The Environment Bill will now progress to Committee stage, having passed its second reading by MPs last week unopposed. There was broad support for the Bill, though MPs raised a broad range of questions and concerns.
Key points of debate on water included: abstraction reform; powers to force water companies to improve sewer overflows; leakage; the private ownership model; enforcement powers; Water Framework Directive regulation weakening [LINK TO GREENER UK STORY]; the lack of water consumption reduction actions [LINK TO PCC STORY]; drought; chalk stream health; and ensuring sufficient funding for water transfers.
Common concerns beyond water related to the Office for Environmental Protection’s independence and funding, as well as how the green improvements targets system and biodiversity nets gain will work. SNP shadow environment spokesperson Deirdre Brock commented: “Of course, this thing will ultimately pass – no one is going to vote down an environment Bill – but it really is not what is needed.”
The Second Reading debate was opened by environment secretary, Theresa Villiers, and closed by environment minister, Rebecca Pow. Pow said: “The substance of this debate is the greatest issue of our time. The Environment Bill will make a much needed step change to protect and enhance our environment. There are big ambitions in the Bill, and rightly so. We must talk about all the issues in Committee, and I hope that everyone will join in. This is a transformative Bill that will give a whole new approach to environmental protection and enhancement.”
The Bill was first introduced to Parliament three weeks ago. It features measures to improve water and air quality, tackle plastic pollution and restore habitats; legally-binding environmental improvement targets; the creation of a new Office for Environmental Protection; enshrining environmental principles in law; new powers for Ofwat; and putting the 25 Year Environment Plan on a statutory footing.