Last reviewed 10 September 2021

The House of Lords has thrown out several government measures on environmental protection and governance outlined in the Environment Bill.

The main cause for concern in the House of Lords debate was over the lack of meaningful governance of the Office for Environmental Protection and legally binding environmental targets. 

In a letter to The Times newspaper, peers welcomed plans for the new Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) but added that: “without a few late changes the new body will lack the powers and independence it needs to hold ministers and public authorities to account.”

In the House debate, Lord Krebs (crossbench) successfully proposed that the OEP should have “complete discretion in the carrying out of its functions”, including in preparing its enforcement policy, exercising its enforcement functions and preparing its budget.

The OEP will, in effect, replace the EU Commission and Court of Justice in monitoring and enforcing environmental laws in England and Northern Ireland and the debate over its independence, and whether it will have sufficient powers to hold the government to account over its environmental protection commitments which has been raging for some time.

Other amendments to the Environment Bill passed by the House of Lords include the following.

  • Legally binding interim targets: Members voted with 203 in favour and 181 against this amendment, which ensures the government has a duty to meet any interim targets they set relating to environmental strategy.

  • Biodiversity and climate emergency: Lord Teverson (Liberal Democrat) successfully argued that the Prime Minister must declare that there is a biodiversity and climate emergency domestically and globally.

  • More ambitious targets to tackle air pollution: Baroness Sue Hayman (Labour) successfully brought an amendment which would ensure that the new legal target for fine particulate matter, PM2.5), commits the government to reducing this pollutant to within the existing World Health Organization guidelines by 2030 at the latest.

The House of Lords debate will continue next week before the amended Environment Bill returns to Parliament for consideration in the Autumn.