Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 120-130)



  120. I just raise the Green Ministers Committee because I think it is so important that that forum starts to work effectively across Government. There is one issue that is concerning me as well which is following on from the commitment that the Government gave at Okinawa about the purchase of sustainable produced timber. It is clear to me, for example, that there are a whole load of issues which could be taken up whereby there is not a clear reporting system as yet despite one that was promised some nine months or so ago. It is really how the process of the Green Ministers Committee is enabling the Treasury to take on board these issues which comes back to the whole issue of parity and transparency that we have been raising throughout the course of this session. I would like to think that the Treasury has a system of reporting in respect of sustainable produced timber. Perhaps you could let us know about that.
  (Mr Timms) On that point, I would make the point that the Prime Minister, of course, did make a number of references to this point specifically in his speech last week. I think there will need to be mechanisms put in place across Government to deliver what is the Government policy.

  121. It is the delivery mechanisms that I am concerned about which is why I think the Green Ministers Committee is so important. Just finally, and briefly, the Green Technology Challenge, you mentioned this in your introductory comments to the Committee, could you just very quickly tell us how much money you are going to commit to this initiative and how long the competition and consultation is aimed to be? Is it going to be in 2002 that people will be starting to have the effect of that? Are you going to be making it part of the long-term initiatives so that, for example, just looking at the long-term it is linked to other cleaner technologies innovation and design? How and when do you see it actually operating?
  (Mr Timms) To pick up your last point first, yes, I do see this as a long-term exercise. I am sure you will have noticed in the announcement about the Green Fuel Challenge the comment about hydrogen. It is clearly going to be some years before we see commercially available hydrogen fuelled vehicles but I think there is a widespread view that is the direction we are going to be going in and what we said in the Green Fuel Challenge about duty incentives or duty exemptions for pilots in that area I see as the first step, a fairly modest first step but a very significant first step, in a much longer term process of change in moving us towards a hydrogen economy, which I think is the direction we need to move in. Equally, the Green Technology Challenge I see as being a long-term exercise as well. We have not, as yet, put a timetable on how we see that challenge being developed. I would certainly hope we would have something significant to say by the time of the next Budget, but quite what the steps are going to be between now and then I am not certain at this stage, there is still some further work to be done.

Mr Gerrard

  122. Can I just come back briefly to this question of the evaluation of performance and reporting which we touched on earlier which Mr Chaytor asked about. There is nothing in the Treasury's Annual Report at the moment about environmental performance. There may be a table in the Budget but there does not seem to be anything in the Annual Report. When can we expect to see that information in the Annual Report, or might you even think of a separate environmental report or something?
  (Mr Timms) I think we have talked this afternoon about a good deal of work that we have carried out in the Treasury on sustainable development, sustainable growth. There is a lot in Treasury publications more generally on these areas. I hope the Committee will accept that these are matters we are taking extremely seriously. I must admit I cannot recall precisely what was in the Annual Report. I certainly regard what appears in a document like this one as much more significant and a much more important document setting out the policy objectives that we are pursuing. I would not want to read too much into what did or did not appear in the Annual Report.

  123. I take the point that the Budget book is about policy objectives but we did agree earlier that a very important part of what needs to be done is looking at what has happened, evaluating performance, and that is something which maybe one would not find so easily in the Budget book. Can I ask a question on a connected issue, or I think it is connected anyway. You said to us in 1999 in your Greening Government memorandum that a specific environmental audit was a topic in the assessment of audit need to be put to the Treasury's Audit Committee in 2000. I am not necessarily sure I know exactly what that meant but if it meant that the Treasury was looking, for instance, at what internal audit capacity it needed to be able to do an environmental audit then that is obviously something I think we would want to see happening. Can you tell us what the outcome was? Did anything come out from the Treasury's Audit Committee specifically in relation to environmental audit or is that something that you may need to come back to?
  (Mr Timms) I think I need to check back on that reference.

  124. It was in the 1999 memorandum from the Treasury on Greening Government, there was specific mention of that.
  (Mr Timms) I will check back on that. Can I just make the point that there is a section, I have been reminded, in the Treasury Annual Report on environmental performance. The Annual Report is very much an internally focused document. In external policy terms it is documents like this one that are more important.

  125. The final point I want to ask is about associate bodies. The Treasury has not got a huge range of non-departmental public bodies that some Government departments have but each department was supposed to be producing an action plan by March 2001. It was the Green Ministers' deadline for an action plan for integrating sustainable development into the work of associate bodies. Has the Treasury actually done that?
  (Mr Timms) There has been a good deal of work to achieve that. We do have a number of bodies such as Customs and Excise, Inland Revenue, the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency, the Buying Agency, ONS.

  126. I was thinking more of, say, the Bank of England rather than people like the Inland Revenue who are to some extent within the Government departmental structure.
  (Mr Timms) The Royal Mint I can comment on, which has had a good record in this area. I think they hope to be accredited to the ISO 14001 standard by the end of 2001.

  127. Has the Treasury actually done the action plan it was supposed to be doing that the Green Ministers said every department was supposed to do?
  (Mr Timms) Let me ask Mr Hall to comment on that.
  (Mr Hall) The Minister has asked to see the action plan within a month.

  128. Within a month?
  (Mr Hall) Yes.

  129. The deadline was March 2001, so we are slipping a bit.
  (Mr Timms) We might be a few days behind.


  130. Minister, I think we are all very grateful to you for your patience this afternoon. We have covered a great deal of ground. Thank you very much again.
  (Mr Timms) Thank you for giving me the opportunity.

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