Moved by Lord Lucas
17: Clause 1, page 2, line 7, at end insert—“(5A) Regulations under this section must make provision about undertaking research into the reasons why a target is not being met, regionally or nationally.”Member’s explanatory statement This amendment is to make sure that the reasons why targets are not being met is understood and evidenced so that remedies can be accurately and efficiently targeted.
When the Government come to review the performance against targets, I very much hope that they will commit to undertake detailed research into the reasons why the targets have not been met, not only nationally but regionally, because for most of them the underlying reasons will be significant at a local level but perhaps not so nationally.
To take the example of air pollution in Eastbourne, where I live, we often record quite high figures, but no one has the slightest idea why. There does not seem to be that much traffic; we do not seem to be in a place where you would expect fumes to be trapped; there is not a lot of wood-burning going on. We end up ascribing things to container ships in the channel. However, all this is soluble if we do a bit of research. Every bit of this pollution has a chemical signature. With some money put into it, we would know quite rapidly what lay at the root of the problems we experienced and could therefore accurately understand what we should be doing over the next planned period to reduce it.
Without that sort of research, we are operating blind. We are operating on a set of national suppositions as to where this pollution comes from—diesel engines, wood-burning stoves, whatever—none of which has any obvious application locally. However, it is locally that the efforts must be made to reduce it. In this amendment, I ask the Minister to put us in a position to take effective action locally to drive through the achievement of his targets. I beg to move.
My Lords, the amendment in my name suggests that the Government should be talking to other bits of government when creating policy. Its wording might go back to some earlier bits of this clause—nearly one and half days into this, we are not half way through the first clause, but that is quite normal for the start of a Bill. I am thinking here about some of the targets on recreation and enjoyment of the countryside. If I do not like it, I should have stood up earlier and said, “Move it”, but we are where we are.
The Department of Health has a considerable investment in, and has spent a lot of time, making sure that people take exercise. The countryside is an incredibly good potential facility for getting more people to take exercise in a pleasant manner. They will not do it if the environment they are in is unpleasant, dangerous or difficult to reach. We can go on in this way for quite a long time. Will these two departments work together coherently? We may discover from the Minister that “They should possibly consult, that is definitely a good idea”, but in reality they will not, because we have two people defending their own little bailiwicks—“This is where we have authority; this is where you have authority—get your tanks off my lawn.” They might throw a few expletives in there as well, because that is the normal relationship. People like to be in control of what they are doing.
This is an attempt to make sure that two bits of government that should be working together are doing so. It might be the case that we go back and put in a couple more amendments about the new office for health promotion—by naming it I might be expanding this slightly—but if we are to make sure that activity can take place outside, we must know what is going on.
On the other hand, if you are suggesting that everybody should go out and march up and down hills, you have to know how much damage you will do to the environment in certain circumstances and whether that should not happen for environmental reasons. We have talked about mountain bikes ripping up paths, and will talk about it again. We will talk about where walkers are and where they should not be. All these things should be discussed sensibly in government, with somebody having some duty to make sure there is some form of coherent whole coming out of this.
I could expand at considerable length about certain well-meaning groups in the countryside finding themselves totally at the throats of other well-meaning groups in the countryside. They all want similar things but none are prepared to compromise—“And, by the way, we normally fight, don’t we?”. Okay, I will say it: the canoeists and the anglers. If we are going through this, we need some form of guidance from government to make sure they will work together. I suggest that giving some idea of how this will happen in future would not hurt the Bill in any way.
My Lords, I have one amendment in this grouping, Amendment 34. I am grateful for the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and my noble friend Lord Teverson. It is quite a tightly worded, small amendment in some regards and aims to require the Secretary of State to seek the advice of the OEP on whom to consult before setting targets. As it stands at the moment, the Secretary of State gets to set the targets and choose the advisers the Government consult on what those targets might be. That seems to be not a very rational approach and not a very solid process.
I suspect that in summing up, the Minister will say, “Well, under Clause 29 of the Bill, we can ask the office for environmental protection for advice on such matters”, and of course that is reasonable—but it is only that they can ask. If we look at the parallel body, the Climate Change Committee, although I know it is not an exact parallel, we see that the Government have to seek the advice at the start of the target-setting process.
It seems to me that the OEP should be involved right at the beginning of the process of setting the targets for the future of our environment and should therefore be asked to have a say in who the Government should consult—the best experts who can provide the best current advice, from which the Government can then cull a view on what those targets might be. If it does not do that, it seems to me that the Government have undue discretion. I therefore urge the Government to accept this small but important point of process.
My Lords, I declare my interests as a farmer with forestry and renewable energy interests, chairman of the Fleet District Salmon Fishery Board and a director of the Galloway Fisheries Trust.
I will speak to Amendments 36, 38, 45 and 50 in my name in this rather wide group. They all relate to the same issue: that the Bill does not take account of any negative impacts, risks or costs that may arise, inadvertently or otherwise, as a result of the environmental targets set under Clause 1. I noted what the Minister, who is not in his place at the moment, said on the last group about impact assessments for targets, which was very welcome, but there is nothing in the Bill with respect to that. This is important, because we do not always get it right. Most environmental actions involve some form of trade-off or cost, whether environmental, social or economic. That is not to say that we should not take the actions, but surely it cannot be controversial to say that we should ensure that the costs or damage that might result are not disproportionate to the benefits achieved.
The report gives examples of such negative trade-offs. For example, it says:
“Afforestation, which involves planting trees in ecosystems that have not historically been forests, and reforestation with monocultures, especially with exotic tree species, can contribute to climate change mitigation but are often detrimental to biodiversity”.
That is a subject very close to my heart. Living in south-west Scotland, as I do, I see every day the damage that can be done. I am a member of the Fleet catchment steering group, which is working to try to reverse the damage to watercourses and peat-land caused by Sitka spruce plantations from the 1960s.
In another example, the report says:
“Technology-based measures that are effective for climate change … can pose serious threats to biodiversity. They should be evaluated in terms of their overall benefits and risks.”
It refers to the impacts of rare-earth mineral mining on land or in the ocean for use in
“wind turbines, electric car motors and batteries” and the lack of clean methods of disposal or reuse. Despite the IPCC and IPBES saying that measures
“should be evaluated in terms of their overall benefits and risks”,
there is nothing in the Bill, as currently drafted, to do that.
A real-life example of a target that had disproportionate negative consequences was the promotion of diesel cars to reduce CO2 emissions. As we now know, the policy directly led to an increase in emissions of harmful nitrogen oxide and particulates, leading to health problems, including deaths. We simply got it wrong. The environmental, social and economic costs turned out to be disproportionate to the CO2 reduction benefits.
Other noble Lords have given other examples of trade-offs as we have gone through the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, referred to the possible impacts on marine life from offshore wind farms. The noble Lord, Lord Randall, raised the possibility that biomass may be contributing to global deforestation. The same could be said of biofuels. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, pointed out that there can be negative impacts from greater public access. I read in the papers only yesterday how work to save the Tasmanian devil in Australia has resulted in the destruction of important sea-bird populations. There are trade-offs throughout the systems.
Of course, the potential costs are not just environmental. For example, it is not difficult to imagine a poorly designed target that has the effect of making a UK industry uncompetitive. That might simply result in the export of the environmentally damaging activity to a less well-regulated country, creating unemployment and economic damage here with no global environmental benefit at all. Surely, we must ensure that those kinds of social and economic impacts are not disproportionate to the benefits. We must look at it globally, not just locally.
“that the environmental, social, economic or other costs” will not be “disproportionate to the benefits” that will arise from meeting the target. I hope that is not a controversial idea.
Amendments 45 and 50 require that, when reviewing and reporting on whether a target has been met and whether the significant improvement test has been met, the Secretary of State must also report whether
“the environmental, social, economic or other costs” have in fact been
“proportionate or disproportionate to the benefits.”
As the Bill is currently drafted, those costs do not have to be reported on at all. In the example I gave of the dash for diesel, if that had been a target under this Bill it would have been reported as a success, because the target of encouraging diesel cars was met. The disproportionate air pollution would not have been considered in the review of the target, which cannot be right.
Clause 3(3)(b) gives a power to the Secretary of State to
“revoke or lower a target” if
“the environmental, social, economic or other costs of meeting it would be disproportionate to the benefits”,
but only if that is because of a change in circumstances. Again, in the example of the diesel cars, the Secretary of State would not have been able to use this clause to revoke the target, because there was no change in circumstances. The polluting impact of diesel vehicles was not new; we got it wrong. As Clause 3 is currently drafted, the target could not have been revoked or reduced—and that cannot be sensible.
Amendment 38 removes the “changes in circumstances” wording and enables the Secretary of State to revoke or reduce the target in any situation where the environmental, social, economic or other costs turn out to be disproportionate to the benefits. I know that by drawing attention to costs and risks, I am in danger of being seen as a kind of environmental sceptic. I hope that what I have said has clarified that this is not the case; it is certainly not the intention behind these amendments.
On Monday, the Minister said:
“There are enormous cost savings in doing right by the environment.”—[Official Report, 21/6/21; col. 97.]
He was quite right. But that does not change the fact that there are often trade-offs with environmental, social or economic consequences, and we do not have a great track record of getting it right every time. Hopefully, we have learned from the mistakes of the past, but it would be naive, even arrogant, to believe we will not make similar mistakes as we do our best to try and improve the environment.
I hope the Minister can accept the concept behind these four amendments, or at least explain how the Bill will ensure that we properly evaluate not only the benefits but the environmental, social and economic costs of our targets, wherever in the world those costs arise, and ensure that they are not disproportionate.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow that last contribution, because important points arise in the context of having to balance one risk against another. There will be trade-offs, and we have to establish the priorities. Clearly, some of the global priorities must take precedence, but that may not be the view in every country. Therefore, it is an immensely difficult challenge to legislate in a meaningful way to meet these issues.
I will address Amendments 41A and 41B, standing in my name, shortly, but first I wish to speak to Amendment 17. I support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, in moving this amendment. As someone who, prior to entering Parliament, was a financial controller in the manufacturing industry, I know full well how easy it is to establish targets and then, with 1,001 plausible excuses, find ways of explaining away any failure to meet them. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, given his background in accountancy, may well share my view.
A target is of no earthly use to man or beast, or to the environment or government, unless there is a means of assessing whether it has been met and, if not, a systematic and detailed analysis of the reasons why and a pinpointing of personal responsibility for allowing that failure to occur. If there is reason to believe that there may be different levels of performance from region to region, and if responsibility is likewise distributed on a regional basis, then a regional review of performance against target is absolutely appropriate. Hopefully, such a systematic approach will lead to identifying the factors that led to failure; determination of the necessary remedies, as rightly stated in the explanatory statement to Amendment 17; a reallocation of resources if necessary; and a better performance in future, with a higher likelihood of hitting targets.
This is all fundamental to any system of management by objectives and is basic in the world of industry. But I sometimes wonder whether the necessary culture and discipline exist in governmental sectors to apply such an approach systematically and rigorously to their responsibilities. It is to the Government’s credit that they are willing to apply a target-driven approach to these issues in the Bill, but that approach will not deliver unless there is a commitment to follow through with remedial action. Amendment 17 tests the seriousness of the Government’s intention to see their targets lead to real change, and I therefore support it.
Amendment 41A seeks to clarify the applicability or otherwise of regulations made under Clauses 1 and 2 to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The amendment states quite simply that any of these regulations shall not apply to the three devolved nations without the prior consent of their respective Parliaments. Environmental matters are overwhelmingly devolved, and if aspects of Westminster policy apply in any of the devolved territories, it is both sensible and courteous to solicit the agreement of the devolved Governments. If the Government wish to legislate in any of the three territories under the umbrella of this Bill, will the Minister give examples of such topics? Surely, he accepts that it would be both sensible and courteous to secure prior agreement, rather than foisting policies on them without agreement.
I realise that Clause 138, the “Extent” Clause, states that Chapter 1 applies to England and Wales but not Scotland and Northern Ireland—that this goes beyond the normal issue of England and Wales jurisdiction. Indeed, Clause 1(9) implies that regulations may be introduced through this clause that will apply to Wales. Can the Minister explain why there is this difference in approach to the Bill’s applicability to the three devolved nations? Can he give an example of where he foresees legislating for Wales under the provisions of Chapter 1? If so, what steps does he foresee being taken to avoid acrimonious disputes arising in relation to the devolved powers?
Amendment 41B relates specifically to the vexed question of the control of water resources in Wales. I will not rehearse the difficult history relating to water abstraction and the drowning of valleys, of which the Minister and the Committee will be well aware. For the avoidance of doubt, will the Minister please accept this amendment or bring forward his own to the same end, so there will be no doubt that control over water resources and attendant water policies in Wales lies firmly and unambiguously with Senedd Cymru? I shall be grateful for his response.
My Lords, I support the comments of my noble friend Lord Lucas in moving the amendment. I also listened with great care to the noble Lord, Lord Vaux of Harrowden. I hope the Minister will read his speech with care, because what he said was hugely important to the proper functioning of our aims.
I turn Amendment 48, in my name, which would amend Clause 6, entitled “Environmental targets: review. I wish to amend subsection (3), which relates to the “significant improvement test.” The clause says the test ticks the boxes if it
“would significantly improve the natural environment in England.”
I do not think “improvement” is good enough. It is not sufficient, as it provides no condition or basis by which to judge the improvement. I take it for granted that my noble friend does not want to encourage a “trash and improve” system, but that is what is going to happen unless this amendment is accepted. An approach like that would be detrimental to biodiversity and the natural environment. Therefore, I have proposed what I think is a much more sensible and appropriate wording. Instead of “improve the natural environment,” I want to insert
“improve the maintenance, restoration or enhancement of the natural environment.”
There are many places where the natural environment is in very good condition at the moment. No significant improvement test will be met when it is in good condition now. But if it is maintained in an excellent and pristine condition, it should meet the significant improvement test.
I hope my noble friend will give more consideration to this amendment than he gave to my comments on the last amendment.
My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, who is dedicated to these issues. I want to speak to Amendment 34, which I put my name to. First, I offer my support to my noble friend Lord Addington, who constantly fights against silo management within government and makes sure that the health aspect is always included in these debates. I also want to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, whose comments I found particularly interesting. As he so eloquently said, the recent meeting between the secretariats of the United Nations climate change organisation and the biodiversity secretariats was a landmark one from which very important lessons can be learned.
However, to be honest, my answer to that is that we have the wrong architecture in the Bill altogether, as I said at Second Reading. If I was writing it myself, I would—given the great reputation of the Climate Change Committee and its work—give all the advisory side of biodiversity to that body and increase its remit, while making sure that the OEP remains and concentrates on environmental protection and enforcement, with regard to biodiversity as well as climate change. That is clearly the right way to go forward but I accept that that is impossible at this stage. I was very interested in the noble Lord’s parallel thoughts around carbon leakage in the climate change area and the threat to British industry and how we might have biodiversity leakage. That is probably the strongest argument I have heard so far against the UK-Australia trade deal, so it is an interesting way to put that.
For me, Amendment 34 states the obvious: that the Government must under these circumstances consult the office for environmental protection. What else is it there for? It specifically has this role as part of its remit. The Government might say, “We have the ability to consult the OEP, therefore we are most likely to do that.” However, that is not good enough. The OEP needs to be independent, and at times it will be in conflict with the Government. If it is not, it will not be doing its job properly. For that reason, I believe it is very important that that consultation is mandatory.
There are a couple in. Indeed, one of the reasons why so many millions voted to leave the EU—not Europe—inspired by the democratic spirit, was to escape top-down, immovable regulations imposed from on high. What grated was that any challenge to subsequent policies was met with a shrug: “There is no alternative—they are the EU rules”, given an extra moral force when associated with international agreements. In that context I support the very sensible amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Vaux of Harrowden, maybe with a different reasoning, but I thought he put forward an excellent explanation of his thoughts.
These amendments all contain the spirit of flexibility and call for us to consider, as well as environmental concerns, what the social and economic costs of meeting targets in the Bill might be, to ensure that they are not disproportionate to the alleged benefits. The amendments ask us to take into consideration the possibility not just that circumstances might change but that evidence might mean a rethink, and that would mean a different cost-benefit analysis. Cost-benefit analyses are essential in a democracy to give both politicians and, more importantly, voters a choice of priorities—a sense that there is always an alternative. I therefore want to address targets, not so much missing them or whether they should be long-term or interim, but rather the dangers of making them overbinding.
It is important to ensure that citizens know what is being legislated for in their name, that the social and economic costs and trade-offs of environmental targets are not removed from public debate with a “There is no alternative; it’s binding and in the law” dismissal. Make no mistake: targets in one area regularly have a cost elsewhere. For example, the net-zero target is regularly bandied about as an aspiration we all agree on reaching at any costs, but when Andrew Neil asked the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, on GB News last week to break down those costs and put figures on them, that was not so comfortable, and there is no transparency when there are no figures. What is clear is that net zero as a target will have a cost, not only for the Treasury—potentially at the expense of other spending priorities such as social care or job creation—but it will land exorbitant costs on householders in terms of making their homes net-zero compliant, such as the compulsory demand to replace gas boilers. I have noticed when I have raised this issue in the House that the regular reply is: “We need to take the public with us. We need to educate the public so that they understand why they need to change their behaviour and why we need to reach net zero”; in other words, reaching the target is treated as a given—a fait accompli. I note that this means the target usurps choice, so I want to reflect a little on choice.
If you say to the public, “You should support this net-zero target because it’s necessary to save the planet from climate catastrophe”, of course it is a no-brainer. However, if you say, “Do you support the net-zero target with its trade-offs, which could mean reducing living standards?”, or if you say, “We’ll abolish every petrol or diesel car and discourage driving in general, but if you insist on driving we’ll make it an expensive electric car”—and, by the way, yesterday I googled electric cars and the cheapest I could find was £18,500, and the most popular UK electric, Tesla, is an eye-watering £42,000, which for most people would be quite a challenge—or if you describe in detail the impacts on individual lives of decarbonising the economy, there may be less enthusiasm for the target once the trade-offs are known. People have a right to know.
With this Environment Bill, if we tell the public that it is about reducing fly-tipping and toxic pollution, stopping sewage being dumped in rivers, reducing flooding or protecting wildlife in the country, I am sure there will be lots of nods of approval, including from me. But if you explain that legal targets throughout the Bill could mean regulatory barriers to economic bounce-back, holding back industrialisation, and creating material limits to much-needed housebuilding and economic development, there might be a different response.
I said at Second Reading that a tension is already being posited between this Bill and the planning Bill, or planning reforms. I fear that the result of the Chesham and Amersham by-election may fuel this, with an unholy alliance of shire nimbyism and green activism. I am very much on the side of relaxing planning regulations and releasing land for new building, infrastructure and housing and, yes, even some building on the green belt. That is not because I want to concrete over the countryside or because I am opposed to protection of green spaces per se but because the green belt is being treated as sacrosanct or untouchable, yet is 13% of England’s total land and is much larger than the 7% of developed land. So it at least needs to be looked at again.
For me, the social priorities are solving homelessness, tackling the problem of young people excluded from the housing ladder, and the distorted and ever-growing costs for renters. But that is all just my opinion. Many people here do not support it, and that may not be a popular set of opinions outside of here. However, it is precisely these sorts of arguments, weighing up the costs and benefits and the trade-offs of policies, that we need to have in the public sphere. I fear that immovable and overbinding targets in law can only obscure transparency and rule debate on the implications of this Environment Bill off limits.
My final thought is that targets can too easily become the end, not the means to an end. During the 15 months of the pandemic we have seen targets taking an almost Soviet-style command and control form, with daily reports of numbers tested and Nightingale hospitals built—even if not used. Too easily, targets can be bean-counting exercises: the impression of activity but often a cover for the lack of transparency over detail.
I therefore hope that these amendments are adopted and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, does not mind me backing him. I am sure we will not agree on many things but I thought they were very important. These amendments could at least remind the Government to conduct cost-benefit analyses of actions associated with the legislation, and they are an important acknowledgement of the importance of social and economic challenges, as well as solving the practical problems in relation to the environment. It is also an antidote to the ubiquitous demand here, in every amendment that I have heard, that there should be ever more binding targets, because I fear that these could undermine democratic accountability.
My Lords, in following the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, I should briefly offer a defence of targets—particularly the target of ensuring that everyone in the UK has a warm, comfortable and affordable-to-heat home. I hope that no one would disagree with the target of ending our utterly disgraceful excess winter deaths that come largely as a result of the poor quality of our housing stock. I also wish to defend the targets that we are talking about here in terms of our natural environment, on which our entire economy and lives depend.
I will be fairly brief. I want to speak in favour of Amendment 34 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, that would seem to be an easy, obvious amendment for the Government to accept. As the noble Baroness said, their ability to ask the office for environmental protection for guidance on the targets is simply not good enough and does not reflect the provisions of the Climate Change Act. We are very much creating a parallel here between action on climate and action on biodiversity. To mirror those two things would seem to be an obvious, simple and not difficult step.
On Amendment 19 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, I would go broader than consulting the Department of Health and Social Care. The noble Lord in his introduction spoke particularly about recreation and the value of the natural environment to recreation. When we think about the health of human beings, the health of the natural environment is related in much deeper ways. I should point noble Lords to an interesting United Nations scheme called HUMI—the Healthy Urban Microbiome Initiative—which addresses a fast-growing and developing area of science: understanding the human microbiome and how it is related to our physical and mental health, and how what is happening around us in the natural world is utterly integral to a healthy microbiome.
I also wish to speak in favour of Amendments 41A and 41B in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. Again, we are in what could be described as no-brainer territory. We surely should not be imposing anything in terms of environmental regulation on the devolved nations without their “prior consent”—words that are important. This matter also raises a subject that we have not broadly discussed and might like to think about further. As the noble Lord said, rivers and waters do not suddenly get to a national border, stop and turn around, saying “Oh, I’m Welsh water and am staying in Wales”. That is also true of birds, insects, mammals and the whole ecosystem. A question to the Minister, either for today or a future date, is on how the Bill, this Act-to-be, will fit within the common framework and co-ordinating efforts of the nations of these islands. How will that work? I think also of many of our debates on the internal market Bill, now an Act.
My Lords, I will be brief. It is a delight to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle.
When I first read this series of amendments, I wondered whether they were really necessary. However, the more I reflect, the more I have become concerned and I now believe that these amendments, or something like them, are required. The Government will set targets as permitted within the Bill and we will debate that matter again later. However, it will be difficult to determine the unintended consequences of setting targets, which can distort behaviour, as we know. We have seen this in the NHS and other sectors in which the Government have intervened and set targets.
I understand the need to have a clear sense of direction and the discipline of knowing what we are driving to achieve within a given period. However, let us be clear, as far as possible, on the need to be aware of the costs involved and the consequences of fixing targets. Even the best-researched impact assessments with a range of assumptions can be wrong. I therefore encourage the Minister to take this issue seriously and establish systems with which to monitor the potential negative consequences as well as the benefits.
My Lords, I wish to speak in support of the amendment, Amendment 17, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. As he explained, it aims to ensure that the Government commission the relevant research so that they understand what they are doing when they aim to meet environmental targets.
If we take biodiversity targets as an example, it is one thing to set a target of halting the reduction in biodiversity but it is quite another to figure out how to achieve the target. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, entertained us a few minutes ago with stories of lapwings and curlews, and the research carried out by what used to be called the Game Conservancy Trust but, I believe, now operates under a different name. If noble Lords will forgive me for a short digression, I will complement the noble Earl’s story about lapwings and curlews with the narrative of the large blue butterfly.
That butterfly was extinct in this country by 1979, despite over 50 years of effort to halt its decline. Today it thrives in 33 different sites in south-west England. This is one of the classic cases of how restoring a species and increasing its abundance depended on detailed research. The secrets of success lay in the complex life history of this species, the caterpillars of which are taken into ants’ nests and tended and protected by a particular species of red ant, called Myrmica sabuleti. In return, the caterpillars secrete a nutritious liquid for the ants to feed on—an example of a mutualistic relationship. Professor Jeremy Thomas, then at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, discovered that the ant species is sensitive to temperature, which, in turn, depends on the length of the grass in the ants’ habitats. Changes in agricultural practice, combined with the decline in rabbit populations due to myxomatosis, had resulted in a small increase in grass length sufficient to cause the ants to disappear and, hence, the butterflies to die out. As a result of his research, slight changes in agricultural practice allowed us to maintain the grass at the right height and successfully restore butterfly populations.
Unfortunately, that conservation success story is the exception rather than the rule. As Professor Bill Sutherland of Cambridge University has documented, many, if not most, government-led initiatives to enhance biodiversity and restore nature have failed because they were based on hunch rather than proper scientific evidence. This includes the CAP Pillar 2 environment schemes. I know that from my own experience. My research group at Oxford was funded by the Ministry of Agriculture, as it was in those days, for many years to work out how to alter arable farming practice to support winter populations of farmland bird species. Although we discovered simple and effective remedies, they were never implemented.
Therefore, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is absolutely right to emphasise the importance of evidence on which to base the targets. However, in closing, my question for the Minister is: who will commission and pay for the necessary research to underpin the ambitions of the Bill and ensure that we do not blunder blindly, as we have done all too often in the past? The major research funding body in this country is UK Research and Innovation, whose website I checked this morning. Although the environment is one of eight priority themes, if one looks within that theme, no mention is made of biodiversity, habitats or conservation. Furthermore, UKRI is facing a £539 million cut in its funding this coming year, which will mean that all its research programmes are likely to be reduced. If not UKRI, who is going to fund the research that we will need if the Bill is to achieve its high ambitions?
It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. I loved that story about the blue butterfly, because I have been to one of those sites, beside a railway line, outside Somerton, so I know about that brilliant ant. The noble Lord is absolutely right and I would also like to know the answer to the question he asks the Minister: who is going to fund this? After all, we all know that the Aichi targets have been more or less a total failure and nobody knows quite why. I also support the proposals on health from the noble Lord, Lord Addington; it could not be more important.
Primarily, I want to support the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and her Amendment 34. The Secretary of State has to seek advice from the OEP. Over the years, we have seen how advice can be handed in by cronies or the local person you know on the end of the telephone. Think of some of the really bad things that have happened: advice about how particulates in the air do not matter to health, advice that smoking is fine, or advice that fossil fuels will not cause damage. We have to make sure that when, say, you want to put an endless chicken farm on the bank of the River Wye, you get advice from someone who has been passed and guaranteed by a body such as the OEP. Of course the Minister does not have to take this advice but, if this amendment is passed, he will at least have to explain why he took the advice that he did and, if it is found wanting, he can be challenged.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. I am going to speak about something a bit different and refer back to Amendment 41A, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, with which I am very much in sympathy.
As the noble Lord pointed out, the amendment has to be read in the light of Clause 138, which defines the extent of the Bill. We are told in that clause that Chapter 1 of the Bill, of which Clauses 1 and 2 form part, applies to England and Wales only, except for Clause 19, which deals with statements about Bills. At first sight, therefore, the Secretary of State would not have power under these clauses to make regulations that would be applicable to Scotland or Northern Ireland, to which the amendment refers. That must be so, in so far as regulations might seek to make directions as to what may or may not be done there. So it might be said that the amendment is directed to something that in those parts of the United Kingdom could not happen.
However, these targets relate to the natural environment itself, which is not capable of being divided up or contained in that way. Its effect, for good or ill, spreads across borders. Rivers flow, winds blow, and birds and animals move about, irrespective of whether national borders are being crossed. Measures taken in one part of the country may affect what happens in another, because that is the way the environment works. Just as no man is an island, because we all depend on each other in one way or another, so it is too with the environment which we enjoy in the various parts of the United Kingdom.
In its report on this Bill, which has just been published, the Constitution Committee, of which I am a member, stated that
“Close co-operation between the UK Government and the devolved administrations … will be important in improving environmental protection across the UK.”
That makes obvious sense, for the reasons I have just been giving, and, it could be said, is really what this amendment is about.
I would prefer it if the words
“if they are, or may be, applicable in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland” were expanded, so that they said “if they have effects which are, or may be, applicable” to them. That is what this amendment is really talking about. The message it conveys to the Secretary of State is that targets that he may set for the natural environment in England and Wales may affect other parts of the UK too. That is something to which he should have regard; it is not just sensible, but a matter of courtesy. I also agree with the suggestion in the noble Lord’s amendment that, where appropriate, consents should be obtained.
My Lords, this is an important group of amendments about targets. Without ambitious targets being set in the Environment Bill, the Government will not achieve their goal of increasing biodiversity, tackling pollution and climate change, and moving the country forward.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is right to want to ensure that we fully understand and evidence the reasons why we are taking targets and why they are not being met, so that remedial action can be taken. The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and others have supported this. However, unless targets are set and strategies set to reach them, we will not move forward in the way the Minister hopes for from this Bill, and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity will be missed.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, gave us an excellent example of conservation success based on scientific evidence. My noble friend Lord Addington is right that the health of the population, taking exercise and the state of the environment are inextricably linked. Improving the environment improves the sense of well-being of each of us, and therefore improves our health, both mental and physical.
My noble friends Lady Parminter and Lord Teverson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, supported by other Lords, made a very strong case for the Secretary of State to obtain the advice of the OEP about consultation on the regulations in Clause 1—although my noble friend Lord Teverson would prefer that the advice come from the Climate Change Committee. The OEP is a vital body that will need considerable strengthening to be effective and deliver. It has expertise provided by the excellent chair, Dame Glenys Stacey, and her newly appointed non-executive members, but it needs legal independence and authority to operative effectively.
The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, quite rightly reminds the Minister that the Government should not make decisions that are applicable in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland without the consent of the devolved Administrations. This is particularly important when it comes to water.
The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, pressed for the inclusion of the maintenance, restoration or enhancement of the natural environment in the targets. Again, this is vital if we are to return to our biodiversity of former years. Some areas are in very good condition, but many others are not.
The noble Lord, Lord Vaux of Harrowden, made a powerful argument, especially around trade-offs, but I regret that I remain to be convinced. Setting ambitious targets and having realistic strategies to meet them is what the Environment Bill is all about. While the cost of meeting targets may appear high, in some cases the economic cost to the planet of not meeting our biodiversity and environmental protection targets is incalculable. The diversity of species in plant, animal and insect life has for too long been a question of cost. The cost of the loss of that diversity has now reached epic proportions and must be halted and reversed, otherwise the cost to humanity as a whole, as David Attenborough has reminded us, will be utterly devastating. To my mind, the case for a cost-benefit analysis has been made but, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, demonstrated, there is no indication of how the measures in the Bill will be funded. I look forward to the Minister’s response to these comments and the questions posed.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, explained, Amendment 34 addresses the specific question of where the Secretary of State will get his advice from before setting any environmental targets. As the wording stands, it is for the Secretary of State to determine who is independent and who has relevant expertise. As we have already begun to identify, this concentrates considerable power in the hands of the Secretary of State, who will, under this wording, effectively determine not only what targets are set but who will advise him on what targets are appropriate. Our amendment would make the simple but important change to require the Secretary of State to seek advice from the OEP on who these experts might be. It seeks to add an extra layer of independence into the target-framing process.
It is also worth noting that there is no requirement in the Bill, at the moment, to seek any independent advice on the setting of interim targets. Compare this with the requirements for the Climate Change Committee; it sets the targets and it decides which independent experts to draw upon. It is a much more robust and independent process, which is why there is considerable confidence and respect for its final recommendations.
I turn to the other amendments in this group. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, makes a good point about the evidence and research and the fact that, if targets are not being met, we need to be sensitive about the remedies that can be introduced. I welcome that approach, but I was concerned to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, that UKRI does not even have any details of funding for biodiversity activities on its website, which again raises the rather urgent question of where that research is going to come from. We agree that the target-setting and evaluation process should have enough flexibility over the course of the term to be adapted and amended if the details of the research change.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, makes the good point that these targets should be not just for Defra but for the whole Government. There are particularly acute health implications to be factored in, whether it is the positive impact of social prescribing through activities in the countryside or the negative impact of air pollution contributing to around 40,000 deaths a year.
The noble Lord, Lord Vaux, raised the important point about carrying out a cost-benefit analysis. I was pleased to hear that he described himself as not an environmental sceptic. I thought he was making good points, but I was rather wary about the exact wording of his amendments. Unless we could be confident of the true cost of not carrying out the targets, there would be a concern about whether or not we were measuring like for like and measuring in full. Both the Natural Capital Committee and the Dasgupta report made it clear that we are nowhere near having a nature accounting system that could adequately measure the human and economic cost of biodiversity decline. As Professor Dasgupta has said, we face extreme risks and uncertainty for our economies if we continue down the current path, where demand on nature far exceeds its capacity to supply. Until we can put a proper price on that, I would be reluctant to adopt the noble Lord’s wording, which might instead lead to short-term expedient cuts in work programmes on the basis of what might be inadequate calculations of the true cost.
We support what I would describe as the probing amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, about the devolution aspects of these clauses. I hope the Minister is able to provide some assurances on that. I also thought the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, made important points about nature not respecting borders. Whatever the outcome, we need close co-operation, but that has to be mixed with full respect for our devolution settlement.
Finally, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has sought to amend the significant improvement test of environmental targets in Clause 6. I very much welcome his contribution. Again, I take only slight issue with his wording: I would have hoped that we could have been more ambitious than simply measuring whether the natural environment had been maintained. Apart from that, I very much endorse what he said.
I welcome the debate and look forward to the Minister’s response. I hope he will look particularly favourably on our Amendment 34 as a helpful extra guarantee of independence in the target-setting process, and perhaps, in due course, come back with a government amendment to encompass that proposal.
I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. I hope it will reassure them to know that targets will be set through a robust and evidence-led process. I have already spoken about our published targets policy paper, which provides an overview of how we intend to develop and bring forward targets by October 2022. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, the process will seek independent expert advice and provide a role for stakeholders, other government departments and the public, and it includes scrutiny from Parliament and the OEP.
In relation to Amendment 19 in particular, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, the process also involves regular discussions with other government departments, including the Department of Health and Social Care. For example, we are working closely with Public Health England and the DHSC and its expert committee to ensure that our process of developing air quality targets is informed by the latest health evidence. Defra also intends to work closely with the new UK Health Security Agency and the office for health promotion, as soon as they assume their full functions.
On Amendment 34 from the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, there is a concern that it could be difficult for the OEP to act impartially when investigating complaints regarding target-setting if the OEP advised on the experts used to set those targets. I want to provide assurance on the substantial role of the OEP in relation to long-term targets. Each year, the OEP will comment on the progress reported in the EIP annual report. That provides the opportunity for the OEP to flag up early on where it believes there is a risk that the Government may not meet their legally binding long-term targets. It may make recommendations as to how progress could be improved, to which the Government would then have to respond.
If the Government have missed a target, they must, within 12 months of confirming that they missed it, publish and lay before Parliament a remedial plan, which is covered in Clause 5. The OEP could highlight in a report on the implementation of environmental law whether the steps set out in the remedial plan would be sufficient to ensure that the target was then achieved. I hope that will also reassure my noble friend Lord Lucas that his Amendment 17 is not needed. The OEP will also have the power to bring legal proceedings if the Government breach their environmental law duties, including their duty to achieve long-term targets.
With respect to Amendments 36, 45 and 50 from the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, while the Bill does not specify particular matters that must be considered when setting targets, as part of sound policy-making the Government will look to identify and consider a wide range of matters. These are likely to include environmental, economic, social and fiscal factors, as well as international commitments. When we consult on the proposed targets in early 2022, we will provide an impact assessment that will consider the environmental and socioeconomic considerations associated with each target. We think the target-setting stage is the most appropriate time to consider the costs and benefits of individual targets, rather than when conducting the significant improvement tests. That is because the significant improvement test considers targets collectively, which allows for a more holistic assessment of improvements across the natural environment.
The Government are developing their plans for implementing the significant improvement test. My noble friend Lord Caithness has provided some useful ideas for how improvement might be understood for the purposes of that test. However, his proposed Amendment 48 would take away important flexibility, and I therefore cannot accept it.
In response to one of the points that my noble friend made, I shall briefly explain how the significant improvement test works. At least every five years a Government will look to assess whether meeting the legally binding targets set under the Bill’s framework, alongside any other statutory environmental targets, would significantly improve the natural environment in England. The Government will then be required to report to Parliament on their conclusions and, if they consider that the test is not met, set out how they plan to use their new target-setting powers to subsequently close that gap. In practice, that will most likely involve plans either to modify existing targets or to make them more ambitious, or even set new ones.
It seems appropriate to provide the Secretary of State with the flexibility to consider how significant improvement should be understood in relation to the natural environment, because the natural environment is complex and interconnected and requires a considerably more complicated approach than would be expected, for example, simply in relation to carbon. Aspects of the natural environment such as water quality could respond slowly, even to ambitious interventions. Furthermore, our understanding of environmental change will likely evolve over time, as new data sets become available and the evidence base improves. I add that we take “significantly” to mean that only a marginal or fractional improvement of the whole natural environment, or on the other hand dramatic improvement in only a few narrow areas of the environment, would not be acceptable.
My noble friend mentioned at the end of his speech that he felt he had asked a question, presumably on interim targets, that I had not addressed, in which case I apologise. I have gone through the notes and cannot see any gaps, so I am afraid I am going to have to rely on him. If he wants me to follow up on that, I am happy do so by telephone or in writing, but I might need a bit of guidance from him, so that I know that I am responding to the appropriate point that he made. I apologise for missing that question.
Moving on to Amendment 38 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Vaux of Harrowden, government can only lower or revoke a target if satisfied either that meeting the existing target does not result in a significant benefit compared to not meeting it or meeting a lower target, or that the costs of meeting the existing target would be disproportionate to the benefits due to a change in circumstance. I also note the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, on that point. She made the perfectly valid point that, if we are to embark on something as profound as achieving net zero by 2050, it is important that people are aware of what the consequences and implications are. But that is not just about the costs of meeting net zero; it would need to include the opportunities as well. It is hard to imagine an economic transition of the sort and scale we are talking about without numerous opportunities arising at the same time. For example, we are already seeing that investment in new renewables globally greatly exceeds investment in fossil fuel infrastructure in terms of new capacity. That has been true year on year for quite a few years.
In truth, the market for low-carbon technologies greatly exceeds any of the predictions we have had in recent years. For example, solar prices have dropped by 80% since the banking crisis, which I do not think anyone predicted. We would also need to factor in the costs of not achieving net zero by 2050 into any such analysis, although this is much more complicated. If any of the predictions on climate change are accurate, the costs of not achieving net zero by 2050 at the latest are severe, to put it mildly. But I do not dispute the central argument that the noble Baroness makes, which is that we need to have that discussion and that it needs to be an honest one—warts and all.
To go back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, the long-term targets may be amended or revoked only by secondary legislation subject to affirmative procedure, which means that Parliament would, of course, have a vote. This opens up the process to parliamentary approval and creates a strong check on any future Government, while still providing for some flexibility for government to respond to changing circumstances and evidence.
On Amendments 41A and 41B in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, I reassure him that the Bill’s environmental targets clauses extend to England and Wales only, and this is set out in Clause 138. I will write to him to provide more assurances, and I will copy in the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, both of whom also raised this issue. But, in addition, Clause 1(9) prevents the Secretary of State making any provision in any targets regulations, relating to water or otherwise, which would be within the legislative competence of the Senedd Cymru. We are committed to ongoing co-operation with the devolved Administrations on environmental matters, and the dialogue and exchange between my department and theirs has been thorough and will continue to be so.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, asked about funding for research, and his question was supported—or perhaps repeated—by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. I shall answer it in two ways. The first is to talk about the expert panel we are creating to advise on target setting. There are already a number of well-established advisory groups in place for things such as air quality target development—for instance, the Air Quality Expert Group and the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants. But we have set up new groups of independent experts, where they did not previously exist, for priority policy areas we have outlined in the Bill to advise on developing evidence for the targets we are obliged to introduce.
These expert groups are providing guidance on evidence processes bespoke to individual targets, and their advice might include appropriate analytical methods, datasets, the evidence to be used, et cetera. They are advising Defra on how to produce the best available evidence, and the terms of reference for these groups are available on GOV.UK. In addition to that, as with any department embarking on important initiatives and projects, we will be bidding greedily at the next spending review to help secure the funds we will need to deliver these ambitious targets. We need to make the case and the Treasury will then respond. It is very hard to predict how that will go, but we will of course do our best.
I now broaden this out to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, about funding, in relation to having missed things such as the Aichi targets. She is right: every country in the world missed the Aichi targets. Again, I am going to answer this in two ways, but more briefly this time. First, the central message of the CBD is that we should not have specific pots for biodiversity—not that we should not have investment, but our focus should be on having a biodiversity thread running through all decisions of government. We need to mainstream nature so that every decision we make—political, economic, investment-wise, et cetera—takes nature into account. That is clearly right. This was the central theme of the Dasgupta review, which was mentioned again in this debate by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and will no doubt be mentioned again many times.
Having said that, we are stepping up; we have doubled our international climate finance to £11.6 billion. As of next year, we are spending nearly a third of that, £3 billion, on nature-based solutions, which will have big implications for biodiversity. Here in the UK we do not quite know how much money will enter the system as a consequence of biodiversity net gain, but it will be a significant sum. We know that shifting from the common agriculture policy to the new environmental land management system means billions of pounds entering a market which basically did not exist before. In addition, we have the Nature for Climate Fund of £640 million, which will help us to restore our peatlands and plant a lot of trees. So there is a lot of new money there for biodiversity, but the fundamental challenge is to mainstream nature so that we do not have to pay with one pot in order to correct mistakes made by the rest of the pot. I apologise; that was a much more long-winded answer than I was expecting to give.
I think I have reached the end of the amendments, so I will end by simply saying, as I have before, that I hope this reassures all noble Lords, and I ask them to withdraw or not press their amendments.
My Lords, may I press the Minister a bit further on the local nature of pollution, particularly air and water? To pick another example, phosphate in rivers can be a problem, but in the southern Hampshire rivers it is a particular problem because of the sensitivity of the estuarine ecologies to excess phosphate, whereas it might not be such a problem in another ecology. In that circumstance, it becomes crucial to know where the phosphate is coming from; how much comes from agriculture and sewage; which particular bits of land it comes off; and what practices are available to reduce it and are effective in reducing it in those circumstances. That needs a local level of focus and research, and I did not hear anything in his answer—and indeed there was a good deal to worry about in what the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said—which gave me a clue about where that evidence can come from.
I thank the noble Lord for his question. In addition to the answer I gave the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, where new skills are needed—and, as the noble Lord says, new skills will be needed—we are committing, and we have committed throughout the Bill, to support local authorities, delivery partners and other relevant stakeholders in properly developing or, if necessary, acquiring those skills. There is no doubt that there is a gap, but our commitment is that, with government support, we will ensure that it is filled.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for the assurance that he is working well with Ministers in the devolved nations. Indeed, in Wales we now have a climate change Minister. Could he clarify, in the event that one of the devolved nations sets a target or policy which does not align completely with one coming from central government—I expect that the local one for Wales may be more stringent than the one coming from Westminster, given the concerns over the environment in Wales—which legislature will take precedence? In the event of legal action being brought against, for example, the Welsh Government for having tighter controls which someone in industry perhaps does not wish to comply with, what will be the position on compensation for legal fees for the Welsh Government?
I thank the noble Baroness for her question. This is relevant where the contaminant or the issue that we are talking about crosses the border. Sorry, that is a clumsy answer. Where the issue crosses the border—and an example was put to us by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead—that is where the complication arises. So, if the problem, if there is a problem, is contained one country or another, or one region or another, I think the question that the noble Baroness has asked would be moot. Where the pollution or the problem crosses the border, my understanding is that the targets that are set in this Bill, by this Parliament, are the targets that would prevail. I will have to write to her to confirm that. She raises an important point and I want to make sure that the answer I give is correct, so I will get back to her and I will publish the answer in the Library.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the support I have received from my noble friend Lord Caithness, and the noble Lords, Lord Wigley and Lord Krebs. I remain concerned. Perhaps it is inevitable, in the structure of government, that it can find the funds to create a target and do that well, but to promise money for a few years down the road to see if that has actually turned out well, and why it has not, is a much harder thing for Governments to do. However, I accept my noble friend’s assurances.
I share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, on costs and how we need to look at them and not just the benefits—again, not just initially, but on how it works out. What is happening? What effects are the target having? What costs actually turn out to be real? It can be really difficult to predict what negative effects a policy will have, because people find all sorts of interesting ways of adapting to it. A lot of the things one fears do not, in the event, happen, and other things do happen that one had not expected. It is very important to have a process where you revisit initial assumptions and really question how the process is going.
I have a lot of sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Addington, was saying. It really echoes an amendment I was chasing yesterday, on connecting people with nature. If you do not give, in the structure of what you are doing, a real incentive—a focus on being connected, one department to another, together with the people—those things get neglected because we have set out other priorities. I hope this is a general area that we will return to on Report, but for now I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 17 withdrawn.
Amendments 18 and 19 not moved.
Clause 1 agreed.
Clause 2: Environmental targets: particulate matter