Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence



Examination of witnesses (Questions 80 - 86)

WEDNESDAY 9 DECEMBER 1998

THE RT HON STEPHEN BYERS, MP and MS PATRICIA HEWITT, MP

Mr Baker

  80.  One of your pledges was to put environment at the heart of government so you could have had a sustainable development strategy ahead of your new CSR document which would have allowed you to keep that particular election pledge and that of putting environment at the heart of government.
  (Mr Byers)  We want to get the sustainable development policy right which is why when it is published early next year it will have the broad support of those people who are concerned about these matters. These are issues that are at the heart of government which is one of the reasons I am pleased as a Cabinet minister to come along today and give evidence to the Committee.

  81.  You think you get it right by having it follow on from the CSR document?
  (Mr Byers)  I think we get it right by talking to people, by consideration, consultation, then coming forward with a policy which has broad support and which, yes, does get it right.

Dr Iddon

  82.  Finally, Minister, when we spoke to the Green Ministers about the availability of the CSR documents, there was a lack of clarity and as a consequence of that we have seen some departments publish their documents and others have not and we have received some criticism from outside organisations that they have not been able to get their hands on vital documents. In the aim of freedom of information do you think that all the documents which have been part of this process should be available to those who want to see them whether part of government or from outside organisations?
  (Mr Byers)  All the documents which have been part of the CSR process?

  83.  Yes.
  (Mr Byers)  I would recommend against that having had to read through most of them myself! Seriously, we operate within the normal rules of government and the documents are available when it is appropriate for them to be made public. Some contain matters which cannot be made public. For example, there is going to be a public services agreement with the intelligence services and that will not be made public for obvious reasons.

  84.  Who has ownership of the documents, the department or the Treasury? Why have some departments published and not other departments?
  (Mr Byers)  They are all government documents and so presumably the departments will be following the normal guidelines about publication of government documents. That is all I can say on that.

Chairman

  85.  Could I ask one final question about procurement. You mentioned the review of civil procurement both in the CSR and the Pre-Budget Report. Are issues of environment specifically within the review's terms of reference?
  (Mr Byers)  Not specifically. The terms of reference talk about reviewing civil procurement in government in the light of the Government's objectives on efficiency, modernisation and competitiveness in the short and medium term.

  86.  So it does not mention the environment?
  (Mr Byers)  Not specifically.

Chairman:  I think we have more or less completed our questioning on the Comprehensive Spending Review. Thank you very much indeed for that.


 
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