Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
17 NOVEMBER 2010
May I welcome you? I think you all sat in on the previous session
that we've just had. We're perhaps running a little bit behind
time, so I'm going to ask everybody for briefer replies and perhaps
briefer questions as well, if I can. We very much wanted to get
as broad a perspective as we could and hear evidence not just
from Government agencies or Government Departments. We're aware
of the work that you have each done and, if you like, the importance
that you attach to innovation and to there being proper engagement
on the whole issue of democracy and research. So, could I just
invite you each just to introduce yourselves and give a very brief
proposal as to why it's important that we listen to what you have
to say, then we'll go into the questioning?
Dr Russel: My name
is Duncan Russel and I'm based at the University of Exeter. I've
been doing research since 2001 on environmental policy integration,
which is one way of embedding sustainable development in Government,
in the UK and also the European Union, and I've also been involved
with John in a project examining the role of this Committee.
Chair: Scrutinising this Committee, I'm
aware of that, yes. Thank you.
Dr Turnpenny: Good
afternoon, everybody. Thank you for inviting me. My name is John
Turnpenny. I'm from the University of East Anglia in Norwich.
My particular area of research interest is embedding evidence
within policymaking and how that works in practice, particularly
looking at policy appraisal systems but also looking at other
mechanisms, including the Environmental Audit Committee, and also
looking at practical lessons for how these research results might
be implemented. I'd just like to take the opportunity to thank
our colleagues, Tim Rayner and Andrew Jordan at UEA, for their
contribution to our evidence today.
Chair: It's on the record.
Halina Ward: I'm
Halina Ward and I'm Director of an NGO which was launched in September
2009. It's called the Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable
Development. It kind of does what it says on the tin. We work
not just on embedding sustainable development in Government but
more broadly on what has to happen to democracy as a political
system so it's properly equipped and capable of delivering sustainable
Carol Day: I'm
Carol Day. I'm a lawyer at WWF-UK. I was a campaigner before I
was a lawyer and I've worked in environmental charities all my
life, both at the local level of county wildlife trusts through
now to the international level with WWF-UK.
Q154 Mr Spencer:
I'm interested in measuring the progress we're going to make.
We've already got a number of indicators and targets in place
for measuring whether we're the greenest Government ever. Can
you tell us are those indicators and targets adequate for us to
be able to measure that and, if they're not, what targets and
indicators and measurements should we have in place?
Carol Day: I hesitate
to go first.
Chair: Please go first, Carol.
Carol Day: Horrible
job. Well, in recent meetings with Government we've been told
that the 2005 document doesn't really apply because it's the last
Government's position. So, I guess we find ourselves in a bit
of a vacuum as far as that's concerned. So, my first point would
be that we need obviously a new, renewed commitment to some targets
and also some improvements on where we've got to so far. We obviously
had the five principles of sustainable development, but in the
2005 document even, I think it was recognised that we needed to
place more emphasis on living within environmental limits. We've
had initiatives like the Climate Change Act, which I think tends
to focus much more on the production emissions end and perhaps
not enough on the impact of consumption and our growing consumption
in terms of things like carbon footprint, but also other areas
as well. In the Living Planet Report, which we issued very recently,
we basically showed that if every other country in the world lived
as the UK does, we'd need something like two and three-quarter
planets to support the number of resources that we actually use.
So, I think really, in terms of limits, we certainly need some
limits around consumption.
But I think there are other improvements that we
can make as well on where we were in 2005. Certainly, in the research
that FDSD and WWF are looking at at the moment we're making a
much more explicit link between sustainable development and future
generations, and I think this is where we'd really like to see
much more emphasis in the future. Obviously the international
definition we have of sustainable development is very much about
not compromising the needs of future generations because of the
needs of the present. I think one of the things that we would
really like to see is more of a midfield approach, if you like,
something which is actually looking forward in that sense in terms
of future generations as well as a policy scrutiny and a rearlooking
view as well.
Chair: Halina, did you want to add?
Halina Ward: Just
very briefly, there has been a lot of discussion recently about
adding well-being and quality of life indicators to the national
indicator set, and that's certainly something that in principle
we'd welcome. A slight note of caution perhaps, that this is a
real opportunity to think creatively about how the indicators
are formed and how they're collected. It's one thing to ask somebody,
"Do you feel happy today? Yes, I bought a car yesterday"
and quite something different to ask somebody, "Do you feel
happy? Yes, I know my neighbours. We do favours for one another"
and so on. I think that the actual process of gathering the indicators
of quality of life or well-being, which is in itself valuable,
needs to be something quite creative that encourages people to
think as they're giving their responses about broader well-beingthe
things that really make us happy beyond the satisfaction of immediate
Dr Russel: The
thing that I would like to say about indicators is that it's all
well and good having a great set of indicator sets, but ultimately
there are two issues. First, if you do not reach your targets
within indicator sets, what happens? So it's a matter of process
beyond just measuring where we are. The second thing is that to
date we haven't really learnt much from indicator sets because
at the moment we have an indicator but we don't know what the
signals are that are creating that indication. So we don't know
whether it's because of a certain policy that's led to us meeting
or overshooting that indicator, or we don't know whether it's
due to economic effects or changes in behaviour and so on. So,
if you take, for example, an indicator on carbon, if we see a
reduction in carbon emissions is it because we've seen a reduction
in economic activity; is it because of some behavioural change;
is it because of some new technology? So, indicator sets actually
need to be linked more to analysis on what has actually led to
changes within the measured criteria, and then it offers opportunities
for learning and for Government to adjust their position based
Dr Turnpenny: I'd
just like to agree with that and say how important it is that
we have good evidence, and not only good evidence but good mechanisms
for collating and bringing together that evidence and applying
it in the most focused way. There's a lot of evidence out there
and without a clear mechanism and a clear way of deciding on a
way forward, we find that it becomes very difficult to decide.
Having a good evidence base for indicator development and interpretation
Q155 Mr Spencer:
I think the thing that motivates politicians is the fact that
someone at some point in time is going to say, "You have
succeeded" or, "You have failed". There needs to
be a system in place to measure that, so people are given a target.
I can't see or understand how we're going to be able to measure
some of those things, particularly when you talked about emotional
well-being. That's an impossible thing to measure, isn't it? It's
almost an opinion rather than a measurable outcome. I don't know
how we're going to be able to integrate that into Government policy.
Halina Ward: Well,
indicator development has become something of a dark art, as I
understand it. I think perhaps with some of these qualitative
data sets that we're looking for, it's much more important to
view the process of developing the indicators as an integral part
of the indicator reporting. That's what I was trying to get at
in my point about well-being indicators. So, there is a learning
process that goes on in the development and the formation of judgments
about what's important, and it's important to have people involved
in that process who are not the usual suspects, if you like, as
well as simply providing passively a report with lots of numbers
and lots of text to people and saying, "That's it, that's
what we said we were going to do. That's what we've done. What
do you reckon?" It's not an interactive way of developing
a discussion about the level, the measure of a Government's commitment
to sustainable development. So I'd like to see it being much less
technocratic an exercise in a way and much more an interactive
process of engagement involving citizens and local groups.
Q156 Zac Goldsmith:
I was going to just follow up on that point. I agree this is incredibly
difficult to measure. I've looked at a number of different models,
indicators, usually not developed in Britain, but indicators to
try and capture some of these things. It seems to me that the
people who design some of the indicators that are already being
discussed have done so without any real regard to what it means
to be in Government or what it means to actually make policy decisions.
It's almost as if the indicators and the tools have been developed
in such a way to make it impossible for policymakers to implement
them in a practical way.
So, for example, I'm fumbling here, but certain
areas that have already been picked up on are impossible to quantify,
but unless you can find a way to quantify them it's almost impossible
to hold the Government to account. So, happiness is something
which is very subjective, but there are very clear signs of unhappiness,
which are measurable. So, if more and more people are self-harming,
if more and more people are committing suicide, more and more
people are becoming hooked on drugs, for example, those are things
which you can measure. I know they're negatives, not positives,
but would it not make more sense to focus on things which can
actually be quantified in a more technical way?
Halina Ward: I
view the process of indicator development and reporting as part
of a system of more deliberative democracy, if you like. That's
why I gave the answer that I gave. In a sense, I've reached the
limits of what I'm able to say. I'm not a really technical indicator
bod. I just understand that they're the map but they're not the
territory and you need something different to get at the territory.
Zac Goldsmith: I
suppose the concern is that a Government could look at that stuff
and say, "This makes a lot of sense and we'd like to pursue
that agenda", but it wouldn't make any difference at all
from a practical point of view in terms of how the Government
govern. Whereas if you were able to say, "We have seen that
over the last five years there has been a rapid increase in the
number of people suffering from mental illness", for example,
that is something against which you could judge a Government's
record. And I just think without those tangibles, those actual
measurable things, it's very hard to pin a Government down. That's
my concern about some of the indicators that have been developed.
Q157 Martin Caton:
How does the UK Government compare with other Governments in embedding
Chair: I ask everyone to come
back within 15 minutes after the vote. We'll start as soon as
we've got a quorum. Sorry, we'll just have to go down and votethat's
what we're here to doand then we'll come back.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Chair: I think there's
enough of us here to continue. We want to get through as quickly
as we can. Martin, do you want to resume for us, please?
Q158 Martin Caton:
What I was saying before we were interrupted was how does the
UK Government compare with other Governments in embedding sustainable
development in its work?
Dr Russel: I'll
start with that one. The comparative work in the project that
I've been involved with on OECD countries suggests that, rather
surprisingly when you look at some of the reports that this Committee
has produced in the past, the UK is among the front-runners in
terms of embedding sustainable development, which when you look
at some of the evaluations of how the UK is actually doing is
rather concerning when you take a global perspective. The UK,
along with Sweden and Norway, have been the most innovative in
terms of designing mechanisms and approaches for integrating environment
and sustainable development concerns across policy sectors. For
example, things like the Environmental Cabinet Committee under
former Administrations was a very innovative body when it was
actually set up in 1990, under the Conservative Environment
White Paper. Also, the UK has innovated in things like policy
appraisal in terms of actually setting up the mechanism.
However, what we actually see in the research with
all of these countries, UK, Sweden and Norway, is that they've
developed this body of tools, mechanisms and so on, but this in
itself has not been enough to actually embed sustainable development
because they haven't been backed up by sufficient incentives for
sector policymakers to actually engage with sustainable developmentfor
example, providing funding, providing career progression paths
to help policymakers engage. There also hasn't been enough central
steering to sanction departments or sectors when they're actually
not engaging with sustainable development. So, a lot of it is
put down to political will. However, how we understand that and
how that does or does not manifest is something that's still quite
underresearched and probably something we need to research
more. But on the international scene the UK is a leader. I think
John just wants to talk a little bit more about the policy appraisal
aspects of this.
Dr Turnpenny: Sure,
Dr Russel: Unless you've got any
follow-up to what I said.
Martin Caton: No, I'd be interested to
hear from Dr Turnpenny.
Dr Turnpenny: In
the previous session there was a little bit of talk about appraisal
systems and how they might work. I've done a fair bit of work
over the last few years on how policy appraisal systems have worked
in practice. The UK, of course, has its regulatory impact assessment
system and many other OECD countries also have appraisal systems
of varying colours and purposes. But we found that there are some
common reasons why they don't work as expected. For example, they
often come late in the policy process; they don't influence the
development of policy early on. Often the people who are consulted
are what you might call the usual suspects, the people who always
get consulted about those particular policy areas. They can be
seen as somewhat of an addon to the policy process, and
particularly in the UK they focus very heavily on regulatory burdens.
There is very little on the sustainable development and environment
The European Commission has a system of appraisal
that does focus more in a more concrete way on environment and
sustainable development impacts of policies, but even here there's
still a very heavy focus on regulatory burden. And I think that
it shows that if you have an amount of analysis you can have a
large amount of data, you can have a lot of expertise, but that
doesn't necessarily translate into more sustainable policymaking.
There are a whole lot of barriers as to why the evidence as gathered
by assessment systems is not being taken up and not putting through
into the statute books or even into the outcomes in terms of a
more sustainable society. A lot of those burdens relate to high-level
institutional constraints, the fact that policy is often made
on the basis of policy that had been made before, so it's incremental
rather than radically changing. And doing more analysis is a useful
step but it isn't going to give you a more sustainable society.
So, what I'm focusing on at the moment in my research
is looking at mechanisms beyond policy appraisal, so looking at
mechanisms like parliamentary committees, bodies such as the IPCC,
the Climate Change Committee, NICE, looking at how these bodies
gather evidence, how they're embedded within the political process,
what kind of barriers they face and how can they overcome these
barriers. I'd just like to stress that it's not always about lack
of data or lack of evidence. It's about the overall purpose of
decision making and what is really driving, what are the paradigms,
what are the really high-level impetuses behind policy making,
because if that doesn't fit with the data, then the data can often
What about the political will?
Dr Russel: That's
what it boils down tooversight and having the oversight
to ensure that the data are used in a way to make the policy process
more transparent. It's about managing the process of data flows,
and that's pretty crucial.
Q160 Martin Caton:
Ms Ward, do you want to make a contribution?
Halina Ward: Thank
you very much. There were two areas that I wanted to highlight.
They're not so much about embedding sustainable development in
Government, but about equipping Parliament to play its role in
delivering sustainable development. There are two particular areas
to consider. One area is about the integration of future generations
and the interests of future generations in the fabric of Parliament,
and the other is the role of Parliamentary Commissioners. Because
we're short of time, let me just tell you the titles of some of
these parliamentary functions. Hungary, which has the most well
developed of these functions, has a Parliamentary Commissioner
for Future Generations as one of four Parliamentary Commissioners,
effectively ombudsmen. He can scrutinise legislation. He has to
respond to complaints from members of the public. He can even
play a role in formulating Hungary's position in European Union
negotiations. That's one. Canada has
Q161 Martin Caton:
Just on that one, what sanctions has that ombudsman got?
Halina Ward: He
can initiate court cases. I understand his principal audienceit's
not the limit of his powersis administrative decisions,
but he also has ultimately, I believe, the power to invite or
request organisations to cease damaging activities. The translations
are difficult from the Hungarian and there are multiple translations.
His powers are attached to Hungarian constitutional protection
for the right of Hungarian citizens to a healthy environment,
but there's no reason why we have to see that institution as being
inherently connected to a written constitution or protection for
that kind of right. I have some additional written evidence I'd
be very happy to submit to the Committee if that would be useful.
Chair: We would be very pleased to receive
Halina Ward: It's
rather detailed and I'm anxious about putting it on the record
here and missing the detail.
So, the second I wanted to mention was New Zealand's
Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. Again, that person,
who is appointed by the Governor General on the recommendation
of the House of Representatives, partly responds to requests from
Parliament to provide independent advice for Parliament and partly
has a right on his or her own initiative to scrutinise certain
activities of public agencies. Again, I'd be very happy to provide
you with a more detailed role on that. Canada has such a rolethe
Commissioner for the Environment and Sustainable Development.
The Israeli Knesset still has relevant legislation and from 2001
to 2006 had a Commission for Future Generations. The Finnish Parliament
has a crossparty Parliamentary Committee for the Future.
So, these are all mechanisms, creatures of Parliament, which help
to equip Parliament, the driver of our democracy at a national
level, to play a fuller, better informed and more scrutinising,
if you like, role on sustainable development. I think those are
important areas to look at more closely and we'll certainly be
doing so in the runup to Rio plus 20 as well.
Carol Day: I just
wanted to add in to the point about the Hungarian Parliamentary
Commissioner that one of the things that really appealed to both
Halina and I was the forwardlooking role that the Commissioner
can play. Just an example of that, when we were looking at the
Marine and Coastal Access Act that was going through in 2009,
lots of NGOs were lobbying very hard for the Marine Management
Organisation to have a much stronger role in relation to sustainable
development. We were pressing for something like, "Promoting
or furthering sustainable development". We weren't successful
in that and we ended up with, "Contributing to the achievement
of sustainable development", which is on a par with most
of the other duties on similar bodies but we were hoping to get
something much stronger. Now, as NGOs, I think it can be quite
difficult, but as a Parliamentary Commissioner who is mandated
to perform that function, I think he or she might possibly have
been more successful in getting those strategic forwardlooking
commitments into draft legislation.
Chair: Sorry, have you not finished on
Q162 Martin Caton:
No, I have finished on that bit but there is another aspect of
the international stage. The Government have decided to withdraw
funding from the SDC and to abolish the Royal Commission on Environmental
Pollution. Will that be picked up in the international community
and, if so, what message are we sending?
Halina Ward: I
think it will be noticed. The institutional framework for sustainable
development is one of the key issues for consideration in the
run-up to Rio plus 20 and at Rio plus 20, which is a global reaffirmation
of nations' commitments to sustainable development. That focus
on the institutional framework for sustainable development includes
the national and the local dimensions as well as the international,
and I think perhaps the role of the UK then becomes in a sense
convincing that it's possible to do more with less in the current
environment. I think it will be noticed and I think that the UK
possibly has to go with some humility into that process and say,
"We do want to be the greenest Government ever". That
is the policy commitment". (I'd like to see this Government
saying, "We want to be the fairest ever" as well"
because that's the flipside of sustainable development),
"and here's how we reconfigured our institutions" and
with some humility be prepared to learn from other countries who
have not necessarily rolled back on existing institutions and
are equally thinking about how to get more sustainable development
from less public sector financial resources, if you like. It will
be picked up on, though, I think.
Carol Day: Can
I raise a note of concern in terms of not only where we are now
but we are very concerned that it's going to get worse with something
like the Public Bodies Reform Bill? Teaching my grandmother to
suck eggs, you all know how controversial this is, but you've
got something like 177 public bodies potentially affected. Now,
quite a large number of those are bodies which would have sustainable
development as part of their functionseven if it's not
their statutory duty. So, if we take the Forestry Commission,
the Environment Agency, Natural England, JNCC, the Infrastructure
Planning Commission, the Marine Management Organisation, quite
a few of them, particularly Natural England, can use their powers
in lots of ways to promote or further sustainable development.
But as far as I'm aware, Natural England is the only body that
actually has that aim as part of its statutory purpose in terms
of future generations. I think we'd be really worried if public
bodies with such innovative functions were in danger of being
either abolished, merged or modified by that Bill.
Dr Russel: If
the UK doesn't maintain this leadership and continue to be a front-running
state. The danger is that it's not just the UK that is on this
earth, it requires action by other states. Now, if the UK is seen
to be running backwards rather than going forwards, then that
doesn't send a very positive message out to other nations and
other states about embedding sustainable development into policymaking
processes. So I think it would send a very dangerous signal and
would probably weaken the UK's position within the negotiating
parties and the discussions.
Q163 Peter Aldous:
If we could just move on and look at the future scrutiny of the
Government's sustainable development performance, just inviting
your views as to how you think that scrutiny should be made more
effective and where it should be directed.
Dr Russel: At the
moment, there has been scrutiny of the UK sustainable development
strategy and its embedding of sustainable development, including
by this Committee, the Sustainable Development Commission, academics,
the various bodies. However, to date it's been quite piecemeal,
so just focusing on, for example, policy appraisal or green housekeeping
within Government or focusing just on one specific issue such
as climate change. And I think the scrutiny and evaluation mechanisms
that exist need to actually takeespecially in the lead-up
to Rio plus 20a broader perspective of how the UK has and
hasn't been performing, particularly with regard to understanding
why as a frontrunning state in terms of what's on paper,
it hasn't actually translated to what was expected on the ground.
I think that's where scrutiny has particularly failed. It's tended
to focus on the bits and pieces rather than looking at the whole.
You need to look at the bits and pieces, but you need to bring
that up to the wider perspective.
Q164 Peter Aldous:
So, what specifically would you be doing for it to become an overarching
approach rather than the piecemeal approach we've had to date?
Dr Russel: I'd
like to say I'd like this Committee to do an investigation. This
is the start of the process, I would say. But the problem is with
the Sustainable Development Commission losing its funding, then
I don't know where the capacity for this type of thing lies; maybe
the National Audit Office or someone like that who has the resources,
has the expertise and can provide that broad overview.
Q165 Peter Aldous:
So this Committee backed up with resources from, say, the National
Dr Russel: Yes,
but you need those resources.
Dr Turnpenny: I
think it is important that there is a cross-cutting independent
body. There was talk before about DEFRA. Holding Government to
account has to be done by a body which cuts across Government
Departments, doesn't get bogged down in particular departmental
politics, doesn't get particularly sidetracked by departmental
issues, but it's also independent. It has a step away from Government
but it also, crucially, is linked to democratic mechanisms. There
needs to be this dual role for a link with a democratic institution
and a link with expert advice, one step removed at least from
One of the important things about the EAC, one of
the important things about the Royal Commission, is that Government
have to respond to it. Government have to listen and make some
kind of response. The Secretary of State was talking about Government
being held to account by the data they it produce. Well, there's
a lot of data. There's so much data. How do we have a guiding
hand through all the data that are being produced? For example,
if somebody decides that they don't like the fact that their house
is falling into the sea and they say, "I'm holding Government
to account because of this", the Government don't have to
respond to them. The Government have to respond to a body which
has a specific function which is inbuilt within its constitution.
So that's very important.
Dr Russel: Can
I just add one more point to that? The responses also have to
be meaningful and I don't know how you do that, but looking at
the responses to this Committee in the past, some of the Government
responses have been pretty glib, I would say, and dismissive without
actually providing a robust account of why they made the decision
the way they did and why they did things their way. They have
often been quite dismissive and I don't think that's very constructive.
I don't know how you get around this, but the responses need to
be more meaningful, more detailed and more transparent than that.
Q166 Katy Clark:
I just wanted to pick up this issue of resources because my understanding
is that the Sustainable Development Commission has about 700 staff
and access to all sorts of expertise. If you're talking about
resources, what kind of resources are needed to fulfil those functions?
It's been suggested to us that this Committee could fulfil that
role, and obviously the people on this Committee have got a whole
range of other responsibilities as well and, frankly, don't have
that kind of expertise. How much money and resource is needed
to fulfil these functions?
Chair: I think it might just be helpful,
just for the record, what we're talking about is 700 or so resources
that the National Audit Office has as well as the resources which
the Sustainable Development Commission have.
Halina Ward: Clearly,
in the current environment for the immediate future, the role
of the Environmental Audit Committee needs to be strengthened
because that becomes a principal scrutiny mechanism. That means
access to independent research resources. It means access to the
kinds of resources that allow you to play a role in framing visions
of sustainable development proactively rather than simplynot
that you always do thatresponding to what's already there
on the table in terms of Government outputs. That is a role that
the Sustainable Development Commission played with its group of
independent experts. You could look to tool up the Environmental
Audit Committee itself to have access to those research resources,
or you could look to tool up the National Audit Office and make
its resources available to the Environmental Audit Committee on
request when the Audit Committee felt it needed additional resources
or independent research inputs or analysis. There's a certain
"ad hocery" to an extent about relying on voluntary
written submissions in an evidence process, and I think there
is a need to think more about how that could be strengthened.
The Finnish Parliamentary Committee for the Future does commission
research projects into, for example, the future of democracy.
These are very valuable resources and they come out of a cross-party
parliamentary committee. I'd like to see you doing more of that.
Q167 Katy Clark:
I think the fear is that the resource is going to be considerably
less and that this is a cut and that these functions aren't really
going to be duplicated elsewhere. That's why I'm asking whether
you think the level of resources that have been put in in the
recent past are the appropriate level of resources.
Dr Turnpenny: Well,
I think it's clear that there aren't going to be huge amounts
of resources swimming around, but I think that within those constraints
the Environmental Audit Committee can hit very hard with a small
fist. My personal belief is that the Environmental Audit Committee's
focus on the advocacy role for particular policy ideas and having
a safe space for even the most radical of ideas to be proposed
and discussed in an environment which is separate from Government
is extremely important. Not only that, but it is important to
act as a kind of policy entrepreneur to make windows of opportunity
in order to grasp chances to bring evidence and ideas and feed
it into the policy process when it might be the most receptive
to these ideas.
We've heard about several different countries. The
German Enquête Commissions is another good example. Every
so often, the Bundestag sets up a commission that is made up half
of parliamentarians and half of experts who are invited, and their
role is to draw evidence together on a particular topic, a big
topic, things like atomic energy, and they then report to Government.
You've got the expertise; you've got the democratic legitimacy.
The vote is not always unanimous, but then why should it be? These
are big issues. There's always going to be disagreements; there's
always going to be politics; there's always going to be an amount
of debate. I think it's important that the debate is at least
on the table, that it's open, that it's transparent.
Halina Ward: Just
very briefly:, "was the level of resourcing appropriate?"
I don't know the detail of the Sustainable Development Commission's
budget, but in terms of raw cash numbers I would say yes, the
resourcing on this issue, sustainable development, the integrated
approach to environment, social development and economic development
was entirely appropriate. We have lost something very significant,
particularly if we aspire to mainstreaming sustainable development,
in losing that independent scrutiny function from an arm's length
body. I don't think, quite simply, that with the current level
of resourcing we're going to get the same quality of scrutiny
on an agenda that is, after all, deeply important to the future
of us all and future generations. That's something to really deeply
regret. So then we do need to think very creatively about how
to get more from less and rejigging current functions or current
responsibilities so that if nothing else we can give a much more
significant nudgethat famous wordto ordinary citizens
and NGOs that this is still something that's really important
and this Government welcome outside scrutiny.
Q168 Peter Aldous:
All four of you have spoken very passionately about what needs
to be done here by Government. What role do you think there is
for your three organisations in the future?
Carol Day: Well,
we can continue to be a thorn in the Government's side, and we
do that across a whole range of functions in terms of our lobbying
work here and at international conventions. Yesterday I met with
DEFRA and the Ministry of Justice on access to environmental justice,
because they're putting up a very poor performance in terms of
the implementation of the Aarhus Convention and social justice
is one of the principles that we were talking about in terms of
sustainable development. So I think NGOs play an absolutely crucial
role in keeping the Government on their toes. But the point I
was making before is that we can only go so far and really what
we would like to see is a body which is not as vulnerable to Executive
attack as we've seen. I think the EAC certainly can perform some
of those functions but in terms of resources and where else those
other functions might be taken forward, clearly that should be
somewhere that needs to be independent and impartial. But in terms
of NGOs, I think we will always be there to play a vital role
in terms of lobbying and making sure that duties are enforced.
Q169 Peter Aldous:
Just picking up on something Carol said and just thinking of the
other three of you, the Secretary of State, who was with us last
week, did say that DEFRA are now holding regular stakeholder events,
and you've just alluded to one there. Have you been involved in
Halina Ward: No.
I did listen to the Secretary of State's evidence and it struck
me that the language that she used was about convening meetings
with civil society groups or NGOs to talk to them about decisions
that had already been made. I do think that one of the tremendously
valuable roles that NGOs and civil society can play is in bringing
new ideas into the policy process. That really needs to be welcomed
at a time when the capacity of the public sector and the Government
to develop those ideas is restricted. So, please, open your doors
and let us come and talk to you and float the new ideas and the
innovative thinking that's at the cutting edge that might just,
with your knowledge from inside Government, be transformed into
something that is workable.
I think this is something that we want to pick up with you, really,
because I noticed in your evidence, Halina, that you'd mentioned,
I think, that you weren't aware of this inquiry taking place until
the last minute. We have a website and, inside Parliament, we
certainly want to be the Select Committee that deals with the
environment in a cross-cutting way. So any suggestions as to how
we could improve our information in order that people can engage
with us would be helpful. Suggestions on that would be helpful.
But I think the other issue is that what's coming
out of all four of your separate contributions in terms of the
evidence to our inquiry this afternoon is that given the decisions
which the Government have made and the question marks that there
are now about how there will be embedding of sustainable development
in policy making by Government in the future, what's the role
of Parliament and Select Committees in this? I think that in the
past a Select Committee has had a very clear role and a very clear
function, but we're aware, for example, that the European Scrutiny
Committee looks at legislation, looks at directives or has an
active role to play. I'm thinking that we need some kind of hybrid
whereby we can exercise prelegislative scrutiny, look at
international negotiations and European directives that are coming
into this Parliament, and we can look at Government policy in
the light of their various pieces of legislation, which is going
to get rid of some of the regulations that are there at the moment,
for want of a better word. How can we look creatively and innovatively
given the resources that we currently have, which are very few
compared to what there is within the Sustainable Development Commission?
How can we effectively provide that pressure or scrutiny or creativity
in terms of where future environmental policy goes? We need to
be looking at it in a different light using examples of best practice,
so I think that any further thoughts that you've got on that,
given what you've already said today, would be very helpful and
we would receive it very gratefully.
Dr Turnpenny: There's
a piece of research that I've just started doing on different
mechanisms for embedding evidence within decision making, as I
mentioned before. One of the parts of that is classifying bodies
by different functions. So, for example, how far they are away
from politics, what kind of policy function they have, how they
handle multiple interests and value conflicts, how they interact
with the outside world and, of course, different types of scrutiny
advisory bodies are appropriate at different times for different
situations. So, I think I could certainly contribute. I could
send some of the work; I could keep you up to date on the work
that I'm doing in that.
Chair: I think that would be helpful
in our recommendations.
Dr Turnpenny: Yes,
it might help promote some kind of outside thinking about different
models that might be appropriate.
Chair: I am conscious of time but I know
that we did just want to have a series of short questions on localism.
Q171 Dr Whitehead:
In addition to what we've heard about the withdrawal of funding
from SDC and the end of the RCEP, there also is, of course, the
withdrawal of regional spatial strategies and a number of local
indicators, but at the same time the Government have indicated
that they wish to drive power downwards towards local authorities
and for those local authorities to become more autonomous in their
dealings. How, bearing those in mind, might we ensure that perhaps
that move is a policy that causes local authorities in general
to pursue better sustainable development arrangements rather than
perhaps, not to put too fine a point on it, a charter for fractured
NIMBYs at various local levels without actually pulling that data
back to see what's happening?
Chair: We are short for time, so one
of you, please.
Dr Whitehead: Sorry, that's an all-purpose
Halina Ward: It's
really important that local authorities continue to value the
expertise that they can add to local decision-making processes,
even if those processes are very highly devolved to community
groups. It's very important that local authorities continue to
value the role that they can play in setting local policy frameworks
against which actions are judged. And it's very important to ensure
that local authorities have mechanisms for ensuring that tradeoffs,
where one community makes a decision at the expense of another,
are properly managed as between local authorities. I see a real
risk that localism could bring unsustainable development because
one community's woodland amenity is another community's dark,
spooky, unsafe place that needs to be razed to the ground and
turned into a lovely park. That is happening and unless communities
and local authorities stress the value of expertise and local
policy frameworks in those highly decentralised localist decisions
we're going to have real problems with localism, I think. We also
like it from a sustainable development perspective because lots
of decisions need properly to be made at the local level.
Q172 Dr Whitehead:
But that's the dichotomy, isn't it? There could be much greater
autonomy at local level but, as you say, the problem is the Sudan
dam phenomenon breaking out where one authority's autonomy is
actually undermining another local authority's action, for example.
Halina Ward: It
has to continue within a local policy framework rather than being
completely devolved so that the loudest community groups get what
they want and other people get shut out.
Carol Day: Can
I just very quickly add to that? I totally share your concerns.
I used to work on planning for 10 years at local county wildlife
trust level, and I think the danger is at the moment local authorities
are going to be making decisions in an almost total policy vacuum
because they don't have the detail they used to have in the planning
policy guidance notes before them. I think that will lead to delays
and sometimes bad decision making, more legal action and certainly
people being very frightened and taking defensive decisions. So
I think greater involvement in terms of public engagement in spatial
planning but also in other things like identification of marine
conservation zones, for example. We need people to be getting
involved otherwise those decisions could be very bad.
Halina Ward: What
we need is a mass investment in a sense of active citizenship,
rather than simply doing good to our neighbours and volunteering
at the local school or hospital. That does require an investment,
and it requires an investment that local authorities can play
a tremendously important role in as well.
Do you see evidence that that's happening at the moment?
Halina Ward: I
don't yet. I hope it will and I hope that we can help to ensure
that it does.
Very quickly, I think there's a real danger that sustainable development
will belong to nobody, because the Government are not taking responsibility
and the local authorities aren't being mandated to take responsibility.
So, there's a danger it's going to fall between the gaps of responsibility.
I think, crucially, even within the Government localism agenda,
it's up to central Government to set the tone to steer what should
be going on, while also allowing flexibility for localities to
be able to operate within that agenda. So, it is a matter of setting
goals and targets and allowing some kind of flexibility in terms
of how they're met. Without that, I think ownership will be lost
by everybody and we have a mess, basically.
Dr Turnpenny: It
should be an intelligent devolution of power rather than a devolution
Halina Ward: And
statutory duties on local authorities matter in that at the local
Chair: Thank you. With
that, I think we've come to the end of the session this afternoon.
It's been most helpful and I'm grateful to you all for coming
along. Thank you very much indeed.