Lord Krebs debates involving the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office during the 2019-2024 Parliament

Tue 9th Nov 2021
Environment Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments
Tue 26th Oct 2021
Environment Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments & Consideration of Commons amendments
Wed 13th Oct 2021
Environment Bill
Lords Chamber

3rd reading & 3rd reading
Wed 15th Sep 2021

Artificial Light and Noise: Effects on Human Health (Science and Technology Committee Report)

Lord Krebs Excerpts
Thursday 9th May 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for that introduction. I will correct the record; corals are animals related to jellyfish and sea anemones. I am a zoologist, so I have to be pedantic about these things.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge. It was a great privilege to serve on the Science and Technology Select Committee under her brilliant chairmanship and to benefit from the superb support of Thomas, the policy analyst, and Matthew, the committee clerk, as well as Professor Russell Foster, the specialist adviser.

In my few minutes I will speak about noise. I will make four points related to the economy, responsibility, data and solutions. First, on the economy, last month the Prime Minister announced an initiative to get many long-term sick people off benefits and back to work. He described it as a “moral mission”. You can see why it is a problem. Apparently, there are 2.8 million people of working age off work with long-term health issues. According to the Prime Minister, this costs the country £69 billion in benefits—more than the schools’ budget.

If you believe, as I do, that we should aim to prevent people getting sick in the first place rather than punishing them once they are sick, we should look at the causes of chronic ill health. There are, of course, many causes, but one important contribution, highlighted by our report, to chronic ill health is exposure to noise. We have heard the figures from noble Lords before: 40% of population are exposed to harmful noise from roads, 130,000 healthy life years are lost each year as a result of noise pollution and sleep disturbance costs the economy an estimated £34 billion per year, noise and light pollution being significant contributors. I do not know how reliable those figures are—I did not study exactly how they were derived—but I think it is safe to conclude that noise is both a significant economic and health problem in this country. Therefore, it should be a higher priority for reducing long-term sickness. Does the Minister agree?

My second point, which has already been covered by previous speakers, concerns responsibility. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, is here this afternoon—I have the greatest respect for him, and I wish him well in answering this debate—but, as others have said, it is slightly odd that Defra is responding. If you ask which departments bear the health and benefits costs of noise pollution, it is not Defra but the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Work and Pensions. If you ask which department should worry about the impacts on the workforce and economic growth, it is not Defra but probably BEIS and the Treasury. If you ask which departments have policy responsibility for the levers that could reduce noise pollution, it is not Defra, but DfT for transport noise and DLUHC for matters such as planning, local authorities and soundproofing standards. As others have asked—I repeat the question—could the Minister in his response tell us who has overview of the impacts of noise on health, well-being and the economy and for deciding on appropriate measures to reduce these impacts?

I turn now to the theme of data. As the saying goes: if you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it. This is why Defra officials were especially pleased to demonstrate their new noise map, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge. This map is capable of revealing, we were told and shown, at a very fine scale of resolution who is exposed to excessive noise. Although this is a useful step forward, the modelling underpinning the noise map has a significant weakness: it is based on the average noise exposure over a 24-hour period but often intermittent noise is more of a problem. Imagine that you live near a road with a loose drain cover that goes “clunk” every time a vehicle drives over it, near a rail track along which an express freight train hurtles once every half an hour, near an airport where low-flying aircraft disturb the peace every few minutes or in the countryside where a bird-scarer fires off once a hour. In all those cases, the noise map might conclude that you are living in a quiet, peaceful location because the average noise over 24 hours does not exceed a certain threshold. However, the annoyance and the impact on health—for instance, by sleep disturbance—could be high. Noise researchers in Switzerland are developing methods to model intermittent noise and its impact. Does the Minister agree that although the noise map is a useful first step, it will be of more value in guiding policy when it incorporates intermittent noise?

Finally, I turn to policy solutions. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, has already alluded to solutions. We heard rather little on them in our inquiry, so let me make a suggestion. With other environmental pollutants, there is an accepted principle that, in so far as it is possible, they should be tackled at source. It is better to stop sewage being released into rivers than to try to clean up the rivers afterwards. It is better to reduce waste than to bury it in landfill. It is better to reduce carbon dioxide emissions than to invest in costly technologies to suck it from the atmosphere. Does the Minister agree that the same principle of tackling at source should be applied to noise? If so, can he suggest what measures might be implemented to reduce noise at source?

Here are a few thoughts for traffic noise. First, introduce lower speed limits in built-up areas; I note that this is the opposite of current government policy. Secondly, create quieter road surfaces using new technology. Thirdly, repair potholes and drain hole covers. Fourthly, implement the findings from a Europe-wide project covering 12 countries—including the UK—that investigated ways of reducing rail noise under a scheme called LOWNOISEPAD. Finally, encourage less noisy forms of transport, such as walking or cycling. As the noble Earl, Lord Russell, said, they are often win-wins: things that reduce the burden of noise pollution also have benefits for the climate and health aspects. As well as the co-benefits, these measures will also promote innovation in the infrastructure industry, so what is not to like? I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

Carbon Budget Delivery Plan: High Court Ruling

Lord Krebs Excerpts
Wednesday 8th May 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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The Government are determined, as all of us who supported the Climate Change Act are, to live by the legal requirements we set for all Governments to hit the carbon budgets. The Carbon Budget Delivery Plan was not criticised for the measures it included. It was criticised in the judgment for the information provided to the Secretary of State. We totally accept that. We accept the ruling and will respond. We will make sure that we are putting in place measures to address this. Sections 13 and 14 of the Climate Change Act are, in hindsight, a little opaque. In a way, this has helped us clarify this and we will work to give all the information needed to show that we will hit our carbon budgets.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, can the Minister unpack the pride that he has in the Government’s achievements so far in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions? If we look at the last six years, what proportion of those reductions have resulted from external factors, such as Covid and the war in Ukraine and the consequent slowing growth in our economy, and what proportion have resulted from implementation of policies in relation to transport and agriculture?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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The noble Lord asks a very detailed question. The third carbon budget ended in 2022, so I do not think that issues such as Covid will have been particularly relevant to that. We exceeded that by 15%. The noble Lord outlined some of the most difficult areas that we have to tackle: transport, housing, and agriculture. Agriculture is currently responsible for about 12% to 15% of our emissions, and that will grow as a percentage of our emissions as other sectors decarbonise, which they can do more easily. It is incredibly difficult. Defra, working with the Climate Change Committee and the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, is seeking ways in which we can absolutely make agriculture play its part in reducing our emissions.

Office for Environmental Protection

Lord Krebs Excerpts
Tuesday 23rd January 2024

(6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Asked by
Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the second annual progress report of the Office for Environmental Protection, published on 18 January.

Lord Benyon Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Benyon) (Con)
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My Lords, I refer to my interests as set out in the register. This Government are committed to leaving the environment in a better state than we found it. The Office for Environmental Protection’s report covers the period from 1 April 2022 to 31 March 2023. This includes the first two months of the 2023 environmental improvement plan and our new long-term environmental targets. The OEP’s 200-page report recognises the scale of ambition in the EIP 2023, including our challenging interim targets. We will study it carefully and respond in due course.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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I thank the Minister for his response. When Dame Glenys Stacey, the chair of the OEP, launched her report last week, she said that the OEP’s job was to hold up a mirror to the Government for them to assess their progress. I am afraid to say that the view in the mirror was not a pretty sight. As was mentioned in yesterday’s Oral Question, the OEP concludes that the Government are largely failing to meet the statutory and other targets they have set for environmental improvement. The Government’s response seems to be either to reject or to reinterpret what the OEP said. Would it not be better to acknowledge what the OEP has said, recognise that things are not necessarily going as well as they should, learn lessons and try to adopt a different tack?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I absolutely concur with the noble Lord in that we treat anything that comes from the OEP very seriously. I seek to reassure noble Lords that it is not our position to dismiss it in any way. As I said in my original Answer, the report refers to just two months of the environmental improvement plan, which sets out some very demanding targets and holds the Government to account for them. The noble Lord and I are meeting next week, when I will set out some of the things we are doing as a result of the EIP and other measures. I think he will be reassured that the report that looks at a full year of the EIP’s implementation will show the Government’s ambition and how we are responding to reasoned criticism and being held to account by a very well-led organisation.

Food Insecurity: England

Lord Krebs Excerpts
Tuesday 7th June 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

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Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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My Lords, I first acknowledge the work that went into that report. It was a brilliant piece of work and I am grateful to the team behind it, not least Mr Dimbleby. I hope, as I know the noble Baroness does, that the Government will provide a proper and comprehensive response, as soon as possible.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, I quote from a government report that came out in July 2021. It reported that the data show that promotions of food in supermarkets

“increase consumer spending by encouraging people to buy more than they intended to buy in the first place.”

In light of that, does the Minister agree that it is time to stop these promotions, as part of the contribution to helping people to manage their food budgets more effectively?

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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My Lords, I am aware of the study the noble Lord cites, but I do not pretend to be an expert in this area. The Government’s view is that the proposed policy to inhibit, for example, “Buy one, get one free” offers has been postponed to provide immediate relief for those people facing acute food insecurity and poverty. The policy has not been abandoned; it has simply been parked.

Environment Bill

Lord Krebs Excerpts
Moved by
Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs
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Leave out from first “do” to end and insert “insist on its disagreement with the Commons in their Amendments 31A and 31B on which the Commons have insisted for their Reason 31D, do not insist on its Amendment 31C in lieu to which the Commons have disagreed for the same Reason, and do propose Amendment 31E in lieu—

31E: Clause 24, page 14, line 30, leave out subsections (1) and (2) and insert—
“(1) The OEP has complete discretion in the carrying out of its functions and in preparing and publishing its budget (but subject to this section).
(2) The Secretary of State may issue guidance to the OEP on the matters listed in section 22(6), but this should not include matters relating to the enforcement of environmental law against the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
(2A) The OEP must have regard to the guidance in preparing its enforcement policy, unless there are material considerations that indicate otherwise.””
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Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, I thank the Secretary of State, the Minister and the Bill team for the very helpful discussions that I have had with them throughout, and particularly during the last week. In spite of this, here I am with a further amendment, and I feel slightly embarrassed to be pressing yet again on the matter of the independence of the OEP. However, the strength of opinion across this House was clear at the first stage of ping-pong, when my amendment passed with a majority of 51.

The Government clearly have an umbilical attachment to the guidance powers in Clause 22, and my amendment makes a major concession in that it does not seek to remove the guidance power. I expect that there will be some noble Lords who believe that this concedes too much. However, the proposed new subsection (2) in the amendment would introduce a specific constraint on the Secretary of State in issuing guidance, namely that guidance cannot be issued on

“matters relating to the enforcement of environmental law against the Secretary of State”.

The aim of this subsection is to prevent the Secretary of State having a conflict of interest. Without it, he or she could, in effect, mark their own homework.

The proposed subsections (1) and (2A) of my amendment state that, in spite of any guidance, the OEP

“has complete discretion in the carrying out of its functions”,

and that, while it

“must have regard to the guidance”,

the OEP does not have to follow it if

“there are material considerations that indicate otherwise.”

These subsections are designed to ensure that the OEP has the operational independence that we all want, in spite of the guidance power.

I turn to the Minister’s opening speech and quote back two key sentences. The first is:

“It would also be inappropriate for the Secretary of State to issue guidance on specific matters relating to the enforcement of environmental law against the Secretary of State for Defra, given that there would be a conflict of interest.”


The second is:

“the OEP would be expected to have regard to any guidance issued, but it retains the ability and discretion to make its own decisions and is not bound to act in accordance with the guidance where it has clear reasons not to do so.”

Although the wording is slightly different from my amendment, the implications of the points made in the Minister’s speech are more or less identical. I hope that, later in this debate, the Minister will confirm that my interpretation is indeed correct. The only piece that is left out is the OEP setting its own budget, but there are some other safeguards in other parts of the Bill.

I consider it a great pity that the Government were not prepared to accept my amendment, as the Minister’s speech implies that its intent has indeed been accepted. However, as the Minister stated at the start of his speech, ministerial statements in Hansard could be used by the courts in future as an aid to statutory interpretation. I look to the lawyers, because it is well above my pay grade to judge the value of that statement and, therefore, whether what we have heard is a sufficiently robust protection for the OEP’s independence.

The Minister also made three other important points that respond to earlier concerns expressed about the guidance power. First, the guidance power could not be used to preclude the OEP from investigating a broad category of cases. The example I used in an earlier debate was new nuclear power stations. Secondly, it is up to the OEP to decide whether cases have national implications. For instance, a case that has specific and local implications, such as the destruction of a unique habitat, could also be of national significance. Thirdly, the Secretary of State will not issue guidance to the OEP before the initial setup and before the OEP has had a chance to develop its own enforcement policy.

I thank the Minister for his speech. I believe that we have converged on a way forward that protects the operational independence of the OEP. The solution may not be perfect, but it gives me some reassurance on this absolutely central plank of the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Cameron of Dillington Portrait Lord Cameron of Dillington (CB)
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My Lords, it appears that there has been some sort of rapprochement—albeit, I suspect, reluctant. On the one hand are us, from all sides of the House of Lords, who wish to see a strong and independent OEP; on the other side is the current Defra team, which still, I get the impression, wishes to guide its activities as far as is politically possible. It would appear that we are gradually getting closer together. Sadly, however, we are not seeing a total volte-face by the Government, as we have over sewage and CSOs—or, for that matter, on breaches of parliamentary rules on lobbying.

Unfortunately, the independence of the OEP, a body that has yet to exist, is a concept too esoteric for the public to even know about, let alone to get hot under the collar about. If they knew about it, bearing in mind the Government’s behaviour in recent weeks, I should have thought that they would be concerned that future Secretaries of State could be exercising guidance over this body, whose primary function, let us face it, is to hold the Government, its Ministers and their quangos to account.

As my noble friend Lord Krebs said, his Motion A1 is very much in line with what my good friend Rebecca Pow, the Minister in the other place, has already said on the Floor of that House, as echoed by the Minister in this House today. It would have been good to get it on the face of the Bill to make the sentiment more certain and, above all, more durable, because that is really what matters. Bearing in mind that we are unlikely to get another environment Bill for some decades, I for one would have preferred us to move beyond just the commitments of this excellent team of Ministers and to a properly constituted, independent OEP that will stand the test of time. However, although I strongly support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Krebs, I recognise that the rapprochement we have achieved is now probably as far as we are going to get.

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Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park
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I am so sorry—I have just transferred that brilliant joke to another party. It may have been a brilliant joke but there was some truth in it—many a truth is told in jest, as someone said. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, makes a very good point, but I genuinely believe that the work of this House has removed much of the pong, and the ping-pong has, as a result, improved the Bill considerably. I genuinely thank her and others across the aisle for the work that they put into this.

I equally thank my exceptional private office staff, who have worked above and beyond the call of duty. This has been a very long process; it is one of the biggest Bills we have had to deal with. They have been working—in some cases—around the clock and I am very grateful to them and of course to the Bill team, who have been absolutely superb and extraordinarily patient, not just with colleagues in this House but with Ministers. I really appreciate their efforts and I look forward—as I know many in this House do—to the Bill continuing the crucial work that we have already begun to restore our appallingly depleted natural environment, improve the quality of our air and water, and end the scourge of plastic waste pollution. I commend this Motion to the House.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, I thank all those who have taken part in this debate and will reiterate something that was said at earlier stages of the Bill. The amendments I have been involved in, and many of the others, have been genuinely across all groups, and it has been a particular pleasure for me to work not only with the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Parminter, but with colleagues on the Conservative Benches: the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the noble Lord, Lord Duncan of Springbank and others. The concerns we have expressed are not partisan: they are genuine concerns about wanting to improve the Bill and protect the environment for our grandchildren and generations to come.

I also thank the Minister. In his reply, he did indeed utter the words I was hoping he would: namely, that the Government’s intention is to protect the operational independence of the OEP. I am very grateful to him for confirming that.

In concluding, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said it far more eloquently and succinctly than I could. We have worked hard to try to improve the Bill and we have made significant gains, but there comes a point at which we say, “Enough is enough. We have done the best we can. We have brought our experience and expertise to bear on the Bill and we think we have got about as far as we can. It may not be perfect, but it is better than it was when we started.” On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw Motion A1.

Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A) withdrawn.

Environment Bill

Lord Krebs Excerpts
On that basis, I am grateful for what the Minister has offered—a letter of reassurance. I hope that he can see that, again, I am trying to be consensual. If those words are in there, I will be temporarily reassured, but please be mindful: this is not an issue that will go away.
Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, I rise to speak to Motion F1, which would amend the government Motion F. I also support Motion G1, which we will come to shortly. The issue at stake with my amendment is simply this: does the Bill give the office for environmental protection sufficient independence to allow it to fulfil its function of holding public authorities, including Ministers, to account in relation to breaches of environmental law?

Clause 24 gives the Secretary of State wide-ranging powers to issue guidance to the OEP on the matters listed in Clause 23(6). These include whether a failure to comply with the law is “serious”, how the OEP determines

“whether damage to the … environment or to human health is serious”,

how the OEP exercises its enforcement functions

“in a way that respects the integrity of other statutory regimes”,

how the OEP intends to “avoid … overlap” with relevant ombudsmen and

“how the OEP intends to prioritise cases.”

The Bill also gives the Secretary of State powers to determine the budget of the OEP and to hire and fire the board, including the chair. Many of us feel that this does not add up to creating a truly independent watchdog.

Therefore, on Report, I moved an amendment, with support from across the House, to rewrite Clause 24 in order to ensure that it gave independence to the OEP in its enforcement role and budget. It also gave parliamentary oversight of both the budget and the hiring and firing of board members. This amendment was passed by a majority of 29. The Government proposed an alternative amendment that would have involved more consultation with Parliament but did not remove the guidance powers or change the substance of Clause 24. This amendment is essentially the same as Amendments 31A and 31B that we have in front of us today.

In the other place, on 20 October, my amendment was rejected, in spite of the fact that, according to my reading of Hansard, the speeches that referred to it strongly supported it. In her response, Minister Pow made three points. First, she said that paragraph 17 of Schedule 1 requires the Secretary of State to “have regard to” to the OEP’s independence. But we all know that “have regard to” is a weak requirement.

Secondly, she said that the Secretary of State cannot intervene on “specific … cases”. But by intervening on a category of cases—say, new nuclear power stations—the Secretary of State could, in theory, preclude the OEP from investigating a whole raft of individual cases within that category; for example, if it was advised that it is not a priority.

Thirdly, Minister Pow said:

“The OEP does not have to follow the guidance where it has clear reasons not to do so.”—[Official Report, Commons, 20/10/21; col. 823.]


It is a bit paradoxical to justify the existence of the guidance power by saying that the OEP does not have to take any notice of it. Furthermore, you could argue it would be a brave OEP that ignored the guidance from the individual who has the power to determine its budget and hire and fire the board, including the chair.

I am still not satisfied that the Bill will protect the independence of the OEP without further amendment. This new amendment—my Amendment 31C—is a genuine attempt at compromise, and I hope the Government will recognise this and therefore accept it. Let me briefly summarise. Subsection (1) sets out that the OEP has complete discretion in relation to its enforcement policy and functions and in preparing its budget. This would make it comparable to the Office for Budget Responsibility and the National Audit Office. Subsection (2), importantly, retains the guidance power for the Secretary of State but narrows its focus to certain strategic issues concerned with enforcement, as described in Clause 22(6)(c). Subsection (3) requires the OEP to have due regard to the guidance but allows for circumstances in which it may choose to disregard it. Subsections (4) and (5) refer to consultation and parliamentary scrutiny of the guidance, and subsection (6) involves the relevant parliamentary committees in the hiring and firing of board members.

The long-term success or failure of this Bill will in large part be measured by the effectiveness of the office for environmental protection. All the good intentions of the other parts of the Bill could come to naught without a fully independent watchman. We all had high confidence in and high regard for Dame Glenys Stacey, and for her board. We also have high regard for and confidence in the good intentions of current Defra Ministers. But I believe we have to prepare for the long term and that this amendment is fundamental to protecting the OEP’s independence in the long term.

Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Portrait Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick (Lab)
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My Lords, I will be brief, as this issue has been debated thoroughly at previous stages of the Environment Bill. I rise to move my Amendment 75C, under Motion N1, which would replace government Amendments 75A and 75B. This mirrors Amendment 31C, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and would achieve the same outcomes for the OEP’s independence in Northern Ireland as his would for the OEP in England.

My amendment would safeguard the OEP’s independence in the long term by amending the power of DAERA to guide how the OEP will hold Ministers to account on any environmental wrongdoings, to make it more targeted. It would also provide the OEP with complete discretion to undertake its activities in Northern Ireland and establish a role for the Assembly’s AERA Committee in overseeing the appointment of the Northern Ireland member on the OEP’s board. As the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said on Report:

“If the Government accept that the OEP should have complete discretion, surely a matter of this importance should be in the Bill.”—[Official Report, 18/9/21; col. 886.]


The recent DAERA consultation in Northern Ireland on environmental plans, principles and governance indicated strong support for the establishment of the OEP in Northern Ireland. I am in no doubt that that will be a huge boon for our environmental governance, but unless its independence is enshrined for the long term in this Bill, we will have missed a serious opportunity to ensure that this important new body is protected from future political whims. I say that with great reluctance, but we have to consider the political dynamics that exist in the Northern Ireland Executive and the Northern Ireland Assembly. As the EFRA Committee chair Neil Parish MP said in the other place last week,

“we need to ensure that those offices are independent for all time.”—[Official Report, Commons, 20/10/21; col. 804.]

In summary, I disagree with the Government’s amendments in respect of the OEP in Northern Ireland and the need for it to be independent, and I hope the Minister will change his mind on this issue.

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Moved by
Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs
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Leave out from “31” to end and insert “, do disagree with the Commons in their Amendments 31A and 31B, and do propose Amendment 31C in lieu—

31C: Leave out Clause 24 and insert the following new Clause—
“OEP independence
(1) The OEP has complete discretion in the carrying out of its functions, including in—
(a) preparing its enforcement policy,
(b) exercising its enforcement functions, and
(c) preparing and publishing its budget.
(2) The Secretary of State may issue guidance to the OEP on the matters listed in section 22(6)(c).
(3) The OEP must have regard to the guidance in preparing its enforcement policy, unless there are material considerations that indicate otherwise.
(4) Before issuing the guidance, the Secretary of State must—
(a) prepare and consult on a draft,
(b) lay the draft before Parliament, and
(c) publish a response to the consultation.
(5) The Secretary of State must publish the guidance when it comes into effect.
(6) In making or terminating appointments under paragraph 1 and paragraph 5 of Schedule 1, the Secretary of State must obtain the consent of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Environmental Audit Committees of the House of Commons.””

Child Poverty: Nuffield Foundation Review

Lord Krebs Excerpts
Tuesday 19th October 2021

(2 years, 9 months ago)

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Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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Nothing would make my heart sing more than everybody having access to a family hub. At the moment, there is £34 million for those hubs. We are doing great work with them. I have decided, because I thought that family hubs would come up today, to do an all-Peers briefing on them so that noble Lords can hear exactly what we are doing and ask all the questions they wish.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, a five year-old boy in Blackpool can expect to live for 53.3 years in good health, compared with 71.9 years for a boy born in Richmond—a truly shocking gap of 18.6 years. Last year’s report of the Select Committee on Food, Poverty, Health and the Environment made recommendations for reducing that gap. As part of their levelling-up agenda, how many of those recommendations have the Government implemented?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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The statistic shared by the noble Lord is sobering. Again, not wishing to sidestep the issue, I will need to go to the relevant department to make sure that he gets an answer. I will make sure that it is shared with noble Lords.

Environment Bill

Lord Krebs Excerpts
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords, I agree with the Minister that this Bill, as it stands now, is ambitious. But the Bill we had originally was a terrible Bill and that is why we so heavily amended it—it is quite unusual to amend a Bill to this extent. I hope that the Minister is going to push very hard, with the Treasury and his colleagues in the Commons, to make sure that they take out very few, if any, of our amendments.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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I thank the Minister and the Defra officials, who have engaged with me and many other noble Lords very constructively during the passage of this Bill through your Lordships’ House.

I echo the point just made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb: the amendments that have been passed in this House have significantly improved the quality of the Bill. An important point to note is that the amendments had almost universal support from all groups in your Lordships’ House. They were not party-political points; they were points made by those of us who believe passionately in the protection of the environment, now and in the future, to leave a better environment for our children and grandchildren than we have at the moment.

I hope, therefore, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has said, that the Minister will do his very best with his colleagues to ensure that the majority, if not all, of the amendments survive their consideration in the Commons and that we do not have to start the arguments all over again at ping-pong in a couple of weeks’ time.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on what was, I think, his first Bill in this House, and my noble friend Lady Bloomfield, as well as the Bill team, who went the extra mile. I particularly pay tribute to my noble friend for the amendments that he brought forward, which is always quite an achievement for a Minister in this place.

I would like to press him a little bit further on reaching a balance, particularly in catchment management and the prevention of combined sewer overflow, an issue to which I am sure we will be returning. We have already seen substantial floods in this country and elsewhere, no doubt due to climate change, and I welcome the provisions of this Bill that will undoubtedly help to reduce that in the future.

I support my noble friend the Duke of Montrose in his comments. I will raise these issues further in the context of the debate on the common frameworks agreement later today.

I want to take the opportunity to congratulate my noble friend the Minister on bringing us to this stage, and to wish the amendments that we have carried a safe passage back to us when the Bill returns to this House from next door.

Nutrition for Growth Summit

Lord Krebs Excerpts
Wednesday 13th October 2021

(2 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, my noble friend speaks with great insight and expertise. Let me assure her that the Government have worked with other key donors to promote adoption of the new OECD nutrition policy marker. Indeed, the UK’s 2019 ODA spend data that was published recently included the nutrition policy marker for the first time. She makes an important point, and it is very much part of our thinking.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, are the Government prepared to show global leadership by tackling the massive problem of malnutrition in this country, in particular by bringing forward a food Bill in response to the recent Dimbleby report?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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Speaking to foreign policy, it is always important that, when we stand up and raise issues of prioritisation on the international stage, we do not forget what is happening at home. The noble Lord makes an important point, which I will discuss on my return with colleagues across other departments.

Environment Bill

Lord Krebs Excerpts
Moved by
99: After Clause 109, insert the following new Clause—
“Habitats Regulations: limits on powers to amend
(1) The Secretary of State may only make regulations under section 108 or 109—(a) for the purposes of—(i) securing compliance with an international environmental obligation, or(ii) contributing to the favourable conservation status of species or habitats or the favourable condition of protected sites; (b) if the regulations do not reduce the level of protection provided by the Habitats Regulations, including protection for protected species, habitats or sites; and(c) following public consultation and consultation with—(i) the Office for Environmental Protection,(ii) Natural England,(iii) the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, and(iv) other relevant expert bodies.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that powers to amend the Habitats Regulations may only be used for the purposes of environmental improvement following consultation. It ensures that the level of environmental protection that must be maintained includes protection for important habitats, sites and species as well as overall environmental protection.
Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, the amendment is in my name together with those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Bennett of Manor Castle.

The amendment replaces four amendments that we debated in Committee. It has the same intent as those four amendments: to ensure that the Secretary of State cannot amend the habitats regulations without due process and constraints.

Bearing in mind the admonition we recently heard, let me recap very briefly. The habitats regulations protect our most valuable conservation sites, habitats and species. While these sites account for only a modest proportion of our land and marine area, they certainly punch well above their weight when it comes to protection of species. Unlike the targets in Clause 3, which apply to the country as a whole, the habitats regulations refer to specific places. This is an important distinction.

Clauses 108 and 109 allow the Secretary of State to amend these regulations, and they do not give enough safeguards to ensure that our most valuable habitats will be protected in future. Amendment 99 would provide those safeguards, stating explicitly that any changes to the habitat regulations would not breach any of our international obligations, would contribute to enhancing the conservation of habitat sites and species and would not reduce current levels of protection. It would also require the Government to consult the appropriate statutory expert bodies and other relevant experts. In short, it places in the Bill the commitments that the Government have already made in debate in Committee, when the Minister reassured us on every point.

So what is not to like? The Minister told us that key reasons for Clauses 108 and 109 were contributing to “international obligations” and ensuring

“our protected sites can be restored to good condition”.

This is made clear in Amendment 99. He also told us that the powers in these clauses would be used only to strengthen environmental protection. However, as it stands this would be a test of the Secretary of State being satisfied that protections are not reduced. Although the Minister described this as a “high bar”, it is a subjective judgment. Amendment 99 would replace this subjective test, whereby Ministers mark their own homework, with an objective requirement. The Minister pointed out that the Secretary of State’s judgment could be challenged in the courts, but that seems to me to be setting up a system that would generate money for lawyers and take up large amounts of time with uncertain outcomes. Why not simplify with Amendment 99?

The Minister said that the Government would consult the office for environmental protection before making any changes to the habitats regulations. Amendment 99 extends the consultation requirement to include other relevant bodies. He also referred to a review led by the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, but did not tell us who was consulted in this review and what its impact will be. Perhaps he can expand on this in his reply.

As I have already mentioned, a crucial difference between the habitats regulations and the Clause 3 commitments is that the habitats regulations protect particular sites, habitats and species, while the Clause 3 targets do not. The Minister told us that Clause 108 is

“designed to allow requirements to specify … protections for habitats and species”.—[Official Report, 12/7/2021; cols. 1620-1.]

However, this does not guarantee those protections. The Minister also told us in Committee that the habitats regulations had not worked. I am not sure to which studies he is referring, but the evidence, as I understand it, from peer-reviewed literature, is that protected species fare better in countries where protection of the kind provided by the habitats regulations is most extensive and long-standing. This is not to say that things could not be improved. However, the Minister did not give us specific examples of how the powers of Clauses 108 and 109 would lead to an improvement. In fact, we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, that this was a post-Brexit opportunity to cut red tape and bureaucracy—hardly a reassuring message.

In summary, I have not heard any convincing arguments against the habitats regulations being maintained, and Amendment 99 will ensure that any changes in future will strengthen rather than weaken them. I very much look forward to what the Minister has to say in his reply but, as things stand, I would wish to test the opinion of the House on this crucial amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, your Lordships’ House will hear from me a great deal later on, so I will be very brief in this contribution. I have attached my name to this amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, which of course has full cross-party and non-party backing. The noble Lord has set out an overwhelmingly powerful case for why we should have this amendment.

I make two comments. We were promised non-regression with Brexit, and this would restore some of the protections that we lost with Brexit and, more than non-regression, we were promised improvements. This is simply standing still, so the Government really must commit to this amendment.

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Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait The Minister of State, Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park) (Con)
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I thank noble Lords for their contributions during this debate. The Bill takes the world-leading step of requiring a new, historic and legally binding target to halt species decline by 2030. The powers in Clauses 108 and 109 form an integral part of our strategy to achieve this.

The first of those powers enables the amendment to Regulation 9 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017. Currently, that regulation requires Ministers and public authorities to comply with or have regard to the requirements of the habitats and wild birds directives. However, these requirements are not explicitly set out anywhere. This has provided scope for differing interpretations and disagreement, as well as potential for legal challenge.

Instead of spending time and taxpayers’ money on battles in the courtroom, we want to try to focus on ensuring that the protection of our designated sites and species is based on robust science and technical expertise. The Government will publish a Green Paper later this year, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, acknowledged, which will set out clearly, plainly and transparently our view of the current requirements of Regulation 9 and remove that uncertainty. We will consult on and agree the conservation requirements necessary to meet our biodiversity targets and improve the natural environment. This will support our aim to focus on the scientific evidence as well as our national priorities for nature restoration.

The second power concerns the amendment to Part 6 of the regulations, which enables us to review the current habitats regulations assessment process. My noble friend Lord Benyon is chairing a small working group that is gathering information from experts regarding our current HRA process, to inform any future decisions on the use of these powers. The group is consulting a wide range of experts with direct experience of HRA, including the competent authorities, statutory advisers, environmental NGOs, developers, town and country planners and land managers. The group includes Minister Pow, Tony Juniper—he is chair of Natural England—and Christopher Katkowski QC. It will input options for proposals and questions to the Green Paper, which will then be subject to extensive consultation.

A clearer, quicker and more easily understood process will support environmental protection by focusing on the issues that really matter for protected sites. I am reminded that Lord Justice Sullivan, when the regulations were formulated, recommended that we needed a system that was simple and not too full of hurdles that could end up causing excessive battles in the courtrooms. It feels to me that, in part, that is where things have ended up.

However, I can commit to this House that no changes will be made without extensive consultation and strong parliamentary scrutiny. Consultation will include the office for environmental protection and statutory nature conservation bodies. It will also include key environmental NGOs, farmers and land managers to name a few. Those commitments are reinforced in Clauses 108(5) and 109(3), so that, in making regulations using these powers, Ministers must be satisfied that they do not reduce existing protections. In addition, we have added a specific requirement that Ministers justify to Parliament that any new regulations using these powers meet the test. This is a meaningful scrutiny mechanism with strong safeguards ensuring that we will not reduce the level of environmental protection.

I know some noble Lords are concerned that the changes will undermine the specific protections currently conferred by the habitats and wild birds directives, and I want to be clear that Clause 108(3) allows for requirements or objectives to be specified in relation to the 2030 species target or other long-term biodiversity targets and to improve our natural environment. These requirements and objectives can specify, among other things, how we must protect habitats and species, and at what scale, to ensure we can reverse biodiversity loss.

Additionally, many of the requirements in the directives derive in turn from multilateral environmental agreements, of which the UK is a contracting party and was instrumental in promoting—in particular, the Berne convention. We remain bound by international law and committed to those obligations to contribute to the conservation status of these habitats and species within their natural range and to continue to co-operate internationally to do so. We remain equally bound by and committed to conserving the marine environment under the Ospar convention; migratory species under the Bonn convention; wetlands under the Ramsar Convention; and, more broadly, the Convention on Biological Diversity.

I hope I have gone some way to reassure noble Lords that this power has been tightly drafted, with strong safeguards in place on its use, and that Amendment 99 is therefore not necessary. Climate change and biodiversity loss present huge long-term challenges that literally threaten our future if left unchecked. We need to act now, through this Bill, to halt the decline of species by 2030 and, as noble Lords will know, we will be legally obliged to do so when the Bill becomes an Act, as we hope it will. The habitats regulation assessment is a key mechanism for preventing deterioration of our most valuable habitats. We want to strengthen that protection and investigate ways in which the habitats regulation assessment could support better environmental outcomes. I therefore urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate and the Minister for his response. I want to make just three points. The first is that, listening carefully to what he said, I reiterate the question that the noble Lord, Lord Deben, put to him: there is nothing that the Government are not already committed to in this amendment, so why not accept it? I have not heard the argument against it. I have heard the argument for it from the Minister.

The second point concerns the Green Paper, which loomed large in the Minister’s response. There seems to be one species that might be protected by the Green Paper: the pig—the pig in the poke. We do not know what is going to be in the Green Paper. We have had a list of names of people who might be consulted, but we do not know what form the consultation has taken.

The third point is that the Minister referred to the need to have a regulatory regime that is quicker, easier and simpler. That rings alarm bells for me. Ease, simplicity and speed are not necessarily merits that one wishes to pursue if one’s aim is to protect the natural environment. I am afraid that although I have heard responses in detail to Amendment 99, I am not convinced that they provide a satisfactory end point, and therefore wish to test the opinion of the House.