Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Letter from Rt Hon John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State

  I am writing to follow up the evidence I gave to the Committee on 4 March regarding the UK's preparations for the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

  Firstly the Committee asked why the Secretary of State for the Department of Education and Skills is not a member of MISC 18.

  The works of DfES is important for the achievement of sustainable development in this country, and as their memorandum to you explains, they have been contributing to the domestic sustainable development agenda in a number of ways—working with DEFRA as appropriate, for example on the WWF Our World Project. Officials from DfES also sit on the Inter-Departmental Working Group, which is working on preparations for the Summit.

  The Government's aims on education for the Summit are largely outward-focussed ie they concentrate on the achievement of the second Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education and on capacity building in developing countries, in terms of the infrastructure and knowledge base (particularly concerning science and technology). This includes supporting good governance, strong institutions and training networks. Ministerial responsibility for policies and programmes regarding the improvement of education overseas rests with the Secretary of State at the Department for International Development. As you know, Clare Short has been fully involved with MISC 18 and UK preparations for the Summit.

  The membership and terms of reference of MISC 18 were decided by the Prime Minister and announced to the House on the 22 November 2001 in written answer number 18143. The membership of MISC 18 focuses on including departments with the largest policy involvement in the core issues of the Summit. In the case of a subject area as cross-cutting as sustainable development, these interests do spread widely. We have sought to balance the inclusion of a range of interests with keeping the group to a size that promotes efficient business.

  The Committee also asked questions regarding whether the Government will be pressing for a binding framework for corporate accountability at the Summit. Though there are worthy objectives behind the proposal, the Government believes that corporate social responsibility (CSR) needs to be primarily a business-led agenda that builds on the minimum standards set by goverment regulation. Therefore, as I explained to the Committee, we will not be pushing for a binding CSR framework to result from Johannesburg.

  However, the Government is very active in the field of promoting CSR. We believe that businesses can play a key role in poverty reduction and the achievement of sustainable development, and we are encouraging greater engagement on their part—particularly at WSSD. We are also working to facilitate best practice and we support a host of voluntary initiatives that include codes of practice, labelling reporting, supply chain agreements such as the Ethical Trading Initiative and the Fairtrade mark. Internationally, we also support initiatives such as the OECD guidelines and the UN Global Compact.

  Finally, with reference to our discussion of the progress made since Rio towards addressing climate change, you may be interested in the attached table, which shows the 49 countries that have so far ratified the Kyoto Protocol. Following the European Environment Ministers' Council on 4 March, which decided on the legal base for ratification, Margharet Beckett laid the Protocol before the House of Commons on 7 March. We, along with other European Member States, aim to deposit our instruments of ratification with the UN in June. If the other Annex 1 countries work to this timetable, the Protocol will be able to enter into force before the World Summit.

  I am copying this letter to Members of MASC 18 and to Estelle Morris.

John Prescott

18 March 2002

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