Response by the Conservative Rural Forum to the Government’s Consultation on Environmental Principles and Governance.

  • Written by Andrew Davis
  • Posted on Aug 02, 2018
  • Articles

Question 1:

Which environmental principles do you consider as the most important to underpin future policy-making?

Sustainable Development Principle.  It is clear that development must not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Proportionality Principle.  Action taken to protect or enhance the environment must be in keeping with the objective, proportionate in impact and not override other policy priorities.  It is surprising that this occurs in paragraph 41 of the consultation document and, indeed, in Article 5(4) of the Treaty on European Union, but not in Annex A.

Precautionary Principle.  This is sound in principle but it is critical that it is implemented with flexibility.  Taken to extreme, it could be used to prevent the introduction of any new techniques or chemicals.  Where all reasonable precautions are taken, for example, a new medicine should be adopted as delay might cause the greater harm.  Action should be taken based on sound scientific evidence not on public opinion or emotion and in conjunction with:

Hazard or Risk.   Any innovation may be hazardous in certain circumstances.    The precautionary principle should be applied not on hazard but on risk; what is the risk that the hazard might occur.  Many medicines, for example, are poisonous if taken at a high enough dose.  That should not prevent adoption of such medicine but with strict guidance.

Prevention Principle.  Of course, preventive action should be taken to avert environmental damage where there is a clear risk.

Polluter Pays Principle.  It is reasonable to insist that the polluter pays where the pollution is caused by deliberate action or negligence.  In agriculture, however, pollution may occur where the farmer or landowner has taken all reasonable steps to prevent pollution but where it occurs due to unforeseeable or highly unlikely events such as extreme weather or action by a third party.  It is unreasonable to expect the landowner or farmer to pay.  For example, it is iniquitous that a landowner is expected to pay for the clearing and disposal of fly-tipped rubbish on his land.

Rectification at Source Principle.  It is clear that environmental damage should be tackled at source.

Integration Principle.  Environmental protection requirements must be integrated into and be compatible with other policy priorities as mentioned in the Proportionality Principle.

Implementation.  The critical issue is not the listing of environmental principles but the definition and implementation of such principles.  For example, potential environmental damage might be mitigated by biodiversity offsetting.

Question 2:

Do you agree with these proposals for a statutory policy statement on environmental principles (this applies to both Options 1 and 2)?


Question 3:

Should the Environmental Principles and Governance Bill list the environmental principles that the statement must cover (Option 1) or should the principles only be set out in the policy statement (Option 2)?

The principles should be set out in primary legislation (Option 1) rather than left to statutory instrument.  However, definitions should allow flexible implementation.

Question 4:

Do you think there will be any environmental governance mechanisms missing as a result of leaving the EU?

Yes.  Oversight by the European Commission.

Question 5:

Do you agree with the proposed objectives for the establishment of the new environmental body?

Yes, provided that duplication and bureaucracy be avoided.

 Question 6:

Should the new body have functions to scrutinise and advise the government in relation to extant environmental law?


Question 7:

Should the new body be able to scrutinise, advise and report on the delivery of key environmental policies, such as the 25 Year Environment Plan?


Question 8:

Should the new body have a remit and powers to respond to and investigate complaints from members of the public about the alleged failure of government to implement environmental law?


Question 9:

Do you think any other mechanisms should be included in the framework for the new body to enforce government delivery of environmental law beyond advisory notices?

It is important that the new body has some enforcement powers to be used only as a last resort.  Advisory notices should be adequate to bring the desired outcome but, if a Government Department of Agency deliberately flouts such a notice, there should be a further remedy.

Question 10:

The new body will hold national government directly to account. Should any other authorities be directly or indirectly in the scope of the new body? 

There is an issue of how the new body will complement existing arrangements, for example relationships with the Rural Payments Agency, Natural England, the Forestry Commission and the Environment Agency.  Indeed, there is a strong argument for a thorough review of the roles and responsibilities of these bodies.

Question 11:

Do you agree that the new body should include oversight of domestic environmental law, including that derived from the EU, but not of international environmental agreements to which the UK is party?

The new body should have the power and responsibility to assess the extent to which Government policy and action complies with international treaty obligations.

Question 12:

Do you agree with our assessment of the nature of the body’s role in the areas outlined above?

Yes, broadly, subject to the comments made.

Question 13:

Should the body be able to advise on planning policy?

Yes.  Such advice should be taken into account but weighed against other policy priorities.

Question 14:

Do you have any other comments or wish to provide any further information relating to the issues addressed in this consultation document?