UK Government is in “listening mode” on the Draft Environment Bill

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(6 March 2019) The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee held last week the final hearing on the Draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill. Alongside a panel of expert witnesses, the Secretary of State for the Environment Michael Gove and junior Minister Thérèse Coffey were also invited for questioning.  

At this session, experts warned the government that the Office for Environment Protection (OEP) could be in danger of duplicating the duties of other UK bodies, such as the Environment Agency. The need to introduce the “high level of environmental protection” as an overarching principle resurfaced again.

Another point of debate was the legal nature of the decision notices that will be issued by the OEP. Experts have suggested there should be an option to render these notices as legally binding, while the UK government believes the role of the OEP should not be to overrule government’s decisions, but instead to challenge them and suggest how progress should be achieved. The independence of the OEP remains a thorny problem, as Gove was asked again to ensure that the proper functioning of the OEP will not be impacted by having its budget and nominations decided by the government. Parliamentary Under Secretary Coffey confirmed that the OEP will not be located within the offices of Defra.

As the debate progressed, government representatives were criticized for being in “listening mode” and dodging questions.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s hearing

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