29 October 2019 by Joshua Doherty

Environment Bill ‘needs to continue’ despite election

The environment secretary Theresa Villiers has said the Environment Bill needs to continue regardless of when parliament dissolves for a general election.

The comments come as an early election in December looks likely as the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn today backed the proposal.

Villiers addressed MPs about the bill in its second hearing yesterday

Ms Villiers was speaking during the bill’s second reading in parliament yesterday (October 28), where MPs broadly backed the legislation but concerns were raised over a lack of detail, with claims the bill does not go far enough.

Preserved

After outlining how the bill will enshrine environmental protections into law, Ms Villiers was quizzed by Vernon Coaker, the Labour MP for Gedling, who asked how it will be preserved if an election takes place.

“I agree that this landmark proposed legislation needs to continue regardless of when parliament dissolves for a general election,” Villiers said in response.

She added: “It is vital that the Bill comes back to the House as soon as possible to ensure that we can embed in legislation the important protections it contains.”

The bill passed its second reading in a sitting which lasted around three hours, but opposition MPs said they will table amendments when the bill enters the committee stage.

“I agree that this landmark proposed legislation needs to continue regardless of when parliament dissolves for a general election”

Theresa Villiers

Bill

The bill was announced in the Queen’s Speech and outlined in parliament for the first time earlier this month (see letsrecycle.com story).

It includes measures such as powers to introduce more producer responsibility for waste, more consistent recycling collections, tackling waste crime and a bottle deposit return scheme.

The bill also aims to ensure the UK maintains and improves its environmental performance post-Brexit through the formation of the Office for Environmental Protection.

Objections

Among those to voice concerns was the shadow recycling minister Sandy Martin, who criticised the bill for not going far enough (see parliament video below).

The Labour MP for Ipswich, blasted the bill but said he will not oppose it yet so he can table amendments.

From a waste perspective, Mr Martin said the bill fails to tackle several issues which have impacted the sector.

He hit out at what he described as a lack of detail on how the government plans to “end the export of plastic waste to countries that don’t have the facilities to deal with it”, as well as funding local authorities and any government investment in infrastructure.

He said: “All the initiatives proposed in the Bill appear to depend on the private sector providing the finance, the investment, the facilities and even the administrators and scheme enforcement. Have the Government learned nothing from the fiasco of packaging recovery notes, which have done nothing to reduce waste or boost recycling?” he explained.

You can see Sandy Martin’s comments on the bill below (Parliament TV clip). 

Watchdog

Other opposition MPs also aired concerns, including Mary Creagh, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee. She expressed fears that the new watchdog will be not be effective.

“I am concerned that the watchdog is toothless…This Government have more experience in shutting watchdogs down—they scrapped the Royal ​Commission on Environmental Pollution and the Sustainable Development Commission—than in setting them up.”

Elsewhere, Mark Pawsey, Conservative MP for Rugby, focused on plastics legislation in the bill and said while he welcomes it, it’s important to consider wider impacts.

Among other things, he said it’s vital that consumers are also responsible for packaging waste and that the plastic tax doesn’t impact medical products, which are not allowed to contain recycled material.

He also stated he has many points that he will make in the committee stage of the bill.

Another Conservative MP, Phillip Dunne, criticised opposition MPs, saying that despite the wide cross-party consensus in favour of an environmental Bill, “they cannot bring themselves to congratulate the Government on bringing it forward.”

‘Big Ambitions’

Environment minister Rebecca Pow signed off the second hearing by labelling the bill as “a much-needed step change to protect and enhance our environment”.

“The substance of this debate is the greatest issue of our time,” she said.

Theresa Villiers (L) and resources minister Rebecca Pow

Ms Pow added: “The Bill will make a much-needed step change to protect and enhance our environment. I am sorry that I have not been able to deal with every single comment, but I will be happy to meet colleagues later—my door is always open.”

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