Government proposed environment body ‘could leave regulation gap’

2 May 19

An environment body the government proposes to take over functions currently carried out by European Union bodies could leave a “governance gap”, according to MPs.

The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) would not have enough “teeth” or independence from government, the environment, food and rural affairs committee said in a report released this week.

Following their inquiry into the Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill, the MPs said: “The report highlighted that the draft Bill leads to a potential “governance gap” after we leave the EU.”

Chair of the committee Neil Parish added: “The draft Bill clearly fails to meet its own ambition to ‘ensure the environment is even better protected in future’ as we exit the EU. In some areas it actually marks a significant regression on current standards

“To achieve real independence there needs to be a role for Parliament in all decisions relating to the membership of the OEP’s board.” He said the current proposals that the OEP was funded “at the whim of Defra ministers” was not acceptable.

Parish said: “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 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs published the draft bill in December last year after releasing a policy paper on its ‘25 year environment plan’ in January 2018.

The environmental audit committee has already expressed concerns about the proposed environment body, calling it “toothless”. Mary Creash, chair of the EAC, expressed disappointment that a treasury minister then refused to appear in front of her committee in June last year.

There had been speculation the new environment body might replace the Environment Agency. But Defra insisted to PF in January last year that the Environment Agency would stay and play a “critical role” in delivering the government’s environmental plans over the 25 years.

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