The Government’s draft Environment Bill does not match the current environmental protections provided by membership of the EU, according to the findings of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Committee.
The Committee’s scrutiny of the draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill report is calling on the Government to make significant revisions to the Bill before presenting it to Parliament.
The draft Bill sets out how the Government plans to maintain environmental standards as the UK leaves the European Union.
After receiving evidence, the Committee has concluded that the draft Bill’s provisions “do not match the current environmental protections provided by membership of the EU”.
The Government has stated that “we will not only maintain our current protections, but surpass them, taking new steps to ensure our environment is even better protected in future”. For the Government to meet its own ambition for the environment, the committee’s report recommends that the current draft Bill needs “significant revision”.
The Committee seeks reassurance that any future legislation relating to environmental principles must, at a minimum, replicate the legal status and current levels of protection granted in European Law.
Office for Environmental Protection
The draft Bill also seeks to establish a new environmental watchdog body – the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) – to deliver functions currently undertaken by European institutions.
The Committee considers that, as currently drafted, the Bill would not allow the OEP to operate with sufficient independence from Government. The report recommends that all decisions relating to board membership of the OEP should require the consent of the Efra Committee and that the Government must commit to a multi-annual budgetary framework in the Bill.
This is consistent with the independence given to the respected Office for Budgetary Responsibility, it says.
In addition, to strengthen the OEP’s enforcement powers, the OEP must be provided with further compliance tools beyond the threat of judicial review, and must be empowered to issue emergency and interim measures in urgent cases of environmental harm.
Neil Parish MP, the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee – “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.”
The report also addresses a possible gap in enforcing Climate Change law. Currently, all Climate Change legislation is enforced by the EU. However, Climate Change is excluded from the remit of the new watchdog.
The Report highlights that the draft Bill leads to a potential “governance gap” after we leave the EU, and recommends that the OEP be provided with the necessary powers to avert this.
Neil Parish MP, the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, said: “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.
“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 finding comes just days after the Environmental Audit Committee concluded the Environment Bill falls “woefully short”.