Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, given the interconnections of the three instruments, I hope it will be helpful to your Lordships if I speak to all three together. The instruments before your Lordships make technical corrections to maintain the effectiveness and continuity of EU-derived legislation that would otherwise be left partially inoperable on exit.
The conservation of habitats and species regulations extend in part to the UK and to England and Wales only. The Conservation (Natural Habitats etc.) (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 and the Environment (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 relate only to Northern Ireland.
The UK Government remain committed to the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland. However, in the absence of a Northern Ireland Executive, UK government Ministers have decided that, in the interest of legal clarity in Northern Ireland, the Government should take through the necessary statutory legislation at Westminster for Northern Ireland, in close consultation with the relevant Northern Ireland department. In pursuing this course, we have worked closely with the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs—DAERA —and I am most grateful for the support given by DAERA officials.
The technical changes made by the Conservation of Habitats and Species (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 enable the UK to continue to meet its international commitments, such as the Berne and Bonn conventions, and ensure that regulations transposing the EU habitats and wild birds directives are operable. Principally, it makes amendments to three existing instruments that transpose the habitats and wild birds directives so that they are operable: the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017, the Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017, and the Offshore Petroleum Activities (Conservation of Habitats) Regulations 2001. The instrument also amends Section 27 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to ensure that existing protections continue.
The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 and the Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 are the principal pieces of secondary legislation that transpose the terrestrial and offshore marine aspects of the EU habitats directive and certain elements of the EU wild birds directive—commonly referred to as the nature directives—into domestic law. The Offshore Petroleum Activities (Conservation of Habitats) Regulations 2001 apply to specific activities only in relation to the directives. The nature directives lay down the rules for the protection and management of habitats, and the protection and exploitation of species. These three regulations fulfil the objectives of the nature directives in the UK’s terrestrial areas and inland waters, and its inshore and offshore marine areas, by ensuring that activities are carried out in a manner consistent with the directives.
The territorial extent of this instrument is the United Kingdom, with exceptions. Part 2 extends to England and Wales. Part 3 extends to England and Wales, but also extends in certain circumstances to certain specified reserved matters in Scotland and Northern Ireland. We have worked with the devolved Administrations on this instrument, and where it relates to devolved matters, they have given consent. The Scottish Government are making similar changes by means of their own secondary legislation within their areas of legislative competence.
As part of national operability, this instrument implements a number of changes, one of which is a national site network. Sites designated under the nature directives have contributed to the EU’s Natura 2000 network. These sites will now form a national site network and will continue to help fulfil the UK’s international biodiversity obligations, for example under the Berne convention, where they will continue to form the UK’s contribution to that convention’s Emerald network. New Regulations 16A and 18A set out ministerial responsibility to manage, and where necessary adapt, the national site network in co-operation with Ministers in the devolved Administrations. That obligation will be exercised with the support and expertise of the statutory nature conservation bodies. The network’s management objectives look to secure compliance with the overarching aims of the habitats and the wild birds directives.
I turn to the issue of reporting. To ensure transparency and accountability, Ministers will produce reports on how the regulations are being implemented within six years from the date of exit and every six years thereafter. The Secretary of State will compile these reports into a combined UK report within two years of that. This is in line with existing reporting requirements, and the reports will be publicly available. The requirement for biennial reporting on exemptions or derogations from the strict protections for habitats and species is maintained.
Let me turn to the designation of special areas of conservation. Functions currently undertaken by the European Commission in designating any future SACs will be transferred to Ministers. Ministers will assess new SAC proposals acting on specialist advice from the appropriate nature conservation body. In Defra’s case that will be Natural England, along with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, using existing criteria.
I turn now to imperative reasons of overriding public interest. This instrument transfers the role of the European Commission to Ministers in being able to offer an opinion to local decision-makers such as local planning authorities. The opinion concerns whether imperative reasons of overriding public interest may apply in the granting of a planning application for a proposal which may adversely affect priority habitats, but where there is no feasible alternative. In doing so, Ministers will need to take account of the national interest and consult widely, including the Government and the other devolved Administrations, along with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. It is my understanding that imperative reasons of overriding public interest have never been deployed in relation to priority features with regard to planning proposals anywhere in the UK, in that no file or dossier has been submitted to the European Commission for an opinion.
I will now address the amendments to annexes and schedules. A new instrument-making power allows Ministers to make amendments to the annexes and schedules where this is supported by technical and scientific progress. This brings into a national context provisions which already exist at EU level. The devolved Administrations will have the same powers. Any amendment under this provision which cannot be supported by expert opinion is open to challenge in Parliament or the courts. This instrument will ensure that the strict protections that have been in place for many years for our most vulnerable habitats and species are maintained when we leave the European Union.
On consultation, although there was no statutory requirement to consult publicly on the instruments, officials undertook engagement with key stakeholders. Indeed, following concerns raised by the RSPB, we chose to withdraw and re-lay the SI to provide absolute legal clarity that the management objectives of the new national site network to protect wild bird species and their special protection areas remain equivalent to those in the wild birds directive. The RSPB and Greener UK have welcomed this. It is a very good example of where there has been consideration by people who can look at these things with a fresh eye, and we were absolutely seized of the importance of making it absolutely clear. So I welcome this as an example of where, if one does not get it perfect the first time, let us try again.
I turn to the Conservation (Natural Habitats etc.) (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. As I have said, these regulations extend to Northern Ireland only. Importantly, they mirror the five main changes to the regulations I have just set out—in short, replicating for Northern Ireland Parts 1, 2 and 3 of the England and Wales legislation. It was felt that Northern Ireland officials should draft a separate regulation for two reasons. First, nature conservation is a devolved function in Northern Ireland. Secondly, the structures in Northern Ireland are different from those in England and Wales in that DAERA, a government department, undertakes all aspects of nature conservation. Therefore, many of the amending clauses could not simply be replicated for all three countries, and several Northern Ireland amendments would have to sit separately in any encompassing statutory instrument.
As is evident, Northern Ireland is unique within the United Kingdom as it shares a land border with the Republic of Ireland. There are excellent working relationships on nature conservation between officials in Northern Ireland and their counterparts in the Republic. This co-operation occurs within a framework of the North/South Ministerial Council, in which the environment is identified as an area of joint working. For example, the Loughs Agency is a cross-border body set up under the 1998 Good Friday agreement to manage commercial fishery activity in Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough and to undertake valuable work in the conservation of vulnerable species. Similar arrangements apply on an east/west basis. The British-Irish Council has played a positive role in nature conservation issues, for example the sharing of information and experiences on the many invasive alien species threatening our important habitats. The council has also supported initiatives such as an all-Ireland pollinator strategy, which contains practical actions and information designed to increase the number of pollinators throughout the island of Ireland.
Finally, I turn to the Environment (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. These regulations address failures of retained EU law to operate effectively with regard to six pieces of Northern Ireland primary legislation and two sets of regulations, as set out in the Explanatory Memorandum. The regulations are similar to the amendments made to legislation in England and the UK by the Environment (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which have already been affirmed in both Houses. We have a separate set of regulations for Northern Ireland, as in the areas covered there is a well-established body of Northern Ireland legislation. Where there are already UK-wide instruments, we have taken forward regulations that include Northern Ireland and other jurisdictions. Taking forward Northern Ireland-only amendments in this case helps preserve the integrity of Northern Ireland’s statute book—albeit that the amendments are being made by UK statutory instruments rather than by the normal Northern Ireland statutory rules.
As an example of the amendments made by the instrument, Regulations 15 to 17 make changes to the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Northern Ireland) Order 1998, replacing,
“obligations of the United Kingdom under the Community Treaties”,
with, “retained EU obligations”. This is an example of where, if we did not make the amendment, the references to the UK’s obligations under community treaties would be inoperable as there would be no obligations.
In this instrument there is no policy change and—I must emphasise—no reduction in the environmental standards or obligations to which Northern Ireland is currently subject. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction. This statutory instrument brings over legislation from the nature directives, which have been the bedrock of nature protection in Europe and the UK for many years. We know that species resident on sites protected by the habitats directive are recovering more strongly than species on sites that are not covered by it. The nature directives are the bedrock of protection and are important for species such as the bittern, which has recovered far more strongly by virtue of the habitats directive.
I shall give credit where credit is due. As the Minister rightly said, this statutory instrument was removed and relaid after concerns were raised by the RSPB and other environmental stakeholders. That is a model of how such matters should be treated. I commend the department on that, and I will not be opposing this statutory instrument.
I shall touch on a particular issue the Minister raised. He did not quite address it to my satisfaction, so I shall press him a little further. It is about reporting under these regulations. The Explanatory Memorandum makes it clear that the reporting requirements will be carried across, and I pay tribute to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee which teased out a bit more from the department on that matter to make sure that there was greater clarity about the format of those reports. The formats for reporting are very clear under the directives, but they are not clear in the statutory instrument or the Explanatory Memorandum. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee got the department to put on record that the formats for reporting will be agreed with statutory agencies and the devolved Administrations. That is to be welcomed. However, there is no clarity on the provision for reviewing those reports and highlighting any failures for action. The Government say that they will meet their international obligations, which is welcome, but there is no guarantee that that reporting will be timely or at a pace that will allow failures to be rectified speedily. At the moment, the EU has the power to enforce action for failures. Is there any sufficient capacity to enforce, including by fines for breaches of the regulations?
When he sums up, will the Minister say a bit more about how the Government see these vital reporting requirements being reviewed and how we can be sure that transgressions against them are speedily rectified? I am sure the Minister will talk about the office for environmental protection, which we hope will be forthcoming in due course, but it will not be truly independent since the Government will appoint its board and will be responsible for its budget. Discussion so far suggests that there will be insufficient enforcement mechanisms. For example, there is no power to call the Government to hearings or, as a last resort, to levy fines. We do not have the office for environmental protection yet, so what will happen to reporting in the meantime? If the Minister could offer us some reassurances on how reporting will be reviewed and how we will rectify any failures, I would appreciate it.
I welcome and appreciate the Minister’s introduction. Overall, what he said is reassuring. In addition to the point that has already been made, I want to pick up on scientific input, which was mentioned in the Minister’s introduction. Will he clarify in a little more detail the point that changes will be allowed only due to “technical and scientific progress”? The statutory instrument does not specify where the expert input will come from and whether it will involve the statutory nature conservation advisers. Will the Minister elaborate a little on the nature of the scientific input, how it will be taken into account, the degree of transparency in the publication of any scientific advice and how it will work across the four nations of the United Kingdom?
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his exposition on these three statutory instruments. I shall start with the first two on the conservation of habitats and species. I have spent almost 30 years of my life campaigning for the nature directives—for their introduction, refinement and implementation, and, on occasion, in their defence. They have been hugely instrumental in protecting internationally important species and habitats, so I say to the Minister: tread gently because you tread on my dreams.
I am delighted that the Government accepted many of the concerns of the NGOs and others, and withdrew and then relaid the first statutory instrument. I commend the excellent work of Greener UK and its constituent NGOs in that respect. The SIs are certainly in better shape now, but there remain a number of points on which I seek ministerial assurance.
We welcome the new provision for statutory guidance to be produced in consultation with the appropriate nature conservation body. This guidance will be required urgently to ensure clarity across all sectors on the meaning of all these changes. I hope the Minister can assure the Committee that consultation on the statutory guidance will begin right away and not take more than a few months to conclude.
We welcome the new regulation introducing management objectives for special protection areas and special areas of conservation, and for their joint network, but I must admit that I am rather perturbed at the wording of the first SAC objective, which talks about achieving,
“a favourable conservation status … (so far as it lies in the United Kingdom’s territory, and so far as is proportionate)”.
This proportionality is about the management of sites, not their designation, and seems to introduce a new restriction that is not in the habitats directive—which, of course, I read nightly before I go to bed. The Minister kindly organised a briefing session with his civil servants, where it emerged that this was about prioritisation, and we explored on what basis that prioritisation process would take place. Surely if a site has been designated as being of international importance, the objective of achieving favourable conservation status ought to be axiomatic; we do not designate sites in order to watch them get worse. We may have only a small proportion of a particular European habitat and species, but we should still have a responsibility to get it into favourable conservation status. Equally, if we are the principal guardian of a habitat such as blanket bog or a species such as the great crested newt, we have a particular responsibility on behalf of the European biosphere to do a good job in looking after them. Do the Government think we have too many newts and blanket bog sites? I may be misjudging the Government, and I would be grateful if the Minister could explain what is intended by the concept that management effort should be “proportionate”.
I turn to reporting, which has been raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. We welcome the change to the instrument, which brings in a requirement for reporting on progress, and on exceptions and derogations, but, as the noble Baroness said, the regulations do not make provision for anyone to review these reports or highlight any lack of progress, as is currently undertaken by the European Commission. As it stands, the statutory instrument is a diminution in protection for these vital species, sites and habitats. Although the reports will be forwarded to the Berne convention, the convention has not exactly been alacritous in following up failings and enabling action to be taken.
I ask the Minister to ensure that provisions be made for an independent review to be included, with the stress on the word “independent”. This would preferably have been in the legislation but we are now beyond that point, so can the Minister assure the Committee that a suitable independent body such as the OEP will be given this reviewing role? Although the progress in setting up the OEP is slightly glacial, the first report under these provisions is not due for two years, so I hope it would be set up in time to pick up the reviewing function.
The regulations introduce a new power for the relevant authorities to make changes to the birds and habitats directives’ annexes and the habitat regulations’ schedules, which will include prohibited methods of capturing and killing mammals and fish. Changes would be allowed on the basis only of technical and scientific progress. I echo the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, that expert input, and a duty to consult relevant statutory nature conservation advisers and take account of their advice, is needed in connection with this change, particularly since the changes would be achieved through negative procedure SIs, with their inflexibility to challenge once laid. It would be useful if the Minister could say whether the guidance that will be issued for this SI will confirm the process by which the Government will seek expert input, including from the statutory advisers, and whether this process will be agreed with the devolved Administrations.
On the amendment to Regulation 36, to move the paragraphs on prohibited means of killing mammals and fish into a schedule that would then be amendable by Ministers, could the Minister confirm, firmly and unequivocally, that these powers will not be used to roll back animal welfare standards? I am not sure the Government understand what a hornets’ nest they are inviting in making it easier to challenge what has been quite a difficult process of changing this particular set of provisions about killing.
A highly important issue, which some may see as a bit of a sideshow, is the name of the network of sites designated under the nature directives—currently Natura 2000. I declare an interest, because about 25% of the sites in that network were designated under my chairmanship of English Nature, a piece of work of which I am immensely proud. We are talking about my children and I love them all.
The statutory instrument proposes that this network be called the national site network. This has problems on three counts. The first is practical: sites of special scientific interest are also known as national sites, since they are important for national and not European criteria. Also, planners across the country risk getting mightily confused, as there is already reference to national sites in the National Planning Policy Framework. These are different sites with different criteria.
The second issue is that several of the Natura 2000 sites in Northern Ireland span the border with the south. I have happy memories of driving along the border in the dark during the Troubles, in an RSPB Land Rover, which I hoped was clearly marked, trying to track down the last crekking corncrake in Northern Ireland. If we crash out on 29 March and have a hard border in Northern Ireland, presumably wildlife will have to wait at the border, in common with everyone else, but we certainly should not call these border sites national sites because they are clearly transnational. Also, “national” has a distinctly different meaning in Northern Ireland.
The third and most important reason for not calling the network of sites the national site network is that the one thing that distinguishes the sites designated under the nature directives is that they are not national in importance, but designated for the very reason that they are international in importance. Therefore, could I persuade the Minister to confirm that no matter what this statutory instrument calls the network, the Government will swiftly announce that for the purposes of clarity it will forthwith be known as the international site network? This network would include the Ramsar sites to complete the set, and would be clearly distinguishable from the SSSIs and the marine conservation zones.
On the impact of the statutory instruments on provisions in Northern Ireland, the office for environmental protection will not operate in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is also the only country in the UK that does not have an independent nature conservation advisory body, so who will take an independent role in overseeing the implementation of these statutory instruments in Northern Ireland? For example, when I spoke on the need for reports to be reviewed by an independent body or for independent conservation advice to be taken, it was not clear who could take this role in Northern Ireland. We are sweeping away the powers that the European Union had in ensuring protections were enforced, but we are not proposing anything to replace that vital function in Northern Ireland. In the absence of a functioning Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive, what do the Government propose?
I see from the scrutiny of these statutory instruments in the other place that the Minister indicated that DAERA civil servants had asked that the possibility of the OEP covering Northern Ireland should be kept in play until Northern Ireland Ministers returned and could decide. Can the Minister cast more light on this? I hope he will confirm that these are issues that need to be tackled and tell us what discussions have been held on this with Northern Ireland civil servants. I hope the Minister will also agree that continued environmental co-operation on the island of Ireland will be vital post Brexit, since it is, after all, a single biogeographic unit.
My last point is on the delightful statement of hope in Regulation 14 of second the Northern Ireland instrument. An amendment to the Waste and Contaminated Land (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 lays out a provision drawn from the aims of the waste framework directive and enshrined in the Northern Ireland waste strategy in the UK waste and resources strategy,
“to enable the United Kingdom as a whole to become self-sufficient in waste disposal as well as in the recovery of mixed municipal waste collected from private households taking into account geographical circumstances or the need for specialised installations for certain types of waste”.
We need to reflect that Northern Ireland exports a proportion of its waste and will continue to do so for many years. It has no plant to process refuse-derived fuel, so where is it therefore transported? Under the proximity principle it is to the south, where it generates electricity that is no doubt shared with the north. A hard border in Northern Ireland might result in loads of rotting rubbish festering at the border—another good reason for ceasing this Brexit folly.
My Lords, I am most grateful for all of the contributions, and I was struck hearing about bedrocks and bitterns, treading on dreams, and hornets’ nests. I found the experience rather more frightening than I had already intended. However, this is an important area and I am most grateful to the noble Baronesses for acknowledging that we did the right thing in withdrawing and re-laying the instrument, because we wanted to make it absolutely clear that our good faith in these matters is strong.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Young, both raised the important issue of reporting. As we explained in our written evidence to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, the reporting requirements introduced at Regulation 8 of this instrument are intended to ensure that, at a minimum, they reflect those set out in article 17 of the habitats directive and article 12 of the wild birds directive. However, as that regulation makes clear, these requirements are not exclusive since currently within the EU, the Commission determines the full extent and format of the reports, in consultation with experts across member states. Similarly, UK Ministers would expect to determine the format of such reports administratively, in consultation with our statutory advisers and those from the devolved Administrations, ensuring that we meet all our international reporting obligations.
The provisions for a composite report, including an evaluation of progress and contribution of the national site network—about which I will speak in a moment—in our view replicates the current legal requirement on the Commission. Accordingly, on operability, there is no need to provide an additional statutory review provision. This instrument also converts environmental reporting obligations in the directives into a requirement to publish reports in the future. This will ensure transparency and scrutiny of our environmental performance. The UK will continue to report on a similar basis as a contracting party to the Berne convention and will be obliged under resolution 8 of the standing committee on the convention, adopted in 2012, to report on the conservation status of species and habitats every six years, covering the previous six years.
We are also required under article 9 of the Berne convention to submit reports every two years on exceptions that have been permitted, the protection of wild fauna and flora, and an assessment of their impact, in the same way as we do now via the EU. The convention standing committee can review the implementation of the convention through legal and policy reports from independent experts. Indeed, the OEP—more about which in a moment—will be an independent, statutory environmental body and may well be interested in this matter. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, that on reporting and timeliness—timeliness is important—six years is the usual period for compiling these reports, which are comprehensive. That is what is in the nature directives.
Perhaps I could spend a little time on proportionality, which was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I wish to assure or reassure her—whatever the right word is—that it is not the intention of this provision to reduce in any way existing nature conservation protections. This provision is about not the designation and management of sites, and therefore the permitting of certain activities, but the overall management of the UK network in the context of achieving favourable conservation status for species and habitats across their biogeographical area and within their natural range.
New Regulations 16A and 18A place a wide duty on Ministers, in co-operation with other authorities in the UK, to manage and adapt the network to maintain or, where appropriate, restore at a favourable conservation status threatened and vulnerable habitats and species throughout their natural range. This duty can be exercised only where those natural ranges fall within UK jurisdiction. It is also to be discharged with regard to the importance of the UK globally in the conservation of those species or habitats. We can contribute to achieving a favourable conservation status for vulnerable or threatened species and habitats only in the proportion to which their range falls within UK jurisdiction.
In this respect, the provision reflects the requirement in article 3 of the habitats directive to have, “A coherent … ecological network” to maintain and manage species and habitats,
“at a favourable conservation status”,
and therefore for Ministers in future to have regard to what is being done beyond UK borders to contribute most effectively to maintaining and restoring those features at favourable conservation status in their natural range. If I may return to where I began, I place it on record that there is absolutely no intent at all for this provision to reduce in any way existing nature conservation protections.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, raised the office for environmental protection, the independent statutory environmental body which will hold government and public bodies to account on environmental standards, replacing the current oversight of the European Commission. This body will provide independent scrutiny and advice on environmental legislation and the Government’s environmental improvement plan, and hold government to account on the implementation of environmental law, including taking legal action where necessary. It will also of course have access to these publicly available reports. I say particularly to the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, who raised this, that we are finalising interim measures that may be necessary under a no-deal scenario and before the office for environmental protection is established. Again, the Government are doing what they can in Brussels and elsewhere to ensure that we have a deal, but with or without a deal there will be no period of time during which government actions cannot be held to account.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, queried—rightly, given his expertise—the availability of technical and scientific expertise. I hope he might agree with my impression, from going around the Council of Ministers and other bodies, that this country has significant expertise in nature conservation, which is recognised at home and at international level. Hundreds of scientists are employed in our statutory nature conservation bodies and the depth and breadth of their experience is hugely regarded. Ministers will continue to benefit from the advice of their statutory nature conservation bodies: in England, this is Natural England while at the UK level, it is the JNCC. Natural England provides statutory advice to public authorities and is responsible for ensuring that the natural environment is protected and improved. It has a responsibility to help people to enjoy, understand and access the natural environment.
The JNCC already has a statutory duty to advise Ministers on developing and implementing policies on nature conservation matters. The JNCC has an independent chair and five independent members, some with scientific experience and some with a legal background. The majority of the joint committee is made up of appointments by the four countries’ statutory conservation bodies.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, raised the question of committing to produce statutory guidance. We plan to issue guidance on the operability changes to the regulations as part of our EU exit arrangements. We are developing a page for GOV.UK to explain the main changes to the regulations and to signpost to existing guidance. Following the UK’s exit, our intention is to review and update our own domestic guidance on all aspects of the regime. We plan to consult and involve a range of interested stakeholders to ensure that guidance on wildlife legislation is fit for purpose and can contribute to ensuring that we maintain and enhance existing protections.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, queried the power of the Secretary of State to amend schedules. This is where she referred to a hornets’ nest; I hope that I can reassure her. The prohibited capture and killing methods listed in this schedule are those set out not only in annexe 6 of the habitats directive but in the almost identical appendix 4 of the Berne convention, from where it derives and of which we will remain a contracting party. There has been no reason to amend appendix 4 since 2002. The provisions for amending the annexes and schedules in this instrument, including moving prohibited killing from the body of the regulations to the schedule, simply ensure that we retain the same power of amendment as the Commission has at present to update annexes. This is an updating power to be used only—I emphasise only—for the purpose of adapting these annexes to technical and scientific progress, and therefore a power that can be exercised only where it is supported by expert opinion from the JNCC and Natural England. We will, of course, continue to work closely with devolved Administrations to secure nature conservation outcomes across the UK.
Northern Ireland was also raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. It is important—again, I hope I can reassure her—that in the case of Northern Ireland, DAERA has a statutory advisory body known as the Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside. This body includes academics, land managers and environmental non-government bodies with a wide range of conservation expertise in terrestrial and marine environments. The CNCC is tasked with providing a focused view on DAERA’s functions, including relating to nature conservation. There could be a specific role for the CNCC in future reporting mechanisms.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, also asked about a possible extension of the OEP to Northern Ireland. She is absolutely right that Northern Ireland Civil Service officials have requested that the scope of the office be expanded to include Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State has agreed to this; I hope that is helpful to your Lordships. Discussions are ongoing between officials as to how this might be taken forward. Any decisions by Northern Ireland officials will be taken in light of the requirements of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018 and the Northern Ireland Secretary of State’s guidance thereunder.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, also raised the name of the national site network. These sites will continue to be selected under the criteria in annexe 3 of the habitats directive and article 4.1 and 4.2 of the wild birds directive, which—as she will know better than I do—makes them distinct from SSSIs. The National Planning Policy Framework and other policy guidance does not particularly recognise the Natura 2000 network by offering planning protections but is concerned instead with the different types of protected sites, such as special areas of conservation, special protection areas and European sites. This instrument retains those names. I emphasise to the noble Baroness—I have noted her appeal for a different name—that the term “National Site Network” is a legal one for the purposes of these regulations. It will be open to Ministers in the UK to agree a distinct name for the network in a similar way to, for instance, the Emerald network. We do not need a legal power to do that. It might be my duty to play back her commentary on the national site network. I should also say that we intend, nevertheless, to publish guidance explaining the main changes that will arise due to operability.
I think I have referred to the issue of reports, a point also raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. The next six-year report is due in the coming few months and will go to the Commission, therefore it will be six years until the report after that. On the issue of the waste schedule, Regulation 14(a) replaces an existing paragraph in Schedule 3 to the Waste and Contaminated Land (Northern Ireland) Order 1997, so that Northern Ireland is required to establish an integrated and adequate network of installations for dealing with household waste. This is so that the UK as a whole can become self-sufficient in waste disposal and recovery, taking into account geographical circumstances or the need for specialised installations. This paragraph formerly required such a network to be designed so that the EU would become self-sufficient, where practicable. If we did not make the amendment, it would become inoperable. By making the change, we retain the effect of the existing legislation. As I have said, there is no change of policy or substance.
The noble Baroness also raised the issue of cross-border waste between the UK and other EU member states. In 2018, Northern Ireland exported 127,000 tonnes of notified waste and imported 200,000 tonnes. In the same year, Northern Ireland exported 33,000 tonnes of notified waste to the Republic of Ireland. This was largely solid recovered fuel. Also in 2018, Northern Ireland imported 198,000 tonnes of notified waste from the Republic of Ireland, mostly as mixed dry recyclables. What these figures suggest is the clear imperative that I know all noble Lords are aware of: the importance of the open border for the island of Ireland. It is what we all want and this highlights that we all want to see a more circular economy by using less, reusing and recycling. The figures indicate how inextricably linked the two parts of that island are with each other. As I have described in the environmental context, there is the issue about the whole of Ireland working together on many of the environmental dilemmas that perhaps previous generations and our own have presented.
These three instruments need to be passed in order for there to be operability. It is very important that we should continue to safeguard, maintain and enhance our environmental protections in all parts of the kingdom.