Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
TUESDAY 18 APRIL 2000
40. That is the real stumbling block.
(Ms Hollingsworth) Yes, but there are advantages in
that. For one week in the year environment and sustainable development
is high on the agenda and gets a lot of media coverage, the press
will pick up on it; whereas perhaps if they reported more regularly
the press might not have as much interest. I think if the reporting
restrictions on the Commissioner were to be lifted so that he
could report whenever, then they would have to look again at the
work of the Committee and whether there should be a separate Environmental
Audit Committee there as well. At the moment, because there are
such restrictions on reporting, I do not think it is really a
41. Has there been discussion about having an
Environmental Audit Committee?
(Ms Hollingsworth) Not as far as I know.
42. Just to turn to the federal nature of administration,
does that present problems for the Commissioner in carrying out
his role? How does he go about the relationship with the individual
(Ms Hollingsworth) I am not sure.
(Ms Ross-Robertson) He has just reported on federal
provincial agreements that were designed to streamline environmental
concerns and co-ordinate. From my first quick reading of the report,
he is quite critical of the analysis done prior to entering into
these agreements. I think this is quite a useful avenue that the
Committee may wish to explore when they are in Canada, because
of devolution. The arrangements, for instance, in the Scottish
Parliament are quite different than the arrangements here. There
is an Equal Opportunities Committee but there is not an Environmental
Audit Committee, and that does, to a certain extent, worry me,
especially since they have this combined role. So exploring the
relationships with your counterparts in other parts of the United
Kingdom will be a useful way forward in terms of sustainable development,
and learning from the Canadian experience I think will be quite
43. Ontario has a separate Commissioner. How
does that relationship work out between the one and the other?
(Ms Hollingsworth) The Environmental Commissioner
for Ontario does not audit as such. There is an Environmental
Bill of Rights for Ontario which is not entrenched, it is just
a normal statute, but it does provide certain mechanisms for citizens
to try to hold to account the Government. So it is about increased
participation, increased openness and giving the citizens the
tools, for example, to be able to comment, and there is a legal
requirement for their comments to be considered and so on. The
Commissioner oversees that system. So it is about the instruments,
Acts and the regulations being passed by the Ontario Provincial
Government which the Commissioner is overseeing. I am not sure
what overlap there would be then with the federal government.
(Ms Ross-Robertson) A lot of this is a division of
powers issue, obviously. The Canadian division of powers is different
from the division of powers in this country between the devolved
parliaments and Westminster. These are the sorts of things that
are going to have to be developed. Even in a fairly established
federal state like Canada, there are still these tensions. That
is what these federal provincial agreements are about, and sorting
out things and streamlining things is an ongoing thing.
44. Are there any examples of either the Provincial
Commissioner or the provincial groups setting the political agenda
on the environment which the Government has to follow? If I could
imagine a case, if some case came before the Ontario Commissioner
out of Ontario, which gained a lot of publicity, it would then
put pressure upon the National Federal Commissioner to instigate
a similar inquiry or whatever came out of that. It is all very
well saying that in theory the devolved structures operate within
a system which is set by the federation, but in practice if something
is started running in one place it has an effect upon the whole
of the rest of the country, does it not?
(Ms Ross-Robertson) Yes. I do not know any specific
examples. What it might do is trigger other provinces to react
because, of course, if Ontario has a Bill of Rights, why do we
not have a Bill of Rights in Prince Edward Island? So it may actually
affect other provinces more than it would affect the Federal Government.
That is one point.
45. I was hoping you were going to give me an
example of how it would work.
(Ms Ross-Robertson) I cannot give you an example.
I cannot think of anything specific.
46. I can imagine how things might happen in
the next few years in the United Kingdom. There are a number of
(Ms Ross-Robertson) Can you give me an example of
one of your examples?
47. This is not an environmental example, but
the Scottish Parliament's decision upon clause 28 or upon hunting
of foxes certainly has repercussions upon how Westminster will
(Ms Ross-Robertson) But that is on those specific
things. In Canada a similar type of issue would have to be dealt
with by other provinces. The Federal Government could not get
involved in education matters because education is a provincial
matter. They are completely separate. The Federal Government can
actually be taken to court because of stepping on the toes of
the provinces. So it is different from devolved government. The
Environmental Bill of Rights is a good example. Why do we not
have one in Prince Edward Island or in New Brunswick?
(Ms Hollingsworth) Those are not issues which the
auditor would be dealing with either. Those are issues which the
Government would be looking at. Especially the Environmental Commissioner
for Ontario has a very different role from the Federal Commissioner
for Environment and Sustainable Development, so she is not setting
the agenda in the same way that the Commissioner might be in terms
of choosing which subject to look at, she is reacting or acting
on behalf of the public and the issues they raise. I think they
are quite different. It is also the Government who are going to
be setting those sorts of things and issues, and in Canada it
is very different, as Andrea was saying.
48. I think that in your article you mentioned
the Commissioner and you expressed concern about the way in which
the Commissioner was appointed. Was that something which was your
concern, or was that a concern which had been expressed more widely
at the time the appointment took place?
(Ms Hollingsworth) There are two things I would say
there. My concern as a constitutional lawyer is that an auditor
should be independent, and the Commissioner is appointed by the
Auditor General, but when Brian Emmett was appointed, the Minister
for the Environment was consulted, so obviously that raised issues
about independence. That is not provided for in the statute, that
just happened. Possibly with the next appointment that will not
be the case, but when that particular Commissioner, Brian Emmett,
was appointed, I think there were concerns because he came from
within Government as opposed to being an external person, so they
thought that perhaps he was not as independent personally as he
could have been. I think those fears have been set aside, because
he has established his independence and been quite critical of
Government, so I do not think that is an issue really anymore.
49. You have talked quite a bit about comparisons
with Canada. I am sure there are lessons we can learn, but it
is never easy to take a system from one country and just transplant
it into another, so I would like to ask you this in terms of the
United Kingdom. You have argued for an independent auditor. What
do you think that auditor should be doing as opposed to the Committee?
What should the priorities of that auditor be?
(Ms Hollingsworth) I think that sustainable development
strategies for departments are important, so that in similar ways
as happened in Canada the auditor would have a role in monitoring
those and not necessarily criticising departments or making judgements
on them, but monitoring and saying, "You have complied"
or "You have not complied with the targets that you set yourselves".
Then it would be for this Committee to say, "Why haven't
you complied with your targets?" or whatever. In addition
to that, as we have said, if the environment is made the 4th E
for value for money, then when value for money studies are being
carried out that would be another consideration within those,
as well as looking at economy, efficiency and effectiveness. That
would be one way of having specific environmental audits, or looking
at the specific topics and where that takes you, which departments
that takes you to look at. I think that there is a lot of variation.
Sustainable development strategy is very important, making it
the 4th E is very important, but within that how it is carried
out operationally would be a thing which develops in time too
with the United Kingdom, and seeing how things develop really.
(Ms Ross-Robertson) I have quite a different vision.
Again, I think that what the National Audit Office does is very
valuable, in the fact that it does actually look only at expenditure.
So I agree that we should add the 4th E to their remit, and that
they should conduct more value for money audits on environmental
or environmentally-sensitive reviews or whatever. I also see the
role of the new Sustainable Development Commission as a key part
of this. I think they could provide advice and expertise, and
they could deal with the volume of paper and material that I really
do not think this Committee is particularly well suited to deal
with. So if we had this statutory requirement for environmental
strategies, plus an annual report, a forward-looking and a backward-looking
combination, then let them receive it, table it, do the initial
monitoring process, then have it come to this Committee for, again,
a parliamentary audit. For instance, they could also advise departments,
they could also monitor progress. They could also table lists
of environmental appraisals, table lists of policy appraisals
generally, in which case one can question whether or not an environmental
appraisal was actually conducted. This way it is much more of
a filter, if you like, for yourselves. Again, they can look at
policy, whereas I do not think you want the National Audit Office
looking at policy.
50. So you would see the Audit Office as looking
at the conduct of policy appraisal?
(Ms Ross-Robertson) Yes, targets.
51. Looking at whether it had been targeted,
at performance measures?
(Ms Ross-Robertson) Yes, all the indicators that are
in Sustainability Counts which is the government paper.
52. Would you expect the auditor, as opposed
to the Sustainable Development Unit or the Committee, to get into
areas such as whether different policy objectives are coherent,
whether across government departments there are policies that
(Ms Ross-Robertson) I think again, examining these
matters, these cross-cutting issues, is the key role for this
particular Committee and looking at those big cross-cutting issues,
greening government, the budget and these things, because they
involve so many departments. Again, the Sustainable Development
Commission could provide you with the information on the various
departments, but then it would be your role to audit or not audit,
or monitor progress in those respects.
53. Would you expect the auditors to look at
individual government departments in terms of housekeeping?
(Ms Ross-Robertson) Yes I wouldthings like
fuel, mileage, rates et cetera. There is a role for the auditor
to do that. I do not know whether you need a special environmental
auditor to do that, just because of the resource implications.
I do not think a new Sustainable Development Commissioner is necessarily
the most cost effective means. I do not know, but initially, certainly,
the Comptroller and Auditor General's Officegiven that
they have already done value for money audits in this wayI
think could possibly do more in terms of monitoring targets and
monitoring the 4th E.
54. What you are suggesting is really quite
a different structure, is it not?
(Ms Ross-Robertson) It is. Again, I think it is important
that we offer a choice and difference, because I see the role
of this Committee as not simply auditing targets. I see it as
monitoring the integration of sustainable development into government
55. So you do not want a direct relationship
between us and the auditor?
(Ms Ross-Robertson) I want them to be a key source
of information for you, one source, not your only source and not
a source that dominates you, yes.
56. Could I ask Miss Hollingsworth to comment
(Ms Hollingsworth) My perspective comes from looking
at public sector audit generally and looking at what works there
and why it works. I think there are a number of reasons why an
environmental auditor would be very helpful for this Committee.
I think although an auditor would have to avoid questions of policy,
they can still look at how policy has been implemented and if
objectives conflict I think it would be within the auditor's remit
to point that out, as long as you are not actually questioning
the policy itself. It is very difficult. VFM presents problems
in that way as well, in keeping out of policy and trying not to
make value judgments and so on. So it is not something that is
completely new to them and it would be a learning curve, but I
still think an environmental auditor is necessary. I can appreciate
what Andrea says in terms of getting other information as well,
where policies can be questioned where it is higher level and
57. Is it possible to avoid value judgments?
I think you mentioned in your paper that the more you move away
from the straight financial audit, the more difficult that becomes
and the more difficult it becomes for the auditor to stay neutral
and more likely that value judgments start to appear.
(Ms Hollingsworth) That is true, but there are value
judgments in financial audits as well.
58. I want to explore the way in which you were
attempting to define the different roles that the Sustainable
Development Commission would perform and this Committee can perform.
Do you not think that the Sustainable Development Commission is
the best place in which an independent audit of the Government's
progress in reaching this nirvana can be judged?
(Ms Ross-Robertson) The first question is, are they
going to be independent? At the moment the round table and the
panel are advisory in terms of capacity. I think the role that
they provide is really important. The way I have divided it up
in my head is that the Sustainable Development Commission would
look at the more strategic and forward looking policy, and it
would be up to the Comptroller and Auditor General to check to
see if they have actually met their objectives in terms of targets
and in terms of policy objectives in a very narrow sense. Again,
the policy objective thing, that would have to be decided.
59. A moment ago you were talking about the
Commission looking at a forward agenda, and in response to my
colleague's question you were talking about the Commission dealing
with a mass of detail?
(Ms Ross-Robertson) The strategic reports, the strategic
papers that departments will be asked to provide, are going to
create a volume of information. I think collating all the environmental
appraisals, for example, is another way of making sure that they
actually do them and provide advice on how they do them and conduct
research on best practice. I think the Sustainable Development
Commission would be very useful for all of these things. If you
need information, instead of going to the departments directly,
you could go to them and say, "We want a list of all environmental
appraisals that have been done across government." So it
is a much faster system, and other Committees could do this.