Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240
WEDNESDAY 28 NOVEMBER 2001
(Margaret Beckett) So we are very very mindful of
those different impacts and of what a mixed society we are. As
you will know, we have set ourselves, as part of our goals, the
maintenance of access to the countryside and an interest in landscape
and how that landscape develops and is maintained and so on as
well as having access to it.
241. Secretary of State, following on from that,
given your goals, as you have just said, are about preserving
the landscape and conservation and indeed in terms of fulfilling
your wider environmental remit, would you not be more comfortable
and confident about achieving that if you had responsibility for
town and country planning?
(Margaret Beckett) It goes back to the remarks I made
to Mr Horam right at the outset of this discussion. You can make
a logical case for many of these things but there is a danger
of you ending up with one absolutely massive government department
trying to do everything and perhaps not doing anything very well.
If I can just say to the Committee, I think one of the things
it is always important to bear in mind is that it is not always
the case that being encompassed within one departmental title
is more productive of co-operative working than not being encompassed
with it. What matters is the quality of the relationships, the
links which are built up and the attention people give to them.
242. But in terms of having a single vision
and having sustainable development at the very centre of that
(Margaret Beckett) It is the intention of the Government
to make sure sustainable development is a vision for the whole
243. Secretary of State, I cannot tell you how
pleased I was when you said in terms of the recent negotiations
you were talking about you could not tell who came from which
department and no one seemed to care. It seems to me if we have
that situation, that really is a real way to put sustainable development
at the heart of Government. In relation to the preparations which
are taking place now for the UK submission to the World Summit
on Sustainable Development, Rio + 10, which will be taking place
next year in Johannesburg, what sort of initiatives have you got
planned? How are you making sure that all the different departments
which need to be contributing to that are actually able to do
that work? How are you making sure they have the vision that you
have and are able to put that into practice? What are those initiatives
going to be?
(Margaret Beckett) There are a range of initiatives
being taken within and outside Government. You will know that
all but one of the regional preparatory conferences has now taken
place, I think the last one is this week. Following on from that,
people are then assessing what has come out of those regional
conferences, which have been somewhat disparate, and seeing whether
there are key themes which can be identified. Then in the early
part of next year, there will be a further round of preparatory
international gatherings feeding through to Johannesburg. I think
there is a general view certainly within the United Kingdom, in
Government and outside it, that instead of trying to do everything,
we should try to narrow down the agenda and focus on a smaller
number of key things. You will know that some little time ago
the Prime Minister issued a challenge to people in the business
community to come forward with specific projects and proposals
in the area of finance, of access to water and sanitation, of
sustainable energy and indeed sustainable tourism too, and people
have been working on these things. There has been an interim report
back to the Prime Minister as to how that work is going and an
encouragement to people to continue with those initiatives. So
there is a cross-UK really, not just cross-Government, set of
interests working. There is also an intergovernmental committee
which is steering the overall pattern of preparations. We also
are going to try to make sure we draw in a sufficiently wide range
of other organisations. For example, it was said to me recently
that there is a tendency for people to think of the World Summit
as an environmental summitand this goes back to the conversation
we were having earlier about whether the environment is separate
from sustainable development, so it is the environmental NGOs
who people expect to be engagedbut it was put to me by
people from the development NGOs that they too should be involved,
and I whole-heartedly agree with that. One of the things I would
very much like to see as the outcome of Johannesburg is practical
initiatives to really improve and deliver on policies, as I say,
for sustainable energy, clean water and sanitation and so on,
so that people can see real outcomes from the conference rather
than very worthwhile and interesting statements or philosophies
and so on.
244. I think it is really interesting that you
and the Government are now talking about things outside of Government
as well as inside Government. I certainly feel very heartened
by the prospect of what has been suggested in respect of Johannesburg,
as it could really create a whole culture where we start talking
about not just these things in the abstract but what we are going
to do about them. Can I ask, is it your Department which is now
taking the lead on bringing together what Downing Street set up
and these outside intergovernmental agencies as well? Is it still
DEFRA which is leading on these preparations?
(Margaret Beckett) Yes, I am the lead negotiator on
these issues. Obviously others are involved, and the Deputy Prime
Minister is playing an important co-ordinating role, but it is
our Department which is in the lead.
245. If we were to have the NGOs sat in front
of this Select Committee now and we were to ask them, do you think
they would say there was sufficient opportunity for them to be
directly involved in this whole process of change? What more do
you think could be done to make sure people outside Government
and business as well for that matter could really be brought into
(Margaret Beckett) A number of the NGOs are involved
in the process I identified earlier, although I said the Prime
Minister had challenged the business communityand he has
because of the obvious resourcesthere is a partnership
there between some of the NGOs and people in the business community.
In fact, from memory, the water initiative, for example, is being
worked on jointly by WaterAid and various of the water companies.
I am sure they would not sit here and tell you we are doing enough
246. There is never enough.
(Margaret Beckett) Absolutely. Perish the thought
I should allow it to remain on the record that they would think
that, but there is a recognition that we are seeking to involve
them and a willingness and enthusiasm to be involved.
(Mr Adams) And providing funding for them to get involved
247. Adequate funding?
(Margaret Beckett) Again, almost certainly not!
248. Can I ask about Marrakech. Is it your Department
that has taken the lead? Is it you who is taking the lead? What
is your Department's role in the climate change talks that we
have and where does the Deputy Prime Minister fit into it and
where does Downing Street fit into it? Who has got the clear leadership
role in all this or is it just a joint team? Is there a captain?
(Margaret Beckett) In Bonn I led the UK delegation,
as I did in Marrakech. Obviously we worked through the European
Union because the EU Co-ordination Group is a kind of negotiating
forum, and the Deputy Prime Minister came to Bonn just for the
day, dropped in and made contact with some of the people with
whom he deals from time to time, and we engaged him in making
some contacts during the discussions in Marrakech. But basically
in Bonn there was an interesting and very thorough process of
negotiation and organisation in which the UK was heavily involved,
and that meant I was heavily involved. In the final negotiations
in Bonn, which were carried out in the President's room, there
were some 15, 20 or so ministers present representing the various
negotiating groups, of whom I was one. That was the process whereby
it was delivered, so we played a role there, as we did in Marrakech.
Indeed, in Marrakech I think it is fairly openly known it was
the UK negotiating strategy which the EU ultimately followed and
which actually brokered agreement in the final session. I always
say these things with great caution because one does not wish
to offend other participants but there is no doubt what was absolutely
evident and very encouraging, both in Bonn and Marrakech, was
the very strong wish of the participantsand we are talking
about something like 180 countriesto get agreement and
to move forward on these issues. That was very encouraging. It
is clearly not only we who think the EU and within it the UK played
a key role, because when we arrived in Marrakech, one of the first
reports made to the negotiating group by the Belgian Presidency
was, since we had brokered and delivered agreement in Bonn, everybody
now expected us to do the same thing in Marrakech, which was a
slightly daunting expectation with which to approach a conference.
But it would be wrong of me not to say again how important was
the role of all the negotiating groups and how important was the
drive across them. The G77, for example, was a tour de force
of international diplomacy in getting something like 120 countries
into a coherent agreement and to accept and deliver that agreement.
I would also say, Chairman, those two conferences between themwell,
each individually in factwere the most exciting, certainly
in the last hour, half hour, when you did not know whether you
were going to get agreement or notthe most exciting events
I have participated in in politics.
249. I would like to think that success will
breed success in that way and we can be proud of the way in which
the UK is adding value to these new environmental international
negotiations. Could I ask you, in view of the Deputy Prime Minister's
role, if you were me would you be a little disappointed that the
Deputy Prime Minister had not yet given to this Committee a submission
on his role in these negotiations, or do you think that should
be something just for your own Department? We feel the Deputy
Prime Minister has had a vital part to play as well.
(Margaret Beckett) The Deputy Prime Minister was obviously
the lead negotiator in Kyoto for the United Kingdom and he continues
to take an interest in these issues and play a very helpful role
acting on behalf of the Prime Minister. Obviously it is for him
to say but I think he probably would be reluctant to give any
appearance of second-guessing the Department which now holds that
250. On some of the detail of Marrakech, Greenpeace
described the outcome as "a hard-won battle for a token outcome".
It seems clear looking through some of the small print that there
were some concessions which perhaps had been made, and we understand
why they had to be made, but I wondered whether or not you expected
those concessions, or whether you thought there would be other
concessions, and how crucial they were to reaching agreement.
(Margaret Beckett) They were utterly crucial to reaching
agreement, I am afraid. It is always a problem, of course people
want even more, they always do and it is perfectly understandable
and reasonable they should, but all I can say to you is that those
in Bonn and in Marrakech, the NGOs, played an extremely positive
role and they acted as a channel for information and advice between
the different delegations. I can give you an example without naming
the individual country, NGOs from another key Member State in
the different negotiations were helpful in illuminating who would
be most effective at government level in brokering agreement with
their own Member State, so NGOs were exchanging information with
each other about how to try to get agreement, and both in Bonn
and Marrakech it was the very clear view of the NGO representatives
who were there that they wanted an agreement. Indeed there was
a point in Marrakech where a point was made fairly forcefully
to delegations that if the EU failed to successfully broker an
agreement the NGOs who were participating and wanting agreement
would be very strongly inclined to blame the EU for the break-down
of the talks. There is not any doubt in my mind that people wanted
more, but there also is not any doubt in my mind that what we
all wanted more than anything was agreement. It is unprecedented;
there are more teeth to this agreement than have ever been seen
in any international environmental agreement and it was and is
a real historic achievement.
251. Do I take it that in view of the expertise
of the environmental diplomacy exercised by the NGOs that Mr Adams
has got funding in respect of the climate change negotiations
as well as in relation to Johannesburg?
(Margaret Beckett) I do not know about that. They
all seem to manage to be there anyway.
252. I think it is important they have the resources
to play that part. Can I briefly ask about the carbon emissions
trading scheme. The UK is pushing ahead with a voluntary agreement
yet it looks as though there will be EU-wide trading arrangements
by 2005. Is it right for us to be going ahead? Are you hoping
we will influence what the European Union does? How will the twin-track
(Margaret Beckett) Yes, I think it is right. You said
quite correctly that the EU has now published some proposals for
a scheme which is proposed to come in but we are literally at
the preliminary stage. All that has happened in the last couple
of weeks is that the EU has published proposals, no more than
thatjust before Marrakech in fact if I recall correctly.
The scheme does have some differences with the proposals that
we ourselves have put forward. I discussed these issues with the
Environment Commissioner, Margot Wallstrom, and our view
very strongly, to use a classic phrase, was there was great benefit
in the EU learning by doing as a result of having experience of
our own scheme. Our scheme was worked up in discussion with the
business community and with a lot of thought and input put into
it as to what would be the most practical and workable set of
proposals. There are other differences with the EU scheme but,
as I say, the key thing is that it is not even proposed to get
off the ground, even if everybody tomorrow agrees they like the
proposals in the EU schemeand that is not going to happen
because not everybody does like the proposalsuntil 2005.
We very much hope that our scheme will be up and running from
April and that will both give the UK a first mover advantage and
will also give very important information and input to any proposals
that may come forward ultimately in a final form from the European
Union. Incidentally, I understand you may know that we did have
to seek state aids approval for the incentive we would like to
have to underpin our scheme, and I understand that has been granted
(Margaret Beckett) I agree.
Joan Walley: Congratulations!
254. I wanted to be completely clear on the
responsibilities which are now emerging on the climate change
talks. We did not have a statement on Marrakech to the House,
which is slightly more surprising now after you have given it
such importance than I felt at the time. If we had had a statement,
and in the future when we have statements on these sort of talks,
it is clear it would have been you in the lead giving that statement.
In terms of the work of this Committee and how we follow through
accountability and audit the accountability across government
departments, and accepting all government departments, some more
than others, are involved in things like the climate change negotiations,
it would be correct from the evidence you have given today to
set aside the press release from Downing Street on 10 July, which
talked about the Deputy Prime Minister having a leading role in
the climate change negotiations, and accept the seesaw has changed.
It is your Department now and in terms of the way we should be
pursuing things as a Committee it is directly through yourself
and your Department. Would that be a reasonable thing to conclude?
(Margaret Beckett) I do not know whether I would put
it in those terms. What I would say to you is from the time my
Department was set up, the policy lead on sustainable development
has been with the Department and with whoever is Secretary of
State of that Department.
255. But climate change in particular?
(Margaret Beckett) But overall on sustainable development.
Partly because of the great interest that the Deputy Prime Minister
has in these issues and the role he has played, he continues to
play a role. His own description of it is that from time to time
he acts as a Sherpa on behalf of the Prime Minister on these issuesand
obviously that is a very specific and slightly different role.
He did not come to Marrakech and I would be slightly surprised
if he went to the next one.
256. We are all glad that Marrakech did not
end in disaster or break up but clearly concessions were made.
(Margaret Beckett) Yes.
257. Could you tell the Committee specifically
which concessions were made and, of those, which things you were
more disappointed not to be able to get into the final agreement?
(Margaret Beckett) May I offer to send you a note
about it because it is both long and complicated and I think it
would probably be more illuminating for the Committee if I sent
you a piece of paper rather than try to describe it. I do not
know if you are aware but in Bonn there was a considerable dismay
on the part of the Russian Federation that they believed that
the information they had provided about their own circumstances
had not been correctly assessed and they protested at that in
Bonn. I mentioned the Bonn agreement was exciting, part of what
was exciting about it was how we put it to the conference as a
whole from the EU, which was, here is a package of proposals,
we the EU have got lots of anxieties and concerns and disagreements
with this package of proposals but we will take this package if
that is what is on the table, if that can be agreed, and then
in effect challenged everybody else to do the same. The thing
that was very nail-biting was particularly in the last 20 minutes,
half an hour, to see whether any one country would actually in
effect veto the agreement that was potentially there. It was both
noteworthy and very much to Russia's credit, although they made
very, very plain their displeasure and their concerns and said
they would return to the issue, Russia did not veto in Bonn. In
Marrakech in the final session, the final plenary, the Russian
delegateand I have not got the words on me but I can send
you a transcript of the observations of the Russian representativesaid
he believed the agreement in Marrakech had opened up the way for
the Kyoto Protocol to be ratified by a large number of countries,
and the Russian Federation would be looking positively at that.
Of course the Japanese Government has now said they will be putting
the proposals for ratification to the Diet, and indeed they hope
to have been able to ratify by June. So the pressure is now on
for people to ratify before the Johannesburg Summit which is excellent,
because that will be an obstacle very much removed from the way.
That was one of the key areas and that was a long-standing concern.
Also Japan has had a long-standing anxiety about how we handle
the issue of whether or not the controls and compliance measures
in the Protocol are made legally binding. There is no question
Japan is absolutely adamant about their determination as a government,
should the Protocol be ratified and everything go ahead, to observe
all the mechanisms to comply indeed with all of the agreement,
and adamant there is no question of Japan not complying absolutely
with the undertaking required, but equally has great concerns
about the legal and cultural impact of proposals for making something
legally binding on a sovereign state. So these were the key areas
where ways were found to reach enough common ground to actually
reach agreement. There were also some concerns about the conditions
on reporting and things of that kind, but nothing that was so
overriding as to make it not worthwhile actually having the agreement.
258. It would be very useful if you could make
the list available, because while it is very interesting for politicians
to hear about the drama of the negotiations, as a Committee it
is really the specific issues we are here to audit.
(Margaret Beckett) Quite.
259. We have just had the Fourth Ministerial
of the World Trade Organisation at Doha, and I believe a minister
from your Department attended.
(Margaret Beckett) He was the only Environment Minister
who did attend, I understand.