All 10 Viscount Trenchard contributions to the Environment Act 2021

Read Bill Ministerial Extracts

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 28th Jun 2021
Mon 5th Jul 2021
Wed 7th Jul 2021
Mon 12th Jul 2021
Wed 14th Jul 2021
Mon 6th Sep 2021
Environment Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage & Report stage
Wed 8th Sep 2021

Environment Bill

Viscount Trenchard Excerpts
Viscount Trenchard Portrait Viscount Trenchard (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for introducing this long-awaited and largely welcome Bill. In general, I welcome it, as it provides a robust framework for environmental governance. I observed its progress through another place, and I particularly agree with the amendments tabled by my honourable friend Sir Charles Walker and my right honourable friend Mr Philip Dunne, especially on the subject of water extraction licences. The guidance for the Bill will now clearly state that licences may be revoked or varied without compensation where unsustainable abstraction has led to low flows causing damage. Provisions on the discharge of sewage into rivers tighten the obligations on sewerage undertakers to prepare coherent drainage and sewerage management plans.

It is right and necessary to tighten the rules on abstraction, but does the Minister agree with the CLA that as farming accounts for only 1% to 2% of total water use, farmers should be exempted from the risk of losing their licences where such removal would have only a limited impact on the environment but a comparatively large impact on their businesses and their food production?

The noble Lord, Lord Moore of Etchingham, writing in the Daily Telegraph on Saturday, perceptively pointed out that our attitudes to nature are being kidnapped by the dogma that nature is good and man is bad. The obligations on local authorities to support enhancement of biodiversity, as well as its conservation, are a case in point.

As the noble Lord pointed out, wild boar are already digging up large parts of the countryside, and the return of wolves is touted. Does the Minister consider that Clause 95 confers a general duty on local authorities to support rewilding schemes, and how are they to distinguish between those which should be supported and those which should not?

The desire to restore species which once roamed our countryside is perhaps not dissimilar to a desire to maintain traditional farm buildings, many of which are very attractive, such as ancient tithe barns. They are clearly part of the environment, but because they are manmade, they are not covered by this Bill. I agree with the CLA that heritage, as a key environmental public good listed as part of the 25-year environment plan, should be included in the Bill’s definition of the natural environment. Over half of all traditional farm buildings have already been lost, and stone walls and other features should also be included in the Secretary of State’s annual reports, and in the monitoring and reporting undertaken by the OEP. If the people’s enjoyment of the natural environment is as important as the natural environment itself, as implied by Clause 1(1) of the Bill, why do the Government not recognise that maintenance of many of our traditional farm buildings is crucial to people’s enjoyment of the natural environment? I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, regarding man’s positive contribution to the planet.

I welcome the Government’s decision to introduce a deposit return scheme for recycling metal, plastic and glass bottles and cans. However, the four large brewers, which hold 88% of the beer market, will absorb the cost within their profit margins, thereby driving smaller challengers and craft beer manufacturers out of the market. It is important that the deposit recovery scheme adopted be completely interoperable with the Scottish one. Can my noble friend confirm that the United Kingdom Internal Market Act provides the necessary powers to ensure this? Does he agree that there is at least a strong case for exempting small breweries producing less than, say, 900,000 pints per year from the new requirements?

As I mentioned in connection with the definition of the natural environment, the CLA argues that traditional farm buildings should be covered by the Bill. Clause 110 seems to suggest that the conservation objectives of conservation covenants can include buildings as well as natural features. Will my noble friend explain how conservation covenants relate to the environmental land management schemes through which it is intended that landowners may recover the significant part of their income under the direct payment scheme, which they start to lose from this year? I look forward to other noble Lords’ contributions, and to scrutinising the Bill as it progresses through your Lordships’ House.

Environment Bill

Viscount Trenchard Excerpts
Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Portrait Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick (Non-Afl) [V]
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My Lords, I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, with a degree of sympathy for what he is trying to achieve. We all want to make legislation more simple and able to be understood by members of the public, but in this instance, I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. To change the name in the legislation at this stage would cause a level of disruption, because we already have international agreements that refer to “biodiversity”. The Dasgupta report also referred to it.

There is a simple difference between nature and biodiversity. According to my dictionary definition, nature covers all existing systems created at the same time as the earth, whereas biodiversity is the part of nature that is alive, born on a mineral substrate in an earlier geodiversity. Biodiversity provides numerous ecosystem services that are crucial to human well-being at present and in the future. Longer-term changes in climate affect the viability and health of ecosystems, influencing shifts in the distribution of plants, pathogens, animals and even human settlements. Biodiversity loss has negative effects on several aspects of human well-being, such as food security, vulnerability to natural disasters, energy security and access to clean water and raw materials. It also affects human health, social relations and freedom of choice.

Quite simply, through this legislation, we need to protect our living biodiversity. The inclusion of a target-setting framework is a welcome part of the Bill, and something that has already been referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. The long-term nature of environmental matters makes this all particularly important. Environmental improvement cannot be achieved over the short timeframe of a political cycle. We need to ensure that this Environment Bill provides an opportunity for the UK to become a world leader in the fight against all forms of pollution and biodiversity loss and in mitigating the impact of the climate emergency. The litmus test for all of us in the Lords is does changing “biodiversity” to “nature” in this Bill strengthen and toughen its provisions, does it weaken existing legal protections or does it make any difference?

I believe this Bill must turn the tide on nature’s decline, biodiversity decline and the climate emergency. It must transform the way we manage waste, protect our precious water resources and all the other aspects. So, I think at this late stage, it is best to keep to the term “biodiversity”, while I fully understand and appreciate the case made by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra.

Viscount Trenchard Portrait Viscount Trenchard (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I was much elated to read my noble friend Lord Blencathra’s amendments. I completely agree with him that “biodiversity” is one of the worst examples of a pseudointellectual word that most people do not understand and would never use in speech. I think my noble friend is right that, in the main, it would be much better if we used the easily comprehensible word “nature”, on which there is universal agreement on its meaning. I completely agree that it is highly desirable that the Bill should use language with which the public identifies.

It is interesting that, in their response to The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review the Government refer to

“nature, and the biodiversity that underpins it”.

This suggests that biodiversity and nature are not quite the same thing because one underpins the other, but even in a note to the preface to the review, Professor Dasgupta writes that

“the terms Nature, natural capital, the natural environment, the biosphere, and the natural world are used interchangeably.”

The Cambridge Dictionary website informs me that biodiversity means:

“the number and types of plants and animals that exist in a particular area or in the world generally, or the problem of protecting this”.

The first part of this definition sounds to me to be the same as nature, but then I am confused by the notion of protecting it. The “bio” of biodiversity is derived from the Greek bios, meaning life, and all the varieties of animal and plant life on the planet are indeed diverse.

So, although academics may disagree that the simple word “nature” is inadequate, I am not convinced that there is any material difference in meaning. I agree with my noble friend that we should change the word “biodiversity” to “nature” wherever possible. My noble friend’s Amendment 203 changes the “general biodiversity objective” of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 to the “general nature objective”. Perhaps the Minister could tell us whether that Act was the first in which the term “biodiversity” was used and whether he agrees that it would be much better if our law was written in language that people can understand.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, suggested that “biodiversity” is the correct word because it is broader, but I am not sure that the noble and learned Lord persuaded me that “nature” is narrower than the whole diversity of life. I also worry for the future of the word “diversity” which increasingly carries connotations of gender and race. For all these reasons I support what my noble friend Lord Blencathra is trying to do.

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If there is another way of doing it—if the Government can look at their planning guidance and give local authorities some targets or action, or facilitate the ease with which they can cause the abandonment of certain sources of light pollution in favour of things that are not so polluting—so much the better. We need some action on light pollution. Nobody has ever done it systematically or strategically, and this amendment is an opportunity to push the Government that way. My main caveat for the Minister is: look at why the Bills have got too complex. I want some action, and therefore I want the Bill.
Viscount Trenchard Portrait Viscount Trenchard (Con) [V]
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the noble Baroness want to give the Secretary of State powers to set targets separately in respect of “terrestrial biodiversity” and “marine biodiversity”. Actually, the definition of “natural environment”, as contained in Clause 43, makes clear that it includes the marine environment as well as the terrestrial and water environments. I do not support this amendment because it is unnecessary. Furthermore, it appears to exclude the crucially important area of the water environment.

I also do not support Amendment 7, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. It may well be that efficiency is improved by the increased use of some resources and reduced use of others. This depends on the availability and cost of various resources. The noble Baroness’s amendment is too prescriptive and would constrain the Secretary of State unreasonably in the exercise of his powers.

I welcome Amendment 10, in the name of my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge. It is regrettable that the Bill does not cover light pollution. As new road schemes are progressively introduced across the country, many of them are connected with existing roads by new roundabouts, often on high ground above the towns and villages to which they provide relief. They can be seen for miles. Highways regulations require that roundabouts be lit, unlike gradual road junctions. This is an increasing source of light pollution and has a significant effect on the urbanisation of the countryside. Although I am not sure how to measure the “people’s enjoyment” of the countryside, light pollution has a negative effect.

If my noble friend Lord Blencathra’s amendment were accepted, at least in some places, could the meaning of “nature” not be extended to include the soil and the organisms that live in it? In that case, Amendment 11 would be redundant.

Amendments 12 and 31, in the name of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, require the Secretary of State to set targets for the planting of new trees. He spoke with conviction in support of his amendments, but I believe that the Secretary of State already has the necessary power to set targets for tree planting, and I wonder whether this needs to be made a separate priority area.

Amendment 14, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, seeks to add “nitrogen management” as a priority area, over which the Secretary of State must set a long-term target. Nitrogen is essential for both plant and animal life, but I am not sure that it is necessary to add another priority area because this is surely already included in Clause 1(3)(c), whether we call this “nature” or “biodiversity”. Furthermore, excessive use of nitrogen in fertilisers has already been reduced by more than a third since the mid-1980s.

Amendment 32, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, is terrifying, and I hope that my noble friend does not accept it. It seeks to reduce the amount of meat and dairy products that we consume by 20%. I know that the Committee on Climate Change has recommended that we reduce our livestock production, but I am very sceptical that this would have the slightest impact on the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Certainly, growing more trees will help, but 65% of British land is suitable only for livestock grazing, and I believe British farmers will find that the growing middle classes in Asia will steadily recognise the quality of our meat products, opening up new and profitable markets for them.

We have grazed cattle and sheep in this country for thousands of years, and the state should not be in the business of telling us to eat less meat, whether through new draconian measures or the application of taxes that would reduce the profitability of our farms, driving farmers off the land and reducing the proportion of our food that is home-produced.

Lord Young of Norwood Green Portrait Lord Young of Norwood Green (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on his amendment, which I support. The marine environment, onshore and offshore, is vitally important, as we on the environmental sub-committee found on many occasions when we were discussing fisheries. Perhaps this is another case of not knowing what we have got until it is gone. There is a danger of over-fishing the environment, and acting in ways that damage the seabed, and that can have profound effects. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, is right to stress the importance of this issue.

Before I go on to the light pollution amendment, which I have put my name to, I want to emphasise something that the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, said. I am puzzled why the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, wants to worry about people eating meat: if ever there was a cause that young people seem to embrace, it is vegetarianism—and indeed veganism. You do not need a government diktat to tell them to do that. Last night, we ate steak at our local pub; today, we had one of Lady Young’s delicious vegetable bakes. You do not need the state to interfere in this—there is a balance to be struck.

I am at one with the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, about meat and dairy farming. Farming is changing fundamentally. As the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, reminded us, the use of fertiliser has dropped dramatically, and the way it is applied is much more scientific.

I noticed that there was a sort of aside by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, when she referred to mining. Yes, there will be mining, because we want lithium for batteries for electric cars—unless she is proposing that that is not a way forward. There are those who say that we should not be using cars at all, but you would have a job to convince the British public of that. Even there, science and technology are likely to come to our aid: a different type of battery, possibly using sulphur, may well be available in the future.

I think the advice of my noble friend Lord Rooker and the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, was right: we want an Environment Bill, and there is no such thing as a perfect Bill. I remember trying to deal with a Bill on the digital economy—a small Bill that was swamped by about 700 amendments. We have to strike a balance on this Bill.

On the effect of light pollution, I am at one with the noble Lords, Lord Randall and Lord Taylor, and others. There are so many benefits that we can achieve through controlling light pollution. As the noble Lord, Lord Randall, said, lighting has come along in leaps and bounds, and local authorities are quite capable of doing a lot more to control the use of lighting. Although we are now using LEDs, I notice that they still shine just as brightly right through the night, when they clearly do not need to.

I remember driving along a country lane just outside Swanage, with my two young children. It was completely dark. We looked up at the sky and there, before their amazed eyes, was the Milky Way, stretched out before them in a way they had never seen in town. When I said, “Look, there is a shooting star”, I was met first with derision but was eventually proved right. We are probably never going to be able to return to seeing the Milky Way in London, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Randall, and others have brought to the Committee’s attention, we could make a profound difference on pollinators, on the kind of environment that we live in, and on energy saving. I am keen on both those amendments, and look forward to the Minister’s response.

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As a Sheffield Green Party member, I have at this point to refer to the Kinder mass trespass that helped to create some of the basic rights that we have today. People were not granted those rights; they had to win them. I stress to your Lordships’ House that there is now a strong and growing campaign to get more rights. I suggest to the Minister that acknowledging that desire needs to be written into the Bill as a statutory responsibility of government. Then we can start negotiating how much is allowed. I am not expecting him to say, “Yes, I entirely accept everything that was just proposed”, but let us start the conversation.
Viscount Trenchard Portrait Viscount Trenchard (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I think that farmers and landowners welcome the public’s enjoyment of and responsible access to the countryside. Of course, one of the joys of the countryside is that few people are there. If the whole of our urban population walked in the countryside for all their free time, it would be wrecked. There has been an enormous increase in recent years in public access to the countryside. Unfortunately, public understanding of and respect for nature and the countryside environment have not developed commensurately.

The noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, in Amendments 8 and 56, seeks to add targets in respect of public access to and enjoyment of the natural environment. I am not quite sure how public enjoyment of the countryside can be measured. It depends in part on the weather. Ironically, the increased, and in many cases unauthorised, public access which has occurred during the past year or more has been the single greatest cause of damage to the land and to nature. There has been a massive increase in fly-tipping, littering and trespassing. All this has produced unexpected costs for farmers and landowners in the very year in which they suffer the first big cut in the direct payments scheme, and this before they are able to compensate their loss of earnings through enrolment in the new ELM schemes.

Natural England has launched a new countryside code, which should be taught in schools, as the CLA has recommended. Farmers and landowners welcome responsible visitors, but it is vital that the increased numbers enjoying the countryside stick to footpaths. They must also understand the risks around livestock. There are many areas where wildlife habitats need protection and should be left undisturbed. So I would not support an unfettered right to roam, and any measures that the Government take to encourage increased public access must be balanced by measures to improve public understanding of, and respect for, the countryside.

Some people believe that agriculture is the enemy of environmentalism, but surely the opposite is true: sustainable agriculture and the recovery of nature can and must coexist. I very much hope that the ELM schemes under development will encourage that. For these reasons I prefer Amendments 9 and 57 in the name of my noble friend Lord Lucas: they presuppose improved public understanding of the countryside. I am not convinced, however, that the countryside needs, or can easily cope with, any accelerated increase in public access beyond that which increased prosperity and improved work/life balance is in any case already enabling.

Amendment 58 from the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, is interesting. Illegal use of motor vehicles on private roads and tracks, whether sealed or unsealed, should be prevented by better enforcement, but I do not think that the state should distinguish between driving on sealed and unsealed tracks. Furthermore, many tracks which were sealed years ago are now indistinguishable from unsealed tracks.

The last amendment in this group is Amendment 284, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. It is probably otiose, in that the Bill already gives the Secretary of State the powers to set targets for the people’s enjoyment of the natural environment. There are already 140,000 miles of public footpaths and other rights of way in England and Wales, and landowners are busy considering what additional paths they might open to the public. Can the Minister confirm whether ELMS will provide the opportunity for land managers to receive grants for allowing permissive access, similar to those which were offered under countryside stewardship schemes?

The noble Baroness suggested that a review should compare public access rights in England with those in other parts of the United Kingdom. Is she not aware how great the differences are? The population density of England is 279 people per square kilometre, more than four times that of Scotland at 67 people per square kilometre, and nearly twice that of Wales at 151 people per square kilometre. The vast difference between England and Scotland in typical terrain and density suggests that a comparison of access rights would be irrelevant, even if interesting. I regret therefore that I cannot support this amendment either.

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Watkins of Tavistock) (CB)
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I call the noble Baroness, Lady Quin. She is not here, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge.

Environment Bill

Viscount Trenchard 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)
Finally, I note that the principal aim of the environmental targets in Clause 1(1)(b) is to address people’s enjoyment of the natural environment. Ever since the paintings of John Constable, and doubtless earlier, our enjoyment of the natural environment has been deeply entwined with our appreciation for our historic interventions within it. Those church spires, canal locks, follies, weirs and hedgerows so evocatively recalled by the noble Lords, Lord Inglewood, Lord Cormack and Lord Blencathra, are the objects through which we read and see ourselves within our landscape. They are what draw us to it for our well-being and our enjoyment. If we do not preserve them, we will lose that landscape and our relationship with it.
Viscount Trenchard Portrait Viscount Trenchard (Con)
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My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Devon. I also want to say how impressed I was by my noble friend Lord Blencathra’s rendering of the impressive prose of the American author Bill Bryson. I declare my interest as trustee of the Fonthill Estate in Wiltshire and as former chairman of Endsleigh Fishing Club in Devon.

I will speak in favour of Amendment 59 and the other amendments in this group tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and others. As I said at Second Reading, quoting the noble Lord, Lord Moore of Etchingham,

“our attitudes to nature are being kidnapped by the dogma that nature is good and man is bad.”—[Official Report, 7/6/21; col. 1250.]

This might explain why the Bill at present includes nothing built by man, although it purports to set targets with respect to people’s enjoyment of the natural environment. Apart from the difficulty of measuring in a scientific way people’s enjoyment of anything, it is obvious that a large part of the beauty of our rural environment depends on traditional farm buildings, stone walls and other archaeological features. Ancient tithe barns and other buildings have been or need to be restored and repurposed in order to accommodate the increased numbers of visitors to the countryside.

I do not think it is possible to set targets for the natural environment without including this aspect. Indeed, the sixth goal of 10 listed in the Government’s 25-year plan is to achieve:

“Enhanced beauty, heritage and engagement with the natural environment.”


Why is this the only goal of that plan on which this Bill is silent? My noble friend may say that this is because existing UK legislation, which is derived from EU legislation, specifically excluded heritage, but the Prime Minister last week welcomed the excellent report from the Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform chaired by my right honourable friend Iain Duncan Smith, who rightly said:

“Now that the UK has left the EU it is important to change our approach to regulation which reflects the needs of the UK. This report shows the way ahead with the move to the proportionality principle setting a more flexible and balanced approach to future regulations and changes to existing regulations.”


Heritage is a key environmental public good and it makes no sense to introduce this important Bill without covering its needs. There is no time to lose as more than half of our traditional farm buildings have already been lost. Will my noble friend confirm that he recognises this? Will he commit to adopt Amendments 61 and 72, which would place a duty on the Secretary of State to include heritage in his annual reports and to monitor progress made towards targets covering heritage, both of which are obviously necessary?

Similarly, the OEP cannot carry out its objectives without monitoring heritage as an integral part of our rural environment. Amendment 43 seeks to change the definition of “natural environment” to include heritage buildings in so far as they form part of the landscape, which they clearly do. To accept this change would simplify the task of making other changes to the Bill.

My noble friend will doubtless say that, since heritage is already included in the 25-year plan, it is taken care of and does not need to be covered in the Bill. If inclusion in the plan is enough, why do we need the Bill at all? If heritage is not covered in the Bill, that makes it less likely that it will be covered under the ELM schemes. It will be deprioritised and in practice remain unfunded, leading to its progressive deterioration and disappearance. These amendments are crucial and I very much look forward to the Minister’s reply.

Lord Cameron of Dillington Portrait Lord Cameron of Dillington (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I put my name to these amendments entirely to speak to Amendments 290 and 291 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Lytton—but, as they have not been moved, proposed or spoken to, and nor do they fit at all within this group, I will leave my remarks on them to another time when, hopefully, they will be raised in the right place.

So I had not intended to speak on the other amendments in this grouping, but I will say in passing that I support them all. As a Scotsman from the highlands, I have always really loved the English countryside just because it is man-made. Every tree, hedge, field and parkland—every aspect of it—is the result of some historical figure, from the Middle Ages to the 20th century, contributing to the countryside out of their love of that countryside at the time.

The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, quoted Bill Bryson. Bryson also said that one of the outstanding features of the English countryside that is different from the rest of the world is that it is loved to death by every inhabitant within the country. As a statement with which to promote these amendments, you could not find anything better.

Environment Bill

Viscount Trenchard Excerpts
Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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My Lords, I support the Government’s approach on this. Requiring a policy statement on environmental principles is the right approach. Obviously, government must follow the principles, but to make this explicit in the way proposed in the lead amendment would provide scope for mischief-makers and single-issue enthusiasts doggedly to pursue matters in the courts and elsewhere, to the detriment of efficiency and the overall public interest.

The Bill does not and cannot go into the necessary detail, so it seems to me that Amendment 73 would create sweeping requirements and huge uncertainty. For example, how could you prove that environmental protection was integrated into the making of all policies? How could you prove that the polluter pays principle was respected—and in every public body, as now suggested? I am afraid that this is virtue signalling, and it is unenforceable. We have too much repetitive legislation moving in the direction of vague promises and, therefore, storing up decades of trouble for perhaps a favourable headline today. On a Bill so important for the future of our country, I feel that it is time to call a halt.

I have another concern, which is the reference to the precautionary principle in Clause 16. As I think we will hear in due course from my noble friend Lord Trenchard, the Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform, set up by the Prime Minister on 2 February, is set to recommend that this principle should not be carried over from EU law. What is my noble friend the Minister’s response to this? Can he kindly explain why the precautionary principle needs to be included in the list of environmental principles?

The basic difficulty of the precautionary principle is obvious. It provides no mechanism for determining how precautionary we need to be. It can always be argued that, however precautionary it is proposed we should be, we should be even more so. Should the chance of death from a new medicine be less than one in a million, or one in a billion? We have no means of deciding. Human progress has also been characterised by innovation, from the wheel and wheat yields to the internet. The precautionary principle could put the latest innovations at risk and, I fear, ensure that they are not invented here in Britain. The list in Clause 16(5) seems more than adequate for environmental protection without this extra principle.

Viscount Trenchard Portrait Viscount Trenchard (Con)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe, and I agree with everything that she said.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Boycott, seek in Amendment 73 that, in preparing his policy statement on environmental principles, the Secretary of State

“must adhere to the environmental principles.”

Clause 16(2) already commits him to explain how the principles should be interpreted and proportionately applied. I therefore rather doubt that this amendment is necessary. The principles already carry great authority, as they are included within the nine environmental principles contained in the withdrawal Act. Four of these were included in the Lisbon treaty and are the same principles—with the addition of the integration principle—that are the subject of the Government’s consultation launched on 10 March and included in the Bill.

It is disappointing that, even though the Prime Minister has welcomed the report of the Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform, published on 16 June, this landmark Bill is being introduced on the assumption that our environmental regulatory regime will basically stay the same as it has been under the EU. The task force, under the chairmanship of my right honourable friend Iain Duncan Smith, recognises that our departure from the EU provides a one-off opportunity to set a bold, new regulatory framework and proposes the adoption of a proportionality principle to replace the EU’s precautionary principle which, as the report points out, has led to innovations being

“stifled due to an excessive caution”.

It continues by saying that, freed from the precautionary principle, the UK should

“actively support research into and commercial adoption by UK farmers … of gene edited crops, particularly those which help the transition away from agrochemicals to naturally occurring biological resilience.”

It is disappointing that the precautionary principle has found its way into the Bill and that the Government have proposed it as one of the five principles on which future environmental policy is based. It is of some limited comfort that it has been downgraded from its number one position in the Lisbon treaty to the fifth of five in the draft policy statement on which the Government are consulting. Interestingly, Clause 16 of the Bill places it third out of five.

Last Wednesday evening, I tabled Amendment 75A, to replace the “precautionary principle” with the “proportionality principle” in Clause 16(5)(c). It was accepted on Thursday morning, but only for the fourth Marshalled List, which is of course pointless because it will be by-passed by the time that list is finalised tomorrow.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, in her Amendment 75, seeks to increase the number of environmental principles to which, following her Amendment 73, not only the Secretary of State but all public bodies and authorities are compelled to adhere. The counter-innovative precautionary principle makes it into her list at number three out of no fewer than 12, some of which are very broadly drawn. Her amendment would have the reverse effect from the objective of the Government to simplify and clarify our very bureaucratic regulatory rulebook.

The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, in Amendment 76, would require all public authorities to have regard to the policy statement on environmental policies. I am not sure that this amendment is necessary but, if it were adopted, it would certainly provide another good reason why the environmental principles should be simple and clear.

I am unable to support Amendment 77A, in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, which would I think put the Crown in a very difficult position. The precise definition of what is in compliance with the principles as drafted and what is not is very subjective.

I am also unable to accept Amendment 78, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, because the exception for the Armed Forces is very important. There may be other exceptions regarding resource allocation that the Government may reasonably need to rely on.

I look forward to hearing my noble friend the Minister’s response on the amendments regarding the devolved authorities and their powers. I just say, however, that I regret that this United Kingdom Parliament cannot legislate for the whole country on such high-level matters as environmental principles. Politicians in the four home nations will constantly try to adopt slight differences in policy to show their power and for their own political purposes. I have listened to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, on this matter, but I very much hope that my noble friend, through the UKIM Act and otherwise, will find a sensible way through to a common position. I certainly look forward to hearing his rationale for Amendments 80, 298 and 299, which I am inclined to support.

Baroness Quin Portrait Baroness Quin (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, this is the first opportunity that I have had to speak on the Bill, since I was unable to take part at Second Reading. Perhaps I should begin by assuring noble Lords that I do not intend to make a Second Reading speech on this group of amendments, even though they are wide-ranging. I simply say that, through the course of the Bill, I hope to take an interest in the key issues of air and water quality, biodiversity and waste management. I also wish to raise again, where appropriate, the issue of access to the countryside, concerned as I am about the 38,000 miles or so of permissive access that have been lost with the closure of the CAP-funded stewardship schemes. In speaking today, I should perhaps also point out a non-financial interest that I have, namely that I am president of the Northumberland National Park Foundation.

Regarding the amendments in front of us, I support those in the names of my noble friends Lady Jones of Whitchurch, Lady Hayman of Ullock and Lady Young of Old Scone, who spoke a few moments ago. I also broadly agree with the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Parminter, on the importance of the environmental principles and stating what they are, as well as on embedding environmental principles at all stages in the work of government and public bodies and authorities.

I shall comment briefly on the amendments that relate to devolution, although I understand and rather sympathise with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, that this seems a rather strange marriage of amendments in this particular group. I support full respect for the devolution settlement, but I hope none the less that there will be proper and full consultation and, indeed, willingness—despite political differences—to learn from each other in the relationships between the devolved authorities.

I read with interest the letter the Minister sent to all of us at the end of last week, addressing some of the points that had been raised in the debate last Wednesday regarding environmental principles and the devolution settlement. In explaining the position, he talked about policies that were tailored to each of the nations, and while I broadly accept what he said, I would like to make the point, which echoes something the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, said, that environment issues cross borders. I am particularly sensitive to that, living in Northumberland, where the countryside and agriculture are similar on each side of border. On a recent, wonderful hike in the Cheviot hills, I concluded that nobody had explained to the wandering sheep exactly where the border was and certainly had not explained that they might be subject to different rules on each side of the border.

The hill agriculture and countryside in the north of England—Northumberland, Cumbria, the Yorkshire Dales, for example—are very similar to areas in Wales and Scotland. Therefore, as well as co-operation across borders and the importance of sharing with and learning from each other, I hope the Minister’s policy for England will take fully into account the huge countryside and environmental differences and variety within England. Perhaps he can reassure me on this point.

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Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall) (Lab)
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My Lords, I had thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, intended to speak, but she is not in her place. The noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, has withdrawn, so I call the next speaker, the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard.

Viscount Trenchard Portrait Viscount Trenchard (Con)
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My Lords, I thought I understood the intention of my noble friend Lady McIntosh in these amendments and I tried hard to understand her explanation, but I am not certain that I fully understood and I too look forward to hearing what my noble friend the Minister will have to say.

Some discretion should be given to the Secretary of State, even in the case of a person who may have been insolvent or convicted of a criminal offence possibly decades ago. As noble Lords are aware, many of those who have been convicted of a criminal offence and punished for it have often gone on to make a positive contribution to society years later. It would set a bad precedent to legislate that they should be for ever denied opportunities for which they might otherwise be considered.

Regarding Amendment 90, I cannot conceive of any circumstances in which the Secretary of State would not consult with the chairman of the OEP prior to removing a non-executive member from the board. If the Secretary of State does not have the kind of relationship with the chairman where they are in regular contact on the operations of the OEP and the composition of the board, it would surely follow that either the chairman or the Secretary of State was in the wrong job. I do not think that such prescriptive details as my noble friend proposes should be included in the Bill.

Lord Whitty Portrait Lord Whitty (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, mine is a very brief point which goes in the opposite direction to the noble Viscount’s. On the previous amendment, we discussed the method of appointment of non-executive directors and the role of parliamentary committees. Surely, at least in respect of the final version, if the Secretary of State considers a non-executive director to be unfit there should at least be a consultation with the chairs of the parliamentary and Commons committees who were party to his or her original selection.

It seems lopsided that we have more or less agreed in principle for parliamentary engagement in the appointment, but that the Secretary of State could on the face of it, taking sub-paragraph (6)(c) as it stands, make a decision against a member of the OEP because they thought they were not doing the job properly. When we have parliamentary scrutiny, that judgment should at least be shared by the chair of the appropriate committee. That is my sole point on this group of amendments.

Environment Bill

Viscount Trenchard Excerpts
Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) [V]
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, even after a five-day interval and in a debate truncated by a perhaps now unnecessary withdrawal of a number of noble Lords. For the convenience of the Committee, I remind everyone that we are speaking about amendments that are all about the long-awaited and much-delayed bottle deposit scheme for England, an area in which we are notably world leading in foot dragging.

I shall give a few statistics. Ten other countries in Europe are operating these schemes, with bottle-recycling success rates running from an outstanding 98.5% in Germany, where of course they have had lots of practice since they started in 2003. Even down at the bottom of the pack, Estonia has a very respectable—certainly by our standards—83.7% bottle return rate. That is why Amendment 133, which sets a deadline for implementation, is so important, and I would have attached my name to it had there been space. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that it should be earlier still; it could have been delivered years ago, but January 2023 is practical. It certainly should not be left outside the term of this current Government—assuming of course that they continue for that long.

I want to speak in support of all the amendments in this group, with the partial exception of Amendment 134B, which would exempt small brewers. That is not because I do not think we need to consider such small producers, but rather that Amendment 134A in the names of the same noble Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is broader and more useful, covering all kinds of producers. There clearly needs to be some easy and simple way for start-up businesses, such as brewers or soft drink or juice producers, to access the scheme. One route might be to require larger companies to allow smaller companies to piggyback on their schemes.

I will focus my contribution on Amendment 134, which appears in my name. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for her expression of support for the amendment. As with the earlier amendment on nappies, I declare the support from the aluminium industry association, Alupro, in preparing and discussing this amendment. I am sure that many noble Lords are aware that, for all the UK’s inadequate performance on recycling, it does relatively well in recycling aluminium compared to other materials, for reasons including the value of the material, with aluminium packaging recycling reaching its highest ever rate in 2020, with 68% of the material placed on the market being recycled. That includes 82% of all aluminium beverage cans. Of course, this is a material that can be recycled indefinitely, unlike most plastic.

We should not forget that the best option, at the top of the waste pyramid, is to reduce packaging materials and have no container at all, followed then by reusing packaging. But for recycling, aluminium is a good choice. Alupro put it to me—and I see the force of the argument—that a scheme with a flat deposit amount for all containers, regardless of the size of the material, would lead to switching from multipacks of aluminium cans to larger format plastic bottles, due to the cumulative cost of the deposit fee on multipacks. For example, a 20p flat deposit fee would add £4.80 to a 24-pack of cans, yet the deposit fee for the same volume of liquid in four plastic bottles would be just 80p. A 2019 poll of consumers found that a 20p flat deposit fee would encourage more than 60% of individuals to switch to large PET bottles at the expense of aluminium.

Alupro commissioned the research consultancy London Economics to look at consumer behaviour and the differential impacts of a flat or variable rate scheme. It found that the variable rate, as used in the successful Nordic schemes, would deliver significantly higher return rates in the first two years, while a flat-rate deposit would increase the amount of plastic sold and could lead to higher amounts of product wastage and increased portion sizes, which has an obvious impact on public health. It would also have a dramatic impact on the aluminium packaging sector, meaning up to 4.7 billion fewer cans, a very significant loss of revenue, and somewhere between 24% to 73% reduction in demand for aluminium cans in large multipacks. This is an industry with a case, and the practical sense of the bottle deposit varying according to the size of container is evident. Having seen such variable schemes in operation in various parts of Europe, with the scanning of bar-codes expected anyway to be part of the scheme, I think it presents no practical difficulties.

I know that the Minister, in the letter that he kindly sent to noble Lords on Friday afternoon, said—I paraphrase—“Let’s leave it to regulation and the implementation stage”. But why? Why not set out the basic ground rules now, in the Bill, to make sure that the scheme we get is fit for purpose and to give manufacturers time to prepare for implementation of the scheme as speedily as possible? That is what the very important Amendment 133, with which we started this group, seeks to attain.

Viscount Trenchard Portrait Viscount Trenchard (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interests as stated in the register. I am pleased, as always, to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, although I regret that the mover of the lead amendment, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, spoke five days ago; I had to look up Hansard to remember what she said. I have some sympathy with her Amendment 133, and agree that deposit return schemes should be introduced as soon as possible. I also believe that it is crucially important to get them right. It is worrying that Scotland has rushed ahead with its own scheme in an area where we definitely need UK-wide compatibility.

I support Amendment 133A in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, and others, that the scheme should, at a minimum, apply to PET, glass, aluminium and steel containers of volumes under 3 litres. I was a non-executive director of Lotte Chemical, at Wilton, on Teesside, for nine years, until the end of 2019, when the company was taken over by Alpek Polyester. It holds a 70% to 75% market share in the UK and Ireland as the leading supplier of polyethylene terephthalate. The plastics tax is likely to disadvantage PET producers in favour of glass and aluminium producers, with the unintended consequence that producers will switch from PET to glass and aluminium containers, which have a carbon footprint four or five times higher than PET.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, proposed exemptions from the plastics tax in her Amendment 141. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, expressed concern that the deposit return scheme might lead producers to switch from aluminium or glass to plastics. My concern is the reverse: besides the much lower carbon footprint associated with PET, does the noble Baroness really want to go back to the days when we cut our feet on discarded glass bottles on the beach?

The answer is not to penalise PET but to introduce a deposit return scheme as good as Germany’s, where 98% of PET bottles are collected for recycling. We have a long way to go. Germany is not often held up as an example of a unitary state with centralised powers, but the successful German deposit return scheme is a national scheme applied in all the Länder identically. If the United Kingdom is to prosper and global Britain is to succeed as we expect and hope, it follows that the leaders of our devolved authorities might be less impatient and more willing to work together to agree the details of one national scheme across the whole United Kingdom.

I will speak to Amendments 134A, 134B and 138A tabled in my name and the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for whose support I am most grateful. These amendments take account of the needs of small producers, including small brewers, within the proposed deposit return scheme and recognise that the proposed measures will introduce significant, disproportionate costs and regulatory burdens for small businesses. I strongly support a deposit scheme such as that proposed in the Bill in principle, because it would help to tackle our waste and littering problems, but I ask my noble friend, is he mindful of the burdens on small businesses introduced by the Bill that may make it difficult for them to compete against much larger producers?

Many small brewers have had great difficulties surviving through the pandemic. With pubs closed, the only way that they could keep their products on sale has been to sell them in bottles and cans. It is very expensive for small brewers to make the necessary changes to packaging and labelling. It is likely that the four large brewers, which hold 88% of the beer market, will absorb the cost within their profit margin, thereby driving small challengers and craft beer manufacturers out of the market. Besides this, the costs and difficulties of participation in the scheme seem disproportionate for small brewers.

The fact that Scotland is ahead of the rest of the country is another problem. Brewers sell beer through wholesalers that sell in both England and Scotland. The brewers do not know how much beer their wholesalers sell in each part of the UK, yet the Scottish Government, in the operation of their scheme, have suggested that brewers will have to provide vast swathes of information that they do not currently possess. It is important that any deposit scheme adopted is completely interoperable with the Scottish one. Can my noble friend confirm that we will have, in effect, an identical scheme operating across the whole country? Is it not a problem that the Scottish scheme does not require recyclable products to be clearly labelled as such? There may well be unintended consequences if the schemes are not completely aligned.

Can my noble friend also say whether the Government accept the need for public education about the new scheme, which will be necessary to change public behaviour towards recycling? Does he agree that there is at least a strong case for exempting small breweries producing less than 900,000 pints a year from the new requirements? Indeed, the Government’s better regulation framework states that the default position

“is to exempt small and micro-businesses from … new regulatory”

requirements. While the Government have proposed in the recent consultation to allow small retailers to apply for exemptions under the deposit schemes, the same exception has not been extended to small producers.

In both the extended producer responsibility and the plastic packaging tax, the Government have included a de minimis threshold. In other areas, such as nutritional information, those with fewer than 10 full-time equivalent staff and a turnover of below £2 million are exempt. Therefore, I have tabled these amendments and ask my noble friend to consider how the Bill will support our small producers in a similar way to small retailers.

Under the proposed deposit scheme, small producers will have to redesign their labels to incorporate bar codes and logos at significant cost. They will have to pay a producer fee per container, which could cost the beer industry alone £200 million a year—the equivalent of a 6% increase in beer duty. They will have to collect and provide a great deal of additional information, which could lead to a delay of six weeks or more before they can bring new products to market and will impact innovative small brewers that produce seasonal and one-off beers.

Environment Bill

Viscount Trenchard Excerpts
Viscount Trenchard Portrait Viscount Trenchard (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as stated in the register, and as owner of a short stretch of the River Rib in Hertfordshire, a chalk stream with various numbers of brown trout, stocked rainbow trout and too many pike and alien crayfish. I also have two operating boreholes, supplying four different households with water and, over the weekend of our music festival, supplementing the water supply for 17,000 festival goers. Happily, our water table is strong, and the River Rib never dries up, unlike some other Hertfordshire chalk streams. The volume of water that we extract is now below the minimum amount that would trigger the requirement for a licence, but those whose volumes require them to have licences should receive compensation for unilateral and untimely cancellation or revocation of those licences. They provide farmers and market gardeners with the certainty they need to continue to produce food, and to invest in their businesses for the future.

I support Amendment 178, so well proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and seconded by my noble friend Lord Colgrain. Would the Minister recognise that it is just not right, in the year when farmers start to lose a substantial part of their direct grants, that they should also face an additional increased risk of revocation or change to their licences? The risk is increased because clause (82)(1) of the Bill widens the possible grounds for revocation to include supporting environmental principles. It is therefore no longer necessary to claim that abstraction is causing environmental damage. I also worry about the arbitrary removal of excess headroom. The amount of rainfall varies considerably year on year and, whereas in years of ample rainfall a licence holder may use substantially less than his limit, he may well need to use his headroom excess in subsequent dry years.

I agree with the amendments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, rather more than I do with those put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, although I sympathise with his Amendment 179A, which he introduced persuasively. Otherwise, I think he is over-optimistic in seeking to bring forward the effective date from 2028 to 2023. I could support acceleration of the date, but only if the evidential bar were raised, as Amendment 179 seeks to do.

Duke of Wellington Portrait The Duke of Wellington (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I rise metaphorically to support Amendment 187B in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey. I think there is agreement across the House that we must legislate in this Bill to clean up our rivers. There will be many ways in which we can achieve this; we have already debated cisterns and discharges.

As it is necessary and important to monitor air quality, so it is with water quality. Duties to monitor water quality will be placed by the Bill on the water companies. To place a similar obligation on any party licensed to abstract and then discharge water seems both proportionate and appropriate. This point was argued forcefully by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey. I therefore hope that the Government will accept the spirit of his amendment and place it in whatever clause will make it most effective. It is an important amendment and the Government would be well advised to accept it.

Environment Bill

Viscount Trenchard Excerpts
Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Watkins of Tavistock) (CB)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, has withdrawn from this set of amendments, so I call the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard.

Viscount Trenchard Portrait Viscount Trenchard (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, that decisions on the felling of roadside trees should remain a matter for local determination, and I support Amendment 257E. It is right that the Secretary of State should have to consult extensively with local authorities before he issues guidance on a public consultation, as provided for in Clause 108, which adds a new section to the Highways Act 1980. There is a risk that the new duty will be too bureaucratic, and care should be taken to ensure that any guidance issued does not encourage that.

I also support the noble Lord in his Amendment 257F, which allows local authorities to decide which exemptions there should be to the new duty to consult before felling any roadside trees. Councils should be free to take quick action to protect the public from harm, including against the spread of pests and diseases. Councils do not always get these things right, however, and the Committee may remember the outcry when South Tyneside Council cut down six horse chestnut trees to prevent children gathering conkers in 2004. At the time, my noble friend Lord Callanan was MEP for the north-east, and he described the pruning as

“the nanny state gone mad.”

He said that:

“In years gone by people didn’t try to rule lives in quite the same way as this. I wonder if the council will follow this to its natural conclusion and cut down all the trees in South Tyneside so that children won’t hurt themselves climbing up them.”


I hope that any guidance issued by the Secretary of State with regard to the felling of trees would aim to discourage councils from taking such disproportionate action to prevent the citizen from each and every risk he undertakes when he passes his garden gate.

As for Amendment 258 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, I think it may be unnecessary, because ancient woodland sites worthy of protection are already included within the category of sites of special scientific interest. I cannot see any sufficient reason to create a separate category of land— ancient woodland—which, as the amendment is drafted, does not even need to be of special scientific interest to qualify for Natural England’s protection.

I am not sure that I can support Amendment 259, also in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I understand that they think that a policy of diversity and freedom of movement, as far as flora and fauna are concerned, could introduce unwanted tree diseases, but could it not equally prevent the importing of other tree species with genetic resistance to diseases? What would Capability Brown and Humphry Repton have achieved without the exotic cedar of Lebanon or the magnificent Wellingtonia? I confess that I am sceptical about whether the Secretary of State’s adoption of a “biosecurity standard” would actually have a positive impact on the natural environment.

I have some sympathy with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in her Amendment 260, because the tree strategy is perhaps too modest in its aim to raise England’s woodland cover from 10% to just 12% by 2050. The Conservative Party’s manifesto commitment was to plant 30,000 hectares of trees a year across the UK by 2025. It is therefore impossible to measure the extent to which the tree strategy meets the manifesto commitment, which sadly shows yet another instance where the devolved authorities will not, but should, co-operate together to agree on a single national tree strategy.

Sir William Worsley, chairman of the Forestry Commission, has said that it will work with the devolved Administrations to deliver a UK-wide step change in tree planting and establishment. I am not sure whether the England trees action plan is exactly the same as the proposed “Tree Strategy for England” from the noble Baroness, but given the number of statutory targets proposed in the Bill, the absence of one for trees seems to stand out. I look forward to hearing my noble friend the Minister’s views on this.

I also sympathise with Amendment 260A, in the names of the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, my noble friends Lord Colgrain and Lord Caithness, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young. However, I am not quite sure how the standard would actually work. As the Committee is aware, deer and grey squirrels, among other species, can cause great damage to young trees. I worry that the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, now before your Lordships’ House, may become a medium for increasing restrictions on the control and culling of animals that cause damage to young trees. Does my noble friend the Minister recognise that the entire countryside and farming community would applaud him if he and my noble friend Lord Benyon were to make the sensible decision to withdraw that Bill and use the available parliamentary time to better effect?

Lastly, I will comment on Amendment 283, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and others. First, its heading refers to the burning of peat, but the text of subsection (1) refers to the burning of vegetation on peatland. As has been pointed out, the two are very different. The prohibition of the rotational burning of heather is likely to increase the burning of peat because old, dry heather is very susceptible to uncontrolled wildfires in the summer months, which are much more likely to lead to the burning of peat. My experience of assisting my father in managing moorland in Angus, in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, showed that the rotational burning of heather is hugely beneficial to biodiversity. Moorland where this is practised sustains much greater numbers of butterflies, caterpillars, hen harriers, golden plover, black game and short-eared owls, besides the obvious higher numbers of red grouse.

Could the Minister confirm his remark on 18 March, that the Government will

“continue to listen to the science and keep our policy and our minds open”?—[Official Report, 18/3/21; col. 529.]

In any event, I cannot support this amendment, which I think would have an effect that is the reverse of its mover’s intent.

Environment Bill

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Viscount Trenchard Portrait Viscount Trenchard (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interests, as stated in the register. It is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Lucas, who always speaks with great knowledge and experience on these subjects. I listened to the interesting speech of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, at Second Reading and again today, on conservation covenants. Unlike the noble Earl, I am not a lawyer, but I could understand his argument that, under English property law, it is not possible to bind a successor in title.

These provisions amount to a significant change in English property law, and I wonder whether they would work in practice. I understand that a number of estates are already operating similar schemes, but, rather than a covenant, they have a lease in place, with a restrictive user clause. In the majority of cases, a lease will usually work. Can my noble friend the Minister confirm that, in the case of a covenant, as introduced by the Bill, you need a dominant and a servient tenement? In other words, the covenant restricts something on one piece of land in favour of another.

In the case of conservation covenants covering isolated plots of land, with no adjacent retained land, will there not be difficulties in enforcing such covenants? I would like to hear from the Minister what the Government’s view is on this question and the others raised by the noble Earl and other noble Lords. Certainly, I agree with the noble Earl that covenants of this nature should not be entered into lightly. His amendments generally make it clearer that to encumber land with such obligations is a weighty matter and that requiring such covenants to be signed as deeds probably makes a great deal of sense.

It is a great pleasure to see the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, back in his place after a long time. In his Amendment 276A, he seeks to extend this structure to common land, which is a very interesting idea, but it is complicated, as he said. I am not quite sure how this will work, and I look forward to hearing what my noble friend Lady Bloomfield thinks about that.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, the House owes the noble Earl, Lord Devon, a great debt of gratitude for bringing to our attention some of the shortcomings of the existing proposals in the Bill, with regard to this whole new concept of property law, as it relates to the land. My initial reading of it was not clear, and I obviously received a brief from the NFU and others. I am grateful to the noble Earl; his amendments are eminently sensible, and I urge the Government to support them.

I will speak at greater length. I welcome back the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, to his place—it is good to see him back in person. However, I caution my noble friend the Minister most strongly against accepting this amendment for a number of reasons. I was closely involved with some issues relating to common land, particularly grazing rights on it in the part of North Yorkshire that I represented between 2010 and 2015. The role of graziers there is very important. They are granted rights, again, in perpetuity and have existed for many generations.

There are sometimes tensions with others in the hierarchy of interests, we might say, on common land, particularly with those involved in grouse shooting. I happen to have been brought up very close to two of the best grouse-shooting moors in the country, in Teesdale in County Durham, and I believe that, for the most part, the overgrazing problems, where they exist, have been managed extremely well through voluntary arrangements via stewardship schemes.

The main issue that I have is a potential hidden agenda here that it is very important to put in the public domain, appealing to the best instincts of my friend the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, in this regard. However, we need to see a balance in the countryside, and, among the hierarchy of interests, I place on record my particular concern about the plight of the small family farm. I would place that at the very top of the hierarchy, with grouse shooting and other interests perhaps towards the middle—or, in my case, the lower end. It has become of far greater economic importance than it had 20, 30 or 40 years ago. I pay particular tribute to the work of the NFU and the Tenant Farmers Association in regard to the rights of graziers to graze in perpetuity on common land. I was struck today by, and pay tribute to, the work of the Prince of Wales in this regard. He said today, on the BBC Radio 4 “Today” programme, that we lose them at our peril, and I echo that.

I hope that my noble friend Lady Bloomfield will confirm that there is a role for graziers going forward and that their rights will be protected in perpetuity and will not be at the expense of other, perhaps larger, farming—or, dare I say, shooting—interests in this regard. We should have respect for existing property rights, as defined in relation to land under the Law of Property Act 1925 and other legislation. We should recognise that these rights of commoners go back as far as the Magna Carta of 1215 and the Charter of the Forest of 1217.

I welcome the opportunity that my noble friend Lord Cameron of Dillington— I call him my noble friend because we served together on the EU Environment Sub-Committee—has given us in this regard, but I urge my noble friend to approach this cautiously, particularly as it would potentially shift the balance in the countryside, without even meaning to do so.

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Viscount Ridley Portrait Viscount Ridley (Con) [V]
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lady Noakes, whose expertise on these matters is extraordinary, and to support the very important amendment of my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe. This is only the second time I have spoken in Committee, and I will try and keep it brief because I know we are at the end of eight long days.

At Second Reading, I paid particular attention to the issue that some environmental policies do not end up being effective—do not work. Others are worse; they actually produce counterproductive results in environmental and economic terms. This amendment is a way of making sure that this does not happen—at least, not for a long time—that we learn from mistakes, that we put things right and, as my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe put it, that we have a fail-safe.

I would like to give four short examples of policies that were brought in to help the environment and ended up hurting it in significant and expensive ways. The first was the policy of encouraging us all to buy diesel cars as opposed to petrol cars 20 or so years ago. There is no doubt, if you go back and look at the debates at the time, that this was pushed as an environmental measure, because diesel cars had lower carbon dioxide emissions per mile. It was pushed strongly by big German car manufacturers as a way of encouraging Governments to think they could get a quick win on the environment. Of course, the effect it had was to increase emissions of nitrogen oxides and particulates, which are much more harmful to human health, as well as to the environment.

The second example is the diversion into compact fluorescent light bulbs. Around 10 years ago, incandescent bulbs were banned, and we were all forced to buy compact fluorescent bulbs. This was pushed strongly as an environmental measure by the large manufacturers of compact fluorescent bulbs because they used less electricity to produce a given amount of light. But they were very unsatisfactory in all sorts of ways, including that they did not switch on very fast, gave a pallid light, were very expensive and were toxic for the environment if they broke. Along came a better technology, the LED bulb, which we have all willingly gone out and bought to replace them. It is even more efficient in terms of the environment, even more energy efficient; it is expensive, but not as expensive as compact fluorescent bulbs; and it has easily replaced both the preceding technologies. My point here is that we did not need the diversion into compact fluorescent bulbs. It probably delayed the arrival of LED bulbs. The evidence on that is quite good.

My third example is the fact that we are burning trees in Yorkshire in Drax power station to keep the lights on in Britain. The trees mostly come from North America; we are stealing the lunch of woodpeckers, beetles and other organisms to have electricity in this country. We are subsidising this. We are calling it renewable, because the trees regrow. But they regrow over decades and, even then, if we are continuing with this, we will presumably cut them down again. Doing this does not make any sense, because burning trees produces more carbon dioxide than coal in the production of electricity. About 7% of our electricity came from biomass burning this morning.

My fourth example is one I referred to in my Second Reading speech and is that some environmental policies have encouraged farmers to make peewit-friendly habitat, where lapwings will come and breed. That sounds good from an environmental point of view, but it has recently become clear that if you do that, but do not control crows, foxes and stoats in the area, you will draw in lapwings to what looks like an attractive place to breed, but they will never see any grandchildren, because the success rate of lapwings in these areas is about 0.1 chicks per pair, which is not sustainable. So you are draining the population of lapwings if you do only one part of the policy and not the other.

A similar point was made in an excellent speech by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, who talked about the problem of making conservation covenants in perpetuity, then struggling with what to do when we find that we have made a mistake in a conservation covenant and have put in place a policy for a piece of land that is inappropriate and doing more harm than good. That is why it is vital that we apply sunset clauses and cost-benefit analysis to environmental policies. We need a chance to pause and say, “Sorry, chaps. I know you are making a ton of money out of this policy, but it is not helping the environment, so we are going to shunt your gravy train into a siding, because it has failed a cost-benefit analysis”. That is what we should be in the business of doing.

Those who support greater action on the environment ought to be especially welcoming of this amendment, because it is all about finding out what works, what delivers good value for money and what should be ditched because it does not work. If the Minister does not like this amendment, I would be grateful if he could set out how he plans to deal with it the next time we find that an environmental policy foisted on us by lobbyists turns out to be counterproductive for the environment.

Viscount Trenchard Portrait Viscount Trenchard (Con)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Ridley, who gave a fascinating speech. I was much impressed by his four examples of policies that we thought were going to be very good but turned out to be mistakes and had to be changed. I am sure the same will happen with some of the current policies being proposed for the environment and other things that we think, today, are bound to give the right answer when, in 10 or 20 years, some are certain to be counterproductive.

I will not detain the Committee long, but I extend my support to the sensible Amendment 297A in the names of my noble friends Lady Neville-Rolfe, Lord Ridley and Lady Noakes. The Bill takes no account of any negative impacts that the environmental targets set may inadvertently cause. As your Lordships are aware, we do not always get everything right. We should pay attention to the proportionality principle, as sensibly proposed by the Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform, chaired by my right honourable friend Iain Duncan Smith.

My noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe is the strongest advocate of impact assessments in your Lordships’ House. As was also pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Vaux of Harrowden, planting trees in areas that were not historically forests may assist climate change mitigation, but may also harm biodiversity. Similarly, some actions taken to advance environmental targets may have a negative impact on carbon emissions, such as the plastics tax, which is likely to cause a shift from plastic to glass and aluminium bottles—about which I spoke in an earlier debate. For these and other reasons so well explained by my noble friends, I hope the Minister agrees that it is right to include a sunset clause and that the Government should conduct a cost-benefit analysis if they wish to renew these regulations beyond five years after the passage of the Bill.

On the interesting subject raised by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, whose support on other aspects of the Bill I much appreciate, I am conscious of my oath of allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen and of everything His Royal Highness the Duke of Cornwall does for the environment. I would prefer to remain silent on this matter, but I look forward to hearing how the Crown replies to the noble Lord through my noble friend the Minister.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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I thank noble Lords for this short but quite interesting and illuminating debate. As the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said, the two matters we are talking about do not really sit happily together, so I will take them in turn.

As we have heard, Amendment 297A in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, would set a sunset provision after five years for regulations made under the Bill, including those relating to targets, unless the Government conduct a cost-benefit analysis. She is certainly correct in her assessment of how extensive the Bill is, and of how much work it has been and will continue to be. We understand her concerns about costs and how difficult it can be to assess them accurately, and the fact that the impact assessments are now two years old, which I guess allows me to make the point that it is a shame this important Bill has dragged on for such a long time.

I was interested to hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, had to say about why impact assessments are not always entirely accurate. She knows far more about financial assessments and economic impacts than many noble Lords.

It was quite interesting to hear the different examples from the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, of where policy made in good faith can turn out to be not what we expected and can often need rethinking. I agree that we always need to learn from mistakes.

I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, for his contribution. I shall spend the next few weeks trying to encourage him to be more positive about efforts to try to improve our environment, while accepting that we do not always get everything right.

However, having said all that, much of the Bill will need to be enacted by secondary legislation, there are plenty of areas where there will have to be regular reports back to Parliament on progress, and we obviously also still have Report to look at how we can improve much of the Bill. We believe that there are many opportunities to revisit the Bill’s implementation and its ongoing outcomes, so presently we would not support a sunset clause, but it has been very interesting to look at and discuss it because it has raised interesting issues about how we assess environmental policy as it moves forward.

My noble friend Lord Berkeley has given notice of his intention to oppose Clause 136 standing part of the Bill. I listened carefully to his concerns about Crown exemption clauses. The possibility is not something I was aware of at all, as I am sure many noble Lords were not. I was interested to hear his question about whether the OEP’s powers would extend to the Crown, and would be interested to hear the Minister’s response to that. If it does not, does that mean that if a Crown body dumps waste, for example—we have been hearing about Southern Water; I am sure that the Crown would never do something like that—it would not be subject to the sanctions outlined?

As my noble friend also asked, to what extent does the Bill bind the Crown? To what extent can sanctions be applied if the Crown acts in breach of any of its provisions? It is another interesting question. I agree with him that it also seems incredibly complicated, so I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response—or will we be looking at his reply in writing?

Environment Bill

Viscount Trenchard Excerpts
Report stage
Monday 6th 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 Carrington Portrait Lord Carrington (CB)
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My Lords, there is very little that I can add to the speeches of the two noble Lords who have spoken already, but I will make one small point. The opportunity to prevent species’ decline and improve our environment is certainly presented by this Bill, and this amendment would assist. Addressing light pollution offers a simple solution for the species that we are trying to enhance and protect. We should bear in mind, however, that the pollution that we are trying to address does not linger when the source is dealt with—it is an easy win. It also has the added advantage of reducing carbon gases, so these two are major issues that are worth considering in relation to this amendment.

Viscount Trenchard Portrait Viscount Trenchard (Con)
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My Lords, I spoke in favour of my noble friend Lord Randall’s similar amendment in Committee. I confess to being a little disappointed that the Minister has not brought forward an amendment to deal with this. While I think that adopting too many targets that cannot be realised is not necessarily a good thing, to adopt a target for light pollution would at least show that the Government accept that it should be included together with other types of pollution. As the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has just pointed out, it is certainly true that it can be dealt with immediately—unlike the soil—by just switching off lights or reducing the number of lights.

There is strong evidence that light pollution has a detrimental effect on birds, bats and insects. I am certainly no lover of clothes moths, and would love to find a way of introducing light pollution to my cupboards to protect my clothes, which have been devastated during lockdown. However, the Government are committed to increasing biodiversity, which means a wide range of species, including insects. Studies from Germany are among the clearest, as my noble friend Lord Randall pointed out, in showing how serious a problem light pollution is for insects, frogs, bats, birds and hedgehogs, among other species.

As for homo sapiens, we have indeed evolved to rely on the cycle of night and day to govern our physiology. We all know how exposure to light at the wrong time affects our mental functions. Light pollution is not included within the existing priority areas in the Bill. My noble friend’s amendment would provide clarity on how the Government could reduce the impact of light pollution on nature and, especially, on people’s enjoyment of it.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Portrait Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts (Con)
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My Lords, I have not yet participated in the discussion of light pollution during the stages of this Bill. That is not due to idleness: it is because at the times the Committee or the House were discussing the light pollution issue, I was double-booked on the Charities Bill or the Dormant Assets Bill, in both of which I have a particular interest. That failure means that I should be very brief this afternoon, and indeed I will be. I add my support to the very important point made by my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge and others, and will just make a comment about the all-pervasive nature of light pollution.

I have a house in Shropshire, on the Welsh border, well in the country, 500 feet up. If you go into my garden at night, the whole of the eastern horizon is suffused by the glow of the conurbation from Birmingham. If you swing your eyes round, you hit Kidderminster; south is Hereford; and even when you turn to the West—to Wales—there are frequent patches of light from small towns and villages. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will give due weight to the very important points made by people who are much more expert in this area than I am.

Environment Bill

Viscount Trenchard 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)
Viscount Trenchard Portrait Viscount Trenchard (Con)
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My Lords, I have put my name to all four amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb.

My noble friend the Minister acknowledged in his speech at Second Reading that heritage is a part of the Government’s vision for conservation and the countryside. He reminded your Lordships that the 25-year plan explicitly recognises the link between the natural environment and heritage and said that it is at the heart of our approach. However, if that is so, why is heritage the only one of the 10 goals contained in the 25-year plan to be excluded from the definition of “the environment” in Clause 44? EU legislation did not treat heritage buildings and archaeological features as part of the environment and, as a result, they have been underfunded for decades.

More than half of our traditional farm buildings have already been lost. As I said in Committee, I do not think it is possible to set targets with respect to people’s enjoyment of the natural environment without recognising that traditional farm buildings and other archaeological features are an essential part of accommodating increased numbers of visitors to the countryside and their enjoyment of it. Ancient tithe barns and other buildings have been or need be restored and repurposed in order to accommodate increasing visitor numbers.

On 23 June, my noble friend the Minister stated that heritage was never funded under the common agricultural policy. I am not sure that he was correct, in that, although heritage was not treated by the EU as part of the environment, I understand that it has been funded by Defra ever since the Agriculture Act 1986. Landscape heritage was one of five priorities for agri-environment scheme funding under the CAP and has received Defra funding of several million pounds a year—both maintenance and capital—for more than three decades, under country stewardship, environmental stewardship and previous schemes.

On page 42, the 2019 Conservative manifesto guaranteed that the current CAP budget would be maintained but that it would be moved from direct payments to public goods. The budget for public goods such as heritage is thus up to three times higher than it was under the CAP. Like the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, I look forward to hearing something strong and positive about this, because heritage is a great omission from the Bill.

Lord Blencathra Portrait Lord Blencathra (Con)
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My Lords, I rise to support the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and his excellent amendments. Like him, I regret that we did not get this on the face of the Bill. My noble friend the Minister rejected that in Committee and there is no point in trying again. However, I hope that my noble friend will pay strict attention to what the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, said about making a strong statement that this funding should continue. I apologise if I am incorrect, but I think that my noble friend Lord Trenchard was right. My noble friend the Minister probably was given wrong advice when he said in Committee that it has never been funded under the CAP and that:

“It is not something that Defra has done or can do. It is very much a job and a responsibility for the DCMS.”—[Official Report, 23/6/21; col. 365.]


I think that is not the case and that this has been funded for some considerable time through Defra. I understand that the sums are not significant. We are talking about £10 million per annum, which has of course been used for things such as farm buildings, walls, and archaeology. It is not funding residences; it has not been funding grand estates which may be the job of the DCMS, or anything like that.

In addition to asking the Minister to make a strong statement that the funding will continue, I enter another strong plea. I do not speak on its behalf, but I understand that Historic England is deeply worried about this. It was under the impression, rightly or wrongly, that this would appear on the face of the Bill. It is now concerned that, since it will not be included, and given that my noble friend the Minister and Defra are rightly concentrating on funding the Bill’s priorities—peatland restoration, woodland planting and so on—something such as heritage might fall through the cracks. I would be very grateful if my noble friend said that either he or one of the Defra Ministers will meet with the heads of Historic England and reassure them as to their intentions. Historic England is not seeking much: it is seeking reassurances that the status quo can continue. I would be very grateful if my noble friend gave that assurance and assured the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, that this will not fall through the cracks but will continue to be a small but important priority.