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House of Lords

Thursday, 15 January 2015.

11 am

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Lichfield.



11.06 am

Asked by Lord Fowler

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what estimate they have made of the proportion of people living with HIV who are undiagnosed.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe) (Con): My Lords, Public Health England estimates that in 2013 107,800 people were living with HIV in the United Kingdom. Of these, 24%, some 26,100, down from 25% in 2012, were undiagnosed and unaware of their infection. Early diagnosis is important to ensure people can get early treatment and to prevent them infecting others.

Lord Fowler (Con): My Lords, surely we cannot ever eradicate HIV in Britain, which currently is costing the health service something like £650 million a year, when there are at any one time, as my noble friend has just said, 26,000 people who have contracted HIV but are undiagnosed and untested and can obviously spread the infection further. Will my noble friend consider setting up a working party to report on how testing in this country can be improved, which would be of benefit to those people affected and also to the benefit of the public generally?

Earl Howe: I will gladly take that suggestion from my noble friend away and give it consideration and I am grateful to him for it. The position on testing is, however, quite encouraging. We have seen more than 1 million HIV tests in sexual health clinics in 2013, which is up 5% from the previous year, and that is only in sexual health clinics. As my noble friend knows, there are other routes to testing through GP surgeries, self-sampling kits and so on. Additional testing is vital if we are going to make sufficient inroads into diagnosing this condition.

Baroness Barker (LD): My Lords, the organisation Halve It reported in a survey last year that one-third of GPs who are in high-prevalence HIV areas were unaware that that is where they worked and consequently were not testing people for HIV routinely. Can the Government work with Public Health England and the RCGP to remedy that?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I pay tribute to the work of the Halve It coalition in raising awareness about the importance of increasing HIV testing. My noble friend is right that apart from ignorance often GPs are reluctant to discuss HIV testing or are unaware of the importance of early diagnosis and possible indicator

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symptoms. My department was pleased to fund the Medical Foundation for AIDS and Sexual Health’s HIV testing in primary care project that provides a web-based interactive resource for GPs in primary care to help make testing easier in GP surgeries.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall (Lab): My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the biggest disincentives to testing is the amount of stigma that still remains against those who are known to have HIV? Alongside encouraging people to have tests, can he say what Public Health England is doing to combat that stigma?

Earl Howe: The noble Baroness is absolutely right. If we were to single out three things that are important in this context, they would be prevention, testing and tackling stigma and discrimination. The NHS, local authorities, government, community and faith groups, the media and individuals themselves all have a part to play in eliminating HIV-related stigma. Our framework for sexual health improvement is clear that action needs to continue to eradicate prejudice based on sexual orientation. That depends on building an open and honest culture where everyone can make informed decisions and responsible choices about relationships.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes (Con): My Lords, is it not a fact that there has been a great change in attitudes about HIV, and not only because of the treatments that are now available? I recall the days when people went into a hospice because it was a terminal condition. I have sat on various inquiries and know that people used to hide—in the fridge, for example —any evidence that they had HIV because they were frightened of other people knowing. Because that no longer applies, there is a great opportunity for people to have testing without any embarrassment at all.

Earl Howe: My noble friend is right. I think that we have come a long way since my noble friend Lord Fowler was Secretary of State, when stigma and discrimination were very apparent in virtually all sections of society. We do not see that so much now, I am glad to say, as evidenced by the fact that we are reporting a continuing reduction in late diagnosis. It was down to 42% last year from 47% in 2012, and that is a key indicator in this context.

Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab): My Lords, the UK is a leading supporter of research and development into universal prevention methods, including HIV microbiocides and vaccines. With 19 million people globally remaining unaware of their HIV status today, will the noble Earl tell us how the Department of Health is working with the Department for International Development to support this research and development work?

Earl Howe: My Lords, in November 2013 DfID conducted a review of our 2011 HIV position paper. The review paper highlighted three areas of particular focus in the international context. They were to identify the key affected populations—girls and women—and the integration of HIV responses into the wider health

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system, as well as broader development priorities. That of course includes tackling stigma and the unacceptable things that we see in certain overseas countries, including discriminatory legislation.

Lord Patel (CB): My Lords, did the Minister refer to 26,000 people being undiagnosed? What is that number based on?

Earl Howe: My Lords, these figures inevitably have to be estimates but they rely on data from three surveys that measure undiagnosed HIV infection among sexual health clinic attendees, pregnant women and people who inject drugs. Comprehensive clinical data from sexual health clinics relating to patients newly diagnosed with HIV are also used to infer the risk of undiagnosed infection.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab): My Lords, moving the focus from sub-Saharan Africa, where we have been so focused over recent years, is the Minister aware of the increase in the incidence of HIV/AIDS in south-east Asia? Are the Government looking at advice to British tourists travelling to that area in the light of this increase in the incidence?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I believe I am right in saying that there is advice on the FCO website for tourists to that part of the world. However, if I may, I will write to the noble Lord with details of the factors that obtain in south-east Asia.

Personal Independence Payments


11.14 am

Asked by Lord Dubs

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that people facing delays in receiving personal independence payments do not endure financial hardship.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth (Con): My Lords, personal independence payment is not an income replacement benefit; it contributes towards the extra costs associated with disability. Employment support allowance provides financial support for those who are ill or disabled and unable to work. We appreciate the difficulties associated with claims for PIP, and we are absolutely committed to reducing the backlog, and waiting times. Monthly clearances have quadrupled over the past year, and the backlog is falling. All successful new PIP claims are backdated.

Lord Dubs (Lab): I thank the Minister for that reply, but will he nevertheless confirm that, as recently as last month, some 670,000 people had registered for PIP but 300,000 people were still waiting for their claim to be processed, some of whom had been waiting for six months or longer? The system is not fit for

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purpose, yet the Government are still rolling out the scheme. Is it not right for them to stop the rollout until the system is working, to assess the negative impact on hundreds and thousands of handicapped disabled people, and to make sure that it is fit for purpose before they proceed?

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth: My Lords, I dispute those figures. The backlog stands at 107,000 at the moment, and 65,000 claims are being processed every month. Help is available in other areas—such as JSA, ESA, local authority help and NHS help—for those who are awaiting an assessment. The system is not failing; it is succeeding, and the backlog is being cleared.

Baroness Eaton (Con): May I ask the Minister what assessment Her Majesty’s Government have made of the recent report from the all-party parliamentary inquiry into hunger and food poverty?

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth: My Lords, the Government have looked closely at the all-party parliamentary group’s report on food banks and food poverty. It is a complex issue; there is no doubt about that. We have, of course, identified ways in which we can further publicise hardship payments, and we are doing that. We are also looking, with food retailers, at how we can ensure that food waste is minimised. The private sector has a role to play there.

Lord Touhig (Lab): My Lords, many claimants with autism lack insight into their own condition, and a family member or companion can help fill in the gaps during the PIP interview. But the National Autistic Society, of which I am a vice-president, tells me that a number of assessors are refusing to allow that. Will the Minister look into this? It is discrimination. Will he ensure that people who are autistic are not adversely affected by this attitude?

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth: The noble Lord does notable work in the area of autism, as is well known. The guidelines on the medical assessments related to PIP indicate that all these conditions should be taken account of. I have no evidence of this being a particular problem, but if the noble Lord would like to write to me about it, I will ensure that it is looked at.

Baroness Sherlock (Lab): My Lords, last June, Iain Duncan Smith told MPs that by the end of 2014 nobody would be waiting more than 16 weeks for a PIP assessment. Can the Minister tell the House precisely when that target will be met? I do not believe that it was met by the end of 2014. As the target was only for when people would get an assessment, can he also tell the House how long people will have to wait to get a final decision, and their money? He seemed to be reassuring the House that people would get their money backdated when they eventually got it, but is it not the case that, even though PIP is backdated, passported benefits such as blue badges and carer’s allowance are not?

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Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth: The noble Baroness has asked a range of questions, and if I fail to answer all of them now, no doubt we can speak later. We are clearing the backlog and, as she will know, there has been significant progress. I shall repeat the figures: the backlog is coming down and we are clearing 65,000 claims a month. The Minister in another place, Mark Harper, will report on progress to the Work and Pensions Select Committee on 28 January. The rate of clearances is improving month on month, and the number of outstanding cases in the system has been falling significantly.

Lord Hylton (CB): Last year, food banks served 500,000 people in six months. If people cannot even afford food, does that not show that there is acute financial hardship? Will the Government therefore try to reduce the number of people suffering sanctions and make sure that sanctions last for the minimum possible period?

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth: The noble Lord draws attention to the important role that food banks are fulfilling. Food banks have existed for well over a decade throughout western Europe, the USA and Canada. The reasons for using food banks are many and complex, and I pay tribute to what they are doing. As I say, to address some of the concerns we are publicising much more the possibility of early payment of hardship benefit and so on, and we are working with food retailers on food waste.

Lord German (LD): My Lords—

Lord McFall of Alcluith (Lab): My Lords—

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Stowell of Beeston) (Con): My Lords, we have heard from several Peers from the Labour Benches on this Question and we have not yet heard from a Liberal Democrat Member.

Lord German: My Lords, the loss of a Motability car can mean the loss of independence for a disabled person. Is my noble friend confident that the personal independence payment assessors are prompting claimants as to whether they can walk more than 20 metres safely to an acceptable standard repeatedly and in a reasonable time, which are the crucial criteria put into statute by this House? Unless these criteria are followed, thousands of disabled people will not be eligible for a Motability car and those being retested may lose their car and their independence.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth: My noble friend raises important issues on the subject of Motability cars. It is worth noting that the Motability payment will continue while it is being reassessed. Those four criteria are looked at very closely. The legislation requires the assessors to consider whether a claimant can carry out each activity reliably. They will do that by means of observation, discussion and medical evidence—often just on the basis of medical evidence. I am satisfied that those criteria are being followed.

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United States: Haggis Ban


11.21 am

Asked by Lord McColl of Dulwich

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to persuade the United States to lift its ban on the import of haggis.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord De Mauley) (Con): My Lords, the United States Food and Drug Administration does not allow animal lungs in products for human consumption. My right honourable friend the former Secretary of State Owen Paterson lobbied the US authorities during his visit in the summer, and we continue to encourage them to adjust their ban on haggis containing sheep lungs as part of the wider European Union negotiations on lifting the transmissible spongiform encephalopathy restrictions on EU lamb.

Lord McColl of Dulwich (Con): I thank the noble Lord for his usual courteous and informative reply. Is he aware that the United States Government are depriving 24 million American Scots of this wholesome food, which satisfies hunger very much more than the junk food the Americans consume? It would help to deal with the greatest epidemic they have—the obesity epidemic, which is killing millions, costing billions of dollars, and for which the cure is free. Will the Minister encourage the Government to redouble their efforts to persuade the American Government to have much freer trade and lift the 1971 ban on the wholesome haggis?

Lord De Mauley: Well, my Lords, there is quite a lot in that. Perhaps it would help if I explained that two hurdles are involved in what the noble Lord proposes. We have to get over, first, the US restrictions on the import of lamb. We are working with the US authorities towards achieving approval to lift those restrictions with, I think, good prospects. Secondly, there is the US’s unwillingness to recognise animal lungs as an acceptable foodstuff. In this regard the most promising avenue in the short term is the production of haggis omitting the inclusion of lung—and the Scottish Government recognise this.

Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD): My Lords, I appreciate that not everyone fully understands the haggis. Once for a Burns supper in Germany, Burns’s,

“Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!”,

was translated into German and then retranslated back as, “Mighty Führer of the sausage people”. Will the Minister make sure that this ridiculous ban comes to an end? If it is not too late, I see that the Prime Minister is with President Obama today, so can my noble friend send an urgent message to make sure that this visit is a triumph by having a private word with the President to make sure that the ban is now lifted?

Lord De Mauley: Unfortunately, I cannot guarantee a rapid resolution of the problem, but I hope I have made clear that we are working extremely hard towards it. Promoting food and drink exports more generally is a key government priority. We are working hard to

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champion UK food and drink overseas with, I think, considerable success. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is currently in China doing just that.

Lord Winston (Lab): My Lords, I confess to being a little surprised that one of the most senior qualified medical practitioners in the Chamber is asking this Question, seeing that there is a questionable issue about haggis—which I, personally, find a revolting food. Would not charity be better at home? If haggis does indeed deal with obesity, perhaps we should promote it a little in Glasgow.

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, what a good idea. As the noble Lord does not appear to like the taste of the,

“Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race”,

I recommend a large tot of whisky.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con): My Lords, given the seriousness of this matter, should the Government not consider appointing a special envoy with energy and imagination to go to the United States and stay there until this matter is resolved? Could I suggest that Alex Salmond is currently looking for work?

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, I was going to say that it is a question of priorities, but that is an eminently sensible suggestion.

Lord Cormack (Con): My Lords, what is served at the British embassy on Burns Night?

Lord De Mauley: What else, my Lords? Haggis.

Milk Production


11.26 am

Asked by The Lord Bishop of St Albans

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure the long-term sustainability of milk production in the United Kingdom.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord De Mauley) (Con): My Lords, we share farmers’ concerns over the pressures on milk prices caused by the volatility of the global market and we are working closely with industry. It is important to remember that the long-term prospects are good, with exports at record levels. We are helping the dairy industry take advantage of opportunities such as opening new export markets and pushing for better country of origin labelling for British dairy products.

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: I thank the Minister for his Answer. Does he agree that, should we lose any of our capacity to produce milk due to the very low prices of imported milk at the moment, the nature of the dairy industry is such that you cannot quickly and efficiently turn it back on again when another shortage occurs—as there clearly will be at some point? What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to draw together dairy farmers, processors and, above all, retailers so

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that we can guarantee the long-term viability of our dairy industry and also ensure that the prices of milk reflect the costs of production?

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, to address the short-term problem, my honourable friend George Eustice, the farms Minister, yesterday held a farming resilience summit precisely so that this subject could be a central focus. Noble Lords may also have seen that DairyCo has offered advice and assistance to farmers in cash-flow planning and volatility management. Other actions in hand include investigating whether the seasonal cyclicality of prices lends itself to the use of futures markets to smooth the price curve, and we are putting pressure on the commissioner to accelerate the improvement of country-of-origin labelling.

Lord Wigley (PC): Does the Minister accept that there is a need for long-term stability for the dairy sector to flourish, and that a price below 29 pence a litre at farm gate, which was the average price in November, is not sustainable? Does he accept that action needs to be taken? Does he believe that the steps to which he referred with regard to co-operation with our European partners in dairy matters on the question of labelling is enough to deliver what is needed for that stability?

Lord De Mauley: I certainly agree with the first half of what the noble Lord has said. I am not suggesting that the work on labelling is by any means the only tool. That is why, as I have said, we are looking at the use of futures markets, because there is evidence of a seasonal cyclicality of milk prices. At certain times of the year a crunch tends to be worse, and such crunches can be foreseen, so we want to smooth that curve. But crucial is our work on exports, and noble Lords will be interested to know that exports to non-EU markets of dairy products are up by 47% year on year.

The Earl of Shrewsbury (Con): My Lords, is it not the case that one of the ways forward could be the model used by Tesco which has a margin-plus deal with farmers where at least farmers have an idea of what the future looks like and they get a decent price for their milk?

Lord De Mauley: Yes, my Lords. Certainly, innovative deals such as that are of real value to farmers. Sadly, not all farmers are able to negotiate those deals, but we are working with them, as I have said, on various ways to resolve the problem.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB): My Lords, as the Minister knows, I was at the summit yesterday hosted by his colleague George Eustice. While the long-term prospects for the dairy sector would appear to be good, what is also clear is that volatility is now an ongoing feature of global trading. I am concerned, as is the right reverend Prelate, about the long-term sustainability of the British dairy industry and the fact that we may lose market share. I understand that the Irish Government have introduced five-year tax averaging for businesses, which has existed in Denmark for a long time. Would the Minister consider approaching the Treasury to see whether that might be possible?

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Lord De Mauley: My Lords, I am very happy to take that back.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer (LD): My Lords—

Lord Berkeley (Lab): My Lords—

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: This side. This side.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Stowell of Beeston) (Con): Order. We need less of the shouting of “This side, this side” during Question Time. If we are going to follow the convention of sides, which is not the only convention we follow at Question Time, it is the turn of the Labour Benches, so we should hear from the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley.

Lord Berkeley: I am grateful to the noble Baroness. Does the Minister agree that one way of reducing the cost of production would be to introduce mega-dairies and very big units in the way that has been done for poultry and pigs? Does he have a view on that and what sort of size would the Government welcome?

Lord De Mauley: Certainly, my Lords, some producers are able to produce milk at a much lower rate—I met a farmer the other day who claimed to be producing milk in the mid-teens. We do not have strong views on the size of units of farms. What matters is stockmanship.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that milk coming from grass-fed cows kept out of doors is of a superior nutritional quality? Further, will he say how important that is to the look of the countryside in all those areas dependent on tourism? Does he think that that would be answered by large industrial units?

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, there is a strong case for extensive farming. We see it in this country and some farmers are practising it very profitably. It depends to a large extent on the part of the country—on the rainfall, the quality of the grass and so forth. As I have said before, we think that there is a place for various different types of farming.

Lord Trees (CB): My Lords, notwithstanding the voluntary codes by Tesco and so forth referred to earlier, which are to be commended, they apply only to a minority of dairy farmers. Is there not a case for extending the Groceries Code to primary producers of such vital products as milk? Most dairy farms are not protected under the code because they do not directly supply retailers; they supply processors.

Lord De Mauley: I have considered that point carefully, my Lords. The scope of the Groceries Code Adjudicator is based on a report from the Competition Commission, which found that the most significant problems in the area were experienced by direct suppliers to the UK’s 10 largest supermarkets. As a result, the Competition

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Commission recommended the creation of the GCA and limited its jurisdiction to the relationships between those 10 largest supermarkets and their direct suppliers. Any change to that would require primary legislation. It is a little premature to take the next step, because there is a mechanism in place for conducting a review and the first one of those is set for 31 March 2016.

Baroness O'Cathain (Con): My Lords, the Question talks about the sustainability of the dairy industry. I am sure my noble friend is aware that the milk cheque is one of the most important ways of keeping agriculture going in this country. The number of dairy farmers has reduced from 30,000 about 15 years ago to 10,000 now. It seems that people are giving up. Can we impress this point on the Treasury, or whoever, and particularly on the retailers? Instead of having five private planes—in the case of one of our leading retailers—could not the retailers consider the future of agriculture in terms of the food supply to them in this country?

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, my noble friend, as always, puts her finger on a key part of the problem. I have outlined a number of measures that we are taking. I can also add to that the use of the RDP—the Rural Development Programme—to foster improvement of competitiveness and profitability, for example, by increased emphasis on value-added products, such as cheese and yoghurt. I think that is really important to our market. Once again I have to come back to you on the real importance of our work on exports.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall (Lab): Does the Minister agree that cash flow, which he touched on in an earlier answer, is a critical matter, both for farmers and co-operatives? Can he say whether he feels that the banks are playing their part in sustaining the farming industry by supporting them through volatility in cash flow?

Lord De Mauley: The noble Baroness is absolutely right. Cash flow is crucial. You can be as profitable as you like, but if you have no money in the bank, you cannot pay the bills. The noble Baroness is alluding to the cash-flow problems that face not only farmers but co-operatives. First Milk is a co-operative, wholly owned by farmers, and it is in the interests of farmers that it should survive and thrive. Work such as that being done by Dairy UK, which I referred to earlier, on helping farmers with cash flow is really important. Some of the banks are doing similar work.

Business of the House

Timing of Debates

11.36 am

Moved by Baroness Stowell of Beeston

That the debates on the Motions in the names of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville and Baroness Tyler of Enfield set down for today shall each be limited to 2½ hours.

Motion agreed.

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Natural Environment

Motion to Take Note

11.37 am

Moved by Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville

That this House takes note of the natural environment and the case for reducing polluting emissions, improving green transport and protecting wildlife and green spaces.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD): My Lords, I am delighted to be able to lead the debate this morning. This is a very wide-ranging topic and one which can cause strong views to be taken on differing sides of the argument. However, the debate is really about planning for the future. How do we maintain our green environment for future generations and how do we put in place the infrastructure to make the best use of green technology as it becomes available?

Some believe that the effects of climate change are with us. Others believe that it is all part of the natural cyclical process of the earth and can point to events in history which mirror our current predicaments. There are those taking part in the debate whose credentials are excellent and far outweigh my own interest in this matter. I look forward to hearing from them and also to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Callanan.

On an almost weekly basis, we can see examples of global natural disasters on our television screens; whether excessive flood waters, extreme droughts or the melting of the Arctic polar ice cap. Last winter saw unprecedented rain falling on Britain, resulting in distressing floods in Somerset, on the land around the Thames and in many other areas. In 2010 the country suffered an extreme cold spell around Christmas, with large areas of the country under snow. Temperatures were recorded at RNAS Yeovilton of minus 17 degrees centigrade. During this period, despite the central heating and the Aga being left on, I suffered a burst pipe in the roof. Gallons of water descended through our cottage, bringing lath and plaster ceilings down and flooding the downstairs to a depth of three inches, so I have every sympathy with those who were flooded last winter. My saving grace was that the water in my home was clean and not foul, smelly and muddy water brought by rainwater flooding. We were in temporary accommodation for six months. Many of those flooded last winter are still out of their homes. I therefore have first-hand experience of the extreme effects of changes of weather.

The Climate Change Act 2008 has shown the benefits of a clear legislative framework to meet the country’s carbon emission reduction target. I am delighted that my right honourable friend Ed Davey, the Secretary of State, has led the way on these issues. The green agenda has long been dear to the heart of Liberal Democrats, and we have plans in the next Parliament to take this further by setting legislative frameworks on five green laws.

It is essential for the country to have a zero-carbon Britain Bill. This will toughen up climate change targets in the light of experience and be coupled with a global climate change treaty to ensure that the mechanisms are in place to meet targets. A nature Bill will introduce

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legal targets for biodiversity, clean air and clean water, and will establish a natural capital committee in law. The country must also move towards becoming a zero-waste Britain. It is essential to reuse all our scarce resources and create a circular economy. It is not enough just to talk about this; we need to set binding targets, with a clear action plan to reduce waste and end landfill. Our island must not be allowed to sink under the weight of the rubbish we produce. A green transport Bill will set clear targets for when we will see petrol and diesel-driven cars banned from using our roads and for rail electrification, as well as promoting cycling, walking and public transport. Other colleagues will talk about our green transport policies and no doubt share some excellent examples of good practice. An energy saving and renewable heat Bill will help to reduce energy bills by bringing in tough new energy efficiency standards and boosting renewable heat and district heating programmes. I shall give examples of this later in my speech.

The zero-carbon Britain Bill will include a new legally binding target for zero-carbon Britain by 2050, to be monitored and audited by the Committee on Climate Change. It is also important that we look not just at measures to prevent climate change but at how we protect our natural environment, for example by establishing an office for accelerated low-carbon innovation to support the fast-tracking of less mature but key green technologies, including tidal and wave power, such as the Wave Hub off the coast of Cornwall, sponsored by the previous regional development agency. In addition, we should look at a renewable heat route to modern district heating, ultra-low emission vehicles, energy storage and CCS—carbon capture and storage—as well as continuing to apply emissions performance standards to existing coal plants from 2025 to guarantee that unabated coal generation ceases and to stimulate innovation in CCS. It will be important to extend full borrowing powers to the Green Investment Bank to boost further investment in low-carbon technologies.

The nature Bill will include measures to identify those natural resources that we are harvesting at an unsustainable level, for example peat and wood. The peat industry has long been established in Somerset. Measures are already present to protect the environment, but these need strengthening to safeguard it for future generations. In order to protect the environment it will be necessary to increase the penalties for the enforcement and punishment of environment crime, such as deliberate water pollution, and wildlife crime. The proceeds from these increased penalties should be used to fund the National Wildlife Crime Unit and the sector of the Environment Agency which tackles pollution-related crime.

Everyone enjoys the country’s forests and it is important to provide continued support for British forests by placing them in a trust to safeguard them against future potential sales. This is included in the coalition’s forthcoming draft forestry Bill.

Green accessible spaces are much valued by local communities and introducing a new designation of national nature parks is one way of protecting this valuable asset for future generations. The right to roam is similarly valued by residents; thus including

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the national forests and other publicly owned land, while examining the viability of opening up inaccessible habitats that are in private ownership, is also key to the nature Bill. It is important to examine how we put in place the infrastructure we need to build a low-carbon, green future.

I turn to the zero-waste Britain Bill. In south Somerset we are proud of our recycling collections. Waste lorries come every week to collect separated, recyclable plastic, cardboard, glass, tin and foil. Putrescent waste is also collected weekly to go to on-farm composting. The residual waste is collected fortnightly. The vast majority of residents are happy with the arrangement and know they are contributing to reducing landfill. Nevertheless, this is a drop in the ocean and it will be necessary to do more countrywide. We will commission a Stern report on reducing the UK’s consumption of natural resources in order to facilitate the circular economy, facilitating waste minimisation and ensuring that only non-recyclable waste is incinerated. We will also argue for faster development of EU sustainable design and production standards. Coupled with this, the banning of biodegradable waste from landfill by 2020 will be key.

As the House already knows, we will bring in the 5p plastic bag charge announced in this Parliament. Consumers will pay for each new single-use plastic carrier bag they use at the point of sale. After administrative costs have been met, the supermarkets will donate the remaining money to charity. We will scrap all the exemptions, such as for SMEs and paper, associated with this ban.

I turn finally to an energy-saving and renewable heat Bill which invests in the future. Measures included in this Bill will be low-carbon infrastructure investment in, for example, heat networks, energy storage systems, hydrogen distribution and carbon disposal systems. These will be classified as utilities for infrastructure development purposes. A new legal framework will be set up to require all relevant regulators to facilitate the development of deep geothermal heat, large-scale heat pumps and waste industrial heat and energy storage systems. Ofgem’s remit and powers will be revised to enable it to regulate all heat forms and heat networks so that it can provide, for example, protections for heat network and heating oil customers. There will be new efficiency incentives to help people cut their energy bills permanently. For example, the vast majority will be able to cut their council tax bill when they invest in energy-saving home improvements.

I am sure that many of your Lordships live in areas where there are listed properties, some with thatched roofs and mullioned windows. It is extremely difficult for home owners or landlords of such properties to improve their energy efficiency without putting in double-glazing and others measures not permitted by conservation officers. Does the Minister have any solutions to offer for these properties?

New energy-efficiency regulations will come into place, for example when people make certain home improvements requiring planning permission. They must also include energy-saving improvements and new higher energy-efficiency standards within building regulations for lighting, motors and cooling and ventilation

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products. In addition, new heat-saving regulations will apply. For example, when people change their heating system, other low-cost heat-saving investment would become mandatory.

Ensuring that everyone, including those on very low incomes, is helped to reduce their energy costs is essential. There will be new, long-term legal targets for assisting domestic homes, starting with social housing and then moving to privately rented and then owner-occupier homes. In the south Somerset area, the housing providers already take steps to ensure that their homes are energy efficient, both as new build and as retrofit. They know that if their tenants are able to reduce energy bills they are more likely to be able to afford rent, buy food and live fulfilled lives. It is important that we have flexibility in all things. On zero-carbon housing, if a developer is not able to make a home fit the zero-carbon standard, does the Minister agree that allowable solutions should include an obligation to retrofit another house?

The coalition Government have already set out that fuel-poor homes would have to meet the band C minimum standard by 2030 regardless of tenure, with relevant government and industry subsidy and support. We are currently consulting on setting a standard for privately rented homes for 2018 and beyond. Liberal Democrats would propose that this standard should be band C by 2030. We would also consult on setting a standard of band C for social homes by 2025. The clear aspiration would be for owner-occupier homes to be band C by 2035. In all cases the standard would, as far as reasonably practicable, be subject to testing—your Lordships would expect nothing less—as it is recognised that some homes cannot be brought up to band C at a reasonable cost.

I am pleased to be able to report that, earlier this week, Wiltshire Council passed a motion proposed by Liberal Democrat councillors to reduce energy consumption by creating a Wiltshire energy-efficiency board, with the remit to work with partners across the county to develop a joint strategy to achieve increased energy savings, and the consequential economic savings to match, and then to exceed the south-west average. The motion was supported locally by my colleague Duncan Hames MP from the other place.

I am also pleased to be able to tell the House about an energy society which has been set up in south Somerset—the south Somerset energy society. It is in embryonic form but is applying for a rural community energy grant to start its feasibility study. This society, working on a similar model to that used by the Plymouth energy society, hopes to raise share capital for its investments in businesses, schools and community facilities to enable it to access cheaper energy. I am sure that there are many similar examples throughout the country of local initiatives striving to cut energy costs. I look forward to the contributions of other noble Lords, and I beg to move.

11.53 am

The Earl of Selborne (Con): My Lords, the whole House will be grateful to my noble friend Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville for giving us an opportunity to hold what I predict will be a wide-ranging debate on

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the natural environment. I would like to look at the implications of environmental change in the widest sense, not just climate change, remembering of course that the United Kingdom’s natural environment is the product of centuries of management. Whether it is agricultural land, woodland, forest, heaths, moors, coasts, green spaces or urban areas, all are products of our management. The only area of wilderness in the United Kingdom is perhaps the flow country of Caithness and Sutherland, an area of blanket bog. If we look at the steady loss of biodiversity in most habitats, it is evident that we have much to do to stabilise wildlife populations.

Increasingly, we are recognising the importance of protecting ecosystem services on which we ultimately depend, whether for food production, flood prevention, pollination of crops, air purification, raw materials recycling and much else. The United Kingdom National Ecosystem Assessment was carried out between mid-2009 and early 2011. It was the first analysis of the United Kingdom’s natural environment in terms of the benefits that it provides to society and its continuing prosperity. This assessment should set the agenda for future consideration as to how we monitor, conserve and enhance ecosystem services.

A particularly interesting issue, although it is difficult to grapple with, is the extent to which we rely on or could benefit from the correlation between human health and the environment. It is a statement of the obvious to say that we benefit from a contact with nature, but it is not easy to measure the relationship between green space and the health of population levels. Here, if anywhere, is an area where much more research is needed on the positive aspects. There is much research on the negative consequences: it is easy to demonstrate that degraded and contaminated environments impact adversely on our health, particularly our mental health.

Another aspect that states the obvious and of which we are all well aware is that since the Second World War there has been a dramatic change in United Kingdom land use. It is because our national priorities changed with the intensification of agriculture, urbanisation and transport development. Some 90% of semi-natural vegetation has been converted to arable use. You cannot change the use of land without dramatic and major impacts on ecosystems, and therefore the delivery of ecosystem services. Unless you are very careful you will cause the disruption of flood regimes, river basins and coastal wetlands. These are the issues with which we must deal. They are related not just to climate change but also to land use and the impacts of an expanding economy, which of course we welcome.

It is easy to cast gloom and doom over the natural environment, but we should also remember some positive aspects during the period since the war, about which I have been talking. There are the Clean Air Act 1956, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and EU directives such as the 1979 birds directive and 1992 habitats directive. These have all played an important role in helping us to take our responsibilities more seriously and with a degree of continuity.

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In reference to the Clear Air Act, while cleaner air can be described as a success story, it remains at the regional level a serious issue, especially in urban areas. Ambient air quality has improved but diffuse sources of atmospheric pollution remain a challenge. As our Motion today identifies, transport is a major source of pollutants, as are power generation and industrial emissions. Air quality needs to go up the environmental agenda. The Government could lead the way in raising the priority attached to air quality in all government departments. In another place the Environmental Audit Committee calculated that poor air quality will reduce average life expectancy in this country by an average of seven to eight months, and that up to 50,000 people a year may die prematurely because of poor air quality.

On our record on national biodiversity loss, there is good news. Some species have done really rather well. There is the reintroduction of the red kite, a bird with which we are now all familiar; at one time, it was isolated in Wales. There are also buzzards, deer, badgers, otters and some non-specialist butterflies, for example. They have all expanded their range. These tend to be generalist species. The specialist species have done far less well. Since 1995, 70% of butterfly species, 50% of bird species and 28% of plant species have declined in abundance. Those are sobering figures and need to be considered against a background of some over-optimistic targets to which we have signed up, at national and international levels. As a result of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, we became a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity. There were also millennium development goal 7.B and the EU targets for 2010. All have been a history of failure to meet targets. They had good intentions, but without thinking through how we might reduce our impacts we will never meet these targets. At present we are signed up to the Aichi targets, which were set in Japan, for 2020, but it would be a brave person who predicted that we were going to meet them.

The key to this will be when we ultimately work out how we determine the ownership and distribution of property rights for natural capital assets, which is a highly contentious issue but one on which the Natural Capital Committee, which provides advice to government on the state of England's natural capital, is giving advice. If we could get into our national consciousness and the balance sheets of each and every company in the country an assessment of what impact for better or worse they are making on our natural capital, it would be something of a game-changer. There would be lasting benefits to the United Kingdom if we could demonstrate the value to society of our natural capital and reward those who protect and enhance the desired ecosystem services. This does not have to be done with new subsidies or grants from government; it can be done by adjusting the tax system to reward those who are looking after future generations.

I return to transport, which is mentioned in the Motion. My second game-changer would be to look at the development of hydrogen. We are already there: we have cars, buses and boats fuelled by hydrogen. The problem is, of course, the high cost of fuel cells and the absence of a refuelling infrastructure. The Government recently announced an £11 million investment in United Kingdom hydrogen vehicle infrastructure and £2 million

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of funding for public sector hydrogen vehicles. I think it is quite realistic to think that in 10 years’ time hydrogen will be competitive in price with petrol and diesel. It will certainly reduce pollutants in the air and, provided the electricity which produces the hydrogen is from renewable sources, it will make a contribution to a reduction in greenhouse gases. There is a challenge: if in the run-up to the general election any political party can commit itself to travel only by hydrogen-fuelled vehicles, it will be doing us a service.

12.01 pm

Lord Whitty (Lab): My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness for initiating this very wide-ranging debate. I thank her also for giving us a quick preview of what would be the Queen’s Speech of a Liberal Democrat Government—some of which sounds vaguely attractive, and I might support it.

The title of this debate ranges from the very local to the international, and we do not know where to begin. The noble Baroness began, as I rather suspected she might, with the situation in Somerset and the Somerset levels and the disastrous, distressful floods. There was a terrible impact on both the people there and the environment. However, as the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, said, the key thing about the Somerset levels is that they are not, in a strict sense, a natural environment. They have been created by manmade measures over the centuries: intricate water management, successive different forms of farming putting pressure on the system, deforestation, local pollarding of trees and so forth, and ever-changing farming practices. They all put pressure on the system. All those efforts gave an economic base to the area and the landscape that we love, but the levels are not a natural environment. They need to be protected, but we need a different system of human management for such areas.

The storms of last year which caused the floods in Somerset and elsewhere were a unique event and were unprecedented in their form. While one cannot ascribe any individual extreme weather event to climate change, climate change means that we are going to get more of them. The likelihood is therefore that the UK and the world will face greater storms, floods, droughts and other disasters, and we need human management to deal with that. In order to protect our environment, we need a change in intervention. As in 19th century Sicily, unless there is change, things cannot remain the same. We therefore need to recognise that the challenge of global climate change will mean a lot of new, local interventions. I do not want to be too despondent, but the world has largely failed on climate change. The conference in Paris this year may be the last-chance saloon to stop average global temperatures going over the 2 degrees level.

There are some fairly worrying indications. The fall in the oil price means that people and markets are switching back to fossil fuels. The development of shale gas and shale oil has displaced coal in America. On balance, this is a positive thing, but it has reduced the price of coal, which is being exported to markets at a low cost, as is US oil. The net result is that the price of fossil fuels, relative to nuclear and renewables, is changing. The problem is not just in places like China, where coal-fired power stations are coming on stream

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every month, or India where the explicit objective of the new Government’s policy is to exploit to the full India’s domestic coal resources—most of which are lignite, the worst form of coal. It is also true within Europe, where Polish and German lignite is now being used to a greater degree: even green Germany is opening new coal-fired power stations.

In aggregate, the global subsidies for coal far outweigh those for renewables or nuclear energy. The markets and, in some cases, government policy, are moving in the wrong direction. Over the years, the UK Government have, commendably, taken the lead in both establishing targets and introducing policies designed to offset this. However, most of those policies have not delivered to the extent that they should. The noble Baroness mentioned issues of energy efficiency in residential and other property, but so far the measures are faltering. The ECO is not working as it should, nor is the Green Deal, and take-up of the RHI is very limited. A report which I was partly responsible for found that there are very few pressures in the commercial and industrial sectors for increasing the environmental efficiency—and therefore the energy use—of commercial buildings, old and new.

As the noble Baroness said, we need intensified policies in all of these areas. We also need them on land management: how we use land and water. We need to plant more, appropriate trees on many of our hillsides; we need more effective water management by catchment; we need to reform the abstraction regime for water in our uplands. We cannot defer this, as we have done for many years. Some of these interventions, and some on the energy side, will be seen by some as detrimental to the natural environment, but that will only be in the short term. In the long term, they will protect our natural environment.

I am not saying that we should give up trying to mitigate the rise in carbon and greenhouse gas emissions. That objective is still there, but we need to recognise that a significant rise in global temperatures—probably over 2 degrees—is now almost inevitable. We therefore need to look at adaptation in the way that we have looked at attempts to mitigate. On the mitigation side, the Climate Change Committee has indicated that the next Budget will require us to cut, between now and 2025, by another 28%. We succeeded in meeting the first budget targets only because of the recession. The underlying change is nowhere near close to achieving those ends. That means that even in the UK—which is leading in this area—we are not likely to make our contribution to reducing carbon.

We therefore need to focus as well on mitigation. That will need capital expenditure by both public and private sectors. We know that the way in which projects are assessed in the private sector tends to focus on the short term. We know that the immediate fiscal problem with regard to public expenditure is limiting the amount of public investment in things such as flood defence, resilience of infrastructure and the whole area of protection of our countryside. Unless we put the money in and give some priority to that form of investment, we will neither protect what we call our natural environment nor avoid the major problems that are facing us through the process of climate change.

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12.10 pm

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer (LD): My Lords, my noble friend, whom I congratulate on securing this debate, outlined the proposed nature Bill in her admirably comprehensive introduction. I shall concentrate my remarks on green space, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, pointed out, is not necessarily a natural environment as we might have found 2,000 years ago—that exists probably nowhere in the UK. There are wilderness areas or wilder areas, as in the national parks, but much green space is what we share with other species. With the decline in biodiversity that has tracked the whole of my lifetime, through the 20th century, there has been an increasing pressure on all the places where other species lived, to the point when they often ended up with nowhere to live and breed.

Successive Governments this century have made some very good efforts, and I commend the Labour Government, when the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, was a Minister, for the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, because there is nothing like getting the public involved in being a major part of the protection of green spaces. One of the major steps for this Government was the report from John Lawton, Making Space for Nature, which talked about protecting what we have, the SSSIs and the EU habitats, which of course we are obliged to protect. In mentioning the EU habitats, I say to noble Lords who are Eurosceptics that without the EU’s input into areas such as water pollution and protection of species we would be in a much worse place than we are in now. The EU can claim enormous credit for turning around what was a pretty grim picture in the 1960s and 1970s.

We should expand and join up these spaces for nature with wildlife corridors. That was Sir John Lawton’s contention. The babies that came out of that report were the nature improvement areas, of which there are currently 12—and that is a start. In their assessment of 2013, the Government found that each pound invested by the Government results in nearly £6.80 of additional support from communities, businesses and individuals. It is actually very good value. However, there is still a tremendous amount more that can be done. One area that has been overlooked until now is local wildlife sites, which are important havens, identified and selected locally for their high-nature conservation value and with great public support from the people on whose doorsteps they are. The Wildlife Trusts, which I must commend for their work, because their mission is to connect the public with wildlife and to protect that wildlife, produced a report entitled, Secret Spaces: the Status of Local Wildlife Sites 2014. It found enormous pressures on those sites. It may surprise your Lordships to know that, although they are recognised within the planning system, local wildlife sites are not protected by law. That was one of the recommendations—that greater protection should be given to them—that Professor Sir John Lawton came out with. It would be one thing at the top of my list of things to be done.

Of course, we have had lots of strategies beyond the ones that I have mentioned. We had a biodiversity strategy from Defra in 2011 and the important natural environment White Paper, as well as the work on eco- systems services, all of which are important contributions.

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However, I would agree that putting the work of the Natural Capital Committee on a statutory basis is one of the most important steps that we can take now, because its work values the synergies that we find between, for example, farming benefiting wildlife, clean water and more absorbent soil, as well as more interesting landscapes. We have found that there are lots of indicators of the health of an ecosystem: pollinators, for example, which is an issue that we have debated in your Lordships’ Chamber before, frogs and farmland birds. The Government are committed to reversing the long-term decline in the UK farmland bird indicator, which is made up of 19 species. Noble Lords will be aware of the different reasons for that decline, particularly different farming methods.

I would particularly like to mention one initiative from LEAF—Linking Environment and Farming—that is important in helping to reverse this decline. It is starting its big farmland bird count within the next month and will involve farmers. It is looking at what can be achieved by the adoption of simple management techniques to improve habitats and bird numbers and includes information on bird identification, because it is not a given that every land manager can identify all the species. There is much work to be done. The mistle thrush and the yellowhammer have declined enormously since the 1970s here in England, but oddly in Scotland, that decline has now reversed and the populations are becoming much healthier. Perhaps there is something that we can learn from Scotland.

To conclude, I would like to talk about bats, which are the subject of a Private Member’s Bill in the other place on Friday of this week. The Bat Habitats Regulation Bill is sadly geared toward preventing bats from living in churches. There have been many claims that bats are contributing to a health hazard—which Public Health England denies—but why do bats need special protection in the first place? It is easy to kill a whole roost of bats, and people have often had a prejudice against them. They, perhaps more than any other species, have suffered from declining habitats, with barn conversions and so on. The Bill, which perhaps will come before your Lordships’ House, refers to enhancing the protection available for bat habitats in the non-built environment. That is all very well, but then it refers to limiting the protection available for bat habitats in the built environment,

“located inside a building used for public worship”.

That is a very dangerous precedent. Anyone who does not like bats can claim that people are gathering to worship. I hope the right reverend Prelate will take this up, as I think it is a very sad comment on the churches’ attitude towards wildlife. There is a simple solution: if bat faeces are falling in an embarrassing place, you simply need to nail a board under that, as many people have learnt to do in their own homes.

12.18 pm

Lord Callanan (Con) (Maiden Speech): My Lords, I join in the congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, on securing this debate today on such an important subject, giving me the opportunity to make my maiden contribution to the debates in this House. I begin by thanking noble Lords on all sides

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for being so helpful and welcoming, and for so politely pointing out my many mistakes so far, the most serious of which was rising to leave the Chamber when the Lord Speaker was on her feet. I shall not be doing that again.

Let me particularly thank my two sponsors, my noble friends Lord Bates and Lord Inglewood. I first met my noble friend Lord Bates 30 years ago; we both attended the same Gateshead comprehensive school and joined Gateshead Young Conservatives at about the same time. I do not know what prompted him to do so: Gateshead was hardly then, or even now, a hotbed of Conservatism; but in my case, the late Lady Thatcher was entirely responsible for my decision to join the party. I am profoundly sorry that I never had the privilege of serving in this House alongside her. After that, the political careers of my noble friend Lord Bates and I went in different directions. I served on Tyne and Wear County Council, Gateshead Council and then in the European Parliament; he, of course, served in the other place. I am also grateful to him for one other thing—for leaving the title of our home ward, Low Fell, for me to take.

I was proud to represent the north-east of England in the European Parliament for 15 years, where for part of that time I also served alongside my noble friend Lord Inglewood, who represented the north-west. We often travelled to Brussels and Strasbourg together and spent many a happy hour debating the latest political scandals in the departure lounge of Newcastle Airport.

In the European Parliament our speeches are often time-limited to two minutes, or sometimes even one, so I am delighted to be in a Parliament where one sometimes gets the opportunity to speak for what seems like an eternity of eight minutes. I sincerely hope that noble Lords will not wish, at the end of my contribution, that I had spoken for only one minute. Another great advantage of this House is that all the debates are—ostensibly, at least—in the same language.

Turning to the subject of today’s debate, for most of my time in the European Parliament I served as Conservative environment spokesman and worked on many of the emissions and climate change directives, including the Euro 5 and Euro 6 engine standards and the emissions trading system in all its many complicated incarnations. I know that a maiden speech is not the time to burden your Lordships with some of the complicated detail of such directives, so I will merely say that I always took the view that our environmental ambition should not be achieved at the expense of damaging the competitiveness of some of our excellent British and European manufacturing industries.

I am fortunate to come from the north-east, a part of England with many economic difficulties, but also blessed with some of the most beautiful countryside and magnificent natural environments in our nation. I sincerely hope to use my time in this House to contribute in some small way to help to resolve the former and to sustain the latter.

12.22 pm

Lord Bradshaw (LD): My Lords, we were very glad to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Callanan. He brings two things with him. First, he is an engineer.

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Both Houses of Parliament are woefully short of people with technical knowledge in the various engineering fields. Secondly, he comes from the north-east. One has only to sit and listen to recent introductions to notice how many come from Greater London. This House is very short of people who have a regional perspective on things. To this particular House he brings a third quality: he must feel a lot younger than he did before he came here, being surrounded by so many more mature people.

I will concentrate my remarks on two or three things. First is the question of emissions. Emissions in town and city centres concern me greatly. A lot of work is being done on the Euro 5 and Euro 6 engines, to which the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, referred. However, a great deal of the pollution in our towns and cities comes from the refrigeration and cooling units on lorries that deliver food and other perishables to shops and airports. These refrigeration engines, which are diesel-powered, do not have the means to send their exhaust through the exhaust cleaning system of the engine. You might clean up the engine that is propelling the lorry, but you have an extremely polluting cooling system attached.

I am aware from a letter I received from the Minister this morning that there is work going on in Europe on non-road mobile machinery mechanisms, but there is a solution to the problem I have outlined. It is to use compressed air or compressed nitrogen engines to run the cooling units that are so prevalent in the traffic of today. The plethora of delivery vehicles running round from various shops, delivering goods to your home, is all very well but the vehicles bring a lot of pollution with them and this is scarcely recognised. Can the Minister say whether this non-road mobile machinery includes supplementary engines mounted on the road vehicles? I am not sure that it does. The happier news is that there is a technical solution. It is a British solution that has been developed and is going through, I think, the advanced stage of trials. If it is adopted—I am not an engineer and cannot comment on the technology—it will make a huge contribution to cleaning up the air in cities. I know there is debate about the effects of climate change but there is no debate about the health hazards of vehicle emissions.

The second thing I would like to ask the Minister concerns low emission zones. There are low emission zones in a few places and I have noticed that the Mayor of London intends to make the City—or the whole of London, actually—a low emission zone by 2020. It is important to give people fair warning of these things. Up to a few years ago, they had been encouraged to buy diesel cars. Suddenly to reverse that and say that these cars will now be prohibited is very hard, but if you give notice people can adjust. They sell and buy cars and adjustments can be made, as they have had to be made to buses. I have been involved in the bus industry, as I think is fairly well known.

I put this point and to some extent I turn to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, about the competitiveness of British industry. There is a lack of inventiveness and a lack of capacity to ensure that good ideas are developed here and exported around the world because they are seen to be necessary and

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good value. The point about stimulating research, innovation and development here is one that I have heard echoed round this Chamber on many occasions, but it is absolutely important for industries in the area from which the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, comes.

I will not keep noble Lords any longer but I will be pleased to give the Minister the information I have on air engines, and I would be glad to send it to anybody else who is interested.

12.28 pm

Lord Framlingham (Con): My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, on his excellent maiden speech and I am sure we look forward to further contributions from him.

I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, for obtaining this debate today which allows me to talk about one of my favourite topics: trees, particularly ones in urban areas in what are currently called hard landscapes. Trees are like the humble bee. They do a massive job in the environment and are taken for granted by most people, yet without them our very survival would be threatened. I remind you what an incredible job trees do. They look attractive. They take in our waste carbon dioxide and give us in return precious oxygen. They provide shelter and are barriers to both pollution and noise. They help to cool the urban environment and manage storm-water run-off. They have been shown to have a positive effect on the nation’s health. In short, they are quite simply indispensible.

Yet the question that I want to pose is: are we making the most of this incredible asset? We use trees to adorn and enhance our finest buildings and to hide and camouflage our ugliest. When applying for planning permission, architects embellish their drawings with pictures of mature trees, yet so often, when the development takes place, for reasons of finance or inadequate aftercare the trees as envisaged never appear.

It must be obvious from what I have said already that what is needed is a nationally co-ordinated approach to the design and management of hard landscapes. This would ensure the maximum and most imaginative use of trees and guarantee both their planting and their aftercare—to decide not just what type of tree to plant but to take into consideration its ultimate size, crown spread, root spread, disease resistance, the soil type in which it will flourish and its proximity to underground utilities, as well as things such as its leaf drop, fruit production and aftercare needs, and 1,001 other issues.

Clearly the Government have a role to play in this, although I am not quite sure which department it currently comes under. However, help is also at hand in the form of an organisation called TDAG, the Trees and Design Action Group. This organisation, now a charity, was formed in 2007 with the ambition to create a very broad network of expertise across the built and natural environment, sharing a common understanding that trees have a major role to play in the health of our cities.

Perhaps I should declare an interest—one that is not in any way financial. Many years ago, I was for some time the president of the Arboricultural Association,

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which is a member of TDAG. The group contains the widest possible spectrum of organisations concerned with these issues, from local authorities to landscape architects, from civil engineers to nurserymen, and from banks to the Forestry Commission—too many to mention but all with the same aim: to get more healthy trees in our cities and thus improve the health of those who live there.

TDAG has produced two excellent publications: Trees in the Townscape and, last October, Trees in Hard Landscapes: A Guide for Delivery, which I am sure the Minister will be aware of, since his colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, wrote the foreword for it. I urge him, if he is not already doing so, to lend his weight to the distribution of these guides, or more particularly their contents, so as to co-ordinate and encourage the most enlightened and best practice everywhere.

We must use all the experience available to us, together with our imaginations, to break new ground and to break out of our sometimes routine thought processes. Many years ago on a lecture tour in the United States, I found myself in Philadelphia. In those days, Ginkgo biloba, the maidenhair tree, was relatively rare in the United Kingdom. To my astonishment, in Philadelphia it was used as a street tree. It was everywhere. If it was an ideal street tree there, why not here? That is a lesson I have never forgotten. I believe it is now called “thinking outside the box”.

It is not just housing, office or town-centre develop- ments that present challenges and opportunities. What about business parks, industrial sites, motorway and railway embankments, and roundabouts? Opportunities abound not always with big trees but sometimes with small trees, shrubs and low-maintenance ground cover, but always with a mixture of experience and imagination to produce the best possible use of the ground available for the maximum effect.

I should like to deal briefly with two other important topics: tree importation and woodland protection. Following the importation of ash dieback from Europe, there was a call, including one from me, for a reduction in the number of imported trees and for much more reliance on home-grown stock to reduce the ever present and very real danger to our tree population. Sadly, figures that I obtained through a Written Question show that in the last planting season we imported more trees than ever. I acknowledge that this is not a simple matter. It involves long-term planning, with appropriate commitments and contracts. But trees are a long-term business, and getting it wrong again would be disastrous.

Perhaps a quarantine system is the answer, at least in the short term. A company called Barcham Trees, based in East Anglia, has introduced its own quarantine system. It says that it will not import trees and sell to customers for immediate planting, and that,

“All imported trees will be held on the nursery for one full growing season during which time they will be subjected to rigorous inspection for pest and disease. This includes systematic and regular DEFRA visits”.

I do not know whether other companies are doing this, but if it is not already happening, perhaps the Minister could look into the merits of that system. Audit trails for trees are also important, so that trees sold by any particular nursery can be easily traced.

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Caring for existing trees is vital, not just in urban areas but in woodlands too, particularly ancient woodlands. Houses can be demolished and rebuilt in a matter of months, but an invaluable ancient woodland, if lost, is lost for ever. The Woodland Trust tells me that it is currently fighting 400 cases where woodlands are under threat. I know the Minister has a great interest in woodland, and I urge him to do all he can to preserve it wherever possible.

We must care for all our trees, old and new. I would say to the Minister, who I am sure loves his trees, “Don’t listen to those who say you never see the results of tree planting in your lifetime”. Trees make their presence felt in a few short years, and what better legacy could a Minister leave than to have significantly increased the nation’s tree cover, particularly in our towns and cities?

12.36 pm

Lord Greaves (LD): My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville for introducing this debate and setting out so eloquently the nature of a nature Bill, which the Liberal Democrats would like to introduce in the next Parliament. I look forward to working closely with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, when that Bill comes forward. I should remind the House of my registered interests as a councillor and as an active member of various access organisations.

I shall talk first about the “natural environment” part of the Motion, and particularly about access to the natural environment. In the nearly 15 years for which I have been a Member of your Lordships’ House, the number of occasions on which we as a House have contributed to the extension of people’s ability to access the natural environment has been a great pleasure to me. The very first Bill that I was really involved with was the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill in 2000, for which the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, was responsible in this House. That set a pattern that we have followed since.

However, there is now a real threat to vital countryside and rights of way services—the access services provided by local authorities—as a result of the cuts, many of them drastic, that local authorities are having to cope with. Many of them see the rights of way staff and services as not being part of their core service. This really began to bite last year, when some authorities were even proposing to close down the service altogether. I do not think that they can do that, because it is a statutory service, but many authorities are subjecting their services to cuts. We do not know yet what will be the effect of the current round of local authority budget making for 2015-16, but it seems that further cutbacks in many areas are inevitable.

Some of the more flexible, and perhaps enlightened, authorities have been able to make a link with the new health and well-being boards and their public health functions, and use a certain amount of public health money for the promotion and support of active outdoor recreation. Clearly, that is to be welcomed. But the pressures are everywhere. In my own local authority of Pendle in Lancashire, we have one of the densest networks of public footpaths in the country, which are vital to tourism, local recreation and the health of the

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local population. Because we have been able to maintain an agency service where the district council carries out the rights of way service on behalf of the county council, with subsidy from the county council but topped up by the district council, we have the highest standard of service in the county and our paths are in the best condition of any in the county. But the county council, like all other local authorities, has been under pressure and put forward a proposal to stop the agency and significantly reduce the service. We had some fairly vigorous and interesting discussions and I am pleased to say that we came to a compromise. We have been able to fight off the idea that because our footpaths are in the best condition of any in the county we do not need to do much to them for the next few years—until, presumably, they get back to the mediocre standard of other areas.

This is the kind of debate that is happening on so many services in local government at the moment, and the rights of way service is not in any way immune. I want to ask the Minister a question, which I am sure he will not be able to answer today, but perhaps he can dig out what information the Government have and write to me and other Members. What impact have the cuts already had on rights of way and countryside access services throughout England? Do the Government know what the situation is so far, to provide a baseline from which to go forward?

The second area I want to talk about is referred to in my noble friend’s Motion as “protecting green spaces”. I particularly want to talk about urban green spaces. The promotion of new urban green spaces is something for which the Liberal Democrats, in particular, have been pressing for a number of years. The proposal for a new designation under the planning system first appeared in the Liberal Democrat manifesto at the last general election. That led to a number of references to urban green spaces in the coalition agreement, a copy of which I have with me. It is an historic document that no one seems to pay much attention to any more, which is an interesting lesson for the future. Coalition agreements at the beginning of a five-year Parliament are regarded as being extremely important for a while, fairly important for two or three years, and then forgotten.

I have a copy of the agreement, which is still on various websites, including the government website. Under the heading, “Environment, food and rural affairs”, the coalition agreement states:

“We will introduce measures to protect wildlife and promote green spaces and wildlife corridors in order to halt the loss of habitats and restore biodiversity”.

Under the section on “Communities and local government”, it says:

“We will maintain the Green Belt, Sites of Special Scientific Interest … and other environmental protections, and create a new designation—similar to SSSIs—to protect green areas of particular importance to local communities”.

The results of this appear in paragraph 76 of the National Planning Policy Framework, which is a document that people pay rather more attention to nowadays than they do to the coalition agreement. It states:

“Local communities through local and neighbourhood plans should be able to identify for special protection green areas of particular importance to them. By designating land as Local Green Space local communities will be able to rule out new development

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other than in very special circumstances. Identifying land as Local Green Space should therefore be consistent with the local planning of sustainable development and complement investment in sufficient homes, jobs and other essential services. Local Green Spaces should only be designated when a plan is prepared or reviewed, and be capable of enduring beyond the end of the plan period”.

It was clearly intended that these new local green spaces should be an important part of the planning system.

I have another question which the Minister will not be able to answer today, but perhaps the Government can tell us what information they have. To what extent is this actually happening in all the local plans that local authorities have been producing and taking to inspection and adoption within the past two or three years? I have a sense that this has been a bit of a damp squib in many cases and that local authorities have not really grasped this new ability to, in effect, declare new parkland in parts of their areas, particularly their urban areas. This is something that our party will want to continue to stress and to press for and perhaps give greater prominence to in future. I have run out of time so I will say no more.

12.46 pm

Lord Borwick (Con): My Lords, I declare my interests as they appear in the register, particularly that I am a trustee of the British Lung Foundation. I welcome this debate, as all too often the push to reduce emissions and improve our green spaces means that we spend a lot of money on the wrong things. The result is more regulations and higher taxes, which push up the cost of living. The hardest hit are often the poor and the elderly, who spend more of their incomes on electricity and gas. Indeed, taxes can make up 15% to 20% of the cost of power to a household. If we are trying to reduce emissions and improve air quality, we have to think of other ways of doing it than imposing new or higher taxes.

However, none of those points detracts from the fact that we need to reduce emissions, improve green spaces, protect wildlife and think about how we travel in the future. It is very important that Parliament stays ahead of changes and developments in this issue. That is why I have proposed to the Chairman of Committees the creation of an ad hoc committee on air pollution. From the great stink of 1858 to the great smog of 1952, population growth and industrialisation have reduced the quality of the air in the UK, especially in big cities. The Clean Air Act 1956 was perhaps the earliest significant attempt to enshrine in law the protection of air quality. Now that science is delivering more local knowledge on air pollution, we have to be aware and preparing for the pressures that that will bring.

Within a short time, we will be able to get a smartphone app to tell us the levels of air pollution within a local area, measured from space. This means that your sat-nav directions might include the option of the quickest route, the shortest route and, in the future, the cleanest route. When citizens get the knowledge that their home area has bad air pollution, they are going to demand that the Government do something about it. Individuals tend to think—probably rightly—that they cannot improve air quality through their own actions alone. The same can arguably be said for government departments. That is why it is vital that collaborative

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work is done on this problem across government. The Department of Energy and Climate Change is, of course, interested in climate change but not sufficiently in emissions. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department of Health, the Department for Transport, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Education are all responsible in part for emissions.

Lung diseases are strongly correlated with poverty. There are rich people who die of lung diseases, but they die mainly of heart problems. It is poorer people who smoke too much and live in areas where they suffer from bad air quality—and many from tuberculosis. The climate change problem has been regarded as so important that we put every effort into reducing CO2 emissions. Many car manufacturers switched to diesel in whole or in part, and we now have extra nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide in the air. Perhaps it is fair to say that Britain is doing quite well on global warming, better than the world generally, but are more people going to die of lung poisoning as a result of some of those changes?

So, the level of emissions in the UK is having a very harmful effect on both the environment and on human health. While much is known about CO2 and its impact on the environment, there is far less awareness of the harm to public health caused by particulate matter in the air. Exposure to these poisonous particulates can lead to inflammation of the airways, and cardiovascular and respiratory illness. In April 2014, a Public Health England report found that approximately 29,000 deaths per year in the UK could be attributed to man-made particulate matter pollution. Air pollution is also expected to reduce the life expectancy of everyone in the UK by six months.

We know that the noxious villain of NOx is the car exhaust, and what do we do with our car exhausts? We cover them in shiny plating to make them look attractive and stick them out the back of the car, where the pedestrian or cyclist can breathe the fumes. There is an old-established saying in management that if you do not look at a problem, you will not solve it, and we place the exhaust in the one place that the driver can never see directly, so he cannot tell if his engine is misbehaving. What would happen if we required that exhausts finished in the front of the car, so that the driver could see them? I bet they would be cleaned up rather quickly. What, furthermore, if we required that exhausts finished on the inside of the car? If I have to breathe in his poisonous exhaust fumes, why does the driver not have to breathe them in?

Roadside emissions are a particular problem in urban areas of the UK. The index level for PM2.5 in London this morning is 67. Yesterday it peaked at 85. London’s Marylebone Road had the highest concentration of PM2.5 in the whole of Europe in 2012, with a concentration of almost 94 micrograms per cubic metre of air. Furthermore, the UK has failed to meet its recent EU air quality target for NO2—and the annual average for NO2 was exceeded in 38 out of 43 air quality zones. The health benefits in improving air quality are clear, so I ask my noble friend, when will the Government respond to the recommendations presented by the Environmental Audit Committee report of the other place published shortly before Christmas?

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New technologies will provide the key to improving air quality and developing greener transport. When I was a manufacturer of London taxis, I sold thousands of diesel engines. But after that, I spent a fortune on trying to make electric vehicles work, and every penny I made from diesel engine taxis was spent twice over on electric trucks. I started an electric truck business and sold about 400 vehicles worldwide, and I was grateful to UPS, FedEx and Tesco for buying the first ones. This was a great product which worked really well, but to get consumers to change to electric vehicles is a huge leap, and we were just too early.

When I was trying to sell zero-emission vehicles, I thought of a single product which I believe every British consumer would applaud. Particularly in these election days, I think British people want to find a zero-emission politician.

12.53 pm

Lord Berkeley (Lab): My Lords, I welcome participating in this debate and listening to what I think is the start of the Liberal Democrat manifesto from the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and the noble Baroness. I also welcome another engineer to the House of Lords in the shape of the noble Lord, Lord Callanan. I welcome his speech. There are not many of us and he has added quite a high percentage because of that.

The noble Baroness and my noble friend Lord Whitty made a powerful case for change, which I fully support. I want to outline some of the difficulties that we will have in achieving it, especially when people have the time, energy and resources to fight for or against it. Sometimes, of course, even those who are in favour of a particular green or environmental initiative actually spend more time fighting each other than achieving their objective.

I will give two examples. First, I will say a little more about air pollution, on which the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, gave us some very interesting data. The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, and the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, also mentioned this. We started off with a Question on 6 January which I put down about the premature deaths caused by nitrous oxide and the PM2.5 from diesel engines. We can all disagree on the exact number of people who may have died prematurely nationwide. The figure I cited was 55,000 people nationwide, with an average loss of life expectancy of more than 10 years. Other people have different figures, but I do not think it really matters. We can go on discussing the figures ad nauseam, but I think we all agree that the figure is very high and it could be reduced.

Again supporting the statement by the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, Dr David Carslaw, who is a highly respected scientist, has said that the pollution in Oxford Street is the highest in the world. That is a pretty challenging statement to make. I suspect he is right. The NO2 annual concentrations and the hourly exceedances in Brixton Road may exceed those in Oxford Street in 2014. It is easy just to talk about London, but I think the problem is just as bad in many other cities.

The easy solution is to get rid of the polluting diesels, as the noble Lord has said. But how are we going to know where the problem is? The solution, of course, is by the network of measuring stations that, at

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the moment, local authorities are required to run. I have it on good authority that, before the London Olympics, the Mayor of London covered up the stations that were reading a bit high. Otherwise, the Olympics would have been performed allegedly in an atmosphere that was worse than that of Beijing four years previously. Whether that is true, I do not know.

Of course, it is much easier to deal with the problem by removing the evidence. I think it is extraordinary that Defra wants to remove the requirement for local authorities to keep maintaining such measuring points. It is going to be very easy for a future Government to say, “Well, there is no evidence of air pollution”. The noble Lord may be right that we will be able to measure it on our mobile phones. However, at the moment, having some official statistics is extremely important, because it is easy to say, “Well, there is no evidence, therefore we don’t need to tackle the problem”. Are the Government really allowing 55,000, or whatever the number is, premature deaths to continue because they will not only not ban diesels in the worst polluting areas but now want to remove the source of evidence as to where they should act?

My second example is railways—no great surprise there—an environmentally friendly type of transport and probably the best one, apart from walking and cycling, if people feel the need to move around. The issue of nimbyism is, I am afraid, as rife as ever. We have seen it in all the debates on High Speed 2. People even complain when the railway is in a tunnel, under- ground, two or three miles from their house; they say it will still affect them.

I have heard a more recent example in Bath, which I think is more serious. Noble Lords will know that the Great Western railway is being electrified. When you are putting wires above the trains, you need extra height, which means that you either lower the tracks or you raise the bridges. There is a very famous tunnel, which Brunel built, called Box tunnel, where the tracks have to be lowered to get the wires in. The problem is that there are bats in the tunnel. I love bats and have many friends who love bats. They seem to have survived and prospered in this tunnel for 150 years or so, even when 125 miles per hour trains are rushing through every 15 or 30 minutes.

The only time that Network Rail is allowed to lower the tracks in this tunnel is in July and August, due to the bat breeding season or something—it will do a lot of other work at the same time, which I could explain but will not now. That means that the railway through Bath has to be closed for two months in the summer. Bath, as we all know, is a World Heritage Site and summer is a good time of the year for tourists from around the world to come to Bath. However, because there are no trains, and Network Rail obviously finds it necessary to help move passengers around, it has to use buses. I am told that there will be 200 buses going in and out of Bath for two months in July and August.

We have to have a specially designed catenary because it is a World Heritage Site. We have to drop the track, which may end up on an old Roman ruin, which will probably close the line for another six months while the archaeologists dig. The question is: what price

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progress? This is one of the reasons why the cost of electrification has doubled around there. It is not Network Rail’s fault, because it has been told to do it this way, but one rather thinks that if the people of Bath and the people who are requiring all these changes do not want electrification, we should give them a steam train instead. We can let the people of Bristol get to London on the other route through Bristol Parkway and have a chuff-chuff between Bristol, Bath and Chippenham. They can pollute their town with smoke instead. Is it really justified for the bats, which clearly have to be protected to the extent that they can have a tunnel dug up only in August, although they survive all the rest of the year round with all this noise going through?

It is a question of what price we pay for progress, a debate that we will continue to have for a long time. There is an added cost and there are a lot of people who feel very strongly about this, but we have to have a balance. I hope in the future we will get a better balance.

1.02 pm

Baroness Janke (LD): My Lords, coming from Bristol, I would not dream of speaking for colleagues in Bath, but we have always had a great aspiration for this improvement and I certainly add my support to it.

It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate as a former leader of Bristol, which is the 2015 European Green Capital. The Green Capital bid was based on all-party support. Bristol’s success in winning has led to greater developments on the green agenda—which is of course, as my noble friend Lady Bakewell said, a key Liberal Democrat priority, whether nationally or locally. One of the success criteria in the Green Capital award is the need to demonstrate ways that achievements have been made to help other cities and communities reach key European targets in carbon reduction, energy conservation and increasing the use of renewable energy. Bristol has the lowest carbon emissions of any of the core cities and has achieved a reduction of 20% per person over the period from 2005 to 2012.

Strategic leadership has been important, and the council leadership has been acknowledged for establishing some key strategic projects such as a comprehensive programme of energy efficiency, a successful bid for the cycling city and, of course, the local energy supply company. The energy efficiency project has insulated 30,000 homes. As a result of the cycling city project, we have three times the number of cyclists as the core city average. The city council has taken a strong lead in exploiting its own energy through solar panels and the wind turbines at Avonmouth, enabling the establishment of the energy supply company.

However, it is important that people from all sections of our communities can contribute to these targets and to achieving a greater quality of environment. We have to change hearts and minds as well as providing strategic leadership. There have been some innovative and energetic projects in the city, some of which I would like to tell your Lordships about. In some of the poorest areas of the city, we have a project called smart metering, which enables people to measure energy usage using the wi-fi hotspots that we have created there and by using recycled computers. This has made

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a valuable contribution to awareness of energy use and to future energy use within those communities, and has motivated much more learning about how people, within their communities, can make real changes. The council also started a green volunteer scheme, which links organisations with would-be volunteers. In conjunction with that, we set up an annual award scheme to recognise volunteering across the city, so that individuals and community groups that use volunteers and companies which support volunteering from their staff can be accredited, acknowledged and thanked.

Local sustainable food, and educating people about local food, has moved quickly up the agenda in recent years, with the Green Capital year being a catalyst for many local food projects being instigated in Bristol—I hope that many of your Lordships have heard about the food programme that comes from Bristol and some of the very innovative projects that we have there. One example is the Severn Project, which works with socially excluded individuals to reduce anti-social behaviour by using the production of food as a vehicle to provide education, training and employment. The organisation has a temporary lease on a derelict area of land near the station that is earmarked for development. Despite the site being severely contaminated, the project has installed polytunnels and put down membranes to bring in compost to grow salad crops, which are then sold on to local restaurants and businesses in the city.

Another unique feature is the Bristol pound, which I think is the UK’s first citywide local currency, the first to have electronic accounts managed by a regulated financial institution and the first that can be used to pay some local taxes. It was set up by a community group and supported initially by a small grant from Bristol City Council. It has now grown thanks to EU funding and other sources, and nearly 1,000 traders in the city accept the currency. For people who do not quite understand how this contributes, it is a way of boosting independent producers and creating local sustainability within the local economy.

There is still a great deal to be done in relation to our international competitors. However, to make real progress it is important to change hearts and minds and to involve all the people and communities, groups and enthusiasts, wherever they are. With strong local and national leaderships, we can harness the energy of individuals and groups and achieve immense benefits in terms of the quality of the environment, as well as reduction of emissions, generation of green energy and conservation of energy—all of which bring huge benefits in terms not only of the quality of life but of the health and well-being of people and communities.

1.08 pm

Lord Smith of Finsbury (Non-Afl): My Lords, I join in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and congratulating her on initiating this debate. Her Motion does a crucially important thing, because it helpfully links the challenge and impact of global climate change with the importance of the local environment that we all live, work and play in. It is a hugely important link to make.

Climate change is of course very much with us. Thirteen of the 14 warmest years on record globally have happened in the 21st century. The sea level rise

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over the last two decades across the world has been 3.2 millimetres per year—nearly twice the average rate for the 20th century. Here in the UK, we have, as the noble Baroness alluded to, experienced extreme weather events over the last couple of years. I lived through the last winter as chairman of the Environment Agency. It was a traumatic period, especially for those people who were tragically affected by the flooding that occurred. That was a result of the biggest surge in the North Sea that we have seen in 60 years. There were violent storms over the course of Christmas and the new year, and the wettest January and February we have ever experienced in 250 years had an extreme impact on people with businesses around the country.

It is not just flooding. We are seeing more extremes of weather, both floods and droughts. In March 2012, when we were facing the imminent prospect of serious drought, the River South Tyne was running at 28% of its normal flow level for that time of year. Three months later, in June 2012, it was running at 406%. We are increasingly experiencing these extreme weather patterns. Over the last 30 years river temperatures across England have risen, on average, by 0.6 degrees.

We are seeing an impact on species too. The vendace, which is a very beautiful coldwater fish, has lived in the Lake District for centuries. We have now had to move them to higher lochs in Scotland in order to ensure they have the cold water that they depend on. Damsel-flies are now being found 40 or 50 miles further north than ever before. They are moving with the temperature. All this shows something of the impact that a changing climate is having on habitats, species, the nature of our countryside, the quality of our rivers and on the fate of the environment around us.

The importance of that natural environment needs to be emphasised again and again. I am delighted that the Government have realised some of this. The natural environment White Paper and the establishment of the Natural Capital Committee are welcome initiatives. The environment is not just something for us to wonder at, to enjoy, to find pleasure and to seek recreation in. It is also part of the natural capital on which we all depend. It is a resource, an essential part of our economic and social life. It is something we cannot do without and that we endanger at our peril.

Yet do we fully understand the importance of this natural bank of capital when we make decisions about what happens to our landscape, green spaces, trees and rivers? When we think about how we address the growing impact and prospect of climate change? I fear that, too often, we do not. The noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, talked movingly about the importance of trees. I could say exactly the same thing about our rivers. They are, of course, a source of life. They provide us all with water, but they also sustain industry, irrigate crops and permit agriculture in places where it would otherwise be impossible. They are also an ecological resource—a place for insects, fish and water-bank mammals—and we need to look after our rivers in order to sustain it. This includes responding effectively to floods and droughts in order to protect not just our water supplies but this rich diversity of habitat, too. Let no one tell me that European intervention has nothing to offer, when it is precisely things such as the

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habitats directive and the water framework directive that have provided the underpinning for a lot of the environmental protection that we need and value in this country.

This brings me back to those links between the enormous issue of climate change and our own local environment. Why is it that the environment rates so low among current public political concerns? Surely it is because we tend to speak of it in abstract terms. However, when you ask people about their own, personal, local patch of environment, they become really passionate about it. Their own piece of green space and the river at the bottom of their town are bits of the environment that they really value. We need to ensure that we link the value placed on those with the big, global issues that we also need to address.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds does this rather powerfully and brilliantly. I sometimes remind my former political colleagues that the RSPB has more than twice as many members as all the political parties in Britain put together. They do something that is very radical and progressive. They take people and say, “You are interested in something very small, very fragile—a dipper. If you are interested in a dipper, you need to understand about what happens to its habitat, to the rivers, hedgerows and fields. If you want to understand about what happens to those, you need to understand about the planning and development pressures, about agricultural production and what is happening to it and about the framework of local plans that decide what should happen to landscape and habitat. Then you need to understand the national framework that operates to determine and protect all this, what the European Union is up to and the international agreements that are reached in places such as Kyoto, Lima and, hopefully, Paris”. Before you know where you are, you have taken people from something very tiny—a dipper—to an understanding of the global forces that shape the importance of our environment. It is an understanding of how everything, from top to bottom, is interlinked. That is the realisation we need to capture. This debate has helped us to do precisely that.

1.16 pm

Baroness Ludford (LD): My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lady Bakewell on introducing this debate. I will follow other noble Lords in concentrating on air pollution, especially from vehicles.

As another former Member of the European Parliament, it is a pleasure to welcome my noble friend Lord Callanan. We will both have to get used to calling each other that.

I, too, am grateful for the recent Environmental Audit Committee report in another place. As time is short, I would just urge noble Lords to read it. I broadly agree with it. It is nearly 60 years since the Clean Air Act and more than 40 years since the Control of Pollution Act. I was, briefly, a very junior civil servant and worked on drafting the latter. It is a scandal that, all these decades later, we are not dealing with what has become the number one environmental health challenge. It is estimated to cause 29,000 premature deaths a year in this country and 7 million or 8 million worldwide. It is not just diesel exhaust but air pollution

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as a whole that is classed as carcinogenic by the World Health Organization. London seems to have the highest monitored nitrogen dioxide levels in the world—three times WHO limits, especially on Oxford Street and Marylebone Road.

Quite rightly, there has been great emphasis on carbon dioxide limits in the tackling of climate change—no one, certainly not a Liberal Democrat, would quarrel with that. However, there has been an overlooking of the problems and challenges of air pollution. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, that it needs to go very fast up the policy and political agenda. I applaud the Healthy Air Campaign, which is run by a group of non-governmental organisations, and also Living Streets, which emphasises how tackling air pollution can make life much pleasanter and safer for pedestrians.

Liberal Democrats have long championed the need to tackle air pollution as well as climate change. Perhaps I may quote from a document which is headed “Localised Air Pollution”. It says that, “There is increasing evidence that many people in the UK become exposed to concentrations of pollution above World Health Organization guidelines as the result of emissions from road vehicles. This includes ground-level ozone, which is a problem in both rural and urban areas, nitrogen dioxide at urban sites, PM10s —the fine particulate emissions from diesel engines”. That was in a Liberal Democrat policy paper of 20 years ago. The working group was chaired by my now noble friend Lord Bradshaw. My noble friend Lord Tyler was also a member of that group. So, we are not Johnny-come-latelys when it comes to tackling air pollution.

I congratulate the successive holders of the post of Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in the current Government. I believe that they have been more active than their counterparts at Defra in dealing with air pollution and that there has been some complacency at Defra on the issue. One of the most urgent requirements is to update the air quality strategy in this country. We need a holistic approach and a clear demarcation of responsibilities and resources as between central government departments and between central and local government. One rather simple thing that could be done is to incorporate pollution warnings into weather forecasts as happens with pollen counts. There seems to be a curious contrast in those things. The planning framework needs to place much more emphasis on air quality matters. Locating schools and new homes away from main roads is one example.

Although I cannot enumerate all the issues that need attention, one of them, of course, is airport construction. We need explicit air quality objectives for the current Airports Commission appraisal framework. Liberal Democrats believe, of course, that aviation expansion must not further damage health. That is the reason for our negative response to suggestions to build new airports, particularly in the south-east. As others have said—including, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley—we must not allow the Red Tape Challenge to undermine local air quality monitoring.

As others have also said—I will not dwell on this—the main problem is diesel engines. Although there were undoubtedly good reasons for encouraging diesel, it is

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way past time for a radical change in policy direction. That will mean giving attention to the fiscal and other frameworks—such as fuel duty, vehicle excise duty and so on—under which people have been encouraged to go for diesel. I do not own a car but sheepishly admit that, as a member of a car club called Zipcar, I find myself involuntarily driving cars with diesel engines. I do not drive frequently but when I do, the engines always seem to be diesel. Can my noble friend say what the Government are doing to remove the loopholes whereby diesel particle filters are removed after being factory fitted? People are apparently managing to remove them through these loopholes, so I would very much welcome a specific answer on that. We need to aim for the adoption of zero-carbon technology in motor vehicles and in London. Liberal Democrats propose having a big switch to 100% electric buses, taxis and vans. We regard the Mayor of London’s ambitions for the ultra-low emission zone as lacking both urgency and stringency. We need to go much further and much faster.

We work in a European context because air pollution does not recognise national boundaries. The coalition agreement pledged compliance with EU clean air laws but the UK is massively in breach of these laws and is thus subject to legal action. We are 20 to 25 years late in the schedule. My noble friend Lord Callanan and I are not quite on the same page on this matter. He says that air quality rules must not impede economic growth but that is a false choice. I also venture to suggest that the engineering companies of the north-east could make big business out of clean technology.

My last question to the Minister is therefore to ask whether he will update us on the Government’s efforts to ensure that the EU’s ambitions for clean air will continue and to dissuade the Commission from withdrawing its proposals for new air quality directives. Unfortunately, I believe that there is a lack of consensus in the European Parliament to pass a resolution now to urge the Commission not to withdraw these measures. It was disappointing that the Environment Secretary was not a signatory of a letter from the national Environment Ministers to the Commission President urging against withdrawal. Will my noble friend tell us whether the Government are determined to press forward to meet EU laws?

1.25 pm

Lord Grantchester (Lab): My Lords, this has been a wide-ranging debate, covering many aspects of our modern environment and touching on the policies of many government departments. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, for introducing it and declare my interest as a farmer, and my previous experiences of being involved along the food supply chain with various organisations.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, was quite right to frame the debate around climate change. In the UK, the most significant impacts of climate change are likely to be further increases in the frequency and severity of extreme weather, heat waves and drought, as well as storms and flooding. How we respond and adapt to this is critical. The sixth annual report to Parliament of the Committee on Climate Change scoped out the progress towards meeting carbon budgets and emission

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reduction targets, and reflected on the progress across the main government departments of energy, local government, transport, business and the environment, as well as in the Treasury and the devolved Administrations. This throws up a clear challenge for joined-up action and co-ordination. The warning is clear: the committee considers that the underlying pace of emissions reduction, allowing for the impacts of the recession through the first carbon budget period and in 2013, is insufficient to meet future carbon targets and budgets.

Meeting the legislated fourth carbon budget in the 2020s to reduce emissions by a further 31%—that is, by 50% from the 1990 levels—will require further strengthening of policies, which speakers throughout the debate have highlighted. On the energy front, there are the policies for energy efficiency and power decarbonisation; on the transport side, it is those for the electrification of transport; on local government policies, they are for infrastructure and green spaces; and on Treasury policies, they are for financial incentives across other departments’ policies.

In the Minister’s own Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, it is therefore extremely disappointing that the Government’s failure to get to grips with the increasing threat of climate change is putting more homes at risk from flooding. I am sure that the Minister will be regretting the previous Secretary of State’s removal of “preparing for and responding to flood risk” from the department’s list of priorities and the consequential ideological cutting of the budget. Since 2010, the Government have cut the Environment Agency’s flood defence budget by £138 million, a 21% reduction. It was especially instructive to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Smith, about his experiences at the Environment Agency.

The next Labour Government will reinstate flood protection as a core departmental responsibility and establish an independent national infrastructure commission to identify the UK’s long-term infrastructure needs, including on flood defences. The next Labour Government will also introduce a new national adaptation plan across government to ensure that all sectors of the economy are adapting to climate change. This will build on the work on the adaptation sub-committee of the Committee on Climate Change, whose 2014 report underlined the importance of infrastructure resilience, the risks to businesses, well-being and public health, and emergency planning—especially in this area of flood risk.

The Government should introduce without further delay the Flood and Water Management Act’s provisions to require sustainable drainage in new development, as recommended by the Pitt review. They should also now evaluate whether local flood risk management arrangements are in place across the country, in line with this review. The adaptation sub-committee found that some funding provided by Defra to lead local flood authorities is being diverted to other council services. Statutory local flood-risk management strategies have yet to be published in many areas. Will the Minister initiate and publish an assessment on local action plans? Does he also regret the abolition of the Cabinet committee on improving the country’s ability

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to deal with flooding and the national resilience forums? In addition, does he agree that the Government should bring forward the reform of the water abstraction regime to encourage water efficiency and protect the environment?

The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, raised the issue of air quality, which was further taken up by the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, my noble friend Lord Berkeley and the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford. Air pollution in our towns and cities causes 29,000 people in the UK to die prematurely. Rather than simply devolving the responsibility to local authorities, making them liable to million-pound fines for exceeding EU air pollution limits, what are the Government doing to devolve the power to local authorities willing to take action against this public health crisis?

The next Labour Government will deliver a national framework for low emission zones to enable local authorities to tackle the problem by encouraging cleaner, greener and less polluting vehicles. Currently there is no such framework, despite the majority of councils calling for one. The next Labour Government will devolve the power, not just the responsibility, to take action against air pollution to local authorities. Can the Minister update the House on discussions with the EU Commission and other Governments to ensure that the EU delivers a widely reformed, tougher clean air package?

Transport-vehicle emissions are clearly critical in this regard. I certainly enjoyed the maiden contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, and hearing of his experiences drafting EU emissions standards, which I agree should not be set so that they damage British interests. The theme of further encouragement of good British innovation and development was taken up by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw.

Biodiversity and the importance of trees and wildlife were also key themes throughout the debate. Again, clearly the Minister’s department has struggled to provide the required leadership. The noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, highlighted the role of trees. Can the Minister update the House on the protections that his Government are now taking following the importation last year of diseased stock with ash dieback?

On wildlife protection, can the Minister update the House on legislation on the control of trade in endangered species? It is now nearly a year since his department conducted consultations. Does the Minister have any timing for when his department will bring forward measures to combat wildlife crime? Does his department have any plan to publish the report of the National Wildlife Crime Unit?

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, was keen to understand how cuts at Defra have undermined key services. He mentioned footpaths and green spaces. With important considerations of environmental concerns across government departments, how is the Minister’s department co-ordinating scarce resources so that the public purse can be leveraged to meet important considerations, as has been debated today?

1.33 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord De Mauley) (Con): My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Bakewell

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of Hardington Mandeville for raising a range of important matters today. I warmly welcome the chance to discuss the importance of our natural environment, and the need to reduce emissions, improve green transport and protect wildlife and green spaces.

Most people agree that the environment is important for its own sake. In addition to this intrinsic value, we recognise that the environment provides a range of essential services to society. We all rely on it for our clean air, water, food, energy, opportunities for recreation, and for the contribution that it makes to our well-being. We are deeply committed to improving our natural environment. We have set out that we want ours to be the first generation that leaves the natural environment of England in a better state than when we inherited it.

We know that our environmental goals are challenging and long term, and that they cannot be achieved easily or overnight. Furthermore, government cannot do this alone. We need individuals, businesses, farmers, land managers, community groups and NGOs to work together. We have put in place an ambitious programme of environmental policies to protect the environment for future generations, including bringing forward the first White Paper on the natural environment in 20 years. This has a strong focus on changing how we view the natural environment and on taking better account in decision-making of the many benefits that nature provides to people. We have already implemented the majority of the White Paper’s commitments, putting in place foundations for the longer term.

We are making progress in many areas. For example, our rivers and coastal bathing waters are getting cleaner. Background concentrations of key air pollutants, such as nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter, halved in the 20 years up to 2012. We have introduced marine plans for the first time and greatly increased the network of marine-protected areas. We have supported the planting of more than 8 million trees, and woodland cover is at its highest level in 700 years. We have also recently published our pollinator strategy. Looking ahead, we will be investing more than £3 billion from 2014 to 2020 to deliver environmental benefits through the new Rural Development Programme for England. This is in fact a larger share of the overall budget than previously.

My noble friend Lady Bakewell raised the need to reduce emissions, about which we can all strongly agree. The UK is committed under the Climate Change Act to cut emissions by 80% by 2050 and the Government take this extremely seriously. We want to make sure that the UK makes a cost-effective transition to that target. We were pleased to be able to announce in February last year that the UK had met the first carbon budget for the period 2008 to 2012. Furthermore, the latest published projections show that the UK is on track to meet the next two carbon budgets, up to 2022. The Act has helped drive the UK to reduce emissions by almost a quarter since 1990. The Climate Change Act was the first of its kind. Almost 500 climate laws have now been passed in 66 of the largest emitting countries around the world.

My noble friend Lady Bakewell also mentioned green transport. It is well recognised that air quality can affect people’s health, which is why we are investing

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heavily in measures to improve it. We have committed £2 billion to increase the uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles, sustainable travel and green transport initiatives. Overall, air quality has improved significantly in recent decades and the UK currently meets the EU limits for almost all pollutants—though of course we recognise that more needs to be done.

We are also taking action for England’s wildlife through our biodiversity 2020 strategy. For example, since 2010 we have set in hand the creation of nearly 150,000 acres of wildlife habitat, such as field margins, wetlands and woodlands. As part of our strategy, we have established a new, more joined-up approach to conservation—to which my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer referred—through the 12 government-funded nature improvement areas, which are now starting to deliver real improvements on the ground.

Earlier, I mentioned the essential services that nature provides. One important example, to which I have already briefly referred, is pollinators. We are taking action to support bees and other pollinators through our national pollinator strategy, launched in November. The strategy includes actions to improve habitats for pollinators across all land uses in England, enhance our response to pests and diseases, and improve our evidence base, particularly on the current status of pollinators and trends. We have also established a local green-space designation within the planning regime to enable communities to identify green areas of particular importance to them for special protection. My noble friend Lord Greaves referred to that.

I will now address some of the matters raised by noble Lords during the debate. My noble friend Lady Bakewell spoke of allowable solutions and zero-carbon homes. The Government consider that retrofitting existing properties with energy-efficiency measures could indeed be an allowable solution that housebuilders can support in order to contribute to the zero-carbon homes target that will be introduced from 2016. New homes from 2016 will still have to meet minimum energy performance requirements, which will be more demanding than those currently required by building regulations.

The noble Baroness spoke about energy efficiency and listed buildings, particularly those with thatched roofs and those unable to take double glazing. Green Deal assessors are trained to assess the energy efficiency needs of all property types and to make recommendations suited to the building, including listed buildings or those with a thatched roof. If a Green Deal plan is put in place, there are specific requirements within the code of practice for Green Deal providers to ensure that the energy-efficient measures are suitable for older or traditional-style buildings.

My noble friend Lord Selborne mentioned the Aichi targets for biodiversity, which form part of the Convention on Biological Diversity strategic plan agreed in 2010. The UK has reported to the convention on its implementation of this plan. The report set out that we are making progress in most areas of the five strategic goals of the plan with substantial progress in some areas. My noble friend asked about the Natural Capital Committee, which we established to advise us on the sustainable use of natural assets and on our priorities for action to improve and protect nature. It

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is intended to support a transformation in the way we view and value our natural assets. Its third report is due on 27 January. The Government will consider it carefully when it is received before deciding on their response.

My noble friend spoke about hydrogen in the context of transport. We are technology neutral, and we believe that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have a potential role to play alongside battery electric vehicles and plug-in vehicles. In October, we launched the hydrogen technology advancement programme which will see investment from government and industry in new and upgraded hydrogen refuelling stations and support the deployment of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles in public sector fleets. My noble friend Lord Callanan, whose maiden speech we all enjoyed so much, will be pleased that these will contribute to growth and exports in those areas.

My noble friend Lady Miller and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, spoke about bats. What is needed is for wildlife and humans to be able to exist in harmony. It is about balance. I am unconvinced that the Private Member’s Bill that my noble friend referred to will achieve that. She will be pleased to hear that we have worked closely with the churches. I visited a church in Norfolk where the damage was very extensive indeed. I am pleased that we have been making important progress with equipment using light and sound to move bats to places where they do less damage. I will look at the railway problem that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, raised.

My noble friend Lord Bradshaw was one of several noble Lords who focused on air pollution. He is right that emissions from small diesel engines of the type used to power mobile refrigeration units are not currently regulated. The European Commission recently published a proposal to revise the legislation related to exhaust emissions from engines used to power small diesel engines of this type. That proposal, if adopted, would bring those engines into scope. The revision is currently in the early stages of negotiation in the Council and we are considering the proposal, but the general consensus among member states is favourable towards it. My noble friend’s solution is interesting. It is primarily for industry to take forward, but I would be very interested to see the papers he offered.

My noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, raised the matter of low emission zones. We are working with local authorities on the feasibility and design of such zones and have provided guidance, such as on what vehicles should be covered and what emission standards they should meet. So far, London, Oxford, Norwich and Brighton have introduced low emission zones. While the main reason for poor air quality is vehicle pollution, sources vary from place to place, so measures need to be tailored to local circumstances. My noble friend raised a point about adequate notice, and I take it.

My noble friend Lord Framlingham and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, spoke about trees. As my noble friend kindly acknowledged, I share his passion for trees. I should perhaps declare an interest as I planted 50,000 of them in 2004-05. The forestry and woodlands policy statement sets out our vision for the future of

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England’s forests, based around the core hierarchy of protecting, improving and expanding our national woodland resources. We have made plant health one of Defra’s highest priorities and taken steps to improve biosecurity through, for example, our biosecurity strategy and our tree health action plan as well as our plant health risk register, which now assesses upwards of 700 pests and pathogens. We have also worked hard on enhanced contingency planning. We have supported the planting of more than 8 million trees, 1 million of them in urban areas, and England now has 10% woodland cover—the highest level in 700 years.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, asked about local green space. The important thing is that it is for communities to decide. It would typically be land that is in reasonably close proximity to the community it serves, is local in character and holds a particular significance for that community—for example, because of its beauty, historic significance, recreational value, tranquillity or richness in wildlife. Local green spaces should be designated when a local or neighbourhood plan is prepared, and they are potentially a very powerful tool for communities. Many communities that are preparing neighbourhood plans are seeking to designate green or open areas of significance to them as local green space.

The noble Lord also spoke of the impact of local authority budgets on rights of way. It is the responsibility of local authorities to complete maps of rights of way. Through the Deregulation Bill, we are introducing a streamlined process for recording them to reduce the burden on local authorities in managing this work.

My noble friend Lord Borwick spoke of the effect of air pollution on lungs. Evidence linking air pollution with adverse effects on the respiratory and cardiovascular systems continues to accumulate, and the review by the World Health Organization also notes emerging evidence suggesting a possible association with adverse effects on other body systems, including the endocrine system and the nervous system. The World Health Organization has concluded that the evidence suggests that ambient concentrations of nitrogen dioxide have direct effects, particularly on respiratory outcomes.

My noble friend asked when we will respond to the Economic Affairs Committee report. I anticipate that, in line with the usual timetable, we will be responding in February. I can confirm that of course my department works very closely with the Department for Transport, the Department of Health, the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department of Energy and Climate Change and Public Health England on air quality.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, suggested an interpretation of the proposals that could lead to a downgrading of the local air quality monitoring network. The aim of our review is to reduce administrative burdens to free local authority time and resources so that they can focus on taking action to address air quality. It is important that the consultation proposes the removal of the requirement in regulations for local authorities to report on four pollutants that have been well within limits for many years, and monitoring them will remain at national level. The second part contains a number of proposals to do with improvements

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to guidance and includes proposals to streamline the local air quality management reporting system for local authorities.

My noble friend Lady Janke spoke of her pride at Bristol having been awarded the title of the European Green Capital of the year. It is the first UK city to have this title. I share her pride in that. It recognises that great city’s environmental performance and vision. We are pleased to be supporting Bristol as the European Green Capital with some extra funding to be invested in a range of projects that will help Bristol remain at the centre of green investment and urban sustainability. We wish Bristol every success with the year’s programme of activities.

My noble friend Lady Ludford raised a number of suggestions for Defra, and I will raise them with my honourable friend Dan Rogerson, the Minister responsible. We are very keen to work in partnership with local authorities and the Commission to avoid any prospect of fines levied from the infraction that she referred to. The main reason for not achieving limit values for nitrogen dioxide is the failure of EU emission standards for diesel engines to deliver the expected emission reductions in real-world driving conditions, and the Commission acknowledges that.

The increase in the number of diesel cars has, of course, exacerbated the problem. All member states, including the UK, are facing difficulties in addressing air pollution. In 2012, 17 out of 27 member states were non-compliant with the annual mean nitrogen dioxide limit value. We are compliant with EU legislation for nearly all air pollutants, although we still face a significant challenge in meeting the nitrogen dioxide limit and we are working very hard on that.

The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, should know that defence against floods is alive and well among Defra’s strategic priorities. That is why we have introduced an unprecedented six-year plan, to which more than £2 billion has been pledged.

If I have not been able to address noble Lords’ points and questions I will, of course, write to them. We remain deeply committed to improving our natural environment, which is a vital foundation to both our economy and our future well-being. We know that our environmental goals and ambitions are challenging and long-term. We also know that there is much more to be done and that it will require support from others, not just government. We have put an ambitious programme of environmental policies in place to protect the environment for future generations and we will continue to strive, with a wide range of people and organisations, to ensure that it is achieved.

1.51 pm

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his very comprehensive reply. There was a great deal of detail in his response to Members’ questions. I also thank all those who have taken part in this very wide-ranging debate. I have been very heartened that we all seem to be on the same page, even if we are covering slightly different subjects. Everyone seems to agree that we need to do something about climate change and work together to

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make that happen. In particular, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, on his maiden speech, and I look forward to his contributions in future.

I was particularly heartened by the speeches about trees and to hear about the TDAG. I will look further into that organisation. A lot of noble Lords spoke about air pollution: trees are essential in helping us deal with air quality. I will not mention every speaker by name or go through all their speeches because we would be here for ever, but I thank everyone for taking part.

Motion agreed.

NHS: Accident and Emergency Services

Question for Short Debate

1.53 pm

Asked by The Lord Bishop of St Albans

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the pressures facing accident and emergency services.

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I come to this debate not as a doctor with specialist medical knowledge nor with any special insights into the complex processes which hospital managers have to manage. I approach it as someone from an institution, the church, which has been concerned for healing, in its broadest sense, from its very foundation and I live opposite what is left of the great medieval monastery of St Albans, which for centuries was a centre of healing, with its infirmary and herbarium. In my present role, I have regular contact with the hospitals across Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Luton and Barnet, which make up the diocese of St Albans.

I also come as someone who has received the benefits of A&E departments in my own family. Not many years ago, my eldest nephew was diagnosed with a brain tumour and had to have serious surgery on several occasions. Sadly, he has since died from the tumour. About five years ago, he and all the extended family were staying with me for Christmas and, in the early hours of Boxing Day, he had a fit. I remember vividly the intense panic as we were all roused out of sleep to find what was going on; as we waited anxiously for the ambulance, willing it to come because we all felt so helpless; as he was rushed into Watford General Hospital A&E department. What a relief it was, in that terrible time, to feel there were people around who knew what they were doing. I am well aware from talking to doctors and nurses and visiting hospitals that the widespread coverage in the media about A&E departments has not only been frustrating for many of those front-line people but profoundly demoralising. I pay tribute to all who work in such departments and thank them for their tireless service, not least those in Watford General Hospital.

The House will be aware that pressures on A&E services have been mounting over a number of years. While the NHS always faces pressures in the winter, these have been compounded by our ageing population.

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We now have 350,000 more over-75s than four years ago. This rise has occurred simultaneously with a significant increase in A&E attendances and a greater level of sickness among those who arrive, leading to an increase in emergency admissions of nearly 6% on last year. In my own diocese, the A&E departments are facing these challenges with varying degrees of success. For the week of 5 January, Watford General Hospital fell below the Government’s target of 95% of patients seen in four hours, while Luton and Dunstable University Hospital exceeded this target, in line with its track record as one of the top 10 trusts in the country.

What is causing this? Attendances are up, but the problems go much deeper. Reports have emerged of people in some places having difficulty getting appointments with their GPs. There have been discussions about changes in social care leaving some elderly and frail people without the necessary support. There are staff shortages and recruitment difficulties in A&E units. Many in your Lordships’ House will be aware of A&E’s three main areas of activity: triage, treatment and referral. Problems tend to arise in bottlenecks at the triage and referral stages. Effective triage is compromised by the presence of patients whose needs do not fit the current services offered in A&E departments. Until quite recently, these individuals were often referred to as “inappropriate attenders”, but current research suggests that it is not the patients who are inappropriate, but the services that emergency departments provide. Estimates vary that between 15% and 40% of patients require services other than those offered by an emergency department and it is the presence of these patients that creates part of the bottleneck at the triage stage.

At the other end, efficient referral after treatment is compromised by problems in bed allocation in acute medical and surgical wards as well as by accessing appropriate services. In many cases, A&E doctors admit patients for further diagnostic tests or when the additional expertise of medical or surgical staff is required. Around 20% of referrals from A&E to acute wards involve patients whose conditions could be treated appropriately by their GPs or in the community. Up to 40% of patients referred to acute wards are discharged within a few hours of admission. The Department of Health says that the effective management of the flow of patients through the health system is at the heart of reducing unnecessary emergency admissions and managing those patients who are admitted. The problem is how to identify how this can best be done.

Much of the debate in the other place has, not surprisingly, been highly politicised because we are approaching an election. I hope that, in this debate, this House can stand back and take a more dispassionate view, drawing especially on the huge knowledge and experience of some noble Lords who have intimate, personal working experience in the National Health Service. I hope that we can set this debate in a slightly wider and longer term context. Certainly, it needs to be set against the background that A&E services across Europe are facing similar challenges.

Until recently, some emphasis has been placed on attempts to demagnetise emergency departments, even though it has long been established that this tactic meets with little success. Both self-referrals and referrals

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from GPs willing to short cut protocols have resulted in increased numbers of patients presenting for treatment. Some 20% of A&E patients decide to attend a day in advance, the majority do not consider going first to their GPs, and 80% fail to make use of advice services such as NHS Direct. While there has been a change in people’s expectations and preparedness to wait for an appointment with their GP, we must not overstate the extent to which A&E services are being clogged up by misuse. The vast majority of A&E users are not inappropriate attenders; that is to say, they should be within the health service.

Recently, some pilot projects have begun to change the range of services available in A&E departments. For example, some GPs co-locate in emergency departments as primary care physicians while others locate out-of-hours GP services adjacent to A&E departments. Other GP practices have supplemented NHS Direct with their own telephone consultation services, enabling patients to speak with their own doctors. There is growing evidence over the past decade that these approaches relieve pressure on A&E staff and enable efficient triaging at the front door. Similarly, pilot projects that locate acute medical and surgical staff in or approximate to A&E departments at peak times have enabled improved patient flow as additional diagnostic expertise has resulted in inappropriate admissions to acute wards being minimised. Co-location of acute assessment units has also enabled patients to be monitored and assessed without them either remaining in A&E or by being admitted to acute wards. These approaches require strong leadership, close co-operation among health professionals, focus on patient care and strategic implementation. What more can be done to enable every hospital to have its own 24-hour GP practice?

Ultimately, resolving the current and on-going A&E crisis involves a systematic change to the ways in which health and social care are organised. Access to good social and community care can relieve pressure on GPs, enabling them to play a greater, proactive role in emergency medicine. Allied with a willingness to break down barriers within hospitals between emergency departments and acute wards, strain on A&E staff can be alleviated and patient experience improved. I hope that this debate will play a small part in exploring the complex reasons for the current problems and help us in addressing the challenges facing A&E departments today.

2.03 pm

Lord McColl of Dulwich (Con): My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for initiating this important debate. He has set exactly the right tone—let us keep petty party politics out of this and concentrate on the patients. It is important to stress that the staff in A&E departments—nurses, doctors and administrators—are doing a very good job indeed under difficult circumstances. Having worked a lot myself in accident and emergency departments, I know only too well how difficult it is. Patients come in, one is not sure what is going wrong with them, and it takes a little while to sort them out.

There were some political shenanigans some years ago when there were complaints about people waiting on trolleys far too long in casualty. I produced a paper

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when I worked in No. 10 entitled

Off Your Trolley

. The answer was that if you are really ill and they do not know what is wrong with you, stay in the casualty department where all the expertise is—the expert equipment and the doctors and nurses—until an accurate diagnosis has been made. If it worries people that they are on trolleys, they should take the wheels off after 20 minutes and the trolleys will then constitute a bed, so people will not fuss about it.

Things have improved enormously in this service from the days when I first worked in casualty. I remember once going through the accident and emergency department of a hospital that shall be nameless, where there was a man groaning on a trolley. I went up to him and asked how he was, and he said, “I’m in terrible pain in my shoulder, it’s dislocated, I’ve been here for three hours and I have not seen anyone”. I said, “I could put you in a very comfortable position where you’d be free of pain. Would you like that? I’m not working in the department, but we can get on and do it”. So I put him on his face with his arm hanging over the side of the trolley and the moment when he was in that position he said, “Ah, I’m free of pain”. I said, “Now you’re free of pain, the muscles will relax and the thing may go back on its own, without any anaesthetic—so you go off to sleep and I’ll come back in half an hour and see how things are”. When I came back, he was sound asleep and snoring, so I crept up on him and very gently manipulated the arm. Suddenly, clunk, it went back—and he woke up and said, “Oh, it’s gone back”. I said, “Yes, you can go home now, but perhaps we ought to tell somebody what we’ve been doing”. Things are much better than that now, because we have rapid assessment. Somebody senior goes around the A&E departments, assessing things quickly, so that sort of thing no longer happens.

There has been an enormous increase in the number of people attending, and we do not know why. As we do not know why, it is quite wrong to start blaming any group of people. It is very demoralising if you are a doctor, nurse or administrator working for the NHS and people start attacking and accusing you of this and that when they really do not know the cause of the increase in the work. What is true is that more resources are being put in and more staff are being recruited, which is good news. But we must stop blaming people and pointing the finger. The blame culture has to go, and we have to be more constructive.

What is the answer? Preventive medicine is one of the great emphases in the Department of Health, and it certainly helps. We have the worst epidemic that we have had for 95 years in this country—the obesity epidemic—and we need to get people thinned down. They have to eat less and take more exercise. We have to improve people’s health, which will tend to reduce the problem. But we also have to have an alternative way of funding the NHS.

2.07 pm

Baroness Gale (Lab): My Lords, I, too, thank the right reverend Prelate for bringing this important debate before us today. I may take a slightly different angle from other noble Lords. We are all aware of the problems

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facing accident and emergency services, but the current pressures on them are exacerbated by a consistent failure to properly support people with long-term conditions such as Parkinson’s, both before and after hospital admission.