Climate Change (No. 2) Bill: Final Stage

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 11:00 am on 9th March 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Harry Harvey Harry Harvey DUP 11:00 am, 9th March 2022

Throughout the passage of the Bill, I have continually sought to defend the agri-food sector against attempts by some in the Chamber to destroy the industry. Since the introduction of the Bill, it is fair to say that our farmers have been to the brink and back. The process has caused a lot of needless anxiety and concern for many who have watched on, aware of the potential of the legislation to destroy their livelihoods. There is a lesson to be learned here for Members, especially in light of the pending stages of the private Member's Bill still to follow: we must continue to remind ourselves that lives and livelihoods are bound up in our tackling of climate change.

As with so much that is considered by the House, striking the right balance is everything. It was clear that the right balance had not been struck subsequent to Consideration Stage. The outworkings of votes at Consideration Stage, if left unchallenged, would have resulted in an estimated reduction in the number of active farmers by 13,000, with job losses across the agri-food sector running into tens of thousands.

Amendments at Consideration Stage dealt a body blow to the Department's carefully considered Bill, changing it almost entirely. At Further Consideration Stage, however, some parties had a reality check. Amendments that were tabled by the Minister at that stage offered a lifeline to bring the legislation back into the realms of reality. I am glad that, to a certain extent, that lifeline was accepted, particularly in relation to amendment No 1 and the clarification on methane and its contribution to the net zero target. A degree of protection and support was won for the agri-food sector, and I know how much relief that brought to farmers across Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, it was hugely disappointing that amendment No 17 was not supported by Members. A clear opportunity was presented to the House to send a message to the rural community that its contribution to net zero would be fair and proportionate. Mr Allister called it a litmus test of whether Members were on the side of farmers or not. I am sad to say that the latter was evident in relation to amendment No 17.

As has been said repeatedly, our agri-food sector has always wanted to play its part in tackling climate change. Indeed, the industry has always been ahead of the House in its effort to enhance environmentally friendly procedures, practices and processes. The sector did not need us to tell it; it did it itself. Many often forget that, when we consider the agri-food sector, we are considering families and communities who have been the custodians of our countryside and environment for generations, long before it became popular, and long before the Green Party and the climate crisis lobby existed. The outworkings of the Bill should be to better equip and enhance the work that is ongoing, not to vilify and punish our farmers. Let us be in no doubt: the targets that have been set, thanks to amendment No 1, will be difficult, and there will be a price to be paid. They are ambitious, but, most importantly, they are realistic and based on science.

I commend the Department and the Minister for their efforts throughout the process to ensure that key themes of the Bill and the amendments that they proposed subsequently were clearly evidence-based, in keeping with the expert advice from the UK CCC, the intergovernmental panel and the Paris agreement. Unfortunately, on occasion, Members have been headline-driven as opposed to science-driven. I trust that, as we move to consider the Bill in the name of Ms Bailey, Members will bear the science in mind.