The Environment Bill has been delayed for a third time in an unexpected move this week in the House of Commons.
The reporting stage in the House of Commons was deferred last year due to COVID-19 and scheduled to recommence on the 1 December, but was postponed again to the 26 January for the same reason. This week it was deferred for the third time, with an announcement that it will not return to parliament until spring at the earliest, with the prospect that it will not gain Royal Assent before the autumn.
Ministers have stated this unexpected third deferral was due to parliamentary timetabling – the delays last year have left little time for debate and if the original schedule was followed there would be a risk of the bill failing, and subsequently returning to ‘square one’.
Five amendments were debated this week ahead of the hiatus, all of which were rejected. The amendments pertained to minimum levels of protection concerning hazardous wastes, the setting of a ‘nature target’, air quality, substances that may harm bees and the Office for Environmental Protection’s reviewing powers.
Most important body of green legislation in decades
The Environment Bill, arguably the most important body of green legislation in decades, contains the powers necessary to instigate measures set out in the Resources and Waste Strategy, such as reforming the UK packaging producer responsibility system and introducing consistent household recycling collections - critical now that the UK has left the EU.
Although much of the substance has been transposed from EU Directives, significant amendments have been made in a multitude of areas – including air pollution and water quality. Defra have stated that they are going ahead with their EPR consultation timetable, on the assumption that by the time EPR is implemented all the primary legislation will finally be in place via the Environment Bill.
Disappointment and concern
Green campaigners and stakeholders alike have expressed disappointment and concern over this. The Guardian reports that Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK, stated “Time and time again the government tells us that ‘urgent action’ is needed to restore nature, that it will ‘build back greener’ and that we can’t afford to ‘dither and delay’. What then is it playing at by delaying the most important piece of environmental legislation for decades?”
Defra Minister Rebecca Pow has said “We remain fully committed to the environment bill as a key part of delivering the government’s manifesto commitment to create the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth. Carrying over the bill to the next session […] does not diminish our ambition for our environment in any way.”
A significant challenge
Despite this, the UK has been without concrete environmental legislation for four years, so expediency now will be crucial. Head of policy at Ecosurety, Robbie Staniforth, commented "We understand the pressures on parliamentary time, but it is important to remember that at its heart, this bill fills a policy void caused by the EU exit, which we knew about many years ago."
"We keep our fingers crossed that this pause will not slow down the Government's work on important secondary legislation, underneath the bill, that will improve producer responsibility in the UK. The timelines set in the Resource and Waste Strategy of 2018 look to be a significant challenge to meet with every passing day."
If you have any questions surrounding the Environment Bill, or any other policy related queries impacting producers, please do not hesitate to contact us.
As Policy advisor Louisa provides key support to our team, including preparing reports on environmental policy issues and maintaining awareness of new developments. As such she will often be found coordinating responses to policy consultations, advocating policy positions and providing internal guidance to current legislation.