Examination of Witnesses (Questions 320
WEDNESDAY 20 MARCH 2002
MP, MS SHEILA
320. 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.
(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
321. 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?
(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.
322. 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.
(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.
323. So you are taking action on that?
(Margaret Beckett) We are taking action, yes, or we
propose to do so.
324. 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?
(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
325. No, the agenda came out of Rio.
(Margaret Beckett) I suppose it is rather top-down,
whereas Johannesburg, I thinkand I hope this will be successful
in itselfhas been much more a bottom-up process. Certainly
we do anticipateand I think arrangements are being discussedgreater
involvement from the devolved administrations.
(Ms McCabe) Yes, the devolved administrations are
invited to meetings of the Cabinet committee that is preparing
it; they are invited to meetings of the steering group that Dinah
Nicholls 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
326. 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?
(Margaret Beckett) I do not think any decision has
been made, but I would not be at all surprised if that were the
327. 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 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 hereand your Department is certainly
talking about thatand 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?
(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.
328. That might well be a good example to counterbalance
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?
(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.
329. What you would expect therefore is the
Type II partnerships, which I understand are related to specific
projects almost or themes of working?
(Margaret Beckett) Yes.
330. Do you expect those to come out rather
than an overarching
(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.
331. Will there be one on sustainable agriculture?
(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 in sustainable development
(and this meeting reflects it) that 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 local 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.
332. 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 make
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?
(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 withand I cannot remember
whether this is referred to in the memorandum or notwhich
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.
333. Perhaps we could have some training links
in this country to get a similar awareness amongst people in the
UK initially in our schools.
(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.
334. 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?
(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.
335. 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 they be at the PrepCom
meeting next week?
(Ms McCabe) No; they are not sending anybody. They
are free to if they want to.
336. 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
(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.
337. 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.
(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
338. I accept that point entirely but nevertheless
local government still has 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.
(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.
339. Are you satisfied that they are buying
(Margaret Beckett) Yes. The government as a whole
is buying in.