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Environmental targets: effect

Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 17th March 2020.

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Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change) 3:45 pm, 17th March 2020

I beg to move amendment 84, in clause 5, page 4, line 1, at end insert—

“(c) include a timetable for adoption, implementation and review of the chosen measures, and the authorities responsible for their delivery, and

(d) an analysis of the options considered and their estimated impact on delivering progress against the relevant targets.”.

The amendment strengthens the Secretary of State’s reporting by including a timetable and analysis.

We now turn to clause 5, which sets out that the Secretary of State must

“set out the steps the Secretary of State has taken, or intends to take, to ensure the specified standard is achieved as soon as reasonably practicable.”

To give the clause a little more robustness, the amendment would add at the end that the Secretary of State’s report should

“(c) include a timetable for adoption, implementation and review of the chosen measures, and the authorities responsible for their delivery, and

(d) an analysis of the options considered and their estimated impact on delivering progress against the relevant targets.”

That sounds a little routine, but we think that without such shaping, the report could be pretty much anything. We could give the report considerable shape by requiring it to contain a timetable for the adoption, implementation and review of the chosen measures, to shape and specify them; to set out who will be responsible for doing those things; and to contain an analysis of the options that have been considered and their estimated impact. That might not necessarily be an impact assessment as we traditionally know them in legislation, but a background analysis of those options and how they would affect the delivery of progress against relevant targets would be a good net addition to the Bill. I anticipate that the Minister may think otherwise, but I am interested to hear what she has to say. I am interested to know whether she thinks that such a process, which would give reports a lot more shape, might be considered for future reports. That might be done by further secondary legislation, or by other means—not necessarily those that are laid out in the amendment.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman agrees that missing a legally binding target should lead to clear consequences and next steps. I do not believe that the amendment is necessary, however, because it does not strengthen the requirements that we are creating. The Bill requires the Government to publish a remedial plan to achieve the missed standard

“as soon as reasonably practicable”.

To draw up their remedial plan, the Government would therefore have to assess both what is practicable—feasible —and what is reasonable. That would include how long the chosen measures are expected to take to achieve the missed standard, how and by whom they would be implemented, and what alternatives had been considered. To show that they had met that standard, the Government would need to set out how they had selected the measures included in the remedial plan—I think that is what the shadow Minister was getting at—as part of sound policy making and to ensure transparency.

The OEP would have a key role to play. If, for example, the Government failed to publish a remedial plan that met the relevant statutory requirements, the OEP might decide to open an investigation, which ultimately could lead to enforcement action. There are already very strong measures to back up the remedial plan, and in case standards or targets are missed. I therefore ask the hon. Member to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change)

As I anticipated, I did not have an eager taker for my suggestion. Nevertheless, the Minister put on the record some of the anticipated structure following those reports. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.