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Environment Agency

Volume 512: debated on Thursday 24 June 2010

In the Queen’s Speech, the Government announced their intention to bring forward a Bill to reform public bodies. DEFRA is carrying out a critical examination of the number and cost of its arm’s length bodies. The Environment Agency is being considered as part of that review.

I thank the Secretary of State for her answer. I am worried about the bureaucratic and remote nature of the Environment Agency’s processes, specifically on the flooding of the A1101 at Welney and flood defences at Wiggenhall St Germans. Will she tell us how local communities can hold the Environment Agency’s functions further to account and make it more responsive?

One assurance I can give about unnecessary bureaucracy is that every one of the arm’s length bodies with which DEFRA does business will be subject to the three tests applied to arm’s length bodies across Government. They are: does it perform a technical function; does it need to be politically impartial; and does it act independently and transparently to establish the facts? The Environment Agency will be subject to those criteria.

I shall certainly take up my hon. Friend’s concerns about flooding. She has made it clear on her website and in a number of interventions how anxious she is to ensure that her constituents are protected from flooding. I shall impress that upon the Environment Agency.

Will the Secretary of State ask the Environment Agency to act independently and establish the facts of the use of aminopyralid herbicides, which have recently been licensed by the chemicals regulation directorate? They have got into manure and the toxic chemical has destroyed allotments in my constituency and allotments belonging to thousands of our citizens. She might not be an expert on the subject now, but I hope that she will take some responsibility and look into the misery that the chemical is causing.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, although I took my chemistry O-level so long ago that I have a little difficulty unravelling the description of the pesticide. There is also a pesticides inspectorate, but whether the Environment Agency or some other DEFRA agency is the appropriate body, I will take up his specific question.