Lord Curry of Kirkharle debates involving the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office during the 2019 Parliament

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Mon 25th Jan 2021

Christians: Persecution

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Excerpts
Monday 25th March 2024

(2 months ago)

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Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB)
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My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow other noble Lords who have already contributed very passionately to this debate. In particular, I express my appreciation to the noble Baroness, Lady Foster, for sponsoring this important and timely debate—occurring as it does, as has been mentioned already, just before we celebrate the most important event in the Christian calendar—and for her very comprehensive and compelling introduction.

Let me first state, as a Christian, that persecution of any person holding a particular religious or faith belief is unacceptable. I, too, applaud Fiona Bruce MP and others for their valuable work in supporting freedom of religion or belief. It is a huge and critically important work and needs to continue. Sadly, as we know, there are too many historical examples of abuse and persecution of individuals and of whole communities, and ethnic cleansing of thousands of people, because they belong to a particular religious or faith group. We also have to confess that it has happened on occasions throughout history under the cloak of Christianity, to our shame. I contest that any Christian who tries to faithfully follow the teaching of Jesus would not participate in any form of religious persecution; in fact, the reverse should be evident. The teaching of the Good Samaritan story by Jesus is that loving your neighbour, who might be from a different ethnic or religious group—which was the case in Luke, chapter 10—is an essential element of the Christian message.

This evening’s debate is particularly relevant because the data suggests that more Christians are being persecuted today than at any time in our history, and the number is increasing daily. How appalling is that fact? As has been mentioned a number of times in this debate, data from Open Doors World Watch List 2024 has stated that 365 million people worldwide—one in seven—are facing higher levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith: one in five in Africa; one in seven in Asia.

Even more dreadful is the data from Open Doors which estimates that 5,621 Christians were killed for faith-related reasons in 2023, compared to 4,761 in 2021, the majority of these in Nigeria, as stated by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. It has been estimated that, between 2000 and 2020, over a 20-year period, 62,000 Nigerian Christians have been killed by the terrorist group Boko Haram or by Fulani herdsmen, et cetera. These are horrific statistics and mostly occur where Boko Haram has declared Sharia law. Kidnapping is common, as we heard again recently, and thousands of churches have been attacked and burned to the ground.

According to the World Watch List, India, as has been mentioned already, is also becoming very alarming indeed, with the number of Christians being killed increasing dramatically over the past 12 months up to 160 recorded cases. Churches have been attacked, together with Christian institutions and businesses, and 62,000 Christians have been forced to leave their homes in India this past year—a huge number. Eleven out of India’s 28 states have now introduced anti-conversion legislation, and 35 pastors have been imprisoned, all this on the watch of Prime Minister Modi. It is an alarming trend. There have been some very high-profile cases. In Manipur last year, ethnic violence resulted in 400 churches being burned to the ground and 50,000 Christian believers displaced. How does this sit with freedom of religion and belief? It is unacceptable.

The global statistics are alarming. The freedom of Christians to worship and express their faith is being more and more constrained, and many are at risk of persecution and death. I am fully aware that the Government must be as concerned as we all are about these dreadful trends, and that solutions are extremely difficult, if not impossible in some cases. It is particularly concerning, when the world’s attention is diverted to Gaza and Ukraine or whatever the most recent high-profile tragedy happens to be, that many of these cases of Christian persecution go almost unnoticed.

More needs to be done. The UN and other global institutions need to exert much more pressure on countries where abuse and persecution is now endemic. I believe our Government should take a lead, and I hope the Minister agrees that we need to make renewed efforts to harness global support to call out and influence the perpetrators of violence and persecution.

If we are to take a global lead in these matters, as we should, we need to set an example here in our country of tolerance and respect for all who wish to worship and practise their faith, whatever that faith may be. The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, referred to other western countries including Canada and the US where there are increasing concerns. However, there are many Christians here in Britain today who are nervous and fearful of expressing biblical teaching for fear of recrimination, of losing their jobs, of being alienated and ostracised—or cancelled, to use today’s ridiculous jargon. We need to stand firm to defend our Christian freedoms, our ability to promote the Christian gospel. We cannot claim to be a global exemplar if freedom of speech is under threat here. The very thing that we are concerned about globally is at risk in Britain. We must not tolerate intolerance of our freedom to practise Christian faith and values here at home.

Trade (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) Bill [HL]

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Excerpts
Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB)
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My Lords, I add my congratulations to those of the noble Baroness, Lady Lawlor, and other noble Lords on the Foreign Secretary’s appointment to this House and his maiden speech. It was an excellent speech, as anticipated. I also commend that his first public engagement was the trip to Ukraine. It was such an important signal.

Like others in this House, I welcome this Bill and the CPTPP. It is clearly a hugely important step forward and crucial in opening up trade opportunities for British companies in significant and growing markets, which we absolutely need to do. I congratulate the Government on this agreement.

My primary interest and concerns lie in the potential impact of the agreement on the agri-food sector. I very much welcome the noble Lord’s reassurance that our standards will be protected in trade deals. He may recall that he and I had interactions on agricultural policy in his previous incarnation. I appreciate that, to some extent, I am repeating concerns that many of us raised during the passage of the Trade Bill through your Lordships’ House, but those concerns are still real and relevant. This agreement is much better on agriculture than the New Zealand and Australia deals, but there are still issues of concern.

I was actively involved in the introduction of voluntary assurance standards across the agricultural sector 30 years ago and personally helped draft the standards for beef and sheep farming. This led ultimately to full supply chain assurance and the establishment of Assured British Meat, which was chaired by the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay. It eventually led to the establishment of Assured Food Standards, which still exists and is responsible for monitoring those standards on farms. This huge voluntary initiative eventually covered all sectors of agriculture and was introduced due to a very real concern about the loss of consumer confidence through the late 1980s and early 1990s in our production systems. There was concern about the use of hormones, sow stalls, the random use of antibiotics and a relentless media focus on animal welfare issues which undermined the integrity of our production systems. There was also concern about the level of compliance with animal welfare standards and with legislation and a lack of transparency.

We banned hormones, growth promoters, the use of sow stalls in pig systems and numerous pesticides for environmental and ecological reasons. The majority of farmers have embraced the need for independent inspections of their farms to verify that the highest standards of animal welfare and husbandry are being practised. We now have global leading traceability systems in agricultural production. These measures have been embraced by farmers and growers, often with huge economic consequences. We have led the world in establishing higher standards to restore and maintain consumer confidence. We cannot put that investment at risk. We cannot jeopardise consumer confidence. We should not accept product from any exporter country that is produced to a lower standard than is acceptable and appropriate in our domestic market.

I assure the House that the noble Lord, Lord Trees, and I have not conferred, but I wholeheartedly support his comments. I also absolutely deny that what I am suggesting is protectionism. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, on the potential benefit of free trade. British farmers are not in the least afraid to compete with any country in the world, including those in this CPTPP, provided that common standards are consistently applied—I am trying very hard not to use the phrase “level playing field”.

We should aspire to be a global influencer, without being arrogant or complacent, in helping establish international standards—on the environment, greenhouse gas emissions, animal welfare and food safety—that could become a meaningful foundation for global trade. We can punch above our weight, as we have done many times in the past, and have a massive influence on global standards of food production.

I know that the Minister will want to reassure us that this is the Government’s intention, and that the CPTPP agreement includes a provision that deals will conform to our internal standards. However, concerns remain about hormone-produced beef from Canada and Mexico entering our market, the use of sow stalls, farrowing crates, tail docking in pigs, and the use of growth promoters in other countries included in the agreement. There are concerns about the high use of antibiotics and regular application of numerous pesticides that are banned here in the UK, added to which there is a continued concern about palm oil.

I do not want to sound negative, but not only have these concerns the potential to undermine our market competitiveness, but they also put at risk the consumer confidence I referred to earlier, which has been hard-won. Antibiotic use of certain pesticides could also have impact on human health. I hope the Minister will be able to reassure us that rigorous auditing systems will be established to verify that equivalent standards are in place from all countries covered by this agreement. I must advise him, however, that supply chains in many countries are nothing like as transparent as our own, and that the signing of an agreement that standards are in place is not sufficient evidence without a credible audit trail.

Finally, many of us in the Chamber were successful in persuading the Government to put the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a permanent footing following an amendment to the Trade Bill, which was very welcome indeed. It has been established to scrutinise trade deals and for its views to be available for us to consider. I concur with the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, on the ability of this House to scrutinise deals. It is deeply regrettable, as the noble Lords, Lord Trees and Lord Foster, have stated, that this debate is taking place before the TAC has produced its report on the CPTPP agreement, to help inform our debate today. Hopefully, we will see the report before the Committee stage of this Bill.

Darfur: Risk of Genocide

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Excerpts
Tuesday 18th July 2023

(10 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I recognise the important work that the noble Lord is doing and I very much appreciate the strong engagement we continue to have outside the Chamber. I also recognise the importance of civilian engagement at this crucial time. The noble Lord and I have discussed this matter, and we will be pursuing it to see what role the UK can play in strengthening that voice. As I said, we are engaged at all levels with all key negotiations. Ultimately, what is required is that both sides cease their current crimes. Both generals believe that their reason for being is to beat the other into non-existence, which, ultimately, means that civilians suffer. On the humanitarian crisis, it was eye-watering to see the displacement both internally and externally prior to the conflict. Tragically, this continues, running not into the hundreds or thousands but into the millions.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB)
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My Lords, as the Minister is aware, the impact Darfur has on neighbouring countries is very serious. Many people are fleeing to neighbouring countries, particularly South Sudan, where the humanitarian crisis is already a major concern. Given that many are already in famine circumstances and the UN aid programme is stretched to the limit, can the Minister explain what we are doing to assist those who fled Darfur?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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First, as the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Purvis, said, those who are fleeing are often targeted, including many minorities. Early evidence from the mass grave shows that it contains 87 ethnic Masalit people. On the noble Lord’s specific question, we recognise the importance of South Sudan but the supply chain to it is through Sudan, and there have been reports of supplies being held up or seized by the warring factions. That is why we need to ensure that all the different diplomatic channels are fully explored. A key message needs to be given to both sides that they need to cease warfare now, so that humanitarian aid can reach the people of Sudan and, as the noble Lord said, the people of South Sudan as well.

Environment Bill

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Excerpts
Lord Whitty Portrait Lord Whitty (Lab)
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My Lords, I added my name to this amendment. I will not go over the ground again. The noble Earl and the noble Baroness have made the case strongly, and it was made strongly on Monday. But I would say one thing to the Minister: on Monday, he was reluctant to accept the amendment that made a priority of soil management, which, as the noble Baroness has just said, has historically not been given attention. The neglect of that dimension of agricultural land use and environmental policy is one of the most dangerous things confronting humanity.

Soil is essential for our food, our biodiversity, our ecosystems and our very survival. Therefore, even if the Minister and his colleagues decide that the priority we voted on in this House on Monday is not to their liking, and they want to delete it or alter it, whatever they do at that level in this Bill, operationally they need a strategy of the kind that is laid out in the noble Earl’s amendment. No amount of arguing about priorities will change the fact that it is absolutely clear that soil must be one of our priorities, and we need a plan as laid out in this amendment to operationalise that priority. I do hope that, whatever the circumstances, the Minister will accept this amendment.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of Cawood Scientific, which provides analysis of soil and other agricultural products. I apologise that I was unable to be present on Monday, but I was very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, for quoting me in her speech. Let me, without duplication, endorse what has been said already and perhaps expand on my comments repeated by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, on Monday.

The Republic of Ireland has decided to carry out an extensive survey of its soil. It is spending €10 billion this year and is expected to spend a similar amount over the next three years to have a comprehensive understanding of the quality of the soil throughout the entire Irish Republic. Northern Ireland is considering a similar approach, so the whole island of Ireland will have, I hope, a soil-mapping exercise that will provide it with all the data it needs to make informed decisions to improve the quality of its soil.

I attended the Rothamsted Research centre a few years ago and met the soil scientists. The thing that stuck in my mind was when a scientist said, “Once soil is completely degraded, it is impossible to recreate soil.” I thought that was a tribute to what was concluded with perfection in the Garden of Eden. Once we have degraded our soil completely, we have lost it for ever. So, why would we in England not wish to take a leading global position and understand the quality of our soil and have a strategy to address that quality? We need to do this. We have a vehicle to do it through the ELMS, when testing soil will be part of the encouragement that farmers will be given. It would be a simple matter to extend the responsibility in terms of quantifying and qualifying what soil testing actually means and to establish a standard nationally that would give us the same data and information that the Republic of Ireland will have. Why would we not do that?

Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester (Lab)
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If noble Lords have noticed my silence at earlier stages of the Environment Bill, it is because my noble friend Lady Jones has been very ably joined on the Front Bench by my noble friends Lady Hayman and Lord Khan. It is now a much better team, and I congratulate them. But I too had noticed the omission of soil and improvement targets. I declare my interest as a working farmer and wholeheartedly support Amendment 2, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. Her points were very well made on Monday night, and I am glad the House agreed.

The Soil Association was aptly named by Lady Eve Balfour following the Dust Bowl events in America in the 1930s. Amendment 18 complements Amendment 2 in proposing a soil management strategy in rolling 10-year cycles. This is very important, and soil is, to some extent, recognised within Defra, in that farmers need to comply with regulations concerning NVZs—nitrate vulnerable zones—concerning the application of manures, fertilisers and water run-off.

The importance of soil is also recognised by and included in the advice to government by the Climate Change Committee, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Deben, for his powerful words in drawing attention to this. Not enough attention is paid by Defra, as soil compaction is becoming ever more problematic, as farmers’ machinery becomes bigger and more powerful to cover the necessary acreage needed to remain profitable while catching favourable weather conditions.

I thank Professor Karl Ritz of Nottingham University, introduced to me by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for sending me his paper, “The Groundswell 5 Principles and Soil Sense”, which wisely recognises:

“Regenerative agriculture wisely puts soil health at the heart of its concepts and practices.”


It underlines the five principles as: diversity; protect soil surface; maintain living roots; minimise soil disturbance; and, finally, livestock integration.

This allows me to ask the noble Earl why, under proposed new subsection (4)(d) in his amendment, he highlights only

“the sustainable management of soil on Grade 1 and Grade 2 agricultural land”.

while putting in brackets “other soils where necessary.” The noble Earl will know that much of the livestock grazing on the west side of Britain is categorised as grade 3, where soil structure and stockholding capacity are also important as primary business assets, providing nutritious food to the nation. All soils should be included, as they support all terrestrial habitats, store and filter water, sequestrate carbon and nutrients, and even inform us of the past.

Peatlands and uplands are also vital and part of Defra’s strategy for flood management. The Climate Change Committee recommends the full restoration of peatlands by 2045. Could the Minister write to your Lordships, as time is short, updating the House on the department’s peatland strategy and say when the banning of horticultural peat is scheduled to take place and whether this could be brought forward? There may also be drafting issues with this amendment that the Minister may take exception to.

I stress that soil management must be included as an element under ELMS, the new support payment system for agriculture. Will the Minister also undertake to write to me with the latest information on trials being conducted on the introduction of the ELMS, which are still needed by agriculture to balance the progressive withdrawal of area-based payments, pointing out where soil management will be undertaken within the new ELMS?

Nature does not like a bare soil and tries to cover up as soon as possible. Will the Minister commit to covering this important element of our environment under targets supplementing others in this Bill?

Environment Bill

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Excerpts
Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB) [V]
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard. I wish to speak to Amendments 259 and 260 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, and to comment on Amendment 260A in the name of my noble friend Lord Kinnoull. I once again state my interests, as far as this debate is concerned, as a trustee of Clinton Devon Estates and chair of the Cawood group.

Much comment has already been made in this debate about tree health, including the deep concern about biosecurity and tree diseases and the need for a tree strategy. Given the Government’s ambition to plant 30,000 hectares of trees each year to improve tree cover and for climate change mitigation, and with the perilous state of tree health in Britain, the need for a tree strategy is undeniable. As has been said already, it was a tragedy when we lost our elm trees to Dutch elm disease; what a lovely tree the elm is. Our ash trees are now at risk from ash dieback, not to mention our larch. We have in our garden an ash tree that will have to be felled soon because it is infected. A recent forecast predicted that more than 90% of ash trees will be taken out by ash dieback. Most of our fence lines—our field divisions—in Northumberland are populated by ash trees; it is the most dominant species. Many are mapped as part of stewardship audits and are the homes of little owls, for example, and many other species, so their disappearance will be a disaster both visually and environmentally, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, mentioned.

Biosecurity is so important. We must reduce our dependence on imported tree stock. As the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, said, this does not mean that we need to ban imported trees completely, but a biosecurity plan would be able to identify the tree species that we could safely import. Outside the European Union, we can grow our own and in doing so support the rural economy. The Government should see this as yet another important opportunity.

The tree strategy should not only include our ambition to plant trees but incorporate the appropriate biosecurity measures and guidance on a species mix to minimise disease spread. I spent some time early last year in New Zealand, where large numbers of farms are being purchased and planted as part of a carbon offsetting scheme by global corporates. A lot of the planting has been indiscriminate, without due regard to soil type or carbon sequestration potential and without assessing the risk of disease. We must not make these mistakes. Identification of land quality in areas suitable for growing a specific mix of tree species to optimise long-term carbon sequestration is essential. To plant vast areas of land with tree cover—30,000 hectares a year, for example—to ease our climate change conscience and potentially become part of the carbon market without clear guidance on tree species and topography would be hugely irresponsible.

This strategy would help to reduce this risk and hopefully maximise the benefits: economic benefits; environmental benefits in terms of both carbon and biodiversity; and, importantly, public access benefits. The adequate protection of trees from a variety of predators is of course also essential, as suggested in Amendment 260A, and could be part of a tree strategy. I encourage the Minister to think about this very seriously indeed.

Lord Blencathra Portrait Lord Blencathra (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interests as in the register. I rise to commend the statements by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, and her excellent moving of the amendments. She set out the case admirably. I also agree with what was said by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and just now by the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle.

I strongly believe that ancient woodlands must be protected where possible since they cannot be created except through a process that takes 400 to 500 years. This means that all developments that would remove them or parts of them or damage them must be avoided, and only in very exceptional circumstances should an ancient woodland be harmed. There should be a presumption against all developments affecting them.

The suggestion by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, in Amendment 258 is ingenious and I have some sympathy with it. However, I am not certain that classifying every ancient woodland site—I think she mentioned 1,200 of them—that has been wooded since 1600 AD as an SSSI automatically is the right answer. As I understand it—I think the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, made this point—there is nothing to prevent any woodland being classified as an SSSI right now if it meets the current criteria. I would prefer to see ancient woodlands assessed individually and, if suitable, declared—each one on its merits—an SSSI. I must also say to the noble Baroness that I do not think that it is legally possible to mass nominate dozens or even hundreds of pieces of land and to do it en masse, whatever features are on them.

As someone on the board of Natural England who has to decide on new SSSIs or extensions to them, I can tell the House that it is an incredibly detailed and exacting procedure. Officials must produce reams and reams of scientific justification and strict legal protocols must be followed, with all affected landowners entitled to make representations and appeals. If over that two or three-year process we put one foot wrong, we are straight into judicial review territory, which I should say has never happened yet. There might be an argument for simplifying the procedure—we certainly need to do that in the case of declaring new national parks or AONBs—but, for the moment, we have to follow the current law. Thus, while the noble Baroness’s amendment is ingenious, it will not stand up.

On Amendment 259, I am 100% behind her. This is not a “little Englander” new clause. For tens of thousands of years, our native fauna have survived and developed in a habitat of native British flora. Putting it simply, we cannot have red squirrels unless we have the native woods producing the nuts, fruits and seeds they normally eat. The Back from the Brink project to recover 20 species from near extinction depends on native habitats. As colleagues will know, we face an increasing threat from diseases unwittingly imported along with plants sourced from abroad. Even if we step up biosecurity now that we have left the EU, there will still be an enormous risk of bringing in destructive bugs and diseases. Nearly every single disease or bug that has destroyed our UK trees has been imported. If Xylella fastidiosa—the most dangerous and lethal plant disease in the world—gets here, God help us. It can kill 595 different plant species in 85 different botanical families. Our countryside and all our gardens would become wastelands.

No matter how good port control might be, even if it is beefed up from the current inadequate levels, we cannot stop bugs and diseases coming in. Contractors will want to source the millions of trees and bushes needed for HS2 or Highways England road schemes from the cheapest suppliers. At the moment, they are the huge Dutch growers; that is where diseases will come in. This is why a requirement on acquiring plants from UK sources is so important. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said, it will also be good business for UK nurseries, which can easily supply all that would be required in due course.

We have a huge range of UK native trees, and there is no excuse not to use them: noble Lords need only look at the Woodland Trust website to see the range of native species and all the animal, bird, butterfly and other species that depend on our native flora for survival.

Finally, I want to support Amendment 260A. We will never achieve a fraction of the new woodlands that we wish to create unless we deal with rabbits, which are no longer much of a problem, and grey squirrels and deer, which are. One day in 1990, the then Minister of Agriculture, John Gummer MP, asked me, as junior Minister, to go through the MAFF research budget and root any unnecessary or wasteful research. Among others, I found a £250,000 programme researching the effect of rabbits on new woodlands schemes, which the department was funding. There was also one on controlling rabbits, which had been on the go since the 1940s, and another that was also running at £250,000 per annum and was on something that I cannot recall. I called in officials and said, “Have you found that rabbits are eating the bark of new saplings and killing them?” They looked surprised and asked if I had seen the report’s preliminary findings. Remaining remarkably calm for me in the circumstances, I pointed out that I was a countryman and did not need to spend £250,000 to discover that rabbits eat the bark of young trees.

When I spoke to officials on rabbit control, they informed me that there had been a marvellous breakthrough in that contraceptive pills were now 100% effective if eaten by the rabbits—but they could not find any way to make the rabbits eat them. I said that we did not need to spend another £250,000 researching the effects of ferrets and shotguns on rabbit populations, which had been proven to work in the past. But the problem was—and I think still is—that the department, understandably, was looking for huggy, squeezy, nice ways to control rabbits, and we have the same attitudes today dealing with grey squirrels, the destructive American tree rats. I recommend that the Minister have a word with the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, who ran a highly successful programme to deal with grey squirrels in Northumberland. With proper funding, that should be replicated throughout the country.

We also need to eliminate the Chinese muntjac deer. They are not a native species, either, and the damage they do to our native flora is immense. I quoted that story about rabbits, but rabbits are not the main problem now: squirrels and deer are. The point is that for over 40 or 50 years we have been researching how to deal with rabbits and have not got the solution. I wonder how many years we have been researching dealing with grey squirrels. We cannot wait another 40 years until we find a solution. This proposed new clause cleverly does not state what the solution should be, but that there has to be an animal damage protection standard. That is a clever way to tackle the problem and I commend it.

To conclude the anecdote of the never-ending Ministry of Agriculture rabbit research programme, I told that story in 1998 to the new Minister, who is now the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who chuckled and said, “Don’t worry, David, we’re not so daft as to do that.” Two weeks later, he came steaming up to me and said, “You’ll not believe this, we’re still spending £700,000 on rabbit research”. Policies and Ministers change, but academic research goes on for ever. I am told that there has been an amazing scientific breakthrough in dealing with squirrels. The current research shows that contraceptive pills for grey squirrels, I can tell the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, are apparently 100% effective—but they still cannot get the squirrels to eat them. It will take 10 more years of research, the experts will no doubt advise the Minister to pay for. Omnia mutantur nihil interit: Everything changes but nothing is lost.

Environment Bill

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Excerpts
Baroness Boycott Portrait Baroness Boycott (CB)
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I am pleased to support the very simple but very important amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. In 2009, the Environment Agency said that all houses in London and the south-east should be fitted with water meters by 2015 and that the rest of the country should have a water meter by 2020. Well, here we are in 2021.

I shall not repeat all the excellent stats that people have given. We are indeed the only European country without this facility. My sister was here from Denmark, and remarked again how astonishing it was. It is, of course, the fairest way for people to pay for water, and it is culturally important, because then we realise that water is a valuable commodity—indeed, so valuable right now that I read last week, to my horror, that in northern California the water shortages are so severe that farmers in the north are selling water to farmers in the south for their avocados, almonds and oranges. It is actually more economical to farm water, which would almost be funny if it were not so extreme.

I have a couple of final points. The Climate Change Committee is incorporating in its carbon budgets the assumption that domestic water use will decrease. For example, the introduction of low-flow showerheads could lead to 5% less heat demand and thus lower electricity demand. It is very good news that our appliances will be better labelled in future.

It is also a really important amendment, as we as a nation must adapt to using less. Hose-pipe bans are very common all over the south-east in the British summer but, unless we try to have limitations on how household appliances are used and how often, which would be impossible to enforce, we need some way of using less water. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said, let us make no further ado and bring this in right now.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I very much support the purposes behind this group of amendments, and I support many of the amendments. The quality and management of water is one of our most important strategic priorities, as has been reinforced numerous times in debate this week. I appreciate the reassurance given by the Minister that he agrees with this.

I will first comment on Amendment 189 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. I live in Northumberland, and we are extremely fortunate that we rarely have a shortage of water. Kielder Water is just up the road from where we live, but even in the north-east there are occasions during prolonged periods of dry weather when reservoirs can fall to quite scary levels. The truth is that we are very profligate with this precious resource called water.

Other members of this Committee will have been to Africa, as I have, and visited other parts of the world in which water deficiency is a massive issue and every drop of rainwater is conserved, as was referred to earlier in the debate on the need to capture grey water. I shall not comment on that, but it is important that we take pressure off our water supplies wherever we possibly can, domestically as well as in businesses.

Some 50% of our households and many businesses have absolutely no idea how much water they are using, so it is essential that we adopt the measures outlined in this amendment to improve water efficiency, and in particular that we introduce the compulsory installation of smart meters. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, articulated convincingly why we need to do this, supported by comments from the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter, Lady Young of Old Scone and Lady Boycott, so I will not repeat the arguments except to say that, if you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it. As has been stated, until households and businesses know how much water they are using, they are unlikely to reduce usage and improve the efficient utilisation of it.

The amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington—Amendment 188A suggesting the establishment of a technical advisory group and Amendment 189A, which requires the Government to prepare a water strategy—are very interesting and well worth consideration. In my view, a water strategy, as proposed, should be extended to address the quality of water and the management of water.

I was one of those who took part in the Water Bill in 2014, but this is a different issue and is not addressed in the Water Act. It is a huge issue of the highest priority. Without a co-ordinated water strategy that involves all the key bodies, demolishes silos and requires both departments and agencies to engage in meeting agreed targets on water quality, conservation and usage, we are unlikely to address the serious challenges that we face. Is it too ambitious to expect the office for environmental protection to work with the Environment Agency, Natural England, the drainage boards, the water companies and Ofwat, together with Defra—particularly in its application and targeting of the ELM scheme—and other departments to rise to this challenge? A water strategy should be seriously considered, and I wish I had thought of this in more detail before these amendments were tabled. I ask the Minister to give this serious consideration.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, for tabling this amendment and to all noble Lords who have spoken. I add to the noble Baroness’s plea for a meeting with the Minister. Everybody except us seems to having Ministers, so she is not alone. Perhaps at some point the Minister can respond to some of our asks as well.

I return to the issue at hand. We are concerned that, as it stands, Clause 83 gives the Government extended powers to amend the regulations implementing the EU water framework directive. This directive was hard fought for and is an iconic part of our continuing EU water quality standards, so the Minister will understand why we are suspicious of this proposed change. Of course, we understand that the composition of chemical pollutants might change over time, and there is an urgent need to manage the impact of these pollutants. The Environment Agency’s own data show that not a single lake or river in England that has recently been tested has achieved a good chemical status. This has an inevitable negative impact on wildlife as well as being a threat to public health, particularly as a result of the new trend towards wild swimming.

We have to be assured that any change will be absolutely based on the best technical and scientific standards and not used to dilute our current high standards of regulation. This is why we support the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, which would create a broad-based statutory advisory group to advise on these changes. It is also why we support his amendments to seek advice from the new OEP and to require the regulations to be approved by the affirmative procedure. In this way, we can be assured that the standards and targets can be altered only in line with the best scientific advice and following appropriate stakeholder consultation. It would lay to rest our concerns that the Government seem to have a very different interpretation of non-regression of environmental standards from what we understood during the course of the withdrawal Act.

We also very much thank the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, for tabling Amendment 189. We have had a very good debate on this, and she has set out a compelling argument as to why it is necessary. All the evidence shows that we are running out of water and wasting water at alarming rates. The Environment Agency has warned that within 25 years England’s water supply will simply not meet demand. We have to start dealing with it as the scarce and valuable resource it really is, so it is important that we incentivise manufacturers to make water-efficient appliances, in the same way that they are incentivised to make energy-efficient appliances.

Environment Bill

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Excerpts
Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I once again refer to my interests: I chair the Cawood group, which has laboratories and analyses raw materials, including soil, and I am a trustee of Clinton Devon Estates.

Amendments 110 and 112 propose that “soil” is included in the meaning of the “natural environment” in Clause 43. I fully support the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, the noble Lord, Lord Randall, and the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, who has just spoken. I do not mind which amendment is adopted, but, in my view, the positioning in Amendment 112 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall, flows more naturally in the text, following the listing of “air and water”.

The key issue is that “soil” is listed as a key component of the “natural environment”, and it is unbelievable that it is not already included in this definition. How can

“plants, wild animals and other living organisms”

be included, when they cannot exist without depending on soil? Soil is as crucial as air and water and fundamental to support life on earth. The natural world depends on it.

When the Minister responded to Amendment 11 in an earlier debate, he rejected its call to have “soil quality” as a priority area within the Bill on the basis that to do so would involve setting a target and that the definition and descriptor of “soil quality” were still not resolved and were a work in progress. It would not be the first time that the definitions underpinning a Bill were incomplete, and that is no reason not to have it included. A definition of satisfactory soil quality that supports sustainable food production, identifies the essential microbial organisms and life within the soil, and determines the level of organic matter to optimise carbon sequestration will be agreed. This will be resolved.

From current analysis by Cawood, I know that the level of sequestered carbon varies enormously from field to field, never mind farm to farm or region to region. It is essential that we address this opportunity and realise the carbon storage potential that the soil offers. Indeed, in the light of climate change, we would be failing in our responsibility if we did not do so. I encourage the Minister to seriously consider introducing an amendment on this topic before Report to save time, in view of the weight of opinion in support of this subject.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees (The Earl of Kinnoull) (CB)
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The noble Earl, Lord Devon, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose.

Environment Bill

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Excerpts
Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, in following the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, I should briefly offer a defence of targets—particularly the target of ensuring that everyone in the UK has a warm, comfortable and affordable-to-heat home. I hope that no one would disagree with the target of ending our utterly disgraceful excess winter deaths that come largely as a result of the poor quality of our housing stock. I also wish to defend the targets that we are talking about here in terms of our natural environment, on which our entire economy and lives depend.

I will be fairly brief. I want to speak in favour of Amendment 34 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, that would seem to be an easy, obvious amendment for the Government to accept. As the noble Baroness said, their ability to ask the office for environmental protection for guidance on the targets is simply not good enough and does not reflect the provisions of the Climate Change Act. We are very much creating a parallel here between action on climate and action on biodiversity. To mirror those two things would seem to be an obvious, simple and not difficult step.

On Amendment 19 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, I would go broader than consulting the Department of Health and Social Care. The noble Lord in his introduction spoke particularly about recreation and the value of the natural environment to recreation. When we think about the health of human beings, the health of the natural environment is related in much deeper ways. I should point noble Lords to an interesting United Nations scheme called HUMI—the Healthy Urban Microbiome Initiative—which addresses a fast-growing and developing area of science: understanding the human microbiome and how it is related to our physical and mental health, and how what is happening around us in the natural world is utterly integral to a healthy microbiome.

I also wish to speak in favour of Amendments 41A and 41B in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. Again, we are in what could be described as no-brainer territory. We surely should not be imposing anything in terms of environmental regulation on the devolved nations without their “prior consent”—words that are important. This matter also raises a subject that we have not broadly discussed and might like to think about further. As the noble Lord said, rivers and waters do not suddenly get to a national border, stop and turn around, saying “Oh, I’m Welsh water and am staying in Wales”. That is also true of birds, insects, mammals and the whole ecosystem. A question to the Minister, either for today or a future date, is on how the Bill, this Act-to-be, will fit within the common framework and co-ordinating efforts of the nations of these islands. How will that work? I think also of many of our debates on the internal market Bill, now an Act.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I will be brief. It is a delight to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle.

When I first read this series of amendments, I wondered whether they were really necessary. However, the more I reflect, the more I have become concerned and I now believe that these amendments, or something like them, are required. The Government will set targets as permitted within the Bill and we will debate that matter again later. However, it will be difficult to determine the unintended consequences of setting targets, which can distort behaviour, as we know. We have seen this in the NHS and other sectors in which the Government have intervened and set targets.

I understand the need to have a clear sense of direction and the discipline of knowing what we are driving to achieve within a given period. However, let us be clear, as far as possible, on the need to be aware of the costs involved and the consequences of fixing targets. Even the best-researched impact assessments with a range of assumptions can be wrong. I therefore encourage the Minister to take this issue seriously and establish systems with which to monitor the potential negative consequences as well as the benefits.

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Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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I am delighted to follow my noble friend Lord Caithness. I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on bringing forward government Amendment 22 and all the amendments in this group. I hope he is not too disheartened by the reaction around the Committee this afternoon. Really, the Government have taken the bull by the horns.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, on his industriousness in all the positions he holds. No wonder we do not see too much of him here in the Chamber, but I congratulate him on all his work, at every level of democracy, which he outlined today. I am delighted that he talked about the plight of chalk streams, which I was heavily involved in at one stage in the other place. The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, highlighted—indeed, it is a theme of the briefing I was delighted to receive from the Green Alliance—that this is not a problem unique to this country. My noble friend the Minister outlined this when he moved and spoke to the amendments before us this evening. It is not so much that this is a new problem as that we need new solutions to be adopted, but I urge my noble friend to be slightly cautious if we go out on our own limb, as it were, and set very ambitious targets. Is it not the case that we are not the only Government who did not achieve the 20 Aichi biodiversity targets agreed in Japan in 2010? Surely, if we are concerned about being a global leader and about biodiversity in the wider world, he should use his good offices and those of his colleagues in government to ensure that other Governments follow our lead. I was slightly disappointed that my noble friend Lord Randall did not touch on that aspect and took, perhaps, a uniquely domestic approach in the words he used.

My noble friend has set an ambitious target in the amendments in this group. How achievable is meeting those targets by 2030? Obviously, it is something we have signed up to internationally, so I would be interested to know how realistic and achievable those targets are. It is welcome that they will be subject—as I understood him to say—to the same legally binding targets elsewhere in the Bill. Will he use the species abundance provisions set out in these amendments to ensure that there will be timely and regular reviews of all the species, however the Government is going to define them? I am wondering whether we have actually defined these anywhere in the Bill, and I would be grateful if my noble friend would point to where those definitions are.

We all have our favourite species. Mine is the red squirrel, and one of the joys of visiting Denmark each summer is seeing how widespread it still is in parts of Scandinavia and elsewhere. I believe that hedgehogs are under increasing threat; I frequently lift one up and move it from the drive so that it does not make its way on to the main road, where I know that, a few days later, I will see that it is no more. Will my noble friend use this opportunity to look at all our favourite species—I would argue for red squirrels and hedgehogs—and make sure that, where they have been threatened but are now in abundance, we take cognisance of that? I think particularly of the protections that we gave to badgers in 1968. Should these now be reviewed, in 2021, along with those for all species of bats and newts?

I was taken by the arguments made by noble friend Lord Caithness about achieving a balance. He is absolutely correct, and I support him in this, that we should recognise predators such as deer. I hope that the green lobby will bear with me and that I do not get attacked like I did when I said this before: we have to recognise that TB is spread through predators such as badgers and deer and protect our herds of domestic cattle from that. I hope my noble friend the Minister will take cognisance of that balance. This may be in one of the amendments and I have missed it, but I would welcome his commitment to a review of each species, perhaps every five years, being considered. However, I support the amendments in the name of my noble friend.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I restate my interests: I chair the Cawood group, which carries out analytical testing of soil, water, waste et cetera; and I am a trustee of Clinton Devon Estates, which is involved in ELMS trials and testing. I fully support the Bill and am enthusiastic about its potential. As has been stated numerous times, it needs to sit in sync with the Agriculture Act and I will comment on that later. I absolutely understand the need for the suite of amendments tabled by the Minister, beginning with Amendment 22.

There is clearly a need to have appropriate targets; otherwise there is a serious risk of not being able to measure success. As I said earlier in the debate, it is important to have a clear sense of direction to motivate all involved in delivery. I listened carefully to the Minister’s response, in an earlier debate, on why soil quality is not included as a target in the Bill. I have to say that it was not very convincing. If the determinants are still a work in progress, the Government should commit to introducing soil when these have been resolved. The setting of targets is, potentially, one of the most controversial parts of the Bill, as is clear from interest in the topic and comments so far. I will issue a cautionary note, so far as the farming sector is concerned. My old farming business participated in stewardship schemes for about 30 years before I retired two years ago; it was one of the first to enrol in stewardship management. We did halt decline in some species and saw a revival in others.

Modern agricultural practices encouraged by the common agricultural policy and, to be clear, by successive Governments in the UK, to produce cheap food—particularly the move from spring to autumn cropping during the 1970s and 1980s—have had an influence on species loss. Farmers have been following government policies and have been subsidised to produce cheap food for the past 70 years, which is why the Government have an obligation to adequately support family farms through the transition period, as outlined in the Agriculture Act, over the next seven years. The Government also need to incentivise those same farmers to deliver measures within the ELMS to address species loss and help deliver the targets that will be set as a consequence of the Bill. This is where the two pieces of legislation need to be absolutely compatible. I stress again that the Government have an obligation and these family farms are vital to the management of the countryside. They are crucial in delivering economic and social sustainability, as well as environmental sustainability and the outcomes that the Government hope to achieve through the Bill.

I am sure that the Minister will reassure the House that the Government intend to support farmers through the ELMS, but everything depends on the values attached to public goods, including the measures required to deliver biodiversity gain, which are as yet unknown. Establishing the value needs careful consideration. Even though farmers have been pilloried in the past by the environmental lobby as the culprits for ruining the environment in the pursuit of cheap food, in my experience, the vast majority of farmers care deeply about their environmental responsibilities and want to see well-functioning ecosystems.

Environment Bill

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Excerpts
Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I speak in support of Amendment 11 in this group, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I will endorse the comments made by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness; I apologise for speaking in advance of them. I will also comment on Amendment 32, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb.

I declare my interests as recorded on the register. Specifically, I chair the Cawood Group, which has a large soil-testing facility, so I have a commercial interest in the subject; I am a former chair of the Meat and Livestock Commission; and I was a beef and sheep farmer until two years ago.

On Amendment 11, I endorse the importance of soil health and that soil quality should be included on the face of the Bill as a priority area. As I am sure the Minister will agree, the quality of our soil is a matter of deep concern. The degrading of soil is a worldwide problem with huge consequences for the natural environment. As a soil scientist at Rothamsted Research told me many years ago, once soil has been completely degraded, it cannot be recreated. Its loss can be permanent, with all the consequences that might lead to. We often use “fundamental” rather loosely but, as far as soil is concerned, its quality is of fundamental importance. Without healthy soil, our ability to sustain ourselves, have healthy ecosystems and biodiversity and sustain the entire natural world will be impossible, so it is rather odd that it is not included as a priority in the Bill—especially as it was given significant importance in the Government’s 25-year environment plan. Understanding the health of our soil is crucial if we are to continue on the journey towards more sustainable agricultural production and to capture its carbon sequestration potential, since the organic matter content of soil varies enormously. I hope that the Minister will accept this hugely important small amendment.

On Amendment 32, which is also included in this group, I am sorry but, rather like the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, I must inform the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that I cannot support this amendment. Perhaps we should all join and have a drink afterwards when we can. First, let me say that the idea that the Government will control what we are allowed to eat by regulation would take the nanny state into new territory entirely. So far, successive Governments have failed to compel consumers to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, so their record of managing consumer diets is not a great success story. Obesity continues to spiral out of control; the Government have a huge enough challenge trying to get to grips with that without trying to intrude on the eating of meat and dairy products. I cannot believe that any Government, particularly a Conservative one, would dare to impose such a policy.

Secondly, the amendment bases the regulation of meat and dairy products solely on the emission of methane when we now know that its impact on the environment is nothing like as long-lasting as carbon and without taking into account the huge benefit that the grazing ruminants sector delivers in supporting a vast range of ecosystems and biodiversity, together with vital carbon sequestration capability—not to mention the visual appeal of the British countryside, in which grazing livestock are a big part of the attraction so are important to tourism and the rural economy. Of course, we must continue to reduce the emission of methane and carbon as well as the environmental impact of ruminants, but I am confident that we will achieve that by building on scientific knowledge, which is very encouraging and developing all the time through protogenetics, better management, influence on ruminant diets and the choice of grassland species.

I just add in conclusion that I fully support the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on his Amendment 6, which he presented very confidently. I also have a lot of sympathy with Amendment 31 and the comments of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries. Tree health is a huge challenge and we need clear action by government; the Bill is an opportunity to try to improve tree health and reduce disease. I shall listen with interest to the Minister’s response on these issues.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, I rise with a very long list of amendments to speak to, and I shall begin by very briefly addressing the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, in response to my noble friend’s Amendment 32. I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, for offering his support for my Amendment 11 on soils. I agree with him that it is rather odd that it is not initially in the Bill.

On Amendment 32, I first point out that this amendment does not seek to impose a diet on anyone; it sets a target to head the national diet in a certain direction. On what the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, said about methane, yes, its impact on the climate is shorter lasting, but it is also more than a score higher than that of carbon dioxide. When we consider the facts that we have an emergency and have to ensure that we stay below 1.5 degrees above industrial warming right now, the next 10 years are absolutely crucial and methane emissions now particularly crucial.

My noble friend will not forgive me if I do not stress that we very much understand that animal agriculture has an important place in the British landscape, but we have to start by tackling factory farming—for many reasons, from antimicrobial resistance through to the point that it is food waste to feed perfectly good food that people could eat to animals to produce much less food as a result.

I shall now get to the list that I started with. I shall briefly speak to Amendment 10 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, on light pollution. We in the Green group would have attached our signature to this amendment, had there been space to do so. Clearly, this is a huge issue. The noble Lord, Lord Randall, referred to what has been called “insectageddon”, the huge loss of insect numbers and species, and light pollution is certainly part of that. I also point out that this is very much a case for joined-up government. So much of the light that we emit and pollute our skies with is utterly unnecessary. For example, the French Government have brought in a law that says that neon shop signs have to be switched off between midnight and dawn, which undoubtedly has benefits for the natural world. I am sure it also has huge benefits for people who live in flats above shops, who live in the environment. We are talking about making the environment benefit people and nature.

I also briefly offer support for the general intentions of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, in focusing on trees, while taking on board the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, that we need the right tree in the right place, to use the buzz-phrase. We talk a great deal about tree planting, but it is important that we think about the natural regeneration of trees, because that is one way in which nature will help to ensure that we get the right tree in the right place. We also need to talk a great deal more about agri-forestry and the possibility of forage crops and crops producing human food—nut and fruit trees and so on—mixed in to our existing agricultural systems.

Now I get to the three amendments that I really want to talk about here. I apologise that this will be rather a long speech, but these are short but very important amendments. I come first to Amendment 7, which appears in my name and changes one of the proposed targets set down by the Government. The target as expressed by the Government is for resource efficiency and waste reduction, but I am calling for the words “resource efficiency” to be replaced by “reduction in resource use”. The current wording essentially says, “We’ll continue to treat the planet as a mine and dumping ground, but we will do it less wastefully”. What I suggest is that the law should acknowledge that we cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet and that a circular economy is a necessary but not sufficient condition for a sustainable world. In the terms of the neat video, “The Story of Stuff”, which has been around since 2007, we must have less stuff in our lives.

I refer to an important report from the Green Alliance, which I encourage noble Lords to read, which points out that resource use drives half the world’s climate emissions and 90% of nature destruction around the world. The UK’s use of resources, renewable and finite, is twice the level considered sustainable. Of natural resources alone, the UK uses three times as much as the planet can sustainably provide. That report, by what is not by any means a radical green group, calls for resource use to be halved. The UK’s material footprint was estimated at 971 million tonnes in 2018, equivalent to 14.6 tonnes per person. In 1997, 40% of that came from domestic extraction, which fell to 27% in 2018. We are taking a huge quantity of resources from the world—far more than the world can bear.

I stress that cutting resource use does not have to mean a lesser quality of life. When we think about the damage that stuff is doing, whether the ocean is turned into a plastic soup, the planet heated dangerously or soils destroyed in producing food then wastefully fed to animals, which then produces health-damaging junk food, we can see that reducing resource use can considerably improve our quality of life—not just using it better but using less of it. Really, there is no alternative. In a debate on the Finance Bill earlier this month, the noble Lord, Lord Agnew of Oulton, for the Treasury, responded to my remarks along these lines, by pointing to the book More from Less by Andrew McAfee, which claims that technology is enabling the dematerialisation of growth. As many critics have pointed out, however, that book ignores the fact that very often material use and exploitation are being exported, not replaced, and the acceleration of planned obsolescence means that more efficient use of resources has very often not meant less use of resources.

The noble Lord, Lord Agnew, pointed us to the United States Geological Survey figures for 72 resources, saying that only six had passed their peak, but that is a reflection of what the known reserves are. What about the damage done to people and nature by extracting them? Mining is by its very nature inevitably destructive. In a world suffering a pandemic of environmental ill health and the biodiversity emergency, more destruction tips us over multiple planetary boundaries, a concept that the response from the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, suggests that the Treasury has yet to grasp.

I am well aware that the Minister will find his work cut out in tackling the Treasury on these issues, but I point out that, if this Government want to be—as they so often tell us—world-leading, the European Parliament has demanded that the EU reduce resource use by 2030 and bring it within planetary boundaries, which means cutting it by two-thirds by 2050. That is the target set by the European Parliament. If we are going to be world-leading, that is where the Bill should be going. I am well aware that running the country for the economy instead of running the economy for the well-being of the country is deeply engrained, but that is a challenge for the Minister to take on.

I come to the two other amendments that appear in my name. Before I do, I want to refer back to a comment made in the first group by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, who said that we are inadequately exploring the relationship between the Agriculture Act, the Trade Act and the Environment Bill. I had a meeting last week with farmers and farming advisers who expressed to me exasperation and frustration because they were struggling to understand the Government’s intentions in that process. These two amendments that I am about to speak to attempt to deal with some of those issues.

I come to Amendment 11, on soils—and I hope that I get it through. I express my great thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for attaching his name to this amendment and want to thank the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Lords, Lord Curry and Lord Randall of Uxbridge, for expressing their support for it. As the noble Lord, Lord Randall, said, it is astonishing that it is not in the Bill to start with.

I want to quote Thomas Jefferson:

“While the farmer holds the title to the land, actually, it belongs to all the people because civilization itself rests upon the soil.”


I will also refer to a few points in the report The State of the Environment: Soil from the Environment Agency in June 2019. It is really telling that it says:

“There is insufficient data on the health of our soils and investment is needed in soil monitoring”.


It is very clear that we do not know enough, and if we set a target, that will create a framework where we need to do the measuring. In some ways perhaps it is a bit “chicken and egg”—but let us get this started, because it clearly needs to happen.

Trees

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Excerpts
Monday 25th January 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con) [V]
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I absolutely and enthusiastically commend and celebrate Pakistan’s 10 Billion Tree Tsunami and the, I believe, tens of thousands of jobs that have been created on the back of it. It shows what is possible. Here in the UK, we are committed to increasing tree planting across the country by 30,000 hectares per year by 2025. That, too, will mean an increasing number of people working in the forestry and arboriculture sector. Our upcoming England tree strategy will map out that ambition and the steps we will need to take to realise it.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB) [V]
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Can the Minister reassure the House that the Government’s tree planting ambition, which I fully endorse, is regarded as a key part of a land use strategy and that the need to address food security is also taken into account in identifying land to be planted? Can he further reassure us that, in optimising carbon sequestration, other benefits—to the ecosystem, the economic benefits of growing trees, and public access—will also be taken into account, and that a mix of species is encouraged so that regeneration might take place?

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con) [V]
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I strongly endorse the noble Lord’s comments. Trees are much more than carbon sticks; they provide biodiversity benefits, benefits in managing water flow and reducing pollution in the water system, in preventing or minimising the risk of flooding, in holding water for longer during the dry season, in amenity value for people, and so many benefits besides. Our tree policy and the incentives that are part of it will attempt to ensure that with public money we are purchasing as much solution as we possibly can. That, too, will be reflected in the new environmental land management scheme, which will replace the old common agriculture policy in a few years’ time.