Environment Bill — New Clause 24 — Prohibition on Burning of Vegetation on Peat in Upland Areas — 26 May 2021 at 17:15

The majority of MPs voted not to ban the burning of certain types of vegetation in almost all upland areas with peat soils in England.

MPs were considering the Environment Bill.[1][2]

The proposed new clause rejected in this vote was titled:Prohibition on burning of peat in upland areas and stated:

  • (1) A person must not burn specified vegetation on land in England which is within an upland area on peat.
  • (2) In this section—
  • “specified vegetation” means heather, rough grass, bracken, gorse or vaccinium, and “upland area” means all the land shown coloured pink on the map marked as “Map of Upland Area in England” held by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs but does not include the land coloured pink in the Isles of Scilly

The ban would be expected to have biodiversity benefits and to reduce the chance of carbon being released from the peat if the peat caught fire.

During the debate prior to the vote Birkenhead MP Mick Whitley said[4]:

  • I also urge Members to join me in supporting new clause 24, which would enshrine vital protections for our peatlands into law and introduce a comprehensive ban on the burning of heather on all upland peat. Peatland plays a vital role not only in promoting biodiversity but also as a natural carbon sink, yet the Government have failed to safeguard this precious natural resource.

Notably here the title of the proposed new clause is not entirely consistent with the content. The title refers to a ban on burning peat and the content refers to a ban burning certain vegetation grown on peat. The role of titles in interpretation of Acts of Parliament has developed over time, and was considered in the case of Regina v. Montila and others in 2004[5] where the committee of judges determined headings provided context which could aid with interpretation of an Act.

In this case it appears perhaps the intent is to ban burning of vegetation with an aim of preventing the peat catching fire. If directly setting fire to peat would be prohibited by the clause is not clear and would be a question for a court.

The title of the rejected new clause was included in the relevant amendment paper[6]. The amendment paper included the following explanatory statement from the proposer of the new clause:

  • The new clause extends the coverage of the peat burning ban from the 142,000 ha of upland peat currently covered to the full 355,000 ha of upland peat in England.

The extant law referred to appears to be the The Heather and Grass etc. Burning (England) Regulations 2021[7], explanatory notes to which state[8]:

  • This instrument bans the burning, without a licence, of specified vegetation on peat over 40 centimetres in depth in a Site of Special Scientific Interest (“SSSI”) that is also a Special Area of Conservation (and/or a Special Protection Area1). The purpose is to prevent further damage by burning to ~142,000 ha of protected blanket bog habitat.


Debate in Parliament |

Party Summary

Votes by party, red entries are votes against the majority for that party.

What is Tell? '+1 tell' means that in addition one member of that party was a teller for that division lobby.

What are Boths? An MP can vote both aye and no in the same division. The boths page explains this.

What is Turnout? This is measured against the total membership of the party at the time of the vote.

PartyMajority (No)Minority (Aye)BothTurnout
Alliance0 10100.0%
Con351 (+2 tell) 0097.0%
DUP8 00100.0%
Green0 10100.0%
Independent1 2060.0%
Lab0 193 (+2 tell)098.5%
LDem0 110100.0%
Total:360 208097.3%

Rebel Voters - sorted by party

MPs for which their vote in this division differed from the majority vote of their party. You can see all votes in this division, or every eligible MP who could have voted in this division

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no rebellions

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