It is this Government’s ambition to ensure we leave our environment in a better state than we inherited it. It is our aim not just to protect and conserve but also to enhance and restore habitats and landscapes. The recently published flagship 25-year environment plan sets out the scale of our future ambition. The environmental principles and governance consultation document that we have published today outlines proposals to help deliver on this, including a new, ambitious Environmental Principles and Governance Bill.
For many who care deeply about the environment, and have fought for its protection over several decades, our membership of the European Union (EU) has coincided with increased awareness of environmental concerns and improved mechanisms to safeguard the natural world. We want to ensure that the new mechanisms we put in place as we leave the EU do not just maintain, but also strengthen protection for the environment.
Our new Environmental Principles and Governance Bill is designed to create a new, world-leading, independent environmental watchdog to hold Government to account on our environmental ambitions and obligations once we have left the EU. When the UK leaves the EU, we will no longer be under the jurisdiction of the EU institutions which currently provide oversight and enforcement of many of our environmental laws. The new body will ensure that environmental standards are upheld after we leave the EU, holding Government to account for their delivery.
In order to ensure we have robust environmental governance systems in place, we propose that the new body should have three main functions: providing independent scrutiny and advice; responding to complaints; and enforcing Government’s delivery of environmental law where necessary. However, we are consulting on what functions and powers the new body should have specifically, and would welcome a wide range of stakeholders’ views on this subject.
The new Environmental Principles and Governance Bill will also establish a new, comprehensive, statutory environmental principles policy statement. The current system of EU environmental legislation is underpinned by a number of “environmental principles”, such as sustainable development, the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle. Although these principles are already central to Government environmental policy, they are not set out in one place beside the EU treaties.
The consultation is exploring the scope and content of a new statement on environmental principles in order to underline our commitment that environmental protection will be enhanced, not diluted, as we leave the EU. We are consulting as to whether the environmental principles themselves should be listed in the Environmental Principles and Governance Bill, in addition to the policy statement. It will be a statutory requirement for Government to have regard to the policy statement as they interpret the environmental principles. We also propose to give the new environmental body the function and powers to scrutinise application of the policy statement, periodically advising Government on possible improvements and taking action to ensure application, if necessary.
This consultation is concerned with environmental governance in England and reserved matters throughout the UK, for which the UK Government have responsibility. However, we are exploring with the devolved Administrations whether they wish to take a similar approach. We would welcome the opportunity to co-design proposals with them to ensure they work across the whole UK, taking account of the different government and legal systems in the individual home nations.