Lords agrees improvements to Environment Bill
10 November 2021
The House of Lords agreed Commons changes to the Environment Bill on Tuesday 9 November, including proposed compromises on reducing the impact of sewage discharges into rivers and coastal waters, and courts' powers to enforce the new law.
This followed the House of Lords asking the Commons to think again on these areas, and Commons acceptance of Lords changes to reduce single-use items at an earlier stage of the bill's progress through parliament.
The draft law has now received Royal Assent and become an Act of Parliament. During the course of its progress, the House of Lords has considered more than 300 changes at committee stage, where members go through the bill line by line. At report stage, the Lords voted to include 14 changes on topics including sewage, air quality targets and protecting ancient woodland and pollinators, plus changes put forward by the government.
Summing up the debate, Environment Minister Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park said:
'This is a landmark Environment Bill, the benefits of which will undoubtedly be felt by future generations both in the UK and, as a result of, for example, our due diligence legislation and more besides, internationally. I thank your Lordships for the collaborative and expert manner in which you have approached this Bill. Your constructive support and knowledge have been invaluable in enabling the passage of this Bill and making it better than when it first came to this House.'
Explore further information on the new law
Read background on the draft law in the House of Lords Library Environment Bill briefing.
The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee examines bills to ensure any power they give to ministers to make SIs is appropriate. Read its report on the Environment Bill.
The Constitution Committee examines the constitutional implications of bills coming before the House. Find out more about its report on the Environment Bill.
Progress of the draft law through the House of Lords
Consideration of Commons amendments: Tuesday 9 November
Consideration of Commons amendments: Tuesday 26 October
The proposed changes (PDF) covered subjects including:
- air quality targets
- soil quality
- independence and powers of the Office for Environmental Protection
- protection of pollinators
- discharge of untreated sewage into rivers.
The House of Commons has previously accepted a Lords amendment on extending measures to reduce single-use items.
Members voted on five further changes to the Bill, which were put forward in lieu of Lords amendments rejected by the Commons.
The first vote was an amendment to make soil quality a priority, with targets set against it.
Members voted 114 in favour and 207 against, so the change was not made.
The second vote was an amendment to secure targets for the annual mean level of PM2.5 in ambient air.
Members voted 202 in favour and 210 against, so the change was not made.
Office for Environmental Protection (OEP)
The third vote was on an amendment to ensure that the OEP had sufficient independence to allow it to fulfil its function of holding public authorities, including ministers, to account in relation to breaches of environmental law.
Members voted 223 in favour and 172 against, so the change was made.
Non-compliance with environment law
The fourth vote required a court to consider the nature of non-compliance, the impact of its decision and other relevant matters when deciding to grant a remedy for non-compliance.
Members voted 207 in favour and 172 against, so the change was made.
The final vote puts a duty on water companies to take all reasonable steps to reduce the impact of untreated sewage discharges from storm overflows into inland and coastal waters.
Members voted 213 in favour and 60 against, so the change was made.
Third reading: Wednesday 13 October
Third reading is the chance for members to ‘tidy up' a bill, making any small changes to ensure it is effective.
No changes to the wording of the bill were put forward ahead of third reading. Members discussed the progress of the bill through the House at the conclusion of Lords stages.
Report stage overview
Report stage is an extra chance for members to closely scrutinise elements of the bill and make changes.
During the course of this stage, members voted to make 14 changes to the draft law as well as accepting amendments proposed by the government. The areas members agreed to make changes on include:
- air quality targets
- declaring a climate and biodiversity emergency
- the independence of the Office for Environmental Protection
- protecting pollinators
- reducing single-use items
- ending harm to the environment from discharging untreated sewage into rivers
- protecting ancient woodland.
Report stage day four: Wednesday 15 September
There were four divisions (votes) on proposed amendments to the bill.
The first vote was on amendment 99, which ensures that powers to amend Habitats Regulations may only be used following consulation for the protection for important habitats, sites and species as well as overall environmental protection.
Members voted 201 in favour and 186 against, so the change was made.
The second vote was on amendment 100, which seeks to protect more than 800 ancient woodlands threatened by development through strenghthening current planning policy.
Members voted 193 in favour and 189 against, so the change was made.
The third vote was on amendment 108A, which ensures a review of the efficacy of deforestation provisions at the earliest opportunity.
Members voted 183 in favour and 177 against, so the change was made.
The final vote was on amendment 110, which adds formality to the process of creating a conservation covenant to reflect the serious, long-term nature of the commitments being made, and include provisions regarding the obligation and consideration due to landowners.
Members voted 162 in favour and 144 against, so the change was made.
Report stage day three: Monday 13 September
There were four divisions (votes) on proposed changes to the bill.
Single use materials
The first vote was on amendment 40, which enables regulations to be
made on charges for single use items, including plastic. This would provide the government with a tool to address single use culture and prevent existing materials being replaced by alternatives which cause environmental harm.
Members voted with 203 in favour and 167 against, so the change was made.
Application of pesticides
The second vote was on amendment 52, which requires the government to prohibit the application of chemical pesticides near buildings and open spaces used by residents and members of the public, in order to improve air quality and protect human health.
Members voted 52 in favour and 174 against, so the change was not made.
Protection of pollinators
The third vote was on amendment 53, which fixes a gap in the pesticide authorisation process which currently omits any assessment of the long-term effects of pesticides on honey bees and other wild pollinators.
Members voted 189 in favour and 177 against, so the change was made.
The final vote was on amendment 60, which aims to eliminate the harm caused to the environment and human health by the discharge of untreated sewage into rivers, and ensures agencies use their powers of enforcement to prevent this.
Members voted 184 in favour and 147 against, so the change was made.
Report stage day two: Wednesday 8 September
Members speaking discussed subjects from the amendment list and voted on three changes to the bill.
The first vote was on amendment 11, which ensures the government has a duty to meet any interim targets they set relating to environmental strategy.
Members voted with 203 in favour and 181 against, so the change was made.
The second vote was on amendment 20, which removes exceptions for armed forces, defence policy, tax, spending and resources to have due regard to the policy statement on environmental principles.
Members voted with 184 in favour and 182 against, so the change was made.
Office of Environmental Protection
The third vote was amendment 24, which ensures the Office of Environmental Protection (OEP) is as independent as possible.
Members voted with 180 in favour and 151 against, so the change was made.
The final vote was on amendment 27, which removes restrictions on the discretion of the court to grant a remedy where the court finds there to be a breach of environmental law. The bar on awarding damages to the OEP is retained.
Members voted 153 and 143 against, so the change was made.
Members also agreed to government amendments including on parliamentary scrutiny of guidance to the enforcement policy of the Office for Environmental Protection.
Report stage day one: Monday 6 September
Biodiversity and climate emergency
The first was on a change (amendment 1) declaring a climate and biodiversity emergency, domestically and globally, as soon as reasonably practicable.
Members voted 209 in favour and 179 against, so the change was made.
The second vote was on a change (amendment 2) to ensure soil health and quality are a priority area for environmental improvement.
Members voted 209 in favour and 166 against, so the change was made.
The third vote was on a change (amendment 4) which requires PM2.5 air quality targets, so far as practicable, to follow World Health Organization guidelines, with an attainment deadline of 2030 at the latest.
Members voted 181 in favour and 159 against, so the change was made.
The final vote was on a change (amendment 8) requiring the Secretary of State to introduce a target for reducing plastic pollution and the volume of non-essential single-use products (including but not limited to plastics) in circulation in the economy and society.
Members voted 81 in favour and 107 against, so the change was not made.
Members also accepted a government change (amendment 6) which requires the Secretary of State to set environmental targets that would halt a decline in the abundance of species.
Members considered more than 300 changes during line by line scrutiny of the bill committee stage over eight days.
Committee stage day eight: Wednesday 14 July
Members put forward changes (PDF) (amendments) to consider at committee stage.
Members speaking on day eight discussed a wide range of subjects from the list of changes, including:
- monitoring marine environments and researching the impact of offshore windfarms
- banning fracking
- creating economic goals to deliver environmental protections
- supporting the creation of an international crime of 'ecocide'
- assessing local authorities abilities to deliver schemes in the bill.
Committee stage day seven: Monday 12 July
Members speaking on day seven discussed a wide range of subjects from the list of changes, including:
- species conservation strategies
- protection of national parks
- protection of forests and ancient woodland, and preventing the importing of tree diseases
- creating a tree strategy in England with targets for protection, restoration and expansion of trees and woodland
- monitoring marine environment data.
Committee stage day six: Wednesday 7 July
Members speaking discussed changes on a range of issues, including:
- improvement of wastewater treatment, reporting of discharges into rivers and requiring grey water systems in new buildings
- changes to water abstraction licenses
- water quality standards and measures to reduce household water demand
- biodiversity gains in infrastructure projects and requiring public authorities to act to conserve and enhance biodiversity.
Committee stage day five: Monday 5 July
Members speaking discussed changes on a range of subjects including:
- accelerating the start of a deposit return scheme
- prohibiting the export of plastics
- requiring supermarkets to reduce food waste by at least half by 2030
- improving air quality, including reducing speed limits and regulating use of pesticides
- plans for ensuring the supply of water and management of sewage.
Committee stage day four: Wednesday 30 June
Members speaking discussed changes on a wide range of subjects including:
- the role and powers of the Office for Environmental Protection, including the ability to issue financial penalties to public authorities that do not comply with decisions
- expanding the definition of ‘natural environment’, which the bill aims to protect, to include soil and marine environments
- clearer marking on products that are not flushable
- reimbursing landowners, such as farmers, for removal of fly-tipped waste and extending the ‘polluter pays’ principle to fly-tipping
- accelerating the roll-out of a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles.
Committee stage day three: Monday 28 June
Members speaking on day three discussed changes on a wide range of subjects including:
- requiring all government bodies to consider environmental impacts
- removing exceptions for the armed forces and other bodies
- requirements relating to Scotland and Wales
- creation of an independent Commissioner for Environmental Protection.
Committee stage day two: Wednesday 23 June
Members speaking discussed changes on a wide rage of subjects including:
- requiring targets for reduction of plastic packaging, improving air quality and species abundance
- strengthening environmental improvement plans by introducing minimum requirements
- changes to the creation and management of targets specified in the bill, including more frequent monitoring and evaluating reasons why targets are not being met.
Committee stage day one: Monday 21 June
Members speaking discussed changes on topics including:
- defining the purpose of the bill
- making cleaning up rivers a priority
- targets for marine biodiversity, reducing resource usage, increasing public access to the natural environment and tackling light pollution.
Second reading: Monday 7 June
Members debated the main areas of the bill at second reading.
The bill was welcomed but members argued for stronger provisions to address the urgent challenge of climate change. In particular in relation to issues including:
- the marine environment and water quality
- air quality and transport policy
- depleted biodiversity.
Targets and powers
Many members questioned how the government will ensure the bill's targets will be met, in light of previous missed targets. They said specific interim targets (as well as long term targets) would be needed to hold the government to account.
Thay also highlighted the need to give the Office for Environmental Protection (OFP) sufficient powers to fulfil its role.
Storm damage and decline of nature
- reduce the harm from storm overflows to rivers, waterways and coastlines
- require a legally binding target on species abundance for 2030 to halt the decline of nature (acting on the recommendations of the Dasgupta Review).
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