Amendment 100

Part of Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Report (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 18 July 2023.

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Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government) 6:30, 18 July 2023

My Lords, this group is made up of four amendments in my name. They are designed to ensure that climate and other key environmental considerations are included in the new environmental outcomes reports, the details of which will be set out in secondary legislation, as we have heard; and to probe whether the EORs will support the UN’s sustainable development goals. I would be grateful if the Minister could shed some light on these matters in her response.

My Amendment 106 specifically asks that the new system

“does not weaken existing environmental protections”; in other words, it is an amendment to ensure non-regression. Environmental assessments play an important role in limiting nature and climate harms from planning decisions. Such an extensive series of changes to environmental assessments, delivered largely through regulations, could, we believe, open the door to environmental regression that has limited parliamentary scrutiny. Concerns to this effect have been expressed by the Office for Environmental Protection and a number of environmental NGOs.

Unfortunately, the one safeguard in this part of the Bill fails to address the regression risk. Clause 147 states:

“The Secretary of State may make EOR regulations only if satisfied that” the

“overall level of environmental protection” will not be less than before. The stipulation overall undermines the utility of this safeguard as the effect is to allow the Secretary of State to weaken individual existing protections as long as they consider this to be balanced out elsewhere in order to maintain overall levels.

We discussed this issue at some length in Committee, so I will not go into detail on the risks that we believe this approach carries. However, it remains unclear why this low-bar test for new regulations has been chosen over the higher bar provided by the Environment Act, Section 20 of which requires Ministers to state that new legislation will not reduce the level of environmental protection provided for by any existing environmental law. My amendment would apply this recent and relevant non-regression precedent to EOR regulations, thereby ensuring that environmental protection is not weakened through the introduction of the new EOR regime by specifying that the Secretary of State should demonstrate that EOR regulations would not diminish any individual environmental protection applying at the time that the Bill passes. This would have the effect of aligning Clause 147 with the Environment Act and the Government’s own commitment, as stated in Committee, to use the EOR regime as an

“opportunity to protect the environment”.—[Official Report, 18/5/23; col. 444.]

I urge the Minister to consider accepting my amendment as the provision of a robust non-regression clause is the minimum required to ensure that the proposed EOR regime does not harm the environment.

A series of government amendments on Report—including Amendments 133 and 138, which we have debated today—seek to define more closely the environmental protections that would be subject to the new EOR powers. However, this listing exercise provides little to no assurance that environmental regression will not take place. We believe that the threat of environmental regression is significant. In its response just last month, in June, to the Government’s EOR consultation, the Office for Environmental Protection observed that

“there are risks associated with a move from well-established regimes when so much rides on effective delivery over the next few years (and beyond)”.

To address these risks, Clause 147 needs to be strengthened and non-regression assured before the EOR regime is introduced. My amendments would achieve this. I beg to move.