Former minister and Ludlow MP since 2005, Philip Dunne has been elected chair of the environmental audit committee (EAC) by follow MPs. I congratulate him. His predecessor was Mary Creagh, Labour MP for Wakefield who lost her seat in November’s general election. Under Creagh’s leadership, EAC was forthright, challenging the government on many of its policies and bringing new issues to the its attention. Dunne himself says Creagh will be a hard act to follow.
Select committees are essential to the working of parliament. They were introduced in 1979, the first year of Margaret Thatcher’s prime ministerial reign, by the Leader of the House, Norman St John Stevas. Reforms agreed in 2010 under the coalition government, ensured that most chairs of select committees are directly elected by secret ballot of MPs by proportional representation using the alternative vote system.
After being elected in 2005, Dunne spent some time as an opposition and government whip. He then moved into the Ministry of Defence becoming Minister for Defence Procurement in 2015. Me was moved to become a Minister of State for Heath a year later. After little more than a year-and-a-half he was sacked by Theresa May shortly after saying patients who could not get a bed in A&E could sit on seats. It was a rare departure from Dunne’s usual cautious approach, though he slipped again when accused Kuldip Sahota of talking through his turban.
The environmental audit committee has long been outspoken, especially under Mary Creagh’s leadership. Its 2019 report on waste from the fashion industry was summarily dismissed by the government. Due to the general election, the government didn’t respond to following report “Our Planet. Our Heath.” That is to pick just two examples. Mary Creagh saw the task of the select committee as to robustly challenge the government on the issues of the day and to bring new issues, like fashion, before ministers and their civil servants.
If supported by MPs after coming general elections, Dunne could be chair of EAC for eight years. It usually takes months to get select committees operational after an election. That gives Philip Dunne time to consider whether EAC will be a strong challenger to Boris Johnson’s government under his leadership, or whether the committee’s voice will shrink to that of a cautious adviser. As Dunne said himself, Mary Creagh “will be a tough act to follow”.