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HOUSE OF COMMONS COMMITTEES REPORT ON ENVIRONMENT (PRINCIPLES AND GOVERNANCE) BILL

Key reports on pre-legislative scrutiny of the Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill were issued by the House of Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee on 25 April 2019 and by its Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee on 29 April 2019.

Both reports were highly critical of key areas within the draft legislation as published, calling it a ‘significant regression’ form EU standards of enforcement. They called for greater independence and additional enforcement powers for the proposed Office for Environmental Protection, more accountability for Government Departments and public bodies, enforcement of environmental law in the climate change area, reinstatement of the aims for a high level of protection of the environment from the EU treaties, and removal of the wholesale exclusions from the application of environmental principles.

Both reports quoted evidence given by William Wilson, Barrister-Director Wyeside Consulting Ltd, to the effect that proposed exclusions from environmental principles for taxation, spending and the armed forces and defence were ‘absurd’, and that the idea that the Office for Environmental Protection could not properly be made answerable to Parliament was ‘nonsense’.

Neil Parish MP, Chair of the EFRA Committee stated –

“Given this unique opportunity to rethink how we protect the environment in the future, we cannot afford to see the standards we currently adhere to slip.

“There is also little point in setting up an environmental watchdog if it is unable to fulfil its essential function of holding the government to account. The new watchdog must not solely be a creature of Government but needs real independence.

“To achieve real independence there needs to be a role for Parliament in all decisions relating to the membership of the OEP’s board. Funding for the OEP must also not be solely at the whim of Defra ministers, as is currently the proposal. Sustained cuts to arm’s length bodies such as the Environment Agency and Natural England demonstrate the need for the OEP to have greater budgetary protection to guarantee genuine independence.

“The watchdog will also need sharper enforcement teeth. The Government must explore appropriate ways to ensure greater personal accountability for Ministers and public servants if they fail to uphold environmental law before presenting this Bill to Parliament.”

The House of Commons Committee reports are also important in identifying the need for a comparable approach to environmental protection in the constituent parts of the UK, as Scotland, Wales and (eventually) Northern Ireland consider how to address the same issues under their devolved powers for legislation on the environment. Both Scotland and Wales have separate legislative consultations open on this, and William Wilson has been invited to give evidence to the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee of the National Assembly for Wales on the Welsh proposals (see Wales and Environment section of this website ‘Welsh Government Consultation on Environmental Governance after Brexit’).

EAC Committee report 25 April 2019

‘MPs call for urgent action to plug gaps in environmental protection’

https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/environmental-audit-committee/news-parliament-2017/draft-environment-bill-report-publication-17-19/

EFRA Committee report 29 April 2019

‘New environmental watchdog needs greater independence and sharper

teeth’

https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/environment-food-and-rural-affairs-committee/news-parliament-2017/draft-environment-bill-report-publication-17-19/

For further information please contact William Wilson at infor@wyesideconsulting.com, tel +44(0)1225-730-407