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Examination of Witnesses

Part of Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:47 pm on 12th March 2020.

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Lloyd Austin:

To follow on from the last thing John said, some kind of agreement about how the new bodies work together would be very useful. In terms of the Bill, that could be an amendment included within the clause dealing with the OEP’s having to set its strategy. It already sets out various aspects of what should be in that strategy, and a simple line indicating that, as part of determining its strategy, it must set out how it plans to work with similar bodies in Scotland and Wales would be very useful.

Regarding your generic question about risks, the biggest risk is the race to the bottom, as I described it before. We must try to prevent that and to encourage the race to the top.

Regarding specific issues, the scale of the risk depends on the mobility of the risk. John mentioned the issue of businesses moving waste and Alison mentioned regulatory tourism. Those are risks, and waste tourism is another. If the two Administrations are too different in terms of their waste management policies, it is very easy for businesses to stick the waste on a lorry and take it over the border, and that sort of thing. It therefore depends on mobility.

From an environmental perspective, one of the key things is specific environments that cross borders. We have a very good system of cross-border river basin management plans, which is reflected in the water part of the Bill for, in our case, the Tweed-Solway area. That is a shared environment, where the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Environment Agency have to work together, and the plan is jointly signed off by Scottish Ministers and the Secretary of State. There is a similar model for the cross-border areas between England and Wales, and between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Those types of cross-border arrangements should be continued for those cross-border types of environment; that is a good mechanism.

Having mentioned Northern Ireland, when we talk about these devolution issues within the UK, it is important that we remember that we also have a border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland and the EU on the island of Ireland. The issues that you are asking us about—regarding the difference between Scotland and Wales—apply equally between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. That is a challenge that needs to be addressed.

Equally, in relation to our marine environment, all of our marine environments have borders with other nation states—some with EU nation states and, to the north, with Norway and the Faroes. In managing our marine environment, we must work through mechanisms such as OSPAR to ensure that we have good co-ordination with Governments outside the UK, in exactly the same way that we need good co-ordination between Governments within the UK. The environmental issues—I always come back to focusing on the environmental outcomes—are in principle much the same, irrespective of whether the borders are national borders or sub-national borders, if you see what I mean.