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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:

We cannot really answer in terms of co-operation between the Governments; we are not the Governments. We speak to all four Governments, and sometimes we hear signs of good co-operation and sometimes we hear signs of challenges—shall I put it that way?—whereby different Governments give us different indications of the nature of the discussion.

One thing that I am certainly aware of is that through our Greener UK and Environment Links UK network, there is good co-operation between the NGOs across all four countries. I am speaking as the co-chair of the Greener UK devolution group as well; that is how I am familiar with some of the work going on in Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as Scotland. There are examples of good co-operation; equally, there are challenges.

In relation to nature recovery, one of the key challenges is that the Bill requires the Secretary of State to set a target on biodiversity, and it is unclear whether that is for England or the UK. If it is for the latter, what will be the role of the devolved Administrations in delivering that target? Will they agree the UK target, and what proportion of it would be for England and would be delivered by the English nature recovery network? There is scope for greater thinking and clarity on how the Administrations might agree some kind of high-level objective, to which each of their individual targets and recovery processes would contribute.

Perhaps as a precedent, I would point you to a document that all four Governments agreed prior to passing separate marine legislation back in 2005 or 2006. The four Governments all signed a document on the high-level objectives for the marine environment. Subsequently, the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 was passed by this Parliament, the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 was passed by the Scottish Parliament and the Marine Act (Northern Ireland) 2013 was passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly. However, each piece of legislation contributed to the agreed high-level objectives document.

It would be beneficial to environmental outcomes if the four Governments could sign up to similarly generic, high-level environmental objectives. It would not involve one Government telling another what to do; the document would be mutually agreed in the same way as the one on marine legislation. The Secretary of State’s targets would indicate what the English contribution to those high-level objectives would be, and Scottish Ministers would have their own process for the Scottish contribution—likewise for Wales and Northern Ireland.