Amendment 1

Environment Bill - Committee (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 2:32 pm on 21st June 2021.

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The Earl of Lindsay:

Moved by The Earl of Lindsay

1: Before Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—“Environmental objectives(1) The purpose of Part 1 is to provide a governance framework for enabling the environmental objectives to be met. (2) Within the framework of sustainable development, the environmental objectives referred to in section 1(1) are to achieve and maintain—(a) a healthy, resilient and biodiverse natural environment,(b) an environment that supports human health and wellbeing for everyone, and(c) sustainable use of natural and physical resources.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment aims to align the core elements of the governance framework (process for setting long-term targets, Environmental Improvement Plans and the Policy Statement on Environmental Principles) to a single objective.

Photo of The Earl of Lindsay The Earl of Lindsay Conservative

My Lords, in moving Amendment 1, I will speak also to Amendments 3, 54 and 74 in my name. The Environment Bill offers a unique opportunity to create a coherent long-term framework for the environment—a framework capable of motivating all sectors and all parts of society to plan, to commit to and to collaborate on improving the environment on which we and future generations depend. I therefore especially welcome the Bill seeking to address the core governance elements that will be needed for decades to come. This is a critical component. Clearly, business will have a key role to play in delivering the changes needed to meet our long-term environmental ambitions and our net-zero target. Unlocking private sector finance and investment will be essential, particularly given the pressures on the public purse.

Having engaged with business groups on how they can rise to the challenge, I have picked up a clear signal. The confidence and certainty that they need to invest in the future—our future—will depend on there being greater clarity and cohesion across the governance provisions set out in the Bill, particularly on the interplay between targets, interim targets and environmental improvement plans. The addition of guiding objectives to the setting of long-term environmental targets, and to bind the core governance elements together, along with an overarching purpose statement at the start of the Bill, would bring that greater level of clarity and cohesion to the governance provisions. That, in turn, would give businesses greater confidence to invest in achieving long-term targets; hence Amendments 1, 3, 54 and 74.

Amendment 1 proposes defining core environmental objective on the face of the Bill. Amendment 3 would ensure that the target-setting process is aligned with the core environmental objectives. Amendment 54 would align environmental improvement plans with these objectives, and Amendment 74 would, likewise, align the environmental principles with these objectives. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee, Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee

My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Nature Partnership, I am a trustee of the Green Purposes Company that holds the green share in the Green Investment Bank, and I am a director of Aldustria Ltd.

We have recently had the G7 in the part of the world that I live in: Cornwall. Never mind the increase in Covid-19 in those areas since—other than that, it was a very successful bringing together of global leaders. I like to think that one of the reasons our Prime Minister chose Cornwall was because of its natural environment, its beauty and, for that weekend at least, its good weather. I ask the Committee to keep this to itself but the weather is not always quite like that in Cornwall, but it was on those two to three days, I am pleased to say.

Many visitors come to Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly for their staycations because of that great environment but I have to tell the Committee that, on a local basis, biodiversity in that far south-west region is as on the brink as it is elsewhere. For instance, half our mammals are found in fewer places, three out of five of our butterflies are in decline, eight of our bumblebee species have disappeared over the last few years, and some 40% of our breeding birds are in decline. That is in an area that we think of as being beautiful in terms of its biodiversity and its natural heritage.

This is reflected nationally: in the UK we have failed to meet some 17 of our Aichi targets—the targets set 10 years ago at the Convention on Biological Diversity. Some 15% of our species are threatened with extinction; we have a reduced distribution of a quarter of our species, and four out of 10 are in decline. We saw in the Woodland Trust report that only 7% of our forests and woodlands are in good order. So, we have biodiversity as a crisis together with climate change. They are crises and they are emergencies. I think there are very few people who would dispute that at the moment.

One of the interesting things to come out recently, in fact in the last week, is a report —not just by the IPCC on the climate change side, but the IPBES on the UN biodiversity side—that says that these two crises are inextricably linked. One cannot be solved without the other; they are twin crises that are, in effect, Siamese twins as we would understand them. I will talk more about the biodiversity crisis—we are very aware of the climate change crisis. It is a crisis where we believe that we are entering the sixth extinction on the planet. The previous one was the dinosaurs, thought to be caused by an asteroid, but the sixth extinction that is happening at this time is uniquely, clearly and obviously the only one that is due to one species—homo sapiens.

Why is this important? It is not just about cuddly animals or health, welfare and being able to have access to the countryside and to nature. It is because we rely entirely on the ecosystem services that biodiversity affords us, be those pollination, healthy soil, clean water, clean seas or a whole panoply of ways that not just we as individuals but our economy survives. Again, in the south-west, this is certainly true of tourism, fisheries and agriculture, but it is true of industry generally and of our economic well-being. Because of that, I have brought this amendment forward.

It is a particularly auspicious time because this year we have not just COP 26 on climate change in Glasgow in November but COP 15 of the biodiversity convention in Kunming in October. These two important international conferences are coming together towards the end of this year, but, we hope, after this Bill squeezes through Royal Assent and becomes an Act, which we want to happen quickly. It is an ideal opportunity to illustrate to the world how the United Kingdom sees these crises as important and as inextricably combined emergencies, where we can show leadership.

Why this amendment and why in this Bill? First, if local authorities can blaze the trail in this area, our own Government and this Parliament should be able to do so as well. Some 230 local authorities have declared a climate change emergency. Around 15% have declared a biodiversity emergency. They include Bath, Bristol and Brighton, and they are across the political spectrum. A number of other local authorities have declared a combined emergency, including Cambridgeshire, Bournemouth, Windsor, Maidenhead, Brent and Ealing. I am sure all of us can point out those of our own political choice.

Another reason this is important is that, just as the Government have said, this is a landmark Bill. It is critical to how this country moves forward in terms of its environment and even broader issues. What better place is there for the Government to declare this double emergency?

Another important thing is that while there is awareness across this House of the biodiversity crisis, there is less awareness of it more broadly. Climate change is more obvious. This amendment gives an opportunity to give equality to those two issues—to give greater visibility to the biodiversity problem.

Lastly, this amendment gives us a real opportunity to give leadership in both COP 15 and COP 26. These emergencies exist. They are one and connected in so many ways. This gives the opportunity—better than any other way—to show that the United Kingdom, the Prime Minister, the Government and this Parliament give these emergencies the priority they deserve.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Labour

My Lords, I have set myself the target for Committee not to make the mistakes of other Committee stages by making mini Second Reading speeches before I get to the amendment. So I will be really brief, because I agree 100% with the points and the amendments from the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay. Business needs clarity. A single objective gives that clarity, and the Minister would be making a big mistake if he did not find a way to clean up the front of the Bill, because it is in his and all our interests that business, which is going to make this work, can be absolutely clear about the objectives. For that reason, I support the noble Earl’s amendments, and I hope the Minister will give a positive response.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative 2:45 pm, 21st June 2021

My Lords, I, too, support the amendments of my noble friend Lord Lindsay and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. I will just add one or two brief points.

First, my noble friend Lord Lindsay talked about clarity and cohesion. I would add another “C”—consistency. If we are to have a landmark Bill—and this must be a landmark Bill—it is clearly important that we get it right as far as we possibly can. During this dreadful year of the pandemic, when the Government—and I am not scoring cheap points—have been fighting something literally unprecedented in the last century, a degree of confusion has been caused by a lack of clarity, consistency and cohesion. I do not want to stray from the Bill into recent events, but we have seen how people have been uncertain, often, about what the Government are really seeking to do.

It is crucial that when this landmark Bill reaches the statute books—as I, of course, hope it will—it is in a significantly better shape than it is at the moment, good as it is. Therefore, while I would like to see the Bill on the statute book by 1 November, what matters far, far more than any artificial timetable is that this Bill is right. Whether it goes on the statute books on 1 November, 1 December or 1 January matters far less than that it is right. You have only to mention the words “Irish protocol” to realise that if you negotiate to a strict and artificial timetable, you often get it wrong.

I referred to my noble friend: he chaired the Environment Sub-Committee of the EU Committee—on which I had the good fortune to sit—extremely well. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, also made some very telling points. We have to realise that we are in this sixth crisis; we have to realise that many species are on the brink of extinction. This year, in our small but quite attractive urban garden in Lincoln, we have hardly seen a butterfly. Talking to friends around, I have heard of similar experiences. I read in the Times this morning, coming up on the train, about the lack of Arctic terns in Northumbria—an extraordinary bird that commutes 14,000 miles a year. There is a very real danger to its survival as a species. There are so many things that the Bill can help to underline and combat, and it is essential that it does.

With those few words, I endorse both my noble friend Lord Lindsay and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, in what they are seeking to do. Although in Committee we are mainly probing, it is essential that the Bill finishes Report in this House in as near a perfect state as it is possible for us to make it.

Photo of Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Non-affiliated

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. I am speaking in support of Amendment 2 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. Clearly, the amendments in this group seek to improve the Bill’s environmental objectives by statute, and that is laudable of them all. But Amendment 2 sets a tone for the Bill, as outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, who indicated the need for an assessment and provided a very good assessment of the current state of biodiversity in Cornwall, which could quite easily be mirrored in other parts of the UK.

The Bill needs to have the purpose and declaration of biodiversity and climate emergency specified in it on an equal basis. It is particularly pertinent to set this in legislation if the Government are serious about the need to protect and nurture our unique biodiversity and to mitigate the problems that the climate emergency is bringing to our planet, with increased levels of flooding, the warming of our planet, and the weekend warning that we now have Mediterranean UV levels in the UK. To take the example of Belfast, Department of the Environment statistics show that on 13 June last week, UV levels reached 9 on the solar UV index. This is due to a number of things, including stratospheric ozone depletion, the position of the sun in the sky at this time of year, and the lack of cloud cover. That is one reason why Amendment 2 is so important and why it must be included in statutory form in the Bill in order to give both areas of climate emergency and biodiversity equal status.

I honestly believe that the PM must take charge of the situation. This amendment provides for him—or for whoever is the postholder—to declare that there is a biodiversity and climate emergency both domestically and globally. It will strengthen the governance regime and give strength and toughness to the need for governmental action to protect our biodiversity and to protect our planet from the climate emergency. It is so important that we agree to do this with COP 15 and COP 26 taking place this year.

As the Aldersgate Group—which supplied us with a briefing—stated, the Environment Bill is a vital opportunity to establish a new, ambitious and robust governance framework that protects and enhances the natural environment. What better way to do that than to ensure that the Government accept an amendment to the Bill which provides for the Prime Minister, with statutory effect, to declare that there is a biodiversity and climate emergency both in the UK and globally and, above all, to enhance and strengthen the Bill to ensure that it becomes an even greater landmark Bill with the legislative teeth to act in such urgent circumstances.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend Lord Lindsay’s amendments. They help to clarify the purpose of the Bill—which I welcome, as I said at Second Reading. I like the drift of the Bill, but it needs to be strengthened in more than one area. At the moment, it is not going to tackle the problems that we all face.

I like subsection (2) of my noble friend Lord Lindsay’s Amendment 1, where he sets out that the aim is to achieve

“a healthy, resilient and biodiverse natural environment”.

We all want that, and we have failed in the past. There have been all sorts of attempts to get this right but, as I said at Second Reading and will stress throughout Committee, this needs management—it is the people on the land managing nature in its widest sense who will result in an increased and better performance than we have had to date. I want to focus on those people; they are basically landowners and farmers. At the moment, they have very low confidence in what the Government are doing. They are moving from one farming regime to another; they know nothing about the second farming regime through ELMS, and yet their money is being substantially cut. That might be all right for some owner-occupiers, but it is proving a very serious problem for tenant farmers.

Subsection (2)(b) of Amendment 1 goes on to say that the environment must support

“human health and wellbeing for everyone”.

Yes, and I am a great believer in a good footpath system, because I now rely on that for my exercise. But if you talk to any farmer now, they are not in a good position mentally because of the amount of rubbish and harassment they get from people who visit their land. This is a two-way street. It is all very well to encourage people to go to the countryside, but the sad thing is that there is a quite substantial minority abusing that countryside. Anybody who has read the papers or the news recently will know the problems that farmers have had to face, with blocked driveways, blocked entrances to gateways, rubbish, litter, barbecues and wildfires. How are the Government going to help farmers deliver the intentions of the Bill?

Does my noble friend agree that in order to get a good and diverse natural environment in this country, some 21% of agricultural land will need to be planted to trees or bioenergy crops? The counterbalance to that is that there must be an increase of 10% in the productivity of all other agricultural land, otherwise in 10 years’ time we will say, “Yes, we have done something for the environment, but we have done nothing for our food”; our food prices will be going up, and the poorest will be the ones who suffer.

This is a balance; it is an equation that has to be got right. Although I thoroughly support the necessity of the amendments proposed by my noble friend to set the remit of the Environment Bill, we also need to be very careful when discussing it to get the balance right, so that the people who will produce that improved environment are taken with the Government and can also make a living off the land which they farm and manage.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

My Lords, I feel it is only fair to warn your Lordships that you will see quite a lot of the two wonderful Green Peers over the next few weeks. I am sure your Lordships understand that this is a particularly important Bill for us. We have waited a long time, and it is an issue that we both care very deeply about. Having said that, we care about a lot of other issues as well, as noble Lords will have seen.

Of course, a huge amount hinges on this Bill. As I so often do—surprisingly—I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, who said that the Bill has to be right. To do that, it has to be amended here in your Lordships’ House. If we get this Bill right, it will mean that we can get a lot of other things right: our farming, our food production and food growing, clean air and clean water supplies, our health and well-being, and our economy. A good Bill will mean no trade deals with countries like Australia—sorry, Natalie—with its awful farming practices, which have been banned here for years, and none of the ecologically and economically illiterate long-distance swapping of lamb and beef when we can buy UK-produced meat right here from our own farmers with higher welfare standards. A good Bill will offer more tech opportunities and more jobs in sustainable industries. A good Bill would be this Bill, heavily amended by your Lordships’ House.

Moving on, this is a perfect group of amendments. I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, for such a brief introduction; his amendments are incredibly valuable and go to the heart of why the Bill exists. Personally, I think that if we get this right, it will be as big and important a piece of legislation as the Human Rights Act.

Amendment 2 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, reflects on the climate and ecological emergencies facing us. My noble friend Lady Bennett and I were very happy to sign it, and we are thrilled that all the opposition parties can unite around understanding the climate and ecological emergencies. Without the amendments in this group, the Bill risks falling far short of what it needs to achieve. Without these amendments setting out the clear purpose—the central aim—of the Bill, there will be a danger of policymakers and the courts interpreting this legislation far too narrowly and failing to give effect to the proper intention of Parliament. Without these amendments, there is very little to bind the decisions made under the Bill. The ambition of the Bill could have little real-world effect if we do not craft the right mechanisms to turn the ideas into action.

Then there is the requirement for the Prime Minister to declare a climate and ecological emergency. Why has he not done so already? Perhaps the Minister can tell us. Quite honestly, this must happen before COP 26. It is impossible for the United Kingdom to give any type of leadership at COP 26 without this declaration. It should form the very foundation of COP and be the basis for negotiations there. Without properly diagnosing the issue, we will never agree on the solutions and actions that the world must adopt. I support these amendments wholeheartedly.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative 3:00 pm, 21st June 2021

I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness. I welcome this group of amendments, which are excellent as probing amendments. The voice of business is missing in the Bill, in particular the voice of farmers and landowners, and indeed water companies, which have a real role to play here. I regret also that there is a missed opportunity in the Bill, which is very ambitious on certain levels but has some spectacular omissions at other levels, in that the interaction between this Bill and the Agriculture Act and the Trade Act could have been spelled out more, both at Second Reading and as we proceed now with the more cohesive infrastructure.

I congratulate my noble friend Lord Lindsay and my noble friend—if I may call him that—Lord Teverson, under whose chairmanship my noble friend Lord Cormack and I have the honour to serve on the EU Environment Sub-Committee. I also congratulate Cornwall on so successfully hosting what seemed to be in its own right a successful G7 meeting. Had the meeting been held over the past few days, perhaps it would not have been quite so visually attractive. I am sure that Cornwall will go on to benefit from that, as Yorkshire has from the Tour de France and the Tour de Yorkshire that we held in previous years and which we hope to repeat this year.

I invite my noble friend the Minister, not just when he sums up today but as we go through the Bill, to rise to the challenge that has been laid down by my noble friend Lord Lindsay in particular. There are two specific areas my noble friend Lord Caithness has identified where businesses have a role to play. Farmers stand prepared to play their part in tackling climate change; you need only look at the websites of the farming organisations—the Tenant Farmers Association, the NFU and the CLA—in this regard. However, as my noble friend Lord Caithness identified, all the action the Government seem to be proposing, in planting huge numbers of trees, improving soil quality and many other factors, will be of great benefit to the landowners who own the land, but I struggle to see what the benefit will be for tenant farmers. Looking at the future of upland farming, I think that up to 48% of farms in North Yorkshire alone are tenanted farms, which is a very high proportion. It distinguishes England from other parts of Europe, which do not have this background. I am struggling to see how tenant farmers in particular will benefit under the Bill.

The Government are looking to encourage older farmers to retire, but where they will live is a separate question that needs to be addressed. Smaller houses are simply not being built; smaller properties of one or two bedrooms are not available to allow those who are retiring to either rent or own them. It is not just the starter homes but the step-down homes as well. The other area where I believe farmers, landowners and water companies have a real role to play—we will look at this in later amendments—is flood prevention. Again, this area could be explored more fully in this regard.

My noble friend Lord Lindsay and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, have done the House a great service in enabling us to debate this small group of amendments this afternoon and I look forward very much to hearing my noble friend on the Front Bench tell us more about ELMS, flood prevention and other schemes under the Bill where he expects businesses, particularly farming businesses and water companies, might benefit.

Photo of Lord Moynihan Lord Moynihan Conservative

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. I will speak to Amendment 1 in the name of my noble friend Lord Lindsay—a subject on which I, the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and other noble Lords from across the House have spoken many times in this place.

The specific context of my remarks is the proposal by my noble friend Lord Lindsay to insert a new clause specifically to achieve and maintain

“an environment that supports human health and wellbeing for everyone”.

We emerge from Covid with a nation where obesity and mental health concerns among an unfit and often inactive population, particularly among the young, are a major national concern. The decision by the Government, and the Department of Health in particular, to tackle these challenges on a cross-departmental basis, with the impending establishment of the office for health promotion, is as much about prioritising health and educational opportunities as we build back better and level up as it is about access to the countryside and to an environment that supports human health and well-being for everyone.

In days gone by, the order of priority tended to be: sport, recreation and an active lifestyle. Today, policymakers and the public at large seek to reverse that order. An active lifestyle, recreation and sport are the priorities. Such an approach focuses on well-being, both physical and mental—well-being to be supported, I suggest, by a well-being budget with responsibility for drawing all the cross-departmental strands together. This Bill, and in particular my noble friend’s amendment, sets the environmental objectives in this context, which can play a key part in establishing an important element of the legislative framework capable of delivering these objectives.

For an active lifestyle, human health and well-being and the environment are inextricably linked. They are dependent on their environmental contexts and are potentially environmentally impactful in their own right. Sport and recreational facilities, if inadequately planned—such as ski hills, golf courses and stadia, and even some pathways—can upset ecosystems and displace local residents. Here my noble friend Lord Caithness is absolutely right: there must be appropriate safeguards, with access matched by responsibility. As he said, this equation must be got right.

In this context, access to nature has never been more important. Countless studies confirm the health and well-being benefits of being active and connecting with the outdoors. The Covid-19 pandemic makes the case only more compelling. As we recover from the worst of the pandemic, the Environment Bill, with my noble friend’s amendment, establishes a strategic approach to the provision of public access so that support is targeted where it is most needed, ensuring that more people can benefit from the experience of connecting with nature.

It is with that in mind that the Ramblers, Sustrans, British Canoeing, the British Mountaineering Council and the Open Spaces Society, among many others, see that there is much to welcome in the Bill. However, it could be strengthened by my noble friend’s amendment, not least in the requirements in the Bill, which are already welcome, for the Government to set legally binding long-term targets and to develop long-term plans in relation to the key priority areas.

However, without amendments such as my noble friend’s, the Bill will fail to afford equal priority to access to and enjoyment of the natural environment. It enables, rather than requires, the Government to set targets and develop plans for improvements in this area. Therefore there is a disconnect between the Bill and the Government’s own 25 year-old environment plan—or rather the 25-year environment plan; sadly, it is not yet that old—which includes a policy aim to ensure that the natural environment can be used by everyone. Already, the consequences of the lower priority afforded to access are becoming clear; emerging policy from Defra for target-setting is silent on the way the department intends to improve access in future.

In conclusion, I believe that the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Lindsay could provide for and strengthen the framework needed for these commitments, by strengthening access to nature. As my noble friend Lord Cormack has said, this Bill will guide policy-making for years to come. I support the proposals to establish a framework of legally binding and long-term targets and plans to drive improvements in environmental quality, not least because the state of the natural environment is encouraging people to get outdoors; that is critical. However, the Bill must be strengthened so that connecting people to nature is afforded equal priority and integrated into the wider plans for environmental improvement. For that reason, above all, I support the amendment moved by my noble friend.

Photo of Lord Young of Norwood Green Lord Young of Norwood Green Labour

My Lords, I too support the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, in his amendment. I may be challenging the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, but I will be interested to see the Government’s response. Like the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on chairing the environmental sub-committee.

The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, got it right when he said that this is a landmark Bill and that business needs certainty. It is also about how the Bill is perceived by Europe and the COP 26—that is, the rest of the world. This is a fundamentally important Bill and we need to get it right. Perhaps I am luckier than the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, in that there are quite a few butterflies in my garden and in a meadow not far away, which shows that there is a variation in what is happening in our environment.

I say to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, that I see our departure from the common agricultural policy and setting up a new approach to subsidies that would encourage farmers to look after the environment and to have a sustainable approach as a fundamentally important step forward.

There is a challenge for the Government. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, was right when she talked about the challenge of retiring farmers; I am more interested in how we are going to encourage young and new tenant farmers, who will bring a new approach. There are many good examples of this around the country; we need a lot more of those young farmers with their different approach that is much more in sympathy with the environment and sustainability.

The benefits to well-being of people using the countryside are of course well known. I apply the 2R formula: if you have a right to access the countryside, you also have a responsibility in the way you use it. You do not leave litter, and we must somehow get rid of the abominable work of flytippers.

I listened carefully to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. As she said, no doubt that there will be many contributions from her and her colleague. However, I disagree fundamentally with her sweeping comment that there should be no trade deals, especially with Australia. Does she really think that this country can survive without any trade deals? Of course there are going to be trade deals, and I do not automatically dismiss the Australian one. There will be a period of phasing in and a requirement to ensure that we do not import products that we would regard as unsafe, but that has to be based on evidence. Quite frankly, I welcome the deal with Australia, and I will listen carefully to the arguments.

I wish the Minister every success as he deals with the range of challenging and probing amendments to what, as a number of noble Lords have said, is probably one of the most important Bills that we will address in this Parliament.

Photo of Baroness Fox of Buckley Baroness Fox of Buckley Non-affiliated 3:15 pm, 21st June 2021

It is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Young. I want to speak to and oppose Amendment 2. Using this Bill to mandate that the Prime Minister should declare that there is a biodiversity and climate emergency, both domestically and globally, strikes me as a form of virtue signalling and almost an imperial version of it by declaring on behalf of the globe. I think that that is a bit too much. I am also concerned that its consequences go beyond wordplay and may play into some anti-democratic trends. In recent years it seems that there has been a competition to up the hyperbole and the catastrophist rhetoric across all parties, perhaps to prove green credentials; I do not know that it helps, and I am not sure that this consensus is healthy either.

We are familiar with the approach on climate and biodiversity being added to the mix. The problem with Amendment 2 is that it follows a certain script, with the emphasis on “emergency”. If the Government keep calling everything an emergency, that will become, “Act now or else command”, and dangerously privileges environmental concerns as trumping all others. That rarely puts those concerns into perspective with other possible emergencies or crises. What about the housing emergency, the jobs emergency and the lack of freedom emergency? By the way, I do not think that the trade deal with Australia is a disaster because it will actually solve an emergency. We do not have enough trade deals and we want more.

I recall back in 2009 the book by James Lovelock, The Vanishing Face of Gaia, in which he wrote that surviving climate change

“may require, as in war, the suspension of democratic government for the duration of the survival period.”

At the time, I thought that that sounded extreme, marginal and farfetched, but after the past 15 months, I feel that it is less farfetched. We have just lived through a public health emergency where exactly these things have occurred. We have suspended democratic governance in many ways in order to survive. I am therefore very wary of allowing a statutory nod to ever more emergencies with similar consequences. Many are worried, for example, that lockdown measures will be used in the future under the auspices of environmentalism. I do not think that that fear is unwarranted.

I note that the independent SAGE group, led by Sir David King, has just announced the setting up of another pseudo-scientific body to be called the Climate Crisis Advisory Group, with 14 experts and10 nations. He has said that it is driven by the urgent need to stabilise climatic conditions and to

“protect vital biodiversity and ecosystem functions for the next generation.”

That is because the biggest challenge we face today are these things. I ask: are they really the biggest challenge? I think it is about the elite PR strategy rather than democracy when Sir David King draws attention to the excess of independent SAGE. He says:

“All 12 members have become media personalities. I hope we get the same level of interest on the climate group.”

I am worried about what is going on and whether it is in good faith.

It seems to me that using the language of crisis and emergency and thus presenting everything as an imminent and existential threat can play fast and loose with democratic accountability. When a state of emergency is declared, as we have seen during Covid, there is no time or space for deliberation or debate. According to Greta Thunberg, the house is on fire.

Civil liberties and democratic freedoms can be suspended, and experts, such as Sir David King, main SAGE, independent SAGE and others suddenly become more important on the centre stage than citizens. When a state of emergency is declared, as would happen in a war, we have to ask who the enemy is. When it comes to biodiversity and the environment, my concern is that the enemy is not the virus, foreign foes or whoever, but us, Homo sapiens, and our nasty overconsumption of energy and demands for decent living standards, cars, homes, industrialisation and development.

My objection to Amendment 2 is not a focus on linguistics and the use of the word “emergency”—my concern is political. Any decision this Bill makes about biodiversity or the natural environment must be concrete, specific, proportionate and avoid the pitfall of whipping up fears about imminent catastrophe. I do not think that declaring an emergency solves anything. I am interested in the details of the Bill, not virtue signalling.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, it is a pleasure to find myself at this place in the debate and to respond to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley. It was certainly a passionate speech, but perhaps not a cohesive one. She spoke about anti-democratic trends and then about there being a consensus. If there is a consensus and local governments are following it, that seems democratic rather than anti-democratic. To point to some figures, a survey was done by the UNDP around the world, of 1.2 million people in 50 countries, published in January this year. It was interesting that in the UK the highest proportion of people—81%—agreed that there is a climate emergency. That is a consensus and, in declaring it, we would be following a democratic path.

My noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb noted that your Lordships will be hearing from both of us a great deal. I promise that you will not be hearing from both of us on every amendment, but you will be hearing from us both on Amendment 2, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, who introduced it so powerfully. On democracy, the noble Lord pointed out how many local authorities have declared a climate emergency. In fact, 74% of district, county, unitary and metropolitan councils have done that, plus eight combined authorities and city regions. Sheffield Council has just declared a biodiversity emergency, as have Eden District Council and Dorset, so it is spreading around the country.

Perhaps I can offer the Government a little political advice, thinking of the situation in which they find themselves with the blue wall. I note that Henley-on-Thames Town Council, in the heart of what is considered the blue wall, is planning to declare a biodiversity emergency this week. It is going further and plans to back the climate and ecological emergency Bill, so the Government might like to think about not just the science of this but the politics.

I will be brief, because my noble friend has already covered much of this ground, but I want to pick up a point from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering; she said that we have not heard enough from business. I refer to the consultancy firm Deloitte and its environment report a month or so back, which said that there is now, in the combination of environmental, pandemic, social and economic changes, a business emergency. It says that we need cohesive government policies and guidance to tackle this.

This group of amendments, particularly Amendment 2, provides the cohesion that is crucial for this Bill. As we have seen on so many issues, the public are leading here; 81% of the public accept the climate emergency. Local government is not far behind and it is time for the Government, as the chair of COP 26, to catch up.

Photo of Baroness Parminter Baroness Parminter Chair, Environment and Climate Change Committee, Chair, Environment and Climate Change Committee

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, and my noble friend Lord Teverson, for their amendments. We support the intentions of the noble Earl but believe that other amendments may equally pick up the issues that he rightly raises. There are amendments later in the Bill on setting legally binding interim targets that, we believe, will give business much of the certainty that it requires. We support the important intentions to ensure that public health is addressed, at the same time as supporting the natural environment, but believe that some of the amendments put down by my noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market on Clause 7 will give that certainty to reinforce the link between the natural environment and public health.

We think that the amendment of my noble friend Lord Teverson is absolutely right and are glad that it is in the first grouping, because this is a biodiversity crisis. I am happy to stand with the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, in taking a different line from that of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley—“opposing” is too strong a term. My strong view is that if we do not address the two climate and biodiversity threats, we cannot address any of the other threats that society faces. They are the fundamental building blocks on which our society, as individuals and businesses, relies. Therefore, it is right and proper to use the language of crisis.

I would perhaps concede that the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, has a point in how we must be careful not to catastrophise. If we want to bring a democratic society with us, catastrophising will not be enough. We have to lead from the front and tell people how we can address the two crises of biodiversity and climate. There is therefore a key issue of communication. That is why I particularly like it that my noble friend’s amendment—supported by the Labour Party and the Green Party—says that

“the Prime Minister must declare that there is a biodiversity and climate emergency”.

This is about communicating with the public. I hope to see, throughout the progress of the Bill in Committee, the Minister make it clear just how the Government are going to communicate with the public. We can stay here today, tomorrow and for the next seven or so sittings and argue about these matters but, unless we take the British public with us, we will not deliver. The Government have to lead the public, as consumers, recyclers and in all their other guises. We need strong leadership from the Government to communicate that joint climate and sustainability challenge, and I hope to hear a lot more from the Minister on that, as we go through Committee.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, we have had an excellent start to our debates and consideration of the Bill, which helpfully sets the scene for the weeks ahead and underlines the scale of the challenge before us. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that you will also hear a great deal more from the Labour Front Benches on these issues.

We have become accustomed to accepting that there is a climate emergency, but it is now clear that the decline in biodiversity is having an equally devastating impact on the planet. As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, they are inextricably linked. This is why I was pleased to add my name to his Amendment 2.

It is two years since Parliament declared a climate and ecological emergency, on 1 May 2019. Since then, the need for more urgent action on the environment has only increased. The RSPB State of Nature report records that 41% of UK species are declining and one in 10 is threatened with extinction. It documented how the UK has failed to reach 17 of the 20 UN biodiversity targets agreed 10 years ago. The WWF’s Living Planet Report 2020 shows an average 68% decline in the populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish, globally, since 1970. Yet we rely on these species to keep our planet’s complex ecological systems in balance.

Noble Lords have spoken eloquently today about the consequences of our neglect of nature both domestically and globally. This need for urgent action has been echoed by a number of noble Lords. As the Dasgupta report drives home, the message that flourishing biodiversity across the planet is crucial for our economies, as well as for our well-being and for life itself, is all too apparent. I recommend that the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, reads that report, if she has not already done so, because it underlines the crisis that confronts us now and certainly justifies us calling it an emergency.

I was pleased that, in his Second Reading speech, the Minister acknowledged the importance of the Dasgupta report. He described it as

“a powerful piece of work—a call to arms”.—[Official Report, 7/6/21; col. 1301.]

However, the Government’s formal response to that report has been less than inspiring. Therein lies the problem: lots of rhetoric but a lack of clear policy decisions and hard choices to deliver the changes that we need.

Sadly, the Government’s record on delivery leaves much to be desired. Progress on implementing the 25-year environment plan is mixed, with as many targets going backwards as forwards in the last report. The Natural Capital Committee’s 2020 report warns that there is a real danger that it will

“go the way of so many bold initiatives that have punctuated the decline of England’s natural environment over the previous generations.”

Meanwhile, the Climate Change Committee reports that we will not meet our fourth or fifth carbon budgets, while the latest report of the Adaptation Committee is scathing about the Government’s lack of action in a number of key policy areas necessary to meet the sixth. So I hope the Minister will understand our scepticism about the previous promises made, and why we want to use the Bill to deliver a different sort of future. Step one would be supporting Amendment 2, which would enshrine in the Bill the emergency and the need for urgent action.

I welcome the amendments in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, which highlight the lack of coherence between the environmental principles, environmental targets and environmental improvement plans. As several noble Lords have said, including my noble friends Lord Rooker and Lord Young of Norwood Green, business and the wider community need certainty. I agree with the many noble Lords who have said that that applies to the farming community as well, which is facing massive disruption from the transition to the new ELM system. I particularly welcome the noble Earl’s intention in Amendments 54 and 74 to firm up the obligations on the Secretary of State to make a “significant contribution” and then to “achieve” the environmental objectives, rather than the more woolly aspirations in the original text in the Bill. I hope the Minister will look favourably on those proposals.

These are early days in our consideration of the Bill. We have begun to identify the principles that will underpin the legislation based on an urgency for action, a clarity about the change needed and a robust mechanism to hold the Government to account on delivery. I look forward to the many debates ahead as we pursue those objectives line by line, and hope that together we can indeed deliver a different future for our planet.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 3:30 pm, 21st June 2021

I thank my noble friend Lord Lindsay for beginning this Committee. I note the support for his amendment from my noble friends Lord Cormack, Lord Caithness and Lady McIntosh, the noble Lords, Lord Rooker and Lord Young, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. In fact, a great many other speakers supported it as well and I will not continue to list them.

The amendments that my noble friend has tabled are, in effect, a summary of the Bill in its totality—it could not be a clearer summary, in a sense. The Environment Bill, as a manifesto commitment, sets a new and ambitious domestic framework for environmental governance. A resilient environment is essential for our own health and that of our planet. We recognise that the environment, unlike many areas of law where there are more clearly defined legal and economic interests, is often unowned. Environmental harms, including climate change, are necessarily, by their nature, more diffusely spread. That is why we have designed the Bill to create a comprehensive system of environmental governance that will put the environment at the heart of our policy-making and ensure clear and strong accountability.

The overall objective of the Bill is to deliver on the goals of the 25-year environment plan, and the environmental governance framework has been designed with the plan’s key objectives of environmental protection and the improvement of the natural environment at the forefront.

First, both targets and environmental improvement plans have the objective of delivering significant improvements to the natural environment—Clauses 6 and 7 being the obvious places for that. That objective provides certainty on the direction of travel; it will also drive long-lasting significant improvement in the natural environment. Clause 7 creates an ongoing requirement for the Government to have a

“plan for significantly improving the natural environment”.

The Government will be required to review that plan regularly and set out whether further policies are needed to improve the natural environment and achieve those targets.

Secondly, Clause 16 provides an objective for the environmental principles. It requires that the policy statement on environmental principles produced by the Secretary of State must contribute to the “improvement of environmental protection”, as well as “sustainable development”. When making policy, Ministers of the Crown must have due regard to the policy statement. These objectives will be integral to policy-making across government. This is the first time that Ministers across government will be legally obliged to consider the environmental principles in policy development wherever it impacts the environment.

Lastly, the OEP has the principal objective of contributing to environmental protection and the improvement of the natural environment. The OEP is able to undertake enforcement action against a public body’s breach of an environmental law that protects the natural environment, or to provide advice on a proposed change to an environmental law that improves the natural environment.

In summary, the Bill as a whole is designed to deliver the overarching ambition of our 25-year environment plan, which in many respects is reflected in the amendments tabled by my noble friend. The measures have been designed to legally work together with common statutory objectives to deliver the improvement and protection of the natural environment and to deliver the sustainable use of resources.

Before I come to the amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, I want to address some of the points made by noble Lords. My noble friends Lord Caithness and Lady McIntosh raised their concerns about the lack of clarity for the business community, particularly farmers, in relation to the big transition that is happening. There is no doubt that it is a massive and revolutionary transition. It is the first transformation of its kind and something that needs to happen all over the world if we are going to have any hope at all of closing the gap between where we are and where we need to be on biodiversity. I can say that officials in my department have been working closely, as have colleagues at ministerial level, with farmers’ organisations, from the very largest—the National Farmers’ Union—to smaller organisations, to ensure that the sector is very much walking in lockstep with us as we develop the proposals and as those proposals morph into an actual policy.

The principle is pretty clear: we are moving to a system where the things that are not currently recognised by the market but which are good will be paid for through subsidies. As noble Lords might expect, things that are paid for by the market, such as food, will therefore not be on that list. It is a straightforward principle, although of course the effects will differ from farm to farm, and that is the beauty of solutions when it comes to the natural environment.

I should add that farmers, as a whole, are among the most entrepreneurial and dynamic people in this country. They are for ever adapting to circumstance and acting in response to market signals. The discussions, exchanges and engagement that we have been having for months now with the farming community suggest, and give me a great deal of confidence, that they will respond extraordinarily well to these new signals that the Government are going to be providing.

My noble friend Lord Cormack described with great sadness the decline of butterflies in his garden, and I know that that situation is duplicated all around the country and indeed the world. I say that we can still find room for optimism; if you give nature half a chance, it comes back extraordinarily quickly. I have had the privilege of seeing for myself, in areas that have been intensively farmed not particularly carefully for decades but have then been treated in a different manner—with organic farming or even, in some cases, rewilding—that nature returns extraordinarily quickly. That is what the Bill will do: it will give nature not just half a chance but a chance.

My noble friend Lord Moynihan talked about the critical importance of access to nature. If he does not mind, I will not go into detail on that issue because we will be discussing and debating it when we come to the fifth group of amendments—that might even be today, if we make some progress.

The noble Lord, Lord Young, discussed the comparisons between where we heading with the Bill and what we are leaving with the EU. We repeat our commitment, as we have many times, that the environment will be at least as well protected after this transition as it was under EU treaties. Many noble Lords will agree that those protections greatly exceed those provided by EU treaties, and that too is reflected in the Bill in numerous ways.

Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, raised the Dasgupta review, which I am pleased about; it needs to be raised at every opportunity, because it is so important. I have had endless discussions with counterparts around the world as part of our attempts to raise ambitions for COP and the CBD, and the Dasgupta review was part of almost every one of those conversations. It is globally recognised for its importance but, despite its length and sometimes complicated language, it has a fairly straightforward message: that our economies and our livelihoods need to be reconciled with the natural world, and everything we have comes from nature. I part company with the noble Baroness on her thoughts on the Government’s response. The response is not exhaustive, but was never the end of the story; it is the beginning. We must do an enormous amount to take heed of and internalise the message of the Dasgupta review in the way we govern. That applies to this Government, and successive Governments. The response was an enthusiastic nod to the principles with examples of the kinds of things we are doing, but without going into the level of detail which a Government would find difficult at this point.

Moving to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for which I thank him, I can reassure him that the Government absolutely are taking climate change and environmental concern seriously. There is an absolute recognition, both at a domestic level and in everything we are doing internationally, that the two are inextricably linked; as he said, you cannot tackle one without the other. A good climate COP will have good implications for nature, and a good CBD will have good implications for climate. We absolutely recognise the extent of the crisis which he and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, relayed to us. There is no doubt that the facts on the ground tell us that we are in crisis territory, and perhaps we will part company here with the noble Baroness, Lady Fox. We debated the issue some time ago of whether or not we face a biodiversity crisis, and I will not repeat all the arguments I used, but she is right to be alert to the risk that any crisis can be used to justify authoritarianism and poor policy. It is therefore important that we get policy right but that does not take away from the facts, which paint a bleak picture of continued decline.

We have set out concrete steps towards reaching net zero by 2050, through the PM’s 10-point plan, which brought together £12 billion of government investment. The energy White Paper and industrial decarbonisation strategy will continue to demonstrate global leadership on climate change, and we will bring forward further bold proposals, such as the net-zero strategy, which will be published before COP 26. Again, nature is at the heart—although it is clearly not the only part—of our response to the net-zero challenge here in the UK, and is a critical part of our message globally. We have successfully changed the debate on the role of nature in tackling climate change internationally, such that most countries when they talk about their response to climate change talk about nature, in a way which they simply did not a year ago. It remains the case, however, that of all international climate finance, only 2.5% to 3% is spent on nature-based solutions. That really should be closer to half. That too is something which we hope to shift through our negotiations and discussions with other countries, and through our own example, where we have not only doubled our international climate finance but committed that nearly a third of it will be spent on nature-based solutions.

Of course, the Bill itself is a clear demonstration of our action to tackle the biodiversity crisis, including biodiversity net gain, local nature recovery strategies, and due diligence for forest risk commodities. I hope that this provides reassurance that the amendments, which have provoked a very valuable debate, are nevertheless not needed. I thank noble Lords for their contributions and suggest that the amendment be withdrawn.

Photo of The Earl of Lindsay The Earl of Lindsay Conservative 3:45 pm, 21st June 2021

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his thoughtful response, to which I will give careful thought. I am also grateful to other noble Lords who spoke in support of my amendments in this group, and for the wisdom, experience and expertise with which they supplemented my opening remarks.

Achieving cohesion and clarity—and my noble friend Lord Cormack was quite right to add a third C, consistency—is going to be vital. If we can achieve those three Cs, then there are two further critical Cs which we can expect to be delivered by the business community: a commitment to the future, and the confidence to invest. If we are to achieve the environmental objectives which we all want, we must achieve all those five Cs. I will reflect carefully on what has been said in this debate, and especially carefully on the Minister’s remarks. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Amendment 2 not moved.

Clause 1: Environmental targets

Amendment 3 not moved.

Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, we now come to the group consisting of Amendment 4. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in debate.