Amendment 52

Part of Environment Bill - Report (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 13th September 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Labour 5:15 pm, 13th September 2021

My Lords, Amendment 123 is in my name and those of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch, the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, who has already indicated his support, and the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury; I am extremely grateful for their support. It is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Whitty, and I make a passing reference to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. There are compelling cases for both their amendments too, but I do not intend to speak to them.

The debate in Committee revealed strong support from all parts of the House for this amendment—indeed, I cannot recall anyone who spoke against it. Even the Minister himself spoke for the amendment in part, when he was persuaded by a phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, that the amendment was a no-brainer. To that extent, he accepted it, but we will come to the Government’s resistance in a moment.

This amendment proposes a new clause which provides an effective regulation to protect wildlife, the environment and human health by replacing toxic lead ammunition, principally for shooting game, with alternatives. It is intended to provide regulatory protection for wildlife and the environment and to improve human health and protect humans by replacing toxic lead gunshot with much safer alternatives. It also intends to ensure a supply of healthy game for the market and meet the requirements of shooting, food retail and conservation stakeholders.

This amendment is not precisely the one that was before your Lordships’ House in Committee. The date of its provisions coming into effect has changed slightly to 31 July 2023—a move of a few months in 2023—to respond to arguments and advice that I received directly and indirectly from ammunition manufacturers that it would be more appropriate not to seek to ban the use of lead ammunition in the middle of a game season, when people had already stocked up, as it were, for the purpose of shooting. It seemed to be a compelling argument. They were on board. They also said, quite understandably, that if we are to make this change, there needs to be compulsion that has effect and is logical so that they can ramp up the manufacturing. So, there is a change in that respect.

I do not intend to go into all the 30 years of evidence there is that we should not be doing this, but we know that lead is a poison. We ban it in many other areas of life. It seems crazy that we allow it to be used in this way when it gets directly into the food chain. In his response in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, confirmed that the Government want action to ban the use of lead in a way which harms the environment and human or animal health. He is a lifelong—certainly adult life-long—proponent of that and makes no bones about it. He rejected an amendment of this nature because it was not comprehensive and did not deal with the issue of lead in target shooting and other parts of that element of the sport.

The Minister supported the Government’s preferred approach, which is to use the GB REACH process—I say the “GB REACH process” because the EU REACH process applies to Northern Ireland and, indeed, may be being debated in your Lordships’ Grand Committee—which, in my view and in the view of many other noble Lords, will take an unconscionable length of time and will unnecessarily expose tens, if not thousands, of children to potential harm. I remind your Lordships’ House that the Minister, Rebecca Pow, said in launching the REACH process:

“A large volume of lead ammunition is discharged every year over the countryside, causing harm to the environment, wildlife and people”,

and that

“Addressing the impacts of lead ammunition will mark a significant step forward in helping to protect wildlife, people, and the environment.”

In concluding, the Minister offered the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, a meeting. It took place on 5 August with the Minister, officials and the noble Lord, Lord Randall, present. I got an indirect invitation to the meeting, which I also attended. Since then, I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Randall, has had further communication with the Bill team, as has the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury. I shall leave both noble Lords to share with your Lordships’ House what was discussed, if it can be shared. I thank the Minister and his team for their engagement with this process, and I thank the noble Lords for ensuring that I was included.

But I understand that the Bill team’s position on lead shot is that the time it will take for the GB REACH restriction dossier to be prepared is required to build a comprehensive case for the restriction. I think that is one of their arguments. They also argue that this requires up-to-date GB-wide specific evidence and that the Government need to make sure that the final decision on this is watertight from an evidential and legal perspective. I have not practised law for a long time, but I respect this position and understand it. But I do not accept without evidence that this is necessarily a block to dealing with what we can deal with today, which is harm to people, animals and the environment. I will come back to that.

So where do we stand today? First, lead is a poison and should be banned, except where it is a necessity to use it and there is no alternative, where it should be closely regulated. That is what we do in every other aspect of our lives. We have known that lead shot has been poisoning animals, humans and the environment for decades. We have reached the stage where, in the face of the comprehensive knowledge that we now have of the value of the environment and its biodiversity to every single aspect of our life, something has to be done about this. The obvious thing is for its use in a way that creates a poisonous effect to be banned.

There already exists a comprehensive case for this amendment—supported by specific GB evidence over decades—to protect human health, wildlife health and the environment. There exists support for the need for the change from all major stakeholders: shooters, game dealers, distributors, retailers, scientists, conservationists, and even the Houses of Parliament. Both Houses, through their committees, unanimously agreed to ban the sale of lead-shot game in our restaurants so that we do not poison ourselves. It has support from Parliament already. I have to say I find it difficult to explain to people outside why we cannot ban for their consumption what we have banned for our own. This does not seem a tenable position to be in.

There already exists acknowledgement that alternatives exist and are effective. They have existed for 25 years in Denmark. Not only do they have a burgeoning shooting business—in fact, my country, Scotland, has lots of Danes shooting there in all the shooting seasons who tell me that they do it in Denmark very successfully, and they win medals from sports shooting targets with steel ammunition. There already exists an acknowledgement of the need for change to support a market for healthy game meat, which we should encourage people to eat. So there are strong socioeconomic arguments too.

Any further unnecessary delay will result in the death and suffering of hundreds of thousands more birds, the risk of irreversibly reducing the IQs of thousands—possibly tens of thousands—more children, and the deposit of thousands of tonnes more lead shot into the environment, adding to the existing toxic legacy, all of which are unnecessary and fully avoidable.

The case for this amendment is made and is clear cut. Dealing with this now will not only save time and taxpayers’ money by avoiding another unnecessary review but give GB REACH more valuable time to research and debate the issues of lead bullets and target shooting, for which there is certainly a case but where we appreciate that more work with stakeholders may well be required.

Finally, my understanding is that it has been suggested from “sources” that the GB REACH process can achieve the objective of a comprehensive ban with effect from 31 July 2023, the date on which this amendment is due to come into force. If the Minister is inclined to offer that in his response, it will have to be considered, and I am certainly willing to do so. I know that those who support the amendment and have put their name to it are also willing to consider that as a solution to this problem.

However, I am confident that if I test the opinion of this House, a majority will support this amendment. There are two possibilities for avoiding that, as I see them. The first alternative is that, beyond the assertion that GB REACH is the only way forward, the Minister can point me and my noble friends who support this amendment to the legal provisions that support this conclusion and not just keep asserting it without doing so. I have not yet seen a reasoned argument of this nature. It has been absent from all the discussions I have been involved in thus far with the Bill team, either directly or secondarily. I have it on good authority from lawyers working on it at the moment that it is not necessary to do it down that route and that this route, which the Danes use, could be used, too, with effect and without challenge.

Secondly, if the Minister gives a strong enough commitment to persuade the House that there is a strong probability that there will be a comprehensive ban on the use of lead ammunition by a date around the one which we propose in this amendment, or by a date certain, I will consider not having to further embarrass the Government by dividing the House on this issue.