|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Elis-Thomas: I warmly welcome the amendments, not only on behalf of myself and the Party of Wales, but particularly on behalf of the broad environmental movement in Wales and outside. It places the assembly not only in the context of sustainable development worldwide, within the EU and the UK, but it also provides it with a specific mechanism for assessing its own performance. That is what some of us sought earlier when we emphasised the possibility of an environmental audit committee. Clearly, were the assembly to establish an environmental audit committee, that committee would be an ideal engine for assessing its effectiveness and contributing to that assessment.
I congratulate the Government on the strong wording of the specific proposals. I am certain that they will be welcomed broadly within the environmental movement and they therefore place the assembly--the Minister will correct me if I am wrong--as probably the only government institution in the United Kingdom, the only level of elected government in the United Kingdom, to have those specific objectives. No doubt that is exceptional, even in the European Union. That allows me to refer in passing to the traffic-free experience we all had in Cardiff this morning, due to the European Council.
The new assembly may well be the first elected body in the European Union to be so strongly committed to the principle of sustainable development. It is appropriate and I congratulate the Government on taking that action.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, for explaining the two amendments. I am sorry the noble Baroness, Lady Young, is not here to raise the issues that concern her and, no doubt, the interests she represents. I shall refrain from asking for a definition of "sustainable development" because it comes under the same label as motherhood and apple pie and I should accept it for what it is.
Lord Elis-Thomas: The noble Lord's government, of which he was a strong supporter and member, produced numerous tomes defining "sustainable development" in great detail under the signature of his previous leader, John Major, his previous environmental Minister, John Gummer, and so on.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Perhaps that is why I do not ask for a definition of "sustainable development", because it would take far too long. In any case, I do not believe that the previous government ever tried to put such matters in an Act of Parliament. Never mind. I am not trying to get into an argument, I simply say that it would be interesting to hear the Minister give us an explanation of "sustainable development". I do not wish to tempt him because we want to get on.
As I read the parts of the Bill, my only observation is that I am surprised that similar obligations are not being placed on the Scottish parliament. I shall need to examine why the Welsh assembly needs all the instructions from here, whereas the Scottish parliament does not.
Lord Moran: The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, unfortunately cannot be here this afternoon and has asked me to move Amendments Nos. 247D and 247G in her absence. I shall be happy to do so. The noble Baroness and I welcome the Government's amendment, Amendment No. 247C, which clarifies and simplifies the sustainable development responsibilities of the assembly. At Second Reading I described the original clause on sustainable development as "opaque". This one is much better.
Amendment No. 247D, tabled by the noble Baroness), refers to the scheme for sustainable development which the assembly will make. The amendment would achieve two things. First, it would provide a modest framework to focus discussion on the content of the scheme, including objectives monitoring the impact of policies and consultation. The National Assembly Advisory Group, in its consultation document, stressed that it would like to see the assembly's working practices having a strong focus on
The framework for the content of the scheme is not intended in any way to pre-empt the assembly's prerogative to decide its policies on sustainable development in the context of a sustainable development scheme. It merely provides pointers for the overall shape of the scheme and will help the discussion input for a whole range of organisations in Wales which wish to contribute to the scheme, including the national conference on sustainable development which has been announced for early 1999 and which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, welcomes. It also brings the provisions for the scheme into line with the provisions for a similar scheme--that connected with relations with voluntary organisations under Clause 114--and will give some consistency to the two schemes. Overall, the amendment will build on and improve the Government's welcome Amendment No. 247C.
Amendment No. 247G is an amendment to the Government's Amendment No. 247F. The Government's intention to introduce a process for reporting on the effectiveness of the sustainable development proposals in the scheme is to be welcomed. The issue addressed by Amendment No. 247G relates to the timing and frequency of the report on effectiveness. The Government's proposal is that the report should take place every four years in the year after each ordinary election. Four years is a long period before review and assessment of the effectiveness of a scheme, especially in the early days of a new body like the assembly which will be feeling its way in terms of sustainable development responsibilities.
Amendment No. 247G proposes a two-year review period. That would have the benefit of avoiding the review coming immediately after an election with little opportunity for the assembly which set the scheme to learn from its operation. A new assembly, reviewing the scheme immediately after an election, would risk having less ownership of the scheme and less likelihood therefore of an interest in whether or not the scheme had succeeded.
Sustainable development will not be achieved overnight, but a lot can happen in two years. It will be sad if we are four years down the line before we know that some of the policies for sustainable development are not effective.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I am grateful that all Members of the Committee who spoke in the debate welcomed the provisions of the amendment proposed by the Government in relation to sustainable development. Perhaps I can begin by dealing with the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone who could not be here today.
The amendment proposes, first, that particulars be prescribed for the assembly in relation to what it must put into its scheme and, instead of producing a report every four years after an ordinary election, it is said that there should be a report every two years.
In relation to the greater prescription, the government amendment requires the assembly to set out how it proposes to promote sustainable development. It is a clear, utterly straightforward obligation. As has been made clear to the Committee, we on this side of the Chamber believe that the assembly must be left with a discretion to determine for itself how it will deal with a range of matters relating to the exercise of its functions, including setting forward its scheme in relation to sustainable development.
While we recognise the sincerity with which the amendment was tabled, we believe that our amendment, with its straightforwardness and clarity, is better. In relation to the proposal that a report be prepared every two years, we believe again that our amendment strikes the right balance.
Sustainable development is not about a quick fix. This Government have a broad agenda for sustainable development, encompassing a range of economic, social and environmental objectives. We would expect the assembly to take forward that agenda in Wales. But inevitably sustainable development must look to the long-term future and many of its measures may not be capable of short-term assessment. Having an assessment after each ordinary election would be more appropriate in that it allows time for the assembly's proposals to be adopted and for their effectiveness to be assessed. In that context we consider four years to be more appropriate than two years.
Lord Moran: On behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, let me say that I am grateful to the Minister, though I am a little disappointed. The amendment did not seek to prescribe, so much as to focus on the principal concerns involved and therefore to speed up the process of working out a proper scheme for sustainable development. However, I understand what the Minister says. I hope that the four-year period will work out. But I fear that, coming immediately after an election, it may not be the best way of reporting. That said, I do not intend to press the amendments.
Page 61, line 26, after ("election") insert ("(after the first)").