Defras minister in the House of Lords, Lord Gardiner of Kimble,has confirmed that a full and proper consultation will take place early this year on the powers which a new post-Brexit environmental enforcement agency will hold.
And, it was also suggested that the enforcement agency could be in place before the UK leaves the European Union.
Lord Gardiner was asked by Baroness Jones (Green Party)in a House of Lords meeting yesterday afternoon (8 January 2018) if the government intends to make the consultation process public, and if the agency could be operation prior to the March 2019 leaving date.
We want to have detailed consideration with stakeholders and your Lordships so that we get the right decision because we recognise that something needs to be done to fill what we acknowledge is a governance gap. I am not sure about the precise timings, but the whole purpose of an early consultation is so that we can move this forward, the minister said in the meeting.
Baroness Jones referred to the new body as an Environmental Enforcement Agency, and sought answers as to when it would be established. Lord Gardiner referred to it as an independent and statutory body throughout the meeting.
In November, the environment secretary of state Michael Gove announced plans for the enforcement agency, which would have more powers that the Environment Agency.
He confirmed at the time that there is to be a consultation on establishing a new, world-leading body to give the environment a voice and hold the powerful to account, independent of government and able to speak its mind freely.
In yesterdays meeting, Lord Gardiner explained that the government want the new environmental body to ensure that there is not a governance gap and that in the governments aim to enhance the environment, government and, potentially, other public bodies can be held to account.
We think that that is very important indeed, Lord Gardiner added.
At present the Environment Agency has a large number of powers, but when the UK leaves the European Union there had been little clarity so far as to who might take on powers such as ensuring air quality objectives are met.
Since Novembers announcement, there have been growing concerns that the proposed enforcement agency would not have the same powers as the EU to fine the government and other public bodies for failing to meet environmental targets.
Baroness Young stated in the meeting that she has not been able to find another UK independent regulator which has that power at the moment, and asked Lord Kimble whether the new committee would be able to fine both public bodies and the government.
In response, he said both the government and public bodies should be held to account, and that the government want a full consultation so that we can understand what stakeholders and other interested groups think is the best way forward in holding government and public bodies to account.
The committee could hold the government to account with both fines and through the provision of advice or annual reports to Parliament.
No exact date on a consultation has yet been decided.