Examination of witnesses (Questions 60
TUESDAY 25 MAY 1999
and DR TERENCE
60. Tradition is a wonderful thing, but in the
light of this experience should we not be modernising our attitude
in this area?
(Mr Adams) I do not think, if I may say so, that is
a question for me. We can certainly try and get more closely alongside
them and to an extent that there is any blame that we have failed
to show why ESRC ought to regard this as a priority area then
that is a failing for us.
61. Earlier on we were talking about the importance
of what the DETR does and the Sustainable Development Unit and
how that interacts with other departments of Government. Can I
extend that whole area now to look at what goes on within the
European Union. Can I just ask you in terms of the Strategy that
you have now presented, how that picks up all the key policy developments
which are currently under way at the European Union level? Can
you tell us what those key policy areas are and how you resolve
the situation, for example, where it is DTI that takes the lead
on European Union agreements that go forward with WTO? How can
you make sure that you are working side by side on that issue
and who is taking the initiative on that?
(Mr Adams) As we have discussed already this morning,
this document is intended as a handbook, not an encyclopedia,
therefore not every relevant bit of business which is currently
or prospectively being considered in the EU which is relevant
to sustainable development will be in here although I hope that
in many areas relevant directives and discussions are reflected
62. Which would you think are the key policy
areas that currently are under discussion at the moment, that
you either have or have not reflected in this companion book you
(Mr Adams) Those would certainly include discussions
about the future of the Common Agriculture Policy, which is in
here. To take up your point about trade and the environment, it
was because we were conscious that DTI lead in many of these areas,
for example, that we were keen to use the Strategy as a vehicle
for producing an agreed Government view on principles for trade
and the environment, which is what Chapter 9 does. So that is
essentially the negotiating brief for whoever may go off to any
international negotiation where trade and the environment is on
the agenda. That text was agreed by DETR, DTI, Treasury and other
interested departments and therefore binds all of them.
63. Just going back to the key areas within
the European Union, which would you say were the key policy areas
and which have not been included in this?
(Dr Ilott) I think if you lookand I cannot
remember all of themat the EU's Fifth Action Programme
on the environment, it identified a number of areas which were
vital in that context for environmental policy but also for sustainable
development policy, which were things like energy, tourism, agriculture,
all of which have been referred to in this document and are continuing
parts of important EU policies in areas such as climate change,
energy and agriculture, as John Adams mentioned. So I am not sure
there is anything which the EU has identified as a key area of
policy which has been omitted as a key theme of the Strategy.
64. My concerns are more as to how is the Government
taking the initiative and making sure that issues that we cannot
deliver on locally and nationally because of restrictive, either
EU or WTO or international, agreements, how is the local global
link being made? Are there key issues which we should be more
(Dr Ilott) I think one of the things which the Government
is trying to do now in the EU fora is to press, following the
conclusions at Cardiff and Vienna Councils, for greater environmental
appraisal of policy and integration of sustainable development
thinking more generally into the development of policies at EU
level. One of the things which we hope to do with this Strategy,
which has now been sent to colleagues in other Member States,
is to use this Strategy to inform thinking within the EU, as for
example they think about, the review of implementation of the
Fifth Action Programme, to take a more sustainable development
based approachso that it is not just something which is
thought of as something which applies to policies of the Environment
Directorate-General in the EU only but more widely across the
(Mr Adams) To give an example, a bit of a follow up.
We have a member of the SDU in Bonn today attending a workshop
which the Germans, as the Presidency, have convened to look at
integration. One of the things he is going to be doing obviously
is drawing attention to some of the things in the Strategy. I
think we need to do things at two levels, particularly on the
environment and resources section of the Strategy. There are lots
of references to action at EU level in the Water Framework Directive,
Air Quality and so on; Marine issues in OSPAR and elsewhere. Frequently
international negotiations will be the appropriate fora for taking
forward individual strands of policy but we also need to make
sure that all of those international bodies take a similarly holistic
view of policy deliberation and putting the environment into other
areas of policy, whether it is trade or transport or agriculture
or whatever, as we are now committed to do. Hopefully the existence
of the Strategy will help us to demonstrate how we think that
should be done.
65. You would say you have looked at best practice
examples from other EU countries when drawing up this document?
(Mr Adams) Yes, very much so.
66. Can I just ask about the United Nations'
requirements for sustainable development strategies, you have
just briefly touched upon that. How do you see what is happening
here and what is happening in Europe actually contributing to
that? Do you feel they have been best addressed in this Strategy?
What monitoring will there be as far as progress made on the United
Nations' Environmental Agreement?
(Mr Adams) The United Nations has a requirement that
all countries should produce national Sustainable Development
Strategies, I think, by 2002. This is obviously our contribution
to that process. Individual countries' strategies will vary depending
on their perceptions of priorities locally and the UK continues
to do a great deal bilaterally and multilaterally with other countries
and particularly the Department for International Development
is working with a number of countries to help them deliver their
sustainable development strategies. Obviously to the extent that
a UK Strategy is a helpful template then, again, we shall draw
that to their attention.
67. It is not just about tackling local poverty,
is it, it is about getting the negotiations and the agreements
which prevent the growth of pollution and contamination and all
these things which take place at the moment?
(Mr Adams) Absolutely. I think the requirement for
all countries to have addressed these problems is an important
part of putting in place the information, the framework, so that
those negotiations can take place.
68. So does this companion book then have some
mechanism for seeing and reporting on the progress made on that
and where it is that the UK is taking the initiative with Europe
(Mr Adams) Yes. There are several references in here
to areas in which we are and will continue to take the initiative.
That again is something we would expect to reflect in the annual
series of reports which will, as I say, concentrate on real world
outcomes but will also be the vehicle for the Government to set
out what it has done to help bring about sustainable development.
69. There will be a mechanism?
(Mr Adams) Yes.
70. Chapter 10 in the Strategy talks about the
annual reporting and the Government has committed itself to bringing
together all the figures and publishing them starting with next
year. Can you talk us through the mechanics of that, particularly
whether there are going to be special responsibilities on individual
Government departments to report their figures and, secondly,
how you will monitor local authorities' performance on those local
environmental factors as well?
(Mr Adams) What we are discussing here is in a sense
reporting on behalf of the nation on progress on sustainable development.
We see this as sitting alongside, but not detracting from, individual
reports which we shall also encourage. So we want more businesses
to report. As this Committee knows, Green Ministers are to report
very shortly setting out what Government departments are doing
in these kinds of areas. Local authorities are being encouraged
to report likewise. We shall want to draw from all those but try
and produce an overall picture of what is happening at the national
level on behalf, so far as we can, of all the interests rather
than just concentrating on the Government. If we are going to
do that clearly we need to have the active participation of others.
That is one reason why we say the next step is to arrange a seminar
which we hope to hold in the early autumn at which we can discuss
our views and not only the outcomes but also the machinery by
which we can produce something which is worthwhile for everybody.
71. What about in terms of identifying local
targets being met or not being met? Danger levels as opposed to
those which seem to be doing quite well, I am thinking of local
air pollution problems or identification of contaminated sites,
brown field sites, redevelopment, whatever. What input is there
going to be from those local authorities? We have already set
in place very clear targets and Strategies, how will those help
(Mr Adams) We would obviously want to reflect that.
Hilary Hillier was saying earlier there is an enormous amount
of activity on the indicators and monitoring at every level, regionally
and locally, but also particular sectors of business, for example.
Some of the local measures, the messages, may be rather different
from the ones that come out at the national level. I gave much
earlier on the example of water quality. At a national level water
quality is not a problem but it might be a problem for an individual
local authority area. The emphasis they had in the report they
made would be slightly different. We shall want to bring together
as much of that information as we can and explain, as I say, primarily
the national position but attempt to show what is happening in
different parts of the country and different sectors.
72. In terms of those local authorities who
are backward in coming forward with either their information or
their participation in the Strategy, is DETR, as the lead department,
prepared to use a carrot and stick of local government funding
to encourage them to play a rather more keen role than they might
(Mr Adams) I do not think there is any mechanism at
the moment which would allow us to deprive local authorities of
funds for failures in this area, not that I am aware of. We are
still very much in the business, together with the Local Government
Association and others, of providing help, encouragement and other
carrots and drawing attention to the benefits which local areas
can obtain by working in this kind of way.
73. When the carrot does not prove attractive
enough, given that this is a DETR project, DETR is the lead here,
it is a very large tap of money which it can regulate accordingly,
is there a willingness for the department to use that tap to encourage
compliance if it has not been brought about by a nice dangling
(Mr Adams) I think there is no willingness at the
moment nor any discussion of doing so. The largest tap is, of
course, the Revenue Support Grant on which the Government has
announced a three year moratorium on the SSAs, which are the basis
of calculations. I am not sure at the moment there is an obvious
mechanism by which DETR can withdraw funds from local authorities
who are felt to be recalcitrant in this area even if there is
a will to do so.
74. These are SRB grants, beyond the main stream
funding we could tinker with.
(Mr Adams) You could, but intended for other purposes,
and I am not sure that I think we have reached the point at which
it would make sense to deprive people of other grants for which,
apart from anything else, SRB grants require submissions which
take account of sustainable development.
(Mr Adams) If people have done that, to say that nonetheless
having reached that point they could not have the funding because
they had failed to produce a Local Agenda 21 Strategy in time
I think is a draconian thing.
76. I detect a slight reluctance to get tough.
(Mr Adams) Because I am not sure that we are convinced
that we shall need to get tough. We are getting very close to
100 per cent. of local authorities signing up to produce Agenda
21 Strategies. I think the stage beyond that is encourage them
to improve the quality of those Strategies. I am not convinced
that a punishment regime is a necessary or desirable part of that.
77. The bit you made about the SRBs requiring
sustainability to be there, could you tell us on what basis that
is the case at the moment?
(Mr Adams) I think there is a box in the Strategy,
if I recall, which describes the basis of SRB bidding.
78. How that is assessed as well?
(Mr Adams) You have taken me outside my area of expertise.
I am sure there is a requirement that SRB bids should demonstrate
their economic, social and environmental effects. I would be happy
to provide some sort of note on the way that is done and what
it means in practice, if that would help?
(Dr Ilott) I cannot add much to that. I believe the
Department did publish last year a guide on sustainable regeneration
which can help to inform people applying for SRB funds to see
how they can build sustainable development into their bids,
but I cannot say much more about how they are assessed in detail.
79. It will be helpful to have that and to know
how it is applied to what is currently being agreed and what is
in the pipeline for being agreed before perhaps any new changes
might come in this transitional period.
(Mr Adams) Of course.
2 Note by Witness: In fact, the box (on page
53 of the Strategy) describes the arrangements under the New Deal
for Communities programme. Back
3 Available at www.regeneration.detr.gov.uk/srb5/2.htm. Back