Environment Bill: Legislative Consent Motion

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 7:30 pm on 30th June 2020.

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Photo of Sinead McLaughlin Sinead McLaughlin Social Democratic and Labour Party 7:30 pm, 30th June 2020

I thank the Minister for his very detailed statement and briefing. This LCM is another unfortunate example of a Bill on which we have been unable to get enough clarity. It is another indication that the UK Government is facing in several different directions at once. Wales and Scotland are developing their own environmental protection agencies, and it is no wonder. Let us recall, for a moment, the New Decade, New Approach agreement to which the UK Government devoted immense time. It referred, very explicitly, to the environment and climate change. The 'New Decade, New Approach' document stated:

"The Executive should bring forward a Climate Change Act to give environmental targets a strong legal underpinning. The Executive will establish an Independent Environmental Protection Agency to oversee this work and ensure targets are met."

When the SDLP held the Ministry, attempts were made to progress both of these hugely important environmental initiatives but, inexplicably, they were thwarted and blocked at Executive level. We need to resurrect the commitments made in the 'New Decade, New Approach' document.

It is obvious, and it should be obvious to the British Government, that the situation in Northern Ireland is different from England. We have a land border. We have cross-border production built into the agri-food sector. Many of the environmental matters underpinning this legislation are different here from those over the water. Yet we have so little time to properly scrutinise the legislation. We do not have the opportunity to consider, in detail, the specific implications of this legislation for Northern Ireland — that is just not good enough.

We will support this LCM. We are not totally happy with its contents, but the alternative is to have no environmental governance. The SDLP will seek to make amendments to the Bill in Westminster to make improvements that have more cognisance of our unique position in the North.