Lesley Griffiths MS, Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs
In July 2019, I convened the Environmental Governance Stakeholder Task Group to assist with the development of options for environmental governance in Wales once the UK leaves the European Union.
The Task Group provided me with a set of recommendations in April and I commissioned a wider options appraisal exercise to allow me to make a considered decision on the right approach for Wales.
I am pleased to advise Members of the Senedd that the options appraisal work is now complete and I have accepted the majority of the Task Group recommendations. I will be publishing the Task Group Report and my response today.
The Task Group’s recommendations and the Welsh Government’s responses are as follows.
The Welsh Government should address the governance gaps in both environmental principles and oversight through the introduction of primary legislation. A Welsh response to environmental governance should address the gaps as they arise from the end of the transition period (1 January 2021).
Accept in principle – Due to the pressures that EU exit and responding to the COVID-19 emergency have placed on the legislative programme, it has not been possible to bring forward legislation for environmental principles and governance this term. However, in the debate following his legislative statement in July, the First Minister reiterated his commitment to do so.
a. The four EU environmental principles (rectification at source, polluter-pays, prevention and precaution) should be provided for in Welsh legislation. These principles should support an overarching objective, which sets out environmental ambitions in Wales, including the connections between environmental policy and other policy areas (integration);
b. There should be a duty on the Welsh Ministers to apply the principles in the development of policy and legislation rather than the publication of a policy statement on principles
The Sustainable Management of Natural Resources duty, which applies on Natural Resources Wales, to be extended to a wider group of public bodies, including the Welsh Ministers. Further work is required to determine the scope of the definition of public bodies, with consideration of the definition provided in the Well-being of Future Generations Act, where bodies discharge functions relating to the environment.
Accept in principle – further exploratory work is required on this recommendation.
The Aarhus Convention rights (access to information, public participation and access to justice) should be articulated in any forthcoming legislation for environmental governance.
a) A Commission for the environment, independent from the Welsh Government, should be established to oversee the implementation of environmental law in Wales.
b) The Commission should be provided with certainty of finance and be audited by the Auditor General and report on its activities.
Accept in principle - subject to budget consideration in the next Senedd.
c) Acknowledging the size of Wales, the Commission to be constituted in a manner which is appropriate for Wales with permanent staffing but with the ability to draw upon an Expert Panel to add to its functionality allowing for a flexible approach and allowing the body to draw on a wide range of expertise. The Commission should be provided with appropriate functions to not only receive and respond to complaints from citizens in Wales but also to carry out inquiries where systemic issues have been identified through investigations and scrutiny. It should have powers to escalate matters where necessary to stop or prevent environmental damage.
d) The Commission should be able to address issues in an appropriate manner from advising public bodies in Wales through to enforcement and employing mechanisms of environmental review before the Upper Tribunal.
e) The Commission should be able to work cooperatively with other bodies