Last week saw the Environment Bill continue its passage through Westminster. Although it is a bill predominantly for England, it still contained aspects of relevance to Scotland which received legislative consent from the Scottish Parliament.
That principle of Westminster securing the consent of Holyrood before legislating in devolved areas is, or at least used to be, seen an important one by all parties. For so long as it exists, it’s a process that needs to be respected by the UK Government more often than just – as in this case - when legislation happens to be largely uncontroversial.
I spoke in support of a proposed SNP/Plaid Cymru amendment which would have ensured that no part of the UK Government was exempted from the policy statement on environmental principles or from environmental law, and which urged the inclusion of a ‘non-regression’ clause in respect of keeping UK and EU environmental legislation in alignment.
In my second contribution, I spoke in support of an amendment that would have enabled the UK Government to encourage measures to tackle waste from disposable nappies – a principle which the Minister indicated that she would alter the bill to try and accommodate.
While we decided to use cloth nappies for our children, I fully understand that, for varying reasons, this is not a decision that everyone feels able to take or something that people can do 100% of the time. However, it was a choice that worked very well for us and one which I’d recommend to any family that is able to do so.
Establishing clear standards for disposable nappies would help parents to make informed choices. It would provide clarity over terms such as “reusable”, “biodegradable”, “eco-friendly”, “environmentally friendly” and anything else that was put into the mix. That would help parents by making it clear what they were buying and what the impact of that choice would be.
The waste that comes from disposable nappies is one of the biggest single environmental problems that we face, but it is also, potentially, one of the easiest for us to begin to solve through the provision of good information and good incentives from the Government. To do so would be good for babies and good for the world that they grow up in. It is something that governments can act on and should certainly look to do so.
On another matter, I was delighted to be appointed this week to my party’s front bench as Spokesperson for Northern Ireland and Wales. While it might surprise some that the SNP appoints a spokesperson to this role, as the third-largest party at Westminster it falls to the SNP to fulfil a role as a scrutineer of those Government Departments and wider issues.
Although there is always an interest in terms of aspects that affect devolution, in the current circumstances there are also huge overlaps regarding the impact of trade borders, market access, shared institutions, political consent and the foundations of UK/EU relationships, all of which have huge resonance for Scotland too.
Although I’ll also be continuing to work in the SNP’s Economy and Finance team, it’s a challenge that I look forward to getting to grips with as we enter what promises to be a defining political period ahead.