Amendment 5

Environment Bill - Committee (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:30 pm on 21st June 2021.

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Lord Blencathra:

Moved by Lord Blencathra

5: Clause 1, page 1, line 16, leave out paragraph (c) and insert—“(c) nature;”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment seeks to change the word ‘biodiversity’ to ‘nature’ and is designed to have a debate in principle on changing the term throughout the bill.

Photo of Lord Blencathra Lord Blencathra Chair, Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee

My Lords, I declare my environmental interests as on the register. This afternoon I will, if I may, speak from a seated position—I had a long train journey and the old legs are a bit ropier than normal.

My amendments in this group all seek to change the word “biodiversity” in the Bill to the word “nature”. The only two amendments in the group for proper consideration in this debate are Amendment 5, which changes the wording in Clause 1, and Amendment 261, which attempts to give a definition of nature, so that my noble friend the Minister cannot say that nature is a completely different concept from biodiversity and that it would totally destabilise the Bill if we made this change. In this Bill we can define nature any way we like, just as we can define biodiversity, and it need not create any legal lacuna or new obligation.

The other amendments numbered in the 200s are merely examples in the Bill of where “nature” could be used instead of “biodiversity”. I counted over 140 uses of the word “biodiversity”, most of them—more than 100—in Schedule 14, but I have picked just a few examples so that we can have this debate in principle. Therefore, I do not want my noble friend the Minister to waste his time in the wind-up going through all those other examples and explaining why they are technically wrong.

Why change “nature” to “biodiversity”? What am I getting at? It really is quite simple: everyone talks about nature and not about biodiversity. All recent polls and studies show that the vast majority of people want to get closer to nature, to relate to it, and to get out and about and into it more. If you asked them if they wanted to relate to biodiversity, they would think that you were talking about zoo animals. “Biodiversity” has the flavour of a technical, scientific term, more applicable to wild animals than flowers, trees, butterflies and the landscape—at least in the minds of the majority of ordinary people.

The authoritative People and Nature Survey undertaken each month by Natural England found that 61% of people said that they felt that they were part of nature and 87% said that being in nature made them happy. A recent survey quoted by the BBC reveals that most people think that biodiversity is something to do with washing powder. We might scoff at that, and of course colleagues in Parliament, Defra, Natural England, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and all wildlife organisations know what biodiversity is—but we do not count. We need to appeal to the tens of millions of people who are not officials, scientists or policymakers and who have a much more vague idea of what nature is—but know it when they see it, and want more of it.

The Government themselves constantly use the word “nature”, not “biodiversity”, in communications and policy documents. We talk about nature-based solutions and local nature recovery strategies. Two weeks ago the Secretary of State for the Environment went to Delamere Forest, at an event billed as a “nature moment”, to announce a new nature recovery target and a Nature for Climate Peatland Grant Scheme. Furthermore, on Sunday 13 June, the Secretary of State wrote in the Sunday Telegraph:

“And as Environment Secretary, I am determined that we move beyond simply stemming the loss of biodiversity and take action to help nature recover—at home and around the world.”

And so say I—that is what my amendment is all about. We all use the word “nature” because ordinary people, councils, media and companies can relate to it. Would there be public support and understanding if these things were called biodiversity-based solutions and local biodiversity recovery strategies? Of course not. We have all selected the word “nature” in public utterances because it has more public traction and appeal. I suggest that using a different word in our law could undermine that appeal.

Politicians, the Government and NGOs all know that they get media, public and stakeholder engagement when they talk about nature rather than biodiversity, and we need to reinforce that by ensuring that this landmark legislation—legislation that we have been waiting so many years for and which is now in front of us—brings about nature recovery and sets targets for nature, and uses the same language as tens of millions of ordinary people in this country.

I submit that that are overwhelming presentational reasons to use the word “nature”, though I accept that there are potential downsides. I think everyone agrees that “nature” is not a narrower term than “biodiversity”, and therefore there would be no legal gaps. But my noble friend and others may say that it is a wider power that might impose greater burdens on public authorities if they have to report on nature rather than just biodiversity. I suggest that we can protect against that possible legal danger with the suggested definition of nature in my Amendment 261. It may not be perfect but we can tweak it, so that it does no more and no less than we would want from the word “biodiversity”. If the Government can define the two words “natural environment” in Clause 43, they cannot say that it is impossible to define the one word “nature”. Indeed, I would like someone in this debate to tell me the difference between “nature” and “natural environment”.

I acknowledge that my proposal has its limitations. I do not seek to change the word “biodiversity” in international agreements to which we are signed up, or in any other existing laws, or at CBD 15 this October, so I hope that the Minister will not rubbish the proposal on the grounds that we would have to change every bit of law that uses the word “biodiversity”. I am not suggesting that.

The Government would also need to reassure developers that changing the terminology to “nature net gain”, rather than “biodiversity net gain”, is not environmental net gain by the back door: the wording would change but not the policy.

For me, a key issue is the Section 40 obligation under the NERC Act 2006. I welcome the excellent change that the Minister has brought forward in this Bill—from the old duty to “have regard to” to the new clause, which says:

“For the purposes of this section ‘the general biodiversity objective’ is the conservation and enhancement of biodiversity in England through the exercise of functions in relation to England … A public authority which has any functions exercisable in relation to England must”—

I emphasise “must”—

“from time to time consider what action the authority can properly take, consistently with the proper exercise of its functions, to further the general biodiversity objective.”

That is the proposed new wording for Section 40, which I welcome as far as it goes, but I am suggesting that we can improve upon it further. We should change the “general biodiversity objective” to the “general nature objective.” This objective is currently defined in Clause 95(3); proposed new subsection (A1) refers to

“the conservation and enhancement of biodiversity in England”.

I suggest that we should change that to “the conservation and enhancement of nature in England.” I therefore submit that there are no legal adverse consequences to using the word nature instead of biodiversity in the example I have just given in the crucially important Section 40 of NERCA. There is no legal downside if we use the word “nature” as we can define it in the Bill.

Finally, I hope the Minister will join with me to find a compromise. I am certain that he cannot argue that biodiversity is a sexier word than nature, with more public traction, since it clearly is not; nor can I argue that “biodiversity” can be changed to “nature” in all 141 places in which it appears in the Bill. However, I will not accept that it cannot be changed anywhere in the Bill. Therefore, let us work with Defra officials between now and Report to find those places in the Bill where we can substitute “nature” for “biodiversity”, where it will have the most public appeal and traction and where it would not cause any legal or technical difficulties. I am willing to move on this, so I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Labour 4:45 pm, 21st June 2021

My Lords, we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, with whom I agree in every respect on this subject, that legislation should be precise and intelligible. That is what this is about. If I may give a short history lesson—only a couple of minutes—I will describe my first encounter with the phrase “precise and intelligible” in 1975 in the House of Commons, when a report headed Preparation of Legislation was presented by Sir David Renton, then the MP for Huntingdonshire. He never stopped talking about that report, and when I arrived in your Lordships’ House exactly 20 years ago, he was on the Benches opposite, still talking about the report Preparation of Legislation. He took Bills and amendments apart, and the number of times we had changes because of his scrutiny was enormous. I have also looked at the 2013 Parliamentary Counsel report, When Laws Become Too Complex. This is what this amendment is about: making legislation precise and intelligible. Most of what we have passed is not. This is a chance to actually make sure that it is.

Photo of Lord Hope of Craighead Lord Hope of Craighead Chair, High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill Select Committee (Lords), Chair, High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill Select Committee (Lords)

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. Words matter; so too does the meaning that we give to them. That is especially so where targets are being set that will influence policy in a matter as far-reaching as the environment. That is why the noble Lords, Lord Blencathra and Lord Randall of Uxbridge, were right to bring forward these amendments so that we can consider whether the choice of the word “biodiversity” to identify one of the priority areas in Clause 1(3) was well made, or whether it should be replaced by the word “nature”, as is being suggested.

I wish to concentrate on the use of words in this clause. I say nothing about the wording of Clauses 95 and 96 and others, except that it seems to make sense to follow whatever the choice is for Clause 1 when deciding what is right for those other clauses too. For me, the choice in Clause 1(3) should be guided by two things: the context, and the meaning of the word “biodiversity” itself.

The context for the choice of words in Clause 1(3) is created by the wording of Clause 1(1). We are told there that the long-term targets that the Secretary of State must have in mind relate to “the natural environment”. That suggests to me that when we come to Clause 1(3), we should expect to find, if I can put it this way, a list of subspecies within the natural environment rather than a repetition of the parent concept itself, embraced by the word “nature”. The word “nature”—the parent concept—embraces everything that comprises the phenomena of the natural world or, as Clause 1(1) puts it, of “the natural environment”. That suggests that we need something more specific and precise to serve the purpose of Clause 1(3), which is to identify the priority areas within that environment. The question then, therefore, is whether “biodiversity” achieves something for the identification of a priority area that “nature” would not achieve.

I was surprised to find, when I was consulting my dictionaries, how recent the word “biodiversity” is in the English language. Everyone talks about nature, said the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, and he is absolutely right: it is so much in common use, and “biodiversity”, as the dictionaries indicated to me, is not in common use in that way. It is not even mentioned, let alone defined, in the editions of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary that I have, which were published in the 1990s. It is a mark of our increasing awareness of the importance of the variety and variability of life on earth and its preservation that we have created this portmanteau word to describe it. “Diversity” is what we are talking about when we use this word. The prefix “bio” makes it clear that we are using that word in the context of the natural environment in all its aspects which, of course, is the context in which we are using it here. In that context, it is no exaggeration to say that diversity is what keeps the environment alive. It is absolutely right to concentrate on diversity as a priority area.

I suggest, therefore, that the word “biodiversity”, although not so widely used as “nature”, is the one to use because it is more precisely targeted on that aspect of our environment. It achieves that much more than “nature”. It reaches out across the entirety of the ecosystem, on which the natural environment depends, and the diversity that gives it its life. With great respect to the two noble Lords, I believe that it is the right word to use here in this Bill.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and also the noble Lord, Lord Rooker; I well remember the late Sir David Renton, as he was in the other place, or Lord Renton, as he became in this one. He was an absolute terrier and was determined to try to ensure that all legislation was intelligible to those to whom it applied.

That really is the underlying reason why my noble friend Lord Blencathra has introduced this very interesting and probing amendment. We say again and again during this debate that this is a landmark Bill. It is indeed, and it has to bear the test of time: it has to be an Act of Parliament that becomes familiar to all those to whom it applies, which is virtually every citizen in our land. It must be an Act of Parliament that is understood. It is entirely right that my noble friend Lord Blencathra introduced this amendment so that we can debate, at an early stage of the Bill, what we are really talking about.

I am bound to say that, having reflected on what my noble friend Lord Blencathra and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, said, I wonder whether the answer does not lie in a phrase such as “nature in all its diversity”. It is absolutely right, as my noble friend pointed out graphically and persistently, that “biodiversity” does not come as trippingly off the tongue as “nature”, yet we are dealing, as the noble and learned Lord indicated, with nature in all its aspects—with flora, fauna et cetera. We have to be able to relate to people, and people have to be able to understand that this all-embracing Environment BillEnvironment Act as it will become—applies to everything around them: the birds in the air, the insects in the ground and all flora and fauna. As we go through the Bill, I hope that we can take most seriously on board my noble friend Lord Blencathra’s point. He indicated that he had not necessarily come up with an all-embracing answer; he suggested a compromise, and we should work on it so that the Act of Parliament is fully intelligible to all to whom it applies.

If I have one criticism of legislation in our country, it is that it is very difficult for most people to take down a Bill or an Act and understand it. We know the reasons, but we have to aim to be more intelligible. I have said before in other contexts in your Lordships’ House that I am a great devotee of Sir Ernest Gowers’ book, Plain Words, and I only wish, as used to be the case, that a copy could be on the shelves of every parliamentarian and, more important, every civil servant in every department in the land. If we cannot make what we are bringing into law understandable, we are failing. Here is the landmark Bill, here is a challenge, let us try to rise to it.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative 5:00 pm, 21st June 2021

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and my noble friend Lord Cormack that legislation has to be precise and intelligible. If we are to take the public with us, which we need to on a Bill as complicated and as detailed as this one, it has to resonate with them, so there is a lot to be said for what my noble friend Lord Blencathra has suggested in his amendment.

However, I am slightly troubled on a couple of fronts. In answering the debate at Second Reading, my noble friend the Minister said:

“As for my noble friend Lord Blencathra’s proposal to change ‘biodiversity’ to ‘nature’, he makes an important point, but the trouble is that those two terms are not exactly the same”.—[Official Report, 7/6/21; col. 1308.]

He then gave an example about the dreaded Sitka spruce, but he did not tell us why they were not the same and what the implications were for the Bill if we were to go down the route suggested by noble friend Lord Blencathra of half the time using “nature” and half the time using “biodiversity” depending on where it is in the Bill. When he said that, I was immediately sceptical, thinking, “Here comes a lawyers’ charter. If we’re using ‘biodiversity’ in one part of the Bill and ‘nature’ in another, the lawyers are going to have a field day”. I wish my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern were joining in this debate, because he would help us.

I go instead to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, who analysed this matter in some detail and came down in favour of “biodiversity”. I am sitting back on the fence where I started, because I was persuaded one way and the legal opinion has pushed me back in the other. I want to hear from my noble friend the Minister what the difference is between biodiversity and nature. If we could get that difference, perhaps we could reconcile it so that we got a Bill that was intelligible.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative

My Lords, I am delighted to participate in this debate. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Blencathra on being so industrious in coming up with such an imaginative way to put forward something that he obviously feels very passionate about. However, I support my noble friend the Minister, who I hope will go on to explain why we have settled on “biodiversity”. I support everything said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, about why “biodiversity” has a specific meaning. We should also look at the history of “biodiversity”. There are a number of international conventions with which I am sure my noble friend Lord Blencathra, particularly wearing his hat with Natural England, will be familiar. Is he proposing that we now try to change all the international conventions which originally referred, even more confusingly, to “biological diversity”? I would put forward “biodiversity” as a compromise between “biological diversity” and “nature” or “the natural environment”, because it has a specific meaning and we have subscribed to a number of international conventions. For those who will have to follow what is asked of them, “biodiversity” has that specific meaning, which I am sure my noble friend will explain.

I support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, in saying that we need a list of species or a better understanding of what is being asked. I am sure my noble friend will explain that when he moves the series of government amendments later today. I accept “biodiversity” as a compromise, but we need greater clarification of the list of species—flora and fauna—which are to be protected.

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

My Lords, I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, with a degree of sympathy for what he is trying to achieve. We all want to make legislation more simple and able to be understood by members of the public, but in this instance, I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. To change the name in the legislation at this stage would cause a level of disruption, because we already have international agreements that refer to “biodiversity”. The Dasgupta report also referred to it.

There is a simple difference between nature and biodiversity. According to my dictionary definition, nature covers all existing systems created at the same time as the earth, whereas biodiversity is the part of nature that is alive, born on a mineral substrate in an earlier geodiversity. Biodiversity provides numerous ecosystem services that are crucial to human well-being at present and in the future. Longer-term changes in climate affect the viability and health of ecosystems, influencing shifts in the distribution of plants, pathogens, animals and even human settlements. Biodiversity loss has negative effects on several aspects of human well-being, such as food security, vulnerability to natural disasters, energy security and access to clean water and raw materials. It also affects human health, social relations and freedom of choice.

Quite simply, through this legislation, we need to protect our living biodiversity. The inclusion of a target-setting framework is a welcome part of the Bill, and something that has already been referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. The long-term nature of environmental matters makes this all particularly important. Environmental improvement cannot be achieved over the short timeframe of a political cycle. We need to ensure that this Environment Bill provides an opportunity for the UK to become a world leader in the fight against all forms of pollution and biodiversity loss and in mitigating the impact of the climate emergency. The litmus test for all of us in the Lords is does changing “biodiversity” to “nature” in this Bill strengthen and toughen its provisions, does it weaken existing legal protections or does it make any difference?

I believe this Bill must turn the tide on nature’s decline, biodiversity decline and the climate emergency. It must transform the way we manage waste, protect our precious water resources and all the other aspects. So, I think at this late stage, it is best to keep to the term “biodiversity”, while I fully understand and appreciate the case made by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra.

Photo of Viscount Trenchard Viscount Trenchard Conservative

My Lords, I was much elated to read my noble friend Lord Blencathra’s amendments. I completely agree with him that “biodiversity” is one of the worst examples of a pseudointellectual word that most people do not understand and would never use in speech. I think my noble friend is right that, in the main, it would be much better if we used the easily comprehensible word “nature”, on which there is universal agreement on its meaning. I completely agree that it is highly desirable that the Bill should use language with which the public identifies.

It is interesting that, in their response to The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review the Government refer to

“nature, and the biodiversity that underpins it”.

This suggests that biodiversity and nature are not quite the same thing because one underpins the other, but even in a note to the preface to the review, Professor Dasgupta writes that

“the terms Nature, natural capital, the natural environment, the biosphere, and the natural world are used interchangeably.”

The Cambridge Dictionary website informs me that biodiversity means:

“the number and types of plants and animals that exist in a particular area or in the world generally, or the problem of protecting this”.

The first part of this definition sounds to me to be the same as nature, but then I am confused by the notion of protecting it. The “bio” of biodiversity is derived from the Greek bios, meaning life, and all the varieties of animal and plant life on the planet are indeed diverse.

So, although academics may disagree that the simple word “nature” is inadequate, I am not convinced that there is any material difference in meaning. I agree with my noble friend that we should change the word “biodiversity” to “nature” wherever possible. My noble friend’s Amendment 203 changes the “general biodiversity objective” of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 to the “general nature objective”. Perhaps the Minister could tell us whether that Act was the first in which the term “biodiversity” was used and whether he agrees that it would be much better if our law was written in language that people can understand.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, suggested that “biodiversity” is the correct word because it is broader, but I am not sure that the noble and learned Lord persuaded me that “nature” is narrower than the whole diversity of life. I also worry for the future of the word “diversity” which increasingly carries connotations of gender and race. For all these reasons I support what my noble friend Lord Blencathra is trying to do.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green 5:15 pm, 21st June 2021

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to take part in this debate, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, for initiating it. I think it has been very useful and I truly appreciate the passion with which he desires to see public engagement with, and understanding of, this Bill. I very much appreciate that. A number of noble Lords have said we need this Bill to be both precise and intelligible, and when we draw on the legal side of things I am very much influenced, as I often am, by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, who suggested that in legal terms “nature” would not achieve what “biodiversity” would.

I am going to bring a biological consideration, that being my intellectual foundation to this, and may complicate this debate further by pointing out that where we sit right now at this very moment is, in one definition, a part of nature—we are human animals and the rest of the animal species on this planet are non-human animals—as it is something we created. It is an ecosystem we have created. However, I am not going to go too far down that road, as I fear that may be a debate more fit for the Bishops’ Bar when it re-opens than this Chamber today.

I want to raise the issue that the noble Lord’s amendment brings to the fore, which is the definition of “biodiversity” and, specifically, to explore further what the Government’s understanding of biodiversity is. I can address some questions that have been raised about where this term come from. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, suggested that some things are called “biological diversity” and some things are called “biodiversity”. The term “biodiversity” was coined in 1985, and it is a contraction of “biological diversity”. Without being a lawyer, I do not think there is a legal contradiction between using those two terms interchangeably.

What is not always sufficiently understood is that biodiversity is not just having lots of species. There is sometimes a feeling that we are protecting diversity when there is this really rare moth, and there are three reserves where we are saving it, so that is all right because we are saving biodiversity. If we look at what biodiversity is in a much broader sense, it starts at the level of genes. If you look at a magnificent, enormous murmuration of starlings, should you still be lucky enough to have such a thing, or a wonderful flock of sparrows—ditto—then, although it cannot be seen, in the depths there is great genetic diversity. It is something that keeps that species healthy, and if you get population numbers down to a tiny level a very important part of biodiversity is lost. The interchange of genes is lost if you have a series of isolated populations.

It is really important to have the species to have the genes, but biodiversity is also complete ecosystems. These are systems, such as savannah and woodland, that have developed over billions of years, have complex interrelationships and interrelate to their physical environment. That is all biodiversity as well. This is what has made the earth habitable over billions of years and is what some people call Gaia. To look at this in a way that those of a more literary bent in your Lordships’ House might find familiar, this is a library of life. It a library of ideas and a library of ways of interrelating. It has been said that what we are doing by destroying biodiversity is burning through the library of life. So, I would really like to see, perhaps in the Minister’s answer, or perhaps later in writing, a lot more from the Government about their understanding of what protecting biodiversity means. They must make sure that the target for biodiversity—assuming the Bill goes through in its current form—really addresses the different levels and ways in which we need to understand biodiversity, and does not boil down to “Well, we have three reserves for this rare moth and that will do.”

Photo of Lord Randall of Uxbridge Lord Randall of Uxbridge Conservative

My Lords, I support my noble friend’s Amendment 5, to which I added my name. It is always good to follow my noble friend in his wise words. I have to say, though, that I rather feel out of my depth in this debate. I thought that it was going to be quite a simple subject, but I should have thought that we have such experts in your Lordships' House. I have been listening to the legal side of things, which I have little understanding of, while making law, and the excellent speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, on a much more scientific, biological aspect.

I come at this with a view that we want to make things simple. We are going to come, in the group following the next, on to a connection with nature. That is my biggest concern. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said that the word “biodiversity” arrived in 1985. I was not a young man, necessarily, when it first appeared, and I had been used to using other words. I have been involved in this environmental field as an amateur for all my life, and I accept “biodiversity”—I use it myself—but I am not sure that the people we want to connect more with nature do understand it. I would say to those noble Lords who have mentioned international things that the European Union introduced Natura 2000; it did not call it “Biodiversitas 2000” or anything else. “Natura” and “nature” have their place. I would regard myself as an amateur naturalist; I do not know how you would say I am an “amateur biodiversity person”.

I think this has been a very useful debate. I end up more confused, though that is a position I often find myself in, listening to debates. But I have to say that there is a real need for us to make sure that our fellow citizens understand that the environment is about what they hold dear—and that is nature. When I was at school, we had nature study; we did not have biodiversity study. But I admit that I am not in the first flush of youth.

Photo of Lord Krebs Lord Krebs Chair, Food, Poverty, Health and Environment Committee, Chair, Food, Poverty, Health and Environment Committee

My Lords, one could argue that what is good enough for Sir David Attenborough is good enough for this Bill. Sir David’s 2020 TV programme “Extinction”, in which he talked about biodiversity, was watched by 4.5 million viewers on its premier. Those people, and the millions more who have watched it subsequently, will have some idea of what biodiversity is.

Although I do not support this amendment for the reasons that my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead so clearly articulated, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, for tabling the amendment, because it provides me with an opportunity, following the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, to ask the Minister to clarify precisely what the Government mean when they talk about biodiversity. As my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead said, words do matter. If the Government are to maintain the term “biodiversity” in this Bill, which I hope they will, please could they explain what it actually means?

I am now going to get a little bit technical. Ecologists recognise a number of different, but interrelated, meanings of the word “biodiversity”. At its simplest, it refers to what is called “species richness”—simply the number of species inhabiting a defined geographical area, such as England. A more sophisticated variant of species richness takes into account the relative abundance of different species. On this measure, an area populated by one extremely common species and, say, five very rare ones will be less biodiverse than if all six species were roughly equally abundant.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, has already said, biodiversity can also include genetic diversity within a species. For instance, one might be particularly interested in preserving subspecies that are unique to this island, such as the native pied wagtail, motacilla alba Yarrelli. Furthermore, biodiversity might encompass the genetic distinctiveness of species, by placing a premium on species with no close living relatives on the planet, or on endemic species, such as eudarcia Richardsoni, a micro-moth found only in Dorset.

Finally, biodiversity might encompass the diversity of habitats, such as woodland, heath, peatbog and intertidal marshes, found within a geographical area. Many ecologists distinguish between what they call alpha diversity—species richness within a habitat—and beta diversity, which is diversity between habitats.

I hope that the Minister, in his response, or afterwards in writing, will explain what the Government mean when they talk about biodiversity. At the same time, it would be helpful if he could explain the difference between biodiversity and species abundance, as introduced in Amendment 22, which we will debate later.

Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, this has certainly been an interesting discussion around the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, to change the wording of the Bill to use the term “nature” instead of “biodiversity”. I can understand why he would want to propose this change, as it is an easier concept for many people to grasp and understand, as many noble Lords have said during our discussion. However, the Minister did explain in his winding-up speech on Second Reading that the two terms are not exactly the same. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, referenced the example that the Minister gave:

“Planting a Sitka spruce monoculture might give us more nature, but it would not give us more biodiversity”—[Official Report, 7/6/21; col. 1308].

A number of noble Lords have talked about definitions and the definition of “biodiversity” as opposed to the definition of “nature”. I would like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for providing us so much information. I have learned an awful lot more in this debate than I was expecting. A number of noble Lords have looked at dictionary definitions, so I thought I would add to this by having a look at what the Oxford English Dictionary has to say. It describes “nature” as

“The phenomena of the physical world collectively; esp. plants, animals, and other features and products of the earth itself, as opposed to humans and human creations” whereas—I would be interested to discuss this further with the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, at some point—the dictionary describes “biodiversity” as

“the variety of plant and animal life”.

So these things are different, and my thinking is that the Oxford definition seems to show that “nature” is a broader concept and “biodiversity” fits within that. Therefore, I am not quite sure how helpful Amendment 261 will be.

This is a really important Bill, and, as my noble friend Lord Rooker said, clarity as to exactly what is meant by the wording and terminology in this Bill—and in all legislation—is essential to avoid confusion and potential legal challenge. I am sure that the Minister will be able to provide us with more detail on the wording used and the way that the decisions have come, but noble Lords have requested more explanation of exactly what is meant in the Bill by “biodiversity” and what is going to be demanded of improvements to biodiversity as we go through implementing what the Environment Bill is looking to do.

In short, I have enjoyed listening to the debate, but we are happy to retain the use of “biodiversity” in the wording of the Bill.

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) 5:30 pm, 21st June 2021

I thank my noble friend Lord Blencathra for his amendments. It is a pleasure to follow the thoughtful speech on them by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. Like my noble friend, we want people to understand and engage in nature, but it is also important to increase recognition of and engagement with the term “biodiversity”. It is an internationally recognised term that is gaining popularity with the public, parliamentarians and beyond, not least as a consequence of the extraordinary work of Sir David Attenborough, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, pointed out. It confers a direction of travel toward greater diversity, which we want everyone to fully support and engage with.

As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, pointed out, and this point was echoed extremely interestingly and thoughtfully by the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett and Lady Ritchie, “nature” is a more expansive term than biodiversity, often taken to include non-living elements, and is potentially more open to interpretation. It is perfectly possible to enhance nature with limited or no value for biodiversity. Many monocultures—for example, a green grass valley; I am using a different example from the one that I used last time—are considered beautiful examples of a natural landscape, and “nature” can have a high amenity value. If we are to boost biodiversity, sometimes it will mean moving away from simplistic ideas of what nature should be, and thinking scientifically about how to improve the diversity of living things.

In response to my noble friend Lady McIntosh, I confirm on my noble friend Lord Blencathra’s behalf—if I may—that he is not proposing to renegotiate or replace the international conventions, as I understand it from his introductory speech. However, I want to provide a more detailed interpretation of what we mean by “biodiversity” and why it is important. I do this in response to a number of noble Lords, including my noble friends Lady McIntosh of Pickering, Lord Caithness and Lord Trenchard, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie and Lady Hayman. The Convention on Biological Diversity, which is being hosted in China at the end of this year and is a massively important moment for biodiversity, defines biodiversity as

“the variability amongst living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.”

It is important that variability and diversity should be conserved and the benefits for people secured. The UK is playing a leading role in negotiating an ambitious global framework for biodiversity under that convention, and setting targets and policies for biodiversity helps to demonstrate and further that alignment.

From a more technical perspective, the Bill applies the terms “nature” and “biodiversity” for specific purposes. Associated guidance and regulations will make that clear. We certainly want these measures to benefit all aspects of nature for wildlife and other environmental objectives. Substituting “nature” for “biodiversity” in the Bill would risk creating confusion about the purposes of the measures, especially where “biodiversity” is already a well-established term. Measures such as the biodiversity duty or biodiversity net gain are already established and understood policies, being strengthened through the Bill, and our aim should be to improve their functioning, not create confusion with new terminology.

I hope this does not sound facetious but there is an implied assumption within the amendment that people en masse are going to devour the Bill and base their understanding on the Act that we hope it will become. It feels to me that what really matters is delivering the measures in the Bill and the wider communications that will support it. I say to my noble friend Lord Caithness that I am not convinced it is the Act itself that will take people with us; rather, it will be the delivery of good policy, good solutions and the wider comms that we all—not just the Government—are going to have to engage in to advance this agenda.

I reassure my local friend Lord Blencathra that I share and understand his vision and the motivation behind his amendment, as I think does every noble Lord, but nevertheless I ask him to withdraw it.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has indicated that he wishes to speak.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving a definition. He then said it was going to come in regulations. Would it not be better if it were in the Bill?

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)

I am not sure it is necessary to add the definition to the Bill itself, but I will certainly consider my noble friend’s comment carefully as we move through the Bill’s various stages.

Photo of Lord Blencathra Lord Blencathra Chair, Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee

My apologies, Lord Deputy Chairman; I did not realise you would be calling the noble Earl, Lord Caithness.

I am grateful to all noble Lords and noble Baronesses who have spoken—those who have supported me, those who are sitting on the fence and those who are opposed. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that if he goes further and looks at the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel guidelines in detail, he will find that there is an instruction there to government departments to write in simple language, and what I am suggesting here follows that OPC instruction.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, made an important contribution that swayed a number of noble Lords. I looked at changing the word “nature” at the start of Clause 1 but then opted to change it in Clause 1(3). I was in two minds about that but then I thought that I wanted the debate on principle, so we should have it early on in the Bill. I accept what he said about the list in Clause 1(3) containing more specific examples of nature. He said that “biodiversity” was the right word to be used in the Bill but I am suggesting, and I have said so all along, that we can define “nature” to be the right word in the Bill and we can make it as specific or general as we wish.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Cormack for his attempt at a definition, “nature in all its diversity”. I am not sure it is right but he is simply making the point that it is possible to define this.

My noble friend Lord Caithness said that he was back to sitting on the fence. I am too; I have a leg on either side of it. I am not suggesting that we have “nature” only or “biodiversity” only; I am suggesting that in some parts of the Bill, where it is safe and sensible to do so, we have “nature” and in other bits we have “biodiversity”.

My noble friend the Minister has already pointed out to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering that I was not proposing to change our international conventions, not even the one that I negotiated myself. As a new Minister I was sent to Rio in 1992 with strict instructions: “You’ll be there for 16 days, Mr Maclean MP. You will not agree to anything until John Major comes out and signs up for everything that you’ve got to resist.” I had to sign, or was party to negotiating, the first Convention on Biological Diversity.

I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, that there is no need for confusion. It depends on how we define this, and I say to her that the word “nature” would strengthen the Bill.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Trenchard for his strong support. If Dasgupta sees the terms as interchangeable, we should change “biodiversity” in the Bill wherever possible.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge. He also said that we should make things simple. The next group of amendments but one is about connecting people with nature. The word “nature” does that but “biodiversity” does not.

The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, says that the Government need to define biodiversity. If the Government cannot define biodiversity in the Bill, how are the public to understand or relate to it? The Government are capable of defining “natural environment” in the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, quoted dictionary definitions. What does that dictionary say about “natural environment”? The phrase “natural environment” is not defined in the Bill according to the Oxford English Dictionary; it is defined in a way that the Government have decided. If the Government can define “natural environment”, they can define “nature”.

My noble friend the Minister said that “nature” can be a more expansive term. It can, and if it is not defined it will be much more expansive. The phrase “natural environment” could be a highly expansive term—indeed, some of us have suggestions to expand it a bit more—but the Government have defined it in the Bill and, if you can define “natural environment”, you can define “nature”.

As far as “biodiversity net gain” is concerned, my noble friend picked one example which might confuse business and industry, and developers may worry that “nature net gain” is not the same as “biodiversity net gain”. If that is the case and we cannot explain it, let us not change that bit. I have resiled from my initial position when I wrote to my noble friend two weeks ago that we can change every word. I know that we cannot; it would not be sensible. It could cause legal problems and confusion. Let us not try to change the word where it is not sensible to do so but change it everywhere else.

My noble friend seemed to conclude by saying, “Let’s use biodiversity in the Bill, but out there we will be talking about nature; it’s how we relate to it and how we deliver it”. It seems a bit odd to say, “Well, let’s just keep this among ourselves. We experts who know all about it and we boffins will use biodiversity in the Bill, but we won’t use it out there among the public. For that, we will use ‘nature’”.

I think there is still some merit in what I say, although it has not commanded the majority support of the noble Lords who have spoken today. I would like my noble friend to consider with me whether we can change the word in some instances where it is safe to do so. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 5 withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 6. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.