Cathy Bakewell’s speech opening today’s debate on the natural environment, green transport and protecting wildlife

Baroness Bakewell
Baroness Bakewell

My Lords I am delighted to be able to lead this 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, this 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 infrastructure to make best use of green technology as it becomes available.

Some believe the effects of climate change are with us, others believe that is all just part of the nature cyclical process of the earth and can point to events in history which mirror our current predicaments.  There are those taking part in this 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.

Almost on a weekly basis we can see examples of global natural disasters on our television screens.  Whether it be excessive flood waters, extreme droughts or the melting of the Arctic Polar ice cap.  Last winter saw unprecedented rain fall in Britain resulting in distressing floods in Somerset, the land around the Thames and 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 -17C.  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 lathe & plaster ceilings down and flooding the downstairs to a depth of 3 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 the foul, smelly, muddy water brought by rain water flooding.  We were in temporary accommodation for six months.  Many of those flooded last year are still out of their homes.

I do, therefore, have first-hand experience of the effects of extreme changes of weather.

The Climate Change Act of 2008 has shown the benefit of a clear legislative framework to meet the country’s carbon emission reductions target. I am delighted that my Noble 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, coupled with a global climate change treaty to ensure the mechanisms are in place to meet targets.

A Nature Bill – introducing legal targets for biodiversity, clean air, clean water and establish the Natural Capital Committee in law.

My Lords the country must move towards becoming a Zero Waste Britain.  It is essential to reuse all our scare resources and create a “circular economy”.  It is not enough to just talk about this but 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 rubbish we currently produce.

A Green Transport Bill – this will set clear targets for when we see petrol and diesel driven cars being banned from using our roads, and for rail electrification as well as promoting cycling, walking and public transport.  Others of my 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 – this 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 Climate Change Committee.  It is also important that we look not just at measures to prevent climate change, but also how we protect our natural environment.

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;

Renewable heat linked to modern district heating, ultra-low emission vehicles, energy storage and CCS (carbon, capture and storage);

Continuing to apply Emissions Performance Standards (EPS) to existing coal plants from 2025 to guarantee that unabated coal generation ceases, and to stimulate innovation in CCS.

It will 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 and measures are already present to protect the environment, but these need strengthening to safeguard them for future generations.

In order to protect the environment it will be necessary to increase the penalties for enforcement and punishment of environmental crime such as deliberate water pollution and wildlife crime.  The proceeds for these increased penalties should be used to fund the National Wildlife Crime Unit and the sector of the Environmental Agency that tackles pollution related crime.

Everyone enjoys the country’s forests and it is important to provide continued support for the 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 the national forests and other publicly owned land, whilst 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.

Turning now 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 food 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 country wise.  We will commission a ‘Stern Report’ for reducing the UK’s consumption of natural resources, to facilitate the “circular economy”, facilitating waste minimisation and ensuring that only non-recyclable waste is incinerated, and argue for the faster development of EU sustainable design and production standards.  Coupled with this banning biodegradable waste from landfill by 2020 will be key.

My Lords 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 would scrap all the exemptions (SME’s, paper, etc.) associated with the ban.

My Lords lastly I turn to An Energy Saving and Renewable Heat Bill which invests in the future.

Measures included in this Bill will be low carbon infrastructure investment such as in heat networks, energy storage systems, hydrogen distribution and carbon disposal systems 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 them to regulate all heat forms and heat networks so they can provide, for example, protections for heat network customers and heating oil customers.

There will be new efficiency incentives to help people cut their energy bills permanently – for example, the vast majority of people will be able to cut their council tax bill when they invest in energy saving home improvements.

I am sure many of your Lordships live in areas where there are listed properties, some with thatched roofs and mullioned windows.  It is extremely difficult for these home owners or landlords to improve the energy efficiency without putting in double glazing and other measures not permitted by the Conservation Officers.  It is important that these properties do not become exclusively occupied by those with sufficient money to afford high heating bills.  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 for new higher energy efficiency standards within Buildings Regulations, for lighting, motors and cooling and ventilation products.  In addition new heat saving regulations will apply – for example, when people change their heating system, other low cost heat saving investments would become mandatory.

Ensuring that everyone, including those on very low incomes are helped to reduce their energy costs is essential.  There will be new long term legal targets for existing domestic homes, starting with social housing, then privately rented, then owner-occupier homes.  In the South Somerset area, the Housing providers already take steps to ensure that their homes are energy efficient, both in terms of new build and retrofit.  They know that if their tenants are able to reduce energy bills, they are more likely to be able to afford rents, buy food and live fulfilled lives.

My Lords, 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, would the Minister agree with me, that “Allowable Solutions” should include an obligation to retrofit another house?

The coalition government has 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 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 occupied homes to be at Band C by 2035. In all cases the standard would be subject to a “as far as reasonably practicable” test, as it is recognised that some houses cannot be brought up to Band C at reasonable cost.

My Lords 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 jointly work to develop a strategy to achieve increased energy savings, and the consequential economic savings, to match and then exceed the South West Average.”  This motion was supported locally by my colleague Duncan Hames, MP from the other place.

My Lords 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 – which is in embryonic form but applying for a Rural Community Energy Grant to start its feasibility study.  This Society, working on a similar model to that being used by the Plymouth Energy Society, hopes to raise share capital for its investments in businesses, schools and community facilities to enable them to have access to cheaper energy.

My Lords I am sure there will be many other similar examples throughout the country of local initiatives striving to cut energy costs and assist with climate change.

My Lords I look forward to the contributions of others in this debate and beg to move.

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