On the Tenth Day of Christmas – Lords prepare to debate green bill

In the coming weeks and months, peers in the House of Lords are preparing to take a look at the Environmental Bill 2019-21 as it passes through Parliament.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ten lords-a-leaping…

Britain has what political commentators would term a bicameral political system – this means the laws of the land have to pass through not one but two chambers in the Houses of Parliament. The MPs we elect, who sit in the House of Commons, get a first look and a chance to debate proposed legislation, before it passes through to the Lords.

The Environmental Bill 2019-21 is no different – at present, it is in the final stages in the Commons, with peers expected to get a chance to scrutinise the bill in the new year. But what does it contain and what will it mean if it passes?

Environmental Bill’s day in the sun

The Environmental Bill 2019-21 is an attempt to bind the UK towards developing targets for protecting the natural environment, including legally binding targets related to biodiversity, water and air quality, as well as waste reduction and resource efficiency.

The Bill defines long-term targets as being achieved by no less than 15 years, and dovetails with a newly enshrined target set by the government for achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Aspects of the Bill which will bolster this 2050 target include plans to limit particulate matter in ‘ambient air’, as defined by new regulations.

Goals will be set in statute by October 2022 at the latest, and the four priority areas mentioned in the Bill – biodiversity, air quality, water and waste – will have at least one ‘strong and meaningful’ target each. Deadlines will be set between the mid-to-late-2030s, with an array of interim targets in the meantime, which would not be legally binding, but would still aim to keep future governments on their toes.

First introduced in an earlier form back in October 2019, the Environmental Bill is finally getting much-needed scrutiny by Parliament, after a false start earlier in 2020, when ministers scrambled to respond to the growing threat of COVID-19. Check out the Bill’s progress through Parliament.

Lords prepare to lock horns

When the Environmental Bill finally reaches the House of Lords, sometime in 2021, it will undergo three readings, prompting much debate on the floor of the chamber itself. While MPs debate amongst fellow elected representatives on those famous green benches, peers enjoy much more lavish surroundings – the House of Lords is furnished with red benches, as well as a throne for the Queen to occupy, when she makes customary visits to the chamber.

The House of Lords faces much criticism from sectors of society for being one of the largest unelected political chambers in the world, with 794 sitting members, appointed from across the political spectrum, with varying degrees of legal knowledge and insights. Some peers are present in the House of Lords purely due to the since-abolished practice of hereditary peerages.

If, for some reason, a majority of peers take a dislike towards the Environmental Bill, when the time comes to scrutinise it, during first, second or third reading, the reports stage or the committee stage, they would be able to block the Bill for no longer than two years. Under the Parliament Act 1911, the Lords are also unable to veto the Bill.

So long as the Bill convinces enough MPs and Peers, passage of the Bill should be assured, helping the UK get one step closer to enforcing concrete plans to protect the natural environment.

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