Motion A

Environment Bill - Commons Reasons and Amendments – in the House of Lords at 3:49 pm on 26 October 2021.

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Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park:

Moved by Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 1, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 1A.

1A: Because the provision made by the Amendment is unnecessary.

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)

With the leave of the House, I will also speak to Motions B, B1, C, C1, D and D1. This historic legislation is now not only within sight; it is within reach. I thank Members for their conversations with me and my officials and for the debates that have taken place in this House.

I begin with Amendment 1, on biodiversity and the climate emergency, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and I thank him very much for the meetings he has had with me. I hope he noticed that last week, the Prime Minister pledged that:

“We will meet the global climate emergency but not with panicked, short-term or self-destructive measures as some have urged”,

but with the actions he set out in the net-zero strategy, and indeed through actions in this Bill.

We introduced in your Lordships’ House a duty to set an additional legally binding target to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030—a clear and significant response to the biodiversity emergency we face. However, as I have said previously, addressing these twin challenges requires action, which this Government are taking.

The net-zero strategy builds on the action from the 10-point plan, the energy White Paper, the transport decarbonisation plan, the hydrogen strategy and the heat and buildings strategy. It sets out ambitious plans to reach net zero across all the key sectors of the economy. The net-zero strategy outlines measures to transition to a green and sustainable future, helping businesses and consumers to move to clean power, supporting up to 190,000 jobs in the mid-2020s and up to 440,000 jobs in 2030, and leveraging up to £90 billion of private investment by 2030. It includes £3.9 billion of new funding over the next three years for decarbonising heat and buildings so that homes and buildings are warmer and healthier. We will boost the existing £640 million Nature for Climate Fund with a further £124 million of new money, ensuring total spend of more than £750 million by 2025 on woodland creation and management, peat restoration and so on. This will enable more opportunities for farmers and landowners to support net zero through land use change. Furthermore, the Bill’s powerful package of measures, including biodiversity net gain, local nature recovery strategies and a strengthened biodiversity duty on public authorities, will drive action towards our biodiversity targets and objectives.

We are playing a leading role in pressing for an ambitious post-2020 global biodiversity framework, to be adopted at CBD COP 15. This is my number one international priority, but it is also the Government’s. Putting the declaration in Amendment 1 into law is therefore not necessary. However, I hope noble Lords are reassured that the Government are taking action at pace to deal with these crises, and that calls from a number of noble Lords to hear the phrase “climate emergency” from the Prime Minister’s mouth have now been answered.

Turning to Amendments 2 and 2B, on soil health, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, first, let me first make it clear that the Government take soil health seriously. As Minister Pow said in the other place:

“It is the stuff of life.”—[Official Report, Commons, 20/10/21; col. 793.]

It is a priority, and I do not think anyone doubts that. This is why we are currently working with technical experts to develop the appropriate means of measuring soil health, which could be used to inform a future soils target.

However, an amendment to make soil health or soil quality a listed priority area would require us to bring forward an objectively measurable target by October 2022, and I am afraid we do not yet have the data to do that. Until baseline data and a metric to measure success are developed, we cannot commit to setting a robust soil target at this time. However, as I have also said, that is not to say that it is not a priority for us. Defra is working with partners right now to develop the baseline data and metric needed to set that target.

As I announced on Report, we will deliver a new soil health action plan for England. Noble Lords will find more detail on this action plan in the Written Ministerial Statement published last week, but I highlight that it will provide clear strategic direction to develop a heathy soil indicator, soil structure methodology and a soil health monitoring scheme to support the delivery of a future potential soil target.

We refer to the use of “soil health” over “soil quality” because soil quality sometimes refers to a measurement of the current status of a soil while soil health more accurately captures how well the soil is functioning. The soil health action plan aims to help soil to function better to deliver a wide range of ecosystem services and wider benefits and outcomes, such as increased biodiversity, carbon storage, food production and flood mitigation.

I recognise the compelling arguments of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and commend their very successful efforts to raise this issue up the agenda. I hope that the action I have set out, and the new soil health action plan for England, demonstrate our commitment to this critical aspect of our natural environment. This includes our commitment to improve the health of our precious peat soils, in line with the England Peat Action Plan published earlier this year and supported by the extra funding I mentioned earlier.

On Amendments 3 and 3B, on air quality, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, I thank her for her time spent meeting with me on multiple occasions. I recognise the strength of feeling on this issue both in this House and in the other place; it is a feeling I share. The two targets we are currently developing—a concentration target and a population exposure reduction target—will work together to both reduce PM2.5 in areas with the highest levels and drive continuous improvement across the country. This unique, dual-target approach is strongly supported by our expert committees, the Air Quality Expert Group and the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants. They will be an important part of our commitment to drive forward tangible and long-lasting improvements to the air that we breathe.

Colleagues in the other place last Wednesday rightly called for urgency in tackling air pollution. I emphasise that we are not waiting for these targets to be set before taking the necessary action. We already have legally binding national emission reduction targets for five key air pollutants for 2030. Our Clean Air Strategy was praised by the World Health Organization as

“an example for the rest of the world to follow”,

and sets out the actions we are taking to deliver on these targets. For example, legislation to phase out the sale of house coal and deal with wet wood, and to introduce emission standards for manufactured solid fuels for domestic burning across England, came into force from 1 May 2021. We are also delivering a £3.8 billion plan to clean up transport and tackle nitrogen dioxide pollution.

This House will have heard these points before, but I want to emphasise that delivering our ambitious reductions in PM2.5 will require co-ordinated action. The more ambitious these targets are, the greater the level of intervention that will be needed—from national and local government, as well as businesses and individual citizens. To achieve a level such as 10 micrograms in our cities would require fundamental changes in how we live our lives; for example, significant changes to farming practices to reduce ammonia, which reacts in the air to form particulate matter. This would be likely to be in addition to a total ban on solid fuel burning, including wood, and restricting traffic kilometres by as much as 50%. That would include electric vehicles, which release non-exhaust emissions from tyre and brake wear, for example.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for her further amendment, which challenges us to go further and set a target of 5 micrograms by 2040, in line with the latest recommendations from the World Health Organization. While we recognise that there is no safe level for PM2.5, it is also important to acknowledge that PM2.5 is not a pollutant that can be fully eradicated. The reasons for that are manifold. First, contributions to PM2.5 from natural sources and from outside the UK, particularly in the south-east of England, are currently modelled at around 5 to 6 micrograms. That is before we take into consideration the everyday activities of the millions of people who live in those towns and cities in the south-east. Essentially, our current evidence strongly suggests that it is not possible to achieve reductions in PM2.5 concentrations to levels as low as 5 micrograms in numerous locations in England, particularly in the south and south-east. Setting an unrealistic target would be disingenuous, and the target would be meaningless as a result, as well as ineffective and potentially counterproductive.

Before setting targets, we need to understand what reductions are possible, the scale of measures required to achieve them and the impact and burdens that would be placed on society. Members of the public will want, and deserve, to understand the specific health benefits and then we can decide upon the fundamental changes that would be required. So we will hold a public consultation on these targets early next year. Once we have carefully considered the responses to the consultation, we will bring forward the final, statutory targets by October 2022. That is a legally required date that we cannot and will not miss.

Our targets are being developed through a robust evidence-based process. We are collaborating with internationally renowned experts, including modelling teams at Imperial College London and the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the Air Quality Expert Group, chaired by Professor Alastair Lewis of the University of York, and the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants, chaired by Professor Anna Hansell of the University of Leicester. We will also share our findings with the World Health Organization.

I assure noble Lords that we are working at pace—we are not kicking the can down the road or shying away from difficult decisions—but it is important to get this right and follow a process that is informed by science and allows for genuine engagement, in order to bring society along with us to deliver ambitious air-quality targets and cleaner air for all. The amendment would pre-empt those critical steps, so the Government cannot support it.

Turning to Amendment 12, and Amendment 12B tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, I would also like to acknowledge the work of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman of Ullock and Lady Parminter, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, on this issue. Introducing legally binding interim targets, as these amendments propose, is unnecessary and would be detrimental to our targets framework, as I will explain, and to our policy response to the environmental issues that we are facing. We do not want to create a system that incentivises the deprioritisation of key aspects of the environment with longer recovery times just in order to meet a target in five years.

If obliged to meet legally binding targets every five years on environmental systems that are immensely complex, the Government would be forced to prioritise achieving an interim milestone over the long-term target itself, and I believe that would undermine the long-term nature of the targets framework. As noble Lords know, in certain habitats, such as our precious temperate rainforests, significant improvement is unlikely to occur within a five-year period, but, with the immense pressure of meeting a five-year target, it is hard to believe that any Government would not choose to park that challenge to one side in order to focus on easier short-term challenges.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, for the proposed compromise that she has put forward and for her time in the numerous discussions that we have had during the course of the Bill. The amendment in lieu, in addition to requiring that interim targets were met, would require that if interim targets were not met then the Government must consult the OEP on the steps needed to meet the interim target. It would also require the Government to prepare a report setting out the steps that it would take, and then to take those steps.

Even with that additional process, though, I am afraid that making interim targets legally binding is not a position that the Government can support. There is already a robust process in place to drive progress on interim targets without the need for the kind of perverse incentives that I have previously outlined. The OEP must monitor progress towards meeting interim and long-term targets and must prepare an annual progress report. In fact, it is expected that the OEP’s regular scrutiny will help to prevent the Government from missing those targets. If the Government are not on track to meet their interim targets, or if the interim targets are missed, the OEP’s progress report could include recommendations on how progress could be improved. The Government will have to respond to those published reports and any recommendations made, and they will be laid before Parliament.

While I recognise the concerns raised by noble Lords, it is our view that, even with the proposed additional process, the changes would have a detrimental impact on environmental enhancement. I hope I have reassured noble Lords that our position is well considered, and indeed considered in light of the contributions that have been made in this House throughout the passage of the Bill. I look forward to hearing noble Lords’ contributions today. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Liberal Democrat 4:00, 26 October 2021

My Lords, I always think that ping-pong can be rather a brutal affair. I have spent months working on an amendment; the combined House of Commons comes back and says

“the provision made by the Amendment is unnecessary”— and there we are, it has been written off. However, the House of Commons, in its wisdom, is absolutely right: the amendment was unnecessary because all it actually needed was for the Prime Minister and this Government to declare, as many local authorities have, a climate and biodiversity emergency. Therefore, I accept what the Minister has said. The Prime Minister in his foreword to the Net Zero Strategy—a document that we all welcome, although it is rather late, before COP 26—says:

“We will meet the global climate emergency”.

I truly welcome that; it is a shame in a way that he then says

“but not with panicked, short-term or self-destructive measures as some have urged.”

That somewhat takes the shine off it—but I accept that that declaration is there; it is by the Prime Minister and it is published in one of the most important documents that the Government have released in recent times, in the run-up to COP 26. However, I also point out that it does not include the biodiversity crisis, which is particularly pertinent to this Bill. The motive for this amendment was to give equality to both those emergencies, and to stress their interconnectedness—the vital relationship between the two.

However, that declaration is there. The other Motions that we are going to debate during this afternoon are, perhaps, of greater practical importance to the future of the environment, our country and our planet, so I shall not contest this. I thank the Minister and his officials for the conversations that we have had since passing the Bill in this House and today in finding ways in which to solve this area. I shall not contest this judgment, brutal as it was, by the House of Commons.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and to agree with every word that he just said. I thank the Minister for his introduction to this debate and thank him and his officials for the very detailed and useful discussion this morning, particularly with such a lively avian accompaniment.

I shall take a second to reflect on the place of your Lordships’ House. I had a discussion a couple of days ago with a Cross-Bench Peer for whom I have the greatest respect, who expressed great frustration at the huge amount of work done in your Lordships’ House, which so often—as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, has just said—gets casually dismissed in the other place. Yet we are so often told, “Oh, we can’t send too many things back to them; we can’t resist too hard; we’re the unelected House.” That, of course, raises a whole other question about the constitution. None the less I fear—and we have seen some cases of this already—that many of our strong, fine Peers are getting fed up and really considering whether they are going to continue to devote their time to your Lordships’ House. It is crucial that we recognise that we are in a different political time and that we are crucial to the future of this country, its environment and people, and we need to stand firm.

I have come under strong pressure, as I am sure many are aware, not to push forward with the soils amendment. Those looking closely will notice that I have not pushed forward with the same amendment as was sent to the other place. My amendment in lieu simply refers to soil quality rather than soil quality and soil health, as in the amendment sent to the other place. Health very often talks about the biology of the soil; quality is frequently used to refer to the structure. I am guided here particularly by the Sustainable Soils Alliance but also by academics, independent experts and farmers, who say that it is possible to use the metrics from the soil structure monitoring scheme to establish a target specifically for soil structure which would fit the definition of quality. As the Minister said on Report, targets can be iterative—they can be developed, evolved and finessed over time.

I acknowledge that the Minister here and those in the other place have spoken often and very clearly, and clearly are engaged with the issues of soil that are so crucial, but we all know that Ministers change. The only thing that will guarantee a way forward is with soil being on the face of the Bill. I put it to noble Lords that this Bill will be fundamentally deficient if we do not have soils there with equal weighting and place alongside air and water. I am afraid that the Minister in debate also said at one point that, if we were looking after air and water, we will sort of be looking after soils as well. I am afraid that very powerfully makes the argument for me—that soil risks falling into a second order unless it is given the same status.

I note that, in your Lordships’ House on Report, the margin by which this vote was won was equal top with that for the amendment on sewage tabled by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. This was a very clear voice from your Lordships’ House on Report.

I also particularly wish to acknowledge the very strong efforts in this area by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, who has done a tremendous job and has seen some steps forward from the Government. But those steps are still not enough.

I finish, given the pressure of time, by noting that I do not believe that the amendments we are looking at today are either/or. All the amendments that have been retabled today are crucial. My noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb will address interim targets in more detail, but I stress that that is crucial as well. I also want to acknowledge the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Deben, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, in supporting my amendment last time. I urge your Lordships to show that we are really here to make a difference. I give notice of my intention to push this Motion to a vote.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

My Lords, I rise to support the amendment on soil from the noble Baroness who has just spoken. This is a crucial issue. But first I want to ask my noble friend the Minister a question about what he said when he introduced the discussion on this. He quoted the Prime Minister, who said that there is a climate crisis that will be solved but not by panicked measures. That seemed to indicate that he thought some of the amendments put forward by this House were “panicked measures.” If that is the case, I would be grateful if my noble friend could tell us which of these amendments, which we so carefully debated in Committee and on Report, could be classed as a “panicked measure”.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, was absolutely right to tell us that the Prime Minister did not acknowledge that there is a biodiversity crisis. One-quarter of the world’s biodiversity crisis is in the soil, and that is a major problem for us. There ought to be an alignment between the Environment Bill and the Agriculture Act. We got soil into the Agriculture Act and we were then told that that was not the right place for it and that it ought to go in the Environment Bill; now we have got to the Environment Bill and my noble friend tells us it is not necessary in this Bill. It is necessary in this Bill. It should be put into this Bill.

Only 0.4% of 1% of England’s environmental monitoring budget is spent on soil. That is derisory. Could my noble friend tell me what he anticipates that spend to be within one year and within five years? Soil is the basis of everything. The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, which has done a huge amount of research over many years on soil, says that we cannot reach net zero without dealing with soil. That has been taken up by the Climate Change Committee, which has said exactly the same thing, and even my noble friend the Minister has said that we cannot solve the problem without addressing soil; yet soil is not going to be in this Bill.

I remember my noble friend Lord Deben said something on Report to the effect of: unless it is in the Bill, it is not going to be done. At that stage, I backed my noble friend the Minister against my noble friend Lord Deben’s advice. This time, I back my noble friend Lord Deben and say that this ought to be in the Bill.

Photo of Lord Deben Lord Deben Conservative

My Lords, I merely say this: I really wanted to support the Minister and I thank him for the conversations we had. I understand the argument that says soil cannot be exactly parallel with water and air because we have an agreed measure for both which enables us to put a date, but there is no reason we could not have a date, but a different date, to make sure that this Bill actually covers soil. I say this to my noble friend: I have been very disappointed that the promises made by the Government on trade have so clearly not been fulfilled. Therefore, it is very difficult to ask this House to accept the Minister’s personal support for this—which I entirely believe; I do not think there is any doubt about that. But we now have to accept that, unless we have soil in the Bill, it will not have the incredibly important emphasis that it needs.

I end by saying once again that the Climate Change Committee has made it absolutely clear that it cannot see how we reach net zero unless we do something serious about soil. I declare an interest, because I am a farmer in a small way, and I have a son who is particularly interested in, and financially concerned with, sequestration. So I could be said to have a personal interest, but that is not why I am speaking. I am speaking on behalf of the Climate Change Committee, which has made that very clear statement. I hope very much that the Minister will give us some hope that he will find a way to set a date. If we have a date, it seems to me that he will have won his case. If we do not, I think we have to say, once again, that soil is too important not to be dealt with.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green 4:15, 26 October 2021

My Lords, I understand democracy. I have been elected. Indeed, I have been elected under two voting systems: proportional representation and first past the post. So I understand that the other House takes a priority over your Lordships’ House—I understand that. But, at the same time, the way the other House rejected our amendments so casually and so arrogantly hurt me. We worked for days on these amendments; we refined them and discussed them and, I hope, we actually convinced the Minister and the Whip that we were right. And yet the other House decided that they were of no value. I will be voting “content” today with anyone who wants to press their Motion to a vote.

I particularly want to speak in favour of the air pollution amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, but, as I say, I am voting for all the amendments today. Air pollution is an issue I care very deeply about. We are talking about changing the law to make sure our toxic air becomes safe to breathe. This is a health issue. It is also a social issue, and we should understand that many people in our towns and cities suffer very badly. It also becomes an economic issue, because it hits the NHS, through people having to go into hospital with lungs that are badly damaged or through early death. Throughout the health crisis of the pandemic, the Government constantly said that they were being led by science. This is another health epidemic. It is toxic air, and it is time to listen to the scientists again, and to the World Health Organization, which says we need to bring our air pollution down to the levels in this amendment.

This is not an abstract issue. The young girl Ella Kissi-Debrah has been mentioned many times in your Lordships’ House—she was the first person in the world whose death certificate recorded death from air pollution. She suffered and died because of the toxic air where she lived and around her school. One child’s death is a tragedy, but there are probably thousands more who suffer with their lungs and die young who we do not even know about.

The House of Commons’ reason says that

“the powers conferred by clause 2 should not be limited in the manner proposed.”

Why on earth not? I do not understand. Without this amendment, it is left completely to the Minister’s discretion as to what level to set the target. That discretion is absurdly broad, and personally I do not trust the Government to do the right thing on air pollution without the intervention of your Lordships’ House. Quite honestly, the other place should have brought forward its own amendment on this; it should not just have swept our amendments away. It should have acknowledged the work, effort and expertise that we put in, and should have brought forward its own amendment. Instead, it just returned to the Government’s original wording.

I know that your Lordships do not like to defeat the Government too often, particularly in ping-pong, but this Bill is exceptional in terms of scale and scope. There are an exceptional number of issues that your Lordships ought to ask the House of Commons to consider again. I very much hope that we can pass this amendment along with all the others and that the other place will at least consider a compromise amendment that takes the issue of air pollution seriously.

I also want to speak briefly in favour of Motion D1, on the interim targets. I could not understand what the Minister said. I have huge respect for him, but, quite honestly, when he reads out, “If we have interim targets, they will not allow us to get to the final target”, I say that that is the whole point of them—we can actually measure progress towards the long-term target. It felt like an Alice in Wonderland speech. I feel very strongly that the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, has been generous to the Government and added an element of compromise to her amendment. I would not have compromised, but I can live with it, and I support it. I feel very strongly that we should ask the other place to look again at this issue of interim targets as well.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, I intervene at this stage with a degree of real diffidence. During the Third Reading debate, I urged the other place—there are those present who know that I did—to recognise the wisdom and experience of your Lordships’ House and not to bother sending back a lot of amendments so that we could move forward and get the Bill on the statute book by the Minister’s target date of before the end of the COP conference, which is just about to begin. I meant that.

However, I have been provoked into speaking this afternoon by two Members for whom I have very genuine and real respect: the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, who was one of the best chairmen whom I have sat under in 51 years in Parliament, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, whom we all hold in great affection. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, got it right and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, got it wrong. The noble Lord would not have been wise in persisting with his amendment, and he made it plain that he would not.

There are amendments on the Marshalled List today that I shall be inclined to support—one of them is in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington—but we have to have a real awareness of our constitutional position in this House. I believe in this House passionately—I think that noble Lords know that—but it is not the elected House, and, although I sometimes think that the elected House behaves without due regard for what we have suggested that it does when it thinks again, it is nevertheless the elected House.

There were amendments, particularly that of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, on which there was a sizeable rebellion in the other place. Where there is that indication, it is an encouragement to say, “A sizeable number wants us to think again”. I am not for a moment suggesting that we should roll over on every amendment this afternoon, but I am saying that we must not be prodigal in our treatment of the other House. We must listen with care and act with discretion.

If we really and truly feel, as I do with the amendment from the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, that there is a sizeable number of uneasy Members sitting on the Government Benches in the other House, we can be encouraged. Where that is not the case, we have to say that this is the end of the road. We regret that they did not reconsider sufficiently sensitively and carefully, but we recognise that they have the ultimate political power.

I say this because I believe so passionately in your Lordships’ House. There would be no point or purpose in this House if we did not defeat the Government from time to time and ask the other place to think again. If we are indiscriminate in the way in which we use our grapeshot, we might put our own position in jeopardy. I would never wish to do this.

At this early stage in the Bill, let us approach this afternoon’s business with care and discretion. By all means, let us say on one or two occasions, “Please, you really must think again on this one”. On others, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, with a degree of reluctance but with real statesmanship, let us say, “Well, I have something, and I am going to accept it”. That was a wise counsel which we should all be extremely wise to follow.

Photo of Baroness Brown of Cambridge Baroness Brown of Cambridge Crossbench

My Lords, Amendment 12B would make interim targets statutory. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for her support. I add my support to the request of the noble Lord, Lord Deben, to the Minister to respond with a date for including soils.

I thank the Minister—as others have already done—for talking to me about this amendment on interim targets and for explaining the Government’s position. The Government feel that there is a need for flexibility in interim targets and are concerned that the short-term focus that a five-year statutory target would impose could inhibit the long-term action which is so needed for nature.

This amendment precisely covers these points of concern about flexibility and lack of action now for the long term. Nature and the environment need urgent action now for benefits which will come in 10, 20, 30 or more years’ time. There is a real challenge with funding actions now for future, long-term benefit, when funding is tight and where there are competing, more immediate priorities with short-term outcomes. It is always hard to argue for those future benefits. It is always easy to think that we could delay action for just one more year, especially when interim targets can be revised or replaced at every annual review of the environmental improvement plan. It is just too easy to discount the future.

I congratulate the Government, as others have done, on the world’s first comprehensive net zero strategy. It is a great example of climate change action at work and of the value of statutory, independently set five-year targets.

If the Minister will be patient with me, I should like to ask him a series of questions. First, is he able to provide assurance that funding will be committed to the delivery of the interim targets in this Bill?

Clause 11 sets out the conduct of the reviews of environmental improvement plans. Clause 11(1)(c) requires the Government to assess whether they should take further or different steps to improve the natural environment. Can the Minister confirm that this assessment of steps will include whether the legislative framework itself should be improved; for example, whether statutory interim targets would be helpful? Can he tell us when and how Parliament will have the opportunity to scrutinise the interim targets the Government will bring forward, and when and how Parliament will be involved in scrutinising the proposed long-term targets before the laying of the statutory instruments in October 2022, given how important these are to the Government’s overall environmental strategy? I recognise that this is quite a shopping list of requests, so if the Minister is unable to respond to them now, I would be grateful if he would write to me with the answers.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Co-Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Peers 4:30, 26 October 2021

My Lords, we on these Benches support the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, in her Motion Cl and her Amendment 3B in lieu. I will be brief, because I know she will give a great deal more detail in her winding-up speech a little later, but before I go into that, may I just disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack? When I came into this House 21 years ago, I was told that our job was to ask the Government at the other end to think again. Given the way party loyalties have changed in those 21 years, and given the very short amount of time the Commons have had to debate the amendments we sent to them, I think we have every right to send some of our amendments back at least once—in fact, I know we have the right to do it more than once as long as we do not trespass on the governing party’s manifesto.

We have listened to the Minister’s objections to our earlier amendments on having greater ambitions to reduce small particulates, known as PM2.5, and have proposed instead an amendment which allows the Government a little more leeway on exactly which targets to set and when to set them. But it does hold the Government’s feet to the fire on the mean targets they can impose, aligned with the current and planned international WHO targets. I will not go into all the details of why it is so important to our health to do this, because noble Lords have heard this several times, but the Government’s net-zero strategy, published on 19 October, includes plans to phase out petrol and diesel land transport, and that is very helpful in relation to CO2 emissions. However, it does not tackle the whole problem of the small particulates which are so harmful to health. Much of this comes from brakes and tyres, as the Minister rightly said in his introduction, and some of it comes from industry, from static generators and other diesel engines. Therefore, we need an ambitious target for reducing small particulates from all sources, which would of course drive change in these areas too.

It is all very well to decarbonise our power system and make sure that we drive electric cars, but more is needed on the demand side. The Climate Change Committee has just done its independent assessment of the net-zero strategy and I note that one of its criticisms is on the lack of emphasis on consumer behaviour change. It said:

“The Government does not address the role of diets or limiting the growth of aviation demand in reducing emissions, while policies to reduce or reverse traffic growth are underdeveloped. These options must be explored further”— in order to, among other things—

“unlock wider co-benefits for improved health, reduced congestion and increased well-being.”

This reference to “improved health” undoubtedly refers to the microparticles in the air we breathe; that is why we need Amendment 3B and the ambitious targets for clean air that it contains. Before I sit down, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, that the answer lies in the soil.

Photo of Baroness Boycott Baroness Boycott Crossbench

My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Brown of Cambridge, who has already laid out why interim targets are so badly needed. When the chairs of the Climate Change Committee stand here and tell us that this is something we need, I think we—and, more importantly, the Government—must take heed of what they say.

None of us has a clue what is going to happen in the next 28 years and 2 months before we get to 2050. Because of the very poor state of our ecosystems, these are likely to be the most unpredictable years this world—and we—have ever seen. When the Climate Change Act was drafted in the mid-noughties, the Government had foresight and created five-yearly carbon budgets that had to be legislated for. One of those was legislated for in the weeks after the Brexit referendum when there had been a change of Government and a huge amount of upheaval and political distraction. Would this have happened if it had not been a requirement? Maybe it would, but maybe not. The point I am making is that when something has to happen because it is a requirement based in statute, it happens. That is what the machinery of this Government is programmed to do.

This Government often refer to themselves as world leading. The Natural History Museum would agree with that but, unfortunately, we are going in the wrong direction. We are leading the world is in nature depletion. We are bottom of the G7 and in the lowest 10% globally, coming a long way after China. In fact, we have little over half—just 53%—of our biodiversity left. I think that frames why we have to pull every lever to stop and reverse this, something the Government are on board with, and using binding interim targets is one of those levers. Are the Government afraid of putting in more targets and, if so, why? This seems an extremely important amendment and I absolutely will vote for it.

I would like to follow up on the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. In this instance, I too disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. I think it is the job of this House to keep going at something, and to not give in because what it faces, at the other end, is a government majority that just demands that the Whips make a few telephone calls. This is actually the important part of the debate. We cannot, for the sake of decorum or whatever, just wave our hands and let these things through. Quite frankly, the future of our planet may depend on it, even if only a little.

Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, when the Minister, Rebecca Pow, introduced the government amendments in the other place last week she said:

“The Bill is packed with positive measures … I am delighted that the Government have improved it even further.”—[Official Report, Commons, 20/10/21; col. 791.]

But many of these improvements were ones that the Government had resisted as being not necessary or counterproductive until your Lordships intervened. However, the Government have not listened to noble Lords’ concerns on air quality, and I am disappointed that the Bill has not been changed to reflect these very serious concerns. I thank noble Lords who have expressed support for my Motion C1.

In the debate in the other place, senior Conservatives expressed concern at the Government’s lack of action on this matter. Neil Parish, chair of the EFRA Committee, said that he completely agreed with the intention behind our amendment and that we had to ensure that this is one of our great priorities, questioning whether the Government were taking the issue seriously enough. Bob Neill MP commented:

“When a coroner issues a prevention of further deaths letter, it is not done lightly”—[Official Report, Commons, 20/10/21; col. 811.]

and called for “prompt and urgent action”. Rebecca Pow, the Minister, said that

“there is no safe level of PM2.5”.—[Official Report, Commons, 20/10/21; col. 797.]

Doctors are so concerned that a team of 30 paediatric healthcare providers are, right now, cycling from London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital to the Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow to raise awareness of the impact of air pollution on health, ahead of COP 26. I am genuinely at a loss as to why the Government are dragging their feet, when delay costs lives.

The revised amendment before your Lordships’ House today takes into account the reduction in the World Health Organization’s air quality guidelines, which were published after our Report stage, on 22 September 2021. I find it worrying that the Minister said in his opening remarks that it is not possible to meet these new guidelines in many areas. They add to the evidence that air pollution causes early death and has been linked, as we have heard before, to lung disease, heart failure, cancer—I could go on. Across significant parts of the UK, air quality still fails to meet the guidelines that were set by the WHO in 2005, let alone the new levels. According to analysis by Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, just over a third of people in the UK are breathing levels of PM2.5 over the 2005 WHO guidelines. This is truly shocking.

These new guidelines should act as a road map to clean air, with the ambition and impetus to reach them set by central government now in order to catalyse the changes required to reduce the levels of PM2.5 in particular. The Environment Bill is still the golden opportunity to set this commitment to work towards the more robust WHO guidelines and help reach our net-zero targets, while bringing forward the health benefits. My amendment would require the Government to do just that. Government delay means that people, particularly children and the vulnerable, are paying the price with their health.

Earlier this week, I spoke to Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, who told me that today is the 11th anniversary of her daughter Ella’s first becoming ill. Have the Government not waited long enough to act? I thank the Minister and his officials for taking the time to listen to our concerns. I now urge him to accept this amendment; otherwise, I am minded to test the opinion of the House at the appropriate time.

On Motion A, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that there is an imbalance regarding biodiversity that needs to be addressed.

I turn briefly to the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, on soil quality. I congratulate her and other noble Lords, such as the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, on pressing the Government on this matter sufficiently that they have made a commitment—which was welcomed by us and Members in the other place, including Caroline Lucas—to publish the new soil health action plan for England. It was also good to hear Rebecca Pow state that

“soil will be one of the top priorities in our new environmental land management and sustainable farming initiative schemes.”—[Official Report, Commons, 20/10/21; col. 793.]

I listened to the noble Baroness’s introduction to her amendment, and she raises some important questions that the Minister needs to answer.

I will now turn briefly to the revised amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, and I thank her for making her case so clearly. Of course, we all accept that environmental change cannot happen overnight and needs long-term planning, which is what the 25-year environment plan seeks to do. But you can and must be able to measure progress along the way, and that is why statutory interim targets are so important. We have heard again the argument that interim targets would undermine the long-term nature of the target and make it more complicated to meet the current 25-year environment plan. However, I draw attention to the Natural Capital Committee’s Final Response to the 25 Year Environment Plan Progress Report, published a year ago, which states that

“this report … highlights the lack of progress, and some worrying declines: nine of the 25 years have already passed, and it is now looking very likely the next generation will inherit a poorer set of natural assets.”

Rather than being in contradiction, the combination of binding interim targets and legislated long-term goals is complementary. The report clearly shows that unless you have something binding, it is not necessarily going to happen. This amendment is essential for delivering sustainable progress towards our environmental goals. I hope the Minister will reflect on the noble Baroness’s amendment further and reconsider his current position.

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)

I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. I begin by particularly thanking the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for his comments and his probably slightly reluctant acceptance of the position we find ourselves in. I also very much appreciate the comments of my noble friend Lord Cormack.

There was really only one question, raised by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, on “panic measures”. I am certain that the Prime Minister was not talking about any of the amendments tabled in this House, none of which could be described as “panic measures”, even by people who disagree with them. It is more likely—indeed, it is clear—that he was talking about the calls made by some of the more radical protest groups, perhaps associated with Extinction Rebellion and others, some of which exceed what I think any expert would believe to be a possible and realistic solution. I do not think it is in any way a reflection on this House.

On Amendments 2 and 2B, again, I thank noble Lords and, in particular, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. The Government cannot accept this amendment for the fundamental reason that the metrics are not in place at the moment. If we were to accept the amendment, it would mean a requirement to introduce a target before those metrics are there. This is therefore a practical issue rather than an ideological one. It is not the same as the Government—or me, certainly—saying that soil is not a priority. It clearly is a priority, and that has been repeated time and again by me, the Secretary of State and Rebecca Pow in the other place. It is not a question of the amendment being unnecessary; no one would regard action on soil health as unnecessary. It is a question of the practicalities of this amendment and the timing.

I reassure my noble friend Lord Deben that it is not just about my assurances, although I very much appreciate his comments about the importance he attaches to them. I recognise that Ministers come and go and not all are as passionate about a particular issue. However, the commitments made in the soil health action plan and associated commitments are not ones that I made up at the Dispatch Box. They required approval across Westminster, as with all the concessions and agreements made during progress on this Bill. They are not decisions I have been able to make alone.

As ever, the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, made a powerful case. However, she is wrong to say that the Government are afraid of setting more targets. The Bill paves the way for numerous additional targets and it is pretty clear that a very large number of them will be set. I hope she will be reassured that, while some of those targets have not been expressly pencilled into the Bill, it is clear in the paving that we are creating that a number of those targets are coming, and soil health is one of them.

Finally on soil health, we have introduced—I think this is a world first—the 2030 biodiversity target. Again, the pressure applied in this House very much strengthened the argument for it. It is simply impossible to meet that target without a serious amount of effort going into restoring and protecting soil health, for all the reasons that my noble friend Lord Deben gave.

Moving to Amendments 3 and 3B, we believe that we need to consult with the British public before we legislate for this type of target, which would have serious implications for people’s lives. We believe that we need to bring people with us as much as possible as we raise the bar on air quality and, indeed, a number of other issues. We will continue to collaborate with experts to ensure that consultation on targets is based on all the best available science. As colleagues in the other place said, there is clear evidence on the health impact of PM2.5; nobody is doubting or pushing on back on that. However, there is much less evidence on the pathway towards significant reduction, especially in any one country’s specific context.

For example, in the UK, around 15% of particulate matter emissions comes from naturally occurring sources such as pollen and sea spray alone. Up to one-third drifts in on south-easterly winds from other European countries. Evidence strongly suggests that it is not possible, based on our geographical location, for 5 micrograms per metre cubed ever to be reached in all locations across the entire country, particularly in the south-east and London, which I mentioned earlier. We therefore cannot accept a commitment to 5 micrograms as this is likely to prove unachievable. In addition, the amendment pre-empts what we think is a crucial process of collaboration and consultation with the public, so that they can give us as much approval as possible to enable us to take what will undoubtedly be quite radical measures.

Turning to Amendments 12 and 12B, on interim targets, the Government are confident that the framework’s long-term design works best for the environment, and I ask noble Lords not to insist on this amendment. On the issue of funding, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, as you would imagine, we are bidding through the spending review to secure the funds we need to make our ambition on environmental targets and environmental improvement plans a reality. We would expect a blend of public funding from the new environmental land management scheme, private funding via the new net-gain policy, for example, and other sources as well.

The OEP will also flag up, early on, when it scrutinises the Government’s progress with the environmental targets and environmental improvement plan. As I said earlier, when the OEP reports to Parliament, the Government must respond, and Parliament will have the ability to scrutinise that response as well.

I will make one final point on an issue we discussed this morning. It is very clear that among all of us—the public, their representatives in the other place and noble Lords in this place—interest in, concern for and passion for the environment is going only one way. It is growing, almost exponentially, and that is a wonderful thing. There are people in both Houses who have previously shown no interest whatever in the environment who are now fully on board, engaging in this debate and making strong contributions. That will not change.

Therefore, if a Government are not taking those interim targets seriously and are clearly seen to be missing those targets, or on course to miss them, the pressure on them will be immense. There is tremendous value in that. However, at the same time the Government must have flexibility in order to pursue those longer-term measures which will not bear fruit in the first five or perhaps even 10 years. That is essential, because I do not believe that any Government can be relied upon to take those long-term positions and implement long-term policies if the pressure is all on meeting five-year targets.

I thank noble Lords for their contributions throughout this debate. I understand the strength of feeling—

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)

I apologise; I thought I had answered. I will certainly reply on any questions that I have not answered—I commit to that. I am afraid I cannot do so now as I am not sure which questions are unanswered.

I understand the strength of feeling and thank noble Lords for the amendments they have put forward. I would be grateful if, in return, they could carefully consider the arguments made today.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

Before the Minister sits down, he has not answered the points raised by my noble friend Lord Deben. Notwithstanding the evidence that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and I have received that you can in fact set a target by the appropriate time limit within Clause 1, my noble friend Lord Deben raised the point that you could have a different date for bringing in soil quality targets. As I understand it, the only way that that is possible is for the soil amendment to be passed by your Lordships and for the Government to bring in an amendment in another place to meet the specific concern. If the Minister is convinced that his advice is right and the advice I had is wrong, he could at least bring soil into the Bill with a deferred date by which the target ought to be brought in.

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)

My noble friend is right that I did not answer that question. I apologise—it was not deliberate. The reality is that I cannot tell him when the metrics will be ready, because I do not know; I am not sure Defra knows either. I cannot give him the deadline he requires.

I have said this before, but I think it is critical. There is zero chance of meeting any of the other targets we are setting in law unless we pay particular attention to soil. This is a matter of process rather than outcome. We will achieve the outcome, because we are legally obliged to do so and part of achieving it means dealing with soil. This does feel like a bit of a distraction.

Photo of Lord Deben Lord Deben Conservative

I am sorry to trouble my noble friend again. I want to be on his side on this because I know he is really on my side. He knows that if you have to write an article, a deadline is rather important. If you do not have a deadline, you will not write the article. It is like that here. We need to have a date, even if it is further ahead than we would like, otherwise we will not have the concentration that we need. Can my noble friend think again about the possibility of having a date, even though he might disappoint me in how far forward it might be?

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)

I hear my noble friend’s arguments, but without the baseline, we do not know when we can deliver. However, we have a date, which is the 2030 biodiversity target, and if we do not meet that target, we will fall foul of the law. As he himself said, not just today but in previous debates, it is not possible to meet that legally binding target without major effort to protect and restore our soil. Therefore, we have that, and at the very least it is a pretty blooming powerful fallback position.

Motion A agreed.