Amendment 122

Environment Bill - Report (4th Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 9:45 pm on 15th September 2021.

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Lord Faulkner of Worcester:

Moved by Lord Faulkner of Worcester

122: After Clause 136, insert the following new Clause—“Non-application to smoke emissions from heritage vehicles or historic buildings(1) For the avoidance of doubt, this Act has no application to the emission of smoke from—(a) the chimney of a railway locomotive, the chimney of a road vehicle or portable or stationary engine, or the funnel of a vessel in respect of which the emission of the smoke is an intrinsic feature of the functioning of the motive power concerned and in respect of which such motive power has been preserved, restored or recreated for heritage purposes; (b) the chimney of an historic building or the chimney or other outlet of a museum intended to portray the means of internal heating of the rooms in such building or museum or facilities for the cooking of food or the provision of other services therein.(2) In this section—“heritage purposes” means a state of affairs intended to display a transport mode or machinery in a past setting for educational, recreational or tourist purposes;“smoke” includes grit, dust or other matter derived from the burning of solid, liquid or gaseous substances.”

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, in moving Amendment 122, tabled in my name and those of noble Lords across the Chamber, including the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean—whom I am pleased to see in his place—I shall speak also to Amendment 127, which is in my name and supported by the same noble Lords. I declare my interest as president of the Heritage Railway Association.

The Heritage Fuels Alliance, which encompasses heritage railways and locomotives, steam road vehicles, steamboats and ships, engineering museums and historic houses, has worked hard to win the argument that to ban coal burning by its members would be disproportionate and absurd. It has demonstrated that it would inflict untold damage on a sector which, in the case of heritage railways alone, brings so much pleasure to 13 million visitors a year, engages 22,000 active volunteers, provides 4,000 jobs and contributes £400 million to the national and regional economies.

The vast majority of heritage railways, road steam events and steamboat operations are located in rural areas. This means the economic benefit is all the greater, especially where some heritage railways are the leading visitor attractions in their area, while any environmental impact is well away from clean air zones. Indeed, three national parks—the North York Moors, Snowdonia and Exmoor—all welcome and actively encourage their heritage railways. As an indicator of how much they matter to the country, and to the Government too, those in England and Wales received around £25 million from the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund to help them survive the Covid pandemic.

Turning to coal burning, the latest available figures, from 2018, show that emissions from coal boilers were 0.023% of total carbon dioxide emissions. The total heritage coal use is around 35,000 tonnes, compared with total UK coal consumption of 8.2 million tonnes. The sector has accepted with reasonably good grace that, in future, the coal it burns will not be mined in Britain, despite enormous untouched reserves, but imported. It is also working hard to reduce emissions and to trial the use of biocoal.

The heritage steam sector has received assurances from Ministers, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist, that the Environment Bill and particularly its clean air provisions will not apply to them, but they have so far resisted suggestions that they should put these assurances in the Bill and make it clear that primary legislation would be required if this were ever to change.

An identical amendment to Amendment 122 was debated in Committee on 5 July and supported by all noble Lords who spoke to it, including the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe—in her place this evening—who warned in a memorable phrase that

“this Bill could bring about the death of Thomas the Tank Engine and his or her nautical steamboat equivalent.”—[Official Report, 5/7/21; col. 1106.]

The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, posed a question which I put again this evening. He said:

“It is important that people have the assurance of primary legislation, especially when we see so much legislation that contains powers for Ministers under Henry VIII clauses, pretty well to do as they like, and which this House can do nothing about by tradition because we do not vote against secondary legislation. Will the Minister say why the Government are resistant to putting a clear commitment in the Bill that heritage vehicles not only are not within the scope of the Bill but are protected from the whims of any Minister?”

I hope we will get an answer to that this evening too. I cannot resist just quoting one memorable phrase earlier in his speech when he described Ministers as being

“here one day and gone the next—indeed, they can be here one afternoon and gone by evening.”

He said:

“It is not enough, despite Pepper v Hart, just to have an assurance from the Dispatch Box.”—[Official Report, 5/7/21; cols. 1111-12.]

Amendment 127 includes a reference to other subordinate legislation to include, for example, by-laws brought in by local authorities or other public authorities to ban coal burning by heritage organisations in their localities. I hope that the Government have reflected on these amendments and agree that not only would their Bill be strengthened by incorporating them on the face of the Bill but that they would also send a message of encouragement to a much-loved sector which gives so much pleasure to millions of people, contributes enormously to the national and regional economies, and which they, the Government, have supported financially through recent difficult times. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Chair, Economic Affairs Committee, Chair, Economic Affairs Committee

My Lords, I will not repeat the eloquent arguments that the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, made; I pay tribute to him for the wonderful work which he does in support of the heritage steam and other sectors.

I should declare an interest as president of the Steamboat Association of Great Britain, a post which I obtained unopposed, rather like the chairmanship of the Association of Conservative Peers today. It is not very onerous. It simply involves, from time to time, as we did on Lake Windermere to celebrate its 50th anniversary, turning up with one’s little steamboat and 37 others and bringing enormous pleasure to many people in our country. As I said at an earlier stage in the consideration of this matter, it is extraordinary how people will crowd to see a steam train or a steamboat passing and how it brings smiles and pleasure to their face.

I am very grateful to the noble Lord for having repeated the arguments so that I do not need to repeat them again today. I understand that my noble friend Lord Goldsmith has a problem with how to respond to this amendment in terms of putting something on the face of the Bill. However, if we had an undertaking from my noble friend, who has been very helpful, that the Government normally have no intention of preventing the use of coal for heritage steam purposes, that would be helpful. It would be even more helpful if she would give an undertaking that it would require primary legislation to do so, so that the interests of others were met.

I will make just one point. I am not a sceptic on these matters—I have an electric car and do everything I can to help the environment. However, I find it quite difficult that, although we were on Windermere with our steamboats, the proposition is that, in future, we cannot possibly dig the coal out of the ground from Cumbria, the county where we were, but that we have to import it from Russia in order to save the planet. I do not know whether “bonkers” is a parliamentary expression, but this strikes me as absolute bonkers. It is also counterproductive, in that it makes people whom we should have on side on these matters sceptical about the application of common sense.

I am not an expert on these matters, but it is striking that these vehicles require a high calorific content of coal which is less polluting. It seems extraordinary that we have ended up in this position. Fortunately, I am not in the Government and my noble friend will be able to explain why this makes sense in the course of a reply to this debate. However, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, and I am very happy to support his amendments on both occasions. At this late hour, I do not think the House probably wants to spend a lot of time talking about steam.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green 10:00 pm, 15th September 2021

My Lords, it seems ridiculous that anyone could object to railway enthusiasts restoring old locomotives and preserving our heritage. Although old train engines and boats do contribute to air pollution, they will be fairly localised and minimal compared with other emissions being pumped out by, for example, the Government building new roads or opening new coal mines—or indeed allowing the growth of incinerators all over the country that operate without proper regulations. Those incinerators pump out unmeasured quantities of PM2.5; I say “unmeasured” because there is no daily monitoring of particulates to see if they exceed the Government’s annual guidance, nor of fine particulates—counted separately—despite those being the most deadly of particulates. We should allow this amendment on the basis that the Government will stop building new incinerators, stop building new roads and understand that they have a duty to fight the climate emergency which, at the moment, they are simply not doing.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Chair, Built Environment Committee, Chair, Built Environment Committee

My Lords, the recognition that coal is polluting is true, but we need to judge every proposal on its merits, as I think the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, has said in a roundabout sort of way. As in all things, we need balance and we need to avoid perverse effects. I do not resile from my comment that the Bill could bring about the death of Thomas the Tank Engine.

By making it impossible to use British coal for heritage trains, boats and steam engines, we could be consigning these, in time, to the slag heaps of history. Either they will use coal imported from Russia, adding the damage of travel emissions, or these activities will die out, with the loss of valuable employment, as the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, has explained. The vehicles, engines and boats concerned will create their own waste pile and diminish the tourism industry inspired by Thomas the Tank Engine and the Fat Controller. I would like to press this amendment, but I look forward instead to the assurances that I believe the Government are prepared to give the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, on this important occasion.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

My Lords, I rise to support this amendment. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester on the work that he has done over so many years as the HRA president. He has kept this issue at the forefront of everybody’s concern and, of course, the latest idea that you cannot have the right coal in this country and you have to import it from Russia just demonstrates what a stupid situation we have got ourselves into, I suppose.

Heritage railways are loved by millions. They do not operate very fast or very frequently and, as other noble Lords have said, the issue has to be proportionate. It is not just trains; it is road vehicles—road tractors, I think most people call them—and boats, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, has mentioned. Of course, fixed engines are also used to pump water supply; there is a very good one at Kew Bridge, which works very well. All these things have something in common, which is their Victorian engineering. It is amazing that these enormous great bits of steel, beautifully machined and very accurately made, work really well—when they do work, which is not very frequently.

I hope that the Minister will support and accept this amendment, but I have to remind my noble friend that he and I have a track record of causing trouble. About 10 years ago—the House was much emptier than it is tonight; there were probably about 25 Members here, which was below the limit—we got very angry about something. I cannot even remember what it was now, but we decided to divide the House. However, unfortunately, because there was not a quorum, it did not count. Noble Lords can imagine the kind of talking to that we got from our then Chief Whip in the morning, but it was absolutely worth it. I do not know whether my noble friend will do that tonight—he has probably got saner with age—but I hope that the Minister will look at this and say that it is a really good idea and accept it.

Photo of Baroness Morgan of Cotes Baroness Morgan of Cotes Conservative

My Lords, I rise to support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, and I draw the House’s attention to my role as a non-executive director of the Great Central Railway in Leicestershire. The arguments have been well rehearsed, and, at this late hour, I do not want to detain the House, but I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, that the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, has not got any less enthusiastic in his support for steam and heritage railways in the time I have known him, since we together set up the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Heritage Rail.

As we have heard, heritage railways across the country provide huge enjoyment, but they are also major catalysts for local economies in terms of tourism, jobs, apprenticeships and investment. All I say to the Minister, whose remarks I very much look forward to, is that I cannot believe that the Government intend to ban the burning of coal by steam railways or any other steam vehicles. I understand why the Government do not want to put this in the Bill, but I hope that the Minister is able to provide sufficient and very strong assurances. I know that noble Lords will listen very carefully to what she has to say.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative

I also add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester. I draw the House’s attention to my honorary presidency of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, which is the most visited tourist attraction in North Yorkshire, year after year. I am full of admiration for the mostly volunteer drivers and engineers who man it.

I was not going to speak, other than to support the work of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, both in tabling the amendment today and on the heritage railway generally. However, I beg to differ with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb: in my experience, incinerators are heavily regulated and will continue to be so. I commend the work done in Denmark, Sweden, Austria and Germany on using incineration—or waste from energy, as it is now called—to get rid of both household and other waste and reintroduce electricity into the national grid.

If the Minister cannot write this into the Bill, I hope that she will give a verbal commitment that accords with the wishes expressed by the House this evening. That would be most welcome indeed.

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

My Lords, I have no expertise in this area and no interest to declare, but some of the happiest memories with my two young girls were taking them to see Santa on the steam train at the rural life centre in Tilford every Christmas.

However, tonight, I speak at the request of my colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, who cannot be with us because he has had a fall. I make it clear to the Minister that there is still cross-party support for the intentions of this amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said, this will affect the enjoyment of many thousands of people. I would not wish people to think that environmentalists are killjoys—we are not. We want to go forward on the environment in a positive way, but there are certain initiatives that, for heritage and educational purposes, need to be considered so that we can see where we have been and where we are.

Therefore, I hope that there are the strongest reassurances, and I commend the four Peers who have done so much, under the leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, to bring this issue repeatedly to the attention of the House.

Photo of Lord Khan of Burnley Lord Khan of Burnley Opposition Whip (Lords)

My Lords, I rise to speak briefly to the amendment introduced so eloquently and passionately by my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester. I, too, congratulate him on his work on heritage rail.

Some interesting points have been made across the House today. If I understood right, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and others questioned the true pollution levels of steam engines and railways. Perhaps the Minister can give us some facts. Is it true that heritage steam engines may have a negligible impact on the environment? I invite noble Lords across the House to visit my home town, Burnley. We have the Queen Street Mill and, in it, the heritage steam engine that powered the biggest cotton mill in the town. It would be great to see noble Lords there. As the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, said, heritage steam railways are a huge part of our culture, especially for young children. They are a massive tourist attraction. We must make sure that we get the balance right. I understand that discussions are ongoing—indeed, I have had discussions with experts and researchers —about the true impact of heritage steam engines.

Finally, for my sake and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, please do not kill off Thomas the Tank Engine. It will destroy my childhood memories.

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The noble Lord can come and see Thomas the Tank Engine, who lives in Didcot, at any time.

I understand the concerns raised by noble Lords. As I said in Committee, the Government are very much aware of the important contribution that the heritage sector makes to the culture of this country, particularly the rural economy. We engaged with heritage bodies during the inquiries of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Heritage Rail, and we listened to their concerns during consultation. As I made clear in Committee—I am pleased to confirm it again today—there will be no direct impact on the heritage steam sector as a result of this Bill and the Government are not looking to introduce policy that would have a direct impact on it. I reiterate that nothing in the Environment Bill covers the heritage steam sector and putting it in scope would require a vote in both Houses of Parliament.

Clause 73 of and Schedule 12 to this Bill will make it easier for local authorities to enforce the Clean Air Act 1993, which, among other things, regulates smoke emissions from the chimneys of buildings. The smoke control area provisions in the Act, and the amendments to them in this Bill, do not and will not apply to smoke from steam trains. Indeed, Section 43 of the Act clearly indicates that the smoke control area provisions do not apply to any railway locomotive engine. I reiterate that this will not change. Nothing in the Bill will have an impact on the burning of coal for steam traction. Any powers that exist in other Acts of Parliament would require a vote in both Houses, but I can confirm that the Government do not intend to bring forward any restrictions on these uses. As noble Lords have set out, steam trains are a tiny source of pollution and carbon, and we have much larger sources of pollution to be worrying about. I hope this reassures noble Lords that the Bill will not have an impact on the heritage rail sector and that an exemption from the Bill is therefore not required. We cannot exempt from the Bill a sector that is already exempt.

On historic buildings, I can confirm that local authorities already have the power to exempt specific buildings, or classes of buildings, when declaring a smoke control area under Section 18 of the Clean Air Act. This means that they could exempt specific historic houses, or historic houses in general, from the requirements applying to the smoke control area. That will not change under this Bill. I want to clarify something I said to noble Lords on the fifth day in Committee. To confirm, I am aware that there may be a potential impact on canal boats in the heritage sector, as the Bill will enable local authorities to bring moored inland waterway vessels into the scope of smoke control areas should they have a specific issue in their area. However, we will consider the practicalities of implementation and will set out further detail in statutory guidance, which will be published next year.

Once again, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, for the discussion on this issue that he and others, including my noble friend Lord Forsyth, had with my noble friend the Minister earlier this year. I can reassure noble Lords that we are all very much still here. I, for one, am relieved because, had the Minister been called out during the course of this afternoon, I would have had to deal with all the groups of amendments on day 4 of Report.

I should like also to reiterate that my noble friend the Minister and his officials are happy to continue to engage with noble Lords as guidance is developed, and I hope that I have been able to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, that the Government share his views about the importance of the heritage sector and that nothing in the Bill will impact on historic houses or the heritage rail sector. Thomas the Tank Engine is truly safe. I hope that with those assurances, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Chair, Economic Affairs Committee, Chair, Economic Affairs Committee 10:15 pm, 15th September 2021

Perhaps I may ask my noble friend about her reference to canal boats. I should declare an interest as I spent the weekend on a canal boat in Wales. She implied that they might be at risk. Can she be absolutely clear that they will not be at risk because they are also an important part of our tourism industry and are very important to a number of rural areas?

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I brought up canal boats because, if they are moored in an inland waterway, they may be caught by the scope of smoke control areas brought in by local authorities in an urban area. That is why I particularly mentioned that they might be brought into scope, with reduced capacity to burn coal, if the canal boats are on an inland waterway in the smoke control area of a local authority.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

Can I ask a question of the Minister again before she sits down? There are at least two types of canal boat. There are those that run on diesel engines, which may or may not pollute and be subject to some sort of regulation in the future. But then, of course, there is the odd steam canal boat. They are as much part of our heritage as steam trains, fixed steam engines or my noble friend’s big steam engines in Burnley. Just because a canal boat is moving on water rather than on rails or road, perhaps the Minister could look at that matter and perhaps help us.

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

Perhaps I may clarify that the measure relates only to coal, not diesel, and only when moored up—not when moving.

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Chair, Economic Affairs Committee, Chair, Economic Affairs Committee

I know that we are on Report, but this matter is important. The Government at a previous stage of the legislation indicated that heritage steam vehicles and, indeed, the amendment as broadly drafted would not be affected. As the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said, on canals there are steam boats that have an important heritage. The assurance that I thought my noble friend had given was that they would not be covered. Given the assurances, if there is a loophole that would enable local authorities to include steam boats, it needs to be closed.

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

This is not about propulsion but the heating system in a boat.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

The House is a little confused by that exchange. I have to say that if my Amendment 127 were to be agreed to, there would be no question of local authorities being able to bring in by-laws or other restrictions on heritage organisations from burning coal, whether on canal boats, steam boats, railway engines or historic houses. It would be a lot easier for the Minister if she were willing to accept these amendments so there would be no doubt at all that the assurances she has given can be fulfilled.

However, the hour is late and there is still a number of groups to go. I do not intend to delay the House further. I should, however, like to thank all noble Lords who have spoken—particularly those who have done so from their own experiences with heritage railways or steam boats. I thank the Minister, too, for her attempt to get us to somewhere where we certainly were not when we started on the Bill. We are close to the sort of assurances that I was looking for, which is a guarantee that the introduction of a ban would require primary legislation. If she were able to say exactly that, it would help considerably. Perhaps I may give her the opportunity to do so before I ask the House to allow me to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I am disappointed by that. I will seek an opportunity to discuss this matter further with the Minister before we finish the Bill. However, as far as this evening is concerned, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 122 withdrawn.

Amendment 123 not moved.