A committee of MSPs has called for Scotland to be allowed to pass its own legislation on environmental matters within devolved competence, in declining to recommend support for the Environment Bill before the UK Parliament.
The report from the Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform Committee, which follows its consideration of the legislative consent memorandum (LCM) for the Environment Bill, specifically queries why environmental powers in devolved competence should be made via UK, as opposed to Scottish, primary legislation.
The committee believes that the bill as it stands would allow the Scottish Parliament limited scope to influence decisions on devolved policy, to scrutinise relevant legislation and its implementation and, therefore, effectively hold Scottish ministers to account.
One of the UK Government’s "Brexit" bills, the bill is intended to provide both UK and Scottish ministers with the power to bring forward secondary legislation that will have effect in Scotland in certain areas of environmental policy currently within EU competence. It proposes that the Scottish Government would ask the UK Government to make regulations in certain areas of environmental policy currently within EU competence where legislating at a UK level is considered to be appropriate. Scottish ministers would be able to bring forward their own legislation in some, but not all, of the subject areas covered by the bill.
In its LCM, the UK Government is asking the Scottish Parliament to allow UK ministers, at Scottish ministers’ discretion, to legislate on producer responsibility; resource efficiency; electronic tracking of relevant waste; air and water quality; chemicals; and consequential provisions.
In advance of a debate on the motion to be held in the Scottish Parliament, the committee is writing to both the UK and Scottish Governments asking for a full explanation of the rationale for this sharing of powers. It considers that the Scottish Government has not yet provided a sufficient level of detail about the circumstances in which ministers would consent to devolved legislative powers being exercised by the UK Government.
The Scottish Government's UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Bill, just introduced at Holyrood, provides for Scots law to continue to align with EU law so far as within devolved competence, in particular in environmental matters. (Click here for news item.)
Committee convener Gillian Martin MSP commented: "There is an urgent need for new laws to be put in place to safeguard frameworks previously provided for by EU law – but legislation which is not at the expense of the devolved powers of the Scottish Parliament. To pass this bill would represent a very real and significant change to the devolution settlement.
"Of course there will be policy areas where it makes sense to legislate to establish a joint scheme with the rest of the UK, but decisions about environmental policy in Scotland should be made in the Scottish Parliament, by members of the Scottish Parliament, to whom Scottish ministers are accountable.
"Our committee has one voice on this issue – that only Scottish primary legislation will enable full Scottish parliamentary scrutiny and accountability of these legislative proposals and therefore respect the devolution settlement. Our report speaks for itself and lays bare why we are unable to make recommendations in relation to this LCM."