Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)

Part of Environment Bill - Commons Reasons and Amendments – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 9th November 2021.

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Photo of Baroness Parminter Baroness Parminter Chair, Environment and Climate Change Committee, Chair, Environment and Climate Change Committee 4:45 pm, 9th November 2021

My Lords, I echo the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, with regard to the Minister and his team’s unfailing co-operation and ambition for the Bill, which is the most important Bill on the environment that we have seen in this country for at least the last 30 years. When it came to us at Second Reading, all of us welcomed it but said that it needed to go a lot further. It would be churlish not to reflect on the fact that it has gone somewhat further, if not as far as most of us—perhaps including the Minister—hoped we might be able to achieve.

On the three final hills on which we have chosen in this House to fight today, we are in the position of having to accept that we are where we are, given the majority of the Government on the other side. On the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson—he has indeed been a champion redoubtable—on pushing for remedies for the OEP, that is an incredibly important issue and it is of deep regret that it will not go into the Bill. However, I hope, like I am sure other Members around this Chamber, that the assurances that the Minister has given today can bear fruit should there be—as I am sure there will—instances in the future in the courts as these issues are challenged.

On the independence of the OEP, on which the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, led so skilfully on behalf of this House, he is right to say that the Government seem to have an umbilical attachment to not wishing the OEP to have the independence that absolutely all in this House agree that it should. It is of deep regret that that has not made its way into the Bill. However, I think all of us in this House have confidence in the current holders of the OEP, and we hope that they will use the discretion given by Rebecca Pow in the other place so that they are not bound to the guidance if there are good reasons for not taking it forward. I hope that they will make full use of those powers and challenge the Government should they so feel the need.

Personally, where I am most concerned that the Government still have that guidance power to contain the independence of the OEP is on the issue of planning, which the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, mentioned. The Government still retain the ability to perhaps constrain the OEP from taking enforcement measures on planning applications, which may appear local and discrete but have nationally significant biodiversity implications. Given the fate of the biodiversity in our country at this time, we know just how important that may be.

Finally, on the issue of sewage, we on these Benches—particularly my noble friend Lord Oates, who has worked so closely with other colleagues from other Benches—thank the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, for the campaign that he has taken forward, and indeed Philip Dunne, who I see is with us this afternoon. It is good to be able to say to them that we in this House thank them both for their campaigning to bring this appalling issue, which is really important for both the environment and human health, to the attention of the Government and the public more broadly. On behalf of all of us, I thank both of them for doing that.

As I say, we have probably pushed the Government as far as they are prepared to go on this issue. However, in having made the general public so aware of what is at stake, the Government can be under no illusion that, while we have done our job here today and in preceding weeks, if they do not listen, act and take the necessary steps to stop these appalling sewage discharges, the public will notice, and it will not just be the environment that pays the price in the future. The Government will pay the price at the next general election.