Thank you for contacting me about the progress of the Environment Bill.
I understand the Government is currently reflecting on concerns about the Bill raised by colleagues and interested parties during the Committee stage. I look forward to the Bill coming back to the House, at which point I will have the opportunity to vote on any amendments brought forward there.
The Environment Bill will place environmental ambition and accountability at the heart of Government. I am pleased that legislative measures will be introduced to address the biggest environmental priorities of our age, ensuring we can deliver on the commitment to leave the natural world in a better condition than we found it. These will include meeting net-zero by 2050, as well as wider long-term legally binding targets on biodiversity, air quality, water, and resource and waste efficiency which will be established under the Bill.
The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) will have the power to take public bodies to an upper tribunal if there are breaches of the law. I believe it is important that the OEP is independent and fully transparent in order to effectively hold the Government to account on its targets. I am therefore pleased by assurances from Ministers that the OEP will be operationally independent from Government, including from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. This means that Ministers will not be able to set its programme of activity or influence its decision-making. It is expected that the Office for Environmental Protection to have started implementing its functions by around July 2021.
The Bill will give the Secretary of State the power to set long-term, legally binding environmental targets on air quality, water, biodiversity, and resource efficiency and waste reduction that will be reviewed every five years. There will then be a published environmental improvement plan that will also be reviewed every five years, and a progress report will be published annually. I welcome the fact that the OEP will hold this and every future Government to account on these targets and will report on the progress made to improve the natural environment.
I am also aware that if the Secretary wanted to lower or change a target, they would have to lay before Parliament, and publish, a statement as to why they had reached their decision. It would then be up to Members of Parliament to scrutinise this decision, before voting on a Statutory Instrument to change any necessary legislation.
The UK is committed to playing a leading role in developing an ambitious and transformative post-2020 framework for global biodiversity under the convention on biological diversity. Following agreement of this framework, Ministers will publish a new strategy for nature in England that will outline how they will implement the Convention on Biological Diversity’s new global targets domestically and meet the 25-year Environment Plan goals for nature at the same time.
I recognise the importance of setting legally binding targets to support these ambitions, so I am pleased that the Environment Bill includes a requirement to set at least one long-term, legally binding target in relation to biodiversity, as well as targets for air quality, water and resource efficiency, and waste reduction. I know that the Government will determine the specific areas in which targets will be set using the robust and transparent target-setting, monitoring and reporting process that the Bill legislates for, and will seek advice from independent experts. I am pleased that both Parliament and the public will have the opportunity to provide input to the development of these targets.
Outside the EU Britain can develop global gold standard environmental policies. Having left the Common Agricultural Policy, we can use public money for public goods, rewarding environmentally responsible land use. By leaving the Common Fisheries Policy we will be able to grant access and allocate quotas based on sustainability, allowing us to pursue the highest standards in marine conservation.