Debates between Lord Harries of Pentregarth and Lord Oates during the 2019 Parliament

Mon 12th Jul 2021

Environment Bill

Debate between Lord Harries of Pentregarth and Lord Oates
Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I wish to support Amendment 264ZA, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and Amendment 264A, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. As we know, the rate of deforestation on our planet is a scandal and an increasing threat to both our climate and the extent of our biodiversity. In some parts of the world, it is also a threat to the indigenous population who live in the forests, a denial of their fundamental human rights. Their habitat, their lives and their livelihood are often endangered by deforestation.

Amendment 264ZA, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, rightly seeks to ensure that if forest risk wood is imported, it has been felled only with the permission of the indigenous population. It is not enough just for local laws to be observed, which may be too permissive or open to manipulation by local interests; there must be safeguards for those most directly affected. Our laws cannot reach into those areas, but we can at least ensure that we do what is open to us to do in this country, which is to have appropriate checks in place for importers of forest risk material.

Amendment 264A, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has a similar purpose: to do what we can in this country to prevent exploitive deforestation. It would ensure a total prohibition, except in relation to indigenous people, on importing forest risk products from agricultural land which should never have been cleared in the first place, as trees should still be standing. The noble Baroness put forward powerful arguments in favour of her amendment, strongly supported just now by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, with his important phrase about retrospective validation. A forest which should never have been felled in the first place might get some kind of legal retrospective validation, but we need to ensure that that wood should still not be imported. For those reasons, I strongly support both those amendments.

Lord Oates Portrait Lord Oates (LD)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of the advisory board of Weber Shandwick UK. As we have heard in this debate, deforestation poses a catastrophic threat to biodiversity and to the climate of our planet, but in addressing these issues we should show some humility and acknowledge up front that we have almost completely deforested our landscape in the UK and in much of Europe, and we need to be conscious of that in all our debates.

However, the fact remains that life on our planet will not be sustainable if the current rate of deforestation continues. We have heard a range of analogies and figures in this respect. The World Wide Fund for Nature estimates that the equivalent of 30 football pitches of forestry were lost every second in the tropics in 2019. That is a staggering rate of destruction and there are many worrying signs that it is accelerating.

I welcome the Government’s attempts to address the issue in the schedule, but they would be immeasurably strengthened by the majority of the amendments in this group. There seem to be a few main themes in the amendments. The first is around strengthening parliamentary procedures to ensure proper scrutiny of the delegated powers under this section of the Bill. Amendments 260B and 260C in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall, to which he spoke so clearly, seek to tackle that. From these Benches, we certainly support him.

The second theme seeks to tackle the issue of legal deforestation and the rights of indigenous people. The amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, is critical if the Bill is to have real effect. As we have heard, it is supported by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, who, for technical reasons, was not able to be here but was very keen that his support was underlined.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, said, and as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, underlined, if we continue simply with the definition in the Bill as the Government have drafted it, the Bill could end up being counterproductive, either having little effect or incentivising countries to legalise further deforestation, as the noble Baroness said.

We know that there is a particular issue in certain jurisdictions, and we have heard about the situation in Brazil, where, sadly, the President seems to have little regard either for the need to protect forests or for the rights of indigenous people. Although I understand that there are a lot of complexities around WTO rules, their main focus is around non-discrimination; as long as one tackles that and provides a mechanism that is non-discriminatory but focused on actions, that should be possible.

Amendment 264ZA, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, which I have also signed, aims to ensure that forestry commodities cannot be used unless the consent of indigenous communities has been obtained prior to their production.

There are those who claim that measures to prevent deforestation are somehow a case of westerners seeking to impose their values on other countries, having hypocritically destroyed their own forests. However, the reality is that local indigenous people suffer most from deforestation, and it is very often unscrupulous multinational, often western, firms that are responsible for destroying forests and the livelihoods of indigenous people. My noble friend Lady Sheehan and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, also set out the importance of the human rights angle in relation to deforestation. The amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, seeks to address this gap, and we on these Benches strongly support it.

The third theme in this group of amendments relates to the financing of forest destruction, which is a critical area. Amendment 265A, in the name of my noble friend Lady Parminter, which has support from across the Committee, seeks to address the financing of deforestation, and is highly significant. My noble friend explained the critical role of capital, including UK capital, in funding tropical deforestation, and the fact that banks do not have the mechanisms in place to ensure that they are operating proper due diligence and not funding illegal forest clearance. As the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, said, the watchword here is “follow the money”—that is critical. My noble friend also highlighted the need to protect the reputation of the City if we are to establish ourselves as a centre of green finance in the world. This amendment would help in all these regards.

The theme of global impact is enshrined in Amendment 293B of the noble Lord, Lord Randall, which would require the Government to set a target to reduce the UK’s global footprint. Again, this is a key amendment in tackling deforestation. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, said, it is perhaps the most crucial because it gets to the heart of the issue by targeting resource use, and we support this approach.

Finally, there were a number of other important amendments in the name of my noble friend Lady Sheehan, including: Amendment 264B, on introducing an assessment of the level of risk; Amendment 265ZA, which, as my noble friend explained, would require the Secretary of State to consult with relevant persons before making regulations under the schedule; and Amendment 265AA, which would require a regulated person to take all steps necessary to implement an effective due diligence system, rather than the lower bar of “reasonable” steps. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, also had a number of amendments which are interesting, but we would want to understand a little more about their operation before supporting them.