Thursday 9 February 2023
Climate Change: Nature-based Solutions (STC Report)
Motion to Take Note
That the Grand Committee takes note of the Report from the Science and Technology Committee Nature-based solutions for climate change: rhetoric or reality? (2nd Report, Session 2021-22, HL Paper 147).
My Lords, I start by declaring my interest as chair of the adaptation committee of the Climate Change Committee.
I am delighted to introduce for debate this Science and Technology Committee report on nature-based solutions for climate change on behalf of my noble friend Lord Patel, the former chair of the committee. I thank all the committee members who participated in the report; our expert adviser, Professor Peter Smith, of the University of Aberdeen; and particularly the committee staff at the time, George Webber, Thomas Hornigold and Cerise Burnett-Stuart.
Nature-based solutions form a critical element of the Government’s net-zero strategy. We will need the carbon sequestration services of new forests and woodlands, restored peatlands, and new wetlands and marine environments if we are to take enough carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to get us to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. We may also need to grow significant new areas of bioenergy crops to enable us to generate energy with carbon capture and storage, and to contribute to decarbonising aviation through the production of sustainable aviation fuels. All of that implies significant change to the way in which we use land. The CCC estimates that forest and woodland cover will need to increase from about 14% today to 18% by 2050, supported by major changes to what and how we farm. If we get it right, this will lead to healthier diets.
Our inquiry was important, but it was also timely, because the replacement of the common agricultural policy—following our departure from the European Union—by the development and introduction of the new environmental land management scheme is the key opportunity to support farmers properly to deliver the changes that we will need, while maintaining their livelihoods and enhancing our precious countryside.
The inquiry considered how protecting, managing and restoring natural ecosystems and agricultural land can reduce net greenhouse gas emissions and provide co-benefits such as adaptation to the changing climate, examining issues of both science and policy. The inquiry ran from July 2021 to January 2022, and we heard from a wide range of witnesses, including scientists with domain expertise on different types of nature-based solutions. We heard from stakeholders such as the National Farmers’ Union, the National Trust and the RSPB, as well as government agencies, including Natural England, the Forestry Commission and the Environment Agency, that deliver nature-based solutions. We also heard from government witnesses including civil servants, the Defra Chief Scientific Adviser, and the Environment Minister at the time, the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park.
Overall, we found that the Government have ambitious, even laudable, plans for nature-based solutions. There are headline commitments to plant 30,000 hectares of trees a year by 2025 and to restore 280,000 hectares of peatland by 2050. These sit alongside the ambitious reductions in land use emissions needed to achieve net zero. The scale of this ambition to restore nature is a major and essential component of reaching net zero, and could provide significant co-benefits for biodiversity, human health and well-being, and adaptation to climate change. We were pleased to see the Government lobby for the inclusion of nature-based solutions in the COP 26 decision text, as we advised in a letter to the president of COP 26.
However, in our report we were sceptical and concerned about whether the current level of policy support is sufficient to see these plans realised. There are strong headwinds that need to be overcome to deliver effective nature-based solutions. There are scientific uncertainties around how much carbon these approaches will sequester, and on what timescales. The Government have neither assessed the skills gap nor provided sufficient training to ensure that nature-based solutions can be deployed at scale.
There remains huge uncertainty about the details of the policies that are set to incentivise nature-based solutions, such as the new environmental land management schemes. More funding is likely to be required in key areas, from basic scientific research to funding for public delivery bodies that will have to regulate and support these projects. Many land managers feel disengaged and uncertain about the changes they will need to make, but their support is critical for these schemes to be delivered.
The Government are relying on private finance to help to fund nature-based solutions by creating markets for carbon credits and other ecosystem services that nature-based solutions can provide. However, these markets exist only on a small scale at present, and the regulatory infrastructure needed to ensure that they work as intended and genuinely deliver carbon removal over time does not yet exist.
Finally, we found that the Government have not said anywhere how they will balance the many competing demands on UK land. The committee was seeking evidence that the Government have a coherent plan for meeting these demands; we did not hear it. In short, although the Government’s ambitions for nature-based solutions are admirable and we support them, our report found that there is a clear and present danger that they will not be achieved, and that this could undermine the target of net zero by 2050, as well as undermine the agricultural sector with a failed transition.
Our committee made a number of recommendations to assist the Government in delivering their ambitions. Among these, we wanted the Government to invest further in researching the storage potential of nature-based solutions, especially for soils and in the marine environment. We recommended that the budgets of public delivery bodies such as Natural England and the Environment Agency be increased to be commensurate with the increased workload of deploying nature-based solutions at the scale of the government targets.
We asked the Government to provide urgent clarity on the nature of environmental land management schemes and how they will support nature-based solutions among their other objectives. We recommended that communication with land managers be improved, and the introduction of a dedicated advisory service for land managers to help them to navigate ELMS.
We made a number of recommendations about private financing for nature-based solutions, including that existing standards such as the woodland and peatland codes incorporate additional value for ecosystem services and co-benefits beyond carbon sequestration. We asked for clearer regulatory standards for emerging carbon markets and for the Government to create or sponsor an independent central broker to allow stacked and blended finance from the private and public sector and for a combination of different projects.
Finally, as with much in climate change policy, we wanted to see a plan that added up. Specifically, we wanted the Government to develop an overall land use strategy that explained how trade-offs in land use would be managed to deliver nature-based solutions as well as other important targets.
The Government’s response to our report was generally positive, and I warmly thank the Defra civil servants involved for their detailed and helpful work. The response was characterised well by our evidence session with the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, who responded to most of our lines of questioning by agreeing with the concerns and points raised by the committee.
Among the concrete responses, we heard that the Government would publish more detailed information on the environmental land management scheme later in 2022. More detail has now been published on the sustainable farming incentive, launching new standards for payments, and further pilot projects for the landscape recovery scheme will be awarded in the next two years.
The Government said that Defra would conduct “spatially explicit analysis” on land use to assess the level and type of changes in land use in England indicated by government commitments, which would help to manage trade-offs in land uses. They said that the need for a land use strategy would be kept under review as work progressed in 2022.
The Government committed to engaging with land managers but stopped short of our recommendation to introduce a new advisory service to help them navigate ELMS. Farmers are now referred to a range of local organisations that can provide advice. However, evidence from stakeholder groups such as the National Farmers’ Union suggests that farmers are still struggling with the details of the schemes. The Government said they will work with stakeholders to develop a
“more stable and comprehensive standards framework … later this year”—
that is, in 2022, for carbon and other ecosystem services, to
“help ensure their use is beneficial for the climate, people, and nature.”
Section 6.5.1 of Chris Skidmore’s excellent review, Mission Zero: Independent Review of Net Zero, published this year, urges the Government to set up a regulator for carbon credits and offsets, and indeed repeats many of our recommendations in this area, suggesting that the problems are not yet resolved.
A year has passed since we published our report on nature-based solutions; we are a year closer to the net-zero target, and nature needs time to act. Trees take 20 or 30 years to grow and deliver their carbon sequestration potential, so action is urgent; we have to act now, and we do not seem to have seen much progress.
Let me illustrate my point with a few examples. In the environmental land management scheme, only the sustainable farming incentive has launched, which is the most basic payment scheme and the closest to the previous area-based payments. Local nature recovery and landscape recovery are still in pilot stages, and the old scheme of countryside stewardship is still being used. We hear that there are problems getting sufficient enrolment in schemes. Only 2.4% of eligible farmers—2,000 out of 82,000—applied for the sustainable farming incentive, which was intended to be the simplest ELMS and the one that most land managers would apply to. The Government have had to boost the payment rates to try to get more farmers to apply.
The House of Lords ad hoc Committee on Land Use in England, in its final report, published in December 2022, echoes our recommendations, saying:
“Create a Land Use Commission tasked with producing a land use framework. The framework must consider several factors, including food, nature, housing needs and the push for net zero.”
It continues by saying that we should
“provide immediate clarity on the Environmental Land Management Schemes … programme, ending the uncertainty which is causing serious problems for effective land use.”
We are hearing increased reports that the UK will miss its tree-planting targets, and there are similar stories about Scotland’s peat and the Scottish Government’s nature restoration targets. The Government missed their legal deadline for setting the first batch of targets under the Environment Act 2021, and there are concerns that the post-Brexit sunsetting of regulations will remove vital environmental regulations. These examples serve to underline that much more action is needed, and it is needed urgently.
To conclude, I ask the Minister to respond to the following questions. What are the Government going to do to ensure that we catch up with our tree-planting targets, given the shortage of nurseries, plug plants, skilled people and the lack of a clear land use strategy which addresses the trade-offs—for example, between food and carbon sequestration? The current markets for nature-based solutions have been described as the “wild west”, given a lack of strong governance and standards. Greenwashing is rife, while uncertainty about the level and consistency of revenues of certain ecosystems services is undermining the confidence of some investors. What discussions are the Government having about a strong, independent co-ordinating body to scrutinise and set national standards for nature-based solutions in the UK? This is an area where UK action could show real leadership and give confidence to corporates to fund these critical developments.
As you might expect, we are very fond of numbers on the Science and Technology Select Committee. We like sums that add up and measures that can be quantified. How will the Government make the numbers add up? The funding required for nature recovery in the UK is estimated to be between £4 billion and £10 billion per annum. Total government spending is about £650 million per annum, with aspirations for private sector investment to match this. How are we going to fill the gap?
Finally, after a catalogue of good intentions but missed targets and deadlines, what are we going to do to instil a sense of urgency and catch up with the delivery of this critical and laudable ambition? I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the chair of the Science and Technology Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, for leading this debate. Her expertise in and knowledge of all areas of climate change and the road to net zero are unsurpassed. Like her, I thank the members of the committee, the committee staff and our specialist adviser, Professor Pete Smith FRS, professor of soils and global change at the University of Aberdeen. Due to Covid restrictions, the whole inquiry was conducted virtually, and we have yet to meet our specialist adviser—he certainly looked very colourful on the images we saw—but we hope to meet him some time.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brown, has so eloquently and effectively covered the issues raised in our inquiry that I intend to confine my comments to the contribution that better management of peatlands in the UK can make to climate change and net zero.
The UK’s natural environment is degraded due to decades of neglect and uncontrolled planning, and it has led to a decline in biodiversity, resulting in the UK being the worst country in the G7 and 12th in the world for biodiversity. There are many reasons for the decline in biodiversity, but the State of Nature report identified land use as the single biggest driver.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that only 20% of UK peatland is in a near-natural state. A recent assessment found that UK peatland is so degraded that it is emitting more CO2 than it is sequestering. The UK is one of the top 10 nations in the world for peatland area, accounting for 9% to 15% of Europe’s peatland and around 13% of the world’s blanket bog.
The partially decomposed organic matter of peatlands makes them the most carbon-dense terrestrial systems on the planet, storing approximately 550 gigatonnes of carbon, which is twice the amount stored in the biomass of all vegetation in a far smaller land area. When disturbed, it releases carbon. In a near-natural state, UK peatland is estimated to hold 11,700 metric tonnes of CO2. Although the precise figure is not known, there is consensus that peatlands are the UK’s largest natural carbon stores, holding 40% of UK soil carbon. Causes of degradation are drainage for agriculture, forestry, air pollution, fires and extraction of peat. Disturbing the peat releases carbon.
It is obvious that restoring peatland should be a matter of urgency. Priorities for policy should be to protect intact peatlands and to restore degraded peatlands. The Government’s peatland code is a good initiative and could ensure good practice.
I have the following questions for the Minister. First, lowland peat used for agriculture accounts for 7% of UK peatland but is responsible for 32% of all peatland emissions. Will the Government commit to developing specific targets for lowland peat in their net-zero strategy?
Secondly, planting trees on peaty soils results in carbon emissions. The Forestry Commission’s current policy allows free planting of trees on such soil types. Should the Government require the Forestry Commission to keep its policy of planting trees on peatland under review?
Thirdly, while the Government’s ambition to restore peatlands is admirable, a skills shortage needs addressing —the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, mentioned that several times. What plans do the Government have to assess the skills needed and for the provision of training of those undertaking peatland restoration?
Fourthly, what plans do the Government have for long-term monitoring of the Peatland Code to assess its success in greenhouse gas reduction, carbon sequestration and enhanced biodiversity status?
Fifthly, peatland restoration delivers a range of co-benefits. Will the Government commit to establishing a research programme to quantify the co-benefits of projects under the Peatland Code and to ensuring that payments for other ecosystem services are included within current and future carbon codes?
Restoration of peatlands should be a matter of urgency if the Government are to meet their net-zero targets. If done successfully, it will deliver more than carbon capture on the road to net zero.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in this debate, as it was to be a member of the inquiry into nature-based solutions. It is a real pleasure to follow both the committee’s current chair and its recent past chair. I do not know what this means for my future preferment, but No. 3 is certainly a good place to be.
I will cover three areas and have three asks. Those areas are trees, seas and bees. In our inquiry, we rightly spent a lot of time on trees and woodland. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that it is important to consider trees and woodland not just at the beginning of their lifecycle—planting—important though that is, but across the story of that most vital resource, post harvest and right the way through its lifecycle? Would he also comment on the current situation regarding planting trees on peat and pseudo-peat boglands, and any current research on it? We spent a lot of time on this in the committee and there seemed at times to be some cloudy thinking around it.
We concluded that much more attention needs to be paid to the potential role that the seas and oceans can play. A whole blue marine programme fully to assess all the elements that the ocean could contribute to nature-based solutions would make a great deal of sense. Does my noble friend agree that a whole lot more work still needs to be done? It is extraordinary that we have the excellent “Blue Planet” on the TV but possibly not enough focus on this area when it comes to nature-based solutions. Similarly, does he agree that a lot of work could be done beyond what our inquiry covered in partnership with the British Overseas Territories, a number of whose environments could be particularly beneficial for ocean-based, nature-based solutions?
Bees were not covered by our report, but it is a universal truth that everything we can do in nature-based solutions must be good for bees. As we know, what is good for the bees is good for us all.
I turn to my asks. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that not only do we need a universal, horizontal approach to nature-based solutions but that it must go across all government departments? For example, I and others put down amendments in Committee and on Report of the UK Infrastructure Bank Bill to put nature-based solutions in that Bill, to give them the necessary level of importance in the potential investments that the UKIB would make. The Government did not accept those amendments. Does my noble friend regret that? Does he see that it would be important and a positive force to move forward on that in future?
My second ask echoes the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, on ELMS. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that we still need increased clarity and communication around ELMS? For a lot of farmers and landowners, it seems clear that it is difficult to see the wood for the ELMS.
Finally, as has already been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, in a sense all of this goes to the critical importance of a universal, coherent, connected land use strategy. Does the Minister agree that we all need to focus more, and that the Government need to put more effort into bringing this about?
So much focus, attention and commentary is rightly around net zero, but as our report demonstrates, net zero is an important part but it is not the whole story. It has to be seen alongside nature-based solutions because even if we reach net zero, we still need, and should welcome, the benefits that nature-based solutions should bring. When she sums up, will my noble friend the Minister give full-throated support for everything that the Government can, should and will do on nature-based solutions?
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord. I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, the committee and the staff for having produced the report we are debating today. I pay tribute to the previous chair, the noble Lord, Lord Patel. I did not know until he spoke a moment ago that this is a wholly Covid-based report. I think this is the first debate I have taken part in that is based on a Covid-only investigation.
It was only yesterday that the Lord Privy Seal came to the Dispatch Box in the House and moved a Motion that will allow the Government to take priority over business on Thursdays from now until the end of Session —which is many months away—in order to allow more time in part, he said, to enable debates to take place on Select Committee reports because of the backlog that builds up. That is true in this case, as it has been more than a year since the report was published.
This Select Committee, which one day I hope to join, has produced an interesting and worthwhile report, and I do not need to add anything to the excellent introduction provided by the noble Baroness, Lady Brown. More generally, I think it is important that the House as a whole grasps that one of the committee’s most important conclusions is that there remain “significant scientific uncertainties” about not only the nature of this report but in general. Life and science are full of uncertainty. How much carbon is stored in habitats? We do not fully know. How much can be sequestered by different habitats in future? We do not fully know. For how long might carbon remain sequestered in those habitats? We do not fully know. I agree with the previous speaker, and add that there is still an enormous degree of uncertainty about the role of the world’s oceans in carbon sequestration, which is another point made by the committee.
Another key point was to question whether the Government have an effective plan for resolving the
“many competing demands on the land”,
whether it is producing food or materials or providing space for nature or housing, or, as the Government pledged earlier this week, access to green space or blue water within 15 minutes of where we live. I look forward to the Minister’s reply. I should have added that I welcome the Minister to what may be his first science debate, and I hope that there are many more. I look forward to him saying a bit more about the “spatially explicit analysis” which the Government have promised in their reply.
In this contribution, I want to convey the views of the Royal Society of Biology and its science team. In the interests of transparency, I ought to say that I worked for the Royal Society of Biology for 10 years, and I look back on those years with great fondness. I should add that I have been elected a fellow.
I want to make six points, briefly. First, investing in the workforce and technologies involved in creating and implementing nature-based solutions is crucial to unlock the solutions needed to achieve the Government’s environmental goals. The committee recognises that the UK does not yet have the range of skills required to deliver nature-based solutions at scale. Effective training and recruitment can allow the development and capture of a broad range of ideas, talents and experience, which can in turn better implement the required solutions. There is a story in the Times today reporting that citizen science is leading more people to nature, and I hope that in future that feeds through to more people taking an interest in this subject.
Secondly, increased investment in research and development is vital to generate more efficient, effective and responsible carbon sequestration techniques, the improvement of which is vital in addressing the climate crisis. This investment should also address funding discrepancies in areas such as research funding opportunities and infrastructure development.
Thirdly, as recommended by the committee, it is crucial that the Government’s plans for nature-based solutions, such as carbon sequestration schemes, are considered in tandem with their other environment-related polices, such as championing the 30 by 30 target and the commitment to halt and reverse biodiversity loss as outlined in the Environmental Improvement Plan 2023. It was only this week that the Minister came to the Dispatch Box to answer questions about the EIP. Biodiversity loss is one of the great themes of our century and a great deal depends on the COP biodiversity conferences.
Fourthly, although initiatives such as increased tree planting are positive, they should be implemented with due consideration of the pre-existing habitat, such as avoiding planting on areas such as peatlands and species-rich grasslands, with the aim of maintaining and restoring the natural habitation of the UK landscape. [Interruption.] I am sorry; I wondered what that noise was. I now realise that it is me hitting the microphone.
This should include the types of environment and specific tree species present as opposed to the sole objective of maximising carbon sequestration. Failure to consider those in tandem with the net-zero objectives will lead to a greater problem in the long term, including further biodiversity loss.
Fifthly, as highlighted by the British Ecological Society, which is a member organisation of the Royal Society of Biology, it is important to understand that nature-based solutions are not the only answer to solutions on climate change.
Sixthly, it is important that nature-based solutions are implemented through effective public communication, dialogue and incentives, and that a combination of public and private investment will help to fund and facilitate nature-based solutions provided that they are effectively regulated and monitored. In short, we need more research; who would not say that?
Finally, in the moments I have left I turn to something that arose this week: the government reorganisation of the machinery of government at the centre, which is an important thing for us to touch on briefly today. The Prime Minister’s restructuring will have a considerable effect on government activity, including the subject that we are addressing today. I do not know whether the Minister will be able to say anything about this, but I am sure that anything he says will be very welcome and of interest.
I take the view that the break-up of BEIS will not be mourned. However, more importantly, the creation of the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology could provide this Government, and indeed any future Government, with a renewed sense of purpose and focus on making the UK the science superpower that we all hope to see. Of course, the change in the machinery of government will also take time to bed in. I mention this, because I think this committee might want to look that subject. It is certainly a worthy subject for a future report and a debate, but that is for another day.
In the meantime, I commend the committee’s report and I hope that it will prove a real contribution to the future success of nature-based solutions for climate change.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Viscount. I must compliment the noble Lord, Lord Patel, who so expertly chaired the committee, on which I was privileged to serve, and produced such a fantastic report. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, for so comprehensively introducing the report; there is very little left for us to say, especially on land use. I echo her thanks to the clerk of the committee and the staff, and to the special adviser, Professor Pete Smith.
Planet earth supports life above and below ground through the intricate web of independence of all living species, flora and fauna, in balance with the essential physical cycles of water, carbon and nitrogen. The biggest takeaway for me from this report is how woefully incomplete our understanding is of these forces and how they interact with each other. For example, we are only now beginning to understand the vital role of soil, be it onshore, in ancient rainforests, tropical or temperate, in mixed woodland, in peatlands, in grasslands or mangroves, or offshore. For the first time, we are beginning to appreciate the effectiveness of seagrass meadows, kelp forests, the seabed floor and algae as essential carbon sinks.
This report makes many recommendations on how much better we should be doing in understanding how to manage our land in the UK to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. I know that other noble Lords will cover that aspect, so I will concentrate most of my remarks on recommendations 6, 7, 8 and 9, which all relate to the marine environment and the gaps in the evidence base about carbon sequestration in marine habitats.
In the report, we recommend collaboration between Natural England, the Crown Estate, the Marine Management Organisation, academics and other relevant bodies, and we asked Defra to support research on establishing the current and historical extent of marine habitats, their carbon sequestration rates and their long-term potential for carbon storage. In their response to the report, the Government cite a slew of collaborative efforts, and it is clear that in the run-up to COP 26 that was indeed the case. I thank the Government for their work on raising the profile of the marine environment. However, can the Minister tell us in what way that momentum has been maintained since November 2021?
Lastly on this issue, an important point was raised in recommendation 9 about the effects of bottom trawling on the decline of marine habitats. This was not addressed in the Government’s response, so can the Minister update your Lordships on research programmes by the MMO to look into this vital issue?
We are at a crucial point when global emissions need to be falling fast, yet they are in fact still rising and have not yet peaked. To reduce or even stabilise concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the world needs to reach net-zero emissions. This requires fast reductions in further anthropogenic emissions, and I hope that the creation of the new Department for Energy Security and Net Zero will bring greater emphasis on energy generation by renewables and end the preferential treatment of oil and gas producers in the North Sea, so that we can proceed with the phase-out of destructive greenhouse gases as fast as possible.
However, it is increasingly being realised that a huge expansion in global carbon removal capacity is required to deliver on global climate goals, and time is of the essence. Novel techniques such as carbon capture and storage; BECCS—bioenergy with carbon capture and storage; direct air capture and enhanced rock weathering do not yet deliver at scale. Indeed, an Oxford University study found that all current carbon removals —that is, 2 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide per annum—come from conventional nature-based approaches, and nature-based solutions remain far more cost-effective than high-tech versions.
We are in such dire straits that it is essential that research into the newer emerging carbon removal techniques continues apace, but we must grasp what we know works today and protect existing carbon sinks wherever we find them in order to minimise emissions, such as from deforestation, and increase our efforts to create more of the carbon sinks that we know work—for example, planting the right trees in the right place—as fast as possible.
That is where carbon offsets come in, because they are a way of getting the trillions of pounds of investment that the World Economic Forum says is needed to reduce emissions. However, carbon offsetting schemes are open to abuse. The Climate Change Committee has recommended putting stronger regulation, guidance and standards in place to ensure that the purchase of carbon credits is not used as a substitute for direct business emissions reductions. This is the thrust of recommendation 39, which asks BEIS, as was, to provide clarity about what companies must do to claim net zero emissions.
The Government’s response, unfortunately, is not very satisfactory. The Minister will know that I have my name to a number of amendments to the Financial Services and Markets Bill that are designed to deliver a functioning green taxonomy, sustainable finance disclosures plans, mandatory transition plans and clean supply chains from resources from deforestation, as an example. That would give the UK the momentum it needs to become a net-zero financial centre with reduced opportunities for greenwashing.
In conclusion, the report emphasises the importance of nature-based solutions in meeting our net-zero targets and points a way forward for the UK to be at the forefront of this opportunity. I recommend it to noble Lords.
My Lords, it is my pleasure to take part in the debate this afternoon, and I add my congratulations to the committee on such an excellent and thorough report conducted in very difficult circumstances. I particularly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, for her introduction and the noble Lord, Lord Patel, for his excellent chairing of this inquiry.
The summary of this document is excellent; it is very clear. It states that, although there are possible benefits from deploying nature-based solutions in tackling our growing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, there are significant scientific uncertainties about how carbon is stored in habitats now and how much will be sequestered in future. I will focus on that uncertainty in the few minutes that I have today, because it is fundamental to understanding how we can deploy capital into nature-based solutions without jeopardising our efforts to mitigate climate change.
I will explain why it is so important. Before Christmas, when the UK’s first deep coal mine was approved, the Minister said that it was going to be the world’s first carbon-neutral coal mine. The cynicism of that statement beggars belief. Not only was the very group that was supposed to be supplying the off-sets to the mine saying, “Please don’t count on us. We don’t want to sell you these credits. You’re going to damage our reputation”, but the coal mine was counting its emissions only from processing the coal, not from the actual content of coal being burnt.
I stress this, because it is wonderful to look at nature-based solutions, and this is an admirable report, but, on the other side of the ledger, if you sell a nature-based solution or a carbon sink, in many cases you are allowing a carbon emission to occur. They are totally different in their characteristics. It is not true to say that a tonne is equal to a tonne. That was the lie from the carbon market 20 years ago, and we know now that that is not the case. We know that when you burn coal and release into the atmosphere carbon that has been stored over millions of years in the earth, it will stay there for approximately 1,000 years, with a very high degree of certainty that it will cause impact. In fact, there is ever more evidence that it will cause impact the longer we go on, because it is a cumulative problem: these emissions build up over time. When we release tonnes now, they are even more damaging, because the carrying capacity is that much reduced.
Compare that certainty with the complete uncertainty of a nature-based carbon store. There is simply no equivalent. The report is excellent in pointing out that we need far more research and investment in infrastructure, monitoring, reporting, verification and regulation to make sure that this market does not lock us into a self-defeating cycle whereby we rely on nature to try to soak up the emissions from carbon dioxide but we allow the fossil fuel emissions that are driving climate change to continue, making our forests, land and soils that much more unstable and that much less resilient and durable. We are basically locking ourselves into a highly changeable system with high degrees of uncertainty and using false equivalence to tell ourselves this very seductive lie that we can carry on burning fossil fuels.
The report is clear that this is not a “get out of jail free” card and that it should be used only for residual emissions, but nowhere have the Government defined what they are. There is nothing here that points to the rules that need to be set that state how these things can be used and what can be used to claim against them. That is fundamental to this. We are in a brilliant position in the UK to address this, because we have the world’s best scientists located here, including atmospheric chemists. I am delighted that we have an atmospheric scientist in our midst today, Professor Ray Weiss from the University of California San Diego, an atmospheric chemist of long standing, who understands this far better than me. We have our own experts in this area, and a tall-tower network of sensors and monitors that allow us to know in great detail what is happening to our biosphere.
Those are the sorts of investments that we have to double down on, and I hope that the UK will join up its thinking on how it approaches the measurement of what is happening in the atmosphere. Again, the report is excellent. It states that we must have
“long-term research and monitoring … overseen by the relevant departments”
that will allow us to see the fluxes on a range of different sites around the country, so that we are not just using inventories and guessing whether these actions are delivering a carbon saving but measuring it, and over the long term, so that we have certain sense of whether we are making progress.
We cannot allow this to continue as business as usual. We have been trying to solve climate change for 30 years or longer and, in that time, greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have simply got ever higher. We cannot afford a misstep where we allow the fossil fuel industry to make use of the seductive phrase “nature-based solutions” to carry on with business as usual.
In conclusion, I ask the Minister to go back to the department and ask how we are using the infrastructure that the UK already has in its tall-tower monitoring system to backstop anything that we do on the opening up of private finance and markets into this area. We also have our public funding from ELMS and the reform of the agricultural subsidies, which is a safe space in which to look at, and experiment with, what works.
Let us do that first, get the groundwork done and be certain that this works before we say that it is open season for the private sector to use this and to develop a carbon market. I have studied carbon markets for far too long, and every one that I have looked at booms and busts, for good reason: this is difficult to do. So let us not rush into it and allow this to be abused by those who would seek to get off lightly from their contributions to climate change. I am delighted that this debate has been kicked off, and I again commend the report.
My Lords, I declare my registered interests as a co-founder of a natural capital trading platform—one of many seeking to address some of the issues raised in this report—as a developer of natural capital projects to sequester carbon, as an investor in natural capital-related businesses, and as a land and forest owner. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, and the committee for this excellent report and debate.
I congratulate the Government on the Woodland Carbon Code and the Peatland Code, which are world-leading certification standards. The later edition of the woodland carbon guarantee scheme was a masterstroke in creating confidence in future value. These schemes are uniquely high quality in the strength of the data, the strict qualification requirements and the conservative assumptions. The world has very few reliable certification standards. The Verra avoiding deforestation standard, REDD+, has been attacked by the Guardian for its limited reliability. The New Zealand scheme has led to the blanket planting of radiata pine, although at least this is admissible in its emissions trading scheme’s underpinning values. These codes already place the UK in pole position in this emerging industry. Many of the issues addressed in this excellent report are solvable by private capital, with government support needed in critical areas. In turn, that should lead to much lower financial calls on the Government to enable these outcomes.
High-credibility standards, which private capital is willing to invest in, are critical. The woodland and peatland carbon codes are done, but we await the soil and blue carbon codes, as well as helping to quantify the co-benefits. The crucial question of how to measure and value these co-benefits is raised very effectively in the report. For market acceptance, consistency with the Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market’s principles and assessment framework, due during Q1 2023, will be necessary.
The second point where the industry needs government help is in creating profit incentives. The Woodland Carbon Code and the Peatland Code are voluntary standards with limited tangible value. The industry needs improvement in the standing of these units and to see the creation of market demand for other aspects of natural capital, such as biodiversity, water management, cultural heritage, education, public access and visual impact.
We can bring down the cost and increase the transparency of delivering nature outcomes over time by creating that profit incentive, drawing entrepreneurial talent and capital. Even at this early stage of development, and without clarity around market structures, a plethora of start-up and established companies is improving the cost-effective baselining, monitoring, measuring, managing and analysing of these projects. Most of these use innovative hardware and/or software to create scalable and cost-deflationary solutions.
In ELMS, there is progress on many of these fronts, but three questions are unanswered for landowners. First, do the resulting goods belong to the landowner? When the Government fund actions such as afforestation, peatland restoration or natural habitat restoration, will these benefits belong to the Government or to the landowner? Only one entity can claim them.
Secondly, will the additionality qualification remain intact, even with government funding under ELMS? Expert buyers require that the scheme has the additionality of the units they are buying in order to go ahead. If the Government have financially incentivised the scheme, additionality may be compromised.
Finally, will the tax treatment of these assets be disadvantaged when focused on natural capital, rather than on agriculture or forestry?
I turn to some of the specific points in the report. There is a statement that commercial forestry carbon calculations are dependent on the use of harvested wood, but that is not the case under the Woodland Carbon Code. The code calculations assume that commercial forestry is clearfelled at maturity and the carbon lost, which means that only the average standing carbon over multiple rotations is recognised. Productive forestry captures carbon more rapidly than broadleaves and creates jobs for decades into the future, but it is handicapped in carbon forecasts by this clearfelling assumption. The primary use of hardwoods remains firewood. Are the Government’s calculations based on the code assumptions, or do they use a different methodology for carbon capture within a new forest?
Different industries have different opportunities to eliminate carbon, making a blanket 10% cap unreasonable. Usage discrimination through market pricing that incorporates all methodologies of reaching net zero is likely to provide the most efficient solution for allocating these off-sets to the appropriate sector. It is more than two years since the Taskforce on Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets issued its final report. Have the Government considered its recommendations?
The report raises two other points that I will address briefly. UK forestry standard schemes are handicapped by a limited menu of tree species, as highlighted by the report; I believe there are around 60, when there are 3,000 to 4,000 species globally. Our narrow palette brings greater biological and climate risk, and largely references species reintroduced since the last ice age. I agree with the report that work needs to be done to extend this.
In response to the comments on planting into 30 centimetres of organic matter peat,, and I would like the Forestry Commission to stipulate methods of planting depending on soil types and conditions. Mounding is too widely used in the industry, and I would like to see techniques that are less disruptive to soil condition encouraged to minimise carbon emissions during planting and establishment. I would also like the Forestry Commission to look further at its yield class tables, which place caps at yield class 24 on Sitka spruce, for example, which can achieve well into the 30s. I believe that Ireland has already made that step.
My Lords, as a member of the Science and Technology Committee, it gives me great pleasure to support the excellent opening remarks by our chair, the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge. She has chaired the committee with great skill and good humour, as did the noble Lord, Lord Patel. Both handled our many witnesses, including Ministers, with tact and diplomacy, as well as firing penetrating questions when we needed to cut through to hard evidence.
One of the problems in this inquiry was the evidence available in quantifying the relative benefits of these approaches as against others. It became clear that more research was needed to be able confidently to assert that some solutions were more beneficial than others and thus where the country needed to focus its efforts. Others have mentioned research. Can the Minister tell us whether the Government are satisfied that adequate resource is being allocated for this essential research?
Our inquiry into nature-based solutions to climate change follows a number of related inquiries seeking to understand the role that different approaches and so-called solutions can play in responding to the climate and biodiversity crises we face as a society, as well as the UK’s path to net zero. A central issue for all these inquiries has been quantifying and assessing the UK’s skills gap, which must be bridged if we are to make any serious progress to net zero. Indeed, we chose to highlight this in one of our most recent reports. The deadline for the Minister’s response is next Wednesday, so I hope the Minister will gently remind his colleague George Freeman. The new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology will hopefully bring another view in support of a STEM skills agenda into the Cabinet.
Even if we are confident about the way forward, do we have the skills to be able to follow through? This has been an intractable problem in the UK despite new policies being developed by every Government ever since I became involved in the education and skills area. We still have major challenges in developing in our people the skills that will enable the country to grow the economy in the way that we all want and need. I will focus my brief remarks on this aspect of our report.
We recommended that, to match their ambitious targets, the Government should establish equally ambitious skills and training programmes for land managers, authorities developing local nature recovery strategies and public delivery bodies. We also urged the Government to expand urgently training in the very specific areas where it was clear that there were gaps: surveying, monitoring and verifying, carbon accountancy, forestry ecology, and planning and carrying out nature-based solutions.
In their response to our report, the Government said that the Green Jobs Taskforce had helped to inform the net-zero strategy published in October 2021, yet this said nothing about these specific skills. They also said that they had invested £80 million in the green recovery challenge fund during Covid and £10 million in the natural environment investment readiness fund, but they did not address the committee’s recommendation that DfE and BEIS must allocate some of their funding to specific schemes for land managers and provide sufficient skilled personnel to meet the Government’s ambitious targets. Is it surprising that I remain concerned about the lack of urgency or even focus on this issue?
Our witnesses reflected those concerns. Our report states:
“The support of local authorities for the Local Nature Recovery Strategies will be essential, but the Association of Local Government Ecologists noted that fewer than a third of local authorities have ecological expertise. The Institute of Chartered Foresters said that a skills gap in tree-planting could undermine climate targets, and we heard from Professor Henderson that forestry skills ‘have deteriorated in the country over recent decades’. Richard Lindsay told us that, for the heavily emitting lowland peats, ‘the hoped-for strategy/solution’ is ‘this new concept of wetland farming’ but the skills required for that do not exist. Professor Stead, Chief Scientific Adviser, Marine Management Organisation, told us of marine nature-based solutions for which ‘the training and capacity building is not at a mature stage.’”
Our report notes that, when speaking for the Government,
“Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park acknowledged the scale of the skills challenge”,
“‘it would be wrong to pretend, at this stage, that the skills that will be needed in the medium and long term have been fully mapped out and identified, and that our workforce of the future, based on where we are today, will be ready for that challenge.’”
Despite the ongoing talks between Defra and the DfE to address these skills gaps,
“he acknowledged that the urgency of the agricultural transition leaves little time: ‘to hit the 2030 targets on biodiversity, we cannot wait until 2028 to have people doing that work.’”
That seems to be the Government’s position: they have set targets that they know they cannot meet. We have excellent further and higher education bodies, as well as public delivery bodies such as Natural England, that could fill that gap in training land managers and others to implement nature-based solutions. Will the Minister say why the Government are not harnessing this resource urgently? What route do they see for providing training in the timescales required for a transition over the next decade?
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, for the thoughtful way in which she has introduced this report and my noble friend Lord Patel for the thoughtful, imaginative and determined way in which he chaired your Lordships’ Science and Technology Committee in undertaking this important inquiry.
It is particularly appropriate that we take this debate a few weeks after the Royal Society published its report Multifunctional Landscapes: Informing a Long-Term Vision for Managing the UK’s Land. It is an interesting and informative report that identifies the opportunity for a data and science-driven approach to ensuring that we understand the capacity of UK land, the competing demands on it and how they might be addressed. Of course, as we have heard from noble Lords’ contributions during this important debate, this is a critical issue. Nature-based solutions are not a panacea for achieving net zero and addressing the climate change challenge, but they offer an important opportunity to make a fundamental contribution to achieving those net-zero targets.
Do we really understand the nature base? Are we properly informed about the sequestration capacity of different habitats? Do we understand the impact that our adjacent land use behaviour in total currently has on these different environments? Do we understand how much carbon is already stored in these habitats? Do we understand what behaviour and activity are doing to degrade these habitats and subsequently release carbon? These are all important issues that need to be informed through an appropriate knowledge base, database and science base. Of course, the technology for us to be able to do this in a systematic fashion becomes increasingly available.
I should declare some specific interests in that I was a member of your Lordships’ Science and Technology Committee and that I serve as a member of the advisory board of the Royal Society and chairman of the 1851 commission. In your Lordships’ report and in that of the Royal Society, it is recognised that we need common standards, an approach to appropriate metrics, a data standard, methodology protocols and, potentially, the development of a common evidence platform available to inform all land use in our country. That would subsequently help us to understand where nature-based solutions sit.
Beyond that, we need more fundamental research to characterise those different habitats. Do we really understand the nature of our forests? Do we really understand the interplay of the age those forests’ different tree habitats, the broader biodiversity attending the soil and the importance of the different species of trees available in those habitats? Are we properly informed about the true stored carbon content and the ultimate sequestration capacity of peatlands and wetlands? What do we really understand about the marine environment even in our own coastal waters? It is a protected environment that we are proud of, but only 5% of it bans trawling of the seabed. How can that be logical and why is it tolerated? Do we have a science base that helps us properly to understand the implications of that?
When we think about broader land use, are we conscious of the impact of land use adjacent, for instance, to a protected marine environment? What impact does land use for building and for other purposes have on that environment, its biodiversity, its potential destruction and therefore the erroneous assumptions that we might make about that environment making an important contribution to sequestration and ultimate storage of carbon?
Is the Minister content that His Majesty’s Government have a proper, whole-government, holistic approach to establishing a research and evidence base that helps us to best understand the true potential and capacity of our nature base to provide nature-based solutions for net zero and address the climate challenge? In supporting the establishment of an appropriate science evidence base, are we also cognisant of the opportunity to drive innovation in this area—innovative technologies that allow us to map these environments appropriately, bring those data together and make them readily available for all who are responsible for land management? Are we clear that that science base will be used to develop government policy appropriately? We pride ourselves on having an informed science base informing the development of policy. Are we content that is happening with regard to policy to drive the opportunities for nature-based solutions?
My Lords, I thank the committee for the opportunity to speak in the gap, the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, for her excellent introduction to this report, and the noble Lord, Lord Patel, for his chairmanship of the Science and Technology Committee.
This valuable, forensic and detailed report identifies that in this area of climate policy, as in most of them, the Government have rhetoric but no plans for delivery—as the title suggests. First, the report, says that
“the UK does not have the requisite skills to deliver … solutions at scale”
and no plans to create them. Secondly,
“there is huge uncertainty about the details of policies that will incentivise nature-based solutions”.
“more funding is required in several key areas”.
However, I want to focus on one crucial sentence in the report:
“Nature-based solutions are not a get out of jail free card.”
We have both to stop emitting greenhouse gases and to restore our natural world. No trade-off is scientifically possible. Offsetting is a con, a cheat, a fiction. I am building here on the comments, in particular from the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, but also from the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan. One way of explaining this is by looking at the difference between biology and geology.
First, as the report says, there is scientific uncertainty about how much carbon is stored, and how it can be stored in different habitats, and how long it will remain. The timescale of ecosystems—of biology—is, if you are lucky, years, but it is often months, days, or even minutes. A wildfire sweeps through a forest—I grew up in Australia, and I have watched bushfires all too close up—and, within a blink of an eye, a lot of the so-called stored carbon is in the atmosphere.
By contrast, geological timescales run to hundreds of millions of years. Up to around 400 million years ago, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere were up to 6,000 parts per million. We are now at less than a 10th of that, albeit 50% up from the level at the start of the industrial revolution. Over hundreds of millions of years, geological processes locked vast amounts of carbon underground, mostly deep underground. It was never going to emerge, at least on our human timescale—if you take a 24-hour timescale, we as a species have been on this planet for just one second—until we started to dig it up. The best possible carbon capture and storage is to leave the coal in the hole, the gas in the ground, the oil in the orb. That carbon capture and storage is free, certain and essential.
Secondly, biological systems are living systems. They are flexible, ever changing, adaptive, complex far beyond our current understandings. Unlike claims still sometimes made, just dropping a lot of organic matter into the soil—as good an idea as that is for both biodiversity and food security—will not necessarily increase soil carbon. To quote a recent journal article,
“Persistence of organic matter in the soil depends on chemical, physical, environmental, and/or biological factors.”
It is complex.
The fact is that biology is not going to rescue us, which means that we have to stop growing our economy. We have to operate within the physical limits of this one fragile planet. We have to rescue ourselves by transforming our economic and social system from a way of life built on carbon emissions to one that will stabilise this planet.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to start the wind-up speeches in this debate. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, and all involved in producing this report. It was an honour and a pleasure to serve on the committee. The evidence we heard was compelling—sometimes shocking, in particular on bottom-trawling—and the recommendations that we made are important.
Our findings gave us much cause for concern. We heard about major gaps in the research and data needed to give confidence to the decisions and measures that we need to take to reduce emissions and sequester more carbon in our land and marine environments. For example, we wanted to see more on-farm trials and more research on sequestration in marine environments. However, we found that there is enormous potential in the UK to do better and to take full advantage of the potential of nature-based solutions to help us to reach net zero. While we wait for more evidence, it should not stop us taking action; the precautionary principle must apply.
We heard that we do not have enough people with the appropriate skills and knowledge to do the science, design the programmes and put them into practice. Neither is there a plan in place to achieve the skilled workforce that we need in the numbers that we need when we need them.
We heard about many problems related to farming and land use. The various government land management schemes have been too late for farmers and land managers to plan for the future of their business, and there has too little information and help on eligibility for and accessibility to the schemes, too little advice for farmers and very serious issues for tenant farmers. We heard that, although there is growing interest in investing in natural assets and environment schemes, these need to be properly regulated, on the one hand, and give greater certainty to investors about returns on the other.
Finally, we heard that there is currently no effective plan to resolve the competing demands on land. Indeed, a recent report suggested that to honour all the demands on land, we would need double the land mass we have.
Let me look at some of our recommendations, the Government’s response and ask some questions. There are many players and organisations involved in this massive mission. Two of the key ones are Natural England and the Environment Agency. We recommended that, given the growing demand for their services to fulfil government policies, they need more funding. In response, the Government tell us that they have given an uplift of £1.4 million to Defra over three years—less than £500,000 per year. How much of that will go to those two agencies? They will need more funding as the need for mitigation rises due to the increased number of extreme weather events we are seeing. I refer particularly to flood risk.
We asked for a coherent plan for skills training. The Government established a task force whose work informed the net-zero strategy of October 2021. We are told that there is £40 million in the Green Recovery Challenge Fund, of which £10 million comes from the nature recovery fund and £30 million from Nature for Climate funding. There is also a £10 million in the Natural Environment Investment Readiness Fund. All this has to be applied for and is allocated competitively. I have three questions for the Minister. How much of that will go into relevant skills training? How much of it is new money? How are all the recipients of these pots of money being co-ordinated to ensure that a coherent plan for skills is developed and delivered?
We also recommended that a direct and independent expert advisory service be created to assist farmers to apply for schemes, reduce their emissions, produce food more efficiently and sustainably, sequester more carbon in their soils and protect biodiversity. The answer was another fund. It is the Future Farming Resilience Fund of £9 million, and it goes to organisations that will give free advice to farmers and support their transition towards net zero. How will farmers themselves be involved in the design of this support? Have they been asked if they want the workshops which are to be funded? Given that all farms are different, would they not find one-to-one advice more useful, based on information about their particular land, soil and business plan? Although land sparing such as tree planting can sequester more carbon, there are many effective land-sharing approaches, such as silvopasture and hedge planting. When can we expect to see the results of the relevant research on these systems?
We also recommended that the Government should be clear about what companies must do to claim that they are net zero. There seems to be a lot of greenwashing about, but there must always be additionality. Some companies claim that they have reduced the emissions from how they produce their goods or deliver their services but are allowed to ignore what happens to those goods afterwards. I am thinking of plastic goods or fossil-fuel producers such as coal mines. Offsets cannot be a substitute for reducing emissions. When can we expect to see the strong framework of standards and rules for investment in ecosystem services promised in the Government’s response? When will we see flexibility for aggregating multiple projects and combining public and private funding?
Finally, two big things stand out for me. First, we recommended that the Government produce a land use strategy. I accept that that is very difficult, given the competing demands, but someone has to do it and I should like to know from the Minister who that will be and on what scientific and policy basis. Will the Government be implementing the recommendation of the Committee on Land Use in England to create a land use commission?
The other big thing was the issue of tenant farmers. So many witnesses outlined the barriers to tenants participating in schemes to reduce their emissions and increase biodiversity that we became very concerned about their role in reaching net zero. Rents are rising, as is the cost of inputs; the security of basic payments is being withdrawn with too little certainty about what is replacing them, and tenant farmers are being asked to deliver more for the environment without impacting food security.
Tenant farmers are a large and important part of the farming community, so the Government set up a working group, under our committee colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Rock, to review the issues and make recommendations. I was surprised by some of the figures on the very first page of her report. Sixty-four per cent of the total farmable area in England is either wholly or partly rented, a very large part of the whole. Secondly, the average length of new farm business tenancies in 2021 was three years. With a tenancy as short as that, how does anyone expect a tenant to invest in the long-term health of his soil and the productivity and biodiversity of his land?
The noble Baroness, Lady Rock, unfortunately is unable to speak today. However, her report made many excellent recommendations about how government schemes should be designed to make them “tenant proof”, to involve tenant farmers and to enable both tenants and landowners to benefit from schemes designed to fulfil government’s environmental policies. Unless those things happen, participation will be poor, farmers will go out of business and government policies will not be achieved. Could the Minister outline the Government’s response to the Rock report? The noble Baroness asked for
“an open and collaborative approach between tenants and landlords”.
This exists in some places, but by no means all. What can the Government do to make schemes fair for all and encourage this collaborative approach?
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to contribute to this excellent debate about this extremely timely and important report. I join others in thanking the members of the Science and Technology Committee for their contributions today and for all the work that they have done over a significant time. I thank in particular the former chair, the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, for her excellent introduction to the report.
Timing is everything in these debates, and it is particularly worth noting that this report is being debated in a week when Whitehall has seen a significant change in the arrangement of departments. We hope that separating energy policy and net zero from the former BEIS is a reflection of the Government’s recognition of the urgency, expressed so much today, of this agenda. I hope that the Minister will be able to indicate to us that that message around urgency has been heard and how it will translate into practice. What we need to hear is that the change will lead to more policy output, but Defra’s recent suite of environmental targets has given some of us the impression that the Government do not fully appreciate the urgency of the matters we are discussing today.
The contributions today have been striking, with the noble Baronesses, Lady Brown and Lady Sheehan, each coming in on this agenda. Of course, the discussion has focused inevitably on the areas of uncertainty. I pay tribute to the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, and my noble friend Lady Warwick. There is little doubt that nature-based solutions are recognised as having an important role to play in the transition to a cleaner, greener future.
My noble friend Lady Warwick stressed, as have others, the importance of the skills agenda. In so many of the areas that I speak on, the skills shortages that this country is facing are reaching crisis point. In acknowledging the lack of skills in this area, I will pick a specific example. The Government recently announced the Forestry Training Fund, offering free training to those who want to move into the forestry industry. Of course we welcome the initiative, but where is the follow-up? Why has it taken so long for Ministers to bring it forward? How many people do the Government expect to come forward, and do they think that it will generate more interest than their failed Pick for Britain campaign of several years ago?
We have discussed the other major concern about land use, an area which the House explored at length during the passage of the Environment Bill, with the Government unfortunately resisting calls from my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone for the publication of a dedicated land use strategy. We will not scale up nature-based solutions without buy-in from the private sector, whether in the form of finance or delivery capacity. That is why, during the Lords stages of the UK Infrastructure Bank Bill, Labour supported an amendment to expand that legislation’s definition of infrastructure to include nature-based solutions. If the Government are so keen to ensure private sector involvement in important projects, why did they overturn that sensible amendment in the House of Commons?
Finally, the committee drew attention to the need for landowners and farmers to have certainty about future funding arrangements, including, as we have heard, through the Government’s ELMS. Could we ask again—I hope we will get a response to the Minister—how the Government aim to settle the important question from the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, about competing demands on land use? It is now several years since the Agriculture Act was passed and, although there have been announcements on ELMS in recent weeks, the process has been fraught with delays, miscommunications and other difficulties.
We have so much consensus in this area. The questions that we are all asking is why there is so much delay and why so much opportunity is being missed. We understand the need for research programmes. As we have highlighted today, the uncertainty is there, and more research and more funding are required to make sure that that takes place. We understand the need for extensive consultation when so many key players are involved, but the clock is ticking. Can I borrow the report’s excellent title and say that we need to turn rhetoric into reality?
My Lords, I declare my interests in farming and land management, as set out in the register. I take this opportunity to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, on securing this debate, and I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. I welcome the opportunity to respond to the points raised and to provide an update on the actions that have been taken since the publication of the Science and Technology Committee report. I agree at the outset with the noble Baroness, Lady Blake of Leeds, and other noble Lords about the urgency and extreme importance of tackling climate change.
As was acknowledged following the report’s publication in January 2022, the Government are grateful to the committee for the report and pleased that our ambitious plans for nature-based solutions have been recognised. Nature-based solutions are key to tackling climate change and averting its impacts. They deliver multiple benefits for climate, biodiversity, and people, and play a critical role in our plans to tackle the interrelated climate and biodiversity crises.
At the time of publication, the Government acknowledged the challenges and risks raised by the committee and set out the action being taken with our delivery partners to address these issues. Following the important announcements in this area since the publication of the report and in recent weeks, I welcome the opportunity to provide an update on the key themes raised in the report and in this debate.
First, I will provide an update on our overarching targets and progress being made. We have stretching nature-based targets that set out the Government’s strong ambition to protect and improve our landscapes. We are working tirelessly to ensure that our targets become a reality and that progress is being made.
Starting with forestry, the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, raised the need for more action in this area. We have full confidence that our targets are achievable and have increased tree planting and woodland creation in England from 2,700 hectares in 2021-22 to now investing £750 million through our Nature for Climate Fund, which will support England’s contribution to our UK-wide target of planting 30,000 hectares of new woodland annually from May 2024. Tree planting is a key priority in the environmental land management schemes, which I will provide more detail on shortly.
On support for nurseries, also raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, the Government committed in the England Trees Action Plan 2021 to 2024 to provide funding for UK public and private sector nurseries and seed suppliers and to set up the sector capacity project. In addition, £879,000 has been provided through the Tree Production Innovation Fund to encourage the adoption of innovative ways of working in the nursery sector. Last year, a new tree production capital grant opened for applications, providing capital support to nurseries and seed suppliers to modernise facilities and improve the quantity, quality, diversity and biosecurity of planting stock available for planting in England.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, raised the subject of tracking marine biodiversity. In English waters, we have established a network of marine protected areas across more than 35,000 square miles. We have just created a new statutory target for 70% of designated beaches in marine protected areas to be in a favourable condition by 2042, with the remainder in recovering condition and with an interim target of 48% of designated beaches to be in favourable condition by 31 January 2028, in line with the trajectory required to achieve the long-term target.
On peatland, we are delivering on our commitment to restore 280,000 hectares of peatland in England by 2050, which is supported by funds such as the Nature for Climate Peatland Grant Scheme and the new environmental land management schemes. Through the development of the peat restoration road map, to be published in 2024 by Natural England, we will be able to set out a trajectory for restoration over the next 20 years.
The noble Lord, Lord Patel, raised the subject of lowland peat used for agriculture. I thank him for highlighting this important issue of peatland restoration and, in particular, for highlighting the focus areas for the Government. In 2021, the lowland agricultural peat task force commenced working with stakeholders to deliver recommendations for a more sustainable future for lowland peatland in England. Its aim is to identify ways of extending the usable life of our agricultural peat soils to preserve the carbon stored in them and to ensure that profitable agriculture can continue for decades to come. The task force will report to government in the summer.
To meet our global climate target under the Paris agreement and our commitment to net zero, we need peatland restoration and opportunities for woodland expansion to happen without one compromising the other. Our commitments are reinforced in our recently published Environmental Improvement Plan 2023, which is delivery-focused and sets out the actions that will drive us towards reaching our long-term goals. It includes stretching interim targets to be achieved by the next review of the plan, driving progress towards our new long-term targets as required by the Environment Act 2021.
The noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, raised the issue of skills and research and development. Of course, action to meet our headline targets must be underpinned by research and development and the necessary skills to deliver, issues which the committee report highlighted in detail.
The Government recognise the importance of investing in these areas. In the net-zero strategy we committed to £75 million on net zero-related research and development to inform our pathway to 2037. Defra is involved with many research and development projects to address evidence gaps and inform policy-making on agroforestry, lowland peat and hedgerow planting. Projects cover areas such as: understanding how climate stress will affect tree species in the future; the £5.6 million Paludiculture Exploration Fund, which looks at tackling barriers to developing that farming practice as commercially viable; and further modelling to estimate the potential benefits of hedgerow creation on carbon storage and sequestration.
A focus of the committee was on the need to build a stronger evidence base on blue carbon habitats in the UK, and a number of actions are being taken in this area. The UK’s recently published UK Net Zero Research and Innovation Framework identifies research needs on coastal wetland habitats to support improved greenhouse gas accounting and reporting as a priority. Research and development was also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar.
On agroforestry, Defra is currently involved in several agroforestry research projects that are looking at different evidence gaps, including expanding agroforestry in an evidence review and gap analysis to fill in key evidence requirements. Furthermore, Farm Tree will develop decision-support tools for integrating trees on agricultural land and Agroforestry Futures will identify opportunities for, and barriers to, an expansion of agroforestry into peri-urban areas and rural parts of the UK. The Agroforestry Pollinator Plantations project aims to understand how climate stress will affect tree species and which tree and shrub species growing in the UK will be suitable for future climates.
In the England Trees Action Plan, we committed to an ambitious research and development programme which includes building more evidence for the reintroduction of woodland species such as the pine marten, supporting the development of innovative wood products and building the evidence base on how best to protect and enhance ancient woodlands.
Defra has committed £1.2 million from the net-zero research and development allocation over the spending review period to further build the blue carbon evidence base. My noble friend Lord Holmes and the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, asked about work on the seas. In 2022, we established the UK Blue Carbon Evidence Partnership, through which UK Administrations are working together with BEIS, as it was, and Defra to address key research questions related to blue carbon policy, advancing our commitment to protect and restore these habitats to support them as nature-based solutions. An initial aim of the partnership has been to set out key research questions related to blue carbon by producing an evidence needs statement, which will be published in spring 2023.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, raised the issue of bottom trawling, which can cause carbon dioxide to be released from sediments. However, the processes are complex and the impact of trawling on carbon dioxide remains uncertain. That is why Defra is actively progressing the evidence space to better understand the resilience and recovery of sea biodiversity stores in sediments in response to human practices and management interventions.
The noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, raised the issue of skills and growing the workforce. This will be essential to delivering on our targets. We are taking action across key sectors, such as scoping out options for a research project on peat-restoration sector capability. We continue to develop new educational routes and career opportunities around skills in the forestry sector. A new Forestry Commission development woodland officer apprenticeship has been launched jointly with the University of Cumbria and the Institute of Chartered Foresters. It is the first time a degree-level forestry apprenticeship has been offered in the UK. In addition, through the Forestry Commission, we are supporting the Forestry Skills Forum in refreshing its action plan for England, which will raise the profile of forestry careers among school leavers and career changers.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe and Lady Walmsley, asked about green jobs and job opportunities. Last May, the Government established the Green Jobs Delivery Group, bringing together Ministers from BEIS, Defra and the Department for Education with leaders from the green economy, skills sectors, academia and trade unions to ensure that the UK has the pipeline of people needed to deliver our climate and environment ambitions. The new Environmental Improvement Plan 2023 reaffirms our commitment to this continued joint working to address skills needs in priority sectors, including sustainable land use and nature.
Advancing our research and skills allows us to develop and deliver targeted policies to support our key sectors in taking collective action. We recently set out plans for the environmental land management schemes designed to support the nation’s farming sector to be profitable and resilient as it produces food sustainably while protecting nature and enhancing the environment. Key announcements to support our ambitious nature targets covered the following.
The first is accelerating the rollout of the Sustainable Farming Incentive, with six new sets of paid actions for 2023, adding to the three already in place. This will provide farmers with a range of paid actions to manage hedgerows for wildlife, plant nectar-rich wildflowers and manage crop pests without the use of insecticides. The SFI application window is continuously open, and applications continue to be received. This point was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge. It has always been the intention to add more elements to SFI as funding is released from BPS reductions.
Secondly, expanding our popular Countryside Stewardship Scheme to reward farmers for action to support climate and nature will see around 30 additional actions available to farmers by the end of 2024.
Thirdly and lastly, applications for further rounds of the landscape recovery scheme will open in spring and in 2024. Round 2 will focus on net zero, protected sites and habitat creation, including landscape-scale projects creating and enhancing woodland, peatland, nature reserves and protected sites such as ancient woodlands, wetlands and salt marshes.
My noble friend Lord Roborough raised the issue of tax around assets focused on natural capital rather than agriculture or forestry. HMRC and Defra are considering the evidence that inheritance tax might be a potential barrier to the conversion of land from agricultural to environmental use in some situations. HRMC recently updated its IHT manual to help clarify the position, and further updates will follow in due course. Analysis, including discussions with external stakeholders, is taking place, and the Government are looking carefully at what changes may be required.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, raised the issue of landowner engagement. Agroforestry is an innovative practice that has a significant role to play in achieving the Government’s commitment to increased tree planting across the UK. Therefore, Defra is introducing agroforestry as part of ELMS; it will play a key role in increasing tree cover on farms. Agroforestry can provide a source of income to the farmer from both the marketable agricultural enterprise and forestry-generated products. This diversity will help reduce the risks from fluctuating agricultural markets and help stimulate and build resilience into the rural economy, without compromising the ability to produce food.
We know we will need to continue to develop our schemes, based on the learnings from our pilots, tests and trials and early rollouts. We will work with stakeholders across the whole sector to achieve this. There are many benefits to delivering nature-based solutions and they play a key role in our efforts to adapt to climate change. Defra is working across government to develop a third national adaptation programme for publication in 2023. This will include key actions for restoring nature and enhancing its ability to adapt to climate change risks, as well as maximising the benefits for communities.
As emphasised in the committee report, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, finance is a key enabler for meeting our climate targets. Nature-based projects need to be financially attractive to landowners and investors. The noble Baronesses, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe and Lady Walmsley, both raised the subject of investment. The Government have committed to maintain the farming budget for England at £2.4 billion per year throughout this Parliament, and I have outlined how we are repurposing funding for farmers and land managers as part of the agricultural transition.
We are already seeing progress. Currently, there are around 40,000 agreements in our countryside and environmental schemes, covering about 34% of agricultural land. There are 94% more countryside stewardship agreements now than in January 2020. By 2028 we plan to increase the number of agreements to at least 70,000 in our environmental land management schemes, covering 70% of farmed land and 70% of all farms, so that farmers and land managers can collectively deliver our ambitious targets for the environment, climate and food production. We are committed to being transparent about the budget and how it will be spent. We included in the Agriculture Act a requirement for government to publish an annual report about the budget, and we did this for the first time in 2022.
Alongside publicly funded schemes, the Government have set a target to raise at least £500 million in private finance to support nature’s recovery every year by 2027 in England, rising to more than £1 billion per year in 2030. To set the conditions to achieve this, we are taking a number of actions, including supporting the development of nature projects that can attract private capital through our £10 million Natural Environment Investment Readiness Fund and accelerating the natural capital investment market by investing £30 million in a new, blended finance vehicle for nature: the Big Nature Impact Fund.
We continue supporting the Woodland Carbon Code and the Peatland Code to encourage private investment, with registrations continuing to increase. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Roborough for his recognition of these as world-leading certification standards.
Both my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, highlighted the importance of strong governance and standards in the current markets for nature-based solutions. The UK has championed initiatives to strengthen and scale up high-integrity voluntary carbon markets, including under our COP 26 presidency.
The noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, raised the issue of high integrity in carbon markets. We have launched multi-stakeholder initiatives such the Integrity Council on Voluntary Carbon Markets, and the Voluntary Carbon Markets Integrity Initiative, to establish the very highest standards.
We are developing plans to put in place a comprehensive suite of domestic standards for nature markets to provide assurances of high integrity, create confidence in the market and allow investment to flow at scale into a much wider range of ecosystem services and habitats. We will ensure that, as we develop new domestic standards, we draw on relevant international best practice.
Several noble Lords raised competing demands on land. It is vital that we make the most productive use of our land and strike the right balance between the many priorities that place a demand on land, including food security, sustainable development, action on climate mitigation and adaptation, and promoting nature’s recovery. The noble Baronesses, Lady Brown, Lady Walmsley and Lady Blake, the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, and my noble friend Lord Holmes all mentioned the need for a clear land use strategy, as did the committee’s report. The Government recognise the importance of this and of managing these trade-offs, and we have therefore committed to publishing a land use framework in 2023 to bring greater alignment in policies affecting land.
I thank all noble Lords here for taking part in this crucial debate and for raising many important points that I will take back to Defra and colleagues across Whitehall. I will look at Hansard and write to noble Lords to follow up on any questions that I have been unable to answer. The Government have committed to leaving the environment in a better place than we found it. There is no doubt that nature-based solutions play a vital part in achieving our ambitions, and, although we recognise that there is work to do, we are confident that we have a strong foundation to build on. With our recent announcements and ongoing commitment to action, we will continue working with key stakeholders in the sector and our delivery partners to deploy nature-based solutions to improve our natural environment and support the climate agenda.
I thank the Minister for his extensive response. I was pleased that he mentioned a lot of numbers and actions, and I too will study Hansard carefully—I will take them away and think about them further. At the moment, however, I fear I am still not convinced that they add up to an integrated solution to this issue.
I too thank all who have spoken in this debate—I will not repeat what noble Lords said so eloquently. I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Worthington and Lady Bennett, for reminding us of what I will call the “zeroth” law of nature-based solutions, which is that they cannot be used as an excuse for not decarbonising rapidly. In that vein, the first law is that nature-based solutions are critical for achieving net zero for our residual emissions, as the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, reminded us. The second law is that more research and training are needed. The third is that they will not work without robust monitoring and verification. The fourth is that this is not just a Defra issue; it needs the cross-government approach that the Minister mentioned. The fifth is that we must establish robust ways to fund them and we must have offsets that we can trust. The sixth is that our farmers are critical and need our help.
I hope that, as a result of today’s debate, the Government will reflect further—I think I heard the Minister say this, which pleased me—on whether the scale and pace of their current and proposed actions add up to a solution to the challenge of effective implementation and use of nature-based solutions in helping us reach net zero.
Sport, Health and Well-being National Plan (NPSRC Report)
Motion to Take Note
That the Grand Committee takes note of the Report from the National Plan for Sport and Recreation Committee, A National Plan for Sport, Health and Wellbeing (HL Paper 113, Session 2021-22).
My Lords, one of the truest aphorisms in sport in the UK is that the world of sports politics makes the House of Commons look tame by comparison. Recognising that, we, as Members of this House who served on the House of Lords National Plan for Sport and Recreation Committee should be more than grateful for the outstanding chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Willis of Knaresborough, to whom we give our heartfelt thanks and owe lasting respect. With his characteristic Yorkshire charm, good grace, passionate love for sport and commitment to the interests of young people, he steered the 12 members of the committee through the often choppy waters of the world of sports politics—its opaque bureaucracy, sometimes overlapping and intertwined, at others siloed, usually unaccountable, febrile in its complexity but nevertheless united in a passion for the benefits that sport can bring to our lives.
The noble Lord brought his crew safely through the years of Covid and across the finishing line with a range of compelling recommendations to show for his dedicated hard work and service to the subject. The fact that he did so with such enthusiastic generosity of spirit and insight into the lives of the many people whom he both felt and knew had been denied the opportunity to benefit from participating in sport and recreation, and denied the chance to live better and healthier lives, was always there when he opened the questions to the many witnesses who came before us. His absence from opening this debate today, due to illness, is a cause for sadness on all sides of the Committee. Our sincere best wishes go to him.
In recognising the noble Lord’s contribution as our chair, our thanks also go out to our committee staff: Michael Berry our clerk, Katie Barraclough our policy analyst and Hannah Murdoch, our committee operations officer. Their professionalism was clear from day one. They benefited from a genuine enthusiasm, bordering on passion, for the subject matter we were considering, and this seminal report could not have been completed without their close and effective co-operation with Dr Chris Mackintosh, our special adviser. We are very grateful for the huge amount of excellent work he undertook.
Another key member of our team was Owen Williams, our head of press and media, who recognised that the subject was of national importance and appealed to all ages, and showcased the work of your Lordships’ House at its best. His team did not fail to take those opportunities, not least with children’s TV, linking up with Sky “Kids FYI”, the young people’s news show. In so doing, they were enthusiastically backed in this endeavour by members of the committee, particularly the noble Baronesses, Lady Grey-Thompson and Lady Brady. “FYI” even undertook to research among children, the results of which were submitted to the committee, which clearly showed an appetite to be more active in and out of school.
We welcome the maiden speech today of my noble friend Lord Effingham, who is a very welcome new Member of our Benches. We look forward to hearing his contribution.
Overall, we held nearly 30 evidence sessions, analysing over 160 written submissions of evidence over the course of the year. Dr Chris Mackintosh’s own take on the work of the committee is worthy of recording. He said:
“I believe the suggested framework for the National Plan is driven by evidence and can provide the genuine opportunity for catalytic change. Hopefully this is a watershed moment that creates a more radical vision for community sport, wellbeing and physical activity—the time is certainly right for this change.”
Central to our recommendations, we are calling for the development of a long-term, cross-governmental national plan for sport, health and well-being. The national plan will form an overarching framework document which will set out the Government’s vision, aims and objectives over a multi-year period and will bring together disparate strategies covering physical activity, health promotion, planning, housing, education, transport and more. This will mean that some existing strategies such as Sporting Future will need to be incorporated into the national plan and reflect the new way of working, but not abandoned.
We then called for a Minister for Sport to be appointed within the Department of Health and Social Care, moving away from the existing Department for Culture, Media and Sport. We called for the establishment of a national physical activity observatory to address the existing limitations in national, regional and local monitoring and evaluation in sport and recreation policy.
We called for better teacher training, particularly for primary school teachers, including greater emphasis on PE and physical literacy training. We called for schools and colleges to be encouraged to develop closer links with local sports clubs to tackle drop-out from physical activity that often occurs when people leave full-time education.
We hope that the Department for Education will guarantee funding for the PE and sport premium at least at current levels, but not just in the short or medium term but in the long term. We looked for the introduction of a statutory requirement for local authorities to provide and maintain
“adequate facilities for sport and physical activity, backed up with adequate financial support from the Treasury”.
We looked for the designation of PE as a core national curriculum subject to ensure that it received “adequate time and resource”, and the creation of a robust approach to duty of care and safeguarding in grassroots and elite support, backed by financial sanctions and built on the findings of the independent review of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, Duty of Care in Sport, published in 2017. We looked for a national register of coaches to maintain standards in safeguarding and child protection as well as an ombudsman for duty of care in sport, and close working with the sector to introduce mandatory reporting
“given the potential for abuse in sport”.
We untangled the webs which obfuscate the key delivery mechanisms of the sector by placing emphasis on physical literacy; accessibility and availability of facilities and spaces; tackling discrimination; public messaging campaigns; addressing health inequalities and the need for more social prescribing, and sport for development in criminal justice settings.
We believed passionately in the importance of instilling a lifelong habit of sport and physical activity. We recognised the need for major progress in the delivery of PE and school sport, addressing cost, facilities and accessibility—not least to the countryside.
What was the genesis of the sense of frustration that members of the committee felt? It was excellently summarised by our chair, who said:
“I thought the committee would look very narrowly at sport and recreation and what could be done for them, but it ended up with a set of proposals that are quite revolutionary, which state something really quite different about the way forward, not only for sport and recreation but for the NHS itself … How is it possible that the UK is world-leading in elite and professional sports, that 3 billion people across the world watch our Premier League matches in over 187 different countries and that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, has consistently said, at Olympics after Olympics … we have failed at grass-roots level to get more people from more diverse backgrounds to be more active, despite all the investment that successive Governments have made? … With one-third of the adult population at the moment getting less than 150 minutes of moderate activity each week; with schoolchildren doing consistently less activity both at school and at home; with PE marginalised in the school curriculum and no longer inspected by Ofsted while, as we heard in our evidence, many primary school teachers get less than three hours’ training in a three-year degree course, which is shameful, so physical literacy in most of our primary schools means nothing, frankly, because it does not appear on the league tables; with access to facilities ever more difficult; with local authorities closing swimming pools and leisure centres to save resources; and with transport non-existent for large parts of the day for large swathes of the community, we have become one of the most lazy, inactive nations in the … world. Those sections of the population with the poorest diets and the worst levels of deprivation are, not surprisingly, the least active, too, and of course the pandemic has disproportionately affected all the target groups.”—[Official Report, 4/2/22; cols. 1207-09.]
No one in this Committee could have put it better.
We on the committee concluded that the day had arrived to bring sport and recreation away from the touchlines of Whitehall to the centre of government, where, led from a position of strength and embedded at the centre of the Department of Health, sport could be united with health and well-being to play a pivotal role in our health policy. Then and only then can we truly promote a proactive health agenda as Governments have been doing across the world, from Australia and New Zealand to Norway, Sweden and France. Only then will we achieve effective cross-departmental work, which is touted as a goal by successive Ministers for Sport but which remains a chimera—a benign illusion that withers on the vine when road-tested for effectiveness.
Our hope was that funding would then “coalesce around the national plan”. We looked enviously at New Zealand, whose strength at elite level lay in a strong emphasis on participation and opportunity for all: a pathway from all local communities to podium success. New Zealand’s well-being budget model was seen as well thought through and inspirational in co-ordinating departmental budgets and departmental agendas. Those who designed and led the New Zealand strategy clearly recognised that sport and an effective, active lifestyle played an increasing role in virtually all government departments. Such is the power of sport.
High levels of physical inactivity remain a major issue of national concern. Inadequate steps have been taken to tackle childhood obesity and inactivity. At grass-roots level, women, disabled people, the elderly, ethnic minorities, those with long-term health problems and people from less affluent backgrounds had suffered most from inadequate opportunities, poor information flows, local authority cuts and numerous underwhelming attempts to boost activity rates.
A central raison d’être for hosting the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games—a healthier, more active population inspired by our great athletes—has failed to materialise. While the urban regeneration of the East End of London and the consistent funding of our elite athletes have been a success, the opportunity to raise the bar for physical activity at grass-roots level was seen by the committee to have been lost and has yet to recover.
We learned in answer to a Written Parliamentary Question tabled on 22 July 2021 that the complement of the team who worked on sports policy was just 25—25 enthusiastic, capable people who could easily transfer with their Minister to the Department of Health. Even the Minister for Sport in his evidence was not against that proposal. Yesterday’s move of digital out of DCMS would have been an opportunity to move sport to health as well, if health is to be taken as seriously as digital.
All our work was happening when countries across the world were introducing new sports laws, creating clear lines of policy formulation and accountability to their Parliaments. Ask the 25 civil servants where they believe they would be most effective. Some may indeed say they should be in education, but that removes them from the majority of the population who really need them after the waterfall effect on participation after they leave school. Maybe they should be in the Cabinet Office, but while we recognise that that would bring the importance of these policies to the heart of government, it would lack direct accountability for the programmes we considered.
Those are some of the reasons why we recommended a national plan for sport, health and well-being at the centre of government and led by the Minister for Sport in the Department of Health, leading an office of health promotion to be placed on a statutory footing to ensure its accountability to Parliament. With a national plan, a Minister at the centre of government and the 54 recommendations and conclusions we reached, it is time to act. If this Government will not act, hopefully the next one will.
This report will not gather dust. It will not sleep. As members of the committee from across the House recognised, it forms an excellent, vibrant and relevant manifesto for each and every party at the next election. No Member of your Lordships’ House who has been engaged on this work will not fully support whichever party is in power to implement the report’s key recommendations in full. I beg to move.
My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, in thanking our chair, the noble Lord, Lord Willis, for leading us so well and making being on the committee so enjoyable. The quality of our discussions has led to a very good report. I join the noble Lord in sending the noble Lord, Lord Willis, our very best wishes for a speedy recovery. I also thank him for the way in which he has presented the report. Those of us who served on the committee know that it was originally his idea that we should have a special inquiry into this and he was a guiding spirit pushing us to radical thinking throughout the whole time we met. I am sure that I speak on behalf of many of us in thanking him for what has been achieved.
Sport, health and well-being is one of those strange topics in politics that no one is against. I have never heard anyone make a speech saying that they do not think it is important, a good idea or a crucial part of a healthy society. Sometimes, in my experience, when no one is against something, no one is so much in favour of it that it goes to the top of everyone’s agenda. It is a weird weakness of our political system. When I was a Minister, I was told by a politician whom I greatly admired that to achieve change you need an argument. If you do not, there will be no energy, heat or momentum for change. I hate creating rows—it is not my style—but I have concluded that we have to go a bit further in this area than we have done previously to create a discussion out of which some ideas might come that someone will be brave enough to take forward. I see that mood in this report. Its main recommendations are radical; some people are against them, which gives us something to grab hold of and take further.
I will concentrate on one or two general things and take a couple of examples. Sport, health and well-being is a tale of two stories, whichever part of the population you look at. Among adults, we have some of the highest-achieving athletes and sportspeople in the world; we are good at lots of things and win lots of medals—we had three international Olympians on our committee—so we do very well at adult sports. However, over a quarter of the population is deemed to be inactive and only 36% of people participate in sports once a week. Among children and young people, there are some marvellous boys and girls in our schools achieving at a high level, some of whom enter adult sport and compete at senior level while still of school age. Yet we also have lots of young boys and girls turned off PE and sport who never return to it throughout their lives.
In the wider population, some families and communities, for whom being active is part of family and community life, have lots of sports facilities and thrive, but we also have some places, people and communities who do not have the facilities, the motivation or the encouragement. Thinking about ourselves as a nation—what is good for our well-being and that of our citizens—frankly, although I love football, it is more important to get wider involvement than to have the wealthiest football league in the world. Sometimes, it seems as though we have backed the wrong thing. We are immensely proud of having a lot of money in the Premier League, but we worry less about the neighbourhoods and communities for which sport is not available.
Things need to change. I will take two examples from my background of where the report says this very well. First, it seems minor to say that PE and sport should be core school subjects. The Government responded that it does not matter because they are part of the national curriculum. However, if everything on the national curriculum was treated equally, we would not have core and non-core subjects. “Core subject” means that it is more important than the rest of the national curriculum. If anything has to go—if money is short and anything is not measured or celebrated—it will be the non-core subjects, not the core ones. The notion of “physical literacy” in the report and the move to make it a core subject would give a powerful signal, though not overnight, to people in education and schools that this matters and that change must happen.
Where we are at the moment is that many children in primary school will be taught all their PE by somebody who may not be interested in sport, may not be confident in sport themselves and may only have had between three and six hours of training in the whole of their teacher training. Even in secondary schools, where we have, I hope, qualified teachers—although I am not sure that every class is taken by a fully qualified teacher—when the exams come along, it is the sports hall that is closed so that desks and chairs can be put out. Can you imagine literacy or numeracy lessons being cancelled because there was this or something else in the rest of the curriculum? The message given there is that yes, it is important, yes, it is part of a broad and balanced curriculum, and yes, we see the importance of activity for children, but we are keeping it just below the radar while our messages about other parts of the curriculum are far stronger. Unless that changes, we will fail to lay the foundations with children and young people so that they remain active throughout their life.
If you miss out at school, or you are in a school that does not have those facilities, you look to your community —and the amount of money local authorities spend has reduced in the past 10 years by £0.6 billion, and it is not a statutory duty to provide leisure facilities. So there is something wrong. Imagine if we closed all our GP surgeries, or all our dental surgeries—well, we do have a problem with dentists. But if we closed all those health facilities, we would worry that it would be a crisis. The swimming pool closes, and it reaches the headlines in the local newspaper but nowhere else.
I give those examples, because to me that is saying that we are not yet in a position where policy is giving a clear message about what is important. I am disappointed with the Government’s response—although, to be honest, I could have predicted it; I could almost have guessed the draft. I was probably the same, but it does what Ministers of government departments always do. It says how much they have spent in the past on various pilots or trials and that they have picked out some geographical areas to run some more trials, says that they have a new measurement, and then to top it all says that they have set up a cross-party working group or a cross-party departmental committee. It is a formula that you go down. In government terms it does not cost much, but it looks like a lot when it is written on a piece of paper.
My message is that all that has been done in the past, and it did not work. That is the tragedy of this issue—that when you look at both Governments, you can see that they have made honest efforts, because they want to bring about the change. But a bit more money, another cross-party working group, another pilot and another trial has not delivered the change that we need. The statistics are worse than they used to be. We should say in this area that there should be no more pilots or small pots of money until you tell us what happened to the last ones you spent. What was the impact, what lessons have you learned, and what are you changing in future?
To be honest, it took me some time to come around to the notion of changing the machinery of government, because I am always a bit worried when politicians suggest doing so. It is a bit of a safe haven for those who have worked in the machinery of government—but I have become an enthusiastic convert to it. I can see that the proposal at the core of the report to put this in the Department of Health, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, explained, could give a very big signal that government understands that, if things are to change, the leadership that it has to show is that it will change too. I very much hope that this debate will go on in future years.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, with her passion and enthusiasm for the subject. I draw noble Lords’ attention to my entry in the register of interests which, from our Select Committee sessions, noble Lords will know are extensive. I shall not read them all out here, because it would take most of my speech time—but most pertinently for this debate, I was chair of UK Active during the evidence sessions, and vice-president of the LGA, which is still current. I am now chair of Sport Wales, co-chair of Yorkshire CCC and a board member of the National Academy for Social Prescribing, and I was author of the independent review of duty of care in sport. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Willis of Knaresborough—we are all sorry that he is not here—and the secretary and Dr Mackintosh for guiding us through, as well as my noble friend in sport, the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, for leading the debate today, for his expertise and for summing up the extensive contributions.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, is right: this never gets to the top of the priority list. We talk about medals and sports performance, but what we are talking about here is far more serious: the health of our nation. As someone who has worked in this space for a number of years, I learned through the Select Committee process that there is a lot of agreement. It also gave me contact with organisations that I do not normally deal with.
I will start the main part of my speech with a quote from Nelson Mandela in 2000. He said:
“Sport has the power to change the world.”
It is a high bar to follow, and I am not going to argue with Nelson Mandela, but I would change it slightly by adding physical activity. Sport and physical activity have the power to nudge the world into a better place. Away from big sports reporting, we need to find a way of raising this up the agenda. There is so much research to show that sport and physical activity can tackle inequalities and bring community cohesion, academic attainment, personal responsibility and so on—I could go on and on—yet they never get to the top of the priority list.
Big sporting moments such as the Olympics, the Paralympics and the Commonwealth Games are amazing and great; I competed at all three. Working in this area, I experienced a really proud moment after the Lionesses’ victory last year. I was on a train, and I heard two young boys arguing about who was the best English female footballer. It felt as though we had turned a corner, but we then seemed to slow down again. If you look at what the 2012 Games did at Olympic park for communities and the built environment, beyond an incredible Games, you will see, again, that we must have the right support beneath these big sporting moments —you cannot just expect them to change anything. One of my biggest frustrations is when people tell me that 2012 changed the world for disabled people. It did not. They were a great Games, but we have to do more.
We sat as a committee during Covid, and as I was going out and about being active it was interesting to see so many more people, including women, being active who were not before, because they had the opportunity to do so. During that time, we heard so many people being passionate about the NHS, which was amazing, but I throw out the challenge that, if we care about the NHS so much, we have to stop people going into it. We should not talk about physical activity and sport in silos—they need to be the golden thread that runs through our debates. Physical activity can help with waiting lists and surgery; it can help with everything. We just need to talk about it a little more. I raised some of these issues at Second Reading of the levelling-up Bill.
The question is: should there be a national plan for sport? The answer, really simply, is yes. We could all have answered the question very quickly, but it was right that we spent so much time looking at it. What was really powerful about the committee was bringing it all together in one place. Briefly, I will pick out a couple of the recommendations and give my thoughts.
Statutory provision is vital. This cannot be a postcode lottery. We have to start thinking differently about the money that is spent. There should be a new requirement on councils, with adequate support from the Treasury, but we have to think about it as investing in people’s future and not just about the money that we spend. Many have called for a review of the tax environment for the sport and recreation sector, and I fundamentally support that.
What do we think about PE? A lot of people’s experience of PE is not positive, and I would argue that that is because of the way that it can be taught. It brings in sporty children, like me, but we do not teach trigonometry without teaching maths, yet we expect children to play sport without teaching them physical literacy. This is not just about the health of the nation; it would have an impact on our elite pathway. Members of the committee who do not work in this space were shocked by what happens in schools. I found that to be really useful and an important wake-up call.
It would be remiss of me not to briefly mention the areas that I am currently working in. I urge the Minister to look again at the establishment of an independent sports ombudsman. I am not desperately attached to the name or the connotations that come with it but calling it “an independent body that provides some oversight of the sports system” does not quite have the same ring to it. I had to call it something. The Government should look at this again, especially given all the sports and governing bodies in use at the moment.
I would also be delighted if the Government were to look favourably on mandatory reporting. I have a Private Member’s Bill on the list and I would happily hand it over to the Minister. It was written with the support of Mandate Now and others, because, again, this is something that is sorely needed.
I will make one plea. There is the report and there are other things that we need to think about doing. The potential closure of swimming pools is a real worry for me. Without the Government’s support, it is anticipated that 40% of council areas will lose their leisure centres or see reduced services before 31 March this year. That should be a cause of huge concern to all of us. I am sure the Minister will tell me why the Government cannot look at this differently and regrade the commitments made, but they should look urgently at doing something to protect this, because it affects the whole of British society.
Finally, there are so many opportunities in this area and I am really looking forward to the Minister’s response. This is our chance to do things differently and we should take it.
My Lords, it is an absolute privilege to follow noble Lords on the committee who are our national heroes. The report is a powerful testimonial to the urgency of action needed for healthy communities and a healthy nation. The importance of sports and recreation to the well-being of young lives, with many people coping with multiple pressures resulting in mental health distress at a time of the cost of living emergency, cannot be oversimplified.
I wish to speak about the involvement of girls in sport. Although I am not a girl anymore, I grew up without any barriers to playing cricket, cycling, climbing trees, playing badminton, playing football or swimming. When I arrived in London, the only sporting field was our four walls, as it is for many children in this country. School was absolutely liberating and, after a little tough negotiation, I was allowed to wear trousers and play tennis and badminton briefly for my school team. It all seems so long ago.
School is the critical playground for encouraging girls to participate in sports. Muslim women and girls are playing football and cricket and participating in archery in Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Egypt. Even in Saudi Arabia, women’s teams are making great strides in the international sporting arena. Therefore, I challenge the decades-old excuse that it is cultural barriers that prevent certain sections of our female population taking part in sporting activities. Certainly, this should not be the case at primary and secondary level.
From what I see, community activities and school sports and recreation are dominated by programmes for boys and young men, and, even within that setting, young men and boys of Bangladeshi heritage have not broken through the barrier to professional football or cricket, bar one or two players.
In my area, many council-run sports centres, where girls appear to be absolutely absent, have rundown facilities due to lack of funds. Inertia has set in; girls will not play, so why bother? Community buildings once used for youth and community services, with hubs for girls, have shut or been sold without adequate scrutiny or any impact assessment of the loss of services to the community, as my noble friend Lady Morris mentioned. There are also significant numbers of private clubs in all localities of an excellent standard and with excellent facilities, and I would like to see how they can be encouraged to do more to engage the communities they operate in. The report also highlights the profound impact of discrimination as a barrier to wider participation and engagement, no doubt compounded by years of chronic national and local underfunding of sports and recreation services.
A decade on from the fanfare of the national pride in our Olympic Games, my observation—I dissent from my noble friend Lady Grey-Thompson here—is that the fundamental delivery promise of community empowerment has not taken place. The Olympic legacy promise was that it would revolutionise and reinvigorate communities and develop sustainable community sports and recreation facilities in all five boroughs, if not impact sports nationwide. Does the Minister agree that we have failed to honour that promise?
For a decade, young families put up with the health consequences of building the village, and frail children paid a heavy price with poor health and heightened childhood asthma and eczema. The Olympic promise was better housing, a family environment, and opportunities for sport and recreation facilities, but the outcome was inevitable, given that those involved in the design and implementation had little interest or stake in the local communities, and credible community experts were absent as decision-makers in the legacy delivery team.
A reflective workforce must include management at all levels. I am pleased to see that that is mentioned in the report. Will the Minister say whether there has been an analysis of the impact of the Olympic legacy on sports provision for all the boroughs surrounding the Olympic village? Is consideration given to why provision in these areas remains so poor?
I was recently informed that one of the legacies of the World Cup in Qatar is that a stadium has been designated to develop women’s sports and that it is led by a Minister for Women’s Sports Development. I do not know whether I have a created a rod for my own back by saying that, but the framework suggested on page 26 of the report would be extremely impactful, so long as it is inclusive and diverse throughout the structure.
The report is timely and thoughtful, and I am pleased to see references to safeguarding, given the current attention to online safety. An overwhelming impact of Covid isolation and lockdown was increased reliance on technology as the main source of recreation, and it is likely to become more prevalent and addictive as the new generation of games, virtual reality and augmented reality immerse us in the metaverse and Web3 transitional space. The Government should heed the recommendations in the report and take action and, as well as being answerable for delivery, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said, be a catalyst for a national transformation.
My Lords, it is a singular pleasure to take part in this afternoon’s debate. I congratulate all members of the committee, and indeed the staff, who put together such an excellent, coherent report. Not least, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Moynihan on the elegant and erudite way in which he introduced this afternoon’s debate. I am only sad that I was not on the committee. As ever, I did not make the first eleven.
Sport is a tremendous thing. It is an extraordinary honour to stand on a medal podium on club, county, national or international duty, but it is as nothing when set against enabling somebody to take their first stroke in a swimming pool, their first step on to a track or a walking trail, or to get on to their first trike or bike. Switching on the light of possibility through sport and physical exercise is worth more than any gold, silver or bronze. Yet we hear that potentially, within the next quarter, 40% of leisure centres will close their doors. They will be padlocked and will be of no benefit to anybody. It is bad enough that buildings are closed, but it is a disaster for all people whose lives are legged over through not being able to access those sporting facilities. When a swimming pool closes, there is rarely a ripple at national government level.
What is happening in the department? There should be a mission control looking at what is happening across our leisure provision to prevent this becoming a leisure centre emergency.
Similarly, it is essential to promote the opportunity of sport and physical recreation in the right way. We have seen some superb examples of this. “This Girl Can” and “We Are Undefeatable” are brilliant pieces of marketing. They are connective and understand the real issues why people may not feel that sport and physical exercise are for them. That is putting a different lens, the lens of possibility, the lens of connection, in such marketing attempts.
I should declare an interest as a board member of Channel 4, which is still the UK rights-holding broadcaster for the Paralympic Games. I was delighted to be able to negotiate those rights way back when I was at London 2012 towards the end of 2009, transforming how we present disability sport, to not just the nation but the world.
Looking at the National Plan for Sport and Recreation Committee’s report, does the Minister agree that it makes complete sense to rename the office “the office for health promotion”? Would he not see it as a thoroughly good thing that the Minister is not just a Minister for sport but a Minister for sport, health and well-being? Would he not like to take those few steps across to the Department of Health?
Would he further agree that we need to look hard into what is happening across the country in social prescribing, which can do so much good? What data exists on how universal this opportunity is and on its outcomes? What more can government do to enable everybody to be able to avail themselves of this possibility to change their lives for the better forever?
On the role of technology, the negative side was highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, but we could have the potential positive side. Is the department working in partnership to look at some of the benefits that can be gained, particularly through wearable technology? As with all good technology, data has to be at the heart. What quality of data do the Government have across this area because it is only by having a golden bedrock of data that we will be able to drive the changes that we want in this space?
In conclusion, we are in the midst of an obesity crisis. We have a post-Covid crisis. Does my noble friend agree that physical literacy is at least as important as literacy and numeracy? What is the cost of having such parlously low levels of physical literacy right now, not how much it will cost to change that but what is the current cost—social, psychological, individual and, yes, economic? What is the economic cost to neighbourhoods, to our nation, of this lack of physical literacy right now? To that end, does my noble friend agree that the best thing the Government could do right now is accept this excellent report in full?
It is a great pleasure to follow my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, who I first got to know after we successfully won the bid to stage 2012, when he accompanied me—I was the Schools Minister, and he was the Olympian to inspire children around the Olympics. It is also a pleasure to follow the other speakers. In particular, after the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, opened the debate, I want to associate myself with his comments about the noble Lord, Lord Willis, who so excellently led us in the committee. I also remind this committee of my interests as the chair of the multi-academy trust, E-ACT, as I shall go on to talk a little bit about schools.
The core problem that the committee addressed is that of inactivity among adults and children. Those thumbing the report need only go to pages 9 and 13 to see the graphics that show that inactivity. My noble friend Lady Morris cited some of the statistics. It is that relationship between inactivity, poor mental well-being and chronic health problems that are at the heart of the recommendation that the committee made around a national plan and something centrally driven. The Government’s response unfortunately shows a negligible appetite to change anything. I would say to the Arts Minister, in the words of Shakespeare,
“Nothing will come of nothing”.
As the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, noted, the machinery of government changes announced this week mean that perhaps the particular solution that the committee arrived at might have missed the boat for the time being. However, perhaps if he were listening, the Chancellor could be inspired by one of our witnesses, Grant Robertson, who was the New Zealand Finance Minister and also the Sports Minister. I am not necessarily suggesting that Jeremy Hunt should become Sports Minister, but he could head up a national plan for sport, health and well-being, given his background as a previous Secretary of State at DCMS and a previous Secretary of State at Health and the huge savings that our NHS, in such crisis at the moment, could gain over the long term if we tackled this chronic problem of inactivity among adults and children.
I also very much want to associate myself with what the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, said, in respect of mandatory reporting. The committee heard from no one who disagreed with the need to bring in mandatory reporting, and I cannot understand why the Government resist that.
In the time I have left, I want to focus on physical literacy among children. The Government are defensive and rely on the money from the sport premium and that PE is mandatory between ages of five to 16. Yet again, we see a problem. We have had those things for a little while now, and the problem has not been solved, so what are we going to do differently? I have visited a lot of primary schools and asked them how they are spending their sport premium, and it is making a difference. Many primary schools are now engaging professional coaches, who are helping to address the problem of the absence of PE training among primary school teachers that the committee identified. That is positive, but other problems endure.
Swimming was made statutory. I am very proud that as Schools Minister I introduced it as part of the Olympic package, but if we do not have swimming pools for kids to learn in, it does not really amount to much. Some things will endure. The issues around puberty and body image and the mental health difficulties that girls, in particular, are going through at the moment, as well as the difficulty around changing rooms in organised sport are very difficult ongoing challenges. However, the accountability system that we have in schools values the academic subjects in the EBacc and excludes PE, with Progress 8 then enforcing that and fetishising the academic within the accountability system, so that in the end schools end up having a GCSE for everything so that it looks academic. A GCSE for PE then becomes kids in classrooms studying PE rather than being physically active, which is a perverse and ridiculous situation in which to find ourselves.
Now, of course, we have schools facing budgetary pressures with pay and energy and so on struggling to renew equipment and facilities that we need for children to be physically active. So we need an approach of physical literacy, and the PE teachers that the committee spoke to were clear about wanting to make that change, combining the health and mental well-being effects with fitness. It is less about sport for sport’s sake and allows the learning to become more personalised, using after-school clubs and community use of school facilities and updating the idea of extended schools that we had in the first decade of this century.
As the committee discussed, I would like to see more accountability about how that sport premium money is being used, so that every school is publishing on its website exactly how it is using it. A great example is Surrey Square Primary School, which talked about its investment in the professional development of staff and its membership of a local sports network, supporting and engaging the least active children with that money through new or additional sports clubs during the school day. The school mentioned a whole run of things, including inviting athletes, dance troops and gymnasts into the school to inspire the children. It listed not only how it spends the money but the impact that that then has on the children that it is targeting. If that kind of activity was mandatory across the system, we would see a real impact. Children in particular need better than just cognitive development. Our school system must change to better develop children socially, emotionally and physically, because it is key to their future happiness and prosperity.
Finally, can the Minister say when a DCMS Minister last met with the DfE and Department of Health and Social Care Ministers to discuss changing the curriculum and the accountability of schools to reflect the need for better physical activity among children?
My Lords, I cannot emphasise enough what an honour and privilege it is to make my maiden speech in your Lordships’ House today. As the eldest son of an Earl, I was fortunate to have a parliamentary pass pre 1999, which allowed me to sit on the steps of the Throne and listen to debates, as I frequently did and greatly enjoyed. Following the reforms of 1999, I said to myself, “One day I sincerely hope I will be able to return to the House and contribute in the same way my father and previous family members before him did.”
I would like to thank the many people who make your Lordships’ House such a unique and special place and the reason I look forward to coming as often as I can. To be greeted with a smile by the doorkeepers, attendants, the restaurant team and many others is fantastic—and of course it would be impossible not to mention noble Lords, the Members of the House. In the brief time I have been here it has been amazing to meet so many talented individuals at the top of their game who add real value with their contributions to the House. Everyone without exception has been friendly and welcoming, and I am most grateful.
The Effingham title was created in 1554 for William Howard, fourth son of the second Duke of Norfolk, and I believe the most famous of my ancestors would be his son Lord Howard of Effingham, who defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588. I am reminded of this every time I walk into the Prince’s Chamber and look up to see the copies of the Armada tapestries on the wall. The original tapestries were commissioned by Lord Howard in 1595 and were hung in the Chamber of the House from 1644 onwards. Sadly, they were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1834, but the very fine replicas are worthy replacements for the originals. I would like to thank my noble friend Lord Crathorne, chairman of the Works of Art Committee at the time, without whose hard work and negotiation the tapestries might not be with us today.
For my part, I am married with two children, I have a degree in classics, and I have spent the past 23 years working in the City. Around half of that time was at Barclays, with the remainder at two other global banks, where I advised predominantly FTSE 100 companies on foreign exchange and treasury. I now work for a company called Birchstone, doing exactly the same thing, only we help UK SMEs. I hope I can use my experience in finance to participate in relevant debates and Bills.
My father was in the Navy all of his life and was president of the Royal British Legion. As a result of my naval upbringing, I will take a keen interest in the House on anything veteran-related and issues which will affect ex-military servicemen and women. I would also like to be involved with anything related to sport and its positive effects on society, such as the work that the Sport England organisation carries out. That leads me on to today’s discussion, tabled by my noble friend Lord Moynihan.
It was the Roman poet, Juvenal, who wrote in around 80 AD
“Mens sana in corpore sano”
and in doing so coined the phrase “healthy body, health mind”. The reason for my interest in this debate is that I understand and have been a beneficiary of the positive effects of sport. I have been taking regular exercise for the past 25 years and, without a shadow of a doubt, it has enabled me to remain healthy, feel good and work hard. The benefits of sport and exercise are well publicised and manifold.
As this excellent plan states, sport and physical activity can change lives, improve physical and mental health and well-being and lead to a better quality of life, as well as benefiting both national and local economies. Unfortunately, although we know this to be the case, there remain high levels of inactivity within the population, and if we can overcome this, the benefits for all will be felt.
One of the key findings of the report from my perspective is that we have to instil a lifelong habit of sport and activity within our children and younger population. By nurturing this love of sport from an early age, we can try to ensure that when the younger generation grow, they will continue to adopt an exercise regime and instil that love of sport and exercise into their own children, thereby creating a virtuous circle. Physical education should be encouraged in schools, and the report believes that the physical literacy of children should be valued as highly as their educational literacy and numeracy. I could not agree more. Physical exercise should be the building block for their future, enabling them to maximise their potential in other aspects of their life. The report also suggests campaigns to encourage and inspire parents to be active with their children outside of school. This can dovetail with a requirement for local authorities to provide and maintain adequate facilities for sport and physical activity for local communities.
There are so many invaluable recommendations and findings in this report, and I very much hope they will be acted on. I look forward to working with noble Lords on this report and any future business relating to this subject.
It is a great honour to follow my noble friend Lord Effingham in his maiden speech. It was an absolute model of its kind, and I think we were all very impressed by the way he put it. His commitment to supporting the lives of veterans is something I think we would all want to endorse. His speech was a masterclass in making the case for sports. I particularly enjoyed his reference to his forebear, William Howard, who was a Lord Chamberlain, a Lord Admiral, a diplomat and all-round British superhero, and who served Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth. You will remember that he was elevated to the peerage for taking on Wyatt’s rebellion at Ludgate in the City of London and turning around the rebel crowd. So when crowds next come braying at the gates of Parliament, we will know who to turn to when we want to send someone out to negotiate.
My noble friend Lord Moynihan is absolutely right, and I violently agree with him, that the question of sport in this country is 100% a health question. We are in desperate trouble in this country: our health outcomes have fallen back very severely. As a former Health Minister who was on the front line of the pandemic, I felt that very severely. It is absolutely right that this report puts health in the centre. In fact, I would be more ambitious than the report has spelled out; the ambition should be for Britain to become the healthiest country in the developed world. The failure to engage in that kind of mission, the failure to lift our eyes and truly believe with confidence that we can turn around the problems of the past few years and make Britain healthier, is at the root of failure to address illness. The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, put it extremely well: we have to stop people falling ill, or we will have an NHS cost that explodes, a workforce that is unable to work and an economy that cannot pay for schools, pensions and illness.
However, we are going backwards at the moment, not forwards. The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, put it extremely well: activity among young people aged 16 to 34 dropped from 72% to 66% from 2015 to 2022. That is a terrible statistic and a shocking state of affairs, so we have some really hard questions to ask.
I am afraid that I do not agree that we should somehow dump the responsibility for sport on the Department of Health and Social Care. Having been in that department, I can tell noble Lords that there is quite a lot going on already—it is pretty swamped trying to tackle waiting lists, build hospitals, sort out our catastrophic care service and prevent illness. I do not think that scapegoating the department by dumping the responsibility for sport on it is the silver bullet that anyone would hope for. I know that that is not exactly what my noble friend Lord Moynihan has in mind; I would just like to flag it to add a sense of proportion.
Responsibility for the health of the nation, and therefore for sport, needs to be spread much more broadly, rather than simply scapegoating the NHS or the Department of Health and Social Care. We need houses that have green spaces and access to sports facilities—access is very important. As the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and the noble Lord, Lord Knight, pointed out, schools are absolutely central to solving health and sport issues. We have sold off far too many sports grounds; sport is not taught properly and the risk-averse nature of the sports culture in schools means that not enough kids are doing it. The list is quite long, but it is critical that we sort it out.
In practical terms, I find the state of the swimming pool estate heartbreaking. I am utterly obsessed by swimming at the moment—I can tell noble Lords another time about my adventures in the outdoor and wild swimming game. Nearly half of our swimming pool estate is under threat of closure at the moment. Something needs to be done. The Government may be cash-strapped and their credit card may be maxed out, but, as my noble friend Lord Holmes said, it would be heartbreaking if more than half of kids in the next generation did not learn to swim, which is where we are heading at the moment.
The problem is not central control of sport; it is more about local authorities. I will not go through it in depth, but my experience as a Health Minister taught me that there has been a great hollowing out of the resources of local authorities, which is seen severely in the area of sport. There is not enough access or encouragement and the culture in many of our communities is simply not supported by the necessary resources to do it.
On big sporting events, I will throw in a note of challenge as a bit of a sceptic. I apologise to the amazing Olympians in our presence but, in terms of delivering actual activity, our big events have simply not encouraged our population to engage in sport. That is a big failure.
We need our sports clubs—we have fantastic football and rugby clubs—to do more than they do at the moment, and we need our employers to put sport at the centre of the workplace experience. We have 20 pubs, clubs and restaurants in this building and one very poky gym—I do not know whether anyone here has been to it, but it is not as good as many of the pubs and clubs. That culture really needs to change.
To conclude, the project of getting Britain healthier could not be more important. The role of sport is central to that. We need to change the environment in which people live and give them agency and the ability to address their behaviours. Sport is the one thing you can take on yourself that will really improve your health outcomes. That is why we need to support people to do sport: it will give them the opportunity to turn around their health outcomes. It is also why I would like to see this much more widely distributed across the responsibilities of government.
My Lords, I first welcome on to the pitch, if I may use a rather cheap sporting analogy, the noble Earl, Lord Effingham, and congratulate him on his debut and his excellent maiden speech. We look forward to hearing more from him.
I should also congratulate the committee on producing such a comprehensive and thought-provoking report on an increasingly critical subject. I agree with many of its recommendations, not least the need for a national action plan, and I would argue that, if we are serious about uniting health and well-being with sport, then, yes, we do need a dedicated ministerial post within the Department of Health to take ownership, as this is a complex and fiendishly difficult area to get right.
In the report, I thought that the University of Cambridge’s MRC unit made a telling point when it suggested a
“national plan for active lives”
rather than for “sport and recreation”. It is the word “activity” that I will focus on, because this has become a huge issue—not just for sport, health and recreation but for education, the economy and the workforce.
If noble Lords have not done so already, I encourage them to read the latest report from the Economic Affairs Committee—I declare my interest as a member—entitled Where Have All the Workers Gone? The UK has seen an alarming drop since 2019 in the number of economically active people. This trend is now the single biggest drag on economic growth and may continue for many years. It raises major questions over our nation’s health, and in particular workforce fitness in an ageing population.
In just three years, some 500,000 people in the UK have been added to the long-term sickness category, taking the total to 2.5 million. In addition, hundreds of thousands of apparently healthy 50 to 64 year-olds have opted to retire early and become economically inactive. So that is a partial response to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, on economic cost.
As we know, levels of physical activity have fallen in recent years, not helped by the surge in sedentary hours spent online. This has happened in spite of the legacy of such events as the London Olympics, or indeed the £1.5 billion spent by Sport England—to which I will come back in a moment.
Talking of Sport England, I find the setting of activity targets too simplistic and binary. You are deemed “active” if you do more than 150 minutes of activity a week and, bizarrely, “fairly active” if you do just 30 minutes a week. I appreciate that Sport England is taking its cue from the Chief Medical Officer, but it should look at the medical research on reducing the risks of heart disease, stroke, diabetes 2, cancer and dementia. In all cases, the recommended activity tends to be at least 30 minutes a day, or 200 to 300 minutes a week—a huge difference. I suggest that these targets need to be recalibrated to reflect the real health benefits, particularly at the margins.
In terms of measurement, we should be leveraging the health and sports tech companies to provide far more comprehensive and sophisticated data, focusing not just on the number of minutes but on the intensity and type of exercise. In my former life, I was an information and data entrepreneur, brought up on concepts such as statistical significance, return on investment and impact analysis—all highly relevant here, but largely absent in terms of execution. We discovered that Sport England distributed £1.5 billion in grants over five years but knows which local authorities the funds went to for only £450 million of that. So we can forget about impact analysis, or any sort of effective evaluation.
We are struggling with a multiplicity of players and stakeholders, both national and local, while the health and well-being remit runs across departments—DCMS, health, education, the Treasury of course, and now levelling up. This week’s Cabinet reshuffle has resulted in the “digital” part being removed, so it is CMS and not DCMS. But digital is so wrapped up in media, as we can see with the Online Safety Bill, that I am not sure the department has lost the right letter.
That said, I welcome the right honourable Lucy Frazer as the new Secretary of State—the eighth, by my count, in the past five years. One of the Government’s excuses last year for delaying yet again the launch of a new sports strategy was that the then new Minister needed time to settle in. In view of this, I ask the noble Lord the Minister when this strategy will realistically see the light of day.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on his maiden speech. I hope that we as Members of the upper House will hear him much more often on the issues where he has expertise. I feel I am a lone voice today. I have played a lot of sport in my life. I played for the English schoolboys at rugby—I was at Twickenham last Saturday. I have played, to put it modestly, extremely good tennis across the world. I played in Canada, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka, and I am privileged to be a member of the All-England Club. I play golf. I am president of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Golfing Society, which is also a privilege, and I am also president of Northamptonshire County Cricket Club. I am not just a titular president. I am alongside the chairman, and I am invited to attend the committees—quite rightly without voting powers—and I think I understand the world of cricket in considerable depth in the difficult time at the moment. Finally, at the age of 86 with two artificial knees, I have taken up croquet, and I do a lot of walking backwards and forwards in your Lordships’ House.
I understand the depth of feeling that has gone into this national plan. The very word “national” grates with me. A UK plan would suggest that it would be operating in the devolved parts of the United Kingdom, and they play rugby slightly differently in Scotland—rather better than us at the moment—and are doing something different on cricket. Certainly in Northern Ireland, where I was a PPS, sport is very different from what it is in England. If it is to be UK, fine, but I do not think that “national” is the right word. I think it should be devolved if it is to happen at all.
To me, the whole thing smacks of being a dictatorial policy from on high, then I read about the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities. That is a function of the Department of Health, but it suggests considerably more bureaucracy as far as I can see. Even worse, it proposes that sport, in all its aspects, should come from the Department of Health. Even my noble friend who was in the Department of Health and did a wonderful job through the whole of the Covid period—my goodness, he must really have worked the hours—says that it is not a good idea to put it in the Department of Health. I know a bit about the Department of Health because I am married to a retired GP and my son was a GP and is now a deputy coroner in Southwark. I know that the National Health Service has a huge number of problems at this point in time and is totally incapable of taking anything else on at all. I hope that my noble friends who have to make decisions will think about that.
I am slightly surprised, when we have a new Minister for Sport—an excellent promotion in my judgment—to read that my Government are proposing a task force that is chaired by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. We have made no decision that sport should come under that department yet, so it seems to me that that is somewhat premature. I do not understand why it is not still with DCMS.
For me, the challenge falls into two parts. One is the overall improvement of the health and well-being of the nation—diet, exercise and the bits that are relevant to the Department of Health and Social Care—but the overall improvement of the physical fitness of the nation depends on the implementation of physical activity in sport and individual physical activity. In sport, there is professional sport, school sport—I agree with what has been said about the need to improve school sport—and voluntary sport.
For example, I look at the depth of cricket in Northamptonshire, where I was an MP, and the ethnic balance there. There are far more ethnic people playing cricket in Northamptonshire today than there ever used to be, and they come right the way through to our first-division team. Then there is also what we call individual sport activity.
Yes, the disabled are left out; I moved a motion the other day at the MCC that one of the new activities we should have at Lord’s cricket ground is a disabled cricket championship, for want of a better word. The poor are also left out. That is why we need charities or someone else there. For a sport such as cricket, it is quite expensive to buy a cricket bat and pads. We are providing a charitable dimension in Northamptonshire, as I believe others are doing.
We need pathways, and that is what we are now getting. In my judgment, some of the evidence offered today is plainly out of date. We have a pathway in Northamptonshire to the mainly Pakistani ethnic community in Luton. We have a nursery there that feeds through to the academy, and some of them will doubtless come through that pathway. We have another pathway being built up in Peterborough. We are not alone; it is happening in other counties, with varying levels of success.
I am sorry to say to my noble friend that I am not impressed with the plan. I do not think it will work. I think it will be darned expensive and it is another piece of bureaucracy. You cannot dictate to people. You must ensure that they do things because they want to do them. The framework has to be there for them to do that, and noble Lords are absolutely right that the leisure centres that have been closed because of energy problems should be reopened. That must happen, but we have a wonderful blend of volunteers in this country who spend time and energy alongside the professionals to make sport work.
We have moved tremendously in the past 10 years on the problem that this plan is put forward to address. In my judgment, if it had come 10 years earlier, it might have worked, but it is too late now. I think we should let sport lie within DCMS but have a clearer voice there.
My Lords, I thoroughly enjoyed serving on the National Plan for Sport and Recreation Committee and thank everybody involved in producing such an excellent report. I especially thank the noble Lord, Lord Willis, who sadly is not here today, for his excellent chairmanship and my noble friend Lord Moynihan for helping drive this important subject to a committee of the House. I also draw your Lordships’ attention to my interests set out in the register, as I shall mention one of them later. It was also good to hear from my noble friend Lord Naseby that he plays tennis. I play a little too, so if he would like a game sometime, I am sure we can arrange it.
As we have already heard, there is so much more work to be done to tackle health inequalities across the nation. Sport and physical activity provision must be one of the primary tools to achieve this and help foster and support the culture needed to deliver a healthier society. Extremely good provision is being delivered, but so much more can be achieved. When the committee initially released the report in December 2021, the then Minister indicated his support for many of the recommendations made in it, so it is disappointing that there seems to have been such little progress considering the initial positive noises from government.
The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities highlighted data in March 2022 relating to how physical inactivity is associated with one in six deaths in the UK and is estimated to cost the economy £7.4 billion annually. Our population is around 20% less active than it was in the 1960s. One in three men, 34%, and one in two women, 42%, are not active enough for good health. We really need to get a grip on this.
We know that physical activity leads to better mental and physical health. That is partly why the report recommended that the OHID should be renamed as well as placed on a statutory footing and that physical activity, health and well-being should be prioritised across government. We have heard many urgent issues raised today, from PE becoming a core subject to saving our swimming pools, and there are many that I would have wished to speak on. I hope the Minister will be able to give some hope on the concerns highlighted today so that we can make genuine progress.
I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, would welcome some positive feedback, especially in light of the Health Minister’s response to his Health Promotion Bill that the OHID’s
“core aim is to reduce preventable ill health and health disparities”
“We are all united in wanting to find the best way to promote healthy living through sport, education and active lifestyle.”—[Official Report, 2/12/22; cols. 2002-05.]
I also reinforce the report’s recommendation on the importance of improving social prescribing, which has been mentioned briefly today, with local authorities working more closely with health and well-being boards, local NHS trusts and clinical commissioning groups to ensure that co-ordination and quality are enhanced to create better outcomes.
A taskforce set up by the Alliance of Sport in Criminal Justice, which I chair, recently published the Get Well, Stay Well agreement. It provides a framework for increased collaboration, health promotion and the use of physical activity and sport to tackle health inequalities across the justice system. Like so many issues that need to be addressed, the report highlights the urgent need for cross-departmental working in this area, which, if achieved, could make a real difference. To move forward and reverse the decline that we have seen in physical activity levels across the population, bringing relevant national and local stakeholders together would be a really good first step. It would be helpful to know what updates my noble friend the Minister can give us on the work that the OHID is undertaking in this area, particularly on the promotion of sport and physical activity in tackling health inequalities.
Another recommendation in the report that I would like briefly to touch on is with regard to the physical activity observatory, which my noble friend Lord Moynihan touched on earlier. At present, the sector is fractured in its reporting and lacks substantive evidence in certain areas. Acting as a central point for data collection that could in turn be independently monitored, an observatory would bring relevant stakeholders together and gather the data needed to better support and show the benefits of investment and delivery and to drive this whole agenda further and faster.
If we do not act soon, particularly in the current climate, with grass-roots sport under pressure and budgets constrained, we risk sleepwalking into a society with even worse outcomes and a generation not being offered the vast range of opportunities that follow from better physical and mental health. I remind noble Lords that not only are we less active than in the 1960s but the OHID predicts that, if current trends continue, our population will be 35% less active by 2030. We cannot allow this to happen—we really must act now.
My Lords, it is a genuine pleasure to join in this debate. I thank my noble friend in sport, to use his expression, the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, very much for introducing it. I shall pass on to my noble friend Lord Willis the wishes that have been expressed, and the support of all those who supported the committee. He did a wonderful job, and actually made it a pleasant experience.
We have had one or two voices against the report, which probably makes it slightly more interesting. To deal with the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, first, this is not something that the Department of Health has to do—it is about the Department of Health looking out. It is not about the Department of Health taking over sport; it is about making sure that it happens and making sure that sport and recreation has somebody championing it.
One thing we have not mentioned that we should have done is the fact that we now have the power in the Department of Agriculture to create footpaths. Let us create a footpath and have somebody making sure that those footpaths connect and that the local bus service connects with them, or that at least you can park your car. Footpaths that dump you on to the middle of B-roads without anywhere to walk afterwards are useless to the vast majority of the population. It is about making sure that somebody can do that, and making sure that, in your planning, there is some green space so a child can play—that is the sort of thing which something that looks out can do. It can make sure that a plan for sport actually looks out.
The Department of Health is uniquely well placed because it touches everything. I am afraid that the current departmental structure does not; it mainly just distributes lottery money, and does a little bit of everything else. And if you put it in the Department for Education—as I have said on numerous occasions to numerous bodies, the thing about children is that they grow up. Even if they have a good experience at school, sport must be brought to them, and they need to be told that they are taking it forward. One or two of the Government’s initiatives on that seem to have largely died, and I am afraid that the coalition Government takes some of the blame for that.
Thank you. We have to make sure that that link is improved because, as the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, pointed out, the prosperous classes will carry on playing sport: “We’ve never had a problem, we can afford private memberships, we’ve got cars to take us to places”. Not everyone has those resources.
I will give an anecdote from the village of Lambourn, where I live. Two mothers were in front of me in the Co-op, which is where all the action happens there, and one said, “My son wants to join the football team, but he can’t because we haven’t got a car and there’ll be away games”. I turned around and said, “They’ll probably have a minibus that will drive you there”. The response: “Oh, I couldn’t expect that”. That is a real attitude. Unless we get something that looks at the structure and encourages those for whom it is not easy to take on sport, we will continue on our current path. This is not about new failure; it is a continuation of what we have. As noble Lords have mentioned, 40% of leisure centres and pools are threatened with closure, because we did not include them in our energy support strategies. It was coming anyway—the pressure was there—but this might just be the catalyst. The Government overlooked how important they are.
The Department of Health gets a direct benefit from physical activity, because it is a preventive wonder drug for mental and physical health. It is also a socialising factor. By supporting sport, we can make sure that we take a bigger bonus from it. We have all heard about workforces, retirements and so on, and all these factors will help. Somebody who is active and engaged can possibly be encouraged to go to a second career. All this is there, if we do it a little better than we are doing it now.
In this country, the Government have inherited, historically, something wonderful, which is the fact that much of our sporting structure was done on a voluntary basis and formed by people outside the national structures. Not one of the FA, RFU or MCC is a government-funded or government-initiated structure. Sport owns a lot of its own facilities here. You do not have to put that much in. We are mainly talking about amateur sport, which—I will define it again—is where you pay to play; you do not get paid. People are doing that, and providing a coaching base, putting on activities and social funds, and many other things. If we have some form of government backing to make sure that they are supported, we will take a bonus at all levels. If we make sure that this happens, something positive can come from it.
It does not mean an increase in bureaucracy. I will tell noble Lords how many bits of government bureaucracy we already have here. I picked out 10 schemes from the Government’s response to this report. They include:
“a new sport strategy to be published in 2022,”
the reports Uniting the Movement and Gear Change, and several campaigns, including We Are Undefeatable, Rediscover Summer, the 10 Minute Shake Up campaign, Join the Movement and This Girl Can. I could go on. I am sure that if I asked the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, she would find a couple more. Then you have the ones for individual sports.
Unless you have a central drive—and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, mentioned this—little packages, with little impetus but wonderful photo ops, it will die. If anyone has not seen that, I can quote you a few, as well as some that repeat themselves over and over again. That is what we have a tradition of; we do not have a tradition of maintaining and structuring support and driving it forward, which is what we need because, if the Government give a little push, the rest of the sporting community will do most of this for them, if they make it a little easier for it. But we do not do that—we sit back and then decide that, in education, the literacy hour or the new maths scheme to the age of 18 must take precedence, when we all know that physical activity improves grades within the school system. That is absolutely proven and unanswerable.
We have to look at this in the round and make sure that the Government take this seriously, to get the benefits that are so easy to get. If the Department of Health cannot do this, what other department has that degree of reach and authority? The Treasury is the only one, but I am afraid that our Treasury is not about investment but about controlling spending. Can we have a government response that tells us how we will get coherent about supporting this? The health benefits that we have at the moment are under direct threat; they are more difficult to obtain for those who need it most because of the funding structure, given the current financial squeeze and energy crisis. How will we answer this?
For every two or three leisure centres or swimming pools that are closed down, only one will open—we know that. Every voluntary group that uses them, not just for sport but for the arts, social activity and anything else, will also lose its base of operation and all the social and physical benefits. How will the Government get a coherent attitude to this? There is a chance for them to take a huge win here, and I hope that we will hear how they plan to do this, because at the moment we seem to be sleepwalking towards the edge of a cliff.
My Lords, this has been a wonderful debate—one of the best I have heard in the Grand Committee Room, and, indeed, in the House, in some time. I had not realised I was living among so many sporting greats until I heard the effusion of speeches this afternoon. We genuinely owe the noble Lord, Lord Willis of Knaresborough, a great debt of gratitude: he has done a brilliant job in pulling this excellent report together. The recommendations speak for themselves and make a cogent and coherent case.
I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, on how he kicked off the debate. He did the noble Lord, Lord Willis, justice and made a powerful, and pretty much unarguable, case for a national plan for sport. I also acknowledge and thank the noble Earl, Lord Effingham, for his brilliant maiden speech this afternoon and his contribution to our debate. When he started talking about the defeat of the Spanish, I thought he meant a fixture that I had missed in an earlier iteration of the sport I love most, which is football. The noble Earl went on to address other subjects as well, and, if he does that as he did today, the House will greatly benefit from his input and wisdom.
I made notes about comments that colleagues made in the debate, and some points stood out for me in particular. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, made a great plea for a national plan, and he pointed out the widening gap between elite performance in sport and the general participation of our population. He mentioned the recommendations being useful in addressing that, and described the plan as a “vibrant” manifesto for parties to consider at the next general election. That is right: sport should be very much at the forefront of our thinking for that.
My noble friend Lady Morris said that we needed an argument, a row, a national debate. She was right. The point about physical literacy is terribly important, and we should have it firmly in our minds.
The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, made the powerful point, repeating an argument that has been put many times before, that sport has the power to change the world. That is absolutely right; we should just look at the way in which it transforms lives in our communities up and down the country now. Worryingly, she pointed out that 34% of councils are likely to close their swimming pools in the next period. That is a frightening statistic. As someone who played a major role in local government for many years—I do not know about others in the Room today—I have seen the decline of our sporting facilities over that period, as less and less money has been invested as budgets are squeezed.
I liked the reference made by the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, to the potential for sport to widen the participation of different communities. She referred in particular to the Bangladeshi community and the joy that she discovered in sport as she grew up.
The noble Lord, Lord Holmes, nailed it when he talked about a “leisure centre emergency”. These are powerful expressions that we should not lose sight of. My noble friend Lord Knight talked about the core problem of inactivity. As ever, he was absolutely right.
The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, was our primary doubter. He did not like the idea of a national plan. I suspect that goes to the core of his political thinking, but even he admitted that we needed a UK plan and personally I do not really see much of a difference. However, it is important that we understand where sceptics are coming from because, if we do not, we will not make the coherent argument that we need to deliver on a national plan.
I also enjoyed the reflections of the noble Baroness, Lady Sater, and her challenge for others to get involved in the game of tennis. I am probably past my best in that sport, but I still enjoy a game of cricket and intend this summer to return to that game in my 70th year.
Well, if you had been there in my 30th year, you would have been among those whom I bowled out regularly.
This has been a very important debate for all of us join together in. The report notes high levels of inactivity among certain societal groups—it has been a problem for many decades, and we need to grasp it—leading not only to those health issues that we have concerns about but to social and community cohesion being the poorer for it.
The last Labour Government took a number of positive steps to get children and other groups more interested in sport and physical activity, but that momentum has been lost over the past 13 years. If that sounds like a party-political point, it probably is, but it is to do with the way in which our current Government have failed to build on some of the legacy opportunities, in particular the London 2012 legacy, which was a missed opportunity.
As I said earlier, the cuts to local authority and public health funding, as well as changes to the national curriculum and the expansion of academies and free schools, have left a patchwork of provision of sports clubs and facilities across the country.
We know that cuts to public health budgets have disproportionately hit groups who were already less physically active, which is why the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities is a very good idea, even if there are issues around its operation. In December, the House debated a Private Member’s Bill in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, which sought to enact one of the key recommendations of the Select Committee: that is, that the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities be renamed the Office for Health Promotion. That is an important point, but to put it on a statutory footing is important too.
In his response to that debate, the noble Lord, Lord Markham, made a series of commitments, including that the Government would publish various updated strategies in the first quarter of this year, rather than 2022 as was originally intended. The Government claim that cross-departmental working in this area is functioning well, so in that spirit can the Minister confirm the status of those documents? Has he been personally involved in the processes? Can he update us on where those documents have got to and what the Government intend to do to bring forward some form of national strategy?
In their response to this report, the Government cite various pots of money for new football pitches and school sports facilities and a commitment to renovate existing park tennis courts. Can the Minister confirm how many facilities have actually been built or renovated since the announcements were made? I would very much like to know where they are and what improvements have been seen.
We are glad that the Government agree with the committee’s views on the importance of public messaging campaigns such as “This Girl Can”. This arguably runs contrary to other areas of policy where the Government seem to put too little resource into raising public awareness. Let us hope that it is different for sport. Can the Minister go into more detail on Sport England’s upcoming campaigns and comment on whether DCMS and the Department of Health and Social Care have assessed the potential benefits of broader public information campaigns on some of these issues?
I cannot let this debate pass without expressing thanks to community groups, sports clubs and amateur coaches across the country. They do so much to involve and inspire others, even if they do not always feel supported in that work. At least this group of Members can express their support and encouragement for their efforts.
The social and health benefits that could be derived from improving participation in sports and physical activity are huge, as a number of noble Lords have said. We owe it to those who run initiatives across the country to try to realise the benefits sooner rather than later, as we will otherwise face a health emergency. As the report points out, and as I think the Minister would acknowledge, making meaningful progress will take concerted action across Whitehall. Now that the Prime Minister has rejigged departments, are the Government confident that they can deliver?
I will spend a few moments reflecting on the decline at a non-elite level of one of our great sports, which the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, referred to: cricket. When I was a schoolboy, cricket was played in schools. Schools had cricket pitches which were well looked after. We played our rival schools in the summer games. For me, there were only two seasons in the year, not four—cricket and football. They were really important for us, growing up as we did. Cricket in state schools is pretty much non-existent unless you happen to be the beneficiary of something like Rod Aldridge’s sports academy, which focuses on cricket in the city where I live. That is a terrible gap. Cricket is a great game, not just because it is physical activity but because it takes you into the worlds of literature and maths—it is three or four disciplines all in one game of participation. However, there is little concern or interest from the Government in making that sport part of the regular day-to-day activity of the school curriculum.
Excellence at elite-level rugby league, rugby, football and cricket is a bonus to us. Winning more medals at the Olympics and the Lionesses winning the Euro championship are wonderful moments for national celebration, but they do not of themselves encourage wider sporting participation. The committee’s report goes a long way to addressing the steps we need to take to ensure that that ceases to be the case in future and, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said, becomes our manifesto—and a vibrant one, at that.
My Lords, this has been a spirited and thoughtful debate, following the lead set by my noble friend Lord Moynihan, who opened it brilliantly on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Willis of Knaresborough, to whom we send our best wishes. We have heard from five former government Ministers, whose careers have spanned I think 10 departments, and accomplished players and followers of many more sports, including noble Lords who, between them, have an impressive haul of 32 Olympic and Paralympic medals.
Some of these accolades may still be in store for my noble friend Lord Effingham. He eloquently set out his strong credentials and personal passion for speaking on certain topics, including that before your Lordships today. We warmly welcome both his mens sana and corpus sanum—I believe I have declined them correctly, but he is the classicist and will correct me—to your Lordships’ House and look forward very much to hearing more from him in debates in the years to come.
It has been very clear from all your Lordships’ speeches that sport has a vital role to play in our lives through its power to be a force for good and something which brings people together, as well as an important tool in improving the health and well-being of the nation. The benefits of participating in sport and physical activity are well known. Undertaking regular activity helps improve people’s health, both physical and mental, not just giving them healthier lives but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, pointed out, easing the pressure on our National Health Service. Sport also has the power to bring people closer together by fostering social cohesion and reducing loneliness, an essential part of a healthy and happy life. Research commissioned by Sport England shows that for every £1 that is invested in community sport, there is a return of £3.91 in wider social and economic value. That is why the Government are so committed to ensuring that everyone, across the whole country, has access to high-quality provision.
The noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, was right to point out that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is a former Secretary of State responsible for sport and for health, but even if he were not, the economic benefits are clear. A robust and high-performing sport sector is immensely valuable to our economy, contributing £39 billion a year. In terms of jobs, in the decade and a half from 2003 to 2017, the sector saw employment growth of 42%, with 129,000 new jobs created.
While my department holds the remit for sport, it is the responsibility of many departments to ensure that people lead healthy and active lives. As we made clear in our response to the report of your Lordships’ committee, the Government do not believe that we need a machinery of government change to bring a sharper focus to that work. As we said in our response, sport is a major focus for officials at DCMS, indeed a larger one now that sport accounts for a greater proportion of our work following the machinery of government changes announced this week. I think I am right in saying that my noble friend Lord Moynihan, who was a very effective Sports Minister, did that while working for the Department of the Environment, and we have seen considerable and important work led by Sports Ministers working with colleagues across a number of government departments over the years.
However, the Government agree with your Lordships’ committee on the importance of setting a strategic direction for sport and physical activity. We have been working on a new sport strategy. I have not been involved in that work as Minister for Arts and Heritage, but I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, that it will be published in the first quarter of this year. We are also refreshing the school sport activity action plan. The new sport strategy will have a specific focus on addressing inactivity levels and the barriers which prevent people participating in sport and physical activity. We will consider the challenges facing children and young people and ensure that facilities are accessible to everyone.
The strategy has been drafted in consultation with key sector representatives as well as our arm’s-length bodies and active partnerships, which enable vital local collaboration. We are confident that this new strategy will address many of the important points raised by your Lordships’ committee, while recognising, as your Lordships have done, that action to address these issues requires a united, cross-government approach, an holistic understanding of physical activity, and strong local leadership.
I mentioned just now our arm’s-length body, Sport England, through which we annually invest more than £250 million of public and National Lottery funding. We are particularly keen to ensure that less affluent communities are not forgotten, which is why over the past 12 months, one-fifth of Sport England’s local investment has been in projects in the most deprived areas, those classed as IMD1.
Your Lordships’ committee mentioned measuring the impact of Sport England. We agree that that is crucial and can confirm that work is under way to ensure the fundamental alignment of Sport England’s work with the Government’s sports strategy.
My noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond, who is always an innovative thinker, raised the importance of innovation and data. As he would expect of a department that had until Tuesday “digital” in its name, we recognise the importance of digital tools and data in supporting people to be active. Sport England has worked with the Open Data Institute to develop OpenActive, a key programme to help tackle inequalities in activity, and we will continue to monitor how money is spent, gathering data to show impact at a local level, and work with Sport England to include specific key performance indicators to decrease inactivity, particularly among underrepresented groups.
Sport is uniquely placed to help create a more inclusive society, as speeches from noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, reminded us today. It has the power to bring people together, no matter what their background. The Government are working closely with Sport England, UK Sport and the national governing bodies to tackle all forms of discrimination, from grass-roots level to elite level. Our aim is to increase diversity among sporting organisations. By helping the sports sector to become more inclusive, we hope that it will become more welcoming to all spectators and participants, and to the people in its workforce, and that this in turn will enable and encourage more people to get active.
I will turn to some examples of the Government’s work in this important area. We recognise the importance of sport and physical activity for people with disabilities and continue to work with partners to encourage sport to be accessible to all. Indeed, the Government’s National Disability Strategy, published in the summer of 2021, included commitments to improve the accessibility of sport and physical activity, in line with our and Sport England’s ambitions. This will help enable disabled people to live more active and independent lives. Sport England has ensured that each of its programmes has a positive impact on people with disabilities through initiatives such as the Together Fund. It has so far invested £8.5 million in over 2,200 projects that support disabled people and people with long-term health conditions.
Along with noble Lords who have echoed this point today, we strongly believe that there is no place for any kind of discrimination in sport. We know that experiences of discrimination are not only hugely detrimental to people’s propensity to be active; they can also create divisions in local communities. At the Qatar World Cup, my colleague Stuart Andrew, the Minister for Sport but also the Minister for Equality, chose to wear the OneLove armband to support gay, lesbian. bisexual, trans and queer people, and send a positive message that everyone should feel welcome at all sports tournaments.
The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, raised the importance of safeguarding, and it is vital that everyone participating in sport feels safe and secure, and that, where allegations of inappropriate or harmful behaviour are made, they are taken seriously. There is no place for abuse of any kind in sport and anyone responsible for such behaviour must be held accountable. We have taken significant steps to improve safeguarding in sport, including the revision of standards and protections for children in sport, the introduction of an independent complaints and disclosure system for elite sport, and the strengthening of positions of trust legislation. But we will continue to work to make sport in the UK inclusive and welcoming for everyone, at every level.
A number of noble Lords mentioned facilities, which are indeed fundamental to a strong sporting community. The Government are acting to deliver the right facilities that every community needs across the United Kingdom. We are investing a total of £230 million between 2022 and 2025, and I can tell noble Lords that £43 million of that was delivered in 2021-22. This includes an existing £18 million of annual commitment in England, which is delivered through the Football Foundation in partnership with the FA and the Premier League. This investment will build up or improve up to 8,000 facilities across the country, especially in some of the most deprived areas.
The focus is not just on football: 40% of our investment will deliver facilities that can support multiple sports. We are also investing £30 million, together with the Lawn Tennis Association, to renovate and repair thousands of public park tennis courts, which might be able to host the match between my noble friends Lord Naseby and Lady Sater—I know who my money would be on.
Like my noble friend Lord Holmes and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, we recognise the importance of ensuring public access to leisure facilities, including swimming pools, which are great spaces for people of all ages and backgrounds to stay fit and healthy. They also play a vital role in their communities. The responsibility for providing access to public leisure facilities, as noble Lords know, lies with local authorities, which the Government continue to encourage to invest in this. We know that the rise in the cost of living, and energy costs in particular, is concerning for many clubs and for local authorities. That is why we supported them through the energy bills relief scheme and continue to provide support under the energy bills discount scheme.
My noble friend Lord Holmes asked what we are doing at a national government level. My right honourable friend the Sport Minister is actively engaging with the sector, including by recently holding a round table to continue to assess the ongoing impact on leisure centres. So that work continues.
I turn to the important role of the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, which was raised by my noble friend Lady Sater and others. It was established in 2021 and works across government, using evidence to influence policy and ensure greater consideration of preventing ill health and tackling disparities in cross-government decision-making. It is taking action on the major preventable conditions that drive ill health and early death, including cardiovascular disease and some cancers, as well as the risk factors that can cause those conditions, including tobacco, obesity, alcohol and drug use. It does this alongside local government, the National Health Service, academia and industry.
As the Government mentioned in our response to the Private Member’s Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Addington —the Health Promotion Bill—social prescribing is an evolving and important mechanism to direct and refer people into physical activity opportunities. The Government are providing £13.9 million to deliver active travel social prescribing pilot programmes to 11 local authority areas across England. The funding will go towards projects including adult cycle training, free bicycle loans and walking groups.
The Government have a particular focus on supporting children and young people to become more active. Quite simply, sport and physical activity are a life-long habit that needs to be carefully nurtured from a young age, as noble Lords raised. High-quality physical education and sport in all schools is fundamental to ensuring that every child and young person has the opportunity to take part in a range of sports, which is why PE is a compulsory subject in the national curriculum from key stages 1 to 4. The PE national curriculum aims to ensure that all pupils develop competence to excel in a broad range of sport and physical activities, are physically active for sustained periods of time, and engage in competitive sports and activities. The noble Lord, Lord Knight, asked when the Sport Minister last discussed the curriculum with the Schools Minister. I can tell him that they discussed it in public just last month, when both spoke in another place in a debate on sport in schools.
On teachers, we are committed to ensuring that evidence-informed training, support and professional development runs through every teacher’s career. The evidence base underpinning the initial teacher training core content framework is the same as that underpinning the early career framework and the new national professional qualifications. This will ensure coherence and quality through teacher training and development that is based on the best evidence of what works. Some 179 providers have been successful, following a rigorous accreditation process designed to drive up the quality and consistency of initial teacher training.
The Government continue to fund the primary PE and sport premium, with £320 million of funding to primary schools confirmed for the current academic year. Since 2013, the total is over £2 billion. The PE and sport premium supports primary schools to make additional and sustainable improvements to the quality of the PE, school sport and physical activity that they provide. The Government are currently considering arrangements for the primary PE and sport premium for the forthcoming academic year and beyond, which will be announced as soon as possible.
Alongside community facilities, facilities on school sites represent an important resource for pupils and their families. The Department for Education is providing additional support to schools to open their sporting facilities outside the core day—at weekends and in the school holidays—which will increase sporting opportunities for pupils and wider community users from parts of the country with low physical activity levels. The Department for Education has procured a national partner to deliver phase 3 of its opening schools’ facilities programme. This phase aims to connect schools to national and local sporting organisations that can offer children and young people more opportunities to access extracurricular activities.
The Government also support physical activity and sport outside the school term through the £200 million a year holiday activities and food programme. All local authorities in England are delivering this programme, which takes place in schools and community venues and which supports disadvantaged pupils and families with enriching activities, including sport, as well as with healthy food. Last summer, the programme reached over 685,000 children and young people in England, including more than 580,000 funded directly by the programme.
Of course, as noble Lords reminded us, getting moving is not confined to playing sport. People can get fitter and healthier through increased walking and cycling in their daily lives. Last August, the Department for Transport formally established Active Travel England as an executive agency. As a delivery body, it will be at the heart of ensuring that the objectives of the Government’s second statutory cycling and walking investment strategy are met, and it will oversee the delivery of funding programmes. The Department for Transport is investing over £200 million on Active Travel projects in this financial year. That includes £161 million on 134 walking and cycling infrastructure schemes across 46 local authorities, including new footways, cycle lanes and pedestrian crossings.
I thank all noble Lords for their contributions and for the lively and passionate debate we have enjoyed today. I echo the tributes paid by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, to the work of voluntary and community sports groups, as well as all those who work professionally to inspire people to get more active. Sport forms an essential part of our society, and I hope that my response has given noble Lords a clear indication of the Government’s commitment to building a healthier and fitter nation. I look forward to debating the topic with noble Lords as we continue that work.
My Lords, I will speak personally and very briefly. I declare my interests as set out in the register. I thank all noble Lords for their contributions, particularly my noble friend Lord Effingham for his maiden speech. He drew on Juvenal to quote the important phrase about rational minds in healthy bodies. Of course, Juvenal was a Roman satirist, who, if memory serves me right, hated how the politicians controlled his city, and at the same time was angry about how the impoverished were treated, which was one reason why he wanted everybody in the population to have the opportunity of developing a rational mind in a healthy body. So he would probably be sitting on the Opposition Benches, but I have absolutely no doubt that he would be strongly supportive of this report—although my noble friend Lord Naseby will be pleased to learn that he would probably have called it a “city plan” for sport, health and well-being.
I thank my noble friend Lord Naseby. Through his speech today, he has satisfied the wish of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, for an argument and a row. Nobody in the committee detracts from the fact that there is much good work being done by governing bodies and by the clubs and associations with which my noble friend is involved, but it was the data in the report that focused our attention.
I do agree with him that we have moved tremendously —but in the wrong direction, as evidenced in participation levels; in poor diets; in obesity; in the failure to promote inclusion and diversity in many governing bodies; in the small but ineffectual steps in duty of care, which is still critical for so many participants in sport; in reaching out and encouraging children in our schools; and in delivering accurate data. It was only five years or so ago when surveys on sport and recreation used only landlines as a basis for getting data. How on earth can you get an accurate representation of participation levels in the country if you are only phoning landlines, when most young people are, of course, on their mobiles?
Anyway, in good spirit, I will continue my discussion with my good and noble friend Lord Naseby, as we have in both places over many decades. I hope he has a relaxing and enjoyable Recess, rereading the National Plan for Sport, Health and Wellbeing.
I genuinely thank the Minister, because I know that, like so many people who have been in his role, his intentions in this direction are right, and I am sure that his commitment is strong. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, would have been very grateful for a list of nearly 32 more initiatives to add to his list today, but we on the committee hope that many of them will be turned into action and we are very grateful to the Minister for responding to this debate.
I will end by saying that the committee will continue to pursue with enthusiasm and vigour its recommendations, because evidence-based recommendations are vital, and they are not pointing in the right direction. We are absolutely committed to seeing improvements made to our sport, health and well-being in this country. It is with that intent and gratitude to noble Lords that I thank everybody who has participated in this debate for the contributions that they made.
Committee adjourned at 4.55 pm.