Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 20-39)



Mr Thomas

  20. I would just like to follow up on two things on the planning side, if I may. You said earlier that you were not the planning Department, of course; you used to have the planning powers for all power stations over 50 megawatts, is that still retained within the DTI?
  (Ms Hewitt) Yes, it is; so I should have qualified my earlier statement on planning. Sorry about that.

  21. I just wanted to be clear about that, to begin with. Could I ask you then, as you still have that very clear planning role within new power stations, of all kinds, what is your take, as it were, now, on the DTLR review of planning procedures, for example, looking at public inquiries and the role of public inquiries in large-scale planning applications? Can you give us a flavour of the evidence or the ideas that you fed in, on behalf of your Department, to that review?
  (Ms Hewitt) What we want to do generally, in relation to planning, is ensure that we have got a process that balances the views of different stake-holders, that enables us to meet our sustainable development targets, and I am talking here of the Government's sustainable development targets, in other words, our economic, our social and our environmental objectives, but to do so, frankly, more effectively and rapidly than we are doing at the moment. In relation specifically to energy planning, we are really focusing our attention on the PIU review of energy that is going on, because I think the most important thing is to look really 50 years out at our energy objectives and how we are going to achieve those objectives, and then the planning piece sort of falls in line once you have got that strategy in place. And so that is where our attention has been focused in the last four to five months.

  22. You mentioned rapidity and efficiency there, you did not mention including public consultation, which I think is interesting.
  (Ms Hewitt) I did refer to making sure that the views of all stake-holders are taken into account. I would regard the public as the first stake-holders.

  23. I must get used to this jargon stake-holders means the public these days, I must be aware of that. In terms of how that would relate, however, to the energy review, I assume, from what you have just said, that your Department has already given its evidence to the PIU's review, so you have already done this?
  (Ms Hewitt) We are working very closely with the PIU review.

  24. So it is not one set of evidence, you are constantly ...
  (Ms Hewitt) Yes; exactly.

  25. Could I just say, therefore, in terms of the likely outcomes of that review, it has been much floated that nuclear power may be back on the agenda, and, just in terms of the planning for any potential new nuclear power stations, would it be your view that such power stations should be built with or without a public inquiry?
  (Ms Hewitt) I have not even got to the stage of thinking about that issue. As I say, the first question is to look at an energy strategy that will achieve our energy objectives over the next 50 years, and the energy objectives are security of supply, affordable and competitive energy, and by affordable, let me say, I include specifically the question of fuel poverty, and, of course, environmental sustainability, and reducing emissions from energy use. Now the PIU review, like all those PIU reviews, is quite open-ended, it has not gone in saying either, "We are going to have more nuclear power," or "We are not going to have any more nuclear power;" but really the question of what the appropriate planning process would be for any new nuclear power stations, were such power stations to be contemplated, I think does not arise until after we have seen the outcome of the PIU review and actually made some decisions on the energy strategy.

  26. I must say, I do not understand that, because you would be the planning authority for any such nuclear power stations; surely, you must have a view now as to how the stake-holder investment and involvement within that is best protected? If it is not public inquiries, and that may well be not an appropriate mechanism, what would be an alternative appropriate mechanism for your Department in ensuring, whether it is a nuclear power station or, indeed, say, a large, offshore wind power station which may be over 50 megawatts and therefore come under your Department, how would you ensure that those go ahead?
  (Ms Hewitt) The point I was making in relation to nuclear power is, simply, at the moment, nobody is proposing to build any new nuclear power stations, so the question in relation to nuclear power has not arisen. I think it is a central issue for the planning reforms that DTLR are leading on to look at how you ensure that public views are taken into account; and, as you say, that certainly arises in relation to large-scale wind farms as well as nuclear power stations and a whole lot of other things. Public inquiries clearly are one way to do that, but, as we know, they can drag on for a very, very long time and end up with absurdly high legal bills. There are, I think, other ways to do that. For instance, we have now seen, particularly at a local authority level, some really imaginative use of, I think the jargon is, deliberative democracy, but things like citizens panels and citizens juries, where you can bring together a representative group of people, not for an opinion poll, which is a kind of instant yes or no thing, but actually giving them the chance to question the experts, question the proponents of different views, and then arrive at their own judgement. And I have seen that in operation in my own constituency on a health issue, where it worked absolutely admirably and brought to the surface issues which the so-called experts really had not considered. I hope that we will be looking at those sorts of mechanisms as well as the traditional public inquiry when it comes to ensuring that public concerns about development are properly taken into account.

Mr Francois

  27. Secretary of State, we appreciate that you are not the lead Department in the planning review but, in a spirit of joined-up Government, can you give us at least some broad indication in terms of when we might see a Green Paper?
  (Ms Hewitt) I am afraid, before the end of the year, but I do not think I can give you much more than that, I am sorry.

  28. But you think before Christmas?
  (Ms Hewitt) I believe so, yes.


  29. Coming back to sustainable development strategy, and so forth, which we touched on slightly earlier, in response to Mrs Walley's questions, and the question of resource productivity, which you yourself mentioned, you have not yet got any indicators of resource productivity; does that not make it rather difficult to pursue an objective in that area?
  (Ms Hewitt) The fundamental proposition is really a very simple one, which is that we decouple economic growth from the use of natural resources and the emission of pollution; and, therefore, within that context, we do have, very clear targets, for instance our Kyoto and beyond targets, on greenhouse gas emissions, which we are monitoring very, very closely indeed, the achievement of which depends upon ensuring the continuation of economic growth without paying the price in resource use and pollution that we have been paying in the past.

  30. You have not any specific resource productivity indicators, have you?
  (Ms Hewitt) What I am saying is that, actually, a target like the reduction of emissions is a resource productivity indicator. We may well be able to develop other resource productivity indicators, because obviously that particular form of pollution is only one, although it is a very important one,—

  31. It is a bit more two-dimensional, is it not?
  (Ms Hewitt) This is an area where I think the environmental economists are doing a lot of work, it is quite a new area, and I think we could look at further indicators of resource productivity that would enable us to measure whether we are achieving that larger goal of economic growth without environmental degradation.

  32. Just going on further on this question of resource productivity indicators, I understand that DEFRA are doing some work on this, they are taking the lead on looking at indicators, which does seem rather odd, since they are at the centre of your sustainable development strategy; why are they taking the lead on developing indicators when you are actually in charge of it?
  (Ms Hewitt) I think that is very helpful. I do not actually have a problem about who takes the lead on the development of resource productivity indicators. It is a very new area, this, I do not think anybody has got a clear, well worked out set of resource productivity indicators which they have put into effect and say, "Yes, this is a really useful tool and we can measure it accurately." So it is early days; and DEFRA has clearly got some expert environmental economists who are working on this, I welcome that. We will apply that work and, I hope, contribute to it as well.

  33. Could I ask you again, when do you think we will get some results from all this work?
  (Ms Hewitt) Can I let you have a note on that?

  34. Yes, please.
  (Ms Hewitt) Because I am not sure how far down the line we are on the resource productivity indicators.

David Wright

  35. Secretary of State, I am interested in policies to green-up business, as part of the overall strategy. Your predecessor actually spoke to the Greenpeace Business Conference, about a year ago, and talked about the green industrial revolution, and I think acknowledged that, in some senses, there had to be a degree of intervention, outside of free market economics, actually to achieve that. Could you perhaps talk to us a little bit about how you intend to achieve the objectives of green industrial revolution and greened-up business?
  (Ms Hewitt) The objective which Stephen Byers set out, and I have set out in other speeches, is very clear, and it is to improve the resource productivity of business, as we improve the productivity generally, we want cleaner products, we want cleaner processes, we want less waste, we want less pollution. We can achieve that goal in a variety of different ways with business; part of it is about setting a tax framework that gives business the right price incentives, the introduction of the Climate Change Levy but other environmental taxes as well, part of it is about the regulatory framework, and, for instance, the work we are doing on End of Vehicle Life Directive and the Electronic Waste Directive will both be important there in shaping the response of industry. Then there is direct work that we can do with industry, for instance, energy efficiency work with small companies, which we are financing in part through the Climate Change Levy; the joint projects we are doing with business under the Sustainable Technologies Initiative, which is a joint project with one of the Research Councils, where we are encouraging businesses to go into partnership with the science departments of universities to seek, in this case, really big improvements in the efficiency of material resource use. In yet other cases, there is actually a market failure that does require some intervention, and, for instance, the Waste and Resources Action Programme, which we are sponsoring jointly with DEFRA and with the Scottish Executive and Welsh Assembly, that is very much designed to create a more effective market for waste, so that we turn waste into a resource and stop it being landfilled, and that is actually seeking to change the market structure; something that in a different context we are doing, the work is being led by industry, with the work on emissions trading permits. So you need a whole variety of strategies here, some of which are about direct support to business, some of which are about shaping market environments or actually creating new markets; and I think really we are advancing on all of those fronts.

  36. How comprehensively do you monitor those over time though? I accept there is a whole series, a whole raft, of different areas of work going forward, but one of the critical issues for us, as a Committee, is seeing how you are monitoring that and how you are monitoring change; how do you propose to do that?
  (Ms Hewitt) We monitor, at the moment, each of those programmes, so WRAP, for instance, has objectives, those are being monitored. But I think there is a real issue, certainly for DTI, it may apply to other Departments, about how good we are at evaluating the programmes and projects we put in place; and what I have found is that, because we tend to evaluate individual projects and use different criteria and different evaluation techniques for each of those evaluations, we are not then in a good position to look overall at what we are doing and saying, "Is this really having an impact?". So one of the things that I am aiming to change within the Department is the way in which we evaluate particularly the money that we invest in direct business support; and if your Committee can give us assistance on that, so that we move from evaluating individual projects to evaluating the overall impact of the work we are doing in greening business, then I would very much welcome that assistance.

  37. The other, final point I would like to make is, small business impacts, really. A lot of the discussion can go on in terms of policy debate, particularly with large companies, and they often complain a lot and get a lot of publicity out of it, but they are large organisations and often very good at adapting. I think small businesses are good at adapting too, but we seem perhaps not to concentrate on them enough. Have you got any proposals where your Department can focus in this arena perhaps on small businesses?
  (Ms Hewitt) We are doing quite a bit already. We have a very good joint programme with DEFRA called Envirowise, it is a technology transfer and best practice programme, but essentially it is about getting business to minimise its waste and use its resources more efficiently. I am told the estimated savings are £100 million a year, to business, and the sort of thing it does is fast-track visits to small businesses, to help them see very quickly where they can start making savings; there is a helpline, there are waste minimisation clubs at the local level, where local businesses come together. And this is very much on the agenda of the Small Business Service and Business Links. Warrington Business Link, whom I visited when I was Small Business Minister, for instance, has an excellent programme which it markets to small businesses, which is actually a waste minimisation programme but it is marketed as "Guaranteed 10 per cent savings on your costs, and if you don't make the savings we refund the rather small fee you pay, and if you make more then we'll share the savings with you." But it is a waste minimisation programme. It is a very good example of a Business Link working really effectively with its small customers, delivering absolute bottom-line benefits to small businesses, but doing it through resource productivity and waste minimisation. And I think we can build from that kind of good practice and ensure that every Business Link is including that in the portfolio of support it is offering small businesses.

Ian Lucas

  38. Both in terms of controlling carbon emissions and encouraging reduction in energy use, could not the most effective form of Government intervention be a carbon tax?
  (Ms Hewitt) We considered that issue, it was pretty extensively debated, when we were working on the Climate Change Levy, and for all the reasons that were set out at the time we decided to put in place the Climate Change Levy with the particular arrangements that were made for the energy-intensive sector.

  39. Can you enlighten me as to what those reasons were? Why was the carbon tax rejected at that stage?
  (Ms Hewitt) If I may refer you, there was a very detailed document that was produced by the Treasury at the time, and I would be drawing on probably a three years old memory to try to take you back through that. But we took the view, very much confirmed by the work that Lord Marshall did for us in consulting on a possible Climate Change Levy, that the Climate Change Levy was an effective way of changing the incentives, particularly for the smaller businesses, in terms of their energy use, it was designed in a way that would support the development of renewables, but it would not compromise our objectives on diversity and security of supply, where, of course, coal-fired power stations have a role to play.

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