It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I congratulate Damian Hinds on securing it and setting the scene so well. The contributions so far have been pertinent to the debate.
Our environmental duties are massive, and the more knowledge we have, the more it is incumbent on us to do all we can to safeguard this planet for our children. As a Christian, I am well aware that the end will be when God ordains it, but we are called to be good stewards and caretakers of this wonderful planet that has been gifted to us. Over the holidays, I had an opportunity to do some hunting and shooting over the farm with my son, granddaughter and friends—I declare an interest as a farmer—and while the fresh country air was sharp and cold, it none the less reminded me of how important what we do is. Later that night, there was a programme on TV showing India and perhaps other parts of the world where air pollution was extreme and people were having difficulty breathing, which made me not take for granted the fresh clean air that we have. That is part of the reason why I, along with my son, planted 3,500 trees on farmland about 10 years ago, and I am caretaking areas of biodiversity on my farm. I cannot save the world by myself, but I can make a small contribution, and I intend to do my best to keep our air clean and healthy.
Air quality has been very much in the news in the past few weeks, with the number of deaths in the UK due to air quality at its highest for some time. The figures are high even in Northern Ireland. UK industries account for 1% of air pollution, yet we can do more than make the equivalent of a 1% improvement in the world. It begins in our own homes and stretches out to the influence we have in this place to encourage people to make good decisions and better choices.
Just this morning, the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association had a drop-in event in room N in Portcullis House—Members who did not go are too late now—where it referred to the need for hybrid and electric cars. The BVRLA also outlined five policy measures that it would like to see, which include, as I am sure the Minister is well aware, tax benefits, new vehicles, charge points, which are critical, and user sentiment, because at the end of the day, the owners and users of those cars need to be convinced that they are necessary.
I caveat my remarks by saying that I firmly believe that if we want to change people’s routines, we can do so by encouragement and not enforcement. We can jail someone and find they are still not rehabilitated after their incarceration, yet when we take the time to work with people and encourage them, lives are turned around. Let us look at how we make that happen, because the secret to our future security is educating the younger generation and encouraging the older generations—I count myself in the latter category—to do what needs to be done.
The Minister will be aware that in Strangford and Portaferry we had a tidal project, which involved Queen’s University, where we tried to harness the waves. The pilot and initial investigations provided some good ideas, but we need investment for the project to go forward. There are things that we can do; we just need that wee bit of financial assistance to help to make it happen.
We are the generation, as some here will acknowledge, who had milk delivered in glass bottles, and we washed and put out the bottles for the milkman to reuse. We do not mind recycling and we are doing our best, but it must be made clear what is expected of us to do our bit. We are the generation who did not always have a car. We used bikes—we probably do not use them as much as we did in the past—took buses or went by Shanks’s pony. Walking was probably easier for us in those days, as some will understand. We do not mind doing so, but it is important to explain and encourage.
In Northern Ireland we have the Glider bus system from Dundonald right into Belfast. The idea is simple: it is park and ride, whereby people park in Newtownards or the on the edge of Dundonald and get the Glider bus straight into town. It is easier and less hassle, it gives people a bit more time to do something while on the bus, and it produces less emissions. That shows there are good schemes that we can use. The key is not lectures and browbeating, but information and encouragement. Tax breaks and perks for businesses are useful, but we need better infrastructure to encourage public transport and ensure that our young people have their independence while still being safe when travelling. We must encourage the use of car pools and shared resources.
To finish, there is much that can be done from this place, but my word of caution, from an old dog that is learning new tricks, is this. Go easy and bring us with you, and the generation who are used to hard work and innovation will not let you down.