Report on the Antarctic Bill Legislative Consent Motion
Committee: Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister
Date: Monday, 25 February 2013
Reference: NIA 95/11-15
ISBN: Only available online
Background to the Bill
1. Neil Carmichael MP introduced the Antarctic Bill (HL Bill 76) (as a Private Member’s Bill with Government support) on 20 June 2012. The Bill completed its passage in the House of Commons without amendment and had its first reading in the House of Lords on 21 January 2013.
2. The Bill’s primary aim is to improve the protection of the Antarctic environment. The Bill implements a new Antarctic Treaty which places a responsibility on Antarctic operators to respond to an environmental emergency caused by their activities or to pay for the costs of clean up.
3. The Bill also makes changes to the Antarctic Act 1994 to further protect the environment for marine plants and invertebrates and to enhance protection from non-native invasive species.
Purpose of the legislative consent motion
4. During drafting of the Bill, it was discovered that Antarctica had been omitted from the list of excepted matters in the Northern Ireland Act 1998. While no functions were transferred to Northern Ireland Departments in relation to the Antarctic, the 1998 Act inadvertently resulted in the Northern Ireland Assembly having legislative competence to implement the UK’s obligations under the Antarctic Treaty.
5. The UK Government now wishes to make the regulation of activities in the Antarctic an excepted matter. Clause 17 of the Antarctic Bill would effect this change and is supported by the First Minster and deputy First Minister.
6. The current provision, while having no practical effect, alters the legislative competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly and therefore a Legislative Consent Motion is required, which the First Minister and deputy First Minister have laid in the Assembly.
7. The same issue occurred in the Scotland Act 1998, when Antarctic was left off the list of reserved matters. This has now been rectified through Section 11 of the Scotland Act 2012, which now makes the regulation of activities in the Antarctic a reserved matter as far as the Scottish Parliament is concerned.
8. The Committee took evidence from Departmental officials Neil Jackson and Jim Hamilton at its meeting on 6 February 2013. Officials gave a brief overview and explained to Members the need for a Legislative Consent Motion and that in the view of the First Minister and deputy First Minister there is no rationale for the Assembly to retain this competence as no Department currently has functional powers.
9. At its meeting on 6 February the Committee agreed that it was content to support the Legislative Consent Motion.