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Queen’s Speech - Debate (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:31 pm on 17th October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Labour 4:31 pm, 17th October 2019

My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests, in particular my involvement with the BioRISC initiative at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge. I am delighted to follow the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury. I pay particular attention to his remarks and I thank him for raising the continued use of lead ammunition in this debate. As he indicated, he and I, with others, have been discussing this issue over some months. I have discussed this with the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, and I know that he has an interest in this issue.

From my perspective, this is a simple issue. Lead is a poison. We ban it in many areas of our lives, but still use it in game shooting. The use of lead ammunition is partly banned and ought to be banned completely. There is compelling evidence that lead shot pollution damages extensively the environment in which it is used, poisoning wildlife that graze on it accidentally and poisoning meat served as food, posing dangers to the vulnerable, particularly our children.

The 2019 Great British Game Week, which begins on 25 November, aims to promote the Game to Eat campaign and I expect it will have a high profile in Parliament’s catering outlets. We have been reassured that no lead shot meat will be served in the House of Lords catering outlets, but we need to ensure that none is served in any of the catering outlets in the Palace of Westminster. Of course, we then need to address the question that if we are not prepared to eat lead shot meat because we know it is potentially poisonous, why do we allow other people, particularly children, to eat it? Following up on the noble Earl’s remarks, it is our intention to invite ammunition manufacturers to come to your Lordships’ House to brief us on the alternatives. It is my intention to invite the Minister to join us at that meeting. This could be done relatively simply.

In my remaining time, I want to concentrate on one point only: measures to stop invasive species coming into the UK through existing and potential new trading routes. This may seem rather a narrow point, but it is a significant issue. Invasive non-native species cost the UK an estimated £1.7 billion per year. Ash dieback alone is predicted to cost the UK £15 billion over the next 100 years, with about half of the cost—£7.5 billion—occurring in the coming decade.

Invasive species are the focus of an inquiry of the Environmental Audit Select Committee of the other place. The committee convened an evidence session at St Catharine’s College in Cambridge at which it took evidence from a wide range of experts. On another occasion, on 9 July, the Minister himself gave evidence to the Select Committee. The evidence-taking having concluded, the committee’s report is expected to be published soon. I think it will make some very stringent recommendations.

The adequacy of measures to stop invasive species entering via trading routes was raised with the Minister when he gave evidence to that committee. Caroline Lucas raised the specific question that I want to concentrate on: the degree to which the Government are prepared for the inevitable change in this threat that will occur as a result of their ambition to expand and open up new trading routes post Brexit.

This summer, an expert workshop held at Cambridge University identified changing trading patterns as one of the key risks to biosecurity in the UK. Under Brexit, we might reasonably expect novel pests and diseases to arrive through new trading patterns. For example, as a result, the UK might shift from being an overall recipient to an overall donor of tree pests and diseases into Europe.

Historically, the UK has received most invasive species after they have already established and spread through mainland Europe. Consequently, we have benefited greatly from engaging with our European partners to anticipate and to understand the likely risks posed by them, and from tried-and-tested management techniques developed first on the continent with the species before it gets here. That is about to change dramatically.

When questioned, the Minister revealed a commendable level of knowledge of this issue. He agreed with Caroline Lucas that an inspectorate dedicated to invasive species at the UK border ought to be considered and expressed sympathy with that consideration. Further, he said that it was something his department would be looking at in the spending review because,

“it is vital that we raise the bar on the considerations of invasive species”.

On 15 May, during a Brexit debate on plant and animal biosecurity, I asked what assessment the Government have made of our capacity to discharge this responsibility in a post-Brexit world, where we would have considerably more trade directly with countries such as China, the USA and the 53 diverse members of the Commonwealth. The informative answer I received at the conclusion of that debate was that we,

“will leave this well established and effective system and replicate it, as best we can, on our own”.—[Official Report, 15/5/19; cols. 1628.]

It appears from his evidence to the Select Committee that the Minister is in a position to give a better and more detailed answer on this issue. In addition to updating the House on his department’s deliberations in the context of the spending review, I should be obliged if he would respond to the following two additional questions. How well prepared is the UK for understanding and prioritising risks to biosecurity under changing trade patterns? How will the UK continue to engage with European partners in sharing information about emerging biological risks? These are essential and necessary questions.