Amendment 212

Part of Environment Bill - Committee (6th Day) – in the House of Lords at 9:45 pm on 7th July 2021.

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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) 9:45 pm, 7th July 2021

I am happy to go on. I only have a short speech, beginning with Amendment 212 from the noble Lord, Lord Oates. I start by reiterating that local authorities are vital in protecting biodiversity and improving nature at a local level, so I sympathise with the noble Lord’s intention. However, powers already exist that could be used to conserve and enhance biodiversity on specific sites.

National planning policy already directs local plans to identify and map areas of substantive nature conservation value. They should include policies that secure the protection of these areas from harm or loss and help to enhance them and their connection to wider ecological networks. Local authorities can create local nature reserves under Section 21 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, designating these sites based on local importance for wildlife. In addition, the Bill already allows for a local authority to enter into a conservation covenant. I therefore assure the noble Lord that powers suggested by this amendment are already covered elsewhere.

I turn to Amendments 270, 273 and 275, also in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Oates. A principle underpinning the Government’s proposal for conservation covenants, which we will be debating in more detail later, is their voluntary nature. There is no compulsion on anyone or any organisation to enter into them. It is important that this principle extends to organisations that may become responsible bodies. That is because the role of responsible bodies, which will be integral to the delivery of covenants, requires a good level of resourcing and expertise to be performed properly. Organisations must decide for themselves if they have the capacity to perform the function of a responsible body. It is also possible that some local authorities may not wish to become designated as responsible bodies. If local authorities choose to apply, like other organisations they will be assessed against our published suitable criteria and designated where they are considered suitable to fulfil the role.

Turning to Amendment 227A, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for his interest in this important issue. Reversing declines in biodiversity is a major societal challenge, as we have already discussed. It will require public, private and voluntary sectors to work closely together. Local nature recovery strategies will be locally led and collaboratively produced and will enable key local partners to better co-ordinate the good work already taking place and to agree where more effort would achieve the most benefit. By aligning these strategies to measures such as the strengthened biodiversity duty on public authorities and biodiversity net gain in future schemes that reward delivery of environmental benefits, the Government intend to drive their delivery in a way that no one organisation could on its own.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for Amendment 231A and the opportunity to discuss the three schemes. The sustainable farming incentive will pay all eligible farmers for actions they take to manage their land in an environmentally sustainable way. Linking the scheme to local nature recovery strategies would not therefore be practical, due to its lack of a spatial element. The local nature recovery scheme will be focused on delivering the right things in the right places, factoring in the views of local people. Landscape recovery will support the delivery of landscape and ecosystem recovery through long-term, large-scale projects. Together, these schemes will deliver many of the aims and nature-based solutions that will be set out in local nature recovery strategies.

The Government have already committed to alignment of future schemes for rewarding environmental benefits with local nature recovery strategies where that is appropriate. I conclude by reiterating the importance of local authorities in delivering nature’s recovery. The Bill will equip them with the tools to do so. As an additional aside, I emphasise that all new burdens imposed on them through the Bill will be fully funded. I therefore respectfully ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.