Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340
WEDNESDAY 20 MARCH 2002
MP, MS SHEILA
340. Excepting DTLR?
(Margaret Beckett) No. I am happy to think they are
341. 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?
(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.
342. We have got the feeling that it is slightly
sporadic. There are some things like the water initiatives which
are very good news.
(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 and 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.
343. 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 BASD 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.
(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.
344. 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 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.
(Ms McCabe) We had a consultation only yesterday together
with DTI with business interests in advance of PrepCom III and
also we are speaking to them on our different projects.
345. Are you interested not only in business
but also in individuals and organisations as part of this outreach?
(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.
346. This is going to be a big piece of co-ordination
for you, sending all this stuff out.
(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.
347. It probably will be better if you could
deal with it that way.
(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.
348. If I can just add to that, 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.
(Margaret Beckett) A lot of them are on our various
349. 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, you certainly do
get responses and you will be co-ordinating that so it will be
very interesting to see how you manage with that.
(Ms McCabe) It is probably better if we write to you
with a comprehensive list.
350. 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
(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 Monterrey 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.
351. 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?
(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.
352. 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 Skills?
(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.
353. Because they are not on the MISC 18 Committee,
the education ones, are they?
(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 NGOs
and it involves other players.
354. 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
(Margaret Beckett) I am not a professional in communication.
355. Yes, you are.
(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 focussing on concrete outcomes may be how you do it.
356. A lot of my constituents are very interested
in the environment as an issue.
(Margaret Beckett) Exactly.
357. 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?
(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.
358. 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?
(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
359. I appreciate you are under pressure now
which is why I was thinking about beyond.
(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.