name and H1 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. I have listened intently to the concerns of this House on this matter and of course I share them. Countless plants in our gardens, towns and countryside simply could not exist without pollen being spread by bees and hundreds of species of other insects. Bees and other insect pollinators contribute more than £500 million a year to UK agriculture through improving crop quality and quantity, but in truth this figure barely touches the sides in terms of the true value of our pollinators to our country. They add immeasurable beauty and wonder to our environment and, indeed, our lives.
The Government wish to see pollinators thrive so they can carry out their essential services for the environment and for food production and provide such joys for people. We are committed to taking action to improve their status, and action through the national action plan, the National Pollinator Strategy and our Healthy Bees Plan 2030 will help better protect pollinators and allow them to flourish. I will set out a bit more detail on these plans for the House today.
First, I can confirm to all noble Lords that we will publish a national action plan for the sustainable use of pesticides by the end of this year. The purpose of the plan is to minimise the risks and impacts of pesticides to human health and the environment while ensuring pests and pesticide resistance are managed effectively. Integrated pest management is central to the plan, and we are supporting a shift towards greater use of those techniques. The technique will benefit the pollinators that we all value, as it will involve designing pesticides out of farming systems as far as we possibly can and will include increased use of nature-based, low-toxicity solutions and precision technologies to manage pests.
In addition, the Government are taking action under the national pollinator strategy. This includes restoring and creating habitats for pollinators to thrive; raising awareness across society so that people can take action themselves; and supporting monitoring and research, including a national pollinator monitoring scheme, to improve our understanding of pollinators’ population status. Our Healthy Bees Plan 2030 provides a blueprint for how we will improve honeybee health, including working in partnership with beekeepers and bee farmers.
Finally, I will address the specific concern raised by Amendment 43B, which seeks to introduce a requirement to conduct a pollinator risk assessment report before a decision can be taken. I assure the House that, when we update the national action plan, we shall assess the use of pesticides in the round and their impact on the natural environment. Given the action that the Government are taking to protect pollinators and the existing regulations in place, as well as the upcoming national action plan for pesticides, I ask that the House agrees with Motion H.
I turn to storm overflows. Before I go into detail, I would like to talk briefly about the debate itself. Of course, we all feel very strongly about this issue, and it is right for the Government to be held to account. However, it has to be said that some of the language that has been used in recent days, including by one or two Members of this House, has been simply unacceptable. It has led very directly to a torrent of abuse, some of it extremely violent, directed at colleagues in the other place. It is obvious to anyone who follows this process that absolutely no one wants raw sewage anywhere near our waters and seas, and it is objectively the case that, even without any further improvements to this Bill, we will have regulations and standards to deal with this issue that significantly exceed what we had before; in other words, the Bill already represents a major improvement on the status quo. I have made it clear previously that we have been working for some time on ways in which to improve and significantly strengthen it, further details of which I shall come to in just a few moments.
With respect, I am going to address the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, who is in his place, engaged yesterday in an orgy of tweets, telling his followers:
“Zac Goldsmith … proposes pumping raw sewage into rivers & the sea.”
When he talked about
“Zac Goldsmith’s plans to allow water companies to pump raw sewage into rivers and the sea”,
he was spreading a malicious falsehood.
It is a disgrace, and I am glad for that reassuring remark from behind.
Over the course of dozens of tweets, the noble Lord was trying to make his—let us face it—not always balanced Twitter followers believe something about me and the Government that is simply not true, and which he knows to be untrue. Indeed, by suggesting that we are making it easier for companies to pollute our waters, he was spreading a grotesque inversion of the truth. I understand why he has done so; it is nothing to do with the environment, an issue on which he has almost no record whatever. It is about wanting people to believe that Brexit means more sewage in our waters. He knows that this is not true—this is a matter of fact, not a matter of opinion—but he also knows that, because of his position, many will believe him. Some will be driven into a frenzy of rage, as we have seen—rage based on a blatant untruth. The noble Lord may have been driven to distraction by Brexit, but he is not a stupid person; he wants his words to have consequences. In this debate on sewage, the noble Lord has absolutely covered himself in the stuff—and I say shame on him.
There is, rightly, concern in this House, and indeed the other place, wider society and the Government, about the unacceptable frequency with which sewage is discharged from storm overflows into our rivers, lakes and seas. It is because we share that concern that we have moved so far already on this issue. In this spirit, I hope that noble Lords will allow me to outline in one simple list the measures in the Bill and outside it which will indeed deliver progressive reductions in the harm caused by storm overflows.
The Bill places, first, a new duty on government to produce a statutory plan to reduce discharges from storm overflows and their adverse impact, and report to Parliament on progress. Secondly, it creates a requirement for government to produce a report setting out the actions that would be needed to eliminate storm overflows in England and the costs and benefits of those actions. Both publications are required before 1 September 2022. Thirdly, it creates a new duty directly on water companies and the Environment Agency to publish data on storm overflow operation on an annual basis and, fourthly, a new duty directly on water companies to publish near real-time information on the operation of storm overflows. Fifthly, it creates a new duty directly on water companies to monitor the water quality upstream and downstream of storm overflows and sewage disposal works and, sixthly, a new duty directly on water companies to produce comprehensive statutory drainage and sewerage management plans, setting out how they will manage and develop their drainage and sewerage system over a minimum 25-year planning horizon, including how storm overflows will be addressed through these plans. The seventh thing the Bill does is to create a power of direction for the Government to direct water companies in relation to these plans if they are not good enough—the “big stick”. Eighthly and finally, it creates a duty on government to set and achieve at least one new target to drive progress in the priority area of water.
This significant package will work hand in hand with the action that we are taking outside the Bill. Significantly, for the first time, the Government made it crystal clear in our draft strategic policy statement to Ofwat that we expect water companies to take steps to “significantly reduce ... storm overflows”, and that we expect funding to be approved for them to do so. These are not just warm words: the price review is the mechanism by which funding for the water companies and their priorities are determined. This is our biggest lever to clamp down on sewage discharges from storm overflows.
Significant investment has been unlocked on storm overflows in the current price review period 2020-25. Water companies will invest £7.1 billion on environmental improvements in England; of this, £3.1 billion will be invested in storm overflow improvements. This is supplemented by an additional £606 million as part of the green recovery announcement. We have also committed to reviewing the case for implementing Schedule 3 to the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 in England, which would set mandatory build standards for sustainable drainage schemes on new developments, something that numerous noble Lords called for in Committee. In August 2020, we established the Storm Overflows Taskforce—indeed, it was my colleague, Rebecca Pow, who was here a second ago, who established it—to bring together key stakeholders from the water industry, environmental NGOs, regulators and government to drive progress in reducing sewage discharges. That task force has agreed a long-term goal to eliminate harm from storm overflows.
I and my colleagues across government have been clear that we are determined to tackle the harm from storm overflows and stop untreated sewage flowing into our rivers, lakes and seas. Last Wednesday, the Government and their Back-Benchers actively voted into the Bill six pages of new law directly on storm overflows. To imply that the Government and their Back-Benchers are voting to dump sewage into our rivers is factually incorrect. However, all that said, we have listened carefully to the feeling in the other place and this House and among the wider public. I am absolutely delighted to confirm that the Government will bring forward an amendment in lieu in the Commons at the next stage; it will place a direct legal duty on water companies to progressively reduce the adverse impact of storm overflows.
I want to heap thanks on my right honourable friend Philip Dunne and other Members in the other place who have spoken so strongly about this issue, in Parliament and on broadcast media. Indeed, they have driven action in their own constituencies. I am delighted to say that Philip Dunne has indicated that he is in agreement with the Government on the wording of our proposed amendment, which will follow the clear direction already set by the Government’s draft strategic policy statement to Ofwat, published in July, that we expect water companies to take steps to
“significantly reduce the frequency and volume of sewage discharges from storm overflows”.
We cannot accept the amendment proposed by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, as it is, but I assure noble Lords that the Government’s amendment in lieu will deliver the same action in reducing sewage discharges into our rivers. We cannot accept the amendment exactly as drafted, since we need to ensure integration with other legislation, including new measures in the Bill and existing duties in the Water Industry Act 1991. For example, although we absolutely support the noble Duke’s premise, his amendment does not dock in with the enforcement regime in the Water Industry Act or the range of enforcement remedies available to Ofwat within that Act. Consistency with the draft strategic policy statement to Ofwat and Ofwat’s price review mechanism is also important. Aligning the new duty with the existing framework in this way will ensure that the price review does its job, balancing the need for investment with the need to protect customers from disproportionate prices.
I thank again noble Lords across this House and Members of the other place, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, but many others as well. I hope that noble Lords will be able to support our position today. I look forward to setting out more detail before the Bill returns to the other place.
I turn to Motion K and Amendment 65, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for tabling the amendment. The powers we are taking in the Bill will allow us to refocus the habitats regulations to ensure that the legislation supports our ambitions for nature. It also includes a requirement to set a legally binding target to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030.
The powers under Clauses 105 and 106 form an important part of our ambition for domestic nature recovery. Our Green Paper will set out proposals to support nature recovery in England and provide an opportunity for consultation. Since July, we have been undertaking stakeholder meetings to discuss our plans and seek early views. These powers have been carefully and tightly drafted so that they contain strong safeguards to ensure that we maintain and enhance protections for nature conservation. These protections are not too dissimilar to those put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs; I hope he agrees. Our clauses already provide that, in exercising these powers, the Secretary of State must be satisfied that the changes do not reduce the level of environmental protection currently provided by the habitats regulations, thereby safeguarding the future of our valuable species and habitats. The Secretary of State must also have regard to the particular importance of furthering the conservation and enhancement of biodiversity.
Our clauses also already provide that the Secretary of State must publicly consult on any changes. We have already publicly committed to consult the office for environmental protection and government statutory nature advisers. Finally, the Government will of course remain bound by international nature conservation law. We are committed to all our obligations; we do not need to set this out in primary legislation. I hope the noble Lord will therefore agree that this amendment is not necessary, and I ask him to withdraw it.
Turning to Amendments 94 and 95, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher for tabling them. The Bill introduces what is unarguably pioneering legislation to tackle illegal deforestation in UK supply chains. Businesses will be required to ensure that the forest risk commodities they use are not produced on land illegally occupied or used. The UK is a world leader in introducing such legislation, which forms part of a wider package of measures to improve the sustainability of our supply chains. On the back of this legislation, a number of other important consumer countries are working on their own versions in order to create a real global shift in the commodity markets. I look forward to further discussions next week at COP on international action to protect forests. Following a huge amount of very hard work across departments, we hope to be able to produce a package of measures that will turn the tide on deforestation. I should love to go into the detail, but I am afraid I am not able to do so.
I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments of the House regarding these amendments. It is of the utmost importance that this legislation works, which is why we have included a requirement to review its effectiveness every two years after it comes into force. As part of this, we will be required to set out any steps we intend to take as the result of the review, to ensure that we take action if we do not see progress.
These amendments, which would require the first review to happen after just one year, would limit the Government’s ability to conduct an effective review. We simply would not have anything like enough data or analysis to inform whatever decision we might want to take at that point. Businesses are required to submit their first report and due diligence at the end of the first year of implementation. This information will be essential to ensure a successful, comprehensive review. Initially, we shall be focusing our efforts on working with businesses to make sure that they understand what is required of them and that the policy is effectively implemented and enforced from the beginning. We are working on a number of different levels, both internationally and domestically, to bolster our approach to trying to break the link between commodity production and deforestation, the former being responsible for around 80% of the latter.
Turning to Amendment 66 and Motion L, on ancient woodlands, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, for tabling that amendment and for the persuasive arguments she has put forward throughout the Bill’s passage and during our numerous phone conversations and meetings. I also thank the Woodland Trust for its partnership working with government on the ancient woodland inventory—a hugely important tool for the protection of this irreplaceable habitat. We are grateful for all it does.
I want to repeat the announcements my honourable friend Rebecca Pow made in the other place during the Commons consideration of Lords amendments. First, we will undertake a review of the National Planning Policy Framework to ensure that it is being implemented correctly in the case of ancient and veteran trees and ancient woodland. Should this review conclude that implementation can be improved, we will look to strengthen the guidance to local planning authorities to ensure that they understand the protections provided to ancient woodland. Secondly, we will consult on strengthening the wording of the National Planning Policy Framework better to ensure the strongest possible protection of ancient woodlands, while recognising the complex delivery challenges for major infrastructure.
Alongside these reforms we will amend the town and country planning (consultation) direction to require local planning authorities to consult the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities if they are minded to grant permission for developments that might affect ancient woodland. This underlines the importance of ancient woodland to local planning authorities and ensures that they act appropriately with regard to development that could impact on it. I reassure noble Lords that these measures will be undertaken in a timely manner, working hand in hand with the forthcoming planning reforms. This announcement, along with the commitments previously made in the England Trees Action Plan, underlines the Government’s commitment to ancient woodlands as valuable, irreplaceable habitats. We will continue to explore options further to protect and restore ancient woodlands and to ensure that, where impact on them is deemed wholly necessary, it will happen only as an absolute last resort.
Infrastructure development is a vital part of levelling up the country, but it is right that the impacts on ancient woodland be minimised and mitigated. I will continue to raise this issue beyond this Bill with my counterparts across government, as I have already done. While we do not accept the amendment, I hope that this is a positive outcome for the noble Baroness and for your Lordships’ House. This announcement will deliver effective action to protect our precious and irreplaceable ancient woodland. Much of this is down to effective and compelling arguments made in this House. I hope that the noble Baroness feels able to support the Government’s Motion.
I turn now to Motion M in this very long list, and Amendments 67A and 67E, on conservation covenants. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and all noble Lords who supported Amendment 67 for their time and contributions. One of the key issues previously raised in your Lordships’ House was the level of formality required for entering into a conservation covenant agreement. Having reflected on this concern and having heard the arguments made, in particular by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, the Government acknowledge that an additional layer of formality would provide some reassurance to landowners. As such, I am pleased that we have been able to reach agreement to table Amendments 67A and 67E during Commons consideration of Lords amendments to require that conservation covenant agreements be executed as deeds. In addition, government guidance on conservation covenants will provide clear support on the relevant execution formalities which will be required. It will also highlight key areas for the parties to consider before entering into a covenant, such as the duration of their obligations and the provision of payment, as well as encouraging them to take independent legal advice.
I hope that your Lordships’ House will support the Government’s position. I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Devon, is up a mountain in Wales, but I know that he supports Motion M. I hope that noble Lords appreciate the progress that has been made. I thank them all for their contributions to and ongoing engagement with the Environment Bill. I beg to move Motion H.
Motion H1 (as an amendment to Motion H)
43B: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—
“Bee and Pollinator Safety
Protection of pollinators from pesticides
(1) Prior to any authorisation for use of a pesticide product, an active ingredient, a safener or a synergist, a pollinator risk assessment report, containing scientific data and risk assessment conclusions relating to the effects of the relevant substance, must be published by an expert body consisting of individuals free from vested interests in pesticide use, who must have been independently appointed.
(2) The pollinator risk assessment report must include—
(a) data examining acute and chronic effects of the relevant substance on honeybees, bumblebees, solitary bees, butterflies and hoverflies,
(b) all available scientific evidence relating to effects on any pollinators,
(c) an assessment of synergistic effects, and
(d) the identification of any risks to pollinators where the available evidence is insufficient to reach a conclusion.
(3) The expert body must consult the public on the draft content of the pollinator risk assessment.
(4) A competent authority must not authorise for use any pesticide product, active ingredient, safener or synergist until and unless the public—
(a) has been informed early, in an adequate, timely and effective manner, that a decision will be made,
(b) has been consulted on the decision that the competent authority intends to make, including on any mitigation or restriction measures that are proposed, and
(c) has had access, for the full consultation period, to all statutory risk assessments required for the authorisation decision.
(5) In addition to considerations set out elsewhere, when making any authorisation decision the competent authority must—
(a) aim to achieve a high level of protection for the environment,
(b) be satisfied that there will be no significant short-term negative effect, and no long-term negative effect, on the health of honeybees or wild pollinator populations,
(c) publish, with the consultation referred to in subsection (4)(b), a statement explaining why the competent authority is satisfied that requirements (a) and (b) of this subsection have been met.
(6) This section comes into force on 1 March 2023.
(7) In this section—
“authorise for use” includes authorisation by derogation; “competent authority” means—
(a) in relation to England, the Secretary of State;
(b) in relation to Wales, the Welsh Ministers;
(c) in relation to Scotland, the Scottish Ministers;
(d) the Secretary of State when acting with the consent of either or both the Welsh Ministers in relation to Wales and the Scottish Ministers in relation to Scotland.””
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his time and for that of his officials during the passage of this Bill on the subject of pesticides and pollinators, and for his comments this afternoon. I was disappointed, as were others, that the other place chose to ignore the vote of this Chamber and rejected our amendment on the basis that the law makes provision to protect pollinators from the effects of pesticides. I fear that this is not the case. It is clear from its response that the other place has not fully grasped the extent to which the existing provisions fail to protect any non-honey bee pollinators, and to which the proposed provisions fall outside the pre-existing provisions.
Insect pollinators are vital for the maintenance of ecosystem health and for global food security. Seventy-five per cent of crops species, 35% of global crop production and up to 88% of flowering plant species are dependent to some extent on insect pollinators. There is substantial concern as to their current and future conservation status. Key threats to pollinators include agriculture intensification, particularly habitat loss and pesticide use, climate change and the spread of alien species.
We have had detailed debates on this subject previously, and now is not the time to revisit that detail. I thank the Minister for his commitment and for his comments. I welcome the commitment to assess the use of pesticides in the round, and I look forward to hearing the detail. The Minister speaks very fast, so I will study Hansard to assess his detailed comments. I beg to move.
My Lords, I declare my interests as a farmer as set out in the register. I also share with the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, a considerable love of bees. I am not sure whether she intends to press the House on this, but I must set the record straight regarding the use of plant protection products as this is absolutely fundamental to agriculture in this country.
First, PPPs are targeted, not used in isolation. They form a critical component of an integrated pest management approach which carefully considers all available protection methods to discourage development of populations of harmful organisms; their use, and the use of other forms of intervention, are kept to levels that are economically and ecologically justified; and they reduce and minimise the risk to human health and the environment.
Secondly, there is a big misconception that farmers use PPPs even though they do not need to. Farmers only use PPPs when they absolutely must to protect our food supply against pests, weeds and diseases that would otherwise cause us to lose between 30% and 40% of our food production. When farmers use PPPs, they ensure they are only using as much as is necessary and take measures to ensure that they impact only on intended crops.
Thirdly, as stated on numerous occasions, the current regulatory system for PPPs is among the most stringent in the world. All products on the market have been subject to a thorough assessment to ensure a high level of protection of human and animal health and the environment. This includes bees and other pollinators. Insecticides are by their nature toxic to bees and other pollinators; however, the way they are used ensures that the risk of exposure is minimised to levels that do not harm bees or other pollinators. As part of the regulation, an appropriate risk assessment is carried out on all active substances and products before they reach the market. They can be approved for use only if it will result in negligible exposure to honey bees or it has no perceptible, acute or chronic effect on colony survival or development. That is the actual situation. I welcome the Minister’s response to this amendment and I look forward to the result of that.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 45B to government Motion J, in my name. I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Altmann and Lady Quin, and the noble Lord, Lord Oates, for agreeing to sign the amendment, but that is apparently not permitted in this House during the so-called ping-pong process, when only one signature is allowed. I must emphasise that this is a cross-party amendment and surely that is right; party politics should not be inserted into a matter like this. I was very disturbed to hear this morning that many Conservative Members of Parliament have received very disagreeable messages on social media. This is completely unacceptable and very regrettable.
This House passed a similar amendment to Amendment 45B to clean up our rivers some weeks ago, with support from all sides of the House. When the amendment was debated last Wednesday in the other place, there was again support for it from all sides of the House. One Conservative MP described it as
“the most important amendment we are faced with this evening.”
Another Conservative MP said:
“Yes, there are all these duties to report, to produce plans and so on, which is great, but should there not also be a duty on the water companies to actually do something”? —[ Official Report, Commons, 20/10/21; col. 841-61.]
It is relevant to note that in the vote a substantial number of Conservative MPs voted against the Government, including the right honourable Philip Dunne, the chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, Sir Bernard Jenkin, the chairman of the Liaison Committee, Sir Peter Bottomley, Father of the House, and several other former Cabinet Ministers and chairmen of Select Committees. In addition, all Members of all other parties supported the amendment, except the Scottish National Party, which abstained, as did 20 further Conservative MPs. It therefore seems more than justified that we ask the House of Commons to look again at the merits of this amendment, which has so much support in Parliament and in the country.
I am sure that all Members of this House would agree that it is unacceptable to allow the repeated and continuous discharge of sewage into rivers, lakes and coastal waters. I know that that is the view of our two excellent Ministers, Rebecca Pow in the other place and the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, in this House. I thank them for the several meetings I have had with them, including a short meeting this morning with the Secretary of State George Eustice.
The Government have tabled several amendments during this process for more plans, more monitoring and more reporting. It is true that water companies have announced their intention to invest more in their systems, but I am very doubtful that that will be enough to achieve what we all want and to get something done. That requires a legal duty to be placed on the water companies.
I remind your Lordships that this amendment proposes only the duty to
“take all reasonable steps to ensure”
that sewage is not discharged. It will be resisted by the water companies and probably by the Treasury, but it is surely reasonable that water companies be obliged by law to show the regulators that they are taking “all reasonable steps” to prevent this revolting practice, which is not acceptable in a civilised society in the 21st century, particularly in a country which is hosting next week’s climate summit and is trying to lead the world in high environmental standards. The necessary greening of the kingdom is placing heavy financial burdens on us all—industrially, commercially and domestically. While this massive national and international effort is taking place, how can we justify allowing these damaging and disgusting discharges into the aquatic environment to continue?
I was naturally very pleased to hear the Minister announce that, if this amendment passes, the Government intend to introduce in the other place an amendment in lieu. I am grateful to the Government for making that gesture. I have not yet been able to form an opinion on the exact wording of that amendment, but I am sure it is a very important move by the Government. Therefore, I will be moving my amendment at the appropriate moment.
My Lords, I want to speak briefly on Motion H1 on pollinators. If the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, was disappointed with the other place, I was rather disappointed with our own House when we did not pass the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, on the effect of pesticides on human health, because the issue of pesticides is about not just pollinators but human health as well. It is also about insects generally; I think we have missed out a few, such as moths, on the list of pollinators. I was delighted to hear what the Minister said. I am very pleased; we will keep a close eye on how the Government look at the issue of pesticides.
I will speak briefly on what the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, has just said. I, too, have been down the other end today and seen the vile abuse that many Conservative Members have received. It is absolutely appalling and has been encouraged, I am afraid—whether it is social media or whatever. People I know have worked really hard on this, including my noble friend the Minister. When we started this Bill, there was none of this in there at all, so we have moved very far on this issue. I want to put on record my extreme thanks to both the Minister here and the Minister in the other place for listening to that. Of course, it is not just sewage that we have to think about, although that is what we are talking about now. There are all sorts of other pollution going on, such as phosphates. The River Wye has been destroyed by poultry farms where excrement has leached into the water.
I was of the opinion that the Government could go further; from what I hear, they will. As far as I understand from my days down the other end, in order for the Government to table an amendment in lieu, today’s amendment must go through. I am rather hoping that it will go through without a vote, but if there is a Division, for the sake of the Government’s position, I will oppose the Government on it.
My Lords, I rise to support the amendment in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. I am a sailor, and have sailed and swam in UK waters for six decades. I have constantly been appalled by the amount of raw sewage I have found in those waters, which has got worse.
I am not on social media but I was sent a digital view of what happened in Langstone Harbour, which runs out into the Solent—into Spithead, actually, which has a position in my heart, as your Lordships can imagine. For 48 hours last Thursday and Friday, raw sewage was pumped through a seven-foot pipe into Langstone Harbour. That is totally unacceptable. I am not blaming the Government for this. I do not do social media, and I certainly would not in a million years blame the Minister; after all, he has been in his position for only half a dog watch, and I know that he feels strongly about this as well. We really have to do something about this. I blame the water companies. How they behave has been appalling. We cannot let this go on. They must be held responsible and have their feet put to the fire.
My Lords, I share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord West, on these issues. I happen to have lived in the same area for more than 70 years and I know the Solent very well, so I share his sentiments on this exactly.
Can I remind your Lordships of where we are on this issue? We have debated this for many weeks now. The rivers, streams and inland waterways of our country all fail to pass the statutory chemical tests, and only 16% of them meet “good” ecological status. The United Kingdom is ranked near the bottom of 30 European countries for coastal water quality. Why? Water companies, particularly Southern Water, are flouting their legal obligations to restrict the discharge of foul raw sewage into our rivers and estuaries. They are instead increasing discharges, apparently happy to risk fines running into hundreds of millions of pounds, which hardly dent their profits and could be better invested in modernising their sewerage infrastructure. I ask again: why? The powers and resources of our regulating agencies have been progressively stripped of funding, leaving them toothless and ineffective. Again, we should ask why. Meanwhile, the biodiversity and ecosystems of our rivers and cherished chalk streams are dying. The reasons, of course, are clear.
I ask your Lordships to support the noble Duke’s amendment tonight so that we can begin to address these issues while allaying the concerns of the Government about unreasonable obligations being placed on water companies—because they are not.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend the Duke of Wellington and our honourable friend Philip Dunne in the other place on bringing us to this place today. I pay a warm tribute to the Minister, who has managed to administer this Bill and be open to a number of amendments already.
As he is aware, I am concerned when he refers to the regulations giving a mandatory scheme for new developments for the simple reason we debated at earlier stages of the Bill. I seek his reassurance yet again: will he please give us a timetable for the regulations that he says he will bring forward under the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 to ensure that statutory responsibilities are placed on planning authorities to treat water companies as statutory consultees? It is very important that water companies are given the tools to do the job. Unless we end the automatic right to connect, you will have major developments of 30, 50 or sometimes 300 houses seeking to emit sewage into antiquated Victorian pipes that simply cannot take it. The sewage then goes into the combined sewers and often comes back into existing developments, meaning that those people have to be evacuated for between six and 12 months before they can be rehoused because it is a public health risk.
I urge my noble friend to bring forward these regulations before the end of the year, if possible, to end the automatic right to connect—not to make it conditional but to end it completely, as Sir Michael Pitt called for after the floods in 2007. That way, I believe that we will not offload all the sewage into the rivers and seas—that is the focus of the amendment before us this evening—but will actually front-end it and make sure that this problem never occurs again in any future development.
My Lords, I very much congratulate the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, on all the work he has done on this issue. As a co-signatory of a similar amendment he moved on Report, I welcome the fact that he has retabled it to ask the other place—the House of Commons—to think again. Like him, I welcome the fact that there was a sizeable rebellion of the Government’s own supporters in the House of Commons; I hope that they will be joined by others if we return this amendment today, or that the Government will move even more in the direction that they have already signalled to us they are considering.
Of course, I deplore abusive tweets and messages and know the misery that they can cause, but I am glad, and welcome the fact, that people across the country are waking up to the extent of the problem of sewage discharges—which they certainly are. I hope that this proper public pressure will be brought to bear effectively in order to remedy this situation.
I will not repeat further what has been said but will simply make two points. The water industry itself seems to be behind other UK business sectors in its use of technology, yet if British expertise could be harnessed more effectively to tackle the problems of sewage discharges here at home, there is the consequent potential of being able to export environmental technology and equipment elsewhere, and thereby gain some economic benefits for the country as a whole.
My final point is to flag up an issue that has been touched on by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and about which I will write further to the Minister, rather than detaining the House. I think that planning authorities need to take much greater account of the state of sewers, drains and discharges into rivers when looking at applications for more housing. My neighbours are already having problems with the present inadequate draining and sewage systems and the problems of overflows and numerous sewage discharges into a very sensitive river, the River Coquet. This is happening at the same time as new housing developments are being planned. This is not about objecting to housing as such, but objecting to schemes that will overload and overwhelm already fragile and inadequate drainage and sewage systems.
As I say, I will write to the Minister further about this, but I hope that, in the meantime, a very clear message in support of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, will be given by your Lordships’ House today.
My Lords, first, I thank my noble friend for Motion M and what he has done on conservation covenants. I was a great supporter of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, because, having been a surveyor, I know just how difficult those conservation covenants would be for some farmers, so the new wording is very much appreciated.
My second point is to support very much what my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering said about automatic connection for new developments. This is absolutely crucial. I spoke about it in Committee and on Report. Given the amount of new development there will be, the new regulations need to be brought in as quickly as possible.
Finally, I turn very briefly to the amendment tabled by the noble Duke. The noble Lord, Lord West, told us about Langstone Harbour. That is visible to us all. If you go to the BBC News website, you will see drone footage of this terrible event, which the BBC says lasted 49 hours, not 48. It was not only sewage that was released but chemicals. The visible effect of that is probably as devastating to anybody who does not understand this problem. That short video also says that there were 400,000 releases of sewage into our rivers last year. That is more than 1,000 a day.
I congratulate the Government on bringing in all the measures on water that they have introduced to make the necessary improvements. I also hope that my noble friend the Minister will accept the amendment of the noble Duke so that this can be revised in the other place, as my noble friend wants.
My Lords, at this stage, I know that the only thing noble Lords want is to get on with the vote or non-vote, so I will be very brief. I just want to say a huge thank you to the Minister and his wonderful team for the finagling they did with DLUHC—I call it the department of luck—in getting the concessions on ancient woodland protection. I am also delighted with what the Minister said tonight in association with that about the rigour of the reviews, the need for action following reviews and support for the ancient woodland inventory. How can we expect local authorities and developers to avoid ancient woodlands if they do not know where they are? The ancient woodland inventory is far from complete at the moment.
I will make two points before I sit down—my Front Bench is giving me hate mail. First, I hope the Secretary of State for DLUHC will take his new call-in duty seriously, because that is one of the most important parts of these concessions. Secondly, we really need to find a way of enfolding national infrastructure into the provision so that the majority of damage, which is now caused primarily by national infrastructure, does not continue. I was bemused, as were many other noble Lords, by the reason for the Commons rejecting my amendment:
“Because the National Planning Policy Framework and the Forestry Commission and Natural England’s standing advice already make provision to protect ancient woodland”.
Clearly, they have not seen the 290 cases that have arisen in the last 12 months alone.
I very much thank the Minister, his team and all noble Lords around this House, including the noble Lord, Lord Randall, who reminded me very firmly of the little kid who ran between Alan Bates and Julie Christie in “The Go-Between”, as he did shuttle diplomacy with his party at the other end.
My Lords, I will speak on my own behalf now. First, I am absolutely horrified at the abuse that the Minister has received. I do not know about the practices in this House, but the other Member should be disgusted at his behaviour. I have not seen it all. I would check up, but he has blocked me. I think I offered a tiny amount of criticism once and he blocked me. The first person to block me was President Trump—so, you know.
The amendment from the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, is absolutely necessary. We have seen a vast public outcry over this. The whole point was that the Government swept aside our amendment without really understanding just how much the public cared. That was a huge mistake on their part and I hope that they now go all the way to meeting the noble Duke. He has in fact amended the amendment slightly, making it much more reasonable.
Quite honestly, if any Conservative Members at the other end vote against this again, they will have to explain themselves. I thank Feargal Sharkey, the punk star, and Professor Jamie Woodward, who have given me huge amounts of information. I do not believe in abuse on social media, but if I see Tories being virtuous on this subject, I will highlight what is happening in their constituencies.
If we are going to fix the sewage discharges, we can also fix the discharges of plastic and microplastics. Apparently, we could do this all together. That is something we clearly have to do.
I was absolutely horrified by Conservative Central Office, which put out all that nonsense about how much this was going to cost. If the Minister wants to correct the record on that, I would be absolutely delighted, but I understand if he does not have the figures to hand. The issue of cost was not raised at the other end, because I am sure the Ministers did not want to mislead Parliament. Perhaps the Conservative Party’s office might just draw in its fangs occasionally and start to tell the truth.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, on his determination and persistence on this issue. Equally, I thank my noble friend the Minister, my honourable friend Rebecca Pow and the officials who have engaged so sincerely and robustly with us in exploring ways forward.
I am grateful for the progress we have made so far. However, before the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, laid amendments to this Bill, the Government seemed reluctant to place an actual duty on companies. I am hopeful that we can be extremely proud of the changes that we in this House have made in bringing this issue to the forefront of public opinion and prompting action from the Government.
I too express my abhorrence for any vitriol levelled against honourable Members in the other place. Have we not learned in recent weeks the dangers of that type of discourse and personal abuse? I implore noble Lords and those who may still have significant concerns about this Bill to accept that the progress we have made has been made in good faith by Ministers and officials who sincerely wish to make this a landmark piece of legislation—I believe it will be—and are committed to the environmental causes that are so important to so many of us.
Without the duty that the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, proposes, it is entirely possible that little or nothing would happen. That is not safe for public health. I declare my interests as in the register. I recognise the importance of private water utilities to many pension funds and institutional portfolios, which rely on their generous dividends. I have no interest in seeing these companies pushed into bankruptcy or public ownership, but I believe they have neglected their sewage overflow problems for years. They have failed to invest sufficiently to limit the problem and have even played fast and loose with the requirements to report overflows and allowed many illegal discharges. It is time to legislate to force them to spend significant sums to make up for past underspending and egregious behaviour, rather than relying on further promises which leave us with horribly polluted waters.
As the Rivers Trust said—I commend it on its work—more than half of Britain’s rivers are in poor ecological condition due to sewage discharges. This amendment does not call for the immediate elimination of sewage discharges but for ongoing reductions. Clearly, this will take time, but a new duty is so important as we have not really even started.
I noticed this afternoon that the Government have just announced and released on the Defra website plans to further strengthen the Bill with their own amendment to be enshrined in law, which I am led to believe will ensure that water companies have a duty to progressively reduce the adverse impact of sewage discharges from storm overflows. I sincerely hope that that is the case. For that to happen we will need to pass this amendment in this House tonight. I also congratulate my right honourable friend Philip Dunne and my honourable friend Richard Graham and others in the other place who have been working so hard behind the scenes to ensure that we move to a much better place on this amendment.
I therefore hope that noble Lords will support the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, in this important amendment, and I hope and believe that the Minister and the Government will take us to the right place very soon.
My Lords, in view of the Minister’s remarks, I should intervene briefly. The noble Baroness just made the crucial point that there appears to have been a major change of government policy. Let us not delude ourselves: that is because of the strength of parliamentary and public opinion. We have been doing our job in making it clear that the disgraceful situation which my noble friend Lord West, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and others have referred to, should not continue.
The Minister was so busy criticising me that he did not say explicitly that he is accepting the amendment in the name of the noble Duke. Are the Government accepting it? I see that the noble Baroness is shaking her head. Is it the case that they are not accepting the amendment? So we will have to vote. That is quite a significant point. The Government are still not in a situation where they are clearly accepting what the noble Duke said. The Government could, procedurally, accept the amendment in the name of the noble Duke, it would go back, and they could then move a further amendment.
I will give the noble Lord an answer. The Government encourage the noble Duke, the Duke of Westminster—I have done it again. I will go to jail voluntarily after this. The Government encourage the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, to press his amendment to a Division. The reason for doing so is because we will then be able to send it back to the House of Commons so that the Commons can then table our amendment in lieu. I would have thought the noble Lord would be aware of that and I suspect—in the same way that he continues to send absurd messages on Twitter in the last few minutes—that he probably already knew the answer.
My Lords, I am well aware of the procedure of the House; I have been here rather longer than the noble Lord. The question is whether the Government are accepting it. Are they going to vote? No? So they are not voting. If they are not voting, that means that the amendment in the name of the noble Duke will go back to the House of Commons, and the right thing to do then is for it to be accepted or for them to move whatever technical changes they want.
On the substance of this issue, obviously the House congratulates the noble Duke on the stand he has taken. It is because of that stand that we are in this position this evening. On the business of criticisms of the Minister, let us make this very clear. Speaker after speaker in this debate has pointed out that unless there is this duty—an actual duty on water companies to reduce these illegal or unacceptable discharges—the current unsatisfactory position would not only continue but would probably get worse. The noble Earl referred to this.
With the scale of further development, the cutback of two-thirds in the Environment Agency—I am not giving way to the noble Lord; he can make his own remarks in a moment if he wishes to. I was criticised by the Minister so it is perfectly reasonable that I should reply. There has been a cutback of two-thirds in the staff of the Environment Agency over the last 10 years. In addition, the new guidance from the Environment Agency says that because of Brexit—yes, Brexit—where water companies cannot get the chemicals they need because of the HGV crisis, they are allowed exemptions from current rules. For all those reasons there is very good reason to believe that without the amendment in the name of the noble Duke, the situation would get worse and not better. My statement was clear, that without the change which the noble Duke is proposing, the situation over which the Government are presiding—the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, is the Minister responsible—would get worse.
We are doing the right thing in supporting the noble Duke. The House has shown itself in its best lights in supporting him so strongly, I am glad that the Government have come to this position and now, I hope, they will start moving in the right direction rather than the wrong direction.
My Lords, if we may return to the topic of the debate, I do not think the House is benefiting from this exchange.
I will briefly speak to the amendment in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. Before I do so, I thank the Minister for moving on the issue of conservation covenant agreements and agreeing to require that they must be executed by deed. I was pleased to support the amendment in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and I congratulate him on bringing it to a successful conclusion.
I was likewise pleased to put my name to the original amendment tabled by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, to address the scandal that we have heard so much about this evening and in our previous discussions of the hundreds of thousands of sewage discharges into our waterways every year. We should recall that the House of Commons in fact agreed to the majority of the amendment in the name of the noble Duke, but they removed the critical lines 7 to 14, which he is restoring by his amendment. As we have heard, a significant number of Conservative MPs rebelled on this issue either by voting against or by abstaining, and those who did not were given pause for thought by the outpouring of public anger on this issue. I, of course, deplore any vilification that there was on this.
This is a critical issue for the public and for the health of our inland and coastal waters and our environment as a whole, so we on these Benches will be pleased to support the amendment in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington.
In the interests of time, and due to the fact that noble Lords have made important contributions to this debate, I hope that your Lordships will not be too disappointed that I have decided to completely tear up my speech. Instead, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, for giving us the opportunity to return to the important issue of protecting pollinators from pesticides. I also thank the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, for his tenaciousness in continuing to press the Government on this very important matter and for making serious progress. If he wishes to test the opinion of the House, he will have our full support, but I hope that the Government will not vote against.
I thank noble Lords again for their contributions to this debate. I will briefly address Amendment 43B. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, for, as I understand it, agreeing not to press her amendment—I hope I have not pre-empted a decision—but more importantly, for her work on this vital issue. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, that she has been very effective at raising this issue on the agenda. I am grateful to her for that, and I hope we will be able to continue to work together on this issue as we develop a robust pesticide action plan. I thank her very much indeed.
Much has already been said regarding storm overflows, so I will keep it brief. I thank Members across the House and in the other place for their informed, valuable and passionate contributions. I am pleased that we were able to announce progress today. In response to the noble Baroness on the Front Bench I say that, while the Government must vote against this amendment today, for procedural reasons and to ensure that the House of Commons has an opportunity to deliver the proposed amendment in lieu, that is not a reflection of an ideological difference; it is simply a procedural issue.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked a number of questions, in particular about a timeline for the implementation of Schedule 3. It has already commenced and will be completed in 2022; I cannot give a month, I am afraid.
I very much appreciate the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. On the costs that she talked about, there is a difference between the cost of eliminating harm from overflows and the cost of eliminating overflows. It is the cost of eliminating overflows to which those figures apply. I will not pretend that I have been through the figures myself but, based on everything that I know, the range is anywhere between £150 billion and £500 billion. In real terms, it is not a relevant figure, in that no one is proposing that this amount of money should be spent on infrastructure. The key is the elimination of harm, which would allow the overflow to happen in some cases and for investment in sustainable systems such as reed beds and the like. That would not be the elimination of overflows but it would be effective management of them. It is, however, the correct figure for eliminating overflows.
The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, asked a question on the chemical issue. Again, it is not the case that there is a shortage of chemicals preventing the water companies doing their job. There is currently no disruption to the supply of water, water treatment or the treatment of wastewater. The shortage of HGV drivers had meant that there was a risk that deliveries of ferric sulphate, a water treatment chemical, would be delayed, but the Environment Agency successfully and very quickly mitigated that risk.
On Amendment 65, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, I assure noble Lords that the Government will publish a nature recovery Green Paper in the coming months, setting out our approach to supporting nature recovery in England. It will show our commitment to and focus on this matter, which I know is enormously important to almost everyone in this House.
On Amendments 94 and 95, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, I reiterate that we will not have in one year meaningful data with which to assess the effectiveness of this legislation. However, the disagreement that we have is entirely practical; it is not based on our hopes for the effectiveness of this legislation. As I said before, if it is clear before two years that something bad has happened and the Government have chosen to exploit or create a loophole, we will act long before the review deadline of two years. It will be very obvious to us should that be necessary.
Moving on to Motion K, although I ask the House to disagree to Amendment 66, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, I very much appreciate her remarks and her commitment to the issue; she has pushed it right up the political agenda in a very effective way. I hope that your Lordships’ House will welcome the Government’s progress and the commitment to enhancing the protection of ancient woodlands, on which the noble Baroness and I have agreed, I am delighted to say.
On Motion M, I hope that noble Lords can support the Commons in its Amendments 67A to 67E, which will provide further reassurance to landowners on the issue of conservation governance.
I hope noble Lords agree that, in addition to the progress made in Committee and on Report, we have moved further today to protect our waters, our trees and our landscapes for future generations.
Motion H1 withdrawn.
Motion H agreed.
45A: Leave out lines 7 to 14
Motion J1 (as an amendment to Motion J)
45B: At end insert “and insert—
“141A Duty on sewerage undertakers to take all reasonable steps to ensure untreated sewage is not discharged from storm overflows into inland and coastal waters
(1) A sewerage undertaker must, as soon as reasonable, take such steps as are necessary to—
(a) demonstrate improvement in the performance of sewerage systems, and
(b) secure progressive reductions in the harm caused by untreated sewage discharges into inland and coastal waters.
(2) The Secretary of State, the Director and the Environment Agency must exercise their respective functions under this and any other Act to secure compliance with this duty.””
65A: Because the powers conferred by clauses 105 and 106 should not be limited in the manner proposed.
Motion K agreed.
66A: Because the National Planning Policy Framework and the Forestry Commission and Natural England’s standing advice already make provision to protect ancient woodland in England.
Motion L agreed.
67A: Clause 110, page 109, line 13, leave out “in writing signed” and insert “executed as a deed”
67B: Clause 120, page 115, line 33, leave out “in writing signed” and insert “executed as a deed”
67C: Clause 121, page 116, line 1, leave out “in writing signed” and insert “executed as a deed”
67D: Clause 122, page 116, line 15, leave out “in writing signed” and insert “executed as a deed”
67E: Clause 124, page 117, line 6, leave out “in writing signed” and insert “executed as a deed”
Motion M agreed.
75A: Schedule 3, page 155, leave out lines 12 to 14
75B: Schedule 3, page 155, line 16, at end insert—
“(6) Before issuing the guidance, the Department must—
(a) prepare a draft, and
(b) lay the draft before the Northern Ireland Assembly.
(7) If before the end of the 21 day period the Northern Ireland Assembly passes a resolution in respect of the draft guidance, the Department must produce a response and lay it before the Assembly.
(8) The Department may prepare and lay before the Northern Ireland Assembly the final guidance, but not before—
(a) if subsection (7) applies, the day on which the Department lays the response required by that subsection, or
(b) otherwise, the end of the 21 day period.
(9) The final guidance has effect when it is laid before the Northern Ireland Assembly.
(10) The Department must publish the guidance when it comes into effect.
(11) The “21 day period” is the period of 21 sitting days beginning with the first sitting day after the day on which the draft guidance is laid under subsection (6).
(12) “Sitting day” means a day on which the Northern Ireland Assembly sits.
(13) The Department may revise the guidance at any time (and subsections (6) to (12) apply in relation to any revised guidance).”
Motion N1 (as an amendment to Motion N)
75C: Schedule 3, page 155, leave out lines 2 to 16 and insert—
“24A OEP independence
(1) The OEP has complete discretion in the carrying out of its functions in Northern Ireland, including in—
(a) preparing its enforcement policy,
(b) exercising its enforcement functions, and
(c) preparing and publishing its budget.
(2) The Department may issue guidance to the OEP on the matters listed in section 22(6)(c).
(3) The OEP must have regard to the guidance in preparing its enforcement policy, unless there are material considerations that indicate otherwise.
(4) Before issuing the guidance, the Department must—
(a) prepare and consult on a draft,
(b) lay the draft before the Northern Ireland Assembly, and
(c) publish a response to the consultation.
(5) The Department must publish the guidance when it comes into effect.
(6) In making or terminating appointments under paragraph 2(2B) and paragraph 5(8)(b) of Schedule 1, the Northern Ireland Department must obtain the consent of the Committee for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs of the Northern Ireland Assembly.””
Motion N1 agreed.
That this House do not insist on its Amendment 85, do agree with the Commons in their Amendments 85A, 85B and 85C in lieu and do propose Amendment 85D as an amendment to Commons Amendment 85B and Amendment 85E as an amendment to Commons Amendment 85C—
85A: Clause 54, page 32, line 39, leave out “plastic”
85B: Schedule 9, page 183, line 28, at end insert—
“(1A) Regulations made by the Secretary of State may specify only items which—
(a) are single use items, and
(b) are supplied in connection with goods or services.”
85C: Schedule 9, page 183, line 29, leave out “The regulations” and insert “Regulations made by the Welsh Ministers or the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland”
85D: After “State” insert “or the Welsh Ministers”
85E: Leave out “the Welsh Ministers or”
Motion P agreed.
94A: Because the timetable for the Secretary of State’s review of legislation relating to forest risk commodities should not be brought forward.
Motion Q agreed.
95A: Because the timetable for the Secretary of State’s review of legislation relating to forest risk commodities should not be brought forward.
Motion R agreed.