Thank you for contacting me about the Environment Bill.
The Bill seeks to set up the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) which will have the power to take public bodies to an upper tribunal if there are breaches of the law. The OEP will be independent and fully transparent in order to hold the Government to account on its targets. Ministers have confirmed that the OEP will be operationally independent from Government, including from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. This means that Ministers will not be able to set the OEP’s programme of activity or influence its decision-making.
The Bill will give the Secretary of State the power to set long-term, legally binding environmental targets on air quality, water, biodiversity, and resource efficiency and waste reduction that will be reviewed every five years. There will then be a published environmental improvement plan that will also be reviewed every five years, and a progress report will be published annually. The OEP will be able to hold this and every future Government to account on these targets, and will report on the progress made to improve the natural environment.
If the Secretary of State wanted to lower or change a target, they would have to lay before Parliament, and publish, a statement as to why they had reached their decision. It would then be up to Members of Parliament to scrutinise this decision, before voting on a Statutory Instrument to change any necessary legislation.
The Government is currently looking at concerns raised about the Bill during Committee Stage, as well as those raised by other MPs and interested parties. The Bill will be returning to the House later in the year when MPs will have the opportunity to vote on any amendments brought forward there.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.