Relevant Authorities to Define Requirements of Environmental Protection

Part of New clause 1 – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 27th June 1995.

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Photo of Mr Cynog Dafis Mr Cynog Dafis , Ceredigion and Pembroke North 4:45 pm, 27th June 1995

Amendment No. 256 would have placed a duty on the Environment Agency to advise Ministers on matters that it considered relevant to environmental sustainability. As my amendment was not selected, I am pleased to support Labour's new clause 1 very strongly.

The Bill's weakness is that it persists—as the Government persist—in regarding the environment as one issue among several, rather than as the basis of all life, improvement and development, so it does not put in place a mechanism for the integration of environmental issues into policy decisions in all Departments. No such mechanism exists.

We gather that the Cabinet Environment Sub-Committee meets infrequently. As has been said, green Ministers in different Departments do not have the function of greening policy in their Departments, but of studying housekeeping within them. The round table and Sir Crispin Tickell's panel, excellent though they are, have the function only of developing ideas and offering advice to the Government, which does not carry the thing any further.

It is apparent that the nature of policies developed in the Departments of Transport and of Trade and Industry and the Treasury has a huge influence on the extent to which our lives, our economy and our social systems are environmentally sustainable. The Department of the Environment has an influence, but others possibly have even more.

It is clear, however, that the Treasury does not see itself as having anything to do with sustainability. I mentioned on Second Reading a letter that I received from the Chancellor of the Exchequer in which he referred to the failure of his civil servants to attend a meeting of the House of Lords Committee on Sustainable Development. The letter says: The Government's strategy for Sustainable Development is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. I was therefore not persuaded that it would be appropriate for Treasury officials to give oral evidence on the subject as a whole to the Committee on 7 February". That attitude illustrates the need for mechanisms to ensure that all Departments address the issue each time that they develop any policy initiative. I am pleased to support new clause 1, which at least has the merit of putting a requirement on the statute book.