Amendment 1

Part of UK Infrastructure Bank Bill [HL] - Report – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 4 July 2022.

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Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 3:45, 4 July 2022

My Lords, first, I apologise for not attending the earlier stages of the Bill. I was caught out by conflicting diary commitments, but I have been following the debates and the developments around the Bill through all the stages, and my noble colleagues will know of my interest in this issue.

We have been grateful to the Minister for the continued dialogue on the contents of the Bill. However, as we heard today, there remains unfinished and unresolved business, and I am therefore grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and all noble Lords who set out the case for their amendments so clearly; we share their concerns. The number and range of amendments in this group on the environmental priorities demonstrate that there is a feeling across the House on this issue. The noble Lord, Lord McDonald, described it beautifully as a “nest of singing birds”. I concur with that description, because there is a concern that the ministerial responses in Committee simply have not been good enough to embed “nature-based solutions” and the “circular economy” into the bank’s founding legislation. However, we believe that these principles are crucial for the creation of green jobs, for harnessing the best science and technology, and for reshaping the economy away from the damaging fossil fuel mentality that exists at the current time.

Amendments 1 and 3 demonstrate our ongoing concerns about the implementation of the “biodiversity” and “natural capital” commitments of the Environment Act, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, quite rightly pointed out, were designed to underpin the very compelling evidence in the Dasgupta review. In that report, Dasgupta made it clear that enhancing nature and biodiversity are more than aspirational extras; they lie at the heart of our future economic and social well-being and are fundamental to delivering our climate change commitments. This is why we believe that these principles should be a major driver of the bank’s activities and spelled out in the Bill. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has made clear, the Chancellor’s strategic steer in March set out that the Government are already calling for the bank to grow natural capital markets through its investment. This Bill seems the proper vehicle to drive that policy through.

I have also added my name to Amendment 6A, which would make it clear that the definition of infrastructure projects should be widened to include “nature-based solutions”, rather than just concrete and metal. I also think that Amendment 9 of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, quite rightly challenges the emphasis on “roads”; surely public transport and green energy should be priorities in future. “Nature-based solutions” can be anything from creating natural flood defences to restoring our woodland, peatland and parks. The growing market for investment in nature-based land use is an illustration of its potential for delivering our climate change commitments.

The amendment also embeds the principle of the “circular economy”, putting greater emphasis on our scarce resources through better reuse, repair, recycling and remanufacturing. As noble Lords have said, these are principles to which the Government are already committed but have been slow to implement. Placing these in the Bill would provide the means for drawing in new revenue streams to transform our manufacturing processes. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has already set out a convincing argument for Amendment 6A and—depending on the Minister’s response—if she wishes to test the opinion of the House, we will support her.

We also have our Amendment 11 in this group, which seeks to expand the definition of “harmful pollutants” to include those

“which are not greenhouse gases but” other forms of “particulate matter”, such as car tyre air dust, which can be just as

“detrimental to air quality and human health.”

Therefore, we think that the case for expanding that definition is vital. I am grateful to the Minister for her discussion with my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe on this issue, and hope that some of those assurances can be placed on the record today.

As is the case with so many other Bills, there seems to be a significant gap between what the Government say they want to achieve and what they are willing to commit to in legislation. Whether it is biodiversity, air quality, the circular economy or ensuring that infrastructure projects use nature-based solutions, their record of delivery does not match their stated ambitions. There always seems to be a political or legal excuse for delay. All we are doing in these amendments is formalising policy commitments already agreed by the Government, and providing a mechanism for financial support. There is already a review process built into this, but, if we are not rightly ambitious about delivering projects outside the normal investment portfolios, we will find ourselves in the seven-year review stage facing a tally of missed opportunities. This is why it is so important for noble Lords to support the amendments in this group, and I hope that they will.