Friday 3 February 2012

Legal Obligations and Sustainability

I’ve seen a few references recently to the fact that the National Assembly has a legal obligation to put sustainability at the heart of its work.  Indeed, it seems to be the only legislature in the world which has such an obligation, and the inference is that it’s therefore something to treasure and take pride in.  I’m not so sure.
I don’t disagree with the idea that putting sustainability at the heart of our government’s work is a good thing.  Nor am I arguing for a moment that the government should change this policy.  On the contrary, it’s something on which I’m delighted to see Wales taking a lead.  But it’s the legal obligation part which concerns me.
Had the government and Assembly freely chosen to make sustainability central to its work, I’d have been entirely supportive.  Indeed, I’d even have been prepared to lobby and campaign for such a decision to be taken.
But the legal obligation is contained in the legislation setting up the Assembly, and as such, it underlines the subordinate nature of our legislature.  Its central guiding principle has not been defined by the Assembly itself, nor by the elected government of Wales, but by the UK Parliament which has placed an obligation on Wales which it has not been prepared to place on itself or on the UK Government.
I’m happy to take a degree of pride in the principle itself; but not in its provenance.  I’m uncomfortable with the idea that any government should have its central guiding principle handed down to it by another government, and with no ability to change it.  I’d be much prouder if the Assembly had adopted the principle for itself – or even been handed the power to change it and then decided not to.


Anonymous said...

The claim that the National Assembly have a legal responsibility to put sustainable development at the heart of their work is simply green spin.

What section 73 of the Government of Wales Act 2006 does is place a duty on the Welsh Ministers (not the legislature) to prepare a plan setting out how they intend to promote sustainable development in the exercise of their functions. It's a duty to prepare a plan, not a duty to promote sustainable development. So if the Welsh Ministers were to decide that they intended to do next to nothing to promote SD, that would a perfectly lawful course of action - provided that their intended (minimal) actions were set out in the plan.

There is still some element of subordination here - the Welsh Ministers must consider the extent to which they wish to promote SD and set that out in a plan. But it's very much up to them to decide whether they wish to make it a "central organising principle". So there isn't too much here to cause constitutional concern - though it might be better if the duty were placed on the Welsh Ministers by an Assembly Act, rather than an Act of the UK Parliament

Glyndo said...

The human race hasn't acted sustainably since it chipped the first flint axe. The flints would have all been used up at some point. So it's just a race between when we use up all the resources and when the sun explodes. Not something we should be worrying about really.