Amendment 52

Environment Bill - Committee (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 8:45 pm on 23rd June 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Baroness Hayman of Ullock:

Moved by Baroness Hayman of Ullock

52: Clause 7, page 5, line 11, leave out subsection (4) and insert—“(4) An environmental improvement plan must include, as a minimum—(a) measures which, taken together, are likely to achieve any targets set under section 1 or 2 and will ensure that the next interim targets included in the plan are met,(b) measures that each relevant central government department must carry out,(c) measures to protect sensitive and vulnerable population groups (including children, older people, people with chronic illnesses and outdoor and transport workers) from the health impacts of pollution,(d) a timetable for adoption, implementation and review of the chosen measures, and the authorities responsible for their delivery,(e) an analysis of the options considered and their estimated impact on delivering progress against the relevant targets, and(f) measures to minimise, or where possible eliminate, the harmful impacts of pollution on human health and the environment.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment strengthens environmental improvement plans by introducing a number of minimum requirements, including (but not limited to) ensuring a link between proposed measures and targets established under this Bill.

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

My Lords, Amendment 52 is in the name of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and is supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Randall of Uxbridge. I would also like to express our support for Amendments 53 and 55.

Amendment 52 strengthens the environmental improvement plans by introducing a number of minimum requirements. It seeks to provide clear content requirements for each EIP, including an analysis of how specific measures will contribute to relevant targets, timetables for the adoption, implementation and review of each measure, and allocations for the delivery of each measure. It also seeks to bridge the narrative gap in the Bill by ensuring that the measures in this clause relate back to the targets at its beginning, thus providing a crucial link between targets and EIPs as a delivery mechanism.

Those targets are very important in relation to any environmental improvement plans that will come out of the Bill. Such plans are necessary to provide the comprehensive long-term vision that will guide legislation and policy to deliver better protection and the enhancement of our environment. If we have an environmental improvement plan that does not relate to those targets, there is a risk that it will be nothing more than an abstract, descriptive narrative, with meaningful actions backloaded towards the end of each 15-year period that it covers.

Clause 7 also sets out requirements for the content of EIPs. We consider that these need to be strengthened to ensure that all EIPs include timebound, specific measures which are more explicitly linked to the delivery of long-term targets and the interim milestones.

The Bill describes the process by which an environmental improvement plan can be developed and put in place, but then says that an environmental improvement plan is, in effect, already in existence. A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment is specifically referred to as being the present environmental improvement plan. That document clearly demonstrates why we believe that Amendment 52 is necessary. Among other things, the 25-year plan does not address itself to the structure of the Environment Bill. It says a lot of very interesting things but is essentially a narrative document, containing long descriptive passages, with hundreds of possible actions, many of which are difficult to measure. There is a limited attempt to quantify the benefits of actions and to prioritise the most environmentally effective, or to demonstrate that they will lead to particular environmental outcomes. Both updates on the delivery of the current EIP and future plans need to be much more focused on actions and benefits if they are to drive a significant improvement in our natural environment.

Greener UK has suggested that EIPs should be more like plans to achieve the carbon budgets, as set out in the Climate Change Act 2008, or plans to achieve air quality objectives, as set out in the Air Quality Standards Regulations 2010. Both of those require clear plans and steps to meet targets. Can the Minister say why this approach has not been taken for EIPs? Why does he believe it is not necessary to make the link between EIPs and the targets at its start? This amendment comprehensively makes those connections and introduces important minimum requirements that are necessary if the EIPs are really to make a difference. I beg to move.

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

My Lords, I have Amendment 53 in this group, which is, in effect, another way of tightening the wording with regard to the requirements on the Government to report on the success or otherwise of meeting the environmental improvement plans. I strongly support Amendment 52, which the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, introduced so well just now, and which I co-signed, and Amendment 55, from the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay.

As it stands in the wording at the moment, the Government basically have to identify “steps” in the environmental improvement plans to meet their targets. That word is incredibly vague. I could take a step, but it would not be very clear what it is. If they so wished, the Government could argue that a step would, for example, be to set up an advisory group or working group. It is not a concrete, clearly defined action. My very strong feeling is that we should borrow the wording in the Climate Change Act, which says very clearly that the Government have to “prepare such proposals and policies”. That is clear and specific, and those are measurable. To my mind, the term “steps” is insufficient. In this House, we know that words matter.

I am not trying to impugn the Government’s motives; I think it is just an oversight that the word was chosen. But if we are to enable the OEP to do the job we need it to do—to hold the Government to account—the wording in the legislation has to enable it to do that as easily as possible. I strongly believe that asking the Government to outline their policies and proposals, as opposed to just “steps”, would enable the OEP to do its job, which we know the Government want it to do, as undoubtedly does this Committee. In summing up, I ask the Minister to make the case clearly for why he thinks the word “steps” will enable the OEP to do the job we need it to do.

Photo of The Earl of Lindsay The Earl of Lindsay Conservative

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 55 in my name. In doing so, I shall express my support for Amendments 52 and 53.

The purpose of Amendment 55 is to give investors greater clarity and confidence about their potential or expected role and contribution. For businesses to be able to play their full part in delivering future environmental objectives, they need a clear line of sight that covers both national targets and a single delivery plan that sets out the policies and activities needed to achieve those targets. They need to know not only what needs to be achieved but, crucially, how and when implementing measures will be put in place. That knowledge, line of sight and predictability will give businesses the greater degree of confidence and certainty that they need to plan for the future and, more importantly, to invest in the future. Amendment 55 seeks to achieve this by making explicit that environmental improvement plans must include the policies and actions that the Government intend to take to enable long-term environmental targets to be met.

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

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, and indeed to build slightly on his points. I speak particularly in favour of Amendment 52, to which I would have attached my name had there been space. I note the strong cross-party support for it. The other amendments in this group also take us in the right direction.

What the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, said about steps brings us to the core of the problem, and what the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, was just saying reflects what I heard this morning at an event for the Westminster Forum on net zero, climate change and the food, drink and agriculture industries. From the farmers, land managers and the people who advise them, I heard a real sense of confusion and lack of direction—a feeling like we are being pushed in all these directions and asked to do lots of different things, but no one is giving us a route. It is a step here and a step there, as the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, said.

I believe that Amendment 52 in particular, which explicitly links time-bound measures to the delivery of long-term targets, is truly essential if we are to give people the clarity they need to make decisions about planting trees, managing land and all the things they have to do today, tomorrow, next week or next year. That is entirely lacking at the moment.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees 9:00 pm, 23rd June 2021

The noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, have all withdrawn from this debate, so I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone.

Photo of Baroness Young of Old Scone Baroness Young of Old Scone Labour

My Lords, I am sorry that I have not withdrawn yet as it might have hastened the business, but I want to support Amendment 52, in the names of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch, the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Randall. I welcome the requirement in the Bill for the Government to have rolling statutory plans in place to improve the natural environment. In fact, I am mystified by the extent and detail of this section of the Bill. It rather makes a meal of the review and renewal process. Can the Minister give us a clue as to why the Bill has to go into such paroxysm? Being a suspicious human being, methinks the gentleman doth protest too much. It would be useful to know why from the Minister.

I want to make two comments. First, the current 25-year plan for the environment is to be regarded as the first environmental improvement plan. That made my heart sink, as the 25-year plan is inordinately long and mostly narrative. It has a scatter of actions; many are unmeasured and some are not even measurable. It is a loose and baggy monster. There is no logical thread of targets to be achieved, what policies and actions are needed to achieve them and who should be responsible for implementing the policies and actions, so that they achieve their targets. I would very much like to see that sort of structure going into the requirement for environmental improvement plans.

My second point is that Clause 7 sets out the required contents of the EIPs. I agree with the amendment that these need to be strengthened to ensure that the EIPs have time-bound specific measures, which are explicitly linked to the delivery of long-term targets and interim milestones. I very much support Amendment 52, but also Amendment 53, in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Boycott, which mirrors the wording of the 2008 Climate Change Act and requires the Government to set out the proposals and policies, not just steps, to meet all the targets and deliver environmental improvement.

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

My Lords, I put my name to Amendment 52, also in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Parminter, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge. I also support Amendment 53, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and my noble friend Lady Boycott. I will not repeat what has been said about Amendment 52, but add one sentence: for me, the key issue is linking together the pieces of the jigsaw—the environmental improvement plans and the targets.

I want to ask the Minister about one point that has not been discussed so far. In Amendment 52, proposed new subsection (4)(f) refers to

“measures to minimise, or where possible eliminate, the harmful impacts of pollution on human health and the environment.”

One significant type of pollution that we have not discussed so far is noise. In 2018, the World Health Organization published a report entitled Environmental Noise Guidelines for the European Region. It says this:

“Noise is one of the most important environmental risks to health”,

second only to air pollution, and every year

“in western Europe alone at least 1.6 million healthy years of life are lost as a result of road traffic noise.”

The adverse effects of noise on health include increased risk of heart disease, cognitive impairment of children, sleep loss and tinnitus.

It is not only humans who suffer from environmental noise. According to a review published last year in the leading scientific journal Nature, noise pollution reduces the breeding success of certain bird species. A review for Defra, carried out by scientists at Bristol University, entitled The Effects of Noise on Biodiversity, points to an overall lack of evidence, but also mentions species of birds, mammals and amphibians from the UK list of species of principal importance that appear to be adversely affected by noise. Does the Minister therefore agree with me that it would be appropriate to include a target for reducing noise pollution in environmental improvement plans? The technologies for reducing noise are available, so it is a matter of the will to apply them.

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

I am sorry, I meant to withdraw from this group, so I do not wish to comment. I apologise for not withdrawing earlier.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees

The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, has also withdrawn from this group, so I call the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Chair, Consolidation, &c., Bills (Joint Committee), Chair, Consolidation, &c., Bills (Joint Committee)

My Lords, I will speak briefly, as the points have largely been made. In my view, it is essential that Clause 7 is strengthened to give it greater effectiveness. The only requirement currently set out is that the plan

“must set out the steps Her Majesty’s Government intends to take to improve the natural environment in the period to which the plan relates.”

There can be no doubt that this is far too vague. The proposals in the various amendments tie the plans to the achievement of targets, and the precise language of these amendments is important. My view is that the use of the words “enable” or “ensure” in relation to the meeting or achievement of targets is the best approach, as that would require the plans to set out concrete and achievable steps to enable the target to be met. That I why I think that the language used in particular in the amendment proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, contains that specificity.

That is important because specific and precise language will set out what the duty of the Government is. The public must be able to see exactly what steps are to be taken to meet the targets, and then judge for themselves the commitment and realism with which the Government set about the significant changes that will be required. It would be unrealistic to take any position that there will be powerful interests that are adversely affected by such targets, and who—for reasons that may be understandable, but are wrong—would seek to delay the achievement of those targets. The easiest way to defeat such persons who seek to delay is by transparency and specificity, which is generally more effective than court enforcements, to which we shall return later in the Bill. Requiring the Government to set out the steps is absolutely essential; the vagueness contained in the current Bill is the enemy of achievement.

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, Amendments 52, 53 and 55 all make reference to the environmental improvement plans, which are key to the delivery of the ethos and thrust of the Environment Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, has very eloquently set out the case for strengthening the environmental improvement plans—the EIPs—supported by my noble friend Lady Parminter and the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. In order for the EIPs to be effective, the minimum requirements should be up front, not an afterthought. Ambitious, realistic targets are vital, but there must be strategies in place to provide a route map for delivery. The one cannot be successful without the other.

All three amendments are interlinked and support each other. The noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, made the case for the EIPs to include the policies and actions the Government intend to support to enable the long-term environmental targets to be met. So serious is the crisis at our doors that both short-term immediate remedial targets and actions will need to be taken, coupled with and supported by the longer-term aims, objectives and targets to ensure that the country does not rest on its laurels but halts our biodiversity decline and progresses swiftly to tackle climate change on a permanent basis.

Progress is not likely to be overnight, but that is no excuse for not taking immediate and long-term action to rectify the crisis we are facing. This will have an economic impact, as the noble Lord, Lord Vaux of Harrowden, raised on an earlier amendment, but ensuring sufficient investment in strategies and plans to allow the EIPs to be successful is likely to be a measure on which the public will judge the Government. Failure is not an option. I look forward to the Minister’s reassurance that he can accept these three vital amendments.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I thank noble Lords for their contributions so far. I am happy to clarify some concerns raised by noble Lords in relation to these amendments, tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Parminter, and the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay.

I can reassure them that an environmental improvement plan must set out the steps the Government intend to take to improve the natural environment, which the Government expect would include measures needed to meet their long-term and interim targets. We expect this to cover relevant policies and proposals. However, this could also include setting out steps that go beyond this, such as flagging where research is needed to fill gaps. So the EIP must also include the interim targets for each long-term target.

I was slightly surprised by the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Young; we have not placed detailed requirements on the contents of the environmental improvement plan, as we think it is important that future Governments can assess their own priorities and decide which aspects of the natural environment are most in need of intervention, based on the latest evidence. The idea is that this allows the Government to adapt to changing environmental challenges in future.

To respond briefly to the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, on the strength and ambition of the plans, the environmental improvement plan is defined as a

“plan for significantly improving the natural environment”.

Its provisions will form part of environmental law. This means that the OEP will have oversight of the Government’s implementation of those plans, as it does over all aspects of environmental law.

In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, our 25-year environment plan will be adopted, as she says, as the first statutory EIP. My view is that this sets a clear benchmark against which Parliament, the OEP and others can assess future EIPs. The 25-year plan was very well received when it was published and demonstrated real ambition.

In response to the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, that noise should be included as a target, I cannot give him a detailed or specific answer, because we do not want to prejudge decisions that are being made through the process I have already described—but he makes a very good point. Noise clearly is a pollutant and clearly does have an impact, and I would be interested to see any evidence he has—not that I need persuading—to bolster my knowledge on this issue. I know that Highways England has a noise prevention programme which is ambitious and, I am told, has been productive.

On Amendment 52 from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, the Government are committed to cross-departmental action in the delivery of environmental improvement plans. In fact, cross-departmental action is a prerequisite. A range of government departments will be involved in the development of the plans. For example, the Department for Transport will have a key role in updating on its progress in meeting interim air quality targets on PM2.5, and we will work closely with the Department of Health on the health impacts of our actions, particularly on vulnerable populations. Clearly, planning is central to so much of what we are talking about, so there is a permanent revolving door between Defra and MHCLG.

I hope this has reassured noble Lords and I once again ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

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

My Lords, it seems that noble Lords agree that this part of the Bill needs serious strengthening. The Minister talked about steps, but the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, quite rightly said that the word “steps” is completely inadequate.

Noble Lords agreed that the connections I laid out at the start of the debate are essential. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, commented on this. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, talked about the lack of focus in the current EIPs and expressed her concerns over how we will see any outcomes delivered from this. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, put his finger on it when he said that the key issue is linking together the pieces of the jigsaw. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, said that the minimum requirements would need to be at the front.

So I am sorry but I am just not convinced by the Minister’s response. The issues that this amendment addresses are important and should not be set aside on the grounds that the Minister seems to think that everything will be all right. He clearly believes that the 25-year plan is ambitious. It does contain a lot but, to be blunt, the gap in terms of connection between this part of the Bill and the previous clauses is pretty hopeless and does not seem to relate at all to what is in the 25-year environment plan.

We will return to this on Report but, for now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 52 withdrawn.

Amendments 53 to 58 not moved.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees 9:15 pm, 23rd June 2021

My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 59. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.