Examination of Witnesses (Questions 66
MONDAY 4 MARCH 2002
MP AND MR
66. Welcome, good afternoon, Deputy Prime Minister,
always nice to see you in front of our Committee. Is there anything
you would like to add to the memorandum which you put in to the
(Mr Prescott) I would, if I may, thank
you very much. I have Chris Wood with me who is Deputy Director
of the policy unit in my Department. I am pleased to have this
opportunity to discuss the UK's preparations for the World Summit
on Sustainable Development. Indeed your inquiry is a very timely
one. You will have seen the memorandum that we have provided and
that set out my role in the United Kingdom's preparations for
the summit. The Johannesburg summit is an opportunity to reinvigorate
the global commitment to sustainable development and take further
steps to put the principles agreed at Rio ten years ago into practice.
After 11 September, we have seen a very effective global coalition
against terrorism. Now we want to see the same degree of global
commitment applied to tackling other global issues such as poverty
and environmental degradation. The Prime Minister asked me to
take a key role in the preparations for the World Summit on Sustainable
Development. There are two main strands to my role in preparing
for the summit: one is the international one and a role within
the United Kingdom Government. Internationally I am seeking to
use high level contacts, through my role as Deputy Prime Minister,
to gain political commitment to the summit itself. This builds
on the early lead the Prime Minister gave in announcing his intention
to attend the summit (made in his speech to the CBI on 24 October).
He was the first world leader to do so and that gave a clear indication
of the importance this Government places on this summit. Over
the last few months I have met around 20 Heads of State, Prime
Ministers and Deputy Prime Ministers in meetings when I have received
foreign politicians in London and also when I have made official
visits abroad. I have used all these meetings to raise the profile
of the summit and seek political commitment at the highest level.
For example, last week the Chancellor and I met the Secretary-General
of the United Nations to discuss preparations for the summit and
the forthcoming Financing for Development Conference, which will
take place in Monterrey in March. The truth is that for many world
leaders the summit has not even begun to figure on their radar
screens. In many countries sustainable development is something
which is labelled as an "environment" issue and left
to the Environment Ministry. Whilst in the United Kingdom we might
have a joined-up approach, many others abroad do not. Often the
Environment Ministry is weak and disconnected from the rest of
government. If we are going to get the summit to give political
commitment to the issues we have outlined as crucialtaking
people out of poverty, giving them sustainable livelihoods, safe
drinking water and modern energy supplieswe need to go
to the highest levels for this summit. In fact there is a clear
indication that the pressure we have been exerting is paying off.
Awareness about the summit is increasing and, as momentum builds,
a growing number of world leaders are demonstrating their commitment
to attend Johannesburg. With regard to my role within the United
Kingdom, the Prime Minister has asked me to chair a Cabinet Ministerial
Group to develop, co-ordinate and deliver the Government's strategy
for the summit. The group is composed of Ministers from key departments
involved in developing the UK's input to the summit. Exceptionally
that also includes Ministers from the devolved administrations.
Later in the course of this inquiry you will be speaking to some
of the Ministers involved in developing UK priorities for the
summit, in particular Margaret Beckett and Clare Short. I am,
of course, in frequent contact with the Chancellor of the Exchequer
and the Foreign Secretary also. We are working hard to establish
a set of UK priorities and identify the practical inputs the UK
can make. Sustainable development, by its nature, covers a broad
range of issues. We need to concentrate on areas where the summit
can make a real and practical difference. As Kofi Annan said in
London last week, Rio told us what the problem is: Johannesburg
needs to address how to solve it, how to get things done. Above
all, the summit needs to address sustainable development in its
fullest sense: development and economic growth as well as environmental
issues. The summit needs to identify the practical progress on
issues affecting people, especially the poorest people. It is
unacceptable that one billion people have to survive on less than
a dollar a day or that 1.1 billion people are without access to
a safe and affordable water supply and two billion people without
access to modern energy supplies. We need to recognise that practical
progress cannot be achieved by governments alone. We need to involve
the private sector, NGOs and local communities, backed up by a
strong international framework, including the international financial
institutions in a new partnership for delivery. I believe the
UK is well positioned to make a strong and focused input to the
summit and that our preparations are well advanced and co-ordinated.
I should now be happy to answer the Committee's questions and
thank you for the opportunity to make my opening address.
67. Thank you, Deputy Prime Minister. You have
with you Mr Wood, who is the Deputy Director of the Central Policy
Group, is that correct?
(Mr Wood) That is right.
68. Before we come to cross-question you, Deputy
Prime Minister, I should just like to ask a couple of questions
of Mr Wood. What exactly does the Central Policy Group, Cabinet
(Mr Wood) It is a group which was established following
the machinery of government changes to support the Deputy Prime
Minister in his new functions.
69. Does it co-ordinate?
(Mr Wood) We deal with international issues, domestic
issues coming before the committees which the Deputy Prime Minister
chairs and also the Deputy Prime Minister's work on regional governance.
70. How do you relate to the No.10 Policy Unit?
(Mr Wood) We have regular contacts with the No.10
71. But you are completely separate.
(Mr Wood) We are a separate organisation.
The Committee suspended from 4.37 pm to 4.50
pm for a division in the House.
Chairman: We will move on now to the main points
in your memorandum and the substance of the approach to Johannesburg.
72. I should like to probe your international
role, if I may? You have obviously been charged by the Prime Minister
with a very important task and I note that you have already had
numerous meetings with foreign heads of government both here and
abroad. To what extent do you think that you as a Minister and
the Government actually have credibility in this area to act as
an international cheerleader for Johannesburg, with your record
at Transport, which is a critical issue.
(Mr Prescott) Would you like to define that and explain
what is critical?
73. The indicators are headed in the wrong direction,
if you take the memorandum we have had for example from the Sustainable
Development Commission set up by the Prime Minister in October
(Mr Prescott) I meant on transport.
74. In particular they have said, as of yet
"we are nowhere near the kind of structural and policy changes
that will need to be made to the economy and to society to deliver
sustainable outcomes", nor has the Government "yet embraced
sustainable development as a central driver of policy formulation".
They finish by saying "tangible government leadership is
needed to deliver the real outcomes that the Rio process demands".
Given those sorts of criticisms of our domestic policy, why should
foreign governments take you seriously.
(Mr Prescott) For the role we played in Kyoto; that
is a good start. Everybody agreed that the role Britain played
in Kyoto was a leading part. We led in the last three negotiations
where the final deal was settled between the umbrella group which
was the Americans particular and the Japanese, Group 77 and indeed
the Euro group and led to those final conclusions. That came from
meeting very often with leaders in China and India, which were
important groups inside the Group 77, particularly with America,
Japan and Australia and we were invited by Japan to play a leading
part in bringing what are called the developed countries together
for those negotiations. From that it was generally assumed that
the contacts we developed would be very useful in taking this
further forward. The Prime Minister saw the importance of the
Sustainable Conference, Rio 10, which will take place in September
this year and thought it was perhaps important to identify the
different approach we should take this time. The Kyoto agreement
rather dominated most of the Rio 10 and people thought it was
all about the environment. There were many other objectives, such
as poverty, access to clean water all matters of importance. We
thought these practical objectives should dominate the conference
and we have tried to put our views and our objectives to other
countries and also to increase the awareness of the importance
of the Sustainable Conference. I have been well received by these
leaders who played a positive part in it.
75. Specifically what are the structural and
policy changes within the UK that you are most proud of?
(Mr Prescott) The fact that we have recognised sustainability
and first of all from Kyoto getting the recognition that there
had to be an international agreement. All the voluntary systems
were not working so that international role was quite important.
That meant we had a target set for us of a 12 per cent cut in
gases on the 1990 levels, which meant we had to have a sustainable
policy. We produced that and we believe, if you take it on the
indicators that there are in that sustainable policy, that we
are doing very well. We have produced the annual reports for that
which show we are doing very well. We have reached an agreement
on the climate negotiation levies and these are all part and parcel
of what we believe will now not only achieve the European target,
which is 12 per cent, but we are going to do every better than
that. I think that is a success and it can be seen and measured,
indeed out of the European countries we are seen to be ahead of
everybody in achieving those targets. I would call that success.
I do not know what you would call it.
76. So you do not accept the criticism of the
Sustainable Development Commission.
(Mr Prescott) I have not read their report. Presumably
you have. This is one yet to come out, is it not?
77. This was a memorandum to this Committee.
(Mr Prescott) I have not read that.
78. It actually refers to the first report of
the Sustainable Development Commission.
(Mr Prescott) Not the one which is due out now.
79. One came out earlier which made these criticisms.
(Mr Prescott) So this is over a year, 18 months, old.