Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220 - 223)



  220. I think we can agree that in order to make measurements we have to have baselines and those baselines must be set at a point in time and we do not have any indication that that is being done at the moment.
  (Mr Prescott) At Kyoto we were set a baseline internationally. We measured what the pollution was in 1990. In some cases we have a clear baseline to be measured against. In others, such as wildlife, it is difficult to say that. We seek to secure that. Improvement in rivers is easily measurable and we have yearly measurements to achieve that. It is about getting a balance, but the real point is being practical about what you have promised. I think what would be terrible is if you set a whole series of targets and you failed to meet them totally and gave all the people the reasons why as that discourages people's beliefs that you can set targets and get improvement. I think what comes out of the discussions this morning is that whilst we as Government are always thinking things can be done by legislation and regulation, we are trying to affect the culture, that is not the only thing that determines and changes people's attitude and secures the target of a better quality of life that we have set for ourselves. We are hopeful that will be the case. I do not think we sit here in Parliament and presume we play a major part in changing those things. It is not only about legislation or regulation, it is about people's attitudes and responses to these matters. We are responsible for that framework of legislation and regulation. We offer the hope at the moment that it is going to make that change. We have set the targets. We will be judged and no doubt answerable for it and we await that day.

  221. Can I go on now to reporting progress on what we have been discussing this morning. How will progress against the SDS be monitored and reported to Government?
  (Mr Meacher) Clearly we are monitoring this all the time, the Sustainable Development Unit is doing that. We are going to produce an annual review of the Sustainable Development Strategy. We would expect that to be produced in the summer or early autumn. We will have the Green Ministers' second report which will probably be produced in July and, of course, we will have the spending White Paper which we are saying will certainly include sustainable development to a significantly greater degree than before. That will also probably be published in July. So there are a series of reports coming out which will give monitoring data. The Green Ministers' report is aimed at Government performance because although the Government is a tiny part of a society or economy, it is highly symbolic and setting the tone is very important. The wider impact will be assessed in these annual reviews. The Sustainable Development Strategy some people think is not quite a strategy, it is more a framework and it is delivered through a series of strategies which fall below it. One is thinking of the chemical strategy which we have launched. I suppose you could say the climate change strategy document is certainly part of that. We have had the periodic review in the case of water, we have the waste strategy and we have got the air quality strategy and I have no doubt there will be others, including construction. We are looking at the monitoring of it not simply through a centralized mechanism but through the delivery mechanisms and we will be monitoring the success of each of those.

  222. So we are going to have a lot to debate, Minister. Can we assume, therefore, that there will be an annual debate on sustainable development, please? Is that a possibility?
  (Mr Prescott) It sounds like a good idea. Why not? There is a lot to measure it against anyway.

  223. That has got both of you committed. Previously it was just the Minister.
  (Mr Prescott) We do it with public expenditure. We think that this Committee is a very important Committee, that is why we wanted to see it established and I think it should have that kind of debate and if we want to be more transparent and have more people involved the debate will help that process.

  Chairman: That is a very good note to finish on. Thank you very much indeed.

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