Environmental Protection

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs written question – answered on 10th December 2020.

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Photo of The Bishop of Salisbury The Bishop of Salisbury Bishop

To ask Her Majesty's Government what measures are in place (1) to prevent, and (2) to minimise the impact of, any environmental governance gap after 31 December.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 will make sure all existing EU environmental law continues to operate in UK law at the end of the transition period, providing businesses and stakeholders with certainty. We have a long history of environmental protection supported by a strong legal framework which predates membership of the EU, and we will safeguard and improve on this record.

As regards scrutiny of the implementation of environmental measures, the Government intends to bring the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) into operation in 2021. The delay to the Environment Bill due to Covid-19 means it will not be formally established by the beginning of the year as originally planned. The Government is therefore establishing an interim secretariat which will support the OEP Chair-designate and will receive complaints about alleged failures of public authorities to comply with environmental law from the start of next year. This will be in place until the OEP can begin its statutory functions.

As a result, the OEP will be able to use its legal powers to investigate and take enforcement action, where appropriate, against any serious failures alleged to have occurred from 1 January 2021. For example, if the interim Secretariat receives a complaint in February 2021 about an alleged failure to comply with environmental law which happens in January 2021, it will pass this to the OEP once it becomes operational. At that point the OEP will be able to consider whether the matter is serious and action should be taken in connection with that complaint. As a result, there will be no gap in time where public authorities cannot be held to account.

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