“Useless” Future Generations Act defended following criticism by QC

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Following criticism of the flagship Future Generations Act by Rhodri Williams QC today, a topical question was tabled in the Senedd.

“Don’t get me wrong, everyone behind this – including the Welsh Government – has gone into it with the best possible intentions, but it’s built on soft foundations. We never seem to get aggressive actions, only aggressive talk in an attempt to make ‘sustainability/sustainable development’ mean whatever decision-makers and opinion-formers want it to mean.

 

“Let’s review what we get from this Bill: a Commissioner (whom already exists but is being put on the statute books), another collection of unelected patronage-based committees hovering above local government (with obligatory involvement of the Third Sector), and a set of rather broad catch-all goals that you would expect any government in any liberal democracy to want to work towards.

 

“Yeah, this is definitely Welsh Labour’s baby alright.

 

“A focused sustainable development law might’ve been boring, but it would’ve been a bit more intellectually honest than this.”
Oggy Bloggy Ogwr, July 2014

“….deliberately vague, general and aspirational”

That was the interpretation of the High Court on the Act following a legal challenge against the closure of Cymmer Afan Comprehensive in the Afan Valley. Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central) asked whether the Welsh Government believed they deliberately introduced a vague law to the Senedd?

Deputy Minister without Portfolio, Jane Hutt (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan), said the interpretation of the law was a matter for the courts, but the Act was well-regarded and seen as something Wales was leading the way in. The Act was “standing up to the test”.

Neil McEvoy AM (Ind, South Wales Central) asked why money was being diverted from front-line services which would really make a difference to future generations?

Still a work in progress?

“For me, the main thrust of the Act was to affect that wider cultural change, which was about putting sustainable development as the central organising principle….of the whole public sector. I’m waiting to see the evidence that I’d like to see in terms of that being achieved still, although I think it’s work in process.”
– Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales)

Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West) said that while it was the court’s role to interpret the law, it was incumbent on the legislature to make its intentions clear. Even now it’s unclear how and what action can be taken against public bodies if they fail to comply with the future generations goals.

However, Mick Antoniw AM (Lab, Pontypridd) told the chamber the High Court comments were based on a preliminary application for a judicial appeal and aren’t binding. The judge clearly said, in essence, that “the law’s the law” and as long as Neath Port Talbot Council complied with the Act, then they satisfied it and the Act has worked as intended.

“I don’t believe the legislation is toothless….This legislation has made us a world leader in thinking differently, so would the Deputy Minister agree with me that we do need to keep flying the flag for this piece of legislation, because it’s why countries right now, as you’ve rightly said, Deputy Minister, are looking to Wales and are interested in this piece of legislation, and they want to follow Wales’ lead?”
– Jack Sargeant AM (Lab, Alyn & Deeside)

Not everyone on the Labour benches was singing from the same hymn sheet.

Alun Davies AM (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) didn’t want the government to blindly defend the legislation, but review it if necessary. He found declaratory statements were often “pious hopes” unless they were backed by real action.

“We need to look hard: does this achieve the ambitions set for it? Does it achieve the visions set for it? Is it the legislation today that we hoped it would have been when we voted for it? Is it achieving the objectives set for it? And, were we to do that, I’m less confident than the Minister that we would give ourselves 10 out of 10.”
– Alun Davies AM

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