Clause 35 - Environmental review

Part of Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 5th November 2020.

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Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Assistant Whip 4:00 pm, 5th November 2020

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. We support his intention of ensuring that the court has powers to grant appropriate remedies in environmental reviews.

With regard to amendment 121, it is also important to recognise that in some cases the granting of remedies by the court could substantially affect the rights of innocent third parties who have acted in good faith in reliance on public authority decisions. We have therefore sought to protect the rights of such third parties from the most significant implications of unlawful decision making. To be clear, that does not prevent the court from granting remedies in any circumstances where a third party is even slightly affected. In order to be able to grant a remedy, the court would need to be satisfied that this would not be likely to cause substantial hardship or prejudice.

It is entirely necessary to protect third parties from the increased risk of granting remedies long after a decision has been taken. It is not novel to protect such rights in legislation, but the current drafting is a reasonable and proportionate approach to that issue. Subject to those safeguards, through environmental review, the court will have access to judicial review remedies, including mandatory and quashing orders that can ensure that compliance with environmental law is achieved.

In the highly unlikely event that a public authority failed to comply with a court order, the OEP would be able to bring contempt of court proceedings, which could lead to a range of sanctions being imposed by the court, potentially including fines or even imprisonment. The availability of those remedies and the strict requirement for compliance with court orders entirely dispense with the need for an inferior system of fines in a domestic context, as proposed in amendment 180. Fines form part of the EU infraction framework, but only because the Court of Justice of the European Union is unable to compel the member state into a specific course of action through a court order. The provision for remedies through the OEP’s environmental review enforcement procedure clearly outlines how this Government are committed to enhancing environmental protections now that we have left the EU.

Turning to amendment 184, I reassure the hon. Gentleman again that the court has the appropriate powers to make court orders where a public authority has breached environmental law. Amendment 184 would go further by giving the court powers to specify the steps necessary to make amends for any environmental harm resulting from their failure to comply with the law. Given the separation of powers, it is for the courts to determine legal proceedings and for the Government and public authorities to implement law and policy. That is why we have provided that, where the court has determined that a public authority has failed to comply with environmental law, that authority must publish a statement setting out the steps that it intends to take. I therefore ask the hon. Member not to press amendments 121, 180 and 184.