Environment Agency

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 17th May 1995.

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Photo of Mrs Helen Jackson Mrs Helen Jackson , Sheffield, Hillsborough 2:30 pm, 17th May 1995

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what steps he will take to ensure that the operations of the proposed environment agency are open to public scrutiny. [23199]

Photo of Paul Beresford Paul Beresford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment)

We will expect the agency to provide clear and readily available information on its work. It will be subject to the Environmental Information Regulations 1992 requirements to maintain public registers of information on activities which it regulates, and it will be expected to meet the requirements of the Government's code of practice on access to Government information.

Photo of Mrs Helen Jackson Mrs Helen Jackson , Sheffield, Hillsborough

Does the Minister agree that the public are usually the best environmental watchdogs and that they need to have access to all information? Has he forgotten that it was his Government who made local government comply with access to information regulations? Why will he not ensure that the environment agency will be subject to the same rules of accountability as local government?

Photo of Paul Beresford Paul Beresford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment)

The hon. Lady forgets the points made to her in Standing Committee. There will be no lack of information on the agency's activities, which will be subject to a variety of requirements. I also remind her of the Environmental Information Regulations 1992, the legislation on public registers, the principle of openness set out in the Government's code of practice on access to Government information, the code of best practice for board members and public bodies, the duty to produce an annual report, and public registers to provide information about licences.

The Environmental Information Regulations 1992 provide a duty to respond to environmental information requests and provide for the inspection of public registers which are available free of charge. Copies can be obtained at a minimal cost. The agency's management statement will ensure public access to meetings of the agency's regional and local committees. Ministers will be accountable to Parliament, too. Finally, the agency can, if it wishes, hold meetings in public. There is a deluge of information.

Photo of Mr Nigel Forman Mr Nigel Forman , Carshalton and Wallington

Is my hon. Friend aware that his diffident and understated answers will be welcomed by his colleagues? Is he further aware that, in the interests of openness, it is important that the public are reassured about some of the leading environmental problems, especially air pollution? Will he see to it that those problems are tackled with the urgency that they deserve, especially in view of the concern felt by my constituents about the possible link between asthma and air pollution?

Photo of Paul Beresford Paul Beresford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment)

I ask my hon. Friend to consider the Government's reaction to environmental factors. If he follows the progress of the Environment Bill, I think that he will find that we have taken much of that concern on board.