Parliamentary committee calls for changes to the Environment Bill

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The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) of the House of Commons released last month a pre-legislative scrutiny of the Draft Environment (Principle and Governance) Bill. The main message of the report is that the environmental framework put forward by the Government does not match current EU environmental protections. The report also describes a range of issues that emerged during EFRA’s assessment and inquiries throughout January – March 2019.

In introducing the report, the Committee regrets not being able to assess the full Bill, as the final contents are yet to be published in the next parliamentary session. This has limited the scope of the inquiry and hindered a holistic assessment of the Bill. EFRA is therefore calling on the Government to allow enough reviewing time when they introduce the remaining clauses in Parliament.

Transposing environmental principles into the UK system continues to raise problems, chiefly the lack of an overarching principle, i.e. the EU’s objective of “a high level of protection for the environment”. The legal status of the principles (policy statements) is also questionable as it marks a regression from EU environmental principles which are legal provisions. Policy statements are weaker and can be easily revised. Moreover, these environmental principles place a weak duty on Ministers (with an obligation only “to have regard to”).

EFRA calls on the Government to consider rewriting some of the definitions provided by the Bill, notably on the “environment” which should be more holistic. Given the departure from the EU’s legal acquis, the report recommends including a reference to international law within the definition of “environmental law”.

Finally, the report stresses the importance of setting up a co-operation framework between the UK Government and the devolved administrations. This should entail common standards and principles, or even a specific mechanism of cooperation and data sharing in the event that separate environmental bodies are created at devolved level.

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