Clause 42 - Meaning of “Environmental Protection”

Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 10th November 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 10:30 am, 10th November 2020

I beg to move amendment 31, in Clause 42, page26, line 1, after “considering” insert “advising”.

Member’s explanatory statement

The fourth limb of the definition of environmental protection covers the functions of monitoring, assessing, considering or reporting on anything within the other three limbs. This amendment adds the function of “advising”, which was included in the equivalent provisions of the draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill (clause 31(2)(d)), and last session’s Environment Bill (clause 40(2)(d)).

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

With this is it will be convenient to debate Government amendment 65.

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

Before I begin, it was terribly remiss of me that I omitted to mention the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith when discussing the previous amendment. I meant to do so, but I forgot to pick up my bit of paper. All the hon. Lady’s comments were welcome and duly noted, and added to the general discussion and debate that we had about marine matters. I apologise for that; I meant to do so and then it was too late.

Government amendments 31 and 65 insert the word “advising” into clause 42(d) of the Bill and make the same amendment to schedule 2 in respect of the Office for Environmental Protection in Northern Ireland. This is a technical amendment to ensure that our new environmental governance framework can operate fully and effectively.

Environmental protection is at the heart of what the Bill intends to achieve, and as such it is vital that we ensure that the meaning of environmental protection provided in the Bill is as effective as possible. Without the amendment, statutory duties for public bodies to advise on environmental protection, such as section 4 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006—which we all refer to as the NERC Act—which places a duty on Natural England to provide advice at the request of a public authority, would not be considered environmental law.

The OEP would not be able to monitor or enforce this kind of legislative provision and the Secretary of State would also not be obliged to make a statement about any new legislation in this place. Therefore, not including “advising” in this clause would place unnecessary and unhelpful limitations on our new environmental governance framework. This would limit the Government’s ambition to be a global leader in championing the most effective policies and legislation for the environment. I therefore commend the amendment to the Committee.

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)

The Minister’s amendment does indeed clarify matters and enables a better definition for monitoring assessments and reporting. The Opposition are happy for the word “advising” to go into the clause, but I would like the Minister to reflect briefly on why that word, which she is now putting in as an administrative amendment, was in previous iterations of the Bill. It was in the original Bill two years ago and also in the current Bill’s immediate predecessor, which was unable to make progress because of the election. Why is it, then, that the word did not appear in the current Bill? Was it an accident? Did someone consider it inappropriate, and is the Minister now making up for that lapse? Unless it was an accident, could the Minister assure me that there was no underlying reason for leaving out the word, the reinsertion of which now requires a Government amendment, and that she has not mentioned anything that we ought to consider?

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

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question and for saying that the Opposition are happy with getting the word “advising” into this clause. I think I am at complete liberty to say that it was just a technical correction. I am pleased that it has been spotted and thank the hon. Gentleman for having done so.

Amendment 31 agreed to.

Clause 42, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.