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Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, we, too, support the order. It may be not before time if the recession bites even deeper, though I am happy to note that so far Northern Ireland's economy has been buoyant enough to weather out the storms of contemporary economic forces.

Lord Laird: My Lords, the House will be interested to note that when the provision of this and the insolvency order were debated in the Assembly, no one other than the Minister responsible contributed to the proceedings. That illustration demonstrates that there is agreement among all political parties in relation to the provision before them. However, the most notable point is that the Minister who introduced and advocated the legislation was the Ulster Unionist Minister, Sir Reg Empey. Therefore, your Lordships will not be surprised to learn that I am delighted to support the order.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful. I commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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Environment (Northern Ireland) Order 2002

6.57 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 25th November be approved.

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of the order is to introduce new legislation relating to three important issues. It will bring Northern Ireland legislation into line with that in the rest of the United Kingdom and ensure compliance with European obligations.

Part II provides enabling powers to achieve transposition of EC Directive 96/61 on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control. This builds on the current system. The details of the new controls have been set out in a set of draft regulations which were published for consultation in August 2002. Part II has three other purposes. First, it will provide a general power for the Department of the Environment to transpose other EU directives by way of regulations, thereby avoiding the need for primary legislation. However, any measure intended to be implemented in that way will be required to be designated by order and any regulations made under this provision will be subject to full scrutiny and consultation in the normal way.

Secondly, the order provides new transitional provisions in respect of waste disposal licences under the Pollution Control and Local Government (Northern Ireland) Order 1978. Thirdly, it gives a new power for the department to make grants to any body having among its objects furtherance of the disposal of waste or, more generally, prevention or control of environmental pollution. This power will be used to further the objectives in the department's waste management strategy.

Air quality is dealt with in Part III. That provides a legislative framework to deliver Northern Ireland's contribution to objectives and targets for improving air quality. Those are contained in the Air Quality Strategy for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In addition, Part III brings about compliance with EC Directive 96/62EC. Part III also puts a statutory requirement on the Department of the Environment to draw up an air quality strategy for Northern Ireland.

Part IV deals with areas of special scientific interest (ASSIs) and will provide for the better protection and management of those valuable sites that are equivalent to sites of special scientific interest in Great Britain. The provisions of Part IV will also help address the requirements of the EC Habitats Directive by ensuring that Northern Ireland can better protect sites which, in addition to being ASSIs, have also merited designation under European legislation.

The order replaces the existing legislation for ASSIs in the Nature Conservation and Amenity Lands (Northern Ireland) Order 1985.

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There are improvements to some of the procedures; for example, greater flexibility in the ways that amendments to site boundaries or citations can be introduced as well as providing a statement on how a site can be best managed in the interests of conservation.

Part IV also contains measures to ensure more effective protection of ASSIs. Safeguards are built in for landowners, including the right of appeal to the Plannings Appeal Commission against a decision made by the department.

The draft order is a combination of three separate Bills, each of which were before the Assembly at the date of suspension. Each had received its second stage and each had completed or was at Committee stage. Subject to any correction from the noble Lord, Lord Laird, it is fair to say that the provisions of the draft order reflect the outcome of that scrutiny. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 25th November be approved.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, of the orders we are debating today, this gives me most concern. In discussions outside the Chamber, the noble and learned Lord agreed that we might find a better way of scrutinising such orders while Stormont is suspended.

I am unhappy because there is no way that as spokesman for the Opposition I can be briefed to challenge anyone on such matters. However, I am involved in the Waste and Emissions Trading Bill that is currently before this House. I know of its complexities and difficulties and our dissatisfaction with it. I took part in the access to the countryside legislation which included habitats and ASSIs and the arguments, debates and discussions we had in relation to that.

I do not know how the trading of emissions permissions and so forth will work and whether they are contained in the Bills. I do not know the detail of the three Bills and whether they are acceptable. However, as we have debated the way in which we shall handle such Bills in future, and as they have been passed in part by the Northern Ireland Assembly, I support the order. I merely wanted to place that fact on record.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, perhaps I may respond immediately to that most helpful intervention. Having listened to concerns expressed by many noble Lords on these issues, it seems to me that one way forward might be for me to offer the fullest possible officials' briefing on any order your Lordships are unhappy about. I shall arrange that in plenty of time and leave it for your Lordships to approach me.

Secondly, some of the orders are very bulky and it might be possible to sift through them. I am content to go along that line and, as the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, knows, I have offered to do so. Perhaps we can follow more flexible procedures in the future.

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Lord Greaves: My Lords, on behalf of these Benches, I support what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, about the difficulties of dealing with orders relating to primary legislation in Northern Ireland. I welcome the Minister's statement and look forward to an improvement. Being presented with a 56-page order on important and complicated matters on a take-it-or-leave-it basis is not a satisfactory way of proceeding.

The Minister said that the order brought Northern Ireland legislation into line. Interestingly, the Minister in another place used a different but more accurate phrase. He said that it brought it broadly into line. There are differences in detail and it is important that they are scrutinised properly. The approach will vary from subject to subject and order to order. This is an important order. Three Northern Ireland Assembly Bills, each at different stages, are being rolled together into a short debate on a take-it-or-leave-it basis in this House. That is not satisfactory.

The first two Bills—one on pollution, prevention and control and the other on local air quality maintenance—had completely or substantially gone through the Committee stage in the Assembly and a number of amendments had been made. That is clearly a basis for approving them today. The scrutiny of the third Bill had not been completed by the Assembly. It is therefore not satisfactory that it comes to us on that basis.

Some of us remember the detailed and interesting debates we had on the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill as it passed through this House. Schedule 9 to that Bill deals with these matters and covers substantially the same ground. However, there appear to be differences in detail and as the responsibility for the legislation rests for the time being with this Parliament, it would have been useful to have been able to study those discrepancies.

My honourable friend Sue Doughty, a member of the Standing Committee on delegated legislation in another place, asked a series of detailed questions on this matter. I shall not trouble the Minister, with his encyclopaedic knowledge, by asking him the same questions today. That would waste everyone's time. My honourable friend rightly raised many important matters relating to the creation of ASSIs in Northern Ireland; for example, amendments and changes to them, their notification and management and possible compulsory purchase schemes, which some of us remember discussing in relation to the CROW Act. However, there was then no proper forum for obtaining sensible answers and scrutiny. I understand the Minister promised to write to her but she has not yet received a reply. No doubt she will do so.

I have expressed our general disquiet about an order, the details of which have not been properly scrutinised in the Assembly, coming to this House and being presented in this way. Clearly, future orders will not have been dealt with by the Assembly, so the difficulty will arise more frequently. However, I thank

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the Minister for the progress that will be made with regard to future discussions. We are happy to support the order which needs to go through.


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