Pre-legislative scrutiny of the Draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill Contents

1Introduction

1.After the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, the European Commission and the European Court of Justice (CJEU) will no longer have oversight of UK environmental law and policy. The forthcoming departure from the EU has therefore provided both the need and the opportunity to replace and rethink the UK’s wider framework of environmental governance.

2.Following the result of the referendum in June 2016, concerns were raised by stakeholders and in Parliament that the UK’s environmental standards could be weakened after Brexit.1 These included the loss of the enforcement mechanisms used by European institutions to uphold environmental standards, and a weakening of the European legal requirements that currently ensure environmental policy is based on environmental principles.2 In May 2018, the Government published a consultation on “Environmental Principles and Governance” to address these concerns.3

3.In June 2018 the European Union (Withdrawal) Act received Royal Assent.4 Section 16 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 included a requirement on the Secretary of State to publish a draft Bill with particular provisions on environmental principles and governance.5 The Act specified that within these provisions there should be a list of environmental principles, and that the Secretary of State should publish a policy statement in relation to the application and interpretation of these principles.6 The Act also required that the draft Bill must define environmental law and make provision for the establishment of a new public authority with proportionate enforcement powers (including legal proceedings if necessary) to take action where a Minister of the Crown was not complying with environmental law.7

4.In July 2018, the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Theresa May MP, announced that the Government would publish an Environment Bill.8 Further to this announcement and the responses to the consultation on environmental principles and governance, the Government decided that the new provisions for environmental principles and governance would form part of the wider Environment Bill.9

5.In December 2018, the Environment Minister, Dr Thérèse Coffey MP, wrote to us, ahead of publication of the draft clauses relating to environmental principles and governance, confirming that we would have the opportunity to conduct pre-legislative scrutiny.10 The draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill was published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on 19 December 2018.11 Defra subsequently informed us that the full Environment Bill would be published promptly after the next Queen’s Speech.12

6.The draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill provides for “a new domestic framework for environmental governance and accountability as the United Kingdom (UK) leaves the European Union (EU), as well as introducing various measures to improve environmental protection more broadly”.13 In the foreword of the draft Bill, the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, stated that it would establish “a robust new system of green governance” and show “the strength of our commitment to a Green Brexit”.14 The Secretary of State also made clear his intention to “not only maintain our current protections, but surpass them, taking new steps to ensure our environment is even better protected in future”.15

7.The draft Bill includes provisions to:

8.In response to publication of the draft Bill, we issued a joint call for evidence with the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) on 20 December 2018 and received over 90 written submissions.17 We then conducted five public evidence sessions separately from EAC, which simultaneously conducted its own inquiry into the same draft clauses.18 We would like to thank everyone who contributed to our inquiry.

9.We have agreed and published this Report in a timely manner to ensure that Defra has sufficient time to act upon our recommendations. Our Report focuses solely on the contents of the draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill and is divided into three main sections: Chapter 2 addresses the provisions on environmental principles; Chapter 3 addresses the establishment of the new environmental watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP); and Chapter 4 addresses the remit, functions and scope of the new body as set out in the draft Bill.

10.The Environment Bill presents the Government with an opportunity to establish a new and improved framework for the future of environmental governance. We have welcomed the opportunity to conduct pre-legislative scrutiny on the draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill. However, given the importance of the Environment Bill for generations to come, it is disappointing that we have not been granted the opportunity to look at the full Bill before its publication in the next parliamentary session. Without knowledge of the final contents of the Bill it has been a challenge to fully scrutinise the draft clauses, and this has frustratingly limited the scope of our inquiry. We recommend that the Government should leave enough time between introduction of the Bill and Second Reading to allow the Committee to conduct proper scrutiny of the remaining clauses in the Bill in order to inform the House’s consideration of it.


1 For further context see Environmental Principles and Governance: the draft Bill, Briefing Paper CBP-8484, House of Commons Library, 30 January 2019, pp 6–11

2 Environmental Principles and Governance: the draft Bill, Briefing Paper CBP-8484, House of Commons Library, 30 January 2019, pp 6–11

4 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill, Cm 9751, December 2018, explanatory notes, para 3

5 European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, section 16

6 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill, Cm 9751, December 2018, explanatory notes, para 8

7 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill, Cm 9751, December 2018, explanatory notes, para 9

8 Oral evidence taken before the Liaison Committee on 18 July 2018, HC (2017–19) 1393

9 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill, Cm 9751, December 2018, explanatory notes, para 2

10 Dr Thérèse Coffey (DEB0100)

11 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill, Cm 9751, December 2018, explanatory notes, front page

12 Oral evidence taken on 28 November 2018, HC (2017–19) 1669, Q6

13 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill, Cm 9751, December 2018, explanatory notes, para 1

14 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill, Cm 9751, December 2018, p 3

15 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill, Cm 9751, December 2018, p 3

16 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill, Cm 9751, December 2018, explanatory notes, para 4

17 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Scrutiny of the draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill inquiry launched, 20 December 2018

18 Environmental Audit Committee, Draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill inquiry, accessed 15 April 2019




Published: 30 April 2019