All 4 Lord Deben contributions to the Environment Act 2021

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Mon 6th Sep 2021
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Environment Bill

Lord Deben Excerpts
Report stage
Monday 6th September 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 43-II Second marshalled list for Report - (6 Sep 2021)
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords, it is a curious experience to be standing up without being called.

The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has made the classic Conservative error of separating biodiversity from climate. It is all interconnected: you cannot talk about either without accepting that each has an impact on the other. Every noble Lord must understand that we have a climate emergency, and therefore this government Bill is not good enough. We all know that–it is why there are so many amendments at Report. It is our job to improve the Bill and it is the Government’s job to listen and, I hope, accept our improvements.

Lord Deben Portrait Lord Deben (Con)
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I hope that your Lordships will remember the words of the Pope in Laudato Si, when he said that climate change was the symptom of what we had done to the world. That brings together bio- diversity, imposed poverty, the lack of fertility in our soil, modern slavery and a whole range of other things. Climate change is the planet crying out for the elimination of its disease.

I was not present for his speech but I read carefully what my noble friend said about his commitment to both these things. I hope that, when he comes to answer this debate, he realises that it is extremely difficult for us in the Climate Change Committee to explain to people why biodiversity is part of the answer—putting that right is just as important as a range of other things, and we cannot divorce them from each other. It is difficult, because we have already started doing that, making climate change one sort of thing and these other things different from it. I hope that the Government will understand why this amendment has been put down and why it is important to connect these things. If I have a difficulty, it is that a lot of other things ought to be connected as well, but these two are particularly important this year, given the nature of international negotiations in this area.

I hope also that my noble friend will think to himself a very simple thing: if the Government will not accept the amendment or rewrite the Bill—my noble friend Lord Caithness may be right; I am not arguing in detail about the particular amendment—it is perfectly possible for them to come forward and make a statement in the Bill which makes it clear that the biodiversity and climate emergencies are intimately and intricately connected. I hope my noble friend will realise that, if he cannot say it, he will be showing that the Government are not prepared to say it. That would be really worrying. The reason the Government have to say it is that there is a fundament problem with government: it has a series of silos, and if we are not careful these big issues get caught up in some ministries and not others. Unless we make it clear that this should be a driving force in, say, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport as much as in the Department for Education, Defra or BEIS, we will not win this battle.

I hope my noble friend will recognise that the House is asking for a very simple statement. If it is refused, I really would not blame people outside for questioning the commitment of the Government as a whole to these two essential parts of the same problem. I look to him if not to accept these amendments then to at least tell the House that, at Third Reading, he will introduce an amendment that will assert publicly the Government’s commitment to these being urgent, necessary issues that deserve the title that we have asked for. I hope he is able to say that; if he is not, it will send the wrong signal, at a time when we should be united in sending the right signals, so that in all discussions people will know precisely where Britain stands.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, in supporting the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, I draw attention to a particular feature that has been mentioned but perhaps could be made more explicit. It is a feature of both the climate emergency and the biodiversity emergency: the discontinuities that will arise as a result of incremental change. My noble friend Lady Boycott alluded to this in talking about the rivets in an aeroplane: it does not matter, perhaps, if one, two or three rivets fall out, but when more than a critical number fall off there is a discontinuity and the plane falls out of the sky. This is true, as we know from the IPCC and others, of the climate emergency. We hear over and over of the notion of dangerous climate change, whereby if we exceed a certain boundary then we will tip into a new world in which life becomes intolerable and many regions of the planet are uninhabitable for the human species. That is equally true of the biodiversity emergency.

I am an academic ecologist, and so I will refer back to the scientific literature. Back in 1969, an American ecologist, Robert T Paine of the University of Washington, drew attention to the notion of keystone species. He was studying a species of starfish that lives in the intertidal zone of the north-western United States—Washington state. If this species of starfish disappears then the whole ecosystem flips to a new state, because the starfish is the keystone species that maintains the equilibrium of the intertidal ecosystem. The same will be true in many other situations.

It is not just the number of rivets that fall out of the plane that is important; it is particular, key rivets. The sad thing is that, if we lose some of these keystone species, we will be among the ones that suffer, because we will suddenly find that the systems we rely on to produce food, purify our water and provide other ecosystem services will simply not exist any more. A genuine emergency is created by crossing these thresholds: once we have crossed them, it will be too late.

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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 am delighted to be back debating the Environment Bill on Report and not least to be able to do so in person. I thank noble Lords for continuing to meet me and my officials over the Summer Recess.

Off the back of much of that engagement, as well as the many insightful contributions in Committee from right across this House, noble Lords will have seen that we have secured and tabled some significant amendments to the Bill. I outlined these in a letter to your Lordships last week and I look forward to discussing these in more detail as we progress the debate.

Moving on to the important issues at hand, I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate, and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for his Amendment 1. He described an emergency; I reassure him that the Government fully recognise the seriousness of both climate change and biodiversity loss, which, as a number of noble Lords have said, must be addressed in tandem if we are to protect the planet. There is no credible pathway to net zero that does not involve the protection and restoration of nature on an unprecedented scale. Indeed, there is no pathway to meeting our sustainable development goals—any of them—without massive efforts to protect and restore nature. We know that those people who depend most on the free services that nature provides, and which have been described by a number of speakers today, are in the most vulnerable and poorest communities. As we destroy nature, we destroy those services and plunge people in huge numbers into base poverty.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, pointed out that of total global climate finance, less than 3% is invested in nature-based solutions to climate change. An attempt to shift that balance and get that 3% much closer to 50% is at the heart of our ambitions as the president of COP. In addition to committing to double our own international climate finance to £11.6 billion, we have committed that nearly a third of that will be invested in nature-based solutions, including forests, mangroves, seagrasses and more. As part of our diplomatic efforts in the run-up to COP, we are talking to other donor countries on a regular basis to try to persuade them to do something similar. There has been some progress and I hope that, by the time we reach COP, I will be able to present significant movement in that area.

My noble friend Lord Deben, who I too am very pleased to see here and who is an authority on climate change, quoted the Pope; I am not sure whether it was the current or previous Pope but he quoted a Pope. The point he made was absolutely right. Climate change has been described by others—perhaps from a less theological point of view—as a fever caused by decades and generations of our abuse of the natural world. The more we can see it in that way, the more likely we are to deliver appropriate solutions. COP will be a nature COP; this is at the heart of what we are attempting to do with our presidency.

I take issue with one suggestion that the noble Lord, Lord Deben made: that we need to make it clear to others where the UK stands on these issues. I would not pretend that there is a country in the world, including the UK, that is doing enough. The gap between where we are and where we need to be is vast; that is true of every country on earth, and that is why we are having this discussion today. But where the UK stands on climate change and nature already sends a pretty powerful message to the world. I think we are regarded internationally as leaders: we were the first major economy to legislate for net zero by 2050; we have committed to ending taxpayer support for fossil fuel projects overseas, which the noble Lord has been urging for many years; we are the first to make our land use subsidy system conditional on environmental outcomes; we have doubled our international climate finance, as I said; and we have committed to a third of investment into nature-based solutions. As COP president, we are all engaging in intense diplomacy to try to raise ambition across the world.

Lord Deben Portrait Lord Deben (Con)
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I think my noble friend misunderstood my point. My point was that, given the opportunity to declare this simple thing in an Act, the Government, if they do not take it, cannot avoid the fact that many will say they do not want to. The Government have the opportunity. I do not want the rest of these amendments; I just want the statement, and then no one can argue. If he cannot give that, I merely say that people outside will think we are not willing to do so.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for his intervention, and I will address his question directly.

The Environment Bill contains numerous world firsts as well—for example, legislation to move illegal deforestation from supply chains, which we are trying to persuade many other countries to emulate, and with which we think we are making some progress. Biodiversity net gain is, I believe, a world first. I am delighted to introduce a legal requirement, which we will debate later today, to everything the Government can do to bend the curve of biodiversity loss by 2030. The Bill will enable us to improve air quality, address nature’s decline, deliver a resource-efficient economy, tackle the scourge of single-use plastics and ensure we can manage our precious water resources in a changing climate. All climate change legislation in England will be part of the enforcement remit of the office for environmental protection, including enforcement of the net-zero target. The OEP will work closely alongside our world-leading Committee on Climate Change on these issues, ensuring that their individual roles complement and reinforce one another.

Through the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan, the Government set out steps to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. This innovative programme outlines ambitious policies and includes £12 billion of government investment to support up to 250,000 green jobs, accelerate our path to reaching net zero by 2050 and lay the foundations for a green recovery by building back greener from the pandemic. The Government have also published their energy White Paper, transport decarbonisation plan and hydrogen strategy, and we will bring forward further proposals, including a net-zero strategy, before COP 26—a strategy that all government departments, without exception, are working on. We will continue to tackle these interrelated crises in an integrated way, internationally, as hosts of COP 26 and by playing a leading role in pushing for the development of an ambitious post-2020 global biodiversity framework to be adopted at the CBD COP 15.

Briefly, in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, who talked about the need for action alongside this but questioned the action taken during the passage of the Bill, most of the examples I gave earlier are things that have happened during the passage of the Bill but, in addition to that, the Government announced a few months ago the £3 billion green investment fund to create thousands of green jobs and upgrade buildings; a £2 billion green homes grant; the England peat action plan, produced by my honourable friend Rebecca Pow in the other place; the England trees action plan, which was part of my portfolio; and a £5.2 billion fund to better protect properties from flooding, increasing amounts of which will be invested in nature-based solutions to try to deal with numerous problems using the same investment. We are taking action.

In response to the amendment, but also to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Deben: it is clearly the action against which a Government will be judged. Any Government can make declarations, as we have seen. As we approach COP, every declaration made so far in relation to deforestation globally has been missed. The Aichi targets were missed catastrophically. I cannot think of a single grand statement about the environment, biodiversity or climate change that has in fact been met—not a single one. It is the steps—the actions—that Governments take against which they should be judged.

A number of noble Lords have described an environmental crisis, a biodiversity crisis and a climate crisis. I have, in the short time I have been in this place, described those crises myself. Indeed, the reason I am in politics is to tackle those crises. It is hard to talk about the scale of the crisis. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, gave the example that the populations of key species have declined by nearly 70% in my lifetime, and that would not even qualify as a nano-blip in evolutionary terms. One more nano-blip like that and we are in very serious trouble. Of course this is an emergency; there is no doubt that we are describing, combating and tackling a biodiversity and climate emergency. But adding this proposed new clause to the Bill would not, we believe, drive any specific further action. It does not change the nature of what we need to do or of the action we are already taking. While I agree completely with the sentiment behind the noble Lord’s amendment—and I think the Government have demonstrated, in the steps they have taken, that they share that sentiment—respectfully, we do not see that this amendment would have any material impact.

Amendment 21 was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Bird, but he has not spoken to it, so I hope it is okay if I address it. I am not sure what the protocol requires, but I will do so unless I am told not to. I firmly believe that environmental risks are already accounted for under the Bill—in numerous ways, such as the environment improvement plan and annual reports that will consider risks related to improving the natural environment and be actively managed through ongoing performance management. These reports will be published and scrutinised by Parliament and the office for environmental protection. Furthermore, the Government report publicly on specific environmental risk, including long-term environmental trends and high-impact environmental risks, through Defra’s annual reports and accounts and the outcome delivery plans for each government department. These are all available online.

Regarding youth engagement, a point raised by a number of speakers, we have consulted the Youth Steering Group and are exploring new approaches to youth engagement as part of the EIP review due to take place in 2022. In addition, the emphasis being placed by the COP president-designate on the value of youth engagement and youth involvement cannot be overestimated, and that is demonstrated through the actions he is taking and the plans he is making.

The Bill and the actions we are taking elsewhere will deliver on the sentiments behind both amendments. Therefore, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

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Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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I simply say to my noble friend that I am not in a position to accept this amendment. If the House feels strongly on this issue, then it is important that it tests the amendment in a Division. Accepting it is not something that I am able to do or, frankly, that I think would make any material difference to government policy.

Lord Deben Portrait Lord Deben (Con)
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I do not want this to start off so badly, but the fact is that many of us do not want to have various bits of this amendment and it is not our fault that my noble friend has been offered the opportunity to make this statement. I have to ask him: is he really going to stand up and say that, if just that bit were put in at Third Reading, he would whip his side to vote against it? If he did that—and that is the only way in which he could stand behind refusing such an amendment—then that seems to open up the reality of the question that he has been asked.

I agree with him about statements. I am constantly attacking the Government for not doing the things that are necessary to achieve the ends that they have so nobly accepted, so he must not accuse me of being in favour of declarations. However, when he has been asked to make a declaration and he does not do so, that seems to me to be a very different circumstance.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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Perhaps I have misunderstood my noble friend. If he is asking me to acknowledge, as I have done many times in this House and outside it, that we face a biodiversity and climate emergency then I believe I have already done so. However, it is not for me to unilaterally accept an amendment on behalf of the Government that would have no material impact. As my noble friend says, we have made some big commitments; accepting the amendment would not change our commitment to net zero or to reversing biodiversity loss by 2030, or indeed in relation to any of these issues. I am afraid I have to come back to my noble friend and others by saying that if the feeling is strong then this issue needs to be put to a Division.

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Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, Amendment 2 appears in my name and those of the noble Lords, Lord Whitty, Lord Curry of Kirkharle and Lord Randall of Uxbridge. I thank them all for their support, as well as others who would have offered their support had there been space under our procedures.

We have here a very simple amendment, but an improved amendment from Committee. As I listened to the discussion in Committee, it became obvious that we really needed to ensure that this amendment addresses both the health and quality of soil. I am simplifying slightly—I refer noble Lords to the discussion in Committee—but in a sense, in recent decades we have come to realise, in a way we had not before, that soils are complex ecosystems in their own right. The “health” element of this amendment very much addresses that biology aspect, whereas the “quality” element speaks more specifically to the chemical and physical composition of the soil. It is interesting that in our first debate today, the noble Lord, Lord Deben, highlighted the importance of soils when we are talking about biodiversity and climate. That is a useful introduction to this debate.

We debated soils at great length in Committee, so I will just briefly summarise some of the points raised. The UK loses more than 3 million tonnes of topsoil every year. Soil is degraded even while it remains in situ; almost 4 million hectares are at risk of compaction—the life and air squashed out of the soil, mostly by the passage of heavy farm machinery. Soil can also be contaminated through dangerous, damaging substances being swept or blown or landing on it—or still sometimes, sadly, being deliberately placed on it through error or fraud. We are also just beginning to understand micro- plastic pollution, something that cannot be escaped anywhere on this planet. Soils are stores of carbon too, of course. They are rich ecosystems and stores of life and biodiversity on a scale that we have barely begun to understand.

It is important to acknowledge that the Government, at least in some quarters, recognise the scale of this issue. The 25-year environment plan—supposedly the big, set-piece document outlining what the Government intend to do on many pressing issues—says that England’s soils must be sustainably managed by 2030. To drive home that point, that is little more than eight years away. In terms of farming practice, farmers are buying new machinery now that they might expect to use for many decades. In terms of the need urgently to plant trees, which is a soil health and quality issue as well as one in so many other areas, eight years is obviously not very long at all for them to reach any kind of size. Food manufacturers will have to think about their plans for the future and what crops might be available to them.

I credit the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, for highlighting in Committee how your Lordships’ House, after a long wrestle, got a significant reference to soil in the Agriculture Act. This is very much its sister Bill, so surely we have to do the same thing here to get the two fitting and working together. In the priority areas of this Bill we have air and water quality, then there is a gap where soil obviously belongs and where this amendment puts it.

I want to address a couple of the points the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith of Richmond, made in Committee. One response was that

“the Bill gives us the power to set legally-binding long-term targets on any aspect of the natural environment”.

A Secretary of State could set a target at any time, but given that there are a scant eight years to reach the Government’s own aim of 2030, why wait? Why would a world-leading Government wait?

The second response from the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, was that there is not enough information and knowledge about soils to know what the targets could be. I acknowledge, as I did in Committee, that there is a dreadful shortage of information on and understanding of soils. This is a result of the failure to fund independent agricultural research extending over decades and the outsourcing of it to agrochemical companies that have advocated highly profitable—for them—practices which have had such a disastrous impact on soil health and quality. I suggest that the Minister then contradicted himself when he said:

“Developing targets is an iterative process”.


In other words, this is something that is developed, evolved and finessed over time. These targets can be set, improved, developed and worked through. What we need in this Bill is a statement that soil has to be there with air and water.

Without this amendment, we have a Bill that is a two-legged stool. Someone pointed out to me that they were once used in dairy farming because you could wobble by hanging on to the cow, but that is not quite a practical arrangement for a legal process. Stools need three legs. What this small, modest, but important amendment does is put that third leg on the stool. In our Committee debate, the noble Earl, Lord Devon, said that soil

“warrants its own independent priority status”

and added that

“we are in danger of giving it a permanently second-tier status”—[Official Report, 21/6/21; cols. 87-93.]

without the addition of this amendment. If we are going to be able to grow our food, cultivate and support our natural world and store the carbon that we must in the coming years, decades and centuries, this amendment has to be in this Bill.

Noble Lords will note that the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, who might be expected to be in his place and commenting on this amendment, having attached his name to it, is not here. The noble Lord asked me to send his personal apologies for being unable to be here and to share some of his thoughts. He said: “I have attached my name to this amendment because it is illogical not to include soil health and quality as a key environmental indicator. Soil is our most precious asset, and its status will determine whether or not we achieve net zero by 2050 and whether or not we can feed 10 billion people by 2050. Nothing can be more important than these two objectives. The Republic of Ireland has just committed €10 million to carrying out a nationwide soil testing programme to establish a baseline of soil health and quality. We have the opportunity to do the same through the ELMS if we specify the standard of testing required and create a national database. Why could we not take this unique opportunity to position ourselves as global leaders in this crucial area, particularly with COP 26 approaching?”

I have indicated informally and will now indicate formally that, unless I hear an acceptance from the Minister that the Government will put the final leg on the stool, I intend to push this amendment to a vote. I really feel we can do nothing else; we will be utterly failing the future if we do not do this. I beg to move.

Lord Deben Portrait Lord Deben (Con)
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My Lords, the Climate Change Committee has made it very clear that the soil is a crucial part of our remediation policies to deal with climate change. I declare an interest because, in a small way, I am an organic farmer and I have a son who is particularly interested in and works with those who want to use soil for sequestration. Whatever one’s interests may be, it is quite clear that the importance of soil is universal; it is a world problem. We have reduced the fertility of our soil almost universally over the past 40 and 50 years. I often want to say that five a day is worth about what four a day might have been some time ago. I am not sure that is scientifically accurate, but it expresses what the difference is—not only is it the fertility of the soil, but the trace elements in the soil.

What is rather curiously called “conventional farming” suffers from the problem that is does not put back the richness of the soil in the same way that historic methods of farming have done. We have to recognise that we have to change, because we cannot go on doing this. If you come, as I do, from the east of England, you know that more and more conventional famers are recognising that the way we farm gives us very few more harvests because we are denuding the soil.

The first reason that soil is crucial is because it is getting far less useful—if we only want to look at it from a utilitarian point of view. The second reason is because we need it to be better able to sequester. That means we really have to bring the soil back to the kind of strength that it had before the war.

The third reason it is crucial is that there are particular soils with special issues. I draw my noble friend’s attention to the question of peatland, which is a remarkable and wonderful sequester of carbon. But if it is ruined or torn up, it becomes the opposite and it exhales carbon, so we have a double whammy. The fact is that the Government have not even embarked on a peatland policy that will reach the level the Climate Change Committee says is essential to meet net zero—to restore all our peatlands by 2045. If we do it at the speed which is, at the moment, being celebrated by Defra, we will not get there.

It is crucially important—some sort of animal has just landed on me and clearly wishes to sequester upon me—to note that, unless we act on soil, we have very little chance of reaching net zero, because the “net” bit of net zero is about sequestration. It is not just about planting trees, although that is crucially important; it is about the whole way we deal with soil, including how we deal with the bare period, which should be covered, and the sorts of things that we can do and which we have to make sure are part of ELMS when it comes to the detail. All those things are essential.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, referred to a very interesting thing: of earth, air and water, earth is the first. Again, one comes back to the words of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, who reminded us of the nature of the Lord’s Prayer.

It is very important that soil should be part of this. My reason for speaking is simply because we have made that very clear in the Climate Change Committee’s report—which has been accepted by the Government and is the basis of our commitment to net zero and the way in which we are going to get there. It would be a great pity if we cannot find a way of including soil. It may be that the way the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, wants to do it has some technical problem which I have not so far seen, and I am perfectly prepared to be led down some path which enables some other way of doing this. But if we do not include soil, we are again saying something. There is no such thing as being able to negative something without making a statement. Therefore, we either have to do what the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, would like us to do, or we have to find another way of making sure that soil is part of this.

I end by saying to my noble friend that there is a particular reason why Defra should be saying this: we have not heard enough from Defra about how we are going to improve the soil—we have not heard enough about the details. Therefore, we are not sure that Defra has really taken this on board. The Climate Change Committee is, I think, trying to say to Defra that this is central. For example, we have not yet banned horticultural peat. What on earth are we doing making it worse? We could do that immediately; the industry is ready for it, but we have not yet done it because we are still talking. Climate change gives us no time to talk about this—something that we should have done a long time ago. Please can we have this in the Bill, so that we know where we are and the Government can be held to it?

Lord Whitty Portrait Lord Whitty (Lab)
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My Lords, I added my name to this amendment and I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, on the way that she presented it and added a few more points from the noble Lord, Lord Curry, in his absence. Now, the noble Lord, Lord Deben, has spelled out most of what I was about to say. The reality is that this is a very straightforward amendment and one which would be easy, sensible and logical for the Minister to accept.

In relation to the back end of the remarks by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, Defra really has no excuse now. I have to admit that, 20 years ago, when I was a Defra Minister, soil management was not very high on the agenda; it was there, and it was vaguely there in the common agricultural policy and agro-environment schemes, but it was very low priority. And yet it is such a central issue to life on this earth and the future of the human race that we have a soil—both cultivated and in the wild—that will continue to be sustainable and be resilient enough to provide the multitudinous plants that sustain life for ourselves and for almost every other species on earth.

Environment Bill

Lord Deben Excerpts
Report stage
Wednesday 8th September 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 43-II Second marshalled list for Report - (6 Sep 2021)
Lord Deben Portrait Lord Deben (Con)
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My Lords, I support the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, because I know from my experience as chairman of the Climate Change Committee why it works. It works because there are statutory targets to be met within reasonable times. If the target date is 2050, no Minister presently serving will have to be responsible for it. Indeed, I remind my noble friend that when a former Labour Party Administration announced a date for net-zero houses which was some 10 years later, there was ribaldry on the Conservative Benches on the basis that that would mean that they would not have to do anything during their period of office.

I am afraid I am long enough in the tooth to recognise that the Climate Change Act ensured that no Government could put off the actions they had to take until a more convenient time arose. The brilliance of the Act was to bring together two very different timescales. One is the democratic timescale of four or five years for the renewal of mandate and the other is the continuing timescale of fighting climate change. A democratic society has somehow to bring those two together. The cleverness of it was that by ensuring that Parliament agreed on the interim budgets and therefore they were democratically voted on, the Climate Change Committee was then able to hold the Government to them. They could not be changed without their agreement. That brought these two things in line.

What surprises me about my noble friend’s—and he is a noble friend—reply during the previous debate was his suggestion that somehow everything that is true about the Climate Change Act does not count in the Environment Bill. He does not believe that because he is a great supporter of the Climate Change Act. It is just not possible to hold those two views. I fear that this is the result of some apparatchik somewhere who does not want anybody to be held to anything. All of us should recognise how dangerous that is from the news today. Despite everything that has been said at this Dispatch Box and a similar Dispatch Box in the other House, the Government have bent over to the Australian Government and removed from the agreement the commitment to meeting the climate change figures and temperatures in the Paris Agreement.

If that is so, how can we possibly accept merely the assurances? We have to have it in the Act—we have to have it clearly there, not because we have any doubt that this Minister, this Front Bench, would do what they say they are going to do, but because we have lived long enough to know that if it is not in the Act, in the end it does not get done.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords, I fully support Amendments 11, 13 and 14. I simply ask: what is the point of having targets if there is no duty to meet them?

Environment Bill

Lord Deben Excerpts
Report stage
Wednesday 15th September 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 43-IV Fourth marshalled list for Report - (13 Sep 2021)
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
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My Lords, it was very long ago and far away that the birth of the habitats regulations took place, but it was something on which the EU was led by the UK. Since then, the impact in terms of improved protection for habitat sites and species has been huge. The SACs and SPAs that they created are the very jewels in the crown of UK nature and the countryside.

Clauses 108 and 109 as they stand state that any changes to the habitats regulations should not reduce the level of environmental protection provided, but the judge on whether a change represents a reduction in protection is left to the Secretary of State—he is going to mark his own homework. This would be after consultation of course, but the clauses do not say who he will consult.

Let us face it: we know that, in some quarters, the habitats regulations have long been a post-Brexit target for pulling their teeth. There is a unique hatred of the habitats regulations in some quarters. They are seen as getting in the way of development, but that is usually inappropriate development. There is an antagonism that is in the same camp as the sweeping zonal proposals in the planning system changes, which we hear the Government have been forced to abandon. The Secretary of State has asked the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, who was briefly in his place, to chair a habitats regulations assessment working group, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said. It is described as a small and informal group, but I think it is a bit of a giveaway that one member of this four-person group is also working with the Government on their planning reforms. It is so small and informal that it has not yet published any outcomes of its review. Can the Minister tell us when it will report and who it is consulting?

The Government say that they need to amend the habitats regulations to meet the Environment Bill targets and the environmental improvement plans, but measures to meet those could easily have been in addition to, not instead of, the habitats regulations. We should be rejoicing in what the UK-inspired habitats regulations have achieved in reducing annual damage to and loss of our key wildlife sites—from 17% each year before the regulations were introduced to 0.17% after their introduction.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, assured us that the proposed new powers were to improve the condition of our sites. The amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, would set these good intentions in law.

Lord Deben Portrait Lord Deben (Con)
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My Lords, I hope that the Climate Change Committee will be one of the appropriate organisations to which this amendment applies; I declare an interest in that sense. There is nothing in this amendment that the Minister has not committed himself to already. All it would do is make sure of the advantages that we have in the habitats directive, which was taken into our own law. The Climate Change Committee has taken to it very strongly because of the additional advantages of sequestration and the treatment of land, which this helps in a significant way. I find it very difficult to see why the Government cannot accept it, unless there is somebody hidden away in No. 10 who has a plot.

I therefore hope that my noble friend realises what will happen if the Government do not accept this: he will have to whip the Conservative Party to vote against the very things that he says he will do. All this amendment would do is to make sure that any successive Minister would also have to do those things. That is, after all, a legacy that he would no doubt like to leave.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern Portrait Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Con)
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My Lords, Clause 109(3) says:

“The Secretary of State may make regulations under this section only if satisfied that the regulations do not reduce the level of environmental protection provided by the Habitats Regulations.”


I suggest that all the Minister needs to do from this point of view is delete the words “satisfied that”.

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Finally, it is worth noting that it is interesting that this amendment arises before Amendment 118 about food strategy. These two are very much related, of course, and on land use we need to think about whether we are producing the kind of food we need and, particularly, whether we have in place government incentives and policies that lead to us producing the kind of food that is bad for people and the planet, or whether we are putting in place the right policies and incentives to produce a good outcome for both.
Lord Deben Portrait Lord Deben (Con)
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My Lords, I merely wish to say that I am very worried about this proposal. It seems not to deal with the real issue and to ask Defra to do what it cannot do. What we really need—we know we need it—is a department of land use that takes over the planning, housing and other responsibilities of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. There is no way forward until we begin to realise that this is what we need. To ask Defra, which has only a bit of all this, to do this seems to be a mistake. I fear it will end up with a document, if that is what it is, that will have little influence and will not be able to do the job. It will mean that Defra will not be doing the detailed work it is capable of doing.

I know why the noble Baroness has put this forward and have sympathy with what she is trying to do. It just seems to me that this is not a suitable answer. We have to go for a much bigger issue, which is that in this country we do not have an integrated way of looking at land. The noble Baroness referred to the Climate Change Committee. In our view, that was the way we had to look: in a much more general way than this amendment provides. I am unhappy about it and will not find it possible to support it.

Lord Horam Portrait Lord Horam (Con)
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I agree with my noble friend Lord Deben and will just extend what he says. Essentially, his point is that we cannot ask Defra, which has a narrow remit, to take the integrated and across-the-board view that is necessary.

We also need to take into account the pressures on land—population, for example. As the noble Baroness said in her opening remarks, the population projections over the next few years from the Office for National Statistics are very considerable; we are talking about an extra 7 million people over the next 10 or 15 years. These are the sort of pressures we have to take into account when we look at land use. Although I am sympathetic with her point, we have to consider this properly, systematically and rationally.

No one wants the land to be ill-used or underused. None the less, the practicalities of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and my noble friend Lord Deben’s view about the wider nature of this issue mean that this amendment is deficient.

Environment Bill

Lord Deben Excerpts
Consideration of Commons amendments
Tuesday 26th October 2021

(2 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 57-I Marshalled list for Consideration of Commons Reasons and Amendments - (25 Oct 2021)
Earl of Caithness Portrait The Earl of Caithness (Con)
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My Lords, I rise to support the amendment on soil from the noble Baroness who has just spoken. This is a crucial issue. But first I want to ask my noble friend the Minister a question about what he said when he introduced the discussion on this. He quoted the Prime Minister, who said that there is a climate crisis that will be solved but not by panicked measures. That seemed to indicate that he thought some of the amendments put forward by this House were “panicked measures.” If that is the case, I would be grateful if my noble friend could tell us which of these amendments, which we so carefully debated in Committee and on Report, could be classed as a “panicked measure”.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, was absolutely right to tell us that the Prime Minister did not acknowledge that there is a biodiversity crisis. One-quarter of the world’s biodiversity crisis is in the soil, and that is a major problem for us. There ought to be an alignment between the Environment Bill and the Agriculture Act. We got soil into the Agriculture Act and we were then told that that was not the right place for it and that it ought to go in the Environment Bill; now we have got to the Environment Bill and my noble friend tells us it is not necessary in this Bill. It is necessary in this Bill. It should be put into this Bill.

Only 0.4% of 1% of England’s environmental monitoring budget is spent on soil. That is derisory. Could my noble friend tell me what he anticipates that spend to be within one year and within five years? Soil is the basis of everything. The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, which has done a huge amount of research over many years on soil, says that we cannot reach net zero without dealing with soil. That has been taken up by the Climate Change Committee, which has said exactly the same thing, and even my noble friend the Minister has said that we cannot solve the problem without addressing soil; yet soil is not going to be in this Bill.

I remember my noble friend Lord Deben said something on Report to the effect of: unless it is in the Bill, it is not going to be done. At that stage, I backed my noble friend the Minister against my noble friend Lord Deben’s advice. This time, I back my noble friend Lord Deben and say that this ought to be in the Bill.

Lord Deben Portrait Lord Deben (Con)
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My Lords, I merely say this: I really wanted to support the Minister and I thank him for the conversations we had. I understand the argument that says soil cannot be exactly parallel with water and air because we have an agreed measure for both which enables us to put a date, but there is no reason we could not have a date, but a different date, to make sure that this Bill actually covers soil. I say this to my noble friend: I have been very disappointed that the promises made by the Government on trade have so clearly not been fulfilled. Therefore, it is very difficult to ask this House to accept the Minister’s personal support for this—which I entirely believe; I do not think there is any doubt about that. But we now have to accept that, unless we have soil in the Bill, it will not have the incredibly important emphasis that it needs.

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Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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My noble friend is right that I did not answer that question. I apologise—it was not deliberate. The reality is that I cannot tell him when the metrics will be ready, because I do not know; I am not sure Defra knows either. I cannot give him the deadline he requires.

I have said this before, but I think it is critical. There is zero chance of meeting any of the other targets we are setting in law unless we pay particular attention to soil. This is a matter of process rather than outcome. We will achieve the outcome, because we are legally obliged to do so and part of achieving it means dealing with soil. This does feel like a bit of a distraction.

Lord Deben Portrait Lord Deben (Con)
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I am sorry to trouble my noble friend again. I want to be on his side on this because I know he is really on my side. He knows that if you have to write an article, a deadline is rather important. If you do not have a deadline, you will not write the article. It is like that here. We need to have a date, even if it is further ahead than we would like, otherwise we will not have the concentration that we need. Can my noble friend think again about the possibility of having a date, even though he might disappoint me in how far forward it might be?

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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I hear my noble friend’s arguments, but without the baseline, we do not know when we can deliver. However, we have a date, which is the 2030 biodiversity target, and if we do not meet that target, we will fall foul of the law. As he himself said, not just today but in previous debates, it is not possible to meet that legally binding target without major effort to protect and restore our soil. Therefore, we have that, and at the very least it is a pretty blooming powerful fallback position.