Last reviewed 29 January 2021

The Government has decided to further delay completion of its flagship Environment Bill until the next parliamentary session, marking this the third delay since it was launched in 2018.

Defra blames Covid-19 for the latest delays, arguing that the pandemic is putting “exceptional pressure on the Parliamentary timetable” which has reduced the amount of time available to MPs to scrutinise the Bill.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow insists the Government remains fully committed to the Bill. In a statement she said: “Carrying over the Bill to the next session does not diminish our ambition for our environment in any way - with Report Stage recommencing early in the Second Session and Royal Assent expected in the Autumn”.

Further delays mean the new Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) which was set up to investigate environmental complaints and monitor government’s progress on meeting its environmental targets, may also be delayed, until after the Bill receives Royal Assent.

Dame Glenys Stacey, Chair-designate of the OEP, said: “While it is quite understandable, given the pandemic, carrying over our enabling legislation to the next session is extremely disappointing. We will do everything we can to make progress in the interim”.

The Bill sets long-term binding targets for improving the UK's natural environment and includes new legal frameworks for air pollution, water quality, waste management powers and a ban on exporting plastic waste to developing countries.

Business groups and environmental organisations have expressed frustration at the latest delays. Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, described the move as “deeply troubling”.

"The prime minister said the Bill was 'the huge star of our legislative programme… a lodestar by which we will guide our country towards a cleaner, and greener future’. The fact that the Government plans to end the Parliamentary session over a year on without having delivered the 'star' of the programme will raise questions over its commitment to leaving the environment in a better state for the next generation”.

In a statement, the Government said delaying the Bill to the next parliamentary session; “does not hold back the government’s environmental ambition and we are continuing at pace with our plans linked to the Bill”.