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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:

If I could borrow a term that my colleague Ruth Chambers used earlier in the week, I think that boat has probably sailed. Two years ago, I remember, we had discussions with Governments north and south of the border, and east and west of Offa’s Dyke. We encouraged a discussion about which is the best route—separate bodies or one single body that would somehow be collectively owned by all the Governments, if you see what I mean. The challenge would be creating that sort of body that had the means to respect the devolution settlement, so that in relation to devolved matters it was accountable to the Scottish Parliament, and in relation to reserved matters it was accountable to this Parliament.

Creating a single body that is somehow accountable to different legislatures is a challenge, although I do not think it would have been impossible, because there are means of creating joint committees, and that sort of thing; but I think, given the way in which the devolution settlement is arranged, that kind of thing had to be mutually agreed. With the way in which the various Governments have proceeded, for their own different reasons, that was not possible. Therefore we are now in a situation where we have one body for England, reserved matters and Northern Ireland, because of circumstances over the years in Northern Ireland, and other bodies for Wales and Scotland. In a sense it is not for us to question the reasons why we arrived at this position. We are in this position, and the best way of addressing it is to ensure that the bodies work together in the way that we have described. I think you could answer that question with, “I wouldn’t start from here”—but we are here.