The Office for Environmental Protection has warned that the short timescales proposed by the UK Government for the review of Retained EU Laws could introduce a rushed approach to law-making that puts the protection and improvement of the environment at risk.
In written evidence submitted to the House of Commons Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill Committee, we say that review of these laws presents an opportunity to improve environmental law and how it works in practice – but change needs to be managed well.
Chair of the OEP, Dame Glenys Stacey said: “If done well, this review could make environmental law better. But done badly, or rushed unduly, it could compound environmental problems and create new uncertainties and burdens.
“Rushed law-making is not conducive to addressing environmental problems that are difficult, complex, inter-connected and long-term. It runs the risk of undermining the UK Government’s own environmental ambitions and international standing.
“Hundreds of environmental laws could be revoked or amended under the Bill. These laws are critical to solving pressing challenges such as nature depletion and the quality of air and water and marine environments. Worryingly, the Bill does not offer any safety net, there is no requirement to maintain existing levels of environmental protection.”
We make four recommendations in our evidence submission:
• The sunset date in the Retained EU Law Bill of the end of 2023 is reconsidered and extended. Any timescales for the revocation of retained EU law should be based on a clear implementation plan that sets out how this body of law can be properly reviewed within the timescales.
• An environmental non-regression safeguard is added to the Bill as a minimum measure. In order to meet its stated ambitions, we consider that UK and devolved governments should go further than this minimum to achieve an overall improvement in the level of environmental protection.
• Governments should produce a comprehensive list of the environmental REUL that falls under the Bill’s scope as soon as possible. Wherever practical, government should in our view provide the evidence for any proposed change or revocation of environmental REUL.
• The UK and devolved governments should clarify, at the earliest opportunity, the process they intend to follow to implement the Retained EU Law Bill and provide clear timelines.
There is a particular risk in Northern Ireland identified in the evidence, as there is no Northern Ireland Executive in place and under the current proposals there is no potential for the devolved authority to extend the sunset date. We say that devolved authorities, as well as the UK Government, should be able to extend timescales.
We have written summarising our evidence to: the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities; the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland; the DAERA Permanent Secretary and the NI Department for Infrastructure Permanent Secretary. Letters have also been sent to Environmental Standards Scotland (ESS) and the Interim Environmental Protection Assessor for Wales (IEPAW).
Our full evidence submission can be read by clicking on the blue button to the right of this page. It has also been published by the Bill committee here.