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Queen’s Speech - Debate (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:01 pm on 17th October 2019.

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Photo of Lord St John of Bletso Lord St John of Bletso Crossbench 2:01 pm, 17th October 2019

My Lords, I join in congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol on her outstanding maiden speech.

In this wide-ranging debate on the gracious Speech, I wish to focus my remarks on the proposed measures to protect the environment, as well as on animal welfare and wildlife conservation. We have seen the green uprising with Extinction Rebellion. Although I do not approve of all its tactics, I certainly support its cause.

We are seeing a cultural change in the United Kingdom. I have four children, aged 20, 21, 23 and 24, and they are all far more conscious of the environment than I was when I was their age. However, we have been seeing alarming footage of melting sea ice and glaciers collapsing, which obviously pose a huge threat to sea levels. In just this last month, we saw the devastating impact of Hurricane Dorian in the Caribbean. To that end, I warmly welcome the Environment Bill, with which we will be the first country to legislate—in the words of the Minister—for the long-term climate targets with an independent regulator.

The UK has for many years been a global leader in innovation and technology advances, and it is on this subject that I wish to focus my remarks. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, posed the question of how we will source our energy after 2030. It is a fact that every 20 years the demand for energy rises by some 50%. That is an alarming statistic. The noble Baroness should be aware of the ITER nuclear fusion megaproject in France, which, when completed in 2025, could fulfil many of the energy needs in Europe. I welcome the recent move here to invest in our own nuclear fusion project. It could become a global leader in the sphere of energy and should, potentially, meet many of the energy needs after 2030.

The gracious Speech mentioned the challenge of addressing plastic pollution. Discarded plastics represent a global blight. They are destroying our oceans and affecting the whole of nature’s balance. The global problem must be addressed by all Governments, and the UK must be a leader in that challenge.

It is a well-known statistic that every day we consume over 35 million plastic bottles of water. Of those, only 20 million are recycled and a lot of the balance goes into landfill sites. The answer is not to make plastic the enemy but to consider how we can look upon it as a valuable energy resource—as noble Lords know, it is a product of oil—and how we can best consider methodologies of separating all plastics at household level. We should support emerging technologies developed in the UK that aim to meet our target of net zero emissions and which can potentially solve the plastic problem. My proposal is to consider plastic parks, where all types of mixed plastics will be initially sorted by a mechanical recycling facility and then processed in a plastic recycling plant. That is a huge challenge but it has the potential to convert plastics to hydrogen power, which, as my noble friend the Duke of Somerset mentioned, is a fuel for the future.

Finally, the gracious Speech drew reference to protecting the welfare of animals, including banning imports from trophy hunters. I declare my interest as vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Endangered Species and as a long-standing trustee of Tusk Trust.

In the last parliamentary Session, rightly, we passed the Ivory Act. This saw the UK proudly take the lead in proposing one of the toughest bans on ivory—a move that was overwhelmingly supported by the public. It is rather alarming that some antique dealers have now sought to challenge and undermine the impact of the Act with a judicial review, especially given that the UK has been one of the largest exporters of ivory in recent years. To this end, I welcome the banning of imports from trophy hunting.

In summary, there is an urgent need for the UK to become carbon-neutral. There is a big opportunity for the United Kingdom to be at the forefront of developing innovative technologies and practices, and to be a leader in the face of this huge threat. I certainly hope that the gracious Speech is not just a government election manifesto and a charade, and I warmly support the move to enshrine environmental principles and targets in law. I believe that we are going in the right direction but we are not going fast enough.