Labour can block Tory attempts to scrap pollution rules – but will they?

The House of Lords has a chance to save environmental protections

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer

The House of Lords can permanently delete the government amendments from the Levelling Up Bill that would scrap pollution rules for housebuilders. This would force the government to bring the measures back in a separate bill or possibly delay it to beyond the next general election.

I’m sure several peers, like me, will force a vote on the government amendments when they come before the Lords, either late tomorrow, or (more likely) on Monday 13 September. All we need is for Labour to work with other opposition peers and we have a good chance of stopping the government pursuing a polluters’ charter that is driven by developer donations to the Conservative Party.

The most vital thing is that we reject the government amendments outright, rather than try to revise it with well drafted improvements that can, and will, be over turned in the Commons. If Labour merely support amendments to the government’s amendments, then the government and their polluting friends will ultimately win. Rejecting them outright is a power that the Lords can exercise when the government introduces late amendments that have not gone through the proper parliamentary process of scrutiny.

Two years ago, I helped lead a Lords rebellion that successfully blocked an 18 page government amendment to the Police, Crime and Sentencing bill. This forced the government to return with a separate bill, introduced via the House of Commons a year later. With a general election due next year, I doubt the government will devote parliamentary time to this polluters’ charter, especially with the water industry already making such a mess of our rivers.

The Lords were lied to by the government about not lowering environmental standards. These amendments to the Levelling Up bill gives peers a great opportunity to correct the mistake we made in giving ground to Ministers on keeping our long standing system of environmental protections. It is also an anti-science approach as it requires local authorities to disregard evidence that new housing would make pollution worse. The funding for mitigation measures is both inadequate and also shifts the burden for dealing with the pollution that developers cause onto taxpayers.

Stopping the government from allowing even more pollution into our waterways should be the number one priority item in Angela Rayner’s in tray. She is Labour’s new Shadow Cabinet member in charge of responding to the Levelling Up Bill and it will be her decision about whether the Labour peers vote to stop the pollution from happening.

If Labour don’t use their power to reject these amendments, they are once again nodding along to the agenda of a right wing, corrupt government. I won’t be the only environmentalist to find that deeply disappointing and to wonder whether there is any hope of a Labour government cleaning up our waterways. Many will see it as yet another reason to vote Green.

Jenny Jones is a Green Party member of the House of Lords

Image credit: Jeremy Corbyn – Creative Commons

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