All 5 Lord Harries of Pentregarth contributions to the Environment Act 2021

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Mon 7th Jun 2021
Environment Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading
Mon 21st Jun 2021
Environment Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage & Committee stage
Wed 23rd Jun 2021
Mon 12th Jul 2021
Wed 8th Sep 2021

Environment Bill

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB) [V]
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My Lords, as industrialisation in the 19th century increasingly damaged the environment, a few people, including Alexander von Humboldt, Emerson, Thoreau and John Ruskin, spoke out. The cry of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins speaks for all those prophetic past voices and for the billions today who suffer the effects of pollution, poor air quality, dirty water and soil deprivation:

“What would the world be, once bereft

Of wet and wildness? Let them be left,

O let them be left, wildness and wet;

Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.”

Sixty years ago, those cries became more urgent, with Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring on the effect of pesticides and EF Schumacher’s warning on the dangers of continuous growth. Within the Church of England, Hugh Montefiore, the Bishop of Birmingham, uttered similar warnings. Many in my generation were slow—too slow—in really hearing what those and others were saying. I exempt the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury and wish him well for his future work in this area, but I include myself among them. If there can be an excuse, it was that I was worried that focusing on the environment might be too much of a distraction from pressing human rights issues. What is quite clear now, however, is that the two are indivisible: a concern for the environment is also a concern for the rights of those who suffer now, especially the poor, and the right of future generations to be born into a habitable world. As Pope Francis put it in his wonderful 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si:

“Today … we have to realise that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”

A particularly striking and egregious example of failure is, of course, the deforestation that is taking place in the Amazon, resulting in the indigenous people losing their homes and their way of life. A statement by the national institutions of the Church of England puts it in a very balanced way:

“The whole creation belongs to God. As human beings we are part of the whole and have a responsibility to love and care for what God has entrusted to us as temporary tenants of the planet. We are called to conserve its complex and fragile ecology, whilst recognising the need for responsible and sustainable development and the pursuit of social justice.”

If the issue was seen to be urgent by a few 60 years ago, how much more urgent is it now? I am glad to say that this sense of urgency has run through the debate. The Bill is a landmark opportunity to get things right and show how serious we are about it, not just in the business of making the right noises. This means being clear about the targets to be set in each area, the agency responsible for monitoring them and that they are enforceable. Only through clarity, accountability and enforceability in all the relevant areas can we show that we are serious. The question, of course, is whether the Bill as it now stands provides that. It is clear from the speeches this afternoon that there are many ways in which it needs to be tightened up. One example is the need for interim as well as long-term targets; and crucial points were made by the noble Lords, Lord Anderson of Ipswich and Lord Krebs.

It is quite clear that we have plenty of monitoring and a range of agencies dealing with environmental issues, but they are failing badly. You could take any one of a dozen areas: the quality of bathing water in this country has always been poor by European standards and last year it was the worst of all; whereas other countries including east European ones have improved in recent years, ours have failed to keep step. This is linked to another problem, the quality of river water, as mentioned by so many of your Lordships. Since 2019, raw sewage has been dumped into our rivers on more than 20,000 occasions, with millions of tonnes going back on to our beaches. Or take the state of our trees. Ash dieback is absolutely devastating our ash trees from one coast to the other with significant blight on our oaks, chestnuts and other trees. Or there is the failure of our tree-planting programme. The Committee on Climate Change has said that we need to raise our current 3% forest cover to 17% by 2050 if we are to have any chance of meeting our climate goals. That may need to be increased further if the Government continue to miss other targets along the way. At the moment the Government are missing their tree-planting targets by 40 years; if we continue at this paltry rate of tree planting, the Government’s own 2050 targets will not be met until 2091. Finally, take air pollution. In 2020 the UK was ranked 92nd for air quality out of 104 countries—as a result of poor air quality, people suffer ill health and die.

The good news is that, in all these areas, there is now monitoring by a range of independent and official bodies. We have the indicators; what we lack are really effective systems of accountability and enforceability. I believe that the Bill gives us an invaluable opportunity to ensure that, in the future, we will have these systems, and I will be supporting a range of amendments to that effect.

Environment Bill

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
Lord Wigley Portrait Lord Wigley (PC) [V]
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My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, not down the road of the Great Stink but certainly on his references to his river experiences. I am delighted to support this amendment and thank the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, for tabling it. He spoke eloquently at Second Reading on the issue of the cleanliness of our rivers; I was pleased to support him then and do so now with enthusiasm.

The need to keep our rivers clean, as part of environment policy, is self-evident. Persistent reports of pollution impacting on river life, killing off fish stocks, affecting surrounding lands and environments and even causing health problems to people—particularly children, as has just been mentioned—swimming in rivers are a worrying feature of our contemporary world.

Obviously, there may be implications for landowners, particularly farmers, whose land abuts our rivers—but the overwhelming majority of such people also want to secure clean rivers. If the necessary steps are properly negotiated, they can surely be agreed. The Government should not steer shy of dealing with this issue in the mistaken belief that they will face severe opposition from countryside interests.

Equally, industrial interests must not stand in the way of cleaning up our rivers. Let us reiterate without equivocation that the polluter pays principle must be applied with such force that it becomes a real deterrent. Our water companies must equally be held to account. I want to learn from the Minister what new, effective action to reduce such pollution will emanate from this Bill and who will be responsible in practice for enforcing its provisions in this regard.

As the Minister might expect, I invite him to clarify how he and his department will co-operate with the Welsh Government in relation to rivers that run across the border. Most of them run from Wales into England, but not all and, as river pollution is no respecter of political borders, we must have an agreed approach that respects the wishes of Governments on both sides of the border but also ensures that we work coherently to reduce and, we hope, eliminate the tragic pollution of our rivers.

Incidentally, I have no problem whatever with having UK, or at least GB, standards for these purposes, provided that those targets can be achieved by constructive negotiation by the three, or possibly four, Governments with responsibility for various aspects of environmental policy in Britain.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I strongly support what the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, has said and many important points made by other Peers. I have only one point to make on top of the others: there has been no real improvement for so long now—certainly, not very much since 2016. In 2020, only 40% of waterways were classified as being in good health—meaning as close to their natural state as possible.

We all know that a major cause of this is sewage. In 2020, raw sewage was discharged more than 400,000 times over a period of 3 million hours, and this water, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has claimed, brings huge quantities of microplastics as well. As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said, sewage is not the only cause: some 40% comes from run-off from agricultural industries.

The point is that, since legislation was passed and the Environment Agency has been in charge and responsible for it, there has been no real improvement. This may be due to lack of proper funding, but the fact is that it has not been able to bring about any real change. We now have the worst quality in Europe, with England comparing very badly with Scotland, where 65.7% of surface water bodies are in good health. We know this—it has been repeated time and again, and the environmental Ministers acknowledge it.

The question is: how can we ensure that real change takes place soon? Including Amendment 4 is where we must start in ensuring that good quality water is a goal that we fully intend to achieve. We must use this Bill to ensure that we achieve it.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to be speaking to this amendment moved by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. During the past two years, many of your Lordships have raised the issue of the quality of the water in many of our iconic rivers and given very graphic examples of where pollution has been discharged, untreated, into our waterways. We have heard about chicken manure being discharged into the River Wye, previously one of the most beautiful rivers on our island. At Second Reading, the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, reminded us about the discharge of raw sewage into rivers. As one of her first duties, the newly elected MP for Chesham and Amersham, Sarah Green MP, has visited the River Chess to hear from the local action group about the pollution of it.

During lockdown, with local authority swimming pools closed to the public, those who were able took to what has become known as wild swimming in the sea and rivers. I am assured that this is extremely invigorating and refreshing, but probably not so if you are encountering severe pollution on the scale that we have heard of from the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. Biodiversity is severely affected by the pollution in our rivers.

The treatment of sewage is the responsibility of the sewerage and water authorities. It is not sufficient for them to claim that new housing developments have overwhelmed their treatment plants and they have no choice but to discharge sewage into our rivers and sea. We have heard recently of the public disquiet about the Government’s proposals to change the planning laws. Often, statutory consultees respond to local authorities with “no comment”, but often they do not respond at all. Perhaps this is an issue of resources, with Defra cuts to the Environment Agency filtering down to the front line. The water authorities should be obliged to respond to consultation on proposed housing developments, especially where there is insufficient capacity in existing treatment plants to cope with the current, never mind the future, demand.

All noble Lords taking part in this debate have expressed concern on the issue of water quality. The Government must take it seriously if we are to restore the quality of the water in our rivers to enable biodiversity to increase, even if it is unlikely ever to reach its former levels. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, and others have flagged, we will return to this in later amendments. This is a very serious matter, as my noble friend Lord Teverson and the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said, and we fully support the comments of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, in moving this amendment and look forward to the Minister’s response.

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Lord Randall of Uxbridge Portrait Lord Randall of Uxbridge (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I will speak to my Amendment 10. I am grateful to my noble friends Lord Carrington and Lord Taylor of Holbeach, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, for signing it.

It is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. We spent quite a long time on the Fisheries Act, as it now is. I think I would say “marine” rather than “maritime” as a concept—“maritime” has more connotations to do with ships and so forth. But “marine” and “terrestrial” also join together, and of course, there are the shores. This issue could be solved, quite frankly, by my noble friend the Minister making it quite clear exactly what is covered by this.

Amendment 10 deals with light pollution, which has increased from a variety of sources, including domestic residences, public infrastructure—particularly lighting along roads and motorways—and industrial activity, such as energy infrastructure. Much of the earth’s population is affected by light pollution. Some 80% of the world’s population now live under sky glow and nearly every European cannot experience a natural night sky from where they live. I have not seen the night sky properly where I live—except possibly in a power cut—but when I occasionally go up to Norfolk, along the coast I am blessed to be able to see the night sky in all its glory.

In recent years, evidence of the impact of light pollution on species and ecosystems has grown and consolidated. Increased artificial light at night is directly linked to measurable negative impacts on energy consumption, obviously, human health and wildlife such as bats, birds, insects and plants. Unnecessary artificial light increases financial costs and contributes to greenhouse emissions. Light pollution should be treated with the same disdain with which we treat all other forms of pollution.

Among other organisations that I belong to, I am a member of Buglife, a charity devoted to the protection of insects. I am pleased to say that this week is National Insect Week. Studies from Germany suggest that a third of insects attracted to street lights and other fixed light sources will die. This results in the death of an estimated 100 billion insects in Germany every summer. Light pollution is reducing nocturnal pollinator visits to flowers by 62%, in some areas. Again, to show my slightly nerdy side, from time to time I put out a moth trap, but mine is not as successful as those of some of my friends elsewhere, who do not have the same light amount of light coming in from other sources. We know that moths are attracted to light, but that it confuses some.

Glow-worms use luminescence to attract prey and mates. Artificial light can affect their ability to do both. Evidence shows a decline in the abundance of glow-worm populations with increased proximity to artificial light.

Birds that migrate or hunt at night navigate by moonlight and starlight. Artificial light can cause them to fly towards lit areas. Recent research shows more birds migrating over urban, rather than rural, areas. This deviation from traditional routes can have a significant impact on energy levels during migration and lead them to stop in suboptimal habitats.

The US recognises bird strikes against high-rise buildings as a real problem. In Texas, the former First Lady Laura Bush heads a lights-out campaign, twice a year, to encourage high-rise buildings to switch off their lights, so that they do not kill all these migratory birds. Some of the photographs you see of the carnage caused underneath these high-rise buildings are disturbing.

Artificial lighting can cause many problems for bats, including disrupting roosting and feeding behaviour and their movement through the landscape. In the worst cases, it can directly harm these protected species. As all bats in the UK feed on insects, loss of food sources is also a considerable threat.

For us humans, light pollution is negatively impacting astronomy and our ability to observe the stars. To look up on a cloudless night and see the stars is one of the more uplifting pleasures that we can have from childhood onwards.

Many marine species such as crabs and zooplankton are attracted to artificial lights near the shore, from ports or gas facilities, which can disrupt feeding and life cycles. Many noble Lords will have seen, in one of the more recent David Attenborough programmes, the disturbing sight of turtles coming to shore when they are hatched instead of going out to the sea. They are designed to be attracted to moonlight, but are going towards cafes and restaurants, with all their lights, crossing roads and perishing. This is a real problem.

The British Astronomical Association estimates that 90% of the population of the UK are unable to see the Milky Way from where they live. Evidence shows that light exposure at the wrong time has profound impacts on human circadian rhythm, affecting physical and mental functions. Artificial lighting has been linked to trees bursting their buds more than a week early, a magnitude similar to that predicted for 2 degrees centigrade of global warming.

My amendment aims to set a commitment to act on matters that relate to light pollution currently omitted from the Environment Bill. I hope it ensures that the Government produce targets to reduce levels of light pollution in England. The evidence is clear that light pollution has a significant impact on the normal activity of invertebrates, birds, bats and plants, and that these impacts are more than sufficient to require action. It would be a failure not to address this before we have long-term data and doing so would go against the Government’s draft environmental principles, in particular the precautionary principle, but also the prevention and rectification-at-source principles.

The UK does not yet report on light pollution levels. However, measuring light pollution is simple. Satellite images can be used to establish pollution levels and the CPRE has developed a nine-band classification system that could form the basis for monitoring change. Existing policy on light pollution does not provide sufficient guidance and is not strong enough to tackle its increasing impact. Several countries have introduced national policies on light pollution, such as Germany, France, Mexico, South Korea, Croatia and Slovenia. When I was last in France, I noticed that some villages have the designation “village étoile”, which they relish, because people go to them specifically to see the night sky.

The UK’s Environmental Protection Act 1990, as amended, provides local authorities with statutory nuisance powers to address light pollution, but only when harmful to humans or if it “unreasonably and substantially” interferes with the use or enjoyment of a home or other premises. I am afraid this has not resulted in a reduction in general light pollution. The National Planning Policy Framework offers little consideration of light pollution. The only reference states:

“Planning policies and decisions should … limit the impact of light pollution from artificial light on local amenity, intrinsically dark landscapes and nature conservation.”

The last comprehensive consideration of the issue by the Government was the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution’s 2009 report, Artificial Light in the Environment. However, I am afraid that almost none of its recommendations has been implemented.

On national targets, Clause 1 of the Environment Bill provides power for the Secretary of State to “set long-term targets” by regulation, in relation to

“(a) the natural environment, or (b) people’s enjoyment of the natural environment.”

Subsection (2) requires the Secretary of State to set long-term targets in the four priority areas of air quality, water, biodiversity and resource efficiency and waste reduction.

I strongly believe that light pollution should be considered a priority area too, so that the Government are required to set a long-term target to reduce its impact on nature and people’s enjoyment of it. This amendment is designed to achieve that outcome. A national plan intended to prevent, limit and reduce light pollution must include a series of targets and a programme of monitoring. National targets should be set to include no net increase in light pollution and an ambition to increase the number of dark sky reserves.

Finally, I support Amendment 11 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I have my own amendment later in the Bill, Amendment 112, on soil quality, which is as fundamental as anything in the Bill.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I have two amendments in this group. The later one, Amendment 31, concerns the health of our trees and the first, Amendment 12, planting new trees. It requires the Government to put before Parliament an annual report on the progress made towards achieving the initial target of planting new trees.

The extent and health of what is left of our forests, woodland and trees is a matter of deep concern. We all know the essential role trees play in absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, thereby making a vital contribution to slowing down climate change. A mature tree absorbs carbon dioxide at the rate of 48 pounds per year. In one year, an acre of forest can absorb twice the CO2 produced by the average car’s annual mileage. We know in our personal lives how fundamental our trees are for physical health, aesthetic satisfaction and our spiritual well-being.

The Committee on Climate Change has said that we need to raise our current 13% forest cover to 17% by 2050 if we are to have any chance of meeting our climate goals. At the moment, the Government are missing their tree-planting targets by 40 years. If we continue at the current slow rate of tree planting, the Government’s own 2050 targets will not be met until 2091. As those figures show, the number of trees planted each year needs to be very significantly increased.

Environment Bill

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
Committee stage
Wednesday 23rd June 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Environment Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 16-III Third Marshalled list for Committee - (23 Jun 2021)
Lord Carrington Portrait Lord Carrington (CB) [V]
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My Lords, it is a daunting task to follow the splendid oratory of not only the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, but the noble Lords, Lord Redesdale, Lord Cormack and Lord Inglewood. I will do my best.

I declare my interests as set out in the register and add that I am custodian—I use that word on purpose—while alive, of historic monuments on my land. I support the amendments in this group, commencing with Amendment 59 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Redesdale, Lord Blencathra and Lord Cormack, and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton. I hope that I will not cover too much of the same ground that has been so ably covered by them.

My concern is the considerable lack of clarity on eligibility for, and funding of, this all-important man-made heritage. I understand that heritage is included as part of the specific goals in the 25-year environment plan, and that funding could well be part of the environmental land management schemes to be introduced under the Agriculture Act. But that is all vague, and surely we need the certainty of measurement, reporting and funding that would be achieved by these amendments. After all, a plan is just a plan, and the fact that the Agriculture Act enables heritage to be funded is not an actual promise of funding.

It would obviously help if we had some details of the elusive ELMS, but this is still perhaps two years away. But early reaction from the farming community is underwhelming, particularly at a time of respectable prices for livestock and arable crops. If this continues, and the financial viability of ELMS for farmers is not sufficiently attractive, the laudable aims of encouraging biodiversity, funding heritage, planting trees and much more will not be fulfilled. Surely that is a powerful reason for these amendments.

It might help to give a specific example. Where I live, according to the Domesday Book, there was a bloody battle between the Saxons and the Danes, currently undated, which resulted in a series of barrows—burial mounds—and ancient fortifications and a huge chalk cross carved into the hill, which was once visible from many miles away. There is also the site of a Roman villa nearby. All these monuments are in overgrown scrubland, and invisible. They all have permitted access, so there is no problem in that respect. None is an SSSI, they do not form part of farmland registered for the basic payment, and they are not within any managed woodland scheme. Hence there is no current source of funds from any relevant scheme.

For those important archaeological features, there is neither carrot nor stick available to encourage necessary maintenance. Please will the Minister tell us how those monuments, and many others like them, can be preserved and funded, without the assurance that would be given by the inclusion of heritage in the Bill, as well as much-needed clarification of the funding available through the 25-year environmental improvement plan—and, of course, the environmental land management schemes—identified by the Government for this cause?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Environment Bill

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) [V]
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to again follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and to speak in support of Amendment 251A in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. Indeed, I would have attached my name to it, had I not missed it.

The case has already been very clearly made that we need strengthened protections for national parks—“have regard to” is simply not strong enough in this legislation. I think it is worth going back to the purposes of national parks in the 1949 Act, which include

“conserving and enhancing the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the areas specified”.

This goes back to a debate that we had some weeks ago about how cultural and natural heritage are linked, but the main point to make on Amendment 251A is about “conserving and enhancing” wildlife.

Just last week we saw a campaign launched to raise £100 million to renature 13,000 hectares of land on the South Downs. There was much pride about the fact that this would mean that 33% of the national park is managed for nature, which reports suggested exceeds a UN-backed target of 30% by 2030. Of course, that is a target for all of the countryside; one might reasonably expect that to be much higher in our national parks. Indeed, you would like to see that figure going somewhere towards 100%. Of course, that does not mean that you cannot have agricultural production associated with that; we are back to a very long-running debate about sparing versus sharing. But we must note that what we are doing now is not strong enough. We have to do much more, and we need the Environment Bill to do it.

To take just one example, the Yorkshire Dales National Park is a notorious black hole for raptors. When the national park did a consultation with the public about its management, the illegal persecution of raptors was one of the issues most raised. Just a few months ago, we saw a hideous video released by the RSPB investigations team of two buzzards being lured to their deaths in the area.

We also really need to think about whether there are not—and I am sure there are—more areas of the country that need to be protected, whether it is as a national park or in some other way, as the Glover review highlights. The South Pennines has been identified as a prime candidate for a different approach as the only upland region in England that does not currently have not a legal designation.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB) [V]
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My Lords, the 15 national parks in the UK are indeed a natural treasure and one of the glories of our country, some of them have a worldwide reputation. To confine myself to the three in Wales, I know they may be a devolved matter, but the facts about them still indicate the huge significance of national parks generally. The Brecon Beacons, the Pembrokeshire coast and Snowdonia cover 20% of the land surface of Wales. They have a resident population of 80,000 people and account for over £0.5 billion of Wales’ gross added value—some 1.2% of the Welsh economy. They are internationally important examples of how working landscapes can be protected.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, has set out one of the two purposes of national parks as set out in Section 5(1) of the 1949 national parks Act. These two purposes clearly chime in beautifully with the Environment Bill now before us, and it is therefore very important that they should have a specific clause within the Bill. Although there are legal protections for them under the 1949 Act, we live at a time when there is a desperate need, for example, for more affordable housing. The Government have made this a priority, and some of the checks and balances that used to be in place, in the form of the ability to prevent a particular scheme going forward, are being eroded. We saw one public reaction to this recently in the Chesham and Amersham by-election.

The amendment before us would ensure that any local authority seeking planning permission in a national park would have to take fully into account the legal purpose of the park. The Minister may argue that there are enough protections already in the 1949 Act but, given that the national parks are such a crucial feature of our environment and that the pressure for new housing is now so intense, it is appropriate that there is a special clause in the Bill which keeps these protections firmly in the mind of all those drawing up applications in those areas. Of course, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, has mentioned some of the pressures—for example, from motorways—but possible housing developments may perhaps be on the edge of a national park. No doubt it would be unthinkable for a local authority to try to put up a new housing estate in the middle of a national park, but there could be building, industrial or waste developments on the edge of a national park, which would have serious implications for its protected environment.

At a time of increasing pressure, the proposed new clause before us comes under the heading of “You can’t be too careful”, and I support it.

Baroness Pitkeathley Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Pitkeathley) (Lab)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, is not speaking on this group, so I call the noble Earl, Lord Lytton.

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Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Colgrain, and I add that deer are a problem in my part of Wiltshire. Unfortunately, they also eat my roses.

I am very glad to speak on the subject of trees, which make Britain so special, captured for eternity by John Constable and indeed by David Hockney. In my career at Defra, I legislated for and launched the farm woodland scheme, which encouraged the planting especially of native oak and beech trees on agricultural land, working with Natural England’s very professional predecessors. We also had a 33,000-hectare planting target for the Forestry Commission, which was quite forward looking, if one thinks about it.

Turning to the proposals before us, my impression is that local authorities and highways authorities are paying more and more attention to the need to conserve trees, so is there really a case for the heavy-handed and detailed regulation in Clause 109? There is a cost, not least to local authorities, and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, that there should be consultation on any guidance. Assuming that there is a harm and that the case is made for new powers, I would be grateful for some idea from my noble friend the Minister of the caseload expected. How will the consultation take place? For example, will there be a paper notice on the tree or nearby lamp-post? Will there be any statutory consultees and how long will it take for approvals to be given? I would also welcome confirmation that the pruning of trees will not be affected and will indeed be encouraged. In my experience, councils do not keep up to date with this at all well. Indeed, I have personal experience of an overhanging tree that was missed two or three years ago, and which is causing a lot of trouble to adjoining houses, notably mine.

We also need to be aware that nature is not the only objective in road maintenance. The safety of pedestrians, cyclists and drivers is important too. The latest fashion for leaving roadsides uncut can be dangerous, certainly in the lanes around my home in Wiltshire. The lusty green growth on banks and hedges makes it tight for passing cars and can hide cyclists, causing accidents.

Turning to the important issue of cost-benefit, apparently the costs for the felling proposals total £81 million over 10 years if you top up the figures in annexe 41, on page 260 of the statement of impacts. I await a reply from officials as to whether it is right to tot them up in that way, but I think that the costs will be significant. Can we really justify this, or should we be finding a simpler way to deal with the problem of the cutting down of trees alongside housing?

Still on the subject of trees, I should add that I could not find an impact assessment on the forestry provisions in Clause 109 and Schedule 16, which are not being discussed. These appear to introduce very wide-ranging powers to regulate and perhaps ban imports of products such as beef, rubber or soya that might be associated with wide-scale conversion of forest. One obviously understands and supports the rationale for this—saving the rainforests—but it could have a huge impact on business and trade if done in the wrong way. The Bill’s impact assessment is of course out of date because it was prepared on 3 December 2019, and the Bill has not made as rapid progress as we would all have hoped. Is there a late addition on the forestry risk commodity proposals that could be shared with us before Report?

In closing, I recognise the significance of the Bill and my noble friend’s understandable wish to progress it, but there are many uncertainties for us to swallow because of the use of delegated powers. Even affirmative resolutions, favoured by my noble friend Lord Blencathra, do not allow amendment to a set of regulations in the light of parliamentary scrutiny, and it is very unusual for draft regulations to be withdrawn. That applies to the trees regulations as well as to several other sets.

That is why, on Wednesday, I shall be moving an amendment to sunset individual regulations after a five-year period to allow a review of such provisions in the light of a cost-benefit analysis. An amendment of this type might help to make some of us happier with the wide-ranging powers being taken here and the lack of clear plans showing how many of them will be deployed to deal with the sort of issues being raised in this group of amendments and elsewhere in the Bill.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB) [V]
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I support Amendments 258 to 260 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. Amendment 258 would place ancient woodlands, which are clearly defined in the amendment, on an equal footing with sites of special scientific interest. The reason why it is so important to preserve ancient woodlands from the point of view of biodiversity, climate change, heritage and health of both nature and human beings has already been well spelt out, and I shall not repeat it. I shall add only that their significance is perhaps even greater than that of sites of special scientific interest; and the reasons put forward for why such sites need to be protected are perhaps even stronger in the case of ancient woodlands.

Amendment 259 requires the Government to implement a tree-planting standard that makes biosecurity an essential consideration—in particular, protecting our native trees from diseases coming from outside the UK. This welcome amendment relates to Amendment 31, on tree health, standing in my name and debated earlier in Committee. Amendment 31 stated:

“The Secretary of State must by regulations set targets in respect of trees, including targets on the overall health of tree populations, particularly in respect of native species, research into disease-resistant varieties, and progress in planting disease-resistant varieties.”

Sadly, as has been said many times this evening, the trees in this country are in a terrible state. A few years ago, as we know, the magnificent English elm, such a feature of our landscape when some of us were young, was completely wiped out by Dutch elm disease. Most recently, ash dieback has swept the whole country, from the east coast to the west coast, in just a few years, leaving a trail of thin, leafless branches. Our oaks are suffering from a blight, and so are our chestnuts.

The health of our trees must be a fundamental consideration in assessing the overall health of our environment. Ash dieback originated in Asia, where it has little impact on the local species, and has moved steadily west where, sadly, it has a deadly impact on native ash. Coming, I believe, from trees imported from Holland to East Anglia as recently as 2012, it has left a terrible trail, which breaks one’s heart to see, as I see it in west Wales.

In a highly globalised world, our native trees, like the human population, are increasingly vulnerable and susceptible to diseases, which may do little harm elsewhere but which are killers here. The need for tight biosecurity regulations and a clear standard of what is required is obvious. This requires an overall strategy, involving not just government but other public authorities, and the amendment sets that out clearly. I very strongly support it.

I also strongly support Amendment 260, which requires the Government to have a tree-planting strategy that contains targets for the protection, restoration and expansion of trees and woodland in England. This chimes in well, but in much more valuable detail, with an earlier amendment in my name, Amendment 12, on the planting of new trees. There I set out the reasons why we need to plant new trees—reasons mainly to do with climate change, which I shall not repeat here. The amendment before us requires the Government to have targets. Where I believe my earlier amendment has something to add to the present one is that that Amendment 12 said

“The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament, and publish, a statement containing information about progress towards meeting any targets set under subsection (3)(e) on an annual basis after any initial target is set (in addition to the requirements under section 5).”

Climate change is a threat of such urgency now that it is not adequate just to have targets. We need an annual report to Parliament on the progress being made to meet those targets, and this my earlier amendments sought to ensure. However, this present amendment is very welcome indeed because it sets out in detail what such a target should include, and I strongly support it.

Lord Hope of Craighead Portrait Lord Hope of Craighead (CB) [V]
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It is a pleasure to follow the noble and right reverend Lord. I support the general message conveyed by most of the amendments in this group, but I single out for special mention Amendments 258 and 260 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, and Amendment 260A in the name of my noble friend Lord Kinnoull.

Amendment 258 seeks to place ancient woodlands on an equal footing with sites of special scientific interest. I have to confess that it was not until I was introduced to them when I was sitting on the HS2 committee that I became truly aware of what ancient woodlands are and how much they contribute to the biodiversity of our countryside. However, that introduction made a very real impression on me, as the evidence drew my attention to what was being lost as ancient woodlands—fortunately in very small sections in my case—were being given up to make way for the railway: a matter that I know is of great concern to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra. I have taken a close interest in them ever since, whenever I can get out into the countryside.

As I have said on several previous occasions, ancient woodlands are not just about trees; they are, in short, havens of biodiversity of a kind that has been built up over centuries. It is all too easy to overlook what is going on at ground level. As the years go by, leaves fall, the ground lies undisturbed and a carpet is built up which gathers together a huge variety of wildlife within the soil and on its surface. There is much else above ground level, too, in the trees themselves, in that they provide food and shelter for other creatures. The older they are, the richer the habitat becomes. You cannot create, or indeed recreate, such an environment overnight, or even in a few decades. That is why we must redouble our efforts to preserve what remains of this part of our heritage as much as we can.

Of course, many sites of special scientific interest contain ancient woodlands. Indeed, in their case it is the woodlands themselves and the biodiversity that goes with them that justifies their listing in such sites. However, size matters when it comes to the listing of SSSIs and, indeed, the other elements of diversity. Many areas of ancient woodland are too small to justify that kind of listing. However, I wonder whether that is a reason for discarding the idea that they are entitled to special protection. It may be that to protect every single one of them in the kind of scheme that is referred to in this amendment goes a little too far, as the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, suggested. However, I would be very reluctant to rely simply on SSSIs as a means of protecting ancient woodlands. More needs to be done, which is why I support the thinking behind this amendment.

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Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB) [V]
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It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra. In the light of what he has said, it is unnecessary for me to say anything other than to warmly endorse his words in respect of Amendment 265A in respect of the financial services industry and the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, on the longer-term plans.

I shall concentrate on one aspect only, in view of the lateness of the hour: the methods on which control over the use of forest risk commodities can most effectively be framed for enforcement in the United Kingdom. Three methods are under consideration. They can be cumulative and probably should be, and should operate together. What is essential is to examine each and see whether one can stand on its own or whether all three would work better together.

I take the first, which is the proposal in the Bill to allow the use of forest risk commodities only if local laws have been complied with. This is unlikely to be effective and indeed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, explained, it could be counterproductive. The reason why it is likely to be ineffective is that most of the localities with which we are concerned have legal and legislative systems that do not protect from deforestation because of political and economic pressure. Even if protection is initially given, there are numerous instances of retrospective validation of deforestation in contravention of local law. Such retrospective validation would make the use legal under the local law and would therefore render this method of halting deforestation nugatory. Furthermore, proof that the commodity was produced in contravention of local law is likely to cause significant difficulty and uncertainty and considerable expense if the matter comes for enforcement in the UK. Thus, in my view, the first method is unlikely to be effective.

The second method, as set out in the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, is to add a further requirement in respect of the locality: the informed consent of indigenous people and local communities. I would welcome this as a vital addition and safeguard, if the first method is to be chosen. However, although I have no doubt that NGOs and other organisations would give every assistance in establishing whether informed consent was given, I would anticipate that establishing the factual position in a UK court would be far from easy—the difficulties are obvious. However, if the first method is to be used as set out in the Bill, this would be an essential part of having effective enforcement.

The third method is that set out in the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, which is to prohibit use if land has been deforested after the commencement of the schedule as further delineated in regulations made by the Secretary of State. In my view, this amendment would be wholly effective on its own and certainly buttress the other two methods. It would leave no room for dispute as to the status of the areas from which the commodity comes, as it is an objective standard not dependent on proof or either local law or the consent of the indigenous people or local communities.

If the third method were adopted, it would give great clarity, which is essential if this law is to operate as a deterrent to industries in the UK using forest risk commodities in breach of what everyone agrees ought to be prevented. I therefore warmly support the third of the methods—that is, the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher—but if that cannot be done, we must have the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Environment Bill

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
Report stage
Wednesday 8th September 2021

(2 years, 8 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 Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB)
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My Lords, I rise very briefly to say why I added my name to this amendment. The Bill currently lacks a coherent interlocking scheme, and these amendments seek to deal with that. It is right to warmly acknowledge the huge progress made by the Minister, but as he has said so clearly, the costs of much of this are not yet understood by the public and there are still obvious strong lobbies that will seek delay.

It is therefore very important that there be a coherent scheme with interlocking interim targets, environment improvement plans and long-term targets. I warmly thank the Minister that we have legally enforceable, long-term targets. It is good that we have them, but the really difficult decisions relate to interim targets. They do not easily fit into the short-term electoral cycle; they are not something a politician or decision-maker can say is for a future generation, years and years away. Interim targets are the here and now. Nothing much has changed, as one can see from the great Victorian novelists, “Yes, Minister” or, more tangibly, the targets that have been missed to date. That is why I so strongly support providing for the practical nature of legally binding interim targets.

There is another matter to which, as a legislature, we should have regard: we ought not to be passing aspirational, vague legislation, but legislation which is clear and sets clear duties so that people know where they stand and so that the Government can be held to account. The noble Baroness, Lady Brown, has dealt eloquently with the arguments made by the Government. There is no need for me to add anything to her observations.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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My Lords, I support Amendments 11 and 14, but actually rise to speak to Amendment 13 in my name. The background to this is an amendment I put down in Committee specifically in relation to trees, tree-planting and tree health. It asked the Government to ensure that an annual report was made to Parliament on how far we had got in achieving the target set in the Bill. Obviously, what is applicable to trees is applicable to every target in this Bill—a whole range of targets will eventually be put forward and I will not go through them all.

The Bill as it stands now says there must be a review within five years of the first review. I suggest that the situation is now so urgent that Parliament needs to consider every year how far we have got towards achieving or failing to meet that target. We are all agreed that there is huge urgency to this, and we need to keep the pressure on year by year in Parliament.

I will never forget a meeting in Singapore in 2020, when one of the major issues facing the world was third-world debt. At the end of the meeting, people from the developing world looked at their diaries and said, “Perhaps we could meet again in three years’ time”, when suddenly a friend of mine—for whom this was literally a matter of life and death in his country—erupted with huge righteous anger which still echoes in my mind. I am not myself given to righteous anger, but I am sure that countries where people are literally now dying as a result of what is happening would have that same anger.

I will not divide the House on this as we have quite enough votes anyway. But I would like the Minister to consider seriously—sharing the sense of the urgency of this, as he does—bringing forward a government amendment to ensure that Parliament has a chance to look at the targets in this Bill every year in order to see how close we are to achieving them, or to what extent we are failing.