Clause 36 - Judicial review: powers to apply to prevent serious damage and to intervene

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

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Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 4:00 pm, 5th November 2020

The Opposition’s opinion is that these amendments, which are connected, as the Minister has explained, constitute a serious undermining of the powers of the OEP and its ability to judge for itself what it wants to do, particularly with regard to judicial review. Clause 36(1) states:

“The OEP may apply for judicial review, or a statutory review, in relation to conduct of a public authority (whether or not it has given an information notice or a decision notice to the authority in respect of that conduct) if the OEP considers that the conduct constitutes a serious failure to comply with environmental law.”

Therefore, there is already the question of “serious failure” in the clause. Now, the Government are adding to that by putting this urgency requirement on the end, so there has to be not just a serious failure, but an urgent and serious failure. This clearly puts obstacles in the way of the ability of the OEP to work for itself, in relation to how judicial review is undertaken. It puts in place a number of outside obstacles to that process.

Without going over the case at great length, we think that this is part of that suite of amendments that seek to put a corset around the OEP in terms of what it may or may not do, and in effect hug it closer to Government as a result. We do not think that is conducive to what we have always considered to be the imperative of the independence of the OEP, and therefore we will seek once again to defend the Bill as it stands—against the Government’s wish to dilute further what is in it—particularly in relation to the powers of the OEP that were set out when the Bill was first introduced.

We do not want to support amendment 217, but we appreciate that the other amendments are consequential to it and that therefore if amendment 217 does go through, the others follow. Not wishing to extend proceedings greatly this afternoon, I will just say that is where our position stands.