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On 7 June 2021, the second reading of the Environment Bill is scheduled to take place in the House of Lords. The bill is a wide-ranging piece of legislation, comprised of a range of different thematic elements. The first part of the bill is focused on environmental governance. It would allow the Government to set long-term targets for the natural environment and includes the creation of an Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) to hold the government to account on environmental law and its environmental improvement plan now that the UK has left the European Union.

The bill also provides for measures directed at specific areas of environmental policy. They include provisions on improving air quality; waste management and recycling; water management; protecting natural habitats and biodiversity; and for so-called conservation covenants.

The bill has completed its passage through the House of Commons. During debate on its provisions, Labour welcomed the bill but described it as lacking in the necessary ambition and insufficient to address the urgent need presented by the climate crisis and other critical environmental issues. As a result, Labour (and other opposition parties) tabled a range of amendments during committee and report stage, although all were unsuccessful.

Government amendments and new clauses were accepted at both stages. A number of these amendments were minor and technical in nature. Others were more substantial and are discussed in the body of this briefing. For example, concerning issues such as introducing greater clarity on the role of the Office for Environmental Protection and its relationship with the existing Committee on Climate Change.

The Government has also announced that it will seek to move further amendments in the House of Lords. They include measures aimed to reduce the harms caused by storm overflows and to introduce a legally binding target on species abundance.

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