Environment secretary, George Eustice, opened the Second Reading of the Environment Bill last Wednesday, following its introduction on 30 January. This was the first opportunity for MPs to debate the new Bill.
In a briefing for MPs, Greener UK and the Wildlife and Countryside Link coalition said while there were welcome measures, “considered as a whole, the bill does not achieve what has been promised: gold standard legislation, showing global leadership for responding to the environmental crisis, and a world-leading watchdog”. It urged: “Support from all sides of the House will be required to ensure that the bill is improved, helping to halt the loss of nature, reverse decades of environmental decline and set our environment on a pathway to significant improvement.”
Among the aspects it urged MPs to raise in debate were:
Improving how targets are set and met.
greater Parliamentary oversight of Office of Environmental Protection board appointments and the budget.
Inclusion of a substantive commitment to non-regression of environmental law.
wholesale reform of the clauses on environmental principles.
On water specifically, Greener UK called for:
the bill to include a power to establish ‘no abstraction zones’ around priority freshwater habitats where there is evidence of damage by abstraction;
a shorter timeframe for action (currently action is for 2028) for Clause 80, to improve water abstraction, given the pressure on globally important chalk streams;
Clause 81, which is a wide ranging power to amend the regulations that implement the Water Framework Directive, to be deleted or amended to ensure that targets and standards cannot be weakened without thorough public consultation and scientific advice; and
the Bill to tackle water consumption. “It must lead to a target for rapid and sustainable reduction in water consumption, both household and non-household. Anything less will be a significant missed opportunity, as the next legislative vehicle to deliver this may be several years away.” Following the Reading, Waterwise confirmed Clauses 49 and 50 “can be used to introduce mandatory water labelling linked to minimum standards across the four countries of the UK, if the governments choose to do so”.
The Environment Bill sets out how the government plans to protect and improve the natural environment in the UK, including by:
• transforming environmental governance and putting environmental principles into law;
• establishing the new independent Office for Environmental Protection to hold the government to account on the environment; and
• introducing legally binding targets to drive action by this and all future governments to significantly improve air quality, nature, water, and resource and waste efficiency.
The Bill next moves to Committee Stage, with Report Stage and Third Reading to follow, before transferring to the House of Lords for further scrutiny.