Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220
WEDNESDAY 28 NOVEMBER 2001
220. People might say the environment is so
important it should stand on its own and not be pushed into some
other area, particularly when, for example, this year your department
has been so involved in dealing with all of the rural crises that
are, perhaps, not themselves environmental in the way we normally
talk about environmental issues, animal welfare, for example,
is not the high sort of environmental issue that people would
naturally take it to mean.
(Margaret Beckett) If I may say so, there are two
things about that, first of all, I think the thinking is increasingly
that one should not try to deal with environmental issues on their
own. Of course it is a legitimate argument for different structures
to say you should have a department that just does environment.
Sustainable development is the balance of the economic and the
social and the environmental issues. Right across the world the
focus is increasingly on those balances and trying to get them
right and to deal with environmental issues in that context instead
of trying to isolate them. It does seem to me that that is a more
practical way forward and likely to be in the long term a more
fruitful way forward. You mentioned specifically animal welfare,
let me give you one example as to why I think there is great merit
in the kind of integration we have now. One of the most useful
contributions we can make in the UK is to have a sustainable policy
towards the whole agricultural industry. If you look at what is
happening in terms of pollution, because we are taking steps to
tackle some of the things that were brought up earlier it is increasingly
the case that one of the greatest remaining pollutants likely
in the next few years is ammonia and nitrates and those associated
substances and the biggest contributors to that probably are land
management, animals, and so on. It seems to me to make a lot of
sense that these things are dealt with in this particular way.
221. Finally, I am fairly new here
(Margaret Beckett) That makes two of us.
222.in the whole building I would say,
not just in this room this afternoon. I think Treasury might be
considered to be a stand-alone department, it is fully integrated,
as we know, into every department of government. Whereas we talk
about cooperation with other departments or integration do you
not think there would be some virtue in having a more focussed
environmental department which is not tagged on to something else?
Have we actually studied the lessons of when we did have this
more integrated department in the last five years? Has there been
anything published on that and any research done on how the DETR
(Margaret Beckett) I am not aware of that. One thing
I would say is that I could reject the notion that ours is a department
that in some way has things tagged on to the environment. You
make a correct and pertinent point about the way in which Treasury
has a role and a remit across government. I think an indication
of how successful my department is in already beginning to make
its concerns and sustainable development felt is that we have
convinced Treasury both to make the issue of sustainable development
an unpinning theme for the entire Spending Review across government
in the next review term. Also we have Treasury agreement that
the Office of Government Procurement should have sustainable development
as one of its key goals. Anybody, whether from outside Parliament
or in it who studied the role of Treasury over the decades and
generations will know that to get Treasury to take on board issues
other than straightforward, sometimes lowest price or on a more
enlightened day value-for-money is quite an achievement.
223. Can we assume from that that DETR did not
(Margaret Beckett) No, I do not think you can assume
224. It was changed.
(Margaret Beckett) I think the belief is that the
department in its new form will be able to work better.
225. One concern which has been expressed, you
may be aware of it, is that civil servants concerns are not so
happy with the set up, because the previous set up they felt was
a triumvirate a three-legged department of environment, transport
and local government, fairly equal partners in quite a large department.
Now they are quite a small element of a department which is inevitably
dominated by the Ministry of Agriculture.
(Margaret Beckett) I am sure you will find people
who will say that, equally I believe it is the case that very
large numbers of people who come to the new department very much
want to make that new department work and believe in the role
that it can play. That, obviously, is very much something that
226. You touched, Secretary of State, on the
Spending Review, I think Michael Meacher was commenting that the
initial processes on the Spending Review did not really look in
enough detail at sustainable development considerations. How do
you feel that the round for 2002 has gone? What work has your
new Department been doing in relation to the sustainable development
targets and the public service agreement process?
(Margaret Beckett) We are very much in the early stages
of the new review, so there is not very much I can say about that.
All I can simply say to you is that we do believe it is very much
a matter for Treasury per se to set and monitor the PSAs
or individual departments. The fact that they have agreed to make
sustainable development a theme of the Review process, we believe,
will focus the departments' minds on the implications of sustainable
development for their policy approaches and goals.
227. Have all of the departments been coming
to you and saying, can you help us on this and work with us jointly
(Margaret Beckett) There have been individual departments
which have drawn up their strategies and within my own department
there who are people very willing to help and to give advice,
and so on, if that is helpful. I believe I am right in saying
that DTLR is, in fact, discussing with us their own statement
and department strategy and we are happy to have an input wherever
it is thought to be helpful.
228. What about specific spending projects on
the environment and sustainable development, are there any that
you are proposing in the Spending Round you can tell us about
(Margaret Beckett) If and when we get agreement to
any proposals we, make that is when it will come into the public
229. Treasury guidance says that the department
needs to submit a sustainable report along side their 2002 bids.
Are you intending to make that report public in July next year,
after the announcements come forward on the process of the Spending
Round and Spending Review?
(Margaret Beckett) I frankly do not remember whether
we have given consideration to that or not.
(Mr Adams) The Treasury have been asked.
(Margaret Beckett) It is obviously an issue for discussion.
It is one of the many decisions that has not yet been taken.
230. The point I am driving at is, for a committee
that is looking at auditing environmental progress it is critically
important we draw out reports supporting evidence in relation
to Spending Review activity. Then we can start bench marking the
quality of the work each department is doing. The more information
we can get into an open environment the better we can measure
how government departments are progressing.
(Margaret Beckett) Department themselves are producing
their own strategies and reports that contain all of the information
that you may need.
231. Obviously with any new department you are
going to have a certain amount of teething problems, whole new
fiscal structures, team building, joined-up working together and
working relationships. You have all of that to cope with and suddenly
you are bang in the middle of an old fashioned industrial dispute.
What I would like to ask is, how much of the progress policy making
has been hampered and held back by the disputes arising from pay
and conditions of former DETR employees and former MAFF staff?
Has it been a marriage of true minds or not?
(Margaret Beckett) Obviously it always creates problems
within a department when there is an industrial dispute of any
kind, it is not something that any department would wish and would
certainly prefer to avoid. To that extent it has had an impact
on the department's overall work, but I do not think that I could
pinpoint any particular aspect of policymaking and say
that that is something that has been markedly affected. There
has been some concern that our service to our stakeholders might
begin to be affected and we are attempting to mitigate that, if
232. Could you develop that please? In what
sort of particular way? We are interested in a permanent resolution
of the dispute. How much progress has there been since the interim
payment in August and when do we think there is going to be a
conclusion to this?
(Margaret Beckett) Some of these are matters for the
Permanent Secretary rather than myself. Obviously the interim
award was made in August, discussions with the representatives
of the workforce are continuing and I very much hope the differences
can be reasonably amicably resolved, and it is not yet plain how
long that process might take.
233. As you rightly say, Secretary of State,
some of these are matters for the Permanent Secretary to deal
with, but the word on the street, if I can put it like that, is
that you may be losing too many good, young civil servants than
is desirable and they may feel that a department which has a relatively
low pay structure by comparison with other departments and dominated
by agriculture is not one they want to serve in by comparison
with the DTLR, which is the other half of the old DETR Department.
Is that a problem?
(Margaret Beckett) There are those clearly who have
such feelings and will from time to time voice them. I think it
would be sad and disappointing if it were a substantial problem
because I personally take the view this is a very exciting new
department with a great deal of potential to deal with issues
well and to have good staff relations and good opportunities,
improved opportunities, so it would be a great pity if people
took a rather stick-in-the-mud attitude and said, "We would
rather hang on to what we know", but I hope that will not
be sustained over time. Certainly there are some very interesting
posts opening up within the new department and very real opportunities,
not only for promotion but also for really worthwhile work.
234. What worries us here is that the old DETR
was set up with this three-pronged remit and it really is only
4Ö years and it has been all torn up, and if you reckon it
takes two years for a department to bed down, it will take you,
on your calculations with all these problems of civil service
transfers, pay, structures, another two years to settle down totally,
so four years out of six years have gone in transitional problems.
(Margaret Beckett) Of course that can be an issue
but I think there is already a great deal of cross-departmental
working and co-operation of exactly the kind this Committee I
am sure would wish to see. We have now a very different, slightly
smaller but very different, management board, we have a range
of people from different backgrounds, from across government not
just between the old DETR and the old MAFF, and I am encouraged
to think these are not insuperable obstacles, not least because,
for example, when I attended in July the climate change discussions
in Bonn, and when I went recently to Marrakech, one was working
with a team drawn not just from the two principal departments
you are referring to but from literally right across Whitehall,
from the Foreign Office, from DFID, the DTI and so on, and it
was an absolutely shining example of cross-departmental working.
You cannot tell who comes from which department and nobody seems
235. Secretary of State, just taking you back
briefly to something you touched on in your opening remarks, the
symbolism of the alignment of rural and agricultural matters with
sustainable development creates in the minds of many people the
question that sustainable development is solely a rural issue.
How are you going to guard against that potentially dangerous
(Margaret Beckett) By continuing to address issues
which are self-evidently not just rural and by making sure we
pursue issues of sustainable development across government. If
I can give you an example, we had about a week ago, a waste summit
which obviously dealt with the issue of waste creation and handling
waste across the economy but where I think many people actually
believe that it is quite heavily often an urban problem. Similarly,
it was a cross-department initiative with the DTLR, the recent
announcement on the handling of abandoned vehicles. We have a
range of issuesI have a list somewhere if the Committee
is interestedon which we work with other government departments,
and obviously DTLR is one of them. Certainly it is very clearly
the case that many of these issues are urban as well as sometimes,
rather than, rural.
236. Could we have a copy of that list? It would
be very useful.
(Margaret Beckett) You can. May I offer to leave it
237. The memorandum that your Department delivered
to us stated that the location of a sustainable development unit
"makes no difference", but we then had the recent PIU
report which suggests placing it in the Cabinet Office. That being
the case, are you prepared to reconsider on the issue of the location?
(Margaret Beckett) I am always prepared to discuss
these issues. I think we remain of the view that it makes a very
useful contribution where it presently sits, but obviously we
are always willing to keep these issues under review and consider
whether there is merit in different proposals.
(Mr Adams) As somebody who has worked in the Sustainable
Development Unit since it was set up, I have no sense that we
are in any way hampered in doing the things we need to do as a
result of being in a new department after the election, and I
challenge anybody to come up with evidence that we are hampered.
The PIU Report I think said that in due course it might be sensible
to look at putting the Sustainable Development Unit into the Cabinet
Office but specifically did not have that as a recommendation.
As the Secretary of State has said, it is always good to review
these things from time to time, but I think there is no hard reason
to believe we could do our jobs better in a different place than
where we are at the moment.
238. I think there is a hard reason, which is
the reason which lay behind the PIU not recommendation but suggestion,
which is, if you have something like the Social Exclusion Unit,
which is across government looking in that way, the same logic
applies to your unit, so it should be in the Cabinet Office.
(Mr Adams) Not all central units are in the Cabinet
Office. It is necessary to take them case by case. The Neighbourhood
Renewal Unit which was one of the most recent is now in DTLR albeit
it has a cross-government remit and looks at the worst neighbourhoods
from all points of view.
239. I want to raise issues which cross your
Department and others. The constituency I represent has a very
mixed base, we have beautiful open Wharfedale at one end and at
the other end all those problems associated with inner cities.
That little bit of beautiful open Wharfedale with the small market
town of Otley falls within the metropolitan district council boundaries,
and we had the cattle market closed because of the problems with
foot and mouth, and it has remained closed almost all of this
year, and we have also seen the damage done to the businesses
which are associated with environmental enjoymentwalking
in the area and so onand I am wondering whether or not
there is consideration that there might be cross-departmental
responsibilities for the enjoyment of the environment, the pleasures
which come from it and how important that is commercially and
industrially for those people who work in that curious relationship
of being inside a metropolitan district council and also inside
a small market town.
(Margaret Beckett) I think there is very widespread
recognition now of exactly the kind of impact and mixture of interests
and so on you identify. In fact it was the Chairman of the EFRA
Select Committee who made the point to me very early on in my
period in this Department that in his locality, for example, the
bulk of the tourism was not international, it was from the industrial
cities and towns in the vicinity.
1 See Appendix 1 Back