Debates between Lord Harries of Pentregarth and Lord Russell of Liverpool during the 2019 Parliament

Wed 23rd Jun 2021

Environment Bill

Debate between Lord Harries of Pentregarth and Lord Russell of Liverpool
Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB) [V]
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My Lords, there are now very few true wildernesses left on earth. The vast majority of landscapes are the result of millennia of human interaction with the natural world. So when we think of the environment we should not just bring to mind an untouched pastureland; there is no such thing. As we know, the way fields have been laid out has varied constantly throughout the ages; the same is true of gardens.

These acres are also where people have lived, worked and played, and the environment cannot be considered apart from them. The land still betrays the marks of the past, as is dramatically illustrated by the finds at Sutton Hoo, and, to take one example, in the way the great tower of Ely Cathedral rises above the Fens.

I strongly associate myself with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, who was ably followed by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. When we are thinking about the environment, what we are really thinking about is a fusion of the natural world and human creativity over many centuries. I therefore very much welcome this group of amendments, especially the inclusion of the words

“beauty, heritage, and people’s enjoyment of the natural environment.”

These words matter, because they concern the environment, which is of value in itself, but also because they have to do with human well-being—physical, aesthetic, and, yes, spiritual. They bring out the fact that being human involves being aware of our past and of the way we are shaped by it.

I also note the amendment in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, about the fact that there are also in the landscape people who have to make a living there. They, too, need to be taken into account.

The word “beauty” is not fashionable among philosophers or art historians today, but, as the great Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote about beauty:

“We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name, as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past, whether he admits it or not, can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love.”

To put it more prosaically, most ordinary people do know that something meaningful is conveyed by the word “beauty”—and, more than anywhere else, they look for it in the natural world, that creative fusion of nature and human creativity over many centuries.

I hope the Minister will look favourably on these amendments, and that, if he cannot accept them in their present form, he will come back with revised wording that meets their main thrust.

Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Russell of Liverpool) (CB)
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The noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, has withdrawn from this group, so I call the next speaker, the noble Earl, Lord Devon.