It follows a voluntary agreement made in 2006 to "reduce the overall environmental impact of carrier bags by 25% by 2008".
However, the Environment Department has said it is clear the current voluntary agreement has "not resulted in a substantial reduction in the number of bags distributed" and will "not get us close to achieving our goal of phasing out free single-use carrier bags". Currently around 13 billion flimsy plastic bags are distributed in the UK each year.
The legislation, detailed in schedule 6, section 75 of the Bill, allows for national authorities to force retailers to charge a fee but does not yet outline how much the fee could be. If retailers fail to charge for carrier bags if ordered to do so by government a civil sanction may apply, which could include a financial penalty. This would come into force in 2009.
The government is expected to consult at a later date on secondary legislation covering the operation of such a charge including the kinds of bags subject to the charge, the minimum price at which they could be sold and the retailers that would be required to impose the charge.
Currently it has indicated that any money raised by the ‘bag tax’ would be distributed to environmental charities.