House of Lords debates Environment Bill

On the House of Lords’ first full day after summer recess, members met to debate the Environment Bill on Monday (6 September).

The Environment Bill is currently being discussed in the House of Lords

The Environment Bill is currently in its report stage in the House of Lords, which gives members the chance to discuss amendments, which are later considered again in the Commons.

The bill’s movement through parliament has been delayed multiple times but is now due to receive royal assent later this autumn.

Five amendments were tabled with three of them passed, including one tabled by Lord Teverson calling on the government to declare a climate emergency.

Other amendments passed related to air quality and soil targets. The Lords are due to meet three further times to discuss amendments, before they will be considered by the Commons and the bill receives royal assent.

Plastic

An amendment to introduce a separate plastics reduction strategy for England was put forward by Baroness Jones of Whitchurch, who claimed that current government action to reduce and recycle plastics has been “painfully slow and beset with delays”.

This was voted down by 81 votes in favour to 107.

Baroness Jones argued that her amendment on a plastics strategy is “necessary” as current UK legislation, and proposals in the bill, address only four of the top 10 types of plastic pollution.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch put forward the amendment to include a plastics strategy (Parliament TV)

She argued: “I acknowledge that the government have taken some action already… However, with the best will in the world, these issues are just the low-hanging fruit; they do not address the major causes of plastic pollution.”

Referring to the recent consultation launched on the banning of plastic cutlery (see letsrecycle.com story), the Baroness said England was moving slowly compared to other countries.

She continued: “The fact is that action on plastics so far has been painfully slow and beset by delays. As it stands, the Bill simply gives the Secretary of State powers to act on these issues; it does not set meaningful deadlines for change.”

Arguments

Conservative lord Viscount Trenchard argued not to “throw the baby out with the bath water” with plastics and said other materials should be included in any strategy proposed.

He said that while the plastics tax, scheduled to be introduced next year, should create an incentive for supplies to shift away from plastics, it will not “necessarily benefit the environment in all cases”.

He continued: “The carbon footprint released by the manufacture of glass and aluminium is around five times greater than that released by PET manufacturing. In other ways, too, PET has advantages over other substances for water and soft drinks bottles”.

He added that as far as the recycling of plastic bottles are concerned, an effective deposit return scheme (DRS) is the “answer”.

‘Profligate attitude’

In response to the amendment and further remarks, Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park said that the Government’s view is that publishing a separate plastics strategy “risks detracting from the action that it is taking now to achieve overarching circular economy ambitions”.

He added: “It is worth emphasising that our profligate attitude to resources is doing immeasurable harm to the natural world, and not just our use of plastic.”

Despite being asked to withdraw the amendment, it was put to the house and voted down.

Further debates

Other amendments put forward included one from Lady Young of Old Scone to set a targets on the decline in habitats, which was not moved.

A further one to brought forward by Baroness Jones looked to bring forward measures in the 25 year environment plan to October 2022 but this also was not moved.

Three other amendments were voted on including one put forward by Baroness Bennet of Manor Castle which would require soil health and quality to be listed as a “priority” for environmental improvement. This was also voted for,  with 209 in favour and 166 against.

Amendment 4, by Baroness Hayman of Ullock, wanted tighter air quality targets was also successful with with 181 in favour and 159 against. 

Other amendments relating to waste are set to be discussed this week, including proposals for a single design to be adopted for the government’s proposed mandatory recycling labelling, tabled by Lord Teverson.

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