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Office for Environmental Protection

Volume 690: debated on Thursday 4 March 2021

Now that we have left the European Union, we have the opportunity to do things better. We will innovate and improve our environmental and agricultural standards, enabling us to identify where we can deliver better environmental outcomes more effectively and in ways that better align with our regulatory systems.

Apologies, Mr Speaker. Work to establish the Office for Environmental Protection continues at pace. We have appointed the chair and interim CEO, with non-executive directors to follow, and the headquarters will be in Worcester.

Lockdown has highlighted the importance of our environment, with the positive effects of good air quality, access to green spaces and connecting with nature for our health and wellbeing. Will the Secretary of State elaborate on the remit of the new independent regulator and on what the interim Office for Environmental Protection will be able to do to maintain those important protections, as we seek to enhance and protect our natural environment?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The interim OEP will be able to produce an independent assessment of the Government’s progress towards their 25-year environment plan and receive complaints about failures of public authorities to comply with environmental law. It will take decisions on operational matters such as recruitment, accommodation and facilities; develop the OEP strategy, including its enforcement policy; and determine approaches to how the OEP will form and operate.

May I associate myself with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mary Robinson)? I am a fellow Greater Manchester MP, and my constituents in Heywood and Middleton also put a very high premium on our natural environment, especially as we are in a city region. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to implement the measures in the Environment Bill ahead of Royal Assent?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Although the timetable for the Environment Bill has slipped by a few months, we are working at pace to implement the policies and measures behind it. We have announced Dame Glenys Stacey as the chair of the OEP and Worcester as its HQ, and it will launch on an interim basis in July. We are also progressing work on developing targets. We have already published a policy paper and set up working groups, and we are developing proposals for a consultation. We will launch further consultations on a raft of measures to be brought forward under the Environment Bill, including relating to packaging and waste collection reforms.

Now that we are no longer a member of the European Union, it is vital that all steps are taken to ensure that the UK has the strongest possible protections for our environment. That is why so many of us are confused that the Tories weakened their own Environment Bill in Committee by voting down cross-party amendments that would have strengthened the OEP and made the Bill fit for purpose. Can the Secretary of State finally confirm that, when the Environment Bill eventually comes back to the House, he will support all steps to make the OEP—which was promised to Bristol and the south-west but is now headed for Worcester—fit for purpose and fit for the 21st century?

I believe it is fit for purpose. We have set up an independent Office for Environmental Protection that has powers to investigate. It will have powers to bring a judicial review, and powers to investigate and follow up on any complaints that the law has been broken. Crucially, as well, it has been given some work to develop those targets, and also to comment on progress towards both the targets and our environmental plan.