Amendment 372ZA

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Committee (13th Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:30 pm on 18 May 2023.

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Viscount Trenchard:

Moved by Viscount Trenchard

372ZA: Clause 138, page 169, line 37, at end insert—“(e) protection for chalk streams in England so as to reduce the harmful impacts of excessive abstraction and pollution and improve their physical habitat”Member's explanatory statementThis amendment will ensure that the impact on chalk streams of relevant projects is explicitly considered, avoided wherever possible, or mitigated.

Photo of Viscount Trenchard Viscount Trenchard Conservative

My Lords, I apologise that I have not participated at Second Reading or earlier in Committee on this landmark Bill, but I am grateful for the opportunity to move my Amendment 372ZA, which seeks to secure greater protection for our wonderful chalk streams, which I believe play a uniquely important part in England’s landscape and natural environment. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, for adding her name in support of the amendment. I declare an interest as the owner of a short stretch of the River Rib, a chalk stream in Hertfordshire. I salute the hard work and commitment of my right honourable friend Sir Oliver Heald, Member of Parliament for North-East Hertfordshire. I declare another interest, in that I am the president of the North-East Hertfordshire Conservative Association, which has recently adopted Sir Oliver as its parliamentary candidate at the next general election. Sir Oliver’s work to improve the environment, particularly the quality of the eight chalk streams in his constituency, is supported by very many of his constituents, of all political persuasions.

In his speech in another place on 25 April, my right honourable friend observed:

“The Government have taken powers in the Environment Act 2021 and the Agriculture Act 2020 that would enable a catchment-based approach to tackling the range of issues involved in river quality. The water plan, which has been released recently, shows where the investment would be, with fines imposed and money reinvested in improving water quality. One of the main recommendations was to have some sort of protection and priority status for chalk streams”.—[Official Report, Commons, 25/4/23; col. 619.]

Some of Hertfordshire’s chalk streams are in a worse state than others. I am fortunate in that the Rib, where it runs past my house, has never run dry, although abstraction undoubtedly contributes to a worryingly reduced flow in midsummer. Some 85% of the world’s chalk streams are in England, and the remainder are in northern France and Denmark. Many of the rare and beautiful habitats that our chalk streams undoubtedly provide suffer a daily onslaught of pollution and over-abstraction.

I welcome the Government’s decision to support the chalk stream restoration strategy published by Catchment Based Approach’s chalk stream group. CaBA is supported by and works with all the major stakeholders, including environmental NGOs, water companies, local authorities, government agencies, landowners, angling clubs, farmer representative bodies, academia and local businesses. Its chalk stream restoration strategy, published in November 2021, sets out how England’s chalk streams can be restored to a near-natural state.

A 2014 review of England’s chalk streams found that 77% failed to meet the required classification of good ecological status as assessed by the Environment Agency, 75% had been significantly modified from their natural state and 55% were at risk from over-abstraction. The primary recommendation of the chalk stream restoration strategy, entitled the “one big wish”, which is supported by all the organisations, companies and agencies involved in the report’s development and by the consultation responses from stakeholders, is for

“an overarching statutory protection and priority status for chalk streams and their catchments to give them a distinct identity and to drive investment in water-resources infrastructure, water treatment … and catchment-scale restoration”.

The Government’s response so far to the one big wish reads:

“Defra is currently looking for opportunities to deliver on this recommendation. The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill provides an opportunity to consider how stronger protections and priority status for chalk streams can fit into reformed environmental legislation”.

In addition, chalk streams have been given priority status in the stormwater reduction plan. Is the intention still to use the REUL Bill to achieve this goal? Does the Minister agree that, as this Bill already deals with the reform of some relevant retained EU environmental legislation affecting planning decisions, my amendment provides a good opportunity for the Government to achieve their stated objective of protecting chalk streams? It would ensure that the impact on chalk streams of relevant projects is explicitly considered, avoided where possible, or mitigated.

An enhanced status for chalk streams, including within the planning framework addressed by the Bill, would drive the investment and resources that have been severely lacking, not only for chalk streams but, as the report by the Environmental Audit Committee of another place made clear, for the protection and enhancement of biodiversity more broadly. It could mobilise resources from several sources, including the option contained within the ELM scheme for chalk stream investment.

Noble Lords may wonder why my amendment covers only chalk streams, as other types of rivers and streams are also in great need of investment. An integrated approach to restoring all types of habitat and associated species through the restoration of natural ecosystem function, particularly natural catchment function, helps to deliver multiple biodiversity benefits alongside a wealth of natural capital associated with restored aquifer recharge, tackling pollution at source and natural flood management, as argued in a Natural England report in 2018.

Nevertheless, the chalk stream restoration strategy argues that the global rarity of English chalk streams provides a potent justification for singling out this river type among others. There are other justifications—for example, the fact that chalk streams are under particular stress because many of them flow through a highly developed landscape; they have been particularly stressed by the myriad ways in which their channels have been modified over time; they have distinct biodiversity, cultural and heritage value; and, for hydrological reasons, they are far less capable of self-repair than higher-energy rivers. Very few chalk streams enjoy protected site status, and an additional degree of protection would act as an exemplar to show how such an integrated approach can be used for these streams, ultimately showing the way for natural recovery of all rivers, streams, fens, lakes and other freshwater habitats.

There is a wide divergence of outcome to be shown with abstraction. All the designated chalk streams have abstraction targets within the CaBA chalk stream group target of no more than 10% of catchment recharge but, on the most extreme examples of the “ordinary” chalk streams, over 50% of the effective catchment recharge—in other words, the rainfall that sinks down into the aquifer—is abstracted, and in dry years that becomes all the effective recharge for those aquifers.

To take another example: on the few designated chalk streams, between 75% and 90% of sewage works remove phosphorus through advanced tertiary treatment. That proportion falls to between 18% and 30% on the ordinary chalk streams. This is why all the partners in the CaBA chalk stream group identified a higher status of protection as key to delivering the aims of the strategy.

The chalk stream restoration strategy sets out a comprehensive and interconnected series of recommendations, covering a range of actions across the catchment needed to restore chalk streams to ecological and functional health. They encompass abstraction reform, water quality, species and habitat improvements in both variety and abundance, land management and development. The Government have shown a commitment to support the recommendations of the report, subject to consideration, and to the suggestion of a specific category of protection. There is a need to ensure that the Government deliver on those commitments. Incorporating my amendment into the Bill would support that aim. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative 4:45, 18 May 2023

My Lords, I very much support what my noble friend has just said, having grown up in that part of the country and spending many happy decades fishing there. I just ask my noble friend the Minister, if he is going to give special consideration to chalk streams, to end the discrimination against Sussex. In particular, my local chalk stream should be included in the list, which it is not at the moment. The fact that it is called the Lottbridge Sewer should not be enough to exclude it.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to support every word that the noble Viscount has just said—a rare event.

I have recently joined a group of people who meet monthly to assess the health of the chalk stream that runs through their village by counting river flies, and the experience has been a real pleasure. There is nothing as satisfying as seeing a healthy ecosystem, and luckily theirs is.

However, as the noble Viscount has pointed out, chalk streams are extremely vulnerable. In fact, the amendment should not be necessary at all because we should automatically be protecting the health and well-being of our chalk streams. So I very much support the amendment. I hope it comes back again and again and we vote on it—or perhaps the Minister will snap it up as a good thing to do.

Photo of Lord Deben Lord Deben Conservative

My Lords, I too am not always in agreement with the words of my noble friend, but I strongly support the amendment.

The key point is that chalk streams are more vulnerable than almost any other water because they are concentrated in areas of considerable development and they are subject to considerable abstraction and the results of sewage disposal. There is therefore a particular reason for isolating them as opposed to other things.

The crucial reason is that we are fortunate enough to have the majority of the chalk streams in the world. Britain needs to be very careful about protecting those few things that we have almost uniquely. I have to say to the Government that, awful though the REUL Bill is, this subject is clearly not going to be part of it, so this is an ideal opportunity to make that statement.

I fear that I know precisely what the civil servants will have said to the Minister. First, they will have said: “First of all, we really need a wider range of things here. We need to apply this much more carefully because otherwise people who will not be covered by this will object”. Secondly, they will have said: “It’s very difficult to isolate chalk streams when we are not covering this, that and the other”. Thirdly: “There will be other opportunities to do this in other legislation”. Fourthly: “This is a very big Bill already and we don’t want to burden the system with anything more”. Fifthly: “This particular amendment doesn’t cover all the chalk streams that ought to be covered, and therefore it would be better to wait until we can cover them all”.

There may be other things that civil servants will have told my noble friend, but I suspect that those are the first five. I suggest to him that this is the moment in which he does not listen to, “Better not, Minister”, and puts in, instead of that, “Be off, civil servant!” We need to have this. It is not perfect, but if we wait for perfection, we will do nothing. I just hope that the Minister, in whom I have great confidence, will be able to say, “This is a sensible thing to do and I can’t really think of any good reason for not doing it”—and therefore will do it.

Photo of Lord Randall of Uxbridge Lord Randall of Uxbridge Conservative

My Lords, briefly, I join all those who have supported my noble friend’s amendment. I think that if my noble friend the Minister were sitting on the Back Benches he would probably have added his name. We know he has a difficult task but we wish him well in his endeavours.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

My Lords, how sensible it was of my noble friend Lord Trenchard to degroup this amendment from the previous group, which already had 29 amendments in it. This is far too important an issue to be wrapped up in a comprehensive debate.

We should not be in the position of having this debate today. One of the reasons why we are is that the NRA was abolished. When we privatised water—I had the privilege of taking the Bill through this House—we set up the National Rivers Authority. There is nobody better at protecting species or habitat than former poachers, so we put into the National Rivers Authority those who had been in the water authority; one day they were the enemy, and the next they were the best gamekeepers you could possibly have. Under the NRA, there were distinct improvements within the water industry and it was a pity that it got amalgamated into the Environment Agency. It lost its focus and its speciality, and then of course the Environment Agency’s funding was cut.

Having said that, I thank the Government for what they have done. Credit must be given to them: they have a water plan and a storm-water reduction plan, and they have now given powers to Ofwat to consider the environment, which is a huge step forward. They have supported the catchment-based approach and, in particular, they are supporting the national chalk stream restoration group.

We have been in a similar position many times before. There have been lots of reports and discussions, but maybe—just maybe—this time we might get it right. Everybody is on the same page and singing the same song. They are supported by the Government, who have said that the door is slightly ajar. Let us barge through it now and do something for these chalk streams.

The restoration group, as my noble friend Lord Trenchard said, is there to drive progress by government and regulators, water companies, landowners, NGOs, river associations and individuals passionate about their rivers. Are we not lucky still to have people such as Charles Rangeley-Wilson, who is chairing the group and has given hours of his life to chalk streams? The Government must make better use of this input. We are so lucky to have those individuals, and I thank them.

I reiterate what my noble friend said about the one big wish. This amendment is designed to help push that one big wish through into beneficial action for the chalk streams. They are hugely important. I have to admit that they were not important in my life until recently; I was much more concerned about the tumbling rivers in the north of Scotland than chalk streams. But how we manage chalk streams is the litmus test of how the Government are going to handle all the difficulties around improving the environment.

One of the big problems in chalk streams is sewage, which has been in the headlines nearly every day for many months now. We had a “sorry” from the water authorities yesterday on this. If you go to Dorset to walk along the banks of the River Lym, you will see notices saying to keep out, as there is E. coli in the river. That is unacceptable in this day and age but sewage is not the only problem. It will be quite easy, now that the cost-benefit analysis has changed, to put in tertiary sewage works at Evershot and at Toller Porcorum on the upper reaches of the River Frome. That is not a problem.

More of a problem is going to be the septic tanks. A lot of villages, as well as individual cottages, houses and farms, are still within the catchment area of chalk streams and all with septic tanks. Those tanks cause a huge amount of problems, particularly in dry weather. The summer months, when the water flow is low and sewage tanks which are not up to standard are disgorging into the drains or waterways, are the real problem. It is an underestimated problem but it will be a huge one for the Government to have to tackle.

Besides that, the Government will have to tackle us humans in a different way. They have to be prepared to say to us humans: “You cannot fill your swimming pools, you cannot water your gardens or do the abstraction that you did”, as this is only going to be compounded because of climate change. In parts of France—we have not even got to the really hot part of the summer—locals are being told that they cannot do things with water that they have always taken for granted. This is going to be a hugely difficult message to get across, but we need to change our habits for the benefit of the environment. I hope that my noble friend will continue to push on this, but he needs to get the message across that everything being done, which will be costly, is for the environment and we have to adapt to it.

My noble friend will have to take on farmers too. There cannot be, within the catchment areas, fallow fields for much longer. There cannot be maize or salad crops grown, unless there is an immediate crop coming along, because if there is a fallow field you will get run-off and sediment. Noble Lords may have seen the news recently from parts of Italy, where there has just been six months’ rain in one and a half days. The run-off from that has been horrendous. If run-off gets into water—into chalk streams—that causes huge problems. It causes sediment on the base of the stream, which makes it much more difficult for the trout to spawn. If the trout have spawned and you get sediment, you are going to suffocate the eggs. The farmers are another challenge that the Government have to take on.

Another challenge is the highways department, as an awful lot of sediment comes off highways. I see that one particular recommendation from the chalk stream restoration group is about highways, but it alarms me that it has a nasty red cross beside it, where it says there is no action at all yet. Can my noble friend tell me what action he is taking to berate the Department for Transport and local authorities, so that they make arrangements such that the sediment which comes off the roads does not go unfiltered into our precious chalk streams?

There might have to be arguments with those who support beavers. I am a supporter of beavers in the right place, but in most cases beavers and chalk streams do not go together. What the beavers will do will slow down the water, increasing the sediment. It comes back to the problems that sediment causes, which I have just been describing.

Then of course there is water abstraction in its widest sense; I have talked about that a little. The NRA was tackling that hard, and I pay tribute to more individuals: people such as Richard Slocock, who stopped the River Piddle in Dorset being a dried-up bit of river. He worked with the NRA and the Piddle has now become one of our classic chalk streams again. Sir John Betjeman, when he was at Marlborough, was filled with glory by the sight of trout in the River Kennet. When I was at Marlborough, the trout did not have quite the same effect on me. But very close to where Sir John Betjeman was filled with glory, my noble friend Lord Benyon on the Front BenchRichard Benyon, as he then was as Minister for Agriculture—stood on completely dry land in the middle of that river and later remarked in the House of Commons that the Kennet

“was as dry as the carpet”—[Official Report, Commons, 8/12/11; col. 405.] that he was then standing on.

In 2019, 60% of the chalk streams in the Chilterns area dried up in the drought. We are going to have to rely increasingly on aquifers to support our chalk streams so that they provide the flow of water. We all need to change. It is not a difficult remedy; it is very easy. Three particular things matter when it comes to healthy chalk streams: water quantity, water quality and good physical habitat. You cannot have that physical habitat without water and for that you need the aquifers.

It surprises me that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, did not put her name to this amendment. I question whether Labour is quite as supportive of this as I hoped it might be.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

If I were a fisherman on one of the Dorset rivers now with the mayfly hatching, I would have caught a most wonderful trout at the end of my line.

I say to the noble Baroness that I was alarmed, because I know that, in her heart of hearts, she is very supportive of this. However, her boss Keir Starmer said that he wanted to develop on green land. As my noble friend Lord Deben has just said, our chalk streams are going through highly developed land already. Which side of the fence is the Labour Party on? I hope the noble Baroness will reply.

I will ask of both Front Benches the question I was going to ask of my noble friend the Minister. Are they prepared to give the commitment to our chalk streams that the chalk streams demand? To remedy the chalk stream problem, it is not a question of days, months or years, but of decades, and an awful lot of interests have to be tackled. Unless we can get reassurance that all the parties across the House have that commitment, our chalk streams will not be in the health they should be

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, I support Amendment 372ZA in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, to which I have added my name. The noble Viscount has introduced his amendment and covered the subject fully, and I agree with all his comments.

Many in this Chamber will remember during the passage of the Agriculture and Environment Acts the debates on the importance of chalk streams, so ably led by my late noble friend Lord Chidgey. If he were here, he would certainly be taking part today. No doubt he is looking down from above on our deliberations today and wishing us well.

Chalk streams are a vital environmental resource and should be protected. Those noble Lords who watched David Attenborough on the “Wild Isles” television programme recently will know that 85%—I hope I have remembered that correctly—of the world’s chalk streams are in the UK. That does not mean that, because we have plenty, we can ignore them; quite the opposite. It means we must preserve them at all costs.

A year ago, my husband and I moved from our beloved Somerset to Hampshire, partly to be nearer our family. I have discovered, for the first time, the beauty and tranquillity of the county’s chalk streams—the crystal-clear water, the soft babbling sound of the water running over the riverbed and, often, the bright green watercress growing on the edge of the water and the riverbanks.

However, this idyllic description is not the sight that meets the eye in all parts of the country. Many chalk streams suffer from pollution, as the noble Viscount has said, making the waters discoloured and smelly. There have been numerous questions and debates about the effects of foul-smelling sewage discharging into our waterways. Many chalk streams suffer abstraction on a grand scale and the flow of the river is diminished as a result. As we all know, it is often the rate of flow of a stream that helps to keep its waters clear.

While there is currently a chalk river priority habitat in place which recognises their international rarity and biodiversity, this is not protecting them from sewage discharges. However, the chalk stream strategy also has an important part to play. Today’s announcement by the water companies that they plan to tackle the problem of sewage overflows by 2030 through massive investment in sewer upgrades is to be welcomed, but I fear it may be a little while before this is effective in protecting our precious chalk streams, especially from future development pressures.

Clause 138(c)(e) is the ideal place for this amendment to be added to achieve the desired result we are all looking for. I am extremely grateful to the noble Viscount for raising this vital issue and I hope the Minister will be able to accept this amendment. All speakers have strongly supported this amendment and I agree completely with the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Deben. Chalk streams are an invaluable asset and must be protected and preserved, so that future generations of children and adults can enjoy them to the full.

Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I am delighted to see the Minister in his place because it gives him the opportunity to make me gruntled again. If he is doing the next two groups, I am beginning to think I should set him a weekly target to ensure that I am never disgruntled again with any of the things he is dealing with.

To be serious, this is a critical environmental issue. I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, for tabling this amendment and for his excellent introduction. I also join the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, in her tribute to Lord Chidgey. He was deeply committed to this issue, and I think we should recognise that.

As we have heard, England has 85% of the world’s chalk streams, and they are at risk. They are very, very precious, and I really do not think this should be a political issue; it is something we should all be getting behind, and we should all be supporting their protection. As at the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said, they are more vulnerable than other waterways. There are many reasons for that, and we have heard many during the debate: agricultural pollution; sewage pollution; the decline of native species, particularly invertebrates; the introduction of non-native invasive species; development; population growth; and the fact that we simply use and waste far too much water. On average in Britain, we use more water per head per day than most other European countries. Most pressing are the low flows and the chronic abstraction, which noble Lords have talked about. We have also had issues in recent years with not having enough rainfall to support the levels of abstraction, even though people have been given warnings about the damage that that can cause.

As noble Lords have said, we support the reform of the abstraction licensing system, which is currently allowing too much water be taken from our chalk streams. We need to look at more robust infrastructure to support that, dealing with the ongoing strain of an unpredictable climate and rising populations. We need greater investment in storage capacity, and water metering needs to be managed more and developed.

One of the recommendations of the chalk stream restoration group—it is really good that the Government are getting behind it and supporting what it is trying to do—is that chalk streams should be given overarching protection and priority status. That is the one big wish we have heard noble Lords talk about. If there is anything the Minister should take from this debate and previous debates on the Environment Act, for example, it is that the Government really must give chalk streams a status that reflects that they are not just locally precious but, as we have heard, globally unique. This amendment would provide those protections. We support it and I urge the Minister to get behind it. If the Government cannot do anything today, I urge them to bring something forward.

Photo of Lord Benyon Lord Benyon The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My Lords, I refer to my entry in the register. Amendment 372ZA seeks to amend the definition “environmental protection” to include specific reference to the protection of chalk streams. It was so eloquently moved by my noble friend Lord Trenchard, and I pay tribute to his and other noble Lords’ passion on this issue. I assure them that I would not stand at this Dispatch Box and in any way jeopardise the future recovery of our chalk streams. I was in one last weekend and I will be in one again this weekend, as the mayfly start to hatch.

Mention was made of the catchment-based approach— CaBA—which is a wonderful piece of partnership working, so ably led by Charles Rangeley-Wilson. I was fortunate enough to visit him in Norfolk, to see where he has reconnected with the valley bottom or river bottom chalk streams that were previously canalised for water meadows, sometimes hundreds of years ago. There are remarkable benefits, which we measure rather technically in the water framework directive, but the key indicators, such as ranunculus and fish populations, can be massively enhanced by many measures that he and others carry out. The work was led in this House by Lord Chidgey and, of course, in Hertfordshire by my right honourable friend Sir Oliver Heald, whom I met just a couple of weeks ago to talk about this.

There is undoubtedly some good news about chalk streams. The Mimram, which I visited in the past and which suffered from massively low flow, has seen some improvement, but there is still huge pressure on these remarkable places. I am on record talking about them as our country’s equivalent of the rainforests: these areas are, in large part, particular to England—85% of them are here—and we want to see them thrive. Some excellent points have been made.

This Government are committed to protecting chalk streams, which we defined as priority sites in the Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan, with a target of a 75% reduction in harmful sewage spills by 2035. In our Plan for Water, the Government also committed to reviewing the impact on chalk streams of private sewerage systems—my noble friend Lord Caithness made this point well. The pressures on them are from sewage outflows and inadequate sewage-treatment plants, farming and run-off, and serious problems due to misconnections and private sewerage systems that are not functioning properly.

I say to my noble friend Lord Lucas that we will certainly address the Lottbridge Sewer—how on earth it got that name I do not know—and make sure that it is part of our consideration of chalk streams. To the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, I say: the riverfly project of which she is part is one of the great examples of citizen science. It sees an enormous number of people assisting the regulator—the Environment Agency—in identifying when a problem occurs, so that it can then step in.

My noble friend Lord Caithness mentioned my visit to Marlborough in 2010, just after I became a Minister. I stood in a riverbed that was dry because water was being extracted from the Kennet and pumped out of the catchment to provide water for the people of Swindon. They needed water, but it should not have come out of the catchment. This really damaged a very special SPA and SSSI, but I am delighted that, through measures that the Government drove through our abstraction incentive mechanism, Thames Water then delivered water from the same catchment—the Thames—rather than the Kennet. The Kennet is now in a better, although not perfect, state. There are now huge opportunities, through private sector green finance initiatives and habitat restoration—driven by government actions, through ELMS and our Plan for Water—for chalk streams’ amazing natural environments to be restored, so that we can show the world that we lead the way on river restoration.

I certainly share my noble friend Lord Trenchard’s concern for the protection of chalk streams. I stress that the definition of “environmental protection”, for the purposes of the environmental outcomes report, has been drafted to ensure that the Secretary of State is capable of setting outcomes across the breadth of environmental concerns, very much including chalk streams.

Many specific aspects of the environment will need to be considered under this new system and it is crucial that our passion for chalk streams, which we are debating now, does not get lost in the fact that we are trying to create some special protections. These aspects of the environment, which will need to be considered under this new system, will need to be included, be they chalk streams or other important environmental matters. Given the need to capture the environment as a whole in these provisions, I hope that the noble Viscount will accept that it would not be appropriate to draw out granular considerations in this definition. As noble Lords will be aware, the Bill places a duty on the Secretary of State to undertake further public consultation when setting outcomes, and these will be brought back to the House for consideration under the affirmative procedure.

Therefore, with these assurances about the scope of the definitions and the opportunity for further scrutiny of outcomes, I hope that the noble Viscount will feel able to withdraw his amendment, but with the absolutely clear commitment from me that further conversations will be had, with him and others, about chalk-stream restoration and how we can better make sure that this continues to be a priority.

Photo of Lord Deben Lord Deben Conservative 5:15, 18 May 2023

I am sure that my noble friend’s comments are absolutely acceptable and I see perfectly well why he does not want this here. But is it possible just to consider whether attention might be drawn to this point somewhere else in the Bill? As he said, it is very special; I say this with a perfect lack of interest because, coming from the flatlands of Suffolk—where I am afraid we do not have any chalk streams—I am particularly keen to support the noble Viscount. Might the Minister consider putting this somewhere else in the meantime?

Photo of Lord Benyon Lord Benyon The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I will have to have discussions with colleagues and officials to see whether there are other areas of legislation, or areas in this legislation, where we could reassure the House. I have listened and will continue to listen on this, and I hope that noble Lords will reflect on this.

Photo of Lord Berkeley of Knighton Lord Berkeley of Knighton Crossbench

My Lords, the Minister mentioned the Kennet case. Is he satisfied that enough legislation is in place to prevent that happening again?

Photo of Lord Benyon Lord Benyon The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

A decade ago, we provided a mechanism whereby overextraction would require action to be taken, in this case by water companies. It was a fairly geeky measure called the abstraction incentive mechanism, and it worked. Countless other measures can and should be taken, and our direction to Ofwat and the commitments in our Plan for Water will drive this forward, as will our abstraction reforms.

Rivers such as the Kennet can be affected by something incredibly small. Three miles of the Kennet’s ecosystem was destroyed about seven years ago by about an egg cup of a chemical called chlorpyrifos, which went through the drainage system—which is the responsibility of the local authority and the water company—into the river. That tiny amount wiped out life for about three miles. That is an indication of how fragile these systems are and how we must have protections that can trace this, make the polluter pay and make sure that this never happens again. It is incredibly important that we do this.

Photo of Viscount Trenchard Viscount Trenchard Conservative

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this debate. I am greatly heartened by the universal tone of the speeches and contributions made.

I thank my noble friend Lord Lucas for his support. It is most unfortunate that his local chalk stream has the name it does; I do not know how easy it will be for him to change it, but I imagine there is some kind of complicated procedure for changing names—there is for roads, so there should be for rivers as well.

I am also very happy to have received support from some noble Lords whose support I am unaccustomed to receive—in particular, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and my noble friend Lord Deben. To answer my noble friend’s point, I am sure that my noble friend the Minister, together with his officials, could prepare a comprehensive list of defined chalk streams, because I am sure that we have not quite caught all of them. It may never be a perfect list, but at least, as my noble friend said, it would be a pretty good and near comprehensive one.

My noble friend Lord Caithness made a strong, comprehensive speech of support, for which I am most grateful. I agree with what he said about the Environment Agency and how it conducted itself immediately after its establishment, because I had to deal with it at great length over developments in the River Tamar. I also endorse entirely what he said about the small group of determined people who work so hard to protect our beautiful chalk streams.

I was also grateful to my noble friend for riling the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, into supporting my amendment—I think riling is the right word in this context.

Photo of Viscount Trenchard Viscount Trenchard Conservative

If it should be necessary for me to bring back this amendment on Report, I shall be happy to receive the noble Baroness’s support.

I am also most encouraged by the support that my noble friend the Minister has given to my amendment. I had heard from my right honourable friend Sir Oliver Heald that he and the Minister visited the Mimram together, which is one case of a chalk stream whose condition has improved, and I am grateful to the Government for the support that they have given to date. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend for the support that he has given today. I think he stopped short of committing to provide the specific statutory protection that chalk streams deserve, but I am grateful for his offer to engage in “granular” consideration. I am never quite sure what “granular” means, but it is one of those words that is used more and more nowadays. Anyway, I am very happy to accept his invitation to do that.

I would like to wish my noble friend tight lines as he casts his fly again next weekend. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 372ZA withdrawn.

Amendment 372A not moved.

Clause 138 agreed.

Clause 139: Environmental outcomes reports for relevant consents and relevant plans

Amendment 373 not moved.