Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons on 31st October 2019.
What plans she has to ensure the (a) transparency and (b) accountability of the proposed Office for Environmental Protection.
Clause 20(2) of the Environment Bill places a duty on the Office for Environmental Protection to
“have regard to the need to act…transparently.”
It must publish key documents, such as its strategy, annual report and accounts, and lay them before Parliament.
The concept of the OEP has been touted by the Government as an independent watchdog, yet it will be funded by the Government and its chair will be appointed by the Government. Surely the Secretary of State will agree that at the very least the relevant Select Committee should play a key role in the appointment of the chair and the non-executive members of the board.
I assure the hon. Lady that the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and the Environmental Audit Committee will play a key role in the pre-appointment scrutiny of the OEP chairman. I also assure her that the OEP will have a multi-year funding settlement and that Ministers will be required to safeguard its independence. In many ways, the departmental structure will be broadly similar to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which has clearly demonstrated its total independence from the Government. I am sure we will see that same determination from this powerful new environmental watchdog.
I was very sorry to have to miss your visit to the SNP group the other day, Mr Speaker. I shall take this opportunity to thank you for everything you have done—for your doughty defence of democracy and particularly your support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights and for Back Benchers’ interests. I wish you and your beautiful family all the very best for the years ahead. May I also commend the two gentlemen to your left—stage left, as we used to say—Mr Peter Barratt and Mr Ian Davis, who I know have offered you such valuable support over years?
Let me begin my question by saying happy non-Brexit day to the Government Front-Bench team. Will the Secretary of State tell us whether the Scottish Government support the proposals on the OEP? Were they consulted on them?
There was extensive work between the UK Government and the Scottish Government on the Environment Bill, including the clauses on the OEP. We are grateful that, as a result of that work, large elements of the Bill will apply in Scotland. I understand that the Scottish Government intend, I hope, to create a body that is broadly similar to the OEP, to manage the scrutiny of environmental matters where they are devolved in Scotland.
May I join the tributes to you, Mr Speaker? I thank you for your comradeship in opposition, when you were a spokesman with me in various Departments, and for your encouragement in respect of the Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Act 2019—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Thank you.