It felt like the entire nation was glued to their televisions and news websites on Wednesday as Dominic Cummings gave evidence in the Committee room. However, on the same day, the Environment Bill was being heard for the report stage in the House of Commons.
This is the last chance for MPs to debate changes to the bill ahead of it being sent to the House of Lords. Since January, when the bill was paused, the government has put forward a series of amendments that would allow the secretary of state to make binding targets for habitat and species protection. There were also several amendments put forward by backbench politicians on a variety of issues including trees and biodiversity within the planning system.
During the debate, there were expected comments from both sides of the house. The government articulated that the Environment Bill was bringing forward targets within the 25-year Environment Plan and would also bring forward a new green agenda with proper funding and targets. Meanwhile, opposition parties pointed out that the bill had been much delayed and clearly wasn’t a priority for the government. Shadow Environment Secretary Luke Pollard said that the country had fallen behind in areas such as tree planting.
The connection between the Environment Bill and the Agriculture Act was raised by Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron, who passionately described how farmers care for the environment and must be supported in this transition period to the Environment Land Management scheme.
One of the interesting parts of the debate was the number of Conservative MPs who highlighted the need to make sure that the planning system benefits the natural world and how housing should be in appropriate places. This could be seen as a warning shot to the government over its proposed planning changes due in the autumn.
None of the backbench amendments were passed, and the bill continues its progress through the legislative process. The CLA will be working with peers on the next stage of the bill, which will focus on amendments on water abstraction, heritage and conservation covenants.