5 Lord Bishop of Manchester debates involving the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office

Tue 12th Oct 2021
Mon 13th Sep 2021
Mon 12th Jul 2021
Wed 7th Jul 2021

NATO Accession: Sweden and Finland

Lord Bishop of Manchester Excerpts
Thursday 7th July 2022

(2 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, just for clarity, I should say that I said that we were on track to spend 2.5% of GDP on defence by the end of the decade. I agree with the noble Lord: one of the points emphasised during the meetings with our NATO partners was to ensure that other countries do not just talk about it but put their money behind their commitments. The UK has continued to commit itself fully and will continue to meet its obligations under NATO.

Lord Bishop of Manchester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Manchester
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My Lords, Manchester, and specifically my diocese, has a long and close relationship with the Tampere diocese in central Finland. My friends there leave me in no doubt about how much it meant to Finland to gain its independence from Russia a century ago. Tampere itself has even more recent experience of Russian aggression: it was on the receiving end of considerable bombing in 1939. In welcoming from these Benches the decisions of Finland and Sweden to join NATO, it is noteworthy that they both do so from previous positions of neutrality. Could I invite the Minister to tell us what wisdom, experience and skills, building on that historically neutral perspective, he believes Finland and Sweden will bring to strengthen our vital defensive alliance?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, referred earlier to these countries’ expertise and insights on the Arctic, which is demilitarised, and that has been a key objective. We need that insight to make sure that is sustained, for example. Our mutual security declarations also mean that the added security and the collective security of the alliance will be sustained and now extended to both countries. Frankly speaking, let us not forget when Russia, and indeed Mr Lavrov, stated repeatedly, “We have no intentions to invade Ukraine”. The reality is very different.

Cost of Living

Lord Bishop of Manchester Excerpts
Tuesday 12th October 2021

(2 years, 9 months ago)

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Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I quite understand, but for those people to whom the noble Lord refers with a health condition or a disability who cannot work, there is also a chance to get the £350 a month top-up of the universal credit standard allowance to help with their everyday costs. I say again: while this is a difficult position and we, not least my ministerial team, understand the potential challenges for people in this field, we are listening and assessing. I am unable to make any other policy commitments on that.

On the levelling-up agenda, the Government are quite committed to levelling up. Andy Haldane has been appointed to head up the task force. This is an economist from the Bank of England who knows what this is about, and we must work with him to make sure that levelling up works.

Lord Bishop of Manchester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Manchester
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My Lords, I wish that at the beginning of our proceedings this afternoon I had decided to count how many times the phrase “unintended consequences” would be heard in a ministerial voice. As someone who has long been a campaigner for and volunteer with homelessness charities, I wonder what assessment Her Majesty’s Government have made of the unintended consequences this change will have on the level of homelessness among our people. We did so well with the Everyone In scheme; it seems a shame if we are now putting that at risk. What will the Government do to mitigate that?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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My Lords, the right reverend Prelate makes the very good point that at the time of Covid, the Government responded very well and made the terms of that response very clear. On the unintended consequences, I think I said in a previous answer that assessment of the universal credit uplift has not been made because it was a temporary change and facility, so we were not required to do that. I know that that answer will not please many people.

Environment Bill

Lord Bishop of Manchester Excerpts
Monday 13th September 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

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Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
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My Lords, bearing in mind the hour, I shall speak briefly to Amendments 85 and 87. It is a pity that it is late, because these are terribly important amendments. I have been sitting and thinking: how long does it take to create a habitat? The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, just said that at the end of 30 years we may have rip-roaring habitat, but the likelihood is that we will not have rip-roaring habitat for many habitat types.

There are some instant habitats: wetlands, for example—just add water and you get birds. It is instant habitat creation. There are some middling habitats, such as meadows, where you can grow grass and wildflowers, but it will not be a complex meadow ecosystem, certainly not SSSI quality, by 30 years’ time. As for woods, a wood will not really get into its stride in 30 years. You will have canopy formation by then, but it will be a fairly limited wood. Of course, many habitats are very long-term: ancient woodlands take 400 years. Long-standing woods, which the Government have said they are now interested in protecting, are complex assemblages of habitat and we do not yet know how long standing “long standing” will be, but it is certainly more than 30 years. Peatlands take 1,000 years, so 30 years for newly created habitats for biodiversity gain, planning gain or conservation covenants is a bit pathetic; in fact, it is pretty useless. Destruction of these biodiversity gains and climate change carbon sequestration at 30 years will be unacceptable to the public and it makes no sense to create and then destroy.

Longer periods do not discourage landowners and farmers. I draw attention to my interest as chairman of the Woodland Trust. We regularly deal with farmers on woodland creation schemes. What farmers and landowners want is clarity for the future, so that they can make decisions. The current woodland carbon code requires woodland sites for carbon storage to be in place for at least 100 years and we have no shortage of people banging on our doors wanting to create at least 100 year-old woods, so I ask the Minister to accept this amendment.

Lord Bishop of Manchester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Manchester
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My Lords, I draw attention to my interest as a Church Commissioner, as set out in the register, and I wish to support what the noble Baroness just said: 30 years is rather a short period of time. I am grateful for the way the Minister, in proposing Amendments 86 and 88, is showing us the possibility of some flexibility in the future, but may I just tempt him a little further? What he is proposing would allow a future Government, by regulation, to change that period of 30 years—one would hope that it might go up to 50, 60 or perhaps even 125—but if they did, there would be nothing to prevent a subsequent Government reducing it back to 30 again. If we are to have a direction of travel in how long a site needs to be protected for, it should be one-way, without the possibility of going back down again. That could create a sort of planning blight, whereby somebody, particularly towards the end of a government cycle, might feel that, rather than making some land available for development, they can wait and hope that the period will be knocked back down to 30 years by the incoming Administration. Would the Minister be willing to think again so that, whatever period we set, any future changes would have to increase it rather than potentially allowing it to decrease?

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, I shall speak in favour of all the amendments in this group—even, in a very soft way, the government amendments. They address issues that I spoke on at considerable length in Committee, so I will, given the hour, be brief. It is a great pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester and all the speakers on this group. I think the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, really hit the nail on the head. If 30 years is all we can tie things up for, if it works, you are tying it up, one would assume, indefinitely, which 125 years serves as a figure for.

In Committee, I talked about 30 years being a blink of an eye in nature, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, set out a very nice template for us thinking about different kinds of habitats and ecosystems. I will add to this my—perhaps now inevitable—point about soil, which is about the biodiversity of the soil and producing what you might describe as a mature soil, whether it is under any of those habitats. A meadow might look quite nice on the top, but the soil is not going to be anything like a long-term developed meadow for many years. These are ecosystems that take a long time to develop to get the real richness you would need for a proper, healthy soil.

I will just note that we are strongly behind Amendments 85 and 87, which my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb signed, but I would also particularly compliment the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, on Amendment 84A. I would have signed it had I actually spotted it, but I am afraid I missed it. There has been much discussion in the media, in the public and in the environmental community about the utter inadequacy of the biodiversity metric. In this amendment, the noble Lord is going some way to finding a way forward to fix that, and I really do hope the Minister will take it on board.

Environment Bill

Lord Bishop of Manchester Excerpts
The scientists disagree. They were all pretty well in agreement until fairly recently, but recent evidence shows that, in the past, scientists were wrong. I hope my noble friend on the Front Bench will turn down this amendment and say that first, we need to do far more research and secondly, we must not do this until we get the definitions right in the first place.
Lord Bishop of Manchester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Manchester [V]
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My Lords, it is a particular pleasure to speak in the same debate as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, from whose wisdom, when I was a very young bishop some 20 years ago, I learned a great deal. I also an honour to follow the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, who has reminded us, powerfully, of the crucial role that commercial forestry and good moorland management should be enabled to play. Hence, I draw your Lordships’ attention to my interests as set out in the register, specifically my deputy chairmanship of the Church Commissioners, which the noble and right reverend Lord famously once took to court. We are one of the foremost owners of sustainable commercial forestry in the UK and beyond.

I speak, tonight, in support of Amendment 260. I also believe that Amendments 258, 259 and 283 are worthy of further consideration, but note the arguments of noble Lords who believe more work needs to be done to get the balance right. On Amendment 260, we will not achieve the recovery in levels of forestation that our country needs unless we have clear national targets, broken down into detail, as set out here. Moreover, a tree strategy will set those targets in the context of a wider narrative and allow major landowners, such as the Church Commissioners for England, to best play our part in its delivery. As a glance at the Hansard from another place will confirm to noble Lords, my colleague the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Andrew Selous MP, regularly responds there to Members’ questions about the work of the commissioners on forestry, tree and land management best practice among our many tenants. Commissioners have also met regularly with the Minister and his colleagues, and we look forward to a continued dialogue regarding both our domestic and international forestry activities.

This country needs a tree strategy; trees are not a problem to be solved, but a core part of our heritage and our future. Our aspiration is that a tree strategy will help us to plant the right species of trees in the right places. As the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, has reminded us, it is not simply a matter of increasing out total forest cover. Planting trees on high-quality arable land, or where a large number of visitors come to enjoy open vistas, simply to meet a target would be retrograde. However, as well as adding to the total number of trees, planting them where they can assist with managing water levels, prevent flooding or help maintain soil richness, will have a huge positive impact.

To save your Lordships’ time, I have not requested to speak at this stage in support of the later group of amendments that focus on indigenous communities and forestry products imported from overseas. However, I endorse them strongly, and I can assure noble Lords that these are matters that the Church Commissioners take into full account with regard to our own overseas assets. Indeed, we are already proactively engaging with Governments around the world to look at the good stewardship of our global natural assets and protect the rights of indigenous communities.

Baroness Fookes Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Fookes) (Con)
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The noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, has withdrawn, so the next speaker is the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham.

Environment Bill

Lord Bishop of Manchester Excerpts
Lord Bishop of Manchester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Manchester [V]
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My Lords, I draw your Lordships’ attention to my interests as set out in the register, specifically with the Church Commissioners—a significant owner of agricultural and development land. On matters of climate change, we are a leading edge and an awarding-winning investor, yet the Bill reminds us that climate is only part of the story.

I support Amendments 196, 198 and 199. I am grateful for the speech of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman of Ullock and Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, the noble and learned Lord, Hope, and others, who convincingly made the points that net gain must not be subject to time limits and must be adequately funded.

Back in my days as a parish priest, one church in my care had a notice in its vestry which read: “Please leave this room a little cleaner and tidier than you found it.” That was, in its small way, an attempt at net gain. The Bill offers a golden opportunity to apply that philosophy on a far wider scale. My little village church was an early adopter of a national church programme to increase biodiversity. Churchyards form a refuge from the built environment in urban areas and intensive agriculture in more rural surroundings. Setting aside an area of sanctuary in God’s acre enables wildflowers to re-emerge and small creatures to find a home. Yet churchyards are able to play this role precisely because they benefit from stable stewardship over a term far longer than a mere 30 years. Net gain cannot have a cut-off date. I am grateful to the Minister for his amendment today to extend that net gain requirement to some major national infrastructure projects. In supporting that, I echo the calls of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, and others in seeking assurances that net gain here will also be robust and long lasting.

With a suitable offsetting regime in place, where gain cannot practically be achieved on site, local churches will stand at the forefront of those ready to step in. In doing so, we will be enhancing the work to which we have been long committed, both theologically and practically.

Duke of Montrose Portrait The Duke of Montrose (Con) [V]
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My Lords, the Bill is systematically revising so many aspects of the environment where former approaches have been lacking. A large slice of the area where noble Lords have been discussing improvement is in basically rural issues. I have declared my interests as a livestock farmer.

The Government have laid out their framework for dealing with overall environmental issues in Clauses 1 to 19—their targets, reviews and renewal plans and what they term their environmental principles. Do we reckon to approach people with a carrot or a stick? In my last intervention I quoted a phrase from Gulliver’s Travels about increasing the blades of grass from one to two, which gave a positive spin to an environmental principle and a vision for people to work towards.

In trying to invent something similar in its phraseology, I will borrow a phrase from Bob Geldof and say we are now asking as many people as possible to enlist to feed the world holistically, in terms of its air, water, biodiversity and people. By this, we could earn the thanks of future generations. There might be a catchier way of expressing it, but many feel that this is the sort of thing they should make an effort to achieve, even if we differ in our views of how to achieve it. The mountain in front of us is to learn to change the motives of countryside managers. That is the best guarantee of the permanence we are looking for.

This group of amendments focuses on biodiversity gain as a condition of planning permission. I listened with much interest to the Minister giving some clarification of what it intends to achieve for national strategic infrastructure projects. His Amendment 201A, at a quick glance, appears to be asking for the ultimate Henry VIII measure; it is almost saying that we do not know the detail of what we want to achieve, but want all the powers that might be necessary to achieve it. This echoes what those with responsibility in rural areas are feeling; we do not yet know what new support systems will achieve. But there is a critical difference in their case, as it comes without any power to change the terms other than as the Bill allows.

It is still possible that all agriculture will achieve some biodiversity once reliance is placed on crop rotations and restoring natural fertility. Can the Minister clarify, first, whether there will be some guidance on what level must be reached before land is considered suitable for biodiversity off-setting? In the same context, will assisting the achievement of biodiversity gain on a remote site be regarded as equal to a gain within the boundary of a significant site?

We are embarking on an unquantifiable change in the countryside. As farmers, we know that Mother Nature will respond, but with what? We cannot tell what the final outcome will be to it all. There will always be some looking to achieve a viable enterprise from the land, and we may have to adapt. That is where I cannot support Amendments 196 and 201AZB put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock. She feels that 30 years is not long enough, and perhaps we all feel uneasy leaving some of this entirely in the hands of the Secretary of State. Would it make any difference to their position if the stipulation was 50 years? I heard the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, talk about 100 years.

I was looking forward to supporting Amendment 200 in the name of my noble friend Lord Blencathra, but I gather that this is unnecessary because the Government have decided to accept it and all its implications. The only thing in my mind is whether it would be better to introduce the marine element to the main section of the Bill, as is proposed in a later group by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. Would it still be necessary to mention “marine environment” in this section? I look forward to the Minister’s response.