Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)

Part of Environment Bill - Commons Reasons and Amendments – in the House of Lords at 4:00 pm on 9th November 2021.

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Photo of Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Non-affiliated 4:00 pm, 9th November 2021

My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. While I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, that we have achieved some rapprochement, I was looking for total independence for the office for environmental protection and the consequences of that for Northern Ireland. While welcoming the progress, I am therefore still disappointed that the Government have rejected attempts to strengthen the independence of the office for environmental protection in law. I felt that needed to be placed on the face of the Bill.

I have carefully read what the Minister in the other place, Rebecca Pow, said yesterday on this important matter and note that she put some helpful statements on the record, including to confirm that the Government have no intention of issuing guidance before the OEP is up and running and has developed its own enforcement policy. She also recognised the conflict of interest inherent in this guidance power involving the implementation of environmental law by the Defra Secretary of State.

While these are welcome statements, my fear is that they could be forgotten or ignored by future Secretaries of State. I repeat the point made in several debates on the importance of future-proofing. I recall that I had amendments about the need for the independence of the OEP in Northern Ireland in Committee, on Report and during the last ping-pong. My great wish remains for such assurances to be written into the Bill, but sadly—like the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington —I believe we have achieved as much as we possibly can. Regardless of the outcome of this debate, I will write to the DAERA Minister in Northern Ireland to ask for similar assurances to be provided.

I ask the Minister here to tell the House whether he is confident that the Bill and this OEP will be totally accountable, and what discussions he has had with the DAERA Minister in Northern Ireland regarding the accountability of the OEP. We have a five-party Executive in Northern Ireland, and it is not always easy to achieve consensus on a wide range of issues. I would welcome answers to those questions.