Green Watchdog’s Independence “Crucial From The Start”

The independence of the government’s proposed new “green watchdog” will be crucial from the start, according to the Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment (IEMA), which has sets out criteria against which it says the watchdog will need to be judged.

The imminent publication of the UK Government’s draft Environment Bill will take forward the requirements in the European Union (Withdrawal Act) 2018 to create a new green watchdog and enshrine core environmental principles into law.

A key test will be the relative “independence” of the new watchdog given its powers to take enforcement action, including legal proceedings, against the Government, IEMA says.

Martin Baxter, IEMA’s Chief Policy Advisor, said: “It is vital the new environmental watchdog is truly independent, rather than being captured from the start. Our key tests, against which we will evaluate the Government’s proposals, are that: i) it must be accountable to Parliament ii) its resources must be allocated by Parliament, and iii) key appointments must have Parliamentary oversight.”

IEMA – “The initial draft Bill will be a key indicator of the government’s commitment to a ‘Green Brexit’ and give a sense of whether the proposals for something more far-reaching will match the rhetoric”

Section 16.1(d) of the EU (Withdrawal) Act requires Government to come forward with “provisions for the establishment of a public authority with functions for taking, in circumstances provided for by or under the Bill, proportionate enforcement action (including legal proceedings if necessary) where the authority considers that a Minister of the Crown is not complying with environmental law (as it is defined in the Bill)”.

Parliament requires that the draft Bill be published before the end of 2018.

Baxter says that, “the initial draft Bill will be a key indicator of the government’s commitment to a ‘Green Brexit’ and give a sense of whether the proposals for something more far-reaching will match the rhetoric”.

IEMA says that there is a great opportunity to establish a progressive new environmental governance framework as the UK exits the EU. An early test of the government’s green credentials will be its proposals for the new watchdog, whether it is set up to be a truly independent body with the potential to support an ambitious green future, or if it is captured from the start.

“If government really does want to tap into the ‘opportunities available to us when we leave the EU’, it’s crucial that the watchdog is truly independent right from the start,” said Baxter.

IEMA states that Government’s proposals for the green watchdog will need to be judged against the following criteria to determine its independence:

  1. Accountability

The new body will have a key role in helping to ensure that government is held to account for its actions and performance. It follows, therefore, that the new watchdog must report directly to Parliament.

  1. Resourcing

The easiest way to throttle the new body is to limit its resources.  Given that one of the roles of the new body will be to take enforcement action against the government if necessary, it is vital that Parliament, not government, is responsible for allocating appropriate resources so that the new body can discharge its duties effectively.

  1. Appointments

The appointment of key roles – particularly the chair of the new body – needs to have the direct support of Parliament if public confidence and trust is to be established from the start.

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