Moved by Lord Lucas
15: Clause 1, page 2, line 5, at end insert—“(c) the reasons why that particular target and that particular date have been chosen, and the evidence on which those choices have been based.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment is to enable people affected by the targets to understand how they have been arrived at.
My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 15. The targets the Government intend to set will impose substantial costs and obligations on us, one way or another. Any costs imposed on a business ends up with the consumer. These may well require substantial changes in our behaviour. I would like the Government to commit to empowering us, to taking us along with the process they have followed in arriving at those targets, and to telling us why they have chosen those targets and accompanying dates. I would also like them to set out in full and make accessible to us the evidence on which those targets are based.
If we empower people in this way, they become fellows—people who are with us in setting out to tackle the problem, rather than being compelled, often unwillingly, to go along with government diktats. The more we can persuade people, the more we can take them with us, the easier it will be and the further we can go. I would like a system which would clearly incentivise the production of evidence. Where it is weak—regarding the harm done by microplastics, for example—there should be a clear incentive for the Government to sponsor research and investigation to underpin any target they may wish to put in place.
We have a history of legislating in this area based on inadequate evidence. For instance, the original decision to ban tungsten lightbulbs in favour of other systems was based on the idea that the heat they create is wasted. In this country, this is only true during four months of the year; during the other eight months, the heat is extremely useful. The decision to allow only low-powered vacuum cleaners was based on extremely thin evidence and may well have resulted in people expending a lot more energy and time than would have been necessary, had they had higher-powered vacuum cleaners. If we are to use resources effectively in dealing with pollution and other problems, we absolutely must base it on evidence. This evidence, and our thinking, must be shared with the people we want to take along with that decision.
My Lords I shall speak chiefly to Amendments 16 and 18 in my name. I also want briefly to support the sentiments behind Amendment 15 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. However, generally speaking, history shows us that, as more evidence is collected, regulations and restrictions are far too weak at the outset and need to be strengthened further. I question the two examples he gave but I will not disappear into the weeds of those details.
I also support Amendment 43 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, to which my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb has added her name. This partly relates to my amendments. Amendment 43 talks about a statutory duty to meet interim targets. My two amendments—particularly Amendment 16—say that there should be
“at least one interim target”.
We are talking about targets of 15 years or more.
I asked the House of Lords Library—it is an invaluable resource, and I thank it—to find out how many Secretaries of State in the last 100 years held that single post for more than 10 years. It came up with a list of two: Gordon Brown, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, both of whom were Chancellors. No other Secretary of State held that post for longer than 10 years.
This is a question of responsibility and of people taking action, and being able to demonstrate that they are taking action, over a relatively short period of time. I will not reopen Monday’s debate about our being in a climate, biodiversity and environmental crisis. We are in a crisis, and we need action quickly. Fifteen years is a very long time. If the target is that far away—a minimum of three Governments away and, based on current case studies, perhaps considerably more—it is very easy for it not to be addressed and for no real progress to be made. That is why I am suggesting at least one interim target in those 15 years.
That brings me to my second amendment, Amendment 18, which states that these long-term targets should be no longer than 20 years. In my reading of the Bill—I should be very interested if anyone can tell me I am wrong; I do not claim to be a lawyer—it says that targets will be at least 15 years away; there is no maximum target. The Bill—we are talking about what is written in it—could allow the Government to set a 50-year target for water pollution or biodiversity, which, of course, is no kind of target at all.
These amendments are small and modest, and I am not necessarily wedded to the numbers in them. They are an attempt to open up the debate about the fact that we cannot just say, “Right, here’s a 15-year target, and we can all sit back and worry in 12 years’ time where we have got to.” We need targets set with appropriate reporting towards them. I point out a situation where we have interim targets set. This is by the Committee on Climate Change. In its most recent reports, it has set out the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, which run from 2023 to 2027 and 2028 to 2032 respectively. We are not on track to meet either of those. That demonstrates the importance of setting statutory interim targets and committing to their delivery.
My Lords, I am speaking to Amendment 43 in the name of my noble friend Lady Jones, which is also supported by the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge. I am also pleased to be speaking ahead of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, in case he wants to comment on this amendment.
We support the principles of Amendments 15, 16 and 18. It is important that we understand how and why decisions have been taken and are able to ensure that actions and remedies are in place when required. Amendment 43 may be small, but it makes an important point in this legislation. By inserting the phrase “interim targets are met”, in effect it places a duty on the Secretary of State to meet those targets.
As we have heard, the Bill requires interim targets to be set on a five-yearly basis. In the environmental improvement plans, the Government are required to set out the steps they will take over that 15-year period to improve the natural environment. However, environmental improvement plans are not legally binding; they are simply policy documents. This is concerning, because targets are most effective when binding, making it more likely that early action is taken and is sustained by successive Governments.
Indeed, voluntary environmental targets have been badly missed on a number of occasions. I shall give some examples. The target set in 2010 to end the inclusion of peat in amateur garden products by 2020 was badly missed. The target set in 2011 for Defra to conserve 50% by area of England’s sites of special scientific interest by 2020 has been abandoned and replaced with a new target: to ensure that 38.7% of SSSIs are in favourable condition, which is only just higher than the current level.
In the Bill as it stands, an environmental improvement plan, which sets out the steps the Government intend to take to improve the natural environment, needs to be reviewed and, potentially, updated every five years and reported on every year by the Secretary of State. The OEP will also prepare an annual report on progress made towards improving the natural environment and meeting targets, including the interim targets, to which the Secretary of State must respond, addressing any recommendations.
The Government claim that this triple-lock mechanism will be sufficient to drive short-term progress, but this is not the same as legal accountability. Interim targets should be legally binding to guarantee that they will be delivered, and it is vital to have a robust legal framework in place to hold the Government and public authorities to account, not just in the long term but in the short term. As things stand, the Government could, in theory, set a long-term legally binding target for 2037, as suggested in the legislation, but then avoid having to actually do anything about meeting it until 2036.
It is important that the Secretary of State is given a duty to meet the targets, because that then means the Government will have to introduce mechanisms to ensure that they are met. I am sure the Minister will agree that we need to take interim targets seriously, so we must ensure that they are credible, achievable, workable and play a full part in the process of meeting the long-term targets that are set. But there is a lack of focus, drive and certainty. Legally binding interim targets in the Bill would give a sense of direction and be something against which the Government could be held to account.
It is also worth pointing out that environmental targets are interdependent. Because of the complex interdependencies in the natural world, missing a target in one priority area may make it harder to meet one in another. A target to improve freshwater biodiversity relies on meeting water quality targets. Early and sustained action is needed across all priority areas to ensure that long-term targets are met, so interim targets need to be strengthened to avoid the risk of failure.
Politics and government have a notorious reputation for looking only to the short term, yet real environmental improvement requires a long-term focus. The Climate Change Act has demonstrated the difference the existence of statutory requirements can make, strengthening the hand of civil servants, who can tell reluctant Ministers that it is the law to meet emissions targets in the near term.
This is not an issue just for Defra. If we are to meet environmental targets, other departments have to play their part. For example, meeting targets on air quality requires action from the DfT, BEIS, local government and others. Other departments will have their own priorities, so may well need the encouragement of legally binding targets to actually take any necessary action.
To finish, we must not forget about business. The Aldersgate Group, which is a business alliance championing a competitive and environmentally sustainable economy, has said:
“To deliver much needed investment in nature restoration, businesses require legally binding interim targets in the Environment Bill to drive rapid policy action”.
It goes on to say that an amendment calling for legally binding interim targets
“will reinforce the credibility of the Bill’s long-term targets and deliver a much clearer policy and regulatory framework which businesses can invest against.”
Our amendment would hugely strengthen the outcomes of the Bill, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, that it has been extremely useful that she has spoken to her amendment before we all comment on it. I congratulate her on the way she did it and support a lot of what she said.
I thank my noble friend the Minister for sparing the time to have a meeting with me before we started Committee. At that meeting, I said to him that one of my main focuses was going to be how this works in practice on the ground—how it will be implemented in reality, rather than in theory. That is what I want to start to explore with this amendment, in support of my noble friend Lord Lucas. He rightly asked why the targets have been set and how.
We all want better biodiversity—it is on that area that I shall focus in the short time for which I shall speak—but we must have a sensible and practical target for it. If my noble friend issues a target that he wants lapwing and curlew numbers to be increased by 50%, we must look at some hard evidence and facts. Here, I call in aid the work of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust. It has been researching this area for more than 20 years, combining a productive farm at Loddington in Leicestershire with benefits for wildlife. I urge my noble friend the Minister to visit that farm as soon as practicable, and certainly before Report, because he will be fascinated by the research that the trust has done.
The trust has done research into lapwing. It did a pilot study with Peak District farmers. It was backed up by Natural England. The farmers did all the right things: the grass was the right length, the vegetation was absolutely right. They got full marks, they got a lot of funding, but there was absolutely no increase in lapwing; in fact, there was a decrease. That was because other factors, in particular, predation by animals, had not been taken into account. An awful lot of money has been wasted on projects similar to this.
I back that up with the curlew project in Shropshire that it was involved with. For two years, it monitored and looked after sites, but no chicks survived. Mostly, that was due to egg predation by badgers and foxes, which has caused real problems; indeed, it got to the stage where nests were electric-fenced off to protect them. Three nests hatched but, once the chicks had got out from under the electric fence, there was no stopping the predation. Therefore, I thoroughly support the aims of my noble friend Lord Lucas’s proposal and ask my noble friend the Minister: how will these targets work in practice regarding biodiversity? Given the examples I have just mentioned—and I have a lot more to come out during later amendments—how will this work on the ground for the benefit of wildlife?
My Lords, I wish briefly to speak on the two principal targets of these amendments—first about reasons and secondly the targets themselves. I warmly support Amendment 15. First, experience throughout my life has shown that if you are required to give reasons, you make better decisions. I do not believe that this will be burdensome because the civil servants advising the Minister will have to set out why particular targets are chosen. Secondly, I support the view that evidence should be provided, because that enables the cogency of the reasons to be examined and their transparency becomes obvious to all. Thirdly, setting out reasons and the evidence will provide a firm basis for certainty about the targets themselves. This is a small but very important amendment and I do not believe that it will add to the burdens of our very hard-pressed Civil Service because this is the kind of thing that it does internally. Why not follow transparency and make it public?
As regards targets, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, may well be right in her view in Amendment 18 that there should be a restriction on the length of the long-term target because there does not appear to be one in the Bill at the moment. That is why interim targets are so important. As is accepted, it is the interim target that the current Government are likely to concentrate on, not the more distant target—if it is more distant than 15 or 20 years away, no one will concentrate on it at all. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, has so eloquently explained, there is so much evidence that targets are missed. In dealing with targets in ordinary day-to-day life, it is accepted that unless there is something behind a target to give teeth to it and impose a clear duty, then it can easily be ignored.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has explained, the Government say that the triple lock will work. I do not accept that that is tough enough. Why not acknowledge a duty? The Government accept that there is a duty in respect of long-term targets, why not therefore a duty in respect of the interim targets? We all know that if you are under a duty—both legally and morally—you will seek to discharge that duty. It will be interesting to hear the Minister’s explanation as to why the Government simply will not accept a duty.
My Lords, I support Amendment 43, which places a statutory duty on the Secretary of State to meet any interim targets. I am merely a pale shadow compared to the previous speaker who put it very eloquently. I share exactly the same position as him and, indeed, the position of the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Parminter, my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch and the noble Lord, Lord Randall, in putting forward this amendment. It is important that interim targets are just as legally binding on the Government as any other targets.
Interim targets have a huge benefit. They keep up the momentum. They give certainty to businesses and, indeed, several business groups have already called for legally binding interim targets. They would also give certainty to local government and the public. The process of setting interim targets under Clause 3(2) means that they can be met, so there is no impediment to the Government accepting that meeting interim targets should be a legal requirement if they have already determined that the targets are able to be met in the process of setting them. It will also have an added benefit that the office for environmental protection will be able to take enforcement action if the Government do not meet interim targets, which I believe it could not do if the targets are not legally binding.
We only have to look at climate change efforts in the past to see how statutory interim targets can really drive change. The Climate Change Act introduced statutory interim targets and they do drive change, as opposed to the non-statutory early programmes which, quite frankly, wallowed and did not get cross-government buy-in in any way. Ministers and Governments come and go, but legally binding interim targets march on and will provide certainty for all. I hope the Minister can accept this amendment.
My Lords, I wish to speak in support of Amendment 43 on the need for binding interim targets. I also support Amendments 16 and 18 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and, in many ways, support Amendment 15 about the need for evidence, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. The Government’s position on interim targets, as presented by the Minister in another place, Rebecca Pow, appears to be that legally binding targets would not be appropriate because of the unpredictability of the environment. In other words, events may make the targets hard to achieve. However, by this logic, the Government should not set themselves any targets at all, as unpredictable events will surely intervene.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, Lady Hayman of Ullock and Lady Young of Old Scone, all referred to the Climate Change Act as showing us the value of legally binding interim targets. As we have already heard, the Climate Change Committee advises on the five-year carbon budgets that are—I underline this—the cost-effective road map to net zero. One important point that the Climate Change Committee makes is that you cannot back-end all the actions because it will cost you more. You have to take early steps to save later on. So far, the Government have accepted the first six carbon budgets, taking us through to the mid-2030s, so they are legally binding commitments. These budgets not only provide us with transparency about whether the Government are on track but also a clear indication of where progress has been good and where it has not. That is why we know that the Government, in spite of good progress in some areas, are not currently on track to meet their longer-term target of net zero by 2050.
I see no compelling reason why we should not do the same for nature’s recovery. I admit that in some ways it is more complicated than cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The path to net-zero emissions by 2050 can be measured in a single, common currency—carbon dioxide equivalents—and we have clearly defined ways of decarbonising our economy, whether it is through renewable energy, better insulation of homes or electric vehicles and so on. For nature’s recovery, there is as yet no single, common currency nor are there the well-defined building blocks for achieving long-term targets.
However, the Government will have to work out the answers to these questions if they are to meet their longer-term targets, so why not start right away and meet legally binding interim targets? Statutory interim targets would enable all of us to see how the targets are being calculated—which relates back to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas—what progress is being made and what needs to change. You can see what happens without binding interim targets by looking at progress on climate adaptation. In contrast to the Climate Change Committee’s advice on mitigation—cutting our greenhouse gas footprint—its advice through the Adaptation Committee on building resilience for the inevitable future climate change that we will experience is not translated into binding targets. I should note in parentheses that I served for eight years as the first chair of the Adaptation Committee, as a member of the Climate Change Committee itself.
Last week, the Adaptation Committee reported on its latest climate change risk assessment. It said:
“Alarmingly, this new evidence shows that the gap between the level of risk that we face and the level of adaptation underway has widened. Adaptation action has failed to keep pace with the worsening reality of climate risk.”
That is what happens if you do not have binding interim targets, and I fear that without legally binding interim targets we will find exactly the same failures by the Government with regard to the commitments in this Bill.
My Lords, I always feel rather humbled when I follow such eminent noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Krebs.
I added my name to Amendment 43 and support the general thrust of these amendments with regard to targets and interim targets. If we are not careful, targets just become aspirations. Without being too flippant, I have a target to lose a number of pounds—perhaps stones—in weight, but, without a statutory requirement to do so within a particular period, I am afraid that the time slips by and I find a good excuse, whether it is lockdown, the weather, all sorts, not to do it now but to do it next month. If we are serious about this, it is important to have interim targets that are statutory. I will not go on, except to echo the sentiments of my noble friend Lord Caithness in very highly recommending to my noble friend the Minister a visit the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Allerton project in Loddington, which has done a lot of research.
My noble friend is absolutely right that you cannot just magic-up these things without detailed research. There are some uncomfortable truths. He mentioned curlews, for example, and he is talking about predation. There is a possible problem that by increasing woodland we are providing more cover for predators, so, where that is near habitat that might be good for curlews and redshanks, we are actually providing more refuge. These things are complicated, but we must have the interim targets on a statutory basis, otherwise they can just get lost in the sands of time.
My Lords, I thank those who have participated so far in this short debate on targets. Like other noble Lords, on these Benches we support the principle of evidence-based targets that was made powerfully by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, in his opening remarks, and we also support the principle of the two amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle.
As other noble Lords have already indicated, I have put my name to Amendment 43, which would put a duty on the Secretary of State to meet legally binding interim targets. We think that this is an important step forward. I do not intend to say much on the arguments, given that they have been set out so powerfully by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, who made the case particularly coherently, reminding us that there are businesses out there which are asking for this. I know that the Government do not always want to listen to those of us who come from other parts of civil society, or from other groups, but they do tend to wish to listen to businesses. Therefore, the noble Baroness’s argument about responsible businesses asking for a duty for the Minister to meet legally binding interim targets was a powerful one.
Equally, the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, made the case well that this step will be important to help the OEP do its job. We will come on to a lot of debates about the OEP, including on its overarching remit and function, but, as the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, said, we must always be thinking about how this will be translated on the ground, not just in terms of how it will affect the biodiversity of species but in how it is being delivered on the ground by this new organisation that will be set up to be the government watchdog. Obviously we only have an interim OEP at the moment, but I would have thought that this is something that the Government would really want, to help it to do the job that the Government have said that they want it to do and which all of us in this Chamber want to help it to do when hopefully it is set up permanently, later this year.
I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, dismantled the arguments put by the Minister in the other place as to why the Government were not prepared to accept this proposal. Other Peers have made clear and convincing arguments about why this is an important step and that there is a parallel that we know already works: the Climate Change Act. So, in supporting these amendments, I say to the Minister that he will have to do rather better than he did in his remarks at Second Reading, where he seemed merely to echo the comments of the Minister down the other end. The contentions from people around this Chamber is that this is an important step which is absolutely critical to help the OEP do its job and which businesses want. If we want to deliver on the ground, this needs to go ahead. Therefore, I look forward to his remarks and hope that they will be, to put it delicately, a little more convincing than they were at Second Reading.
I thank noble Lords for their contributions and welcome their engagement with this area of the Bill.
Turning first to Amendment 43, I respectfully ask the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and other noble Lords, to consider the potential effect of this amendment and how it could undermine the long-term nature of the targets framework, which we have purposely designed to look beyond the political cycle of any one Government. No one disputes that there is a logic in having long-term targets. Long-term targets will provide much-needed certainty to businesses and society, enabling us to invest confidently in the innovation required to achieve our ambitions. However, at the same time, we need some flexibility to adapt the interim targets, while keeping the long-term fixed targets, so that we can reflect on what is and what is not working.
With huge respect, I am not sure that the characterisation by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, of the arguments of my colleague, Rebecca Pow, is completely fair. It is not so much about the unpredictability of nature. There may be times when we will want to take actions that are more ambitious but which might not bear fruit in a few years. We must be able to avoid rushed policy-making just to score a quick win, which we would have to do if there were shorter-term legal targets.
In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, I say that there is always a natural temptation for any Government on a five-yearly target-setting process to set eye-catching short-term measures in their manifesto, but everything that we know about the complexity of these environmental targets shows that they transcend any one Administration, or five-year period. We are, after all, talking about living, non-linear systems, and there will be plenty of measures the effects of which will take many years to bear out. For example, in response to my noble friend Lord Caithness, for certain habitats, such as peat bog, native woodland and elements of the marine environment, significant change is unlikely to occur within a five-year period. We would not want to deprioritise key areas of the environment with longer recovery times in order to meet those five-year targets.
There are actions we can take on air quality, particularly those requiring new infrastructure, which may temporarily increase PM2.5 concentrations but nevertheless have significant long-term benefits. For example, building significant cycling and walking infrastructure would deliver long-term benefits through the modal shift from polluting modes of transport such as motor cars, but the construction work to deliver that infrastructure would increase PM2.5 concentrations in the short term, as well as congestion while people get used to a different flow of traffic. All the evidence backs both those contentions.
Requiring the Government to achieve complex targets in five years would discourage these types of large-scale changes, and instead focus action on simple, quick wins. We need some flexibility if we are to innovate to tackle the greatest environmental challenges of our time. I believe that this amendment risks curtailing that necessary flexibility, inadvertently reducing overall ambition and detracting from our critical long-term targets.
However, I reassure noble Lords that every year we will be required to report on progress in meeting the interim and long-term targets in our annual progress reports, covered in Clause 8. This will be a visible, transparent and accountable process. The Government will be held to account on those reports and progress by the OEP. I know that the noble Baroness has put forward this amendment because she wants, unsurprisingly, to be confident that we will deliver results, but with transparency, regular reporting and scrutiny by the OEP, I assure her that we will unlock significant environmental improvement.
Moving on to Amendment 18, from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, I stress that 15 years is just a minimum. Given the scale of the challenges, our targets need to be ambitious and able to deliver long-term sustainable results. We also need to give businesses and the public sufficient time to make whatever changes are necessary to help us get there. Limiting target duration to 20 years would provide an arbitrary cap that would constrain our ability to set the most appropriate and impactful targets. We want to develop targets that are driven by taking action in areas that matter most and which drive environmental outcomes that benefit future generations. There could be valid reasons for delivering environmental outcomes in a period that spanned longer than 20 years—for example, for habitats which require a longer period to recover, such as native woodland and so on.
Moreover, regarding her Amendment 16, I reassure the noble Baroness that setting interim targets for up to five years’ duration will provide a sufficiently regular check on progress and allow for alignment with the five-yearly environmental improvement plan review cycle, where necessary and appropriate.
Regarding my noble friend Lord Lucas’s Amendment 15, I hope that he and my noble friend Lord Caithness will be reassured to know that we expect to publish a public consultation in early 2022 on the proposed targets. This will include a rationale for the proposed targets, proposals for their deadlines and a summary of the evidence used to inform them. An impact assessment will accompany the consultation and consider the environmental and socioeconomic considerations associated with each target.
I hope that I have at least gone some way towards reassuring noble Lords, and I ask my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the support that I have received from my noble friend Lord Caithness and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd.
I am also mostly happy with what my noble friend the Minister has said. It sounds like a good standard Civil Service practice, but I very much hope that, when the time comes, he will go beyond just publishing a summary of the evidence. This ought to be something people can engage with in detail. They ought to be able to see exactly what has been said, to read the underlying research papers, to go in depth into the evidence that has been collected and, with the help of organisations with expertise in these matters, be able to criticise on a level basis the targets that have been set and suggest improvements, with good reasons. That will come if the Government are fully open about the basis on which they have reached their targets. However, my noble friend will not be surprised that I am greatly encouraged by what he has said, and I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 15 withdrawn.
Amendment 16 not moved.