Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 139)



  120. What proportion is that of your total staff?
  (Mr Prescott) You have to take the Cabinet Committee and then take different departments. Take the Department, they have a whole environment section dealing with this. They are the ones who are the lead department. We do not lead the policy in that sense, we make sure we co-ordinate it and get it right. The lead department get on with it and in many Cabinet Committees that I chair I just make sure we get co-ordination and agreement. I do not need a lot of staff to do that. I just need a lot of common sense and a bit of push.

  121. I am not arguing about saving money, but how many people are in your Central Policy Group which we have heard about today.
  (Mr Wood) Our total complement is 18.

  122. You have three people working on it.
  (Mr Wood) That is three of us full time; there are others putting some of their effort into that and some of the support staff included in that 18.
  (Mr Prescott) It is not the thousands going into Admiralty Court.

  123. You raised that not me. You chair MISC 18, the Ministerial Group on the WSSD. According to your memo MISC 18 has settled the following UK priorities for the summit. These are: poverty eradication; resource productivity; sustainable development initiatives for Africa; water, both fresh water and oceans; access to modern energy; capacity building and education. How were these arrived at? Was there any public consultation or were they the result of consultation within and between departments?
  (Mr Prescott) We were very much influenced by what was in the Rio Conference because we had agreed to do that, so it was very useful to do that. We made a political decision to concentrate on some of these more social and political factors and then to ask industry what we can do, because this is about partnership development, not just about government money. So we ask our water industries whether they can give some sense of training, investment, education and help on water and sanitation. We agree with the City on financial services, on sustainable finance. Similarly with tourism and our energy input. We put all these together, where we can get people to play a positive part, not just government money but partnership and other stakeholders delivering them, which is what influenced us to put this package together.

  124. That is helpful. The European Commission has specified its priorities for the summit. So the UK is working with these as well as its own UK priorities.
  (Mr Prescott) Absolutely; yes.

  125. Then you have the Prime Minister's five sector initiatives on top of that.
  (Mr Prescott) Yes.

  126. How do all of these fit together? Is there not a danger, when you have a summit involving so many countries, when we as the UK go in ourselves with so many different objectives, some of which overlap, we as one country coming with all these different competing demands? How can we try to persuade all the others to come up with clear answers when we have lots of demands going in?
  (Mr Prescott) There is no contradiction between the five sectoral demands and the others. We have fitted them together. We have said that if we can do this can private industry help us to produce this and the NGOs and that is one system. Then we argue that is the best approach in Europe. I understand that the Commission are prepared to accept that this is a good way. I might point out that the Commission's proposals on greenhouse gases said 15 per cent. We had to say we thought that was nonsense and went on to come to an agreement which was more acceptable.

  127. What is the one key objective you want to come out of Johannesburg?
  (Mr Prescott) Success.

  128. Defined as what?
  (Mr Prescott) That is a very fair point and I was coming to that. You must define it and not allow all these demands to make it a failure. You have to work hard. If we can actually get movements in this, for example if the Johannesburg plan of action sets out these things as programmes, but puts a timetable for them, which we did for the millennium objective, which was another objective which influenced us on this, by 2015 I should like to see Johannesburg come out with a plan of action, a timetable for monitoring it and for adjustments and changes by 2015, as we did with Kyoto.

  129. You are saying that your one key objective is all of them.
  (Mr Prescott) Yes, I want to see movement on all of these and it is possible.

  130. Do you think it is practicable?
  (Mr Prescott) I am going to find out. We should do that. What I should say is that conference should not say up or down. It should look at what is practicable, move on. This is back to the point about how often these conferences take place. Kyoto was important because we made a move at every stage and we defined success, instead of making impossible demands and having failure. If you can keep that momentum, my experience says do that with Johannesburg, let that be a gear change from Rio 10, let the emphasis be, as the South Africans say, People, Planet and Prosperity. We define these objectives, we set a timetable and judge it along the way by monitoring. By setting that timetable the whole Kyoto timetable then comes into a similar framework and then at the end of the stage perhaps even the Americans might be on board with us on these things.

Mr Best

  131. The Deputy Prime Minister's responses in the last few moments are pertinent to the question I want to raise on the recognition that any improvements in the world's environment and production of greenhouse gases are at once global and local: it is what you do locally that affects the global situation.
  (Mr Prescott) Absolutely.

  132. Would you like to comment on what seem to me and others to be some interesting omissions from the MISC 18 Committee. It seems that the DTI is not seen as significant or the Treasury and from my perspective perhaps more importantly the Secretary of State for Education does not seem to have a position there. I should have thought that education in particular was a major issue. I wonder whether you would care to comment on that.
  (Mr Prescott) I am not sure whether they have been left out or not. Treasury is never left off anything, as we all know from direct appeals. As I understand it Education and DTI are very involved in the objectives we are talking about because they bring together both trade, finance and all those matters.


  133. The point is that they are not in MISC 18. The Department of Education is not there.
  (Mr Prescott) I do not know what has gone wrong but I certainly have them on this bit of paper. Perhaps I could write to the Committee. For example, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, International Development, Trade and Industry, Works and Pensions, Transport, then the representatives from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. I admit this one does not seem to have Education.

  134. That is rather important in this business of awareness.
  (Mr Prescott) It is absolutely important. I do not doubt that for a second. I am sorry, I cannot understand why it is not on this list. My own information is that in discussions on these matters they are actively involved. If you would like me to drop you a note to explain or an apology or whatever it might be, I shall be delighted to do that.

  Chairman: That would be useful.

Mr Best

  135. I particularly wanted to draw your attention to the actions of what I refer to as the education industry. It is a major undertaking in the UK and its influence on improving the lot of the world, properly applied, is going to be significant.
  (Mr Prescott) Absolutely.

  136. If you are going to draw back to the Committee those views which you hold and others in government I would certainly welcome it.
  (Mr Prescott) I shall most certainly do that. I cannot understand why not and I am sure from memory that Education have been involved, though they are clearly not on this list. I shall write back to the Committee.

Joan Walley

  137. The thing I and the Committee are really concerned about is how we are going to raise awareness. How are we going to get a real awareness right the way across the world? How are we going to mirror that in this country? I wondered first of all whether you were happy with the progress DEFRA was making in respect of its job to raise awareness. I gather that some kind of a website has been set up and they have had 12 hits; only 12 people responded. Pop Idol gets thousands and thousands and thousands of responses.
  (Mr Prescott) More than we can get.

  138. Exactly, but is this not just as important? What can government do to raise this awareness?
  (Mr Prescott) There are many educational packs, approaches we have done on all these occasions. Let me take Kyoto. Kyoto only became of interest not when nations got together and said they would do something but when they saw storms and the ice caps melting and began to realise something was going wrong or by their own interpretation of what was happening to the blackbird or whatever it was. They had experiences and they became concerned and they were probably right to be concerned about it. It was only then they took interest in the early stages; a conference about it did not register with them.

  139. Is that not the whole point? We do not want to be wise after the event, we want the precautionary principle, we want to be wise before the event. How can you get all the press who are here to look at the whole process.
  (Mr Prescott) They seem to be in pretty full force today.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 25 April 2002