On 19 December, the government published its draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill setting out how it plans to maintain environmental standards as the UK leaves the EU and build on the vision of the 25 Year Environment Plan.
The Bill and accompanying documents include provision for the creation of an independent body – the Office for Environmental Protection – which will scrutinise environmental law and the government’s environmental improvement plan; investigate complaints on environmental law; and take enforcement action on environmental law.
The draft Bill also commits the government to: publishing a policy statement which will set out how ministers should interpret and apply environmental principles; and to have a plan for environmental improvement.
There will be a broader Environment Bill incorporating measures on air quality, nature recovery, waste and resource efficiency and water management.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and the Environmental Audit Committee immediately launched a joint call for written evidence for pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill. Submissions are welcomed until the end of January.
The terms of reference are:
• does the proposed constitution of the oversight body provide it with enough independence to scrutinise the government?
• does the proposed oversight body have the appropriate powers to take ‘proportionate enforcement action’?
• are there any conflicts of interest or overlap with existing government bodies?
• as drafted are the principles legally enforceable? What will need to be included in the National Policy Statement to interpret the application of the principles?
• are there any conflicts with other legislators or legislation, for example the Scottish Continuity Bill?
• does the Bill meet the government’s commitment to non-regression from EU environmental standards?
• is there anything else missing that should be included to meet the enforcement, governance and other gaps in environmental protection left by leaving the European Union?