Members present:

Mr John Horam, Chairman
Mr Gregory Barker
Mrs Helen Clark
Sue Doughty
Mr Mark Francois
Ian Lucas
Mr Simon Thomas
Joan Walley
David Wright


Memorandum submitted by Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Examination of Witnesses

RT HON MARGARET BECKETT, a Member of the House, Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, MS SHEILA McCABE, Head of the Environment Protection International Division, and MR JOHN ADAMS, Head of the Sustainable Development Unit, Department for Food and Rural Affairs, examined.


  1. Good afternoon, Secretary of State. We are delighted to see you. I understand that you would like to make a brief statement on Kyoto and your visit to Africa?
  2. (Margaret Beckett) It is mostly about my visit to South Africa because it is part of the run-up to WSSD.

  3. Please do.
  4. (Margaret Beckett) I do not know if this is the right moment or not but can I also say that this morning we published a short document about the Department. I hope we have brought enough copies for all the Committee.

  5. About the Department?
  6. (Margaret Beckett) It is about the Department, yes. Put simply, we get quite a lot of queries about what is the Department, what does it mean, what does it do. We have tried to prepare a short accessible document that gives answer to some of those questions and we thought, as we published it this morning, that the Committee might like copies.

  7. Thank you very much indeed, that is a very good idea. I think we might do the same thing for the Environmental Audit Committee since we are always asked how we are different from the Environment Committee and so forth.
  8. (Margaret Beckett) Especially with pictures. Chairman, thank you. You have already had our memorandum as a Department which is setting out all of the work we are doing on WSSD and giving an outline of how we are implementing sustainable development at home. I thought it might be helpful, I hope it will be, if I say a little to the Committee about the outcome of my visit to South Africa last week to discuss WSSD. I was there from the 12th to the 14th March and accompanied by an inter-departmental team of officials including our High Commissioner in South Africa, officials from DEFRA obviously, from FCO, the Cabinet office and the local DFID Director. While I was there I met quite a range of people involved in the summit. It included Valli Moosa, the Environment and Tourism Minister, who is leading on the summit, officials from the Water and Forestry Department, business and NGO representatives and the Johannesburg World Summit Company who are dealing with many of the practical arrangements. I also visited a DFID coast project near Cape Town and launched a DEFRA funded teachers' guide to WSSD at a school in Soweto and I addressed a meeting of NGOs and educationalists. I also had the chance to exchange ideas with Jan Pronk, who is Kofi Annan's Emissary for the summit, who was also visiting. The purpose of the visit was to reinforce the United Kingdom's support for the summit to the South African Government and to explore areas where the UK can assist and advance discussions. So the timing of the visit was just before PrepCom II in New York and the G8 Environment Ministers' meeting in Canada in April. It was clear from my discussions that South Africa and we share many of the same aims for the summit. First, that it should focus on sustainable development and not on environment issues alone. Secondly, it is part of a wider process stretching from Doha through Monterrey to Johannesburg and also linked to the New Partnership for African Development. Third, that it must focus on practical action to help deliver the Millennium Development Goals. The key issues for South Africa are water and sanitation, energy, health, education, technology and food security, and they are very similar to our own. I was particularly struck by their interest in using WSSD to progress and to push for agricultural trade reform. I understand that has been reflected in statements elsewhere by other African ministers and obviously we will be exploring the opportunities for that. Valli Moosa and I discussed how we might generate greater political impetus into the negotiations. Obviously it has to be handled carefully within the UN negotiating system but delivering significant advances at WSSD will, we believe, require engagement and commitment by Heads. There are a lot of ideas, a great wealth of ideas out there, but they need much further work, more concrete work, if they are to deliver action at the summit. We also spoke about the development of implementation projects, engaging a variety of stakeholders, the so-called Type II outcomes where the United Kingdom has shown leadership in developing ideas. This is a new concept for the UN system and we need to develop mechanisms to deliver them, both through the UN and in other parallel processes, and I hope to take some of these ideas forward when I visit the World Bank on the 11th April. As far as the organisation of the summit is concerned, the South Africans still face a funding gap of 190 million rand, over 10 million. The UK is among the largest donors so far at about 1.25 million pounds, but regrettably some large EU countries have yet to make any commitment and we are exploring how to encourage them to contribute. Despite that uncertainty there has already been a substantial amount of planning around the summit in Johannesburg and we were impressed with the comprehensive planning that is already under way. The summit company, which is known as JOWSCO, is well aware of the need to minimise the adverse effects of the summit, to deliver legacy projects and to engage the general public in South Africa. Lastly, I also met some business representatives and the NGO Preparatory Committee. There is plenty of opportunity for business to exhibit at the summit and there will be a day concentrating on business's contribution to sustainable development at the summit on September 1. There have been some difficulties over the NGO preparations, due in part to the NGO Committee being tasked both to prepare the South African NGO position and to organise the NGO events, but they seem now to have resolved those problems with maturity and sensitivity and are firmly committed to organising an effective NGO element. I understand that they were hoping to progress that work at Monterrey this week. Thank you.

    Chairman: Thank you very much indeed, Secretary of State. I am glad to hear that the practical preparations are going well. This Committee will be sending a delegation to the Johannesburg Summit.

    Joan Walley

  9. In view of what you have said, and I really welcome everything you have just said to the Committee, could I ask which of the European countries still have not made their contributions? I think it might be helpful for this Committee to know in order that we can pursue that with our counterparts in those countries.
  10. (Margaret Beckett) I am not entirely sure whether it is quite proper for me, to be honest. I am not sure that it is in the public domain because this is information that we sought semi-privately from the South African Government so that we can put on pressure behind the scenes.


  11. We can no doubt find out.
  12. (Margaret Beckett) Yes. Can I just say if you think of some fairly large names.

    Joan Walley

  13. Beginning with?
  14. (Margaret Beckett) You may find they have not all done so, although some say that they are going to.


  15. Physically large, you mean, geographically?
  16. (Margaret Beckett) Physically and financially.

    Joan Walley: Thank you.

    Chairman: Thank you for that statement and for making it brief too. We will start off the questioning and Mrs Clark, I know, wants to come in.

    Mrs Clark

  17. Yes, thank you. I am very encouraged that you started off immediately talking about sustainable development and that that really should be the focus of Johannesburg, that is what we are concerned should be the focus as well. You mentioned that it was very important that it was not about the environment alone. I think we are concerned that it is not actually about development alone. Are you concerned yourself that, in fact, Johannesburg might end up, despite all the best intentions, just being yet another UN development summit, say, without the interfaces between development, environmental concerns and obviously economic issues addressed, which is of course sustainable development?
  18. (Margaret Beckett) Quite. Obviously there is always a risk but I am extremely encouraged. From right back at the beginning when we first had a conversation with the South African Government about the preparations for the summit I recall that I went to that meeting briefed with the point of view that this is not a summit about the environment, this is a summit about sustainable development, and I found that coming back at me across the table from the South African Government. I think they and we have been clear from the very, very beginning and deeply relieved to find that we very much wanted the same kind of outcomes. For my own part, and this is something that I keep shoving into all the speeches that I make on this issue, I think it is so patently obvious that dire poverty and environmental degradation actually feed one off the other and they are a kind of vicious circle that it seems to me to be self-evident as an issue that you have to balance the social and environmental and economic effects. We say about climate change that it is something which affects everybody but particularly the poor who are most vulnerable to it, and again it is the poor who most need sustainable development.

  19. Again, I think from a DEFRA point of view that is very, very encouraging indeed. I am also encouraged that you said that Johannesburg and South Africa are working to the same hymn sheet as our ideals. I think what we are slightly concerned about as a Committee is not the position of DEFRA, which is absolutely clear, but rather the position of DFID. We did interview Clare Short a couple of weeks ago at Committee about these matters and she did say that actually DFID was working very closely with DEFRA on these matters.
  20. (Margaret Beckett) Indeed.

  21. But then went on to posit a rather different perspective herself. She said that in her opinion the environmental agenda often tended to be a northern agenda, an anti-development agenda, so therefore not making the connections that you have made yourself about the whole business of environmental degradation and dire poverty actually going hand-in-hand. Following on from that, Jonathon Porritt happened to be sitting in and obviously heard some of the comments that she was making and he went much further. Having admitted that the two of them had never actually sat down and talked and thrashed out these issues, and some of my colleagues think that perhaps they should, he said she was talking "rubbish", that she was "extremely well-known for" what he described as "her difficulty encompassing where the modern environmental movement was" and what he described as her "one-woman campaign to seek to belittle the work of a number of environmental NGOs...." etc., etc. On the one hand we have got the DEFRA and South African perspective absolutely united and then we have got all the contra-indications of a completely different line being peddled by another department in Her Majesty's UK Government.
  22. (Margaret Beckett) I do not think that I would accept that a different line is being peddled. In fact, as I think you said yourself at the outset, and I am sure Clare would say, as departments we work together extremely closely and extremely well on the preparations for the summit and, indeed, on the agenda for it. Without wanting to get into a dispute between two people who apparently said things to this Committee, neither of which I heard, I think certainly there have been times, although I would myself be inclined to say perhaps in the past, when people who were passionately concerned about the environment have tended to look more in their own context because this was where people could first get a handle on things. I think for quite some considerable time it has been the case that the wider perspective of sustainable development is very much the context of what those who care most about and work most on the environment have become involved with. Certainly we were anxious quite early on that because it was a sustainable development agenda, and that is very much the concern of environment ministers, I do not mean exclusively but environment ministers are involved in that because of the environment aspect of it, we were worried we might find that it was mostly environmental NGOs who were looking to come to and be involved in the preparations for the World Summit and, for precisely the reasons that you and I have just been discussing, we were extremely anxious that that did not happen and, indeed, quite early on we put out feelers through DFID and their contacts and through various observations I made at public gatherings, we thought it was extremely important that we got environment and development NGOs engaged in the work and working together, and they are engaged in our Communications Strategy Group and so on.


  23. I think it is the case though, is it not, Secretary of State, that in most countries it is the environment department that is taking the lead?
  24. (Margaret Beckett) I think that is probably true in most countries but then that is partly because in most countries it is increasingly the case that it is the environment department that is the home of the pursuit of sustainable development. By definition, the environment departments are not the sole custodians and they are not wanting to be the only people who pursue sustainable development, they are wanting to spread that awareness right across government. We are the policy lead on the summit and I think that is true in most other countries. Indeed, one of the things we are encouraging other countries to do is to send a multi-disciplinary team and teams of ministers to the summit as we intend to do ourselves.

    Ian Lucas

  25. Do you not think, Secretary of State, most people in Britain still see environmentalism and development as contradictory concepts?
  26. (Margaret Beckett) No, I do not think I would say that but I suppose it depends on whether you are talking in a UK context or in a world context.

  27. I am talking about most British people's understanding of the two ideas. I still think myself that when people think of environmentalism, and I do not mean the NGOS I mean the population generally, they think of environmentalism as an anti-development concept.
  28. (Margaret Beckett) I can understand why that point of view was held perhaps if you think back to the early days of awareness of the impact that we were having on our environment, but my own view would be that although of course in a developed country there will always be particular pressure on environmental issues because, frankly, that is where we have tended to do the most damage the fastest, I think for quite a long time it has been the case that people recognise that you have to balance these issues. Maybe, who knows, one of the things that will really bring that realisation to fruition is, in fact, the World Summit which we hope is going to force people to recognise that these are all important issues on their own but they are all issues that you have to balance because if you get one out of kilter with the other then your whole policy and approach is out of kilter.

    Mr Thomas

  29. Just to follow that through a little bit because obviously it is of interest to this Committee to know exactly what attitude will be struck by the UK Government officially in Johannesburg and what effect that will have on sustainable development in international aid. Both yourself and John Prescott have said that access to clean energy is going to have to be one of the priorities discussed at the World Summit. In Johannesburg you are quoted as asking "What about clean energy for those who have no lights or heat and whose health and education are undermined by the lack of basic facilities?" That is a very good question to ask. It is the sort of question we did pose to Clare Short as well and she was very sceptical of the benefits that something like a solar energy programme could bring to rural Africa, and perhaps some people might be wedded to the old-fashioned idea of grid connections and massive infrastructure projects. The simple question is what is the view that is going to prevail from the UK Government's point of view in Johannesburg, is it your view or Clare Short's view?
  30. (Margaret Beckett) I would question whether there is such a dissonance between us. Obviously it is important that there is access to sustainable energy in Africa, in particular where there is such deprivation and poverty. I would have thought, in fact I am pretty confident from the many conversations that I have had with her, that Clare would be among the first to say that the alleviation of poverty has to be something that also carries with it sustainability otherwise you do not continue to alleviate poverty. I think that many of these issues will perhaps become a little clearer after we have had, I think it is, the New York PrepCom where people are going to try to look at some of the concrete details.


  31. That is the one next week?
  32. (Margaret Beckett) Yes. To look at some of the concrete details of the action programme that we might all be working on over the summer to put to the summit. There is a little room for manoeuvre yet in terms of what the core issues will be. We have got our core issues that we have been working on as a Government and the South African Government has identified some of the things on which they want to see progress: water, water and sanitation by the way. That is very important. We must all learn to say "water and sanitation" as the mantra because one without the other is not nearly so useful. Also there is obviously an interest in energy, oceans as well as fresh water, where the South African Government has some of their perspectives. I think that we will see over the next few weeks hopefully something more like the shape of the core agenda because there is a list as long as your arm of things that people could talk about and would like to see pursued but we need to get it down to something more concrete.

    Mr Thomas

  33. Within that core agenda as it emerges if there was a serious proposal, for example, for a solar renewable energy programme for rural Africa or any other form of clean energy programme for developing parts of the globe, you would not characterise those as a northern obsession with narrow environmentalism?
  34. (Margaret Beckett) I would always be reluctant to use such phraseology. I would simply say to you that one of the five partnership projects that the UK Government has been working on for probably over a year is a sustainable energy project that came out of the G8 about a year ago where we have had British businessmen in the lead. It is one of these multi-stakeholder partnerships where we have had a whole lot of people engaged. That, I think, was an FCO lead. My own Department, for example, is working with, again, a multi-stakeholder partnership in terms of water and we are working on projects for some peri-urban developments. Part of what we are all trying to do is to find ways in which we can make an additional contribution over and above the one that has been there in the past.

    Joan Walley

  35. I think that the contradiction that has just been brought in front of us by both Mr Thomas and Mrs Clark is really about how we bring together economic developments, environmental issues and where the interface between them all is. I think that might be something which in the time between now and Johannesburg perhaps the Commission for Sustainable Development could help to explore some of the issues arising out of that. I think this Committee wants to have at the very heart of the Government's agenda the fact that environmental renewable issues should be, wherever possible, prioritised and steering the way forward so that there is that emphasis on sustainable development and we do not think about it as an afterthought. I am thinking of solar and photovoltaics when we have had large private investment in energy.
  36. (Margaret Beckett) I did not want to get drawn into the issue of solar particularly because solar may or may not be the right source depending on where you are.

  37. I am just wondering whether or not you would agree with me that maybe the Commission for Sustainable Development under the chairmanship of Jonathon Porritt might be a way of perhaps exploring some of these issues?
  38. (Margaret Beckett) They are engaged in various of the discussions, which is no doubt why they came to give evidence.

  39. Excellent. Maybe that is a way forward. One of the things that I really wanted to ask you at this stage is given once in a generation or once in a decade we have a chance to really shape things and make a real difference, given that we had Rio and so much success from Rio and then we had the world trade negotiations and the Uruguay Round shortly afterwards, could you give the Committee some indication - in your introduction I welcomed the fact that you made reference to the continuous process of what is happening now with Monterrey and so on - how this is relating to trade agreements and how what is going to be happening at Johannesburg will fit into the continuing WTO discussions that will be taking place in Mexico and reaching a conclusion in Rio 2005? Could you comment on how we can make sure that sustainable development gets fed through into that agenda from Johannesburg and that we avoid the pitfalls of post-Rio when that did not quite happen with the World Trade Organisation, as it was then, and the Uruguay Round?
  40. (Margaret Beckett) I think the principal thing that I would say is that, as you know, our agenda for the WTO and for the Uruguay Round was to make globalisation work for the benefit of everybody and not least for the poor, perhaps particularly for the poor. It seems to me that if we are able to get, for example, moves to free up markets for access to agricultural products that is in itself an enormously important contribution for the developing world. I think I am right in saying - I see so many pieces of paper I cannot remember exactly what my source for this is - I have seen some comments from President Museveni to the effect that it will be excellent and admirable if we get a greater flow of aid and it will be excellent and admirable if we get a range of other partnerships which may involve the business community and so on, so it is not just government aid, it is the private sector, etc., etc., but on the other hand, and I am paraphrasing but something along the lines of, all of that would not do very much good if nevertheless the developed world was not going to open up its markets to the developing world, in particular for agricultural products. I think that, in fact, all of this is very much part of a developing approach. These are not the same moves, they are moves, if you like, in parallel. I share your view and your hope that what we will see at Johannesburg is a very different summit from Rio, it is not Rio plus ten. That was one of the first things that we said to the South African Government, that we do not want it to be Rio plus ten, we want it to be Johannesburg and a fresh start. What it can be is something which creates an attitude and an awareness that can spread across a whole series of international negotiations, including into the WTO negotiations. It is certainly part of the background and part of the pressures within the European Union for our own negotiating mandate for the WTO talks and it may well be, and I would certainly welcome it myself, that out of the Johannesburg Summit will come pressure on the EU and the United States and the other players who have committed themselves to phasing out agricultural subsidies and so on at the WTO and we will see parallel processes which are moving us in the same direction.

  41. That means presumably then that DEFRA will be working very closely with the DTI in the run-up to Johannesburg to make sure that what is being taken forward is going to be consistent with having that same emphasis on environmental issues and the effects of the trade round as well?
  42. (Margaret Beckett) Just as we have a very good relationship with DFID, so we do with DTI. I think Michael is certainly the only EU Environment Minister, possibly one of the few from anywhere in the world, who was at Doha. I know that there was a very, very constructive relationship between the cross-departmental team there and we were able to get environmental issues on to the agenda in a way that we had not dared hope that we might succeed in doing.

  43. It is a question of where the trump card is, is it not, whether or not trade trumps environment or whether environment trumps trade and how it could be a win-win situation?
  44. (Margaret Beckett) To have a win-win situation it has not got to be an issue of one trumping the other, it has got to be how can they support each other.

    David Wright

  45. Secretary of State, last time you came to talk to the Committee we concentrated on the reorganisation of departments post the General Election and you will recall that we talked about some of the recruiting difficulties your Department had experienced. I understand that around 400 posts came across from DETR and at the end of January about 17 per cent of those posts were vacant. In the light of those difficulties, have you had any problems in preparing for the summit? Have you been happy with the amount of resources you have been able to deploy?
  46. (Margaret Beckett) Those difficulties to the extent that they remain, and we have, as you know, had a dispute understandably, frankly, in the aftermath of trying to reconcile very different working conditions and pay for different staff, hopefully are now well on the way to being dealt with. We have had a fair amount of change. If you look, for example, in the document that we have just produced at the management board at the back of the document, there are a substantial number of changes there, people have come in from other departments, a range of changes, and that is happening throughout the Department. In terms of the resources, we would always like more, of course, but my perspective is that we are reasonably well resourced for the summit and, of course, all of those who are engaged in it are very enthusiastic about it so we probably get more for our money, so to speak, than we are really entitled to get because they all work extraordinarily hard. We have got something like 12 people working full-time on preparations for the summit. One of those is working specifically on the projects that I referred to earlier on that the Prime Minister gave within the last year. Eleven within the Department, four of those are working on the British end of things. We have got two people on loan to the South African Government, one from my own Department and one from DFID. We have got someone from my own Department in New York in the Secretariat there and we have got one in UNEP. Coming in, we have got two secondees, one co-ordinating business response and one co-ordinating the response particularly related to the water industry. Those are the people who are working directly and full-time, but we have also got a very collaborative effort across Whitehall. Our Director General chairs a steering committee which has something of the order of 33 members from the whole range of departments who are engaged. Apart from those people who I referred to who are working full-time, we have a very substantial chunk of the time of the Director General and the Director and Divisional Head. Then there are others in the Department, for example people who are engaged in water policy who are also engaged for part of their time. We have got quite a substantial team, I do not think one could complain about that.

  47. What is your impression about how that compares with other players, European partners, other countries?
  48. (Margaret Beckett) Pretty well actually. This always sounds terribly immodest but since a lot of it happened before I came to this post maybe I can be a little bit immodest on behalf of the Government. We have built up a very substantial reputation over the years as a result of the work of departments like my own, so partly we are engaged with others, we are asked to participate and contribute to the process and so on, and that has continued. On the whole, I think both in terms of their effectiveness and the quality of their contribution, and also in terms of numbers, we do compare quite well. I think I have said to the Committee before, to take a slightly different example in terms of a specific subject, at climate change conferences both in Bonn and in Marrakesh, it may be immodest but it is perfectly true to say that key contributions came from the British delegation. I am not just talking about the lead negotiator and myself or whatever. If you met the team, they are enormously impressive. We have people who are climate change experts who look about 14 who go and kind of buttonhole ministers and make them negotiate with other ministers to sort out this problem and so on, they are just fantastic.

  49. The PrepCom III process has been mentioned, it is five days away. Do you think that we are up to speed in terms of the work that we have done on that? Are we ready to proceed with that particular meeting?
  50. (Margaret Beckett) I think that we are. I think we are reasonably optimistic.

    (Ms McCabe) As you know, we negotiate through the Presidency in the PrepComs so a lot of the work has to be done in the EU working group where different subjects are being prepared by different lead countries and the UK is in the lead on three papers which are poverty in the environment, Africa and science and technology. Last week there was a two day meeting at which I think there were about six or seven UK officials taking forward that work. Also, in the absence of anybody else really taking the lead on this in the EU, we have done a lot of work on the Type II initiatives. A long time ago DEFRA commissioned this work by Chatham House which I think you may have seen, which we can certainly send to you, on what criteria and elements you like to see in a Type II initiative, which has been very widely shared with colleagues. We have had Chatham House experts out in New York, we have had them at the UNEP meetings, so we have had a chance to engage with people from north and south. We have had a lot of congratulations for the quality and appropriateness of that work at this time of negotiations. We are very keen to take forward some Type II initiatives so at that meeting the UK called a meeting with EU partners to share experience and we will probably be leading on that in the EU. There is a lot of work going on by different countries in the EU, there are so many different subjects to be covered that you cannot expect the Presidency to do everything.

  51. How will that work at the summit? How will that interaction work between the objectives of the EU and different countries taking up different strands?
  52. (Margaret Beckett) At all of these international events we work through an EU co-ordinating group and then ultimately it depends a little bit on how well the pattern then works. Sometimes when you have a wider set of negotiations, as in Bonn and Marrakesh, you get a slightly wider group, of which we are usually a part.

  53. I noticed in your memorandum that the EU Environment Council has been leading EU preparations for the summit so far. Would you like to have seen engagement from other councils?
  54. (Margaret Beckett) Other councils have been engaged. The GAC has been engaged, ECOFIN, particularly in preparations for Monterrey ECOFIN has been engaged, and indeed the European Council itself, and also the Development Council. Others have been engaged. I think we are hopeful of getting the GAC a bit more engaged.


  55. Sorry, the GAC?
  56. (Margaret Beckett) The General Affairs Council, I beg your pardon. We are hopeful of getting the GAC a little more engaged even in the future. It is just that the core stuff has to come from somewhere. It would not be fair to say that it is only being done through the Environment Council.

    David Wright

  57. One of my concerns and, I am sure, that of members of the Committee, is that we do need an outcome, a programme of action, to come out of Johannesburg, do we not?
  58. (Margaret Beckett) Yes.

  59. Could you give some examples of the types of commitments you might want to see coming out, what kind of targets we are pushing for as a UK Government and what you would like to see as global headline indicators?
  60. (Margaret Beckett) If I can pick up on what you last said, I am not sure that I am particularly looking for global headline indicators. We are looking much more for practical projects and outcomes. I know that when we have in the past had, say, climate change conferences and so on there has been a tendency - and, indeed, in terms of an approach to the environment as a whole there has been a tendency - to have targets and things of that kind, but I think the feeling this time is that out of Johannesburg we are looking more for a range of specific projects and perhaps seeing them as part of an overall process. There is quite a lot of discussion about this. I am sorry, this is going to sound a bit airy-fairy at the moment, but that is partly because everybody is trying to thrash out exactly what we can most usefully achieve. Certainly, as you know, it was in our memorandum of evidence that the thinking is that there will be a political declaration and a plan of action, and then we hope these Type II partnerships will be mooted. I think the feeling is that what we will want to do is to try to get a range of proposals for actual partnership work which will include the Type II partnerships, which will include what the Government themselves do, which will draw on what we hope will be a successful new African partnership where you are getting better governance, things that they are bringing to the table, and so you draw in private sector investment and so on. I think people are looking very much to see whether there is a framework, if you like, for a global plan of action or a global deal or whatever. There is a lot of sensitivity about the words. The words do not really matter very much. What matters is whether we can get the right framework actually to have something to show for this in two, five, ten years' time, other than just a lot of very nice words and some potential targets that have not actually been delivered. As I say, there is a lot of discussion going on about exactly what is the best way to do that and harness all these different voices and different initiatives.

  61. It is going to be difficult to sell it to the public, is it not?
  62. (Margaret Beckett) Not necessarily. If we actually get concrete outcomes and concrete projects, then I think that the public understand that a lot better than some of the things that we all tend to talk about in terms of projects and so on.

  63. We need some projects that are specifically impacting on the UK, for example, or understanding how global projects can impact on the UK environment?
  64. (Margaret Beckett) Not so much impacting on the UK; impacting on the environment primarily where there is the greatest poverty, which the UK is involved in and which can be discerned. Yes, I agree with that.

    Mr Barker

  65. Secretary of State, I would like to go on, if I may, to talk about the UK's progress since Rio. Before we go into these particular questions, I wonder if you could perhaps clear up some confusion that this Committee had in relation to a press release that was put out last week by your Department with regard to the quality of life barometer and the remarks made by Mr Meacher in the press. I do not know if you saw an article in the Daily Mail headlined "Life's better under Labour? That's rubbish, says Meacher"?
  66. (Margaret Beckett) I am afraid it is not my daily reading!

  67. Let me just refresh your memory. Perhaps I can tell you what it says and then you if can put the record straight for us, that would be greatly appreciated. What Mr Meacher is quoted as saying is that "There are quite a lot of things that are going wrong and that we need to deal with and I am not trying to pretend that that isn't so". He actually said, or he is quoted as saying, that he "was 'surprised' to find that a survey put out by his own Department" - this one here, put out last Thursday - "... claimed that life in Britain was getting better", in particular because the figures showed that traffic has increased by 4 per cent, household waste has grown by 14 per cent, British wildlife is continuing to suffer and the population of farmland birds is down 17 per cent. Who is actually right? Is it the press office or Mr Meacher? Perhaps you could clarify, Secretary of State?
  68. (Margaret Beckett) I am obviously following your quotes rather than having the paper in front of me, but I am tempted to say that they are all right.


  69. That is very inclusive, Secretary of State!
  70. (Margaret Beckett) It is certainly true that there have been great improvements; whether it be in levels of employment, in what we have to do to tackle poverty, in some of the issues dealing with wildlife and so on, there have been enormous improvements - air quality, water quality. It is also perfectly true that there is still a lot more to do. I cannot quite recall the phraseology you were quoting, something about transport and so on.

    Mr Barker

  71. Traffic figures.
  72. (Margaret Beckett) Yes. We are still seeing problems, although one could argue that the problems are growing more slowly than before, but we have not overcome them. So I am aware that various things have been said and quoted. What exactly was said I actually do not know, but what I do know is that the report which was published, and for which the press conference was held, is a report which we publish every year. Am I right in saying that it was at the suggestion of this Committee, Mr Chairman?


  73. Indeed, yes.
  74. (Margaret Beckett) It publishes information on indicators and so on. The whole point is that people can study these things for themselves. Those indicators are showing measured improvement, although there is much more that needs to be done. That presumably was the point of having the report in the first place.

    Mr Barker

  75. So on balance, who do you agree with? They are presented as two separate views.
  76. (Margaret Beckett) As I say, it is indeed true and valid to say that there is merit in both points of view. Is the glass half full or half empty? Which way do you prefer to look at it? Are you an optimist or a pessimist? I would concede, I am a natural pessimist. I would say there are still an awful lot of problems to overcome, but it is silly to pretend that lots of them have not been overcome and are not on the way to being overcome.


  77. I think it is rather more than that, Secretary of State. You are right in saying that this Committee did have an important role in suggesting these indicators were published, and I am delighted that the Government have taken that up.
  78. (Margaret Beckett) Indeed, and I believe we are unique in the world in doing that, so you can congratulate yourselves on recommending that.

  79. Indeed. That is why we were disturbed by the rather joking way in which the press took them when they were first published two years ago, you recall, when Mr Prescott published them. We were rather unhappy with the way they were dealt with. Since then they have gathered a certain amount of strength, but that makes it even more important that the Department handles it properly. What concerns us and concerns Mr Barker is that in the official press notice which your Department put out it said, and Mr Meacher was quoted as saying, "The quality of life barometer is clearly rising." He put out that press release which he appeared to deny, and then it was reported that "His refusal to put the Whitehall-sanctioned gloss on the figures plainly infuriated officials at the DoE." If these figures are to get the credibility and the widespread interest that we really need, this is not the way to handle it, Secretary of State. I put it to you that the Minister is saying one thing from your departmental officials.
  80. (Margaret Beckett) You and I are both reliant on the reporting of what was said.

  81. Mr Meacher did not deny this.
  82. (Margaret Beckett) When I read a report which says that this was a problem for the DoE, then I start to wonder about the accuracy of all the rest of the report. I accept your point that it is extremely important, that these are serious issues that need to be taken seriously, and that it is important that we try to encourage people to look at the range of outcomes that that report can show, because if we are seeing some improvement and that is not recognised, then that is discouraging. What we want is to encourage people to recognise where there is still work to do, which I think would have been Michael's intention, but from what you say does not seem to have come through from the perception of the journalist who attended the press conference.

    Mrs Clark

  83. On a point of clarification, Secretary of State, on the actual article, I think our Chairman has quite rightly referred to the fact that the Daily Mail said: "His refusal to put the Whitehall-sanctioned gloss on the figures plainly infuriated officials at the DoE. It will also anger Mr Blair's press chief Alastair Campbell ...." What the journalist did was to make assumptions. It does not mention a single off-the-record comment from an official at the DoE or anything like that.
  84. (Margaret Beckett) I am very pleased to hear it.

    Mrs Clark: So I think we can say that those comments are assumptions made by the journalist, and the journalist would assume without checking the facts.

    Mr Barker

  85. Could I move it on, because I very much take your point, Secretary of State, that what we want is information which is "unspun" (if you will excuse my grammar) and on which people can make their own judgements. Therefore, given that particularly as there is a lot of pressure from this Government, and in many ways quite rightly, on the private sector to be more transparent, for firms to be more open, for greater corporate governance, do you not think it is extraordinary that individual government departments are still not producing annual sustainable development reports? I find it extraordinary that the NHS, which is the largest employer in Europe, coming out of the Department of Health, is totally unaccountable in terms of actually coming up with an annual report on how it is doing. When will that shocking state of affairs change?
  86. (Margaret Beckett) I think that many departments are in fact working on it. It is not an easy thing to develop a department or an agency's sustainable development strategy, and I think many departments are in fact working on that. We ourselves, as a new department, are working on our own sustainable development strategy, and many organisations are. I think it will take time for the understanding, the methodology, the approach, to be understood.

  87. But business is expected to produce, and does have to produce, this sort of corporate accountability. Can you give this Committee a date?
  88. (Margaret Beckett) With respect, some does, but not as much as we would like. I think we will find that actually the picture in the business community is not dissimilar to the picture you are describing in Government where some people have managed to do this and have made progress, but others have not. I cannot remember what the figures are, off the top of my head.

    (Mr Adams) About 45 out of 100, at the last count.

  89. Do you not feel that the Government should be setting an example?
  90. (Margaret Beckett) We are trying to encourage, not least through the Greener Government Committee, that kind of observance, but, as I said, it does take time.

  91. Therefore, if it takes time, could you give us a specific indication or commitment as to when that time will come?
  92. (Margaret Beckett) I cannot do that, because I have not asked anybody to give me that picture and those figures, and I am not even sure how we see it. What I can certainly give you is an undertaking that my Department and I will continue to work with other departments and to press them to develop the kind of approach that you are suggesting. I can also remind you, if I may, that we have already succeeded with the Treasury in getting a sustainable development underpinning to the whole of the spending review process. Our officials and Treasury officials are engaged in looking through the proposals which departments have made for their future development, not least to assess how they measure against sustainable development criteria.

  93. But is that public information?
  94. (Margaret Beckett) No, and it may not be. I accept that you are asking for public information, but being able to do it at all is the first step, publishing it is the second.

  95. All right, then perhaps we could move on and perhaps I could finish on that. Would it be reasonable to expect that information to be made public on an annual basis within, say, two years?
  96. (Margaret Beckett) I think that might be optimistic. I am not quite sure how long it took. As I say, we are unique in the world in doing what we do already. Certainly we would be the last people to argue that we do not want to develop and build on that, but as to whether I can give you an undertaking that we can do it in two years, I do not think I can undertake to do that.

    (Mr Adams) Can I underline the Secretary of State's point too by the extent of the departmental material which we now make available as part of Greener Government. We now have not just the summary report but the background information which includes identifiable data from every Whitehall department on the environmental impact. Of course, that is not the same as a report from each department, but it contains a lot of information segregated by department, which the Committee can make use of.

  97. Perhaps I could move on. How successful do you think the UK has been in institutionalising sustainable development? That is really a similar question.
  98. (Margaret Beckett) As I said, I think our greatest success probably - and maybe the most astonishing in some ways, although perhaps I should not say that - is to get the Treasury on board and to get the Treasury not only seeing sustainable development as part of the approach to the next spending round review, but also to agree that this should be very much a criterion for the Office of Government Commerce to take into account. When you think of all those years, under successive governments, where the Treasury appeared not to have any interest in anything but what was the cheapest cost and not what was even the most cost-effective, never mind anything else, I think it has been quite a triumph to get that as part of the approach. Of course, that inevitably has an effect, and will continue to have a growing effect, I believe, across Government.

  99. Can you actually point to any government policies which have been rethought because the sustainable development indicators are not pointing the right way?
  100. (Margaret Beckett) In a sense, it ought not to be like that. If you are integrating the concept of sustainable development from the beginning, it is a little bit like the things that people say about the use of design. It ought to be integral from the beginning of the process and not something that, when you get to the end, you say, "Hang on a minute, what about design?" We do not want people to say, "Here we've got this nice little policy, now hang on a minute, what about sustainable development?" We want sustainable development to be in there from the beginning, so there ought not to be a point when it changes.

  101. On that point, could I ask you a question in respect of building houses? I think there is a commitment from the Government to put several million over the next ten years. Have you considered the submission from the WWF that one million of those should be sustainable houses?
  102. (Margaret Beckett) That is not a specific recommendation for me; that is a recommendation for the Minister for Housing at the DTLR. Certainly it is a very interesting proposal and it is one that, in our contacts with that department, obviously we will be pressing with them.


  103. To come back to this question of sustainable development indicators, it was actually the Government's view, stated to us and to other people publicly, that if any indicator was moving in the wrong direction then the Government would rethink policy. I see Mr Adams nodding, so I am correct. So it is not just a question of getting the thinking right from the word go. Clearly indicators will go in the other direction, in the wrong direction, from time to time, and indeed they are going in the wrong direction, as Mr Meacher admitted.
  104. (Margaret Beckett) It does make people rethink, and I did not mean to convey that it did not. All I meant was that it would be a pity, as I said, to work out a policy and then say, "What about sustainable development?" I accept that if the indicators go in the wrong direction we have to think again about why.

  105. Mr Barker's point was, what is being done about it now, if we have four or five indicators going in the wrong direction, like crime, waste, etcetera?
  106. (Margaret Beckett) I think it is a bit sweeping to say that crime is going in the wrong direction. Certainly with violent crime we are seeing a deterioration, but we have seen a very substantial improvement in crime overall. You will know that the Home Office and others are discussing precisely what we do and how we can turn round the issue on violent crime. On wildlife, I thought wild birds had improved. I thought it was farmland birds that had not improved.

  107. I think you slightly changed the indicator. If I am right, you added another bird, which makes it look rather better. This is the problem, Secretary of State.
  108. (Margaret Beckett) With regard to waste, you will know that we have a PIU review under way at the present time following on the Rio summit. There is presently a PIU review on this, because we have recognised that we have to assess that.

  109. So you are taking action on that?
  110. (Margaret Beckett) We are taking action, yes, or we propose to do so.

    Mr Thomas

  111. I have two follow-up questions to what you have been saying so far, Secretary of State. One is very local and one is very global. Perhaps I can start with the very local one, because we have been talking about the UK's response to sustainable development in the last few minutes. Looking at the summit in Johannesburg and comparing it with what happened in Rio, of course Rio had a very strong local and regional focus in terms of Local Agenda 21. Since then we have had devolution for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. What role will the devolved administrations be playing in the preparations for Johannesburg? Will they be represented at Johannesburg? I know the National Assembly has stated in a vote that it wants Rhodri Morgan to attend to represent Wales, and I know that the National Assembly are sponsoring a conference on 17 April to discuss what Wales's contribution should be to the summit in Johannesburg. Obviously those actions would be worthless if there is not a way for Wales and the devolved administrations to have their say as well at Johannesburg. How are you going to ensure that that is achieved?
  112. (Margaret Beckett) You are right in saying that this is something that has changed since Rio, although I think also you were saying that Rio had a strong local and regional focus, but if I understand correctly, Rio did not have the sort of bottom-up regional PrepCom and so on preparation that Johannesburg would have.

  113. No, the agenda came out of Rio.
  114. (Margaret Beckett) I suppose it is rather top-down, whereas Johannesburg, I think - and I hope this will be successful in itself - has been much more a bottom-up process. Certainly we do anticipate - and I think arrangements are being discussed - greater involvement from the devolved administrations.

    (Ms McCabe) Yes, the devolved administrations are invited to meet in the Cabinet committee that is preparing it; they are invited to meet as a steering group that Diana Nicholl chairs and they are on the interdepartmental committee. They are always welcome to send members on delegations. They have not so far taken up that offer, but it has certainly been extended to them.

  115. That is certainly good news, and other people can pursue them to see whether or not they are taking up invitations. Will they also be represented as part of the UK delegation?
  116. (Margaret Beckett) I do not think any decision has been made, but I would not be at all surprised if that were the case.

  117. Thank you for that. Turning to the more global situation, then, I have been reflecting on Mr Wright's question and the possibility of a programme of action coming out of Johannesburg, and also where we started this session, with some of the discussions about aid development and sustainable development, how you can put them together. How can we ensure that the aid that will flow out of Johannesburg will be targeted and will be the sort of aid that those developing communities are happy are happy about and involved in? To give you an example, there is a DFID project at the moment in Andhra Pradesh which potentially could move 20 million poor farmers out of an area and certainly is looking at the introduction of GM technology into that area. That is a project which some of the local farmers through development agencies have certainly said they are not keen to see. I do not expect you to say very much about a DFID project in this session. What I would like to know is how you see any programme of action in Johannesburg ensuring that the voice of local people is heard and is a voice in those deliberations? If we are talking about sustainable agriculture here - and your Department is certainly talking about that - and if we are talking about CAP reform for trade reasons as well, then we have to ensure that that is applied in the development context as well. Again, Local Agenda 21, if you like, was a safeguard in the Rio process about local involvement. It was not perfect, but it was there. What will be the safeguard in the Johannesburg programme about local involvement and participation, and what are you pressing for in Johannesburg?
  118. (Margaret Beckett) I am quite hopeful that we will get that kind of local involvement and participation, perhaps even more than in the past, not least through the Type II partnerships. One of the issues we have not touched on so far, I do not think, is that among the players who are engaged in the processes we are working on here are, for example, the local authorities. That is also true in South Africa and elsewhere. If I can give you a particular example which I find particularly interesting and hopefully will be successful, that is the example of the water partnerships which we are working on, which involve water charities, water companies. We are looking at maybe some peri-urban projects, because there is a tendency that projects get carried out in the big cities where there is the greatest urban deprivation, and that is fine, that is perfectly right and so on. However, the smaller towns or the edges, perhaps quite substantial communities, of our big cities do not always get included. This is the sort of thing that our water partnership people are looking at but of course they are looking in conjunction with local authorities and local people in those areas where such projects might possibly be undertaken. It is absolutely something where there is involvement and I am sure the Committee is aware of the tremendous rise, enormously impressive, especially considering the scale of their problems, that South Africa has made in the provision of fresh water. Something like half of the people in South Africa who lacked fresh water have now been provided with it. They have not made nearly as much progress on sanitation and that has now come right to the top of the agenda from the point of view of priority. Nevertheless there is still a lot to do.

  119. That might well be a good example of what is happening in Andhra Pradesh at the moment but also do you think that the actual Johannesburg Summit will have some form of declaration or protocol that takes that local Agenda 21 type of participatory work and enshrines it or strengthens it further? Do you expect that to happen? Would you be pressing for that?
  120. (Margaret Beckett) The thinking at the moment is that there will be a political declaration about the direction in which people want to take them, but that there will be a sort of Johannesburg plan of action. Also we hope that there will be the specific and new Type II partnerships which, if they are successful, could be a model for other moves in the future.

  121. What you would expect therefore is the Type II partnerships, which I understand are related to specific projects almost or themes of working?
  122. (Margaret Beckett) Yes.

  123. Do you expect those to come out rather than an overarching -----
  124. (Margaret Beckett) No, no. I expect there to be some sort of overarching plan of action. I suppose what I am really saying is what I find in some ways most interesting is the whole issue of Type II partnerships because they are new.

  125. Will there be one on sustainable agriculture?
  126. (Margaret Beckett) Not one that we are specifically pursuing. We are pursuing water and energy. Sheila, do you want to say anything more about the overall plan of action into which water fits? That is what you have been discussing in New York

    (Ms McCabe) To go back to your point about local authorities, one of the issues of policy that comes up is sustainable development (and this meeting reflects it) and a lot of it is about what happens at national level and below, so there is quite a lot of discussion going on about, to use the UN jargon, good governance and what happens at national level and below national level. For some countries that is a sensitive issue. It is not a sensitive issue for us and we have always included the local government representatives on our delegations so far. There will certainly be pressure from the EU countries to have references, possibly in the declaration. We have not even started to discuss that so I cannot say we have taken the action, but obviously that is the sort of issue that the EU would press for, to have references to the government as a major action for delivering sustainable development in the declaration. Certainly as the EU we should be pressing for a reference to it in the Johannesburg plan of action. I think we might get a more sympathetic hearing from Africa because local government has quite a strong role and we saw in our visit last week the important role that sub-national government plays in some of these countries. These issues have to be agreed by the whole of the UN and one has to be aware that for some countries in the UN very overt references are difficult for them.

    Joan Walley

  127. I would like to follow up Mr Thomas's point. I chaired a meeting on Monday in this room on Africa where we had people come over from Andhra Pradesh who had actually taken part in the citizens' jury. The point I really want to make is, do you agree that projects like that have a contribution to play in the sustainable development agenda and therefore will you be looking towards outcomes from the Johannesburg Summit to see how, if you like, the voices of people can have a say and be listened to when huge decisions have been made by Government in terms of where development should go? Would that be something you would be looking to see as an outcome?
  128. (Margaret Beckett) We all in our different ways and at our different levels are exploring how we can make people more aware and more able to participate in the choices that are available. One of the themes that is part of the new African partnership and is certainly part of our approach is about capacity building, partly in the terra context and partly in a wider context, and the availability of education and training and so on. We are all exploring, are we not, what different mechanisms there are for making sure people's voices are heard? One of the small projects that my department is involved with - and I cannot remember whether this is referred to in the memorandum or not - which one never knows, may have a larger outcome, is that we have funded a teacher's guide to the work of sustainable development which I launched in South Africa last week specifically for all schools in South Africa, to try to get children in South Africa involved and aware and so on. We were at a school in Soweto where they gave us a demonstration of a pilot project that the school were working on with the RSPB on bird life in South Africa, where they gave us a demonstration of a teaching game that is in the guide called The Web of Life. It was very dramatic.

  129. Perhaps we could have some training links in this country to get a similar awareness amongst people in the UK initially in our schools.
  130. (Margaret Beckett) As you know, we are involved too in trying to raise awareness in our own schools. I take the view that in South Africa, as here, it is just the kind of thing that if you get children involved in and engaged in you are much more likely to get a wider spread of knowledge among the population than you might otherwise do.

  131. Just before we move on to general matters about Johannesburg can I touch as well on this issue you were talking about on the outcomes in terms of Type I and Type II outcomes from Johannesburg? Whereas I agree with you totally that it would be wonderful to have some legacy project and to have things which will be there showing if you like exactly what has been achieved through what they do in the years to come, can I ask you how those Type II outcomes from Johannesburg can really play the part that we all want them to play if we have not got the attention to detail in terms of the Type I processes? I am thinking particularly of things like the general agreement on trade and services which, if we do not get an environmental aspect at the heart of that, that could well, through the separate trade negotiations which I referred to earlier, undermine the outcome of demonstration projects of the kind we would all want to see?
  132. (Margaret Beckett) That in a sense goes back to the point I made a moment ago about issues like capacity building. Again, it is an important balance to be struck. There is not any question that many developing countries are extremely sensitive about developed countries' emphasis on, say, labour standards and environmental standards and so on because they see it as disguised protectionism. Of course there could be occasions when that is how it works out or indeed that is what it is. As we see it, the important thing is to try and find mechanisms whereby you can support people and enable them to meet those standards so that it is not a matter of having to lower standards below what we think is right and proper and what we would expect for our populations, but it is a matter of making sure that nevertheless there is access to the markets because people are assisted and supported to reach those standards. I accept that this is not easy; this is a difficult issue, and it is not one that will be resolved in a short timescale, but I do think there is cause for some slight optimism that if we put in the effort we may gradually begin to cover some of these difficulties.

    Sue Doughty

  133. I am particularly interested in the role of stakeholders, all the people which I know you are trying to pull together in some of the things you mentioned earlier, and I can see it is beginning to assemble that. We have concerns about DTLR. At the last PrepCom they were not there and yet when we were looking at the local Agenda 21, one would have thought the DTLR would have a key role in helping to co-ordinate that and looking for some of those outcomes. Will there be a PrepCom meeting next week?
  134. (Ms McCabe) No; they are not sending anybody. They are free to if they want to.

  135. Do you think it might be a good thing if they were sending someone? We have been looking at where we are going with devolved countries and the particularly strong role of local government and particularly in the UK model where, unlike some countries where there is much more devolution to local government, we have very strong integration between local and central government and so possibly their buy-in might be important at government level.
  136. (Margaret Beckett) We are encouraging other government departments to become involved. We would be very happy if they wanted to send someone. We have got the LGA involved and quite heavily so and they have been from the very beginning.

  137. Of course DTLR are the sort of people who are setting targets and funding and everything else to do with local government and yet we have got this gap at the top about people who try and manage local government.
  138. (Margaret Beckett) Except that the targets they set are more domestically orientated. When it comes to the involvement of local government and the part they can play, it is a little bit like DFES deals with UK education, but when we talk about our involvement overseas sometimes it is DFES, sometimes it is DFID.

  139. I accept that point entirely but nevertheless local government still have a role in the United Kingdom as a result of what would happen in Johannesburg in ongoing sustainability things. It must be one of the very good things that came out of Rio, Agenda 21, and in fact in this country's commitments through global issues and various activities we have really begun to take the environment seriously. It would seem that, having got that far, and looking at sustainability indicators, many of which deliver through local government, and waste and things like that are absolutely key, we would not want to lose those links with local government through the DTLR.
  140. (Margaret Beckett) We do have very strong links. They are very heavily involved in, for example, the PIU Review and so on. In a sense we have evidence directly as well. It does not always occur through DTLR. I would be perfectly happy for DTLR to be involved. What I am saying is that there is an involvement of the kind you are seeking.

  141. Are you satisfied that they are buying in?
  142. (Margaret Beckett) Yes. The government as a whole is buying in.

  143. Excepting DTLR?
  144. (Margaret Beckett) No. I am happy to think they are buying in.

  145. Looking at another stakeholder business, the involvement at Rio was low and we are beginning to hear things about what is going to be happening at Johannesburg but what has changed, do you expect, from the lack of commitment basically by business at Rio? What changes do you expect to see in Johannesburg in terms of business input? You have mentioned about a day for business. Could you expand on that?
  146. (Margaret Beckett) I will ask Sheila to say what she knows about where we are up to date on that, but we have had a strong degree of business involvement in the UK for quite some time now. We have our range of committees, many of which are involved with people in the business community who are very much engaged in contributing to this agenda. I referred to our own partnerships that the Prime Minister stimulated about a year ago. People in the business community are very much and very heavily involved in that. If I can give you one example, the finance initiative, the development of the London principle that the City of London are working on is very much (and for all the obvious reasons) business derived and business led, but, should it be successful, has really quite a major impact in mainstream sustainable development considerations in the investment decisions business makes. We are quite hopeful of the involvement of the British business community and, as we go a little nearer to Johannesburg there has been quite a lot of involvement of business.

  147. We have got the feeling that it is slightly sporadic. There are some things like the water initiatives which are very good news.
  148. (Margaret Beckett) Let me be completely blunt. I think there has been a little bit of people in the business community not wanting everybody to expect them to pick up all the organisation and all the tab, so I think you will see their engagement but with what they think they ought to be engaged with.

    (Ms McCabe) I might add to that. One of the problems has been that it has been rather a long drawn out and still continuing development of the agenda of refinement. It has been quite difficult for business to know where to engage. Having the five business initiatives that we have talked about and which you have had advice on has given them a peg on which they can understand what the role of business is. Until the agenda is refined a bit more, and it will be refined at this upcoming PrepCom, it is hard for business to devote time and resources to such a wide agenda. It is certainly on their radar screens. We are working, as the Secretary of State has said, with the City of London, which is a very powerful and important body in sustainable development. As we get nearer in time then it gets into their time horizon and they begin to see what practical things they can do and they are anxious to take part. It is quite early on in the negotiations for them to be engaged day to day.

  149. One of the reasons we had a concern was because the RSPB came before us. This is a concern they have given to us, that in fact business had shown, as they said, precious little leadership in relation to developing sustainability. This is what worries us. We have got one or two shining lights in the areas you are talking about and the work that the ASD is doing. We have got these various groups involved but we still feel it is not very well integrated. I do take your point about leadership and we may be part way along the path. We are looking for this confidence to know that people like the RSPB will be able to relax a little bit and say, "Yes, we do feel that business is now being engaged" because this is a thing that is worrying them, looking over their shoulder all the time.
  150. (Margaret Beckett) Do not forget it is not so very long ago that we have had a lot of extremely worthwhile stuff coming out of the PrepComs but there is a massive potential agenda for Johannesburg and obviously part of the process has been undertaken to try to bring that down to a manageable core. That is the stage at which you may see more people in the business community becoming engaged, when they can see what there is to engage with. Sheila referred earlier on to some Chatham House work. One document has already been published and the other one will be published quite soon. The whole purpose of that work which we stimulated and supported is precisely to try to put more flesh on the bones of what makes multi-stakeholder partnerships work and what is required from the different potential players and what the chemistry of them is. We anticipate that will be published in the relatively near future and again that may give people a better handle on what it is that they can bring to the party.

  151. What aspects of the UK preparations, moving on to that, because I think that whole area of communication is going to be very important, and I understand that again this is something where we are not very far along that that road, what UK preparations are you seeking their views on? Is it general or do you have very specific areas that you are asking them questions about? (Margaret Beckett) We have got many preparations and in so far as we have got specific agenda areas that we are pursuing we will again be involved in those.
  152. (Ms McCabe) We had a consultation only yesterday together with DTLR with business interests in advance of PrepCom III and also we are speaking to them on our different projects.

  153. Are you interested not only in business but also in individuals and organisations as part of this outreach?
  154. (Margaret Beckett) It is a massive range of people. I do not think we put it in the memorandum but there is a huge range of people involved in this operation and maybe we ought to send you something on it.

  155. This is going to be a big piece of co-ordination for you, sending all this stuff out.
  156. (Margaret Beckett) They are very good at it.

    (Ms McCabe) We have a web site. Modern technology helps in these issues.

    (Margaret Beckett) It might be helpful, Chairman, to have a note on these issues.


  157. It probably will be better if you could deal with it that way.
  158. (Margaret Beckett) We can perhaps send you a note on the range of involvement. We have got civil society and youth in local government and so on, quite a range of people involved.

    Joan Walley

  159. If I can just add to that, I what we are really interested in is what they are doing, not just that they are at the receiving end of some communication but what they are doing and how they are responding to this.
  160. (Margaret Beckett) A lot of them are on our various consultative groups.

    Sue Doughty

  161. You do not think this is the point? I appreciate the fact that you have a web site but all of us who have web sites know that if you open the door for responses, boy, do you get responses and you will be co-ordinating that so it will be very interesting to see how you manage with that.
  162. (Ms McCabe) It is probably better if we write to you with a comprehensive list.

    Ian Lucas

  163. You have already referred to education when you were talking about your trip to South Africa. I am interested in education in the UK. You may take it from my earlier question that I have a certain amount of scepticism about public understanding in the UK on the whole concept of sustainable development. Within schools in the UK DEFRA is the lead department. What specific measures are you taking to heighten awareness in the lead-up to the Summit?
  164. (Margaret Beckett) We are co-sponsoring a WWF project in our schools, following the advice of the Sustainable Development Education Panel, and of course DFES is trying to spread awareness of sustainable development through the national curriculum, through lifelong learning. We have this specific project where schools are being encouraged to take part in a competition, a project that is focused particularly in the Leeds area, and where we hope those who are successful will perhaps be able to attend part of the Summit. We are now seeing a greater awareness and interest coming through gradually from the education world. The timing of these things is always difficult to get right. I am sure you are right at the moment that large numbers of the British public are not really engaged in or aware of some of these issues, and although I sometimes think that there is a greater understanding, the fact that we have got a problem with climate change and it is already beginning to have an impact on our lives, that some of the technicalities and complexities of dealing with all that rather turns people off who might initially be interested. One of the things that I am hopeful of at the Summit is that if we are able to get greater focus on some practical things that people can understand and relate to, then you get a greater acceptance that we are doing something about the problems of the environment and that we are dealing with an imbalance in the economy and in society in these different situations and that that is what sustainable development means. It is a gradual process. As I say, we have got masses of people involved in discussing our communication strategy. We took a decision, perhaps a gamble, perhaps a mistake, that if we started too early, particularly when we had this long agenda, and it was not getting focused down as it gradually now is, and where nobody knew what the outcome of Monterey would be, which we will know soon, you actually bore people stiff to the point where you did not have anything very concrete to tell them. The intention is to step up the communications campaign as we get near to the Summit.

  165. Is sustainable development as a concept something that you see becoming integral to the curriculum within schools? Is that what you would like to see?
  166. (Margaret Beckett) Certainly we would very much like to see that communicated to schools and schools communicating it through the work that they do. We are starting to see some moves in that direction.

  167. Obviously we have got the Summit this year but implicit in your earlier answer is the idea that the Department of Education has been trying to bring these ideas through over a period, which is entirely new, bringing through the concept of sustainable development. Would it not therefore be more sensible to have this particular aspect of preparations for the Summit, as you have one or two other things on your plate, in the hands of the department for Education and Science?
  168. (Margaret Beckett) I think they might say they have got one or two other things on their plate as well. We work with a one or two other government departments. Somebody has to have the overall policy lead and we try very much to make it a co-operative framework within which we work with others.

  169. Because they are not on the MISC 18 Committee, the education ones, are they?
  170. (Margaret Beckett) No. As I mentioned earlier on, they deal with the domestic side of education. When we are talking about the Summit and how we can for example pursue the Millennium Development Goal for Primary Education, then we are talking much more about the work much more of DFID or of ourselves or of NCOs and it involves other players.

  171. More generally, going on from schools and looking at the general population, have you any specific ideas about how we can get people to understand what sustainable development is?
  172. (Margaret Beckett) I am not a professional in communication.

  173. Yes, you are.
  174. (Margaret Beckett) This is something our whole communication strategy is attempting to resolve and finance. We have a large number of players engaged. This is in every walk of life one of the most difficult issues. How do you communicate something that seems complex, that is not at first sight frightfully exciting, and focusing on concrete outcomes may be how you do it.

  175. A lot of my constituents are very interested in the environment as an issue.
  176. (Margaret Beckett) Exactly.

  177. And would be responsive to publicity about the environment but what I think some of them have more difficulty with is the idea that sustainable development and the environment are two sides of the same coin. Would you agree that this summit this year is an opportunity to try and get that across to them?
  178. (Margaret Beckett) Absolutely. We are going back in a sense to what we said right at the beginning which is this is not a summit about the environment; it is a summit about sustainable development. The environment is very much a key element but it is not the only one. If we get one of those elements out of balance, things go wrong.

    Sue Doughty

  179. There are two aspects to schools. One is that, as a major consumer ourselves, what we do with our children has a bearing on everything we are trying to achieve and we are deeply conscious of the fact that, with a lot of schools, the summer term is more or less written off through exams. Would it be possible or have you anything in mind about afterwards so that, even if we missed the boat about communicating extensively with schools beforehand, because they have such a crowded agenda, especially at this time of year, but going back afterwards in September time and saying, "This is now what we are doing as a result of that"? Would we be able to do anything in that direction?
  180. (Margaret Beckett) I hope so. In a sense that is in part the answer that I am trying to give to the question. If we can get some concrete outcomes, that gives us a way in to say to people, "This is what it is all about. These are the things that are beginning to happen, which we can report on."

    (Ms McCabe) We have quite enough on our plate trying to get to the summit but the Sustainable Development Educational Panel is active and is here now, doing good stuff in the United Kingdom and it will be here after the summit. I am sure that ensuring that the United Kingdom delivers what it has committed to at Johannesburg will engage a lot of the population. As the Secretary of State says, if you have specific commitments, it is much easier to give that message to people than, "We might be discussing this or that."

  181. I appreciate you are under pressure now which is why I was thinking about beyond.
  182. (Ms McCabe) The Sustainable Development Educational Panel will still be there. One thing that is very important about this summit which sometimes gets overlooked because poverty in developing countries is so crucial is that a lot of this summit is about what northern countries can do themselves on resource productivity, energy efficiency, and those are the sorts of messages that we want to get across. It is not only helping the very poorest in the world.


  183. Have you thought about going online with a live discussion, Minister? Mrs Wallström, the European Commissioner, has been on four times and has had a very strong response.
  184. (Margaret Beckett) That is interesting. I am perfectly willing to do it but lately being on the ground has been as difficult as being online.

  185. You can do both.

(Margaret Beckett) Indeed you can. I would certainly take that as a very interesting suggestion.

Chairman: Thank you, Secretary of State. That has been an extremely interesting session and we are very grateful to you.