Press release

Written Ministerial Statement on Defra’s arm’s length bodies

Announcing the next series of reforms to Defra's network of arm's length bodies.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

This Government is committed to sustainable development and to becoming the greenest Government ever, promoting economic development, environmental protection and an improving quality of life for everyone in the UK.

In support of this, Defra’s new Structural Reform Plan was published last week. It sets out three departmental strategic priorities:

  • to support and develop British farming and encourage sustainable food production;
  • to help to enhance the environment and biodiversity to improve quality of life; and,
  • to support a strong and sustainable green economy, which is resilient to climate change.

To deliver these priorities, sustainability needs to be driven across Whitehall and beyond.

I am committed to increasing the transparency and accountability of Defra’s public bodies, to playing my part in reducing public spending and to reducing the burden of regulation. Following my Written Ministerial Statement of 29 June 2010 I am today announcing the next series of reforms to Defra’s network of arm’s length bodies.

On sustainability - together with my Right Honourable Friend the Secretary of State  for Energy and Climate Change - we are determined to play the lead role across the whole of government. We will mainstream sustainability, strengthen the government’s performance in this area and put processes in place to join up activity across government much more effectively. I am not willing simply to delegate this responsibility to an external body.  I have accordingly decided that I will withdraw Defra funding from the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) at the end of the current financial year, and instead take a personal lead, with an enhanced departmental capability and presence.

I also fully support the role of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee in this area: powerful scrutiny within the democratic process.

The SDC was founded in October 2000 and recently became an executive non-departmental public body (NDPB). It is jointly owned with the Devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Each of them has to decide on the best future arrangements to meet their needs and over the next few months my department will work very closely with them to ensure a smooth transition.

The SDC has made a positive contribution to sustainable development across Government and society over the past ten years, and I pay tribute to their work and to their current and previous Chairs, Will Day and Jonathon Porritt.

I am also announcing today that I intend to abolish the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution in 2011, subject to the necessary processes and ongoing discussions with Devolved Administration ministers. When the RCEP was set up in 1970, there was very little awareness of environmental issues, with few organisations capable of offering relevant advice.  The situation now is very different, and the Government has many such sources of expert, independent advice and challenge. Protecting the environment remains a key Government aim, and Defra intends to draw on the full range of expertise available, including Foresight, the research councils, the Living With Environmental Change programme (in which Defra and DECC are partners with the research councils) the Royal Society and other academies. In making this decision, I pay tribute to the work of the Royal Commission and its current Chair, Sir John Lawton. Over the last 40 years the Commissioners have made a significant contribution to raising the profile of environmental issues in the UK.

A range of public bodies affiliated to Defra was established by the 1948 Agricultural Wages Act. Over time, this piece of legislation has become outdated, inflexible and burdensome for farmers and workers. So today I am announcing that we will be seeking agreement with the Welsh Assembly Government to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board. In England, we will be taking measures to bring agricultural workers within the scope of the National Minimum Wages Act and my department will be working closely with BIS to make the necessary amendments to the Act itself. We are discussing with the Welsh Assembly Government the arrangements they wish to propose in respect of Wales, and will agree with them measures for the abolition of the Committee on Agricultural Valuation and, separately, the Commons Commissioners. The fifteen Agricultural Wages Committees and the sixteen Agricultural Dwelling House Advisory Committees will also be abolished. Appropriate measures for effecting these changes will be brought forward as part of the Public Bodies (Reform) Bill. The cumulative effect of these changes will allow the agricultural industry to adopt flexible and modern employment practices in order to help ensure a vibrant and sustainable industry for the future.

I have decided that Defra should have a stronger role in developing policy for inland waterways and have already signalled our preference for moving British Waterways to a civil society model. Today I am announcing that I also intend to abolish the Inland Waterways Advisory Council. Defra will lead on developing future policy in this area by consulting all interests directly, by making full use of the evidence which can be provided by the navigation authorities and by forming a closer relationship with stakeholders. This decision highlights the importance I attach to the effective management of inland waterways and my determination to place them on a more sustainable long-term footing.

The changes I am announcing today will help streamline and modernise Defra’s network of arm’s length bodies and enhance accountability and transparency. I am continuing to look closely at Defra’s other arm’s length bodies and will make further announcements at the appropriate time.

Published 22 July 2010