Amendment 110

Part of Environment Bill - Committee (4th Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 30th June 2021.

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Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee, Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee 5:00 pm, 30th June 2021

My Lords, we have had some really good literary contributions. My favourite was probably about Kenneth Williams from the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone; we also had a number of others. When the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, talked about the dust-bowl, I thought of when I was quite young—an A-level student, I think—and I read John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. Even today, that brings back an image. I could see that novel as a movie in my mind about that dust-bowl during the depression of the 1930s in middle America where, because of soil erosion and degradation caused by wind, there was a huge exodus in the United States to urban areas and a failure of the farming system and those ecosystems. That is a lesson for us.

One of the things that struck me when the 25-year environment plan came out—that was what, five years ago?—was that, at that moment, it seemed the Government had suddenly discovered soil for the first time. The great advocate at that time, who particularly seemed to have discovered soil, was Michael Gove, the then Environment Secretary. I ask my Liberal Democrat colleagues to put their ear muffs on for a moment: I thought that Michael Gove was an absolutely excellent Secretary of State for the Environment because he brought all these issues to the fore. He had guts, he was bold and I am sure that, if he were still in the position, we would have rather a bolder Bill than we have before us at the moment. Needless to say, I was less keen on the rest of his career, so I will stop there.

The noble Lord, Lord Randall, was absolutely right about the breadth of what we mean by soil. Piedmont soils are something we have to be incredibly careful about in this country. I was privileged, two or three weeks ago, to see peat restoration on Bodmin Moor, which was brought about by a consortium of organisations—public and private sector and water companies—as part of bringing back a huge area of peatland to hydrate that whole area. I always thought we had enough rain in Cornwall to keep the whole of the ecosystem going, but you could see the degradation there. That team had worked in Dartmoor and further north and west as well. This is really important. Whether the Minister says soil is somehow included in these definitions, it is absolutely clear that it is right to give it the emphasis by including it within these definitions. I was thinking of the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, and Gulliver’s Travels, which I had not noticed, I must admit.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, used the word “urgent”. The 25-year environment plan is brilliant in terms of laying out the issues and what we need to do but the implementation of so many of these things has not been good, as the Audit Commission pointed out strongly. Urgency is something that we can maybe put back into this Bill now. Many Members—including the noble Lord, Lord Curry, who is well known for his agricultural knowledge and experience—have come out strongly on the need to do that.

I was pleased to put my name to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. A number of my amendments will come in Committee about the marine. I believe that, despite the Minister trying to persuade me that the definition of “England” includes the marine area, this Bill sees marine as an appendix or an afterthought—and a small addition at that. It is covered but never focused on. That is why it is so important we include, as the noble Baroness’s amendment says,

“the sea, the marine environment and maritime wildlife, sea mammals, flora and fauna.”

That needs to be stated in this Bill, because, as I was reminded by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, in an earlier amendment, land and marine are interconnected; they are dependent on each other but different, and that difference needs to be mentioned strongly.

I agree particularly with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, and the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, about the way in which we fish the seas. I have an amendment later on, which I am trying to bring forward urgently, on the higher level of marine conservation areas. At the moment, our marine conservation areas do not do the job they need to, and we need to find a way forward with the fishing industry to protect the bottom of our territorial seas and the seas of the EEZ.

I have also put my name to Amendment 113B in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness—although I did not get it down in time for it to be on the latest list of amendments—because defining biodiversity is important. I was very pleased that there was an emphasis on marine and other aquatic ecosystems.

How can one disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, on “ecosystems” being in there? Whenever I mention ecosystems in another context, I am always told off because I do not include “ecosystem services” as well, but I know exactly what the noble Lord means.

It seems that there is unanimity that soil is fundamental to ecosystems. It is an ecosystem service in itself. It is usually described that way; for example, the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, described it as a “factory”. Because of that importance, looking at the history of the United States and our own soils—this is where we need naturally based solutions to stop fast water run-off—we need to make sure that we retain soil quality. These Benches are fully behind that proposition.