WEDNESDAY 28 NOVEMBER 2001
Mr John Horam, in the Chair
Memorandum submitted by Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs
Examination of Witnesses
RT HON MARGARET BECKETT, a Member of the House, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, MR JOHN ADAMS, Director and MR IAN PICKARD, Sustainable Development Unit, examined.
(Margaret Beckett) Sorry.
(Margaret Beckett) Indeed. I apologise.
(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. Unless one has one 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, whatever 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.
(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 the clear fact that as years have gone by there has come to be more and more emphasis on the overall issue of framework of sustainable development and a growing believe 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.
(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 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 and that people ran the risk of losing sight. 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.
(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 there 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. It does seem to me that that is a more practical way forward and likely to be in 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.
(Margaret Beckett) That makes two of us.
(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 a department is already beginning to make its concerns and sustainable development felt that we have convinced Treasury both to make an issue of sustainable development as 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.
(Margaret Beckett) No, I do not think you can assume that.
(Margaret Beckett) I think the belief is that the department in its new form will be able to work better.
(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 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 implication of sustainable development of their policy approaches and goals.
(Margaret Beckett) There have been individual departments who have drawn up their strategies and within my own department there are people are 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.
(Margaret Beckett) If and when we get agreement to any proposals we make that is when it will come into the public domain.
(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.
(Margaret Beckett) Department themselves are producing their own strategies and reports that contain all of the information that you may need.
(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 policy in the making and say that that is something that has been markedly affected. There has been some concerns that our service to our stakeholders might begin to be affected and we are attempting to mitigate that, if we can.
(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.
(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, AWe 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.
(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 DETRA 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 Treasury 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 to care.
(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 issues - I have a list somewhere if the Committee is interested - on 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.
(Margaret Beckett) You can. May I offer to leave it with you?
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(Margaret Beckett) It is the intention of the Government to make sure sustainable development is a vision for the whole Government.
(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 summit - and 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 engaged - but 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.
(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.
(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 community - and he has because of the obvious resources - there 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 ---
(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 as well.
(Margaret Beckett) Again, almost certainly not!
(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 participants - and we are talking about something like 180 countries - to 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 them - well, each individually in fact - were the most exciting, certainly in the last hour, half hour, when you did not know whether you were going to get agreement or not - the most exciting events I have participated in in politics.
(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 responsibility.
(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 that 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.
(Margaret Beckett) I do not know about that. They all seem to manage to be there anyway.
(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 that - just 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 Wallström, 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 scheme - and that is not going to happen because not everybody does like the proposals - until 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 today.
(Margaret Beckett) I agree.
Joan Walley: Congratulations!
(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.
(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 issues - and 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.
(Margaret Beckett) Yes.
(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 delegate - and I have not got the words on me but I can send you a transcript of the observations of the Russian representative - said 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.
(Margaret Beckett) Quite.
(Margaret Beckett) He was the only Environment Minister who did attend, I understand.
(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.
(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, ALet=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.
(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, AWhere 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.
(Margaret Beckett) For as long as I can remember.
(Margaret Beckett) Yes.
(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 Dohar 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 Dohar. Everybody signed up to that, no doubt with varying degrees and kinds of reservations, but they signed up.
(Margaret Beckett) Indeed it does.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(Margaret Beckett) Indeed there has.
(Margaret Beckett) Yes. Many of us have never accepted that but you are right, there has always been that argument.
(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.
(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 Dohar. 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.
(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 Dohar 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 Dohar 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.
(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.
(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, AAh, well, the answer is that we should not create so much waste in the first place@, and then that is it. AI 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, AThank 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 we 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, ANo more incineration of any kind ever anywhere@ and on the other from others who said, AThat 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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(Margaret Beckett) We are talking months, not years.
(Margaret Beckett) Perhaps not quite so few months. Realistically we are hopeful that it will be by the summer.
(Margaret Beckett) It is a mixture of course and the responsibility is directly with my department and officials, but also the Environment Agency in terms of the advice they give. Both as a department and also the Agency - and indeed the other agencies who deal more specifically with environmental issues and report to us - we do already have and are building up structures and links with DTLR to try to make sure there is a proper flow of information. Of course I have to say with a caveat here that there is a quasi-judicial process and procedure as far as DTLR is concerned and that means that decisions are for them, but obviously we are anxious to make sure that the right information is made available, that it is properly considered and assessed and so on. There are links, specific new links.
(Margaret Beckett) We are very much allies along with the Environment Agency and others in trying to make sure that we assess what are now increasingly the impacts of climate change on our own country and elsewhere and look at what impact that has on public policy. We are much too much in our infancy in doing that and it is clearly a very important part of the work that my department is doing.
(Margaret Beckett) We did write to all Members of Parliament when the House resumed in October making it plain that it was a combination of the work and of the investment of the Environment Agency and of my own department, and also of course with many local authorities, that the breaches in flood defences that have been created last year had not been repaired. In very many cases not only had we overcome damage that had been done but they had been strengthened, and also a lot of work is being undertaken on planning and making preparations for further works, not all of which of course can be done on a timescale which can be completed now because sometimes we are talking about quite substantial further works. From that point of view we and the Environment Agency are engaged with various local authorities, as is DTLR itself. We do also have some co-operative structures for trying to manage the contingency of flooding to get the right flow of information and so on, and again all of that has been strengthened. It would be wrong of me not to imply that there are now no problems. Of course there are continuing problems for the reasons that we have been discussing.
(Margaret Beckett) I do not think there is any question about that. I am very mindful of that. The Committee may also recall - I am not sure how long ago it was but it does not seem to be so very long ago - that we were all being told that there was going to be a perpetual water shortage in the United Kingdom because the water table had now fallen so far that it could never recover. It does not seem like five minutes ago; I expect it is probably five years. It is certainly well within memory and so we do have to deal with the position in which we find ourselves, but what none of us can be sure of is that that position in precisely that form will be sustained.
(Margaret Beckett) On abandoned cars of course we have recently produced a consultation document to try to substantially strengthen the regime for dealing with those. We await the outcome of that consultation. I take your point about many of these issues. With regard to fridges, the particular difficulty was that everybody knew that the directive was there and knew that it would have an impact and were geared up to deal with the impact as they thought it would be. We did then have a court case which gave an interpretation of the directive which was not that which had been anticipated. These things happen. It is unfortunate but they do happen and now we have to discuss how we handle the outcome of that particular interpretation of the directive itself. I share your view. I think this is perhaps a little unusual. On the whole we are very fortunate. Our Civil Service is very effective and very skilled at following what is happening in negotiations within the EU and what is in the pipeline and so on and trying to make sure that we are up to speed with it. There we are quite fortunate and obviously even the best laid plans from time to time do not go exactly as one would hope.
(Margaret Beckett) I entirely agree.
(Margaret Beckett) I understand that, but that is in part, as I have said in answer to the first question on the issue, because I think things have rather ground to a halt in terms of the public debate. There was an encouraging climate of discussion and proposals and so on moving forward and then, for whatever reason (and we all understand the reasons for it), a sort of road block was erected and the debate and discussion and so on rather ground to a halt and we need to re-engage in that debate and to encourage the public to re-engage in that debate and to accept that there are no simple answers which will mean that we do not have to make some of these difficult choices, because we are creating a very considerable amount of waste and are likely to continue to do so if there are not successful ways found to minimise it.
(Margaret Beckett) I agree with that.
Sue Doughty: It is a matter of urgency to a lot of local authorities. There are those around the table who are all sitting there with massive plans for incineration and waste strategies where they are going to be signing on the line some time this year possibly for a 30-year technology which people do not want and have made that very clear, but they know they will have to make some compromises if it is not going to be fast burn incineration, and they want those compromises available now. It is very urgent for a lot of people.
(Margaret Beckett) There is not a policy vacuum. There was a White Paper.
(Mr Adams) The White Strategy 2000 last year.
(Margaret Beckett) There are strategy targets, very demanding targets, set for local authorities. There is not a policy vacuum but, as I say, where we are beginning to get to the stage where we could have problems unless we move the debate forward, is that there is a sort of mood grown up that neither local authorities nor other participants, nor the public as a whole, want to come to grips with these issues and recognise that we have a lot more to do and that we have to build recycling plants and we may have to do a little more perhaps.
(Margaret Beckett) Yes, that is a very good way of putting it. Thank you very much.
(Margaret Beckett) Part of what we need to consider is whether we have the right mix of incentives and penalties to encourage the right behaviour. I share entirely the view you expressed a little earlier that, whether it is on waste minimisation or waste handling, we need both to acquaint ourselves with the best of what is available in terms of innovation and new technology and we also need to be encouraging further steps on innovation and new technology.
(Margaret Beckett) We could do a great deal better on industrial and commercial waste and it is not surprising that we should really because we are talking about costs to business. Again, one of the issues that people will look at is whether we have the mixture of incentives and penalties right in that respect. Right across the field of sustainable development, whether it is waste production or energy use or water use or whatever it is, we are looking both at whether there are economic means of encouraging the right behaviour and also at how we encourage and publicise the beneficial effects of better management and the spreading in this area, as in so many other areas, of best practice and bench marking and so on. There are some spectacular examples now in, for example, the use of water, the production of waste water and so on, or indeed in the use of energy, of massive savings relative to the size of the organisation that different companies and organisations have made. There is a very clear incentive there in the commercial and industrial sector. The thing to do is to make sure that everybody is very conscious of that in the same way that we try to do with a whole range of issues, and encourage people to drive for quality and high standards by bench marking themselves on the best practice.
(Margaret Beckett) You know from the pre-Budget Report that the Government as a whole is very mindful of the fact that there is a range of measures potentially available to penalise behaviour that we do not wish to see and to encourage behaviour that we do wish to see. Those measures continue to be kept under review.
(Margaret Beckett) That too is in the area where there is continued discussion. We hope in the new year, I think I am right in saying, to produce a further consultation document. There have been discussions with Ofgem. There is a working group I think you will find that is examining these issues now and we hope to come forward with some proposals and a consultation document around the turn of the year.
(Margaret Beckett) No, I do not think so. In any case it is an important issue and we do recognise the need to address it.
(Margaret Beckett) I can only repeat what I have already said, that we have taken steps in the past to help encourage investment in CHP and there have been discussions with Ofgem. We will continue to have those discussions, particularly to discuss what is happening with smaller generators. Of course we are also awaiting the PIU=s own energy review which has not quite been published yet but I anticipate will be in the not too distant future.
(Margaret Beckett) There is a bit of creative tension if you like. I do not think I would say that there is a battle between them. The Government is committed as you know to increasing the use of renewables and is committed to innovation, and again if I can remind you, in the pre-Budget Report yesterday the Chancellor took some further steps on exactly these kinds of issues. I think it remains clear that the Government is indicating that it is keen to see the development of sustainable energy.
(Margaret Beckett) I do not remember the figure.
(Margaret Beckett) We are talking historic now, are we not? The nuclear industry was set up many years ago. It has always had substantial public funds, but it is under this Government that a more forthright and sustained drive to promote and to develop renewable energy use has begun to take shape and I anticipate that that will continue.
(Margaret Beckett) If this is a reference to what it says in the PIU Energy Review we shall see when that review is published.
(Margaret Beckett) Yes.
(Margaret Beckett) As I say, we hope to consult on the strategy around the turn of the year.
(Margaret Beckett) Yes, probably around then. We are not talking about a long delay, but we are talking about having the PIU review which obviously is an important backdrop to this strategy.
(Margaret Beckett) That is because it was set up jointly by ourselves and the DTI. It is one of the joint initiatives between the two departments.
(Margaret Beckett) Indeed.
(Margaret Beckett) The Trust has only just been set up and it is in its formative stage. It is a perfectly legitimate view to be expressed that in time the scale of its work is something that might cause people to say -----
(Margaret Beckett) Yes. It was only set up in April so I think it is a bit early to say it has not got enough money.
(Margaret Beckett) Obviously it is part of the work that DTI is engaged in, the promotion of renewables, and it is something that my department is engaged in as well, but I think you will find that both DTI and my department are committed to safeguarding marine biodiversity and to safeguarding the marine environment. In fact we jointly fund something called the Joint Nature Conservation Committee whose role is to provide us with the kind of information we need to identify special areas of conservation and special protection areas in the marine environment, particularly close to our own shares, and to help us to meet the provisions of the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive.
(Margaret Beckett) Pass. I will find out.
Chairman: Secretary of State, that was a very worthwhile session from our point of view and I hope you found it so too. Thank you very much indeed.