The Environment Bill, which was due to be back before Parliament on 26th January 2021, was further delayed following on the move to postpone it in December 2020. Prior to the pandemic, the Bill was making progress through Parliament and had been highly praised for the new measures added at the second reading to improve environmental standards now that the Brexit transition is complete. The Government removed it from the agenda at short notice confirming that it will not be raised again until the next parliamentary session meaning that Royal Assent will not happen before the Autumn of 2021.
The decision, which was taken due to the Covid-19 pandemic leaving little time for scrutiny in Parliamentary timetables, has raised significant concern about the delay> Many environmental organisations have warned that it will make it harder for the government to hit targets to improve water, reduce waste and protect wildlife. This will also delay the formation of a full Office of Environmental Protection until much later this year.
The Environment Minister, Rebecca Pow, said “carrying over the bill to the next session does not diminish our ambition for our environment in any way” and “key work on implementing the Bill’s measures will continue at pace, including establishing the Office for Environmental Protection, setting long-term legally-binding targets for environmental protection and creating a new Deposit Return Scheme for drinks containers.”
Whilst there is understanding with regard to the challenges facing the Government. There are concerns that the delay sends the wrong message internationally in the year when the UK hosts COP-26. Questions about the UK’s ability to deliver against the aims of related policies, such as the 25-Year Environment Plan, without the Environment Bill in place will undoubtedly be raised given the lack of legislative support provided to date. If the UK is to lead the world in addressing the environmental crisis, greater importance must be placed on the tools required to drive change and the delay of this Bill does not send the message that this is the case.