Guest Blog by Joan Walley MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Select Committee:
We’re delighted to host a special blog by environmental champion, keen Woodland Trust supporter and Chair of the Chair of the Environmental Audit Select Committee, Joan Walley MP. Joan was elected by the House to be the Chair of EAC in June 2010 and her tenure comes to an end in May 2015, when she also steps down as MP of Stoke on Trent North, a seat she has held since 1987.
Joan is proudly committed to supporting environmental initiatives in her Constituency, has been a strong local champion for ancient woodland, and has supported the Woodland Trust with a number of planting schemes in and around Stoke.
“The Environmental Audit Committee was established in November 1997 to reflect a manifesto commitment on the part of the incoming Labour government to consider the extent to which the policies and programmes of Government Departments contribute to environmental protection and sustainable development. To achieve this, the EAC audits the performance of Public Bodies against existing sustainable development and environmental protection targets.
“We regularly call inquiries on a wide range of topics where we take both written and oral evidence to help us formulate a series of written recommendations for Government. Critically, Government is required to respond in writing to these recommendations and Ministers are required to make personal appearances before the committee, where they are questioned on the performance of their Department. Unlike most select committees, the Committee’s remit cuts across government rather than focusing on the work of a particular department. This has the broad aim of ensuring that sustainable development is embedded right across Government.
“In the context of the current Coalition Government, our role has been to test the feasibility and credibility of their Greenest Government Ever rhetoric. Over the past year we have looked at a range of critical issues, which I know will be are of interest to Woodland Trust supporters including, biodiversity offsetting, green finance, wellbeing, the codes for sustainable construction, the plastic bag tax, and invasive species. A defining moment for me in the past 12 months was our inquiry on the Carbon Budgets, where we clearly highlighted that there is no scientific case for watering down our long term emissions reduction targets – a message received loud and clear by Government, even if it isn’t supported by all their backbenchers!
“Our recent Inquiry into Biodiversity Offsetting will be of particular interest, certainly in the context of the Environment Secretary’s recent unhelpful comments on offsetting of Ancient Woodland, which I understand that the Woodland Trust is campaigning against. We concluded that there is a danger that an overly simplistic offsetting system would not protect long-established eco-systems and recommended that ancient woodland and Sites of Special Scientific Interest should be exempt. We called on Government to get offsetting right or risk giving developers carte blanche to concrete over our important habitats.
“We have recently launched an inquiry into environmental protection around Phase-I of HS2, an issue I know that the Woodland Trust is very concerned about in the context of ancient woodland loss and damage. I look forward to hearing from the Trust and others on those issues.
“I’ve always been motivated by ensuring that Government invests in the right policies to secure the future we want in environmental terms – tackling environmental degradation and valuing nature. I therefore feel very privileged to be Chair of the EAC, at a time when it is so important to question the ‘business as usual’ approach to our environmental challenges.
“During my tenure I’ve come to the conclusion that we can vastly improve our effectiveness as a Committee if constituents regularly lobby their local MPs on the issues we are examining. I therefore welcome this fantastic opportunity to highlight our on-going work to an already passionate audience, and hope that you are enthused to help support us in our important duty to hold Government to account and ensure that they match their rhetoric with real action when it comes to the environment.
You can follow the work of the EAC on our website www.parliament.uk/eacom.”
Joan Walley MP