Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 215 - 219)




  215. Can I welcome you, Secretary of State, to the Committee. Can I also thank you for your memorandum, can I say we were rather disappointed that we only received it late last night—
  (Margaret Beckett) Sorry.

  216.—and the Committee therefore only got it this morning, and that does lead to some difficulties in preparing sensible questions for you. We really had not seen your Department's statement or their responses to the questions. I hope you can do better next time.
  (Margaret Beckett) Indeed. I apologise.

  217. Is there anything you want to say of a brief or a preliminary nature in addition to the memorandum?
  (Margaret Beckett) I do not think so, particularly. Obviously there is the general issue in terms of departmental responsibilities as to where one draws boundaries and how you can encourage work across them. It will always be the case, I suspect, that there will be people who want the boundaries to be drawn in different places from where they are. Unless one has an all-encompassing government department there have to be boundaries somewhere. What is important is to try and make sure there is cooperative work across those boundaries, wherever they may be. On the whole there has been a good track record on these issues and we hope that good track record will be maintained.

  Chairman: I am sure there is a lot of sense to what you say. There have been some huge changes in your area and obviously we would like to question you on those. They are very significant.

Mr Challen

  218. Let us start off with that issue, a great deal was made of our integration in 1997 of many policy areas into the DETR and now it has been split. I am just wondering what lessons were learned from that period of five years and why it was split? Why did the policy areas have to be taken apart again?
  (Margaret Beckett) Obviously I was not involved in the department or in the decision to change the perimeters. I think that while it was thought there are clear links between the policy requirement on the environment and, for example, transport or planning, and so on, nevertheless I think it is clear that as years have gone by there has come to be more and more emphasis on the overall issue of the framework of sustainable development and a growing belief within and across government that there was much to be said for having a department that had sustainable development as its prime focus. That was the underlying thinking on creating the new department.

  219. I think a lot of people would, perhaps, look for what is the emphasis of government now in terms of environment. I would say that the emphasis has been shifted to DEFRA, which includes rural affairs and perhaps excluding urban affairs, can you see the difference which that is developing and how people would consider our approach to this?
  (Margaret Beckett) We would be extremely unhappy if anybody thought that the fact that my Department included rural affairs meant that we have lost focus on the issues that arise in the urban environment, I think it is almost the other way round, there was a bit of a danger before that it was rural areas and the overall problems of the rural economy that people ran the risk of losing sight of. The fact that there is now a department which deals with rural areas as a whole and not, for example, specifically with farming and the issues surrounding farming, is actually an increased strength where, perhaps, there was something of a gap before. It is not that a gap has opened up on urban environment, the thinking is there might have been thought to be a gap in rural areas on these issues and that has now been dealt with.

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