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 Matthew Taylor Matthew Taylor Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment) 4:45 pm, 27th June 1995

I support new clause 1, which has been tabled by the Labour party, but I shall address my comments to new clauses 19 and 27, which my hon. Friends and I tabled, and which have the same aim—to ensure that environmental considerations are integrated into the decision-making process of Departments, Ministers and public bodies.

As it stands, the Bill misses an opportunity to promote the integration of environmental concerns in all areas of government, despite the Government's recognition of the importance of such integration, and despite the White Papers issued on the environment since 1990—the 1994 "Sustainable Development Strategy" and the 1995 UK annual report.

The Secretary of State claimed on Second Reading that the Government had put in place perhaps the most comprehensive machinery of government to manage the environment to be found anywhere in the world."—[Official Report, 18 April 1995; Vol. 258, c. 35.] Although the introduction of a Cabinet Sub-Committee on the Environment, the designation of green Ministers in each Department and the sustainable development round table are welcome initiatives, there is little evidence that they have had a significant impact on the integration of environmental considerations across government—certainly outside the Department of the Environment.

Existing mechanisms for achieving environmental integration are inadequate. The Bill provides a chance to establish new procedures to ensure that the environment is put at the centre of the policy-making process. To that end, new clause 19 would require all public agencies to produce an environmental compliance assessment—an assessment that would scrutinise the environmental implications of draft legislation and ensure that information gathered was taken into account in final decision making. That would give the environment a higher priority in decision making, and highlight the environmental impact of decisions that might otherwise be overlooked, such as transport-related pollution resulting from hospital closures.

Placing a duty on all public agencies to provide environmental compliance assessments is not a new concept. Since 1 April 1993, all Departments have produced cost compliance assessments that evaluate the costs of new proposals on the business sector. Such assessments are now routinely carried out. That system was introduced by the Government, and the new clause copies it, but in this case it would ensure that the costs to society from environmental impacts were assessed and addressed in policy formulation.

Many in local government already follow that process in their decision taking, as do several pioneering businesses. I hope that the Government will do the same. I believe that the introduction of environmental compliance assessments would significantly aid the Government's stated aim of ensuring that the environment is considered consistently across government. By accepting the new clause, or at least the principle behind it, the Government could demonstrate that they take that idea seriously.

New clause 27 simply aims to integrate matters in a watered-down manner. It stipulates: Each relevant authority may consider the need to protect and enhance the environment when making policy or carrying out its functions. If the Minister will not accept a requirement, surely he can at least allow the principle to be taken into account when organisations or the Government take decisions.