Amendment 106

Part of Environment Bill - Report (4th Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 15 September 2021.

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Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench 5:30, 15 September 2021

My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 108A, 108B and 108C. Before I say anything else, I must say that the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, had planned to be here to speak in favour of these amendments. Unfortunately he has been pulled away to a meeting and may not be able to get back to the Chamber in time.

The aims of the amendments are to ensure the earliest possible review of the deforestation provisions in Schedule 17 and, in the case of Amendment 108C, to enable Ministers by regulations, without delay—that being the important point—to extend their controls over UK use of forest risk commodities in commercial activity to legally deforested land. As noble Lords know, Schedule 17 currently applies restrictions on UK companies in relation only to commodities produced on illegally deforested land. This very much leaves all the power in the hands of the Government. This is very important when one is trying to gain their support on an issue.

I fully support all the amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Randall. Indeed, I moved a similar amendment to Amendment 106 in Committee. That amendment would immediately extend the Schedule 17 provision to all deforested land, whether it has been done legally or illegally. Of course, this is ideally what should and needs to happen to save the planet. I support the noble Lord’s arguments but will not repeat them in view of the time.

According to one estimate, 15 billion trees are cut down each year over a land area equivalent to three and a half times the size of Wales. This is, of course, devastating for climate change and therefore the planet. Any delay in discouraging such deforestation is therefore obviously extremely serious.

In a very useful meeting with the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, for which I thank the Minister very much, the Minister made it clear that he is negotiating with lots of other countries on this issue and explained that he needs to be seen to try limiting our controls to illegally deforested land initially to bring other countries along with us. Obviously, lots of countries working together to discourage deforestation is far preferable to just one country operating alone. However, I pointed out that having lots of countries doing something that actually makes no difference is not that useful, because countries such as Brazil will simply sidestep the policy set out in this Bill, and where are we? Nowhere at all, actually. Nevertheless, I respect the Minister’s wish to give this a try, but that underlines the importance of being able to rectify it as soon as we can.

The noble Lord, Lord Randall, explained the importance of a comprehensive law on deforestation from the point of view of our employers. Again, I will not repeat his arguments.

As I said, Schedule 17 as it stands limits the scope of our controls over commercial activity in forest risk commodities to those produced in illegally deforested land. There is no real prospect of this position being changed for years to come, as the Bill stands. That is my great concern, because every year really matters in this field. We would have two or three years before a review and then goodness knows how many years before we could have a piece of primary legislation. As noble Lords know, we really could wait many years for that. How many billions of trees will be lost before the UK takes meaningful action? It does not bear thinking about.

Hence the importance of the modest Amendments 108A to 108C. They would ensure that there was a review within one to two years after implementation. In many ways more important than even Amendments 108A and 108B is Amendment 108C, which would enable the Government to prepare regulations and implement them immediately following the review. As the Minister said, we will know very quickly whether this limit to illegal deforestation is working. In fact, we will probably know pretty quickly that it is not. Therefore, to give Ministers the power—and in this case to introduce regulations—seems absolutely justified. I say this as a member of the Delegated Powers Committee, which fights week after week against Henry VIII powers. This is a Henry VIII power, but we need it so that Ministers do not have to delay. This is far too important an issue to hang about.

The Minister agreed that we will all know very quickly, as I said, so we really do need to get on with this. We could then finally have a Bill that leads to effective action and, I hope, will bring in other countries behind what we are planning to do. These amendments are desperately needed to ensure that good action is taken. I hope the Minister will be able to accept Amendments 108A to 108C, but if not I will want to test the opinion of the House.