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Queen’s Speech - Debate (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:16 pm on 17th October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 5:16 pm, 17th October 2019

I will cover the Environment Bill in more detail, but it is important, in signifying the bona fides of the Government, that today the Prime Minister announced that he will chair a new Cabinet committee on climate change. This will drive further action across government to protect our environment, reduce emissions and improve air quality, and it shows the importance of climate change to this Government. We clearly need to do a great deal on this, although I am going to cut in here to applaud the tree speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stone. We need more detail on this area. The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, raised National Tree Week23 November to 1 December. I am going to plant some trees, and I am sure every noble Lord here will too.

I move on quickly to broadband. My noble friends Lady Byford and Lady Redfern, and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, raised this and the importance of digital connectivity everywhere. As the Rural Affairs Minister, I stress its importance in the countryside. The Chancellor has already announced that £5 billion will be spent on gigabit connectivity to underpin the outside-in approach. I am also pleased with our ambition on mobile for the majority of the population to have access to a 5G signal by 2027, with much more coming in to improve the situation in rural areas. I will write more fully on that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, mentioned our carbon budgets. We outperformed our first and second carbon budgets. We are on track to exceed the third. The latest projections suggest that we are on track to deliver over 90% of our required performance for the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, but that is before taking into account many of the measures and proposals of our green growth strategy.

The noble Lord, Lord Fox, raised a point about the industrial strategy. The industrial strategy is a cross-government programme focusing on strengthening the foundations of productivity, encouraging innovation, supporting UK businesses and fostering growth in all parts of the United Kingdom. I am again speaking as the Rural Affairs Minister; the shared rural prosperity fund means across the nation. I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Bilimoria, that we need to invest more in science and research. The UK has an ambition to spend 2.4% of GDP on R&D by 2027 and 3% in the longer term. This autumn, the Government will set out plans to boost significantly public R&D funding, providing greater certainty for our great scientific community.

Nuclear was raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, and the noble Lords, Lord Bilimoria and Lord Broers. We are working to deliver an ambitious energy White Paper that addresses the transformation of the energy system, consistent with delivering net zero emissions. The Government continue to believe that nuclear has an important role. Our commitment to it has been clearly demonstrated by giving the go-ahead for the first new nuclear power station in a generation at Hinkley Point. We have the largest installed offshore wind capacity in the world, and annual support for renewables will be over £10 billion by 2021. The noble Duke, the Duke of Somerset, referred to hydrogen. We are investing up to £108 million in hydrogen innovation.

My noble friend Lord Arran spoke of the Appledore shipyard and UK shipbuilding. He made a very powerful speech and I appreciate all that he said about the closure. I hope that there is a positive story on this matter. As has been said, the Prime Minister has appointed the Defence Secretary as the new shipbuilding tsar. He will be tasked with looking at how a longer-term skill base can be achieved, and this will ensure that British shipyards can compete fairly across all UK contracts. I am most grateful to my noble friend for raising that.

Transport is clearly the lifeblood of our economy. We wish to invest record sums in our railways and start the vital process of modernising our airspace. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, the Oakervee review on HS2 is under way.

I would like to say very much more on ultra-low emission vehicles. The Road to Zero strategy sets out a clear pathway to zero emissions. We are working extremely hard and are investing £3.5 billion to reduce transport emissions, improve air quality and protect wildlife and habitats.

Having spoken to my noble friend Lady Vere, I know that she will be delighted to facilitate a meeting for my noble friend Lord Bates with Chris Heaton-Harris at the Department for Transport to discuss the issues raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, spoke about cycling and walking. Almost £2 billion is being invested through the cycling and walking investment strategy. My noble friend Lord Bates does not appear to need any of that sum.

The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, spoke about buses and I want to talk in particular about electric buses. The Government recognise that electric buses play a hugely important part in decarbonisation and in bringing about improvements in air quality. Since 2015, the Government have provided £90 million of funding for electric buses, and on 30 September this year we announced £220 million for a bus package.

I do not want to be remiss on agriculture and the environment. A great deal is promised in the legislation, with a commitment to tackle climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental risks to public health. All our efforts are guided by our pledge to bequeath a better natural inheritance than was left to us, bound by our commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050. The noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, is absolutely right: we aspire to be a global leader, and indeed, when I go around many countries, it is clear to me that on climate change we are deemed to be such.

There were many questions on the Environment Bill. The first was from my noble friend Lady Byford and the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Young of Old Scone. The OEP will be operationally independent from government. It will be governed by non-executive members appointed through a regulated public appointments process. Ministers will not be able to set its programme of activity or improperly influence its decisions. The office will come into effect from January 2021, subject to the passage of the Environment Bill. The new independent office will ensure that when we leave the EU, its environmental standards will be upheld and improved. On resources and funding, the Secretary of State is required under the Bill to provide sufficient funding to enable the office to perform its function. On the non-regressive clause to which the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, referred, we have no intention of weakening our current environmental protections.

I am not going to forget the importance of my noble friends Lord Shrewsbury and Lord Caithness, their visit to Allerton and the important research and practical work that we need to do in working with land managers. My noble friend Lord Inglewood asked what we thought the countryside was for. It is for the production of clean air; clean and plentiful water; thriving plants and wildlife; protection from and mitigation of environmental hazards; beauty, heritage and engagement; mitigation of and adaptation to climate change and—as the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, would want me to say—very good food.

I also want to outline the importance of planting trees. Yes, I will, of course, arrange a meeting with the Minister and the tree champion for the noble Lord, Lord Stone. The tree strategy, which is so important, is coming forward. We need to work on tree pests; we have invested £37 million on tree health.

My noble friend Lord Caithness spoke about health issues. The chief executive of Public Health England has written to the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee on this issue. Overall exposure is expected to remain low and, as such, there should be no consequences for public health. My noble friend Lord Caithness is absolutely right about rural crime, and my visits to farms just last week show not only the seriousness but the fearfulness of it.

On agriculture and fisheries, we need to work extremely effectively. On the agriculture Bill, a number of points have been raised. We plan to make a number of improvements to the Bill, including making clear the importance of food production. That reflects carefully on the scrutiny in the other place and, I am sure, the scrutiny there would have been in your Lordships’ House as well.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, is not in his place, so I think I will write to him fully on what we are doing in Wales, but we are working very effectively with the devolved Administrations on that.

So far as support for farmers is concerned—and I declare my own interest—it is very clear that we need to work particularly hard and effectively with farmers to ensure stability and certainty. That is why any projects we are funding that we have agreed before the end of 2020 will be funded for their full lifetime. Of course, as we said, we will retain the cash funds for the lifetime of this Parliament. I will write to my noble friends on labelling.

My noble friends Lady Byford, Lady Browning and Lord Caithness raised the food strategy. Henry Dimbleby is leading an independent review on this; a final report will be published in the summer of 2020 and a government White Paper will follow six months later. It is very important work. On food safety—again raised by my noble friend Lady Browning—I must be allowed, if the Chief Whip will ever speak to me again, to say again that this is really important. All food safety and public health import requirements will be maintained after exit. This is absolutely essential. The noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, spoke about plant security and biosecurity. Again, it is important that we have allocated resources to recruit additional inspectors. There are already more than 107 extra APHA inspectors, for instance. Invasive species are also my responsibility. The new Invasive and Alien Species (Enforcement and Permitting) Order 2019 is going to be a very important tool for us. On trophy hunting, I am also pleased to say that we will be consulting to restrict further the import and export of hunting trophies. The noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, spoke about electoral campaigning. I must write to her on that.

At this point, I would have liked to have said many kind things to many noble Lords. I will ensure that the points raised by my noble friend Lord Shinkwin are answered. There is much more that I can write about and that is exactly what I will do. I apologise to the Chief Whip that I spoke for so long, but surely your Lordships’ contributions deserve that.

Debate adjourned until Monday 21 October.