Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260 - 279)



  260. Can you tell us in broad, general terms, whether you were happy with the outcome?
  (Margaret Beckett) Yes, we were, partly because obviously the Government is anxious to see the start of a new trade round and, as you will probably know, there was an outstanding commitment to begin negotiations on agriculture. One of our very important goals as a Department is to achieve CAP reform but we can only do that in an international context, self-evidently. So on the one hand there was much pleasure that we actually got agreement to start a round, there was support for the fact that that round contains deadlines for proposals to reduce subsidies to agriculture, a package of initial proposals has to be put forward by November 2003 by organisations like the European Union and in theory the negotiations are supposed to be completed by January 2005. From the point of view of drivers on CAP reform, in many ways opening the debate is as important if not more important. So we were pleased about that. We were also very pleased that for the first time ever we got agreement that issues of the environment are part of the negotiations, and a strengthened role for the committee or sub-committee on trade and the environment. So we actually achieved everything we could possibly have hoped for.

  261. Some people have been quite critical of the outcome and are saying that the only reason the US and the EU want a new trade round is we want to open up access in developing countries to big multinationals to trade with developing countries while at the same time we keep the barriers up and prevent trade in the sort of commodities they might like to trade in, agriculture being the obvious example. How would you respond to that?
  (Margaret Beckett) Obviously there are those anxieties and concerns. I do not think they are in any way borne out if you look at what is the nature of the agreement which was reached at Doha. Indeed, it is the intention to have much better market access for developing countries. Part of what happens in these discussions is that there are those who, for understandable reasons, are not happy with the way the world trade regime works at present, and who rather than moving forward to try to improve it are almost saying, "Let's stop the process and let's handle it in a different way." I am afraid I have been long of the view that is not realistic. The global market place is with us, it is not going to evaporate because it creates concerns and anxieties and problems, we still have to deal with that part of the world we inherit, and the question is how best we can manage and mitigate its impact. These views are by no means all the views coming from developed countries. I recall having a conversation with the former President of Mexico in which he expressed very strongly the view that globalisation, if anything, if handled correctly and the right kind of international agreement could be reached, could work to the advantage of countries like his own.

  262. Is not the argument that has been put by some of the developing countries in particular that what we ought to be doing, before we start a new trade round, is do a proper evaluation of the last one and that that has not been done?
  (Margaret Beckett) Yes, of course, and that is a perfectly legitimate standpoint, but, to be honest, sometimes I think you achieve more by moving on than you do by standing still and analysing exactly what is wrong with where you were before. We are all familiar with the process whereby as human beings, never mind as politicians, sometimes it is better to find ways in which people can move away from a stance they have previously taken, or deal differently with an issue they had particularly handled in some specific way. If you ask people to stand still and say, "Where did you get it wrong", they will never say yes they did, but they will move on, and I think that is exactly true of the Doha negotiations.

  263. Can I come back to the specific point about agriculture because that is an important one and is something which is going to be critical in this new round. I would say that many people in this country have been arguing for a long time we needed to reform the Common Agricultural Policy.
  (Margaret Beckett) For as long as I can remember.

  264. In terms of the WTO negotiations, that is going to be done at an EU level.
  (Margaret Beckett) Yes.

  265. Do you detect a real willingness within the EU to make the significant changes in the CAP which are going to be necessary if we really are going to get the sort of agreement we would want?
  (Margaret Beckett) It is a mixed picture and it is perfectly understandable it should be so. All I can say to you is, first of all, to give you a slightly different example, I am encouraged to think it is perfectly possible for two reasons. One is because, and this was particularly evident in Bonn but also in Marrakech, the way the countries of the EU as a group work together in a very unified and cohesive way. That is not because we have identical interests or identical points of view. We have not, but people were prepared to give ground for the greater good. If we can do that on the sorts of issues that we were discussing in Bonn and Marrakech then that is an encouraging precedent for other areas. Secondly, of course the EU did go to Doha with a negotiating remit that said that we wanted to be part of the new trade round that involved cutting or eliminating subsidies on agriculture. It was not easy for that agreement to be reached, that that was the negotiating brief, but that was the negotiating brief that Pascal Lamy took to Doha. Everybody signed up to that, no doubt with varying degrees and kinds of reservations, but they signed up.

  266. That does have immense implications for the EU.
  (Margaret Beckett) Indeed it does.

  267. How far will people in the end be prepared to go in facing up to some of those implications?
  (Margaret Beckett) Only time will tell. We have to take what encouragement we can—and I take quite a bit of encouragement—from the fact that we have come already a lot further than I think many people would have anticipated.

  268. You mentioned as well some positive moves on environmental issues in relation to the WTO. Do you think we ought to be looking at how we can better evaluate what the effects might be of WTO rules on the environment? Is there any mechanism there at all for appraisal that is adequate, compared with what you might do for instance within your own department to appraise the environmental effects of the policy?
  (Margaret Beckett) The mandate for the Committee on Trade and Environment which I referred to—and it is a committee, not a sub-committee—is that they should make recommendations about what future action or negotiations are needed and the first bullet point on the areas they have to make recommendations on is the effects of environmental measures on market access and where the elimination or reduction of trade measures can benefit trade, environment and development, and the third point is a labelling requirement for environmental purposes. There is a very clear remit there for the first time to focus on environmental issues. One of the other things that comes through the declaration as a whole is a recognition of the importance of technical assistance and capacity building in developing countries in fields of this kind, trade and environment.

  269. Has that Committee got enough clout? Does it carry enough weight or should we be looking to bring in someone from outside, maybe UNEP or an organisation of that nature, to have more influence?
  (Margaret Beckett) It has not had before, I accept, but it has now got a strengthened mandate and remit. I know that Michael, for example, who has worked with the committee before, is very encouraged by them. Of course they do have a reporting deadline too. They have to report to the Fifth Ministerial in WTO in 2003, so they have now a deadline, they have a strengthened remit and mandate, and again, being blunt about it, for us as politicians, if you as a group, as a committee of that kind, are given a strengthened remit, a strengthened mandate, a role to play, and you do not seize it, then obviously you would have to think about whether there were other steps you could take, but I would be surprised if they did not seize it.

  270. There has been some concern for some time about the relationship between multilateral environmental agreements and WTO rules.
  (Margaret Beckett) Indeed there has.

  271. An impression that if there is conflict between the two it will be the WTO rules that win out each time.
  (Margaret Beckett) Yes. Many of us have never accepted that but you are right, there has always been that argument.

  272. Do you think we ought to be looking as part of these negotiations to get more formal agreement on what the relationships are between the two?
  (Margaret Beckett) I am not sure. It may be so. I think it is a little early to judge but I assume that is precisely the kind of issue this Committee will now be examining and on which it will be reporting.

Mr Thomas

  273. I just wanted to pursue a couple of Mr Gerrard's points there because you set out very clearly how you felt the WTO had beefed up the environmental side and how there were new possibilities there. However, there is a very real difference between the environment and sustainable development and that difference is quite a crucial difference with developing countries in particular because their socio-economic development has to be taken into account, not just the environmental side. Can you tell us about what might happen to sustainable development in that wider context following on from the Doha talks? Has that been strengthened? Is it on the WTO's agenda as such or is the WTO where we were 15 years ago in this country, that sustainable development is the environment and we have still a lot of work to do to get sustainable development across a range of WTO talks?
  (Margaret Beckett) That is a very interesting question; I am not entirely sure that I know the answer to it. Obviously I was not in Doha. My impression is that generally across the world community, whether in the WTO or anywhere else, the notion of sustainable development is beginning to be understood, and of course the Johannesburg Summit is very much a contributor and a focuser of minds in that respect. I think it is okay. Many of the people are the same players wearing different hats. The South African Minister, for example, who was involved in Marrakech, is obviously a close colleague of the Trade and Industry Minister at WTO. It is not an accident that we had a trade and environment delegation, as we did of course in Seattle, but that unfortunately did not bear fruit.

  274. What would you say as your department? Perhaps, "We have to look again at the WTO, exactly how they are looking at it"? From your point of view in your department you seem to suggest that you have got quite a clear view on how you might evaluate on the environmental side what the effects of WTO policies are, or at least your negotiating positions, but how can you be clear and what sort of guidelines can you use within your department to ensure that the Government's own view of sustainable development, which presumably will be promulgated very strongly in Johannesburg, is also being promulgated at these sorts of organisations, WTO as well, because the general complaint seems to be that the WTO is not a sustainable development body? It is a trade body of course, but if we are serious about the long term combining of trade, environment, development and everything together in that package which we call sustainable development, then surely there does need to be a greater appreciation within these negotiations and in the WTO of that aspect of things.
  (Margaret Beckett) I agree, but you will know that there was a lot of controversy. It was the EU primarily who drove the demand for the role of environment to be properly recognised in Doha and did so very successfully. I think the EU is acting as a catalyst in a lot of these discussions, and I mean the EU as a whole, I do not just mean particular departments or individuals. When we had the last Environment Council a few weeks before Marrakech the Environment Commissioner was asked whether she was intending to travel to Doha and she said no because she had absolute confidence that her colleague Pascal Lamy would not only do a superb job but would absolutely reflect the view and the approach towards sustainable development that the Environment Council could wish, and that indeed turned out to be the case. We are going in the right direction although obviously there remains something to be done, and in the face of some quite negative reports here in our news media, people attacking the EU for insisting on making those necessary links with environment.

Mr Best

  275. I was very interested to hear what the Secretary of State had to say about the benefits that come from an expansion in world trade and I share that view. I think it is a view which is probably shared by most people, certainly those I generally encounter, but I wondered if she might share my view that it is helpful to see that the balance of benefit from world trade favours those nation states whose needs perhaps are the greatest, and if that were manifestly so it might actually encourage the further development of that kind of trade. I am fearful that at the moment that it seems not to be the case.
  (Margaret Beckett) I do share that view and again it is widely shared across the EU. I was not engaged in them at the time, but in the negotiations that took place within the EU on putting together a new package of agreements with the ACP states, for example, the approach that has been taken more internationally by the EU is about opening up access to developing countries in developed country markets. I think that that is the right course of action and I share your view that it would be beneficial to all concerned.

Mr Barker

  276. Waste, Secretary of State, has raced up the political agenda as we are all aware and incites very strong passions in those local communities which are unfortunate enough to find themselves part of their waste disposal plan, be it landfill or incineration. You have already alluded to the Waste Summit which you called on 23 November. Could you first tell us what prompted you to call that summit? What came out of that summit, what areas of concern do you have about current waste policy, what is working, what is not working? I would be interested to know as a new Secretary of State what you personally feel about the growth of the number of incinerators in this country. That is causing a great deal of concern because of the uncertainty about what is coming out of both their chimneys and the ash. I would welcome your views on that and how you intend to address the concerns of people who potentially find themselves living in an area with a new incinerator. I am grouping within this question the whole issue of waste planning. We had a very brief discussion before you came in and were unclear amongst ourselves as to the exact position. I wonder if you could clarify for me the responsibility of county councils to draw up a waste plan. Are they legally obliged to take care in that plan of all waste generated within their boundaries? The direction that I am coming from is that often it does not make sense because of the proximity of different towns, populations and landscapes to draw up a waste plan that directly falls within county boundaries which are historic and may make sense to dispose within the region and not to pay strict attention to specific county political boundaries.
  (Margaret Beckett) If I can go back to your first question as to what prompted me to call a Waste Summit, it was a growing feeling that we were grinding to a halt in terms of policy discussion on these issues. We have made a lot of progress but we have an awful lot more progress to make if we are to satisfy the requirements of the Landfill Directive and, while we are presently on track, we will not be on track unless we start to take some further steps. In other words, we are not behind at the moment but we would slip behind if we were not very careful. A very negative tone had crept into all the discussions about waste where people had been able to focus on one issue and not to contemplate the whole range of policy choices which faced government at national or local level. I noticed increasingly, and I am sure you noticed it too, a growing and to my mind rather alarming tendency when faced with any proposals for the handling of waste streams for people to say, "Ah, well, the answer is that we should not create so much waste in the first place", and then that is it. "I do not need to think about it any more and I do not need to say anything else and I do not need to contemplate any of these uncomfortable choices. I can just say, `Ah well, we should not be doing it', and that is the end of the matter." It seemed to me that it could not possibly be the end of the matter and if we were to continue to move forward on the scale which is needed to fulfil our obligations under the Landfill Directive we had to get those different and disparate interests and people with very different points of view to engage in the debate and to come to views and conclusions about what are if you like the least worst options. As to what came out of the discussions, one of the most encouraging things that came out of them was how pleased everybody was to have been asked to participate in that discussion and how much positive response we got both from people who attended it and from people who did not attend, were not invited or whatever but who are part of the general public debate. There was a very positive response from people saying, "Thank goodness you decided to bring this up the agenda and to flag it up as an issue that we have got to get involved in because we felt that it was slipping away from us and we would be very worried about that." That was one of the first reactions. I hope you are aware that we did announce that there will be a PIU review, for which I am the responsible Minister, in the ensuing period which also will look with some urgency at where we are and where we need to be and what are the steps that we need to consider, and obviously we are encouraging those who are involved in that discussion to take part in it and to give evidence to that review. Part of what I believe needs to be the outcome of the day is this further study and review and for a further ongoing process of wider public debate. One of the things that I said to people at the outset was that first of all I was there to listen rather than to engage specifically in dialogue with them, and secondly, we had some representation from most of the interest groups (nobody said we had not anyway) present in the room and that although there was a tendency for them to engage in dialogue with each other through government, what we wanted from them that day was to engage in dialogue with each other full stop, which indeed they did and so we did get the different points of view as we went on through the day beginning to emerge and be aired and considered and people challenging each other, not in an unpleasant way but in a very positive way, about the different points of view they were expressing and the different policies that they wished to see pursued. Areas of concern were the obvious ones: were we doing enough to minimise the amount of waste we produce; what more could we do and who should be doing it. Should we be looking more at that area? Why are we not doing more? What more can we do to promote recycling, and also a concern expressed on the one hand from people who said, "No more incineration of any kind ever anywhere" and on the other from others who said, "That is not realistic. Nobody is proposing hundreds of vast incinerators all over the country". The picture that emerges if you look at these things is that there will be some material that cannot be re-used or recycled and which in the end will have to be incinerated and we have to look at how best we do that together with the issue of energy saving from incineration and that kind of thing. All of those issues which you would expect were aired and there was a general familiar approach to the issue of what is and is not working, the experience that people know and have, not enough recycling in particular. There was a demand on a scale that I personally have never encountered before, an almost universal demand from every interest group represented, that the Government should put up taxes in order to help to tackle these problems—and that was cross-party—as well as everything else. There was a lot of input as to what people thought and the steps that needed to be taken in a preliminary way. As to how I feel, obviously we await the outcome now of the PIU review but I have not yet seen evidence which stands up sufficiently for me to say that I do not believe there will never need to be another incinerator built anywhere. That is where I am at the present time.

  277. What message does that deliver to incinerators which are currently forming part of emerging waste plans, particularly as of course you are not responsible for planning any more, but forming planning applications and planning waste strategies?
  (Margaret Beckett) What I was about to go on to say was that part of the message that we want people to take is that one thing which seems to come through already is that nobody likes any of the methods for tackling waste. People just do not like waste and they do not like how we handle it. Where there seems to be most engagement and buy-in and where there also seem to be the most successful policies, and not least the most recycling, there does seem to be something of a correlation. I do not want to push it too far but there seems to be some correlation between where authorities and others have engaged the local community in the discussion about what they do about their waste and where it is being successfully tackled and also where there is most recycling. One of the things that I hope we will be able to stimulate across the country is to get people engaged in the issues of what waste they as a community produce and how that should best be managed and handled, not just that this is a problem for somebody else to deal with and whatever proposals they come up I am not going to like them and I will attack them. We need to get an engagement of the public and government at every level in these issues.

  278. Part of the problem, is it not (in my area and it must be the same over the country), is that the district council has responsibility for taking rubbish away and the county council has responsibility for disposing of it? It is very difficult to try and get an overall holistic approach to waste, particularly to get really good recycling programmes off the ground. Are you confident therefore that under the existing structures the Government can meet what I think are relatively pedestrian five year targets for recycling? How are we going to get more impetus given these structural problems?
  (Margaret Beckett) These are exactly the issues that the review will have to address. One of the things we need to do, which is partly why I am saying that we need to get people to focus on the issue of how the waste that is generated in their area can be dealt with, is to make sure there is a public engagement with this so that different authorities have to shoulder whatever aspect of responsibilities is properly theirs. That does have to be and is the only option for the way forward.

  279. In such an important area clearly they are looking for a very strong policy direction from you, Secretary of State. When will you be able to come back to this Committee and give us a very clear line on what your policy is and how you are going to enforce it?
  (Margaret Beckett) As I say, it will not be until after we have had the PIU review that we come forward with further proposals. The issue of enforcement will be part of those discussions.

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