Select Committee on Environmental Audit Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Greening Government: The Role of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee by Andrea Ross[1]


  "I warmly welcome the new Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee . . .. This will be a terrier to bite our own ankles and ensure high standards across Government."  (Rt Hon John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister).[2]

  "Some of us believe that we have not been a terrier, but a rottweiler."[3]  (Mrs Helen Brinton MP, member of the Environmental Audit Committee).[4]

  "John Prescott likened us to terriers snapping at the heels of Government. As an aficionado of 'One Man and his Dog', I prefer the idea of the sheepdog intelligently shepherding the Government towards appropriate goals on climate change and environmental topics."  (Mr John Horam MP, Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee).[5]

  The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee was established in 1997 for the following purposes: (a) to consider the extent to which the policies and programmes of Government departments and non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) contribute to environmental protection and sustainable development; (b) to audit their performance against targets set for them by Ministers, and (c) to report to the House.[6] As indicated above, the Committee has been likened to terriers, rottweilers and sheepdogs. The fact that such different illustrations have been used by people so closely connected to the work of the Environmental Audit Committee suggests that there are varying views on what it should be, could be and has been doing. The purpose of this paper is to determine the true nature of the Environmental Audit Committee (also referred to as "the Committee" or "the EAC"). More specifically, the paper assesses whether the EAC, during the parliamentary sessions 1997-98 and 1998-99, has met each part of its remit and what difficulties, if any, it is having in doing so. The findings are then used to attempt some general observations about the Committee's influence on the Government and on the extent to which the policies and programmes of government do in fact contribute to environmental protection and sustainable development.[7]


  Every country has examples of how a fragmented approach to regulation has created ridiculous and unsustainable results. One regulator paying a landowner to plant a crop while another pays the same landowner not to plant the crop. One agency advocating keeping the car at home while another finances new motorways. The realisation that environmental problems cannot be solved without looking at social and economic problems as well is the hallmark of sustainable development. One of the key challenges that sustainable development poses governments and political institutions throughout the world is that the concepts and issues it raises do not neatly fit into the boundaries which are the basis for conventional departmental administration and lines of accountability. Better integration can be promoted by expressly considering other interests as factors in decision-making. The Treaty of Rome recognises this need. Article 6 in its amended form provides that "[e]nvironmental protection requirements must be integrated into the definition and implementation of Community policies and activities referred to in Article 5 in particular with a view to promoting sustainable development." The United States Congress has passed legislation that among other things requires all federal agencies to explicitly consider the environmental effects of their actions, decisions, policies, and proposals for legislation.[8]

  In the UK, while some individual agencies and sections of the public service are bound by balancing obligations[9] no general legal duty exists. Instead, the Government has adopted a policy-based approach to promoting the integration of the environment and sustainable development into government decision making. To this end, the Labour Government has extended what began as a Conservative policy known as the Greening Government Initiative (GGI). This initiative recognises that "protection of the environment cannot be the sole responsibility of just one department of state. All departments must promote policies to sustain the environment."[10] A number of measures have been introduced under the GGI.[11] The UK's new strategy for sustainable development entitled A Better Quality of Life emphasises that the Government's commitment to putting sustainable development at the heart of every government department's work.[12] Each department now has a Green Minister to review the management of their departments to ensure that they operate as sustainably as possible and to consider the environmental impacts of their Department's policies and programmes. Overall government policies on the conduct and reporting of environmental appraisal, environmental management systems, and greening of operations (including waste management, and procurement) are continually being introduced and improved.[13] Slowly, individual departments are being set operational targets for matters like energy efficiency as well as targets for more policy-related matters.

  However, introducing measures requiring environmental protection to be included in government decision-making does not guarantee it will actually happen. Government and individual departments need to be made to "account" for their actions.[14] The means used to promote accountability range from reporting obligations and independent auditing arrangements to various forms of parliamentary and judicial scrutiny. One of the means used to improve parliamentary scrutiny of government decisions is the select committee. A select committee is a small group of members appointed by either House to investigate and report back on a particular subject or area of interest. The current system of select committees is largely the result of reforms in the late 1970s that introduced specialist "departmental" select committees, a less partisan appointment process and committees that lasted the full term of a parliament rather than only one session.[15] Parliamentary select committees generally have proven to be an effective means of monitoring government and improving parliamentary accountability.[16] However, while some cross-departmental select committees exist, such as the Public Accounts Committee, the majority continue to be organised along conventional departmental lines and this does little to promote policy integration.

  To quote Bates: "The challenge is to ensure there is appropriate systematic scrutiny of areas that continue to matter"[17] and the Labour Party has long since advocated the need for some form of monitoring device to audit departments on their environmental performance. The Party's environment policy paper entitled In Trust for Tomorrow[18] recommended a parliamentary committee be set up to review departmental policy making in terms of its capacity to deliver sustainable development. This committee was to have a cross-departmental remit and was to be responsible for monitoring the implementation of the national sustainable development strategy. Interestingly, this new committee was to be supported by an expanded National Audit Office (NAO) which would actually carry out "environmental audits" on certain departmental projects in addition to its usual financial audits. It was recognised that this would be difficult given that environmental audits involve making judgements about trade-offs, environmental damage and likely long-term impacts. The document suggested that the NAO would need to develop close links with the Environment Agency, the academic community, NGOs and international institutions if it was to carry out this function properly.

  Following the Labour victory in May 1997, a cross-departmental select committee called the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) was introduced.[19] The first question this paper seeks to ask is whether or not the Committee has been effective. In doing so, the study is not concerned with subjective factors such as the internal workings of the Committee or the personalities involved.[20] These subjective factors are important in assessing why a committee has or has not been particularly effective and should not be discounted. However, in judging whether a particular committee has been effective, the true test is whether its output corresponds to its objectives. As such, the study relies on objective criteria for its assessment: the form and powers of the EAC; the EAC's remit and its interpretation thereof; the nature and scope of inquiries based on a review of the EAC's reports and the government responses to the reports.[21]

  The second question this paper seeks to answer is whether the Committee is actually influencing the Government in the promotion of environmental protection and sustainable development. The Government has committed itself to "putting sustainable development at the heart of government policymaking"[22] and the EAC has been charged with monitoring the Government's progress. The changes that are required for a "sustainable" United Kingdom may require a major cultural overhaul.[23] Given that the Government initially wanted the Committee to be the "terrier snapping at the government's heels", it is important to know not just whether the Committee is meeting the objectives set out in its remit, but also whether it is actually influencing the Government. If the Committee is not making a difference, then how can its influence be improved?

  Unfortunately, as Drewry notes "attempts to measure in any precise way the impact of select committees on government are bedevilled from the outset by problems of causality."[24] This paper does not aim to measure the immeasurable rather it lays out evidence upon which informed judgements may be made.[25] The study uncovered a great deal of evidence upon which subjective assumptions may be made about the Committee's influence on Whitehall and on the integration of environmental protection and sustainable development into the policies and programmes of government. These indicators include references to the Committee's influence in government documents, references to the Committee in the House and the effect drafting the Government response to one of the EAC's reports may have on a department.

1.  The Form and Powers of the Environmental Audit Committee

  The EAC is made up of 16 members of Parliament and its remit is as follows:

    —  to scrutinise the extent to which the policies and programmes of government departments and non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) contribute to environmental protection and sustainable development;

    —  to audit their performance against targets set for them by Ministers; and

    —  to report to the House.[26]

  The EAC, like other select committees, is able to call for evidence and advice from Ministers and civil servants from any department and from outside experts. It is also expected to work with other committees from either House. At its first meeting, the Committee elected a member of the official opposition as its chair. This approach is supposed to free the Committee from bias in favour of the ruling party and is modelled on the tradition of the Public Accounts Committee which enjoys a robust reputation for its rigorous audits. However, as in all select committees the Government still enjoys a majority on the Committee.

  In moving from a Conference Policy Document to a manifesto commitment this watchdog became only partially sighted as the EAC was established without the support of an extended National Audit Office. Hence, the EAC does not have an investigative arm that generates independent information and it does not have the powers and resources available to the Public Accounts Committee. As a result, like any "non-audit" select committee, the EAC is highly dependent on Whitehall for information.

2.  The Environmental Audit Committee's Remit

  A select committee possesses no authority except that which it derives by delegation from the House as defined in its order of reference.[27] The interpretation of the order of reference of a select committee is, however, a matter for the committee which can then choose its inquiry topics accordingly.[28] Relevant factors include members' perceptions of what the "House" would find most useful and significant; what the public might see as important; and of course, resource and capacity restraints.[29]

  In interpreting its remit, the EAC was in the difficult position of having to carve itself out a role amongst the plethora of other more established bodies involved in advising the Government on environmental protection and sustainable development issues. These include: the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, the British Government Panel on Sustainable Development and the UK Roundtable on Sustainable Development as well as the Environment, Transport and the Regional Affairs Select Committee (the ETRAC). The Committee sees the work of the first three bodies as complementary to its own work given their different purposes, structure and membership (some are experts; others are stakeholders; all act in an advisory capacity for government). The EAC regularly relies on information generated by these bodies. Distinguishing itself from the departmental select committee seems to have proved harder and the two select committees have had inquiries which overlap.[30]

  Interpreting the remit literally, the use of the words "scrutinise", "audit" and "report" shows that the Committee clearly is intended to call on the Government to account for its actions.[31] To this end, the Committee has established a rolling programme of inquiries that monitor the progress of major government commitments and how these reflect significant government activity and innovation in the field of sustainable development. For example, it has established ongoing inquiries into the Greening Government Initiative and the greening of the tax system.[32] A key factor in the selection of these topics is whether the area involves all government departments. This requirement keeps the EAC from overlapping with the work of other select committees such as the ETRAC.

  The Committee also conducts a number of inquiries into individual policy areas such as genetically modified organisms and energy efficiency. The triggers for the Committee's particular interest in a given subject have been the involvement of more than one government department; a significant environmental dimension to a policy not itself primarily environmental and a distinctive "audit" flavour.[33]

  The result has been a rather broad interpretation of the Committee's remit which involves very little detailed examination or audit of specific departmental policies and programmes and instead focuses more at significant cross-departmental policies which have either a direct or indirect environmental impact.

3.  The Reports of the Environmental Audit Committee

  Over the 1997-98 and 1998-99 parliamentary sessions the EAC published 13 reports. The information contained in the reports is central to this paper's consideration of whether or not the EAC has met its remit and the responses to these reports are similarly key indicators of the Committee's influence on the Government. In order to ensure the account is accurate, all of the EAC's reports published during the parliamentary sessions 1997-98 and 1998-99 have been examined. Each review concentrated on the following questions:

    1.  Why did the Committee decide to conduct this particular inquiry?

    2.  What is the scope of the inquiry? Does it examine overall government policy or expenditure? Does it examine specific departmental policy or administration?

    3.  What is the nature of the report? Is it critical or supportive?

  Some of the more interesting aspects of specific reports/inquiries are also discussed. In order to make the review more manageable, the reports have been grouped under the two headings: ongoing inquiries and inquiries into specific policy matters.

The Ongoing Inquiries

(a)  The Greening Government Initiative—2nd Report 1997-98, 6th Report 1998-99

  The Environmental Audit Committee was actually born out of the Greening Government programme. The intent was that the Committee would provide the accountability which to date had been missing from the programme. Hence, it was no surprise that the Greening Government Initiative ("GGI") was to be one of the first inquiries held by the Committee. The inquiry was to examine the Government's arrangements for integrating considerations of environmental protection and sustainable development into its decision-making processes.[34]

  During the study period, the Committee reported twice on the GGI and the scope of both inquiries has been on the overall GGI as a means of influencing individual departments' performance. Both inquiries considered the performance of individual departments only as a means of assessing how well the initiative was doing generally. The reported recommendations are directed at improving the initiative overall and are not directed at specific departments.

  The Committee's first GGI report[35] while supportive in places, is critical of the Government overall. "While the stated intentions are admirable, there appears to be some failure to grasp the overarching nature of sustainable development and apply it."[36]

  It would have been impossible for the Committee to conduct this inquiry following a narrow interpretation of its remit. At this stage, the Committee had very little concrete information with which to monitor or audit the performance of individual departments. As a result, the report's recommendations concentrate on improving the information available to the Committee. These include recommendations aimed at: improving the reporting of progress under the GGI,[37] improving environmental appraisal processes and documentation,[38] establishing set targets for greening operations,[39] and seeking improved commitments to environmental management systems.[40] The Committee also requested a major debate on sustainable development in Parliament.[41]

  The Committee managed to acquire much more information for its second inquiry into the GGI. First, it had the benefit of a written response from the Government on its previous report. This allowed the Committee to check progress since the first report and then again since the Government's response. Furthermore, the Committee had all the departmental annual reports and two environment reports.[42] Finally, the Committee had asked all departments and NDPBs to provide written answers to specific questions that included their commitment to environmental management systems, environmental appraisal, and the effect of devolution on the Greening Government agenda. As a result, the Committee could focus more closely on more specific policies and programmes than it could during its previous inquiry.

  Overall, the Committee found some improvements but remained critical. Specifically, it found that the Cabinet Committee was still not providing any leadership although the Green Ministers were starting to have an impact.[43] It also found that the departmental annual reports were still lacking in terms of reporting department environmental performance but a more positive approach towards environmental management systems was reported.[44] While encouraged by the production of departmental Green Transport Plans, the Committee recommended that the Government set out firm minimum requirements.[45] The Committee was disappointed to find that the GMC had not set targets for energy use, water use, waste or transport.[46] All of these criticisms highlight the fact that the Committee still lacks the information it needs to carry out its audit function.

The Budget Reports—1st Report 1997-98, 3rd Report 1997-98, 4th Report 1998-99, 8th Report 1998-99

  The Committee's announcement that it planned to undertake an inquiry of the Pre-Budget Report 1997 caught the Government by surprise.[47] That said, once the announcement was made it was difficult for the Government to refuse to co-operate as the Treasury press release on the Pre-Budget had heralded its environmental virtues.[48] Furthermore, the Treasury had published an ambitious Statement of Intent on Environmental Taxation in July 1997 which, among other things, claimed "that the Government's central economic objectives are the promotion of high and sustainable levels of growth and high levels of employment and that such growth must be both sustainable and environmentally sustainable.[49]

  The scope of the Budget inquiries has been on overall government policy and to a lesser extent expenditure. There is very little direct examination, criticism or support for any one individual department or agency including the Treasury.

  From the beginning the Committee has been generally very critical of the Budget and budgetary process although this is often couched between supportive terms. For example in its first report, the Committee was pleased with the consultation in advance of the Budget adding that the Committee would expect to contribute to such consultation on a regular basis.[50] This compliment aside, the report concludes that the Pre-Budget Report did not contain any evidence of a strategic approach in line with the Statement of Intent on Environmental Taxation and that work on a long term strategic approach is both vital and urgent[51] and that it is essential the Government publish an assessment of the environmental impact of the Budget.[52]

  More specific recommendations are also made: for example, the Government should appraise the incentive effects of higher rates of escalation on road fuel duty; and that it address the perverse incentives in the taxation of company cars as part of its integrated transport policy if not sooner.[53]

  The Committee's Third Report followed the publication of the Budget itself and reflects the EAC's practice of publishing Government responses with further comments. As such, it makes few new recommendations.[54]

  The tone of the Committee's next report on the Pre-Budget Report 1998 remains critical. In it, the Committee claims that the Government has made no start in using the information already available to show how government economic policies would deliver environmentally sustainable growth.[55] The Committee found no evidence that the Government was addressing the merits of environmental taxation in the context of improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the tax system as a whole.[56] While the report raises some of the same issues, such as the need for a Green Tax Commission, it also makes several new recommendations. For example: the Treasury should explore how it can use results of modelling already done by the Government (DTI and DETR) on Climate Change, transport growth etc in their Budget documents.[57]

  The Committee's most recent report on the Budget 1999 differs in several respects from its predecessors.[58] First the Committee uses its influence to back government policy on the Climate Change levy and the tax on aggregates which is being challenged by powerful lobby groups.[59] Second, the report is more positive noting that this Budget is the "greenest ever Budget".[60] That said, the Committee notes that in its view "the Budget 1999 did not move significantly further towards assessing the impact of economic and fiscal policies on the environment." It further observes "that GDP remains a major focus in the government's overview of its economic and fiscal strategy without qualification despite the Government's own stated reservations about this as a measure of quality of life.[61] The environmental assessment table is criticised as "having a nice logic to it" but only really providing headline information.[62]

  The report also highlights the changing relationship between the EAC and the Treasury. The Committee's scrutiny is now accepted as part of the Budget process. Indeed, during the inquiry the Economic Secretary asked the Committee to set out a list of what it would like to see with respect to environmental appraisals in individual tax measures. As a result a large part of this report is devoted to what the Committee considers to be best practice for ex ante and ex post environmental appraisals.

Climate Change—4th Report 1997-98 and 2nd Report 1998-99

  The Environment, Transport and the Regions Select Committee (ETRAC) had already begun an inquiry into the Climate Change Programme (which involves many departments) before the EAC was created. Members of the EAC thought it was important that the EAC also inquired into Climate Change due to the priority given to the matter by Government and the likelihood that any UK Climate Change Programme would involve targets that would fall to the EAC to audit. However, because of the terms of reference for the ETRAC inquiry, instead of auditing domestic policy issues, the EAC inquiry focused on how the DETR was performing in the relevant international and EU negotiations.[63] For this reason, the scope of the Climate Change inquiries has been firmly on overall government policy although actions taken by the Minister for the Environment and the DETR have been also considered.[64]

  The Committee has produced two reports from its inquiries into Climate Change. The first report set out the Committee's views on emission reduction targets and audit arrangements in advance of the Government's consultation on its Climate Change programme which was to be published later that year.[65]

  The report begins with a useful explanation of the Kyoto Protocol and the commitments made by countries including the EU to reduce their overall emissions of certain greenhouse gases. The overall tone of the report is very positive and the Committee is supportive of the Government's position in international and EU negotiations on burden sharing, audit and enforcement.[66] It is only when the discussion narrows into the national programme that the Committee criticises the Government and even then only once. "We were disappointed that the Government did not detail to us substantive work to support its adoption of the 20 per cent CO2 reduction target."[67]

  The EAC's second inquiry followed the publication of the Government's consultation paper on the UK Climate Change Programme and the Government Response to the Committee's Fourth Report.[68] The resulting report is again largely supportive of the Government. This is understandable as the UK is one of few countries which is likely to achieve its binding target for the commitment period. The sole real criticism was that the Government's consultation programme failed to give the Government a leading role in tackling emissions from air traffic and as such urged the Government to press the EU to take a lead on this matter.[69]

  These two reports seem to serve different functions to the other more critical inquiries. First, the evidence provided by the Government and the resulting reports focus on informing the Committee and Parliament about the Government's programme for Climate Change and its importance. Second, the EAC's recommendations largely either restate the Government position as the Committee's opinion or provide backup by urging the Government to pursue its existing policy. This, in turn, provides the Government with parliamentary support for its positions in international negotiations.

The Specific Inquiries

Multilateral Agreement on Investment—1st Report 1998-99

  In May 1995 the Ministers of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) agreed a mandate for the negotiation of an agreement (the Multilateral Agreement on Investment or the MAI) to facilitate international investment flows by liberalising the treatment of foreign investment and by providing a single source of high quality investment protection.[70] It was not until September 1997 that a UK proposal for an environmental review of the agreement was accepted. By April 1998, many issues (including issues surrounding employment and the environment) remained outstanding, the agreement was not concluded and a six month suspension was introduced for member states to consult interested parties.

  In August 1998 the Committee agreed to undertake an inquiry into the implications for environmental protection and sustainable development of the MAI in light of concerns raised by non-governmental organisations and a change of approach by the new Government.[71] The very nature of the MAI meant that the scope of the Committee's investigation would again be on overall government policy.

  This report is critical of the approach taken by both UK Governments to the MAI negotiations observing that the MAI appears to be a prime example of the failure of the bolt-on approach to addressing the economic, environmental and social impacts of policy.[72]

  However, as the negotiations for the MAI had fallen through, the report is also concerned with providing sound recommendations for any future negotiations. It emphasises that before any future negotiations on the MAI the Government should first reassess what are its objectives and priorities in pursuing an MAI;[73] and then press for certain key principles to be followed with regard to the process of negotiations.[74] Furthermore, the Committee concluded that the substance of any future negotiations must address certain key environmental issues[75] and that particular attention must be given to ensure environmental and social issues are considered on an equal footing with other concerns and that appropriate participation is secured from the start.[76]

Comprehensive Spending Review—3rd Report 1998-99

  The Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) was launched on 24 July 1997 as a review "to allow the Government to bring public spending programmes into line with its priorities and objectives". It was to be "truly comprehensive, embracing all items of public expenditure" and would be focused on the long term.[77] The Review encompassed reviews by all government departments of their spending programmes and several cross-departmental reviews. Its conclusions were to form the basis for the Government's spending plans for the future.[78]

  The CSR clearly meets all of the factors that trigger interest by the EAC for an inquiry. It involves more than one government department, has a significant environmental dimension to a policy not itself primarily environmental; and a distinctive "audit" flavour.[79] The inquiry announced by the Committee aimed to examine how far the Government has taken forward its commitment to environmental protection and sustainable development through its conduct of the Comprehensive Spending Review and its decisions on public expenditure for the years 1999-2002.

  Unlike its other inquiries, the scope of this inquiry covered most of the elements in the EAC's remit. The report is critical of the overall approach taken by the Government in conducting its spending review. The Committee was concerned that the CSR and the formal processes for preparing it did not put enough weight on the Government's commitment to sustainable development.[80]

  Second, given the subject matter, much of the report is directed at Government spending. The Committee notes that whilst the increases in funding for environmental protection programmes should be welcomed, they are marginal by comparison to what could be achieved through the integration of environmental considerations into the Government's more mainstream programmes for health, education and competitiveness.[81] The report also questions whether the balance of spending between road and rail had been addressed in the CSR.[82]

  Third, during the inquiry, the Committee examined every department's public service agreement (PSA) and assessed the approach to the CSR taken by individual departments. However, specific departmental experience is only used in the report to make more general observations about the process as a whole rather than to specifically criticise individual departments. For example, the Committee was disappointed by the answers to its questions on the environmental appraisal of policies and concluded that the Government has not been meeting its commitments in this regard.[83]

  Finally, the report is unique in that it also touches on certain administrative decisions made by individual departments. The Committee questioned the decisions by the DETR and the Department of Education and Employment not to conduct environmental appraisals on investments in improving council housing and on plans to increase capital spending on schools respectively.[84] This is despite the fact that all of these programmes had acknowledged environmental consequences.[85]

  Several recommendations are made for any future review. In particular for any subsequent CSR, the Government should more fully reflect its commitment to sustainable development and the approach it is adopting, so that it is clear that its spending proposals and performance targets are fully consistent with its strategic policy intention.[86] Furthermore, the next round of PSA's should include performance targets related to key aspects of the Government's sustainable development strategy and its commitment to greening government operations.[87]

  Overall, this was a very comprehensive inquiry. This may be due to the amount of material available to the Committee: a published White Paper, and PSAs for all the departments.

Genetically Modified Organisms—Fifth Report 1998-99

  This inquiry was conducted very quickly and in response to public concern, demonstrating the flexibility in the select committee system. The inquiry avoided the substantive scientific disputes over GMOs as other bodies were examining these issues.[88] Instead, the Committee concentrated on the processes used to make those substantive decisions. Again the scope of this inquiry is confined to overall government policy.

  The report is supportive of the Government where it is warranted: it welcomes the establishment of the Cabinet Committee on Biotechnology (MISC 6) given the need for co-ordination and cohesion of the different departmental interests in this complex policy area.[89]

  However, the inquiry also raised some obvious defects in the current approach to GMOs and in its report the Committee makes concrete recommendations. The report notes that the existing mechanism for incorporating public values alongside the results of scientific assessment with the decision-making process on GMOs is plainly inadequate[90] and that the Committee remains concerned about the ability of Ministers to ultimately stop commercial plantings from going ahead in the event of dispute.[91] It recommends the development of new strategic approach built on the precautionary approach[92] and the establishment of a new overarching advisory committee to provide published advice to Ministers on the development and implementation of strategy, review this advice, analyse broader (such as ethical) issues and articulate public values.[93]

Energy Efficiency—Seventh Report 1998-99

  Following an exploratory session on energy use with experts from two research centres, the Committee, on 2 November 1998, announced its intention to examine the coherence and effectiveness of the Government's approach to efficient energy use (excluding the transport sector) in light of its commitment to sustainable development.[94] The inquiry was to focus on the use of energy in industry, commerce, the public sector and in homes, examining government targets, policies and programmes for their contribution to improving energy efficiency.[95]

  The Committee's report begins with an excellent discussion of energy efficiency as a relatively straightforward "win-win" strategy for sustainable development. The Committee notes that the prospects for more difficult aspects of sustainable development are bleak indeed if an objective with such characteristics cannot be successfully integrated into the way we go about our lives.[96] The focus of the report is on overall government policy; energy policy, fuel poverty, institutions etc. There is some examination of finance and expenditure in terms of taxes such as VAT and the Climate Change levy as well as some subsidies.

  The report contains both criticism and support for the Government. It welcomes the Government's willingness to learn from the experience of a particular local authority partnership and yet highlights the persistent problem of fuel poverty in the UK as a national scandal. In the report, the Committee recommends the Government adopt a sustainable hierarchy in establishing a framework for UK energy policy (as in waste) starting with the promotion of end use energy efficiency, energy supply from renewable sources, followed by combined heat and power, fossil fuels etc.[97]

  An interesting observation made by the Committee in this report was that while the Government believes its institutional arrangements for efficiency can be made to work, this view is not shared by its significant partners outside Whitehall such as the Green Alliance.[98] As a result, in the report the EAC recommends that the institutional arrangements be reviewed and a new unit be created to ensure all the initiatives are pulling in the same direction.


  Like all select committees, the EAC has no binding authority on government. Its powers are restricted to conducting inquiries, calling witnesses and documents, issuing reports, and publicising the reports in the media and in the House often through the use of informed parliamentary questions. While the Government is not obliged to follow any of the recommendations in a select committee report, it is now expected to respond to reports. These responses can vary dramatically from mere acknowledgements, to a reiteration of previously given evidence to a thorough response to each of the points raised in the select committee's report. The Government has responded to most of the EAC's inquiries to date[99] and most of these responses have been published.

  The responses seem to fall into two broad categories. The main purpose of the Government's responses to the EAC's reports on Climate Change[100] and the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI)[101] appears to be to update MPs and the Committee on the latest developments on the Climate Change programme and on the international rules for investment respectively. In both of these responses the Government agrees with several of the EAC's conclusions. This is not surprising for the response to the Climate Change report where the Committee was very supportive. The EAC was more critical in the MAI report however, there now seems to be universal agreement that the process had been seriously flawed and that any new negotiations would need to be fundamentally different.

  The other responses all tend to continue the dialogue between the Committee and the Government on the inquiry subject. Some of these are more critical than others. Some accept none of the EAC's recommendations while others accept one or more and put several under review.

  In the Government's Response to the Second Report on the GGI the tone is generally positive.[102] The Government agrees to some of the Committee's recommendations and takes several others under review.[103] For example it commits the GMC to preparing an annual report on their activities for publication.[104] Similarly, in its response to the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) the Government not only commits itself to considering how the procedural weaknesses identified by the EAC can be remedied in the next spending review but also suggests a solution and asks the Committee for comment.[105] In the Government's response to the Committee's energy efficiency report, some of the EAC's recommendations are expressly rejected and a number are seemingly ignored.[106] However, the Government does undertake to reassess its many energy efficiency programmes to achieve a more streamlined and efficient approach.[107]

  In contrast, while the tone of the Government's response to the Committee's first report[108] on the Pre-Budget 1997 is positive, welcoming the Committee's involvement and support, none of the Committee's substantive recommendations are specifically accepted. Indeed, the Government disagrees with many of the Committee's recommendations.[109] Importantly, the Government did agree to review the form of environmental assessment used for Budget measures.[110] The Government has since responded to two more EAC reports on the budgetary process.[111] In each of these it addresses all of the Committee's main conclusions. Some disagreements have continued however, some important changes have occurred which are in line with the EAC's recommendations. For example in its response to the Fourth Report the Government announced the Climate Change Levy on business use of energy[112] and its most recent response the Government states that it is continuing to consider how the environmental appraisal of policy measures in the Budget might be further improved.[113]


  Earlier in the paper, the EAC's remit was reviewed and it was noted that the EAC had interpreted its remit widely. Using this interpretation, the EAC remit is now considered under four different headings: the review of overall government policy and expenditure; the review of departmental policy and programmes; the audit of set targets and the reporting of its findings to the House.

Review of overall government policy and expenditure

  The Committee has been very successful at examining the policies and programmes of government as a whole in terms of the extent to which they contribute to environmental protection and sustainable development. Every inquiry it has conducted has involved major policy issues. While this may not have been an immediately evident part of the EAC's initial remit, over time it has actually become the main focus of the EAC's work. The Committee's working practices make this preference for major policy clear: "triggers for inquiries include the involvement of more than one government department; a significant environmental dimension to a policy not itself primarily environmental; and a distinctive "audit" flavour.[114]

  In all of these inquiries, the Committee had a report or agreement to audit or review. If and when new information becomes available from individual departments and targets are set, it is likely that the Committee will begin more targeted inquiries. However, it is unlikely that this will herald the end of its large inquiries into major policies. First, the Committee has been successful in its reviews of major policy issues thus far and success breeds success. Second, these reviews are appealing to members of the Committee since they cover important policy areas and attract more publicity to the work of the Committee and its goals. Finally, the Committee has expressly committed itself to several ongoing larger policy reviews: such as the Budget and the Greening Government Initiative, and these will remain a large part of its work.

Review of departmental policies and programmes

  The Committee, in the main, has not examined specific departmental policies and programmes in terms of their contribution to environmental protection and sustainable development. The Committee did look at the policies of individual departments in its reviews of the Comprehensive Spending Review and the Greening Government Initiative. However, it has yet to direct any specific recommendation to an individual department. Instead, in both cases, the Committee used specific examples to make general observations and recommendations.[115]

  A narrower reading of its remit would require the EAC to review specific departmental policies, programmes and decisions (as well as those of NDPBs) in terms of their impact on sustainable development or environmental protection. The Committee has yet to conduct such an inquiry. Indeed, to date, in order to trigger an inquiry a policy should involve more than one department. There are several reasons for this. First, the Committee has not had the information it needs to conduct such inquiries. Departments have not systematically reported on their environmental performance in a way that can effectively be monitored. The information contained in the annual reports is minimal and there remains no consistent approach for conducting or reporting environmental appraisals. Following the Committee's reports on the Greening Government Initiative and the Comprehensive Spending Review, as well as the Government's commitments to improve the environmental reporting of departments, more information on specific departments may soon be available.[116] It is likely that as this information improves the Committee will ask specific departments to account for their actions more directly.

  A second problem surrounds the structure of the select committee and its resources. The Public Accounts Committee takes forward the conclusions and recommendations of the National Audit Office (NAO) which flow from detailed reviews of specific departmental decisions both in terms of its audit and value for money studies. However, only the NAO has the right of access and analytical capacity needed to conduct such inquiries. Even if the information discussed above was available the EAC has not been given the resources to conduct such detailed inquiries and could not deal with that volume of information effectively.[117] A similar select committee in Canada provides an interesting contrast. This committee, not unlike the EAC as originally proposed, has the support of a Commissioner for the Environment and Sustainable Development who is attached to the Office of the Auditor General.[118] The Commissioner has a right of access into departments and among other things conducts mandatory "audits" of departmental sustainable development strategies and then reports these to the House. Clearly the reports by the Commissioner provide the Canadian committee with an independent reliable source of detailed information in a manageable form that the committee can then use to question departments.[119] However, this system demands substantial resources.

  Departmentally specific inquiries may also be avoided for another reason. Sustainable development and the integration of environmental concerns into all aspects of government decision making is likely to require dramatic cultural change. This change may be in direct conflict with the traditional objectives, character and culture of particular departments and agencies. It is possible that examining and criticising individual departments may be counter-productive to the integration goal at this early stage.[120] So instead of naming and shaming departments, the Committee seems to have opted for a more softly softly approach to persuasion where specific departmental examples are used to highlight more general criticisms and inform more general recommendations.

Auditing against set targets

  The Committee has had virtually no opportunity to audit departmental performance against operational targets set by Ministers. The targets have simply not existed.[121] The Committee has been instrumental in pressuring the Government to set targets and to ensure that those set are auditable.[122] For example, in its report on the Comprehensive Spending Review, the EAC recommended that the next PSA should include performance targets related to key aspects of the Government's sustainable development strategy and its commitment to greening government operations.[123] If and when targets are set, the Committee's audit function will become increasingly more significant. Again, one has to question whether the Committee's current structure would be able to cope with a very detailed audit function.[124]

Reporting to the House

  The Committee's reporting function is a vital feature of parliamentary accountability as it improves members' understanding of issues, improves debate on these issues, creates a public record of the inquiry and promotes media attention. The Committee has produced several very readable reports with useful executive summaries. Its first report on the GGI was the subject of a debate in the House of Commons[125] as was its report on Genetically Modified Organisms.[126] Furthermore, as detailed below, the EAC's work is regularly referred to the House.


  The second question this paper sought to examine was whether the Committee has had an influence on the Government and the extent to which government policies and programmes contribute to environmental protection and sustainable development. To use the Government's own words, is the Committee helping the Government put sustainable development at the heart of every government department's work?

  As emphasised above, it is virtually impossible accurately to assess or measure one actor's contribution towards any improved environmental performance by government.[127] Other factors influencing government behaviour range from: public bodies, and advisory groups, to international obligations and other states, to interest groups and the media. That said, the above study uncovered some indicators that suggest the EAC has had an impact including: the Government's own statements of the Committee's influence; the Government's responses to Committee reports; the support of Government policies against conflicting interests; and the Committee's exposure in the House and in the media. These are considered in turn.

  Perhaps the most obvious indications of the Committee's influence are Government statements which assert the Committee has had an influence. In the White Paper A Better Quality of Life, the Government states that "[it] particularly welcomes the Committee's emerging practice of returning to topics to assess progress and to identify where weaknesses still exist."[128] Perhaps the most persuasive statement comes from the Environment Minister in the Green Ministers Committee's Annual Report where he notes that "like so many of the recommendations from the EAC, it (the GMC Annual Report) seemed to the Government to offer a positive and practical way to take forward our work on Greening Government."[129] He also states that "the EAC has praised departments where they have made clear progress ...Equally, they have made it clear where they think we could do more. I hope they will continue to do so."[130] The most recent praise has come from the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his 1999 Pre-Budget Report "The EAC's work plays an important part in reinforcing the Government's commitment to environmental appraisal".[131]

  To what extent this is evidence of a genuine influence or simply the Government congratulating itself on coming up with the Committee in the first place is debatable. It does seem to suggest that the Committee is seen as something that cannot, nor should not be ignored.

  This study has revealed several instances where the Committee's recommendations have been accepted, and more have been placed under review. For example, as recommended by the EAC the Government altered the terms of reference of the Cabinet Committee ENV so its remit now expressly includes the co-ordination of sustainable development issues.[132] Even the ongoing Budget inquiry has produced results in terms of improvements to the Green Book and a commitment to the Climate Change Levy.[133] Much more indirectly, the process of writing a response may, at the very least, compel departments to consider some of the issues raised in a report. Similarly, simply preparing documentation for an inquiry and appearing before the Committee, may force officials to consider the environmental implications of departmental policies and programmes irrespective of how benign they may seem at first glance.

  The reports also influence government by supporting policies and programmes which may be unpopular in certain quarters yet are consistent with sustainable development and environmental protection goals. The reports add legitimacy to the Government's position and make it easier for the Government to stick to often difficult decisions. For example, the Committee has used its influence to back the tax on aggregates which continues to be challenged by powerful lobby groups[134] as well as supporting the UK position on Climate Change while criticising the stance taken by other countries.[135]

  Furthermore, the Committee's work, like that of all select committees, also improves the information available to members of the House.[136] The added information is used to ask more precise questions of government thus improving the accountability of government to the House. An informal survey revealed that the Committee's work had been mentioned during House of Commons debates about 60 times from 26 November 1997 to 2 September 1999 and cited in written answers 10 times during that same period.[137]

  Finally, the Committee's exposure elsewhere can also be used as an indication of its influence. The more exposure the Committee's work receives the more likely it will attract public attention. This, in turn, increases the likelihood the Government will have to respond or be seen to respond to it. For example, other environmental bodies, such as the Round Table on Sustainable Development, have supported the Committee's conclusions.[138] The Committee has also received good coverage in specialist publications such as the ENDS Report[139] and its work has had sporadic coverage in the generalist press.[140] The coverage has however, focused on issues which were often already in the public eye such as the genetically modified foods and the budget.[141] Furthermore, the EAC does not receive anywhere near the amount of coverage as the Public Accounts Committee and this could reflect their comparative influences on government, the House and the public.[142]


  Is the Environmental Audit Committee an effective form of parliamentary scrutiny? More specifically, has the Committee met the objectives set out in its remit? The answer is yes, in some respects. The Committee is clearly scrutinising overall government policy and expenditure and to a lesser extent departmental policies and programmes. It is also regularly reporting to the House. The Committee's audit function remains lacking, largely due to the lack of targets against which to audit performance. This is probably the Committee's weakest area so far.

  The Committee is an important monitor of the "integration process". From the start, the Committee has taken the Government at its word, it has sought out policies and programmes which are not primarily environmental but which have a significant environmental dimension for its inquiries. It also has questioned government behaviour especially in regard to finance and expenditure. All its reports show the Committee pushing the Government to keep its commitment to integration by criticising Government action, by providing support for the Government's opposition where necessary, by criticising those who disagree and by offering lots of recommendations.

  All of this work appears to be making an impact. The Government, at least in its rhetoric, sees the Committee as an important part of the process of integrating sustainable development into government decision-making and has even acted on Committee recommendations.

  More generally, the work of the EAC highlights the problems surrounding cross-departmental policies such as sustainable development.[143] In the drive for sustainable development the Government was going to lead by example yet it is clearly struggling. Government is not a single entity. Each department or agency has its own identity, objectives, culture, organisation and priorities. For some departments like the DETR, sustainable development is a key objective; for others, like Treasury, it is one of many often conflicting policy objectives; and for others, it is a non-issue. Furthermore, during the Committee's inquiries it was not uncommon for departments and even less uncommon for executive agencies to disagree or discredit one another. For example, both English Nature and the Environment Agency openly took opposing views to the Treasury in regard to the establishment of a Green Tax Commission. Indeed, this type of parliamentary cross-departmental scrutiny can play havoc with collective responsibility yet without a strong lead from the centre, it is very easy for cross-departmental policies like sustainable development to falter due to the diverse ambitions of individual departments.[144]  The ENV Cabinet Committee was supposed to provide this lead but as evidenced in the EAC's reports on the Greening Government Initiative so far it has failed to do so.[145]  The difference in the amount of press coverage received by the PAC compared to the EAC serves to emphasise the fact that we are a long way from sustainable development being seen as one of the key functions of Government.

1   Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Dundee. The author would like to thank Colin Reid and Jeremy Rowan-Robinson for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper as well as Alice Belcher and Alan Page for their useful insights at the beginning of the project. Finally, many thanks to Mr Fergus Reid, Clerk of the Environmental Audit Committee, for his invaluable assistance and patience throughout. The author, of course, takes full responsibility for any inaccuracies or omissions. Back

2   Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) Press Release No 477, 26 November 1997. Back

3   Hansard HC Debates Col 853, 18 November 1998. Back

4   Hansard HC Debates Col 853, 18 November 1998. Back

5   House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, Minutes of Evidence, Monday 29 March 1999, Q.539. Back

6   House of Commons Standing Order No 152 (A) HC 7 1997. Back

7   The most widely used definition of sustainable development is "development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" Our Common Future (The Bruntland Report) Report of the 1987 World Commission on Environment and Development (Oxford University Press, 1987). The UK Government ahs adopted the above definition and interprets as meeting four objectives at the same time: social progress which recognises the needs of everyone, effective protection of the environment; prudent use of natural resources and maintenance of high and stable levels of economic growth and employment. A Better Quality of Life-UK Strategy for Sustainable Development (HMSO, 1999) Cm 4345 (para 1.1-1.2). Back

8   The National Environmental Policy Act 1969 42 USC 4321-4347 (as amended) ss.101-102. Note also s.201 establishes the Council on Environmental Quality which monitors and reports on progress under NEPA. Back

9   For example, s.66 of the Countryside (Scotland) Act 1967, (as amended) imposes on every Minister, government department and public body in the exercise of their statutory functions an obligation to have regard to the desirability of conserving the natural heritage of Scotland. Back

10   Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (26 November 1997) Press Notice "Environmental Audit Committee Established" 477/97. Back

11   The term "greening government" has become an accepted term to describe action taken by states to consider the environmental consequences of their actions. Government has labelled certain initiatives "Greening Government" Initiatives. See for example: House of Commons, Environmental Audit Committee, (16 January 1998) Press Release 03/97-98. Back

12   A Better Quality of Life-UK Strategy for Sustainable Development (HMSO, 1999) Cm 4345. Back

13   DETR, Greening Government-The First Annual Report of the Green Ministers Committee 1998-99, 9 August 1999. Back

14   D Oliver Government in the United Kingdom: the Search for Accountability, Effectiveness and Citizenship (Milton Keynes, Open University Press 1991) chapter 2. Back

15   See P Baines "the History and Rationale of 1979 Reforms" Chapter 1 in G Drewry (ed.) The New Select Committees (Oxford, Clarendon Press 1985). Back

16   N Johnson, "Departmental Select Committees" Chapter 9 in M Ryle, PG Richards (eds.) The Commons under Scrutiny (London, Routledge 1988). G Drewry The New Select Committees 2nd Edition (Oxford, Clarendon Press 1989), St J Bates "The Scrutiny of Administration" Chapter 10 in M Ryle, PG Richards (eds.) The Commons under Scrutiny (London, Routledge 1988). Most recently, the House of Commons Select Committee on Procedure concludes that the committees "provided a far more vigorous, systematic and comprehensive scrutiny of Ministers' actions and policies than anything that went before." House of Commons Select Committee on Procedure 19-1 Session 1989-90, p.xxi. Back

17   Bates op.cit.n.13 p.211. Back

18   In Trust for Tomorrow Report of the Labour Party Policy Commission on the Environment (1994). Back

19   Although not in the form as initially proposed. See below. Back

20   In contrast, the work conducted by the Study of Parliament Group did consider factors such as the strength and influence of the chairman, the relationships between members, attempts at consensus in the committee, committee's relationship with the press, the committee's relationship with specific Ministers or departments, members' own interests and goals, etc. Drewry, op.cit.p.4. Back

21   The main source of information for this study was a systematic review of all the EAC's reports for the committee sessions 1997-98 and 1998-99. The Government responses to these reports were also reviewed. Other sources of information included the relevant academic and professional literature, the EAC press releases as well as a rather informal quantitative analysis of the number of references made to the EAC in House of Commons debates, written answers and in the general and specialist press. Finally, the Clerk to the Committee, Mr Fergus Reid, was interviewed and his responses were later endorsed by the Chairman of the Committee, Mr John Horam MP. Back

22   A Better Quality of Life-UK Strategy for Sustainable Development (HMSO, 1999) Cm 4345. Back

23   ibid. para.1.8 which states "We need to find a new way forward. We need greater prosperity with less environmental damage. We need to improve the efficiency with which we use resources... And we need international co-operation to overcome environmental problems . . .." Back

24   Drewry (1985) op cit at p.6. See also N Johnson Parliament and Administration: The Estimates Committee 1945-65, (London, Allen and Unwin, 1966) pp.136-137. Back

25   Giddings, op cit at p.368. Back

26   HC Deb. Vol.33, col.683, 10 November 1997. Back

27   Sir D Limon, WR McKay (eds.), Erskine May's Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament 22nd ed. (London, Butterworths) p.633. Back

28   ibid. Back

29   Written responses from Clerk of EAC-Mr Fergus Reid, as discussed in telephone interview on 7 October 1999. Back

30   See below with respect to the Reports on Climate Change. Back

31   See above and HC Deb. Vol.33, col.683, 10 November 1997. Back

32   Environmental Audit Committee Working Practices (rev) 9 September 1999. Back

33   ibid. Back

34   Environmental Audit Committee of the House of Commons Press Release No 2 of Session 1997-98 22 December 1997. Back

35   2nd Report 1997-98 HC 517. Back

36   ibid. para.52. More specifically, some of the Committee's other conclusions and recommendations included that it was disappointed that the Cabinet Committee (ENV) did not appear to have a proactive role. Further, the Cabinet Committee's remit should be amended to specifically include sustainable development and the environmental impact of policies which may not have specific environmental objectives. Back

37   For example, it recommended that: the Green Ministers Committee (GMC) should report to the Cabinet Committee on progress on an annual basis and the report should be published; there should be a range of separate but explicitly complementary reports including annual reports on Government performance against the Sustainable Development Strategy and targets as well as departmental annual reports on progress on sustainable development objectives. Ibid. paras. 31, 85, 87. Back

38   ibid. paras. 107, 100. Back

39   The Committee recommended that the GMC agree more detailed core reporting requirements to be implemented in all departments, including energy use, water use, transport, procurement, waste to landfill, paper use and recycling, emission and contaminated land. Ibid. para. 120. Back

40   ibid. paras. 156, 157, 158. Back

41   ibid. para. 87. Back

42   From the Environment Agency and the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions. Back

43   6th Report 1998-99 HC 426, paras. 12, 17. Back

44   ibid. paras. 26, 41. Back

45   For example: setting uniform mileage rates for all government departments. Ibid. para 86. Back

46   ibid. para 78. Back

47   In January 1998, the Financial Secretary and Treasury Green Minister, Dawn Primarolo, initially declined to give evidence on the environmental aspects of the Pre-Budget Report on the grounds that it was already too close to 17 March, the date the Budget itself was due. See (1998) The ENDS Report vol. 276, p.29, Environmental Data Services Ltd, London. The Deputy Prime Minister later told the Committee that this reluctance had been the result of a misunderstanding that had been resolved. HC 517-i (1997-98) Q12. Back

48   HM Treasury Press Release No.4, 25 November 1997. Back

49   It also promised that the Government would explore the scope for using the tax system to deliver environmental objectives and that over time the Government would aim to reform the tax system to increase incentives to reduce environmental damage. HM Treasury Environmental Taxation-Statement of Intent, 2 July 1997. Back

50   1st Report 1997-98 HC 547, para. 18. Back

51   ibid. paras. 27, 30. Back

52   It also recommends that the Government establish an advisory body on environmental taxation-such as a green tax commission; and that consideration be given to the setting of a target for a progressive increase in the proportion of revenue yield from environmental taxes thereby creating the potential for reductions in the taxation of goods. Ibid. pras. 31, 32, 35. Back

53   ibid. paras. 44, 56. Back

54   The report criticises the Treasury for treating environmental protection as an "add on". It also welcomes the increased information available about the environmental impact of budgetary measures, noting that the table (Table 5.3) still fell short of the Committee's expectations. 3rd Report 1997-98 HC 985, paras. 7, 18-20. Back

55   4th Report 1998-99, HC 93. Back

56   ibid. paras. 6, 18, 21. Back

57   Furthermore, the Government should not only consider the contributions of a new environmental taxation measure to the environmental policy in question but it should also compare its efficiency with existing taxes to increase the efficiency of the tax system as a whole. Ibid. paras, 9, 21. Back

58   8th Report 1998-99, HC 326. Back

59   Representing companies from energy intensive sectors and the aggregates industry. Ibid. para. 10. Back

60   ibid. para. 9. Back

61   ibid. para. 28. Back

62   ibid. para. 36. Back

63   Interview with Mr Fergus Reid, Clerk to the Environmental Audit Committee. Back

64   Given the committee's respective remits these inquiries could perhaps have been reversed. Back

65   4th Report 1997-98, HC 899. Back

66   ibid. para. 18. Back

67   ibid. para. 29. Back

68   Published as Appendix 1 to the 2nd Report 1998-99, HC 88. Back

69   2nd Report 1998-99, HC 88, para. 10. Back

70   More specifically it would "provide a broad multilateral framework for international investment with high standards for the liberalisation of investment regimes and investment protection and with effective dispute settlement procedures; be a free-standing international treaty open to all OECD Members and the European Communities, and to accession by non-OECD Member countries, which will be consulted as the negotiations progress" OECD Council Communique« (September 1995). Back

71   EAC Press Notice No.18 of Session 1997-98, 3 August 1998. Back

72   1st Report 1998-99, HC 58, paras. 42, 18. Back

73   ibid. para. 62. Back

74   These include the full participation of developing countries; inclusion of environmental appraisal from the start of any preparatory work; and an open process, transparent process with regular and full reporting on progress on the identified objectives, benefits and risks. Ibid. para. 64. Back

75   ibid. para. 65. Back

76   ibid. para. 70. Back

77   HM Treasury News Release 89/97. Back

78   Modern Public Services for Britain, Investing in Reform Cm 4011. Back

79   Environmental Audit Committee Working Practices (rev) 9 September 1999. Back

80   3rd Report 1998-99, HC 92, para. 16. Back

81   ibid. para. 24. Back

82   ibid. para. 26. Back

83   ibid. para. 38. Back

84   ibid para 34 and para 30. Back

85   The Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was also criticised for its decision not to conduct environmental appraisals for its plans to provide payments for farmers to improve the attractiveness of the countryside. Ibid para 59. Back

86   ibid para 59. Back

87   ibid para 62. Back

88   Including the Report of the European Communities Select Committee of the House of Lords, HL 11(1998-99); the on going work of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and relevant Government reviews (see DTI P/98/1029, 15 December 1998; Cabinet Office, 273/98, 17 December 1998). Back

89   Fifth Report 1998-99, HC 384, para 31. Back

90   ibid para 35-36. Back

91   ibid para 45. Back

92   ibid para 30. Back

93   ibid para 32. Back

94   EAC Press Release No 21 (rev) Session 1997-98, 2 November 1998. Back

95   Note: energy use by the Government itself is reviewed by the Committee in its ongoing inquiries into the Greening Government Initiative. This inquiry was to complement the work conducted by other bodies such as the Trade and Industry Committee, the National Audit Office, the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions and the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. Back

96   Seventh Report 1998-99, HC 159, para 1. Back

97   ibid para 24. Back

98   ibid para 64. Back

99   Government responses for its reports on the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, the Comprehensive Spending Review, Energy Efficiency and the Budget 1999 have yet to be published but have been reported to the House and are available from the Committee. House of Commons, Environmental Audit Committee (21 October 1999) Press Release 29/98-99. The Government response for the Committee's report on GMOs and the environment; co-ordination of government policy was published as a Command Paper. Cm 4528 November 1999. Back

100   Second Report 1998-99, Appendix 1. Back

101   Response by DTI and DETR to the Committee's report (following its inquiry into the MAI). Available from the Environmental Audit Committee and published in HC45 of Session 1999-2000. Back

102   Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the Government Response to the Environmental Audit Committee Report on the Greening Government Initiative Cm 4108, 17 December 1998. Back

103   Note however, that the Government rejected the case for a debate on sustainable development on the floor of the House in Government time. It also rejected the notion of a single index of sustainable economic welfare as unworkable and unhelpful due to methodological problems. ibid paras 40, 28. Back

104   Also the Government agrees to alter the terms of reference of the Cabinet Committee ENV to expressly provide for the co-ordination of sustainable development issues; and to ensure that by the end of this Parliament each department has begun introducing an environmental management system where deemed efficient and cost effective. ibid paras 5, 12, 51. Back

105   Government Response to the Environmental Audit Committee's Report on CSR and PSAs. Available from the Environmental Audit Committee. The suggestion is to use the Green Ministers more in the preparation and conduct of the review together with the expertise of the Sustainable Development Unit (para b). Many of the EAC's other recommendations are also accepted or placed under review. Back

106   Recommendations and Government Response to the Environmental Audit Committee's seventh report on energy Efficiency. Available from the Environmental Audit Committee. For example, the Government believes it would be impossible for a single agency to cover all the areas of energy efficiency. Ibid para 25. Back

107   ibid para 28. Back

108   Published with the EAC's Third Report 1997-98 as Appendix 1. Back

109   In particular the idea that there should be a target for progressively increasing proportion of revenue to come from environmental taxes was rejected. Ibid Appendix 1, paras 23-26. Back

110   See for example ibid Appendix 1, paras 40-44, 34, 35, 18, 19. Back

111   Eighth Report 1998-99-Appendix 1 and Government Response to the Committee's Eighth Report on 1999 Budget (available from the Environmental Audit Committee). Back

112   Eighth Report 1998-99-Appendix 1 para 1. Back

113   Government Response to the Committee's Eighth Report on 1999 Budget (available from the Environmental Audit Committee). Back

114   Environmental Audit Committee Working Practices (rev) 9 September 1999. Back

115   For example, in its review of the Comprehensive Spending Review the Committee was of the view that the omission of commitments for greening government operations from the PSA demonstrated the Government's lack of real concern for that agenda. Third Report 1998-99 para 49. Back

116   Including: lists of environmental appraisals; and improvements made to the environmental statements contained in annual reports, public service agreements and specific environmental reports. Back

117   Written responses from Clerk of the EAC-Mr Fergus Reid, as discussed in telephone interview on 7 October 1999. Back

118   The Canadian Auditor General must also consider "environment" alongside economy, efficiency and effectiveness in value for money audits. See Ross op cit. Back

119   Note the Canadian committee also examines Environment Canada (the federal environment department) and deals with the committee stage of environmental legislation. As such, its focus on environmental "audit" is limited. Back

120   This is certainly the view of the Treasury. See Government Response to the Environmental Audit Committee's report on CSR and PSAs. Available from the Environmental Audit Committee. Para (b). Back

121   With the exception of energy efficiency across the government estate. Back

122   For example, in its first report on the Greening Government Initiative the Committee recommended that the Green Ministers Committee ("GMC") agree government-wide medium term targets with respect to greening operations and to commit themselves to start benchmarking departments' performance using standardised measures for more than just energy efficiency. Second Report 1997-98 para 120. Back

123   Third Report 1998-99 para 62. Back

124   Note that it is likely that the Committee will wish to audit performance against the plethora of policy targets that are also being introduced. These include domestic and European targets for climate change, waste, air quality and water quality. Back

125   HC Debates col 1035, 17 March 1999. Back

126   Cm 4528 November 1999 and HC Debates col 111WH, 13 January 2000. Back

127   Johnson (1966) op cit. Back

128   A Better Quality of Life-UK Strategy for Sustainable Development (HMSO, 1999) Cm 4345 para 5.3. Back

129   DETR, Greening Government-The First Annual Report of the Green Ministers Committee 1998-99, 9 August 1999. Introduction by Rt Hon M Meacher, Environment Minister and Chairman of the Green Ministers Committee. Back

130   ibid. Back

131   Cm 4479 at para 6.112. Back

132   Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions The Government Response to the Environmental Audit Committee Report on the Greening Government Initiative Cm 4108, 17 December 1998. Back

133   Again for reasons of causality, it is impossible to judge a select committee's effectiveness by simply counting the recommendations accepted by Government. Further, the Government of the day may or may not want to bolster the select committee system by acknowledging the influence of the Committee in its replies. Back

134   Eighth Report 1998-99 para 10. Back

135   Fourth Report 1997-99 and Second Report 1998-99. Back

136   Especially those members who sit on the Committee. Back

137   These figures were generated using the Hansard search engine. Back

138   In a letter to the Deputy Prime Minister, the Chair of the Roundtable on Sustainable Development, asked the Government to make an unequivocal commitment to implementing the Committee's recommendation that the Government's commitment to sustainable development be set out in clear and consistent language in the aims and objectives of all new public bodies. UK Round Table on Sustainable Development fourth Annual Report Annex C March 1999. More recently, the Roundtable expressed support for the EAC's call for a Green Tax Commission. UK Round Table on Sustainable Development Update Issue 23 February 2000. Back

139   Published by Environmental Data Services Inc. See ENDS Reports 276 at 29-30; 278 at 25-26; 279 at 29-30; 280 at 30; 282 at 37-38; 286 at 30-32; 287 at 30; 290 at 38-39; See also Scottish Planning and Environmental Law 66:21. Back

140   The following figures show an approximate number of times in a specific newspaper reference has been made to the Environmental Audit Committee. Figures were also generated for Greenpeace and the Public Accounts Committee for comparison. Guardian/Observer (1 January 1998-30 June 1999) (13/229/111), FT (1 January 1998-30 June 1999) (16/134/108), Times (1 January 1998-30 June 1999) (5/100/96), Telegraph (1 January 1998-7 September 1999) (3/219/51). Back

141   For example, all of the above named publications covered the EAC inquiry on Genetically Modified Organisms and certain Budget inquiries. Only the FT and the Guardian/Observer covered its report on the Multilateral Agreement on Investment and only the FT covered the Committee's report on the Comprehensive Spending Review. Back

142   Possible reasons for this include: that the EAC is a relatively new and unknown committee, its remit is seen as not as important as that of the PAC and that the PAC has the benefit of the National Audit Office independent inquiries to give its work more credibility and a larger output across a wider range of subjects. Back

143   Other such policies include "open government" and deregulation or "better regulation". Back

144   See generally Daintith T Page A The Executive in the Constitution: Structure, Autonomy and Internal Control (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1999). Back

145   Second Report 1997-98 and sixth Report 1998-99. Back

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