69. A further difficulty in fulfilling its audit
remit is that even if auditable targets had been more numerous
at this stage, the Committee would have faced considerable difficulties
in exercising its function. In trust for tomorrow originally
envisaged that the work of the EAC would be "supported by
an enhanced and expanded" National Audit Office.
However, as Ms Ross-Robertson notes "in moving from a conference
policy document to a manifesto commitment this watchdog [the EAC]
became only partially sighted" as it lost any formal link
with an independent investigative function.
70. Ms Kathryn Hollingsworth, Lecturer in Law at
Cardiff Law School, analysed the EAC's constitutional context
with reference to two models: (a) UK public audit, and (b) the
relatively recent arrangements for environmental audit in federal
Canada. She concluded that the system established by the House
for environmental audit, at the instigation of the Government,
was inadequate as a model of accountability because it lacked
an independent auditor with access to both the files of the auditee
and with an audience for any findings.
71. Ms Hollingsworth identified some superficial
similarities between the EAC and the Committee of Public Accounts
(PAC). The EAC has elected an Opposition chairman, in the tradition
of the PAC, reflecting a sense of increased independence as an
audit committee. It is of a similar size to the PAC (16 Members).
One of these is a Minister, in practice ex-officio and non-attending.
This symbolises the comity of objectives between committee and
department for the whole of government: HM Treasury and PAC desirous
of financial probity and the efficient, effective and economic
use of resources; and DETR and EAC looking to secure the integrated
consideration of environmental impacts alongside economic and
social issues in all decision-making.
72. However, as both Hollingsworth and
Ross-Robertson make clear, there are important differences between
the two committees. The work of the PAC is based on the output
of the Comptroller & Auditor General (C&AG) and the National
Audit Office. This output is founded upon access to government
records guaranteed by statute. Departments have the protection
of 'clearance' whereby the facts, and the overall balance, in
a report, are discussed between NAO and department concerned.
73. The constitutional quid pro quo,
enshrined in statute, perhaps is that the C&AG does not question
the merits of the government policy objectives only their
By extension and tradition this informs the approach of PAC and
the main witness in any PAC hearing is almost invariably the 'Accounting
Officer' usually the Permanent Secretary of a government department.
74. By contrast the EAC, like any other
select committee, relies heavily on government memoranda and reports.
These are recognised by all concerned as the Government's 'best
story'. This accentuates the difficulty implementing the Committee's
75. The evidence of the indicators and the
verdict of our academic critics is that we have performed the
first part of our remit (scrutinising Government policies for
their effect on environmental protection and sustainable development)
76. On the other hand, the evidence on the
second half of our remit (auditing the Government's performance
against its targets) is equally plain that the record is inadequate.
77. This failure is because there have been
few Government targets to audit, but we are also ill-equipped
for the task.
78. There is therefore an "audit gap".
If the Committee is to fulfill its remit this gap needs to be
filled by both improved target-setting and reporting by the Government
and the establishment of an independent environmental audit facility.
81 See HC 479-i, Q3 Back
of life Counts, Government
Statistical Service, December 1999 Back
11 December 1997 Back
better quality of life, Cm
4345, para 3.29 and the 1999 Pre-Budget Report, Cm 4479, para
4808, page 9 Back
4345, page 60 Back
4808, page 9 Back
Seventh Report, 1998-99, Energy Efficiency, HC 159 Back
Transport and Regional Affairs Committee, Fifteenth Report, 1998-99,
Departmental Annual Report 1999 and Expenditure Plans 1999-2002,
HC 440, para 14 Back
Media and Sport Committee, Fifth Report, 1997-98, Objectives
and Performance of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport,
HC 742, para 19 Back
1996 National Cycling Strategy had a target of doubling the amount
of cycling by 2002, and of doubling the amount again by 2012.
This target was endorsed by the DETR in the Integrated Transport
White Paper and the DETR's 1999 Annual Report. Lord Macdonald
told the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee
that the target for 2002 had not been "put...inside our formal
targets". In fact, the Committee concluded, it has apparently
been abandoned. Seventeenth Report, 1999-2000, Departmental
Annual Report 2000 etc, HC 471, para 14 Back
para 16-17 Back
Spending Review, Public Services for the future: Modernisation,
Reform, Accountability, Cm 4181, December 1998, p115 Back
Report, 1999-2000, The Greening Government Initiative: first
annual report form the Green Ministers Committee, HC 341 Back
Annex D Back
and 158 Back
97 Q123 Back
98 Q123 Back
Report, 1999-2000, HC 347, paragraph 1(c) Back
Fourth Report, 1999-2000, HC 76, paragraph 107ff Back
cit p1 Back
for example Third Report, 1999-2000, HC 233, paragraph 13ff Back
p 66 Back
cit p2 Back
p 66 Back
Report, 1999-2000, HC 233, paragraph 13 Back
memo on company law review Back
109 Q113 Back
111 Ibid Back
before the Select Committee on Procedure, 20 March 1990, from
Sir John Bourn KCB, Comptroller and Auditor General, 1989-90,
HC 19-II, Q692 Back