Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-71)|
WEDNESDAY 17 OCTOBER 2001
60. I think, Secretary of State, you have probably
half answered the question already. During the spring and early
summer on a number of occasions MAFF were seriously considering
using vaccination in particular local circumstances. Certainly
the Committee at that time was given clear indications from the
department that one of the restraining factors in whether or not
a vaccination programme went ahead was the reluctance of the NFU
to support it. I think in some ways it was seen as if the NFU
or the farmers in that area did not support vaccination, whatever
the advice of the vets and scientists may be. It was not something
that could go ahead because it would not be successful. Is that
still the position of the department, that without the support
of the farming community in an area limited use of vaccination
would still be impractical?
(Margaret Beckett) Again, these are all issues. We
did say all the time, both my predecessor and I and indeed all
our colleagues, that the idea of using vaccination was kept continually
under review, and it was. Certainly it was looked at every week
and possibly more frequently than that at times, at what it could
contribute and what the implications were. Yes, the NFU is a membership
organisation. There is no doubt, particularly early on in the
outbreak, that farmers were utterly resistant to vaccination and
many I understand remain so. There is a very real practical difficulty,
both with regard to what powers anybody has to overcome that and
also with regard to the sheer practicality of actually doing it.
That is just reality. We have to accept that that is the case.
That will all have to form part of the discussion and the consideration
that we shall have to give to these issues.
61. I am very pleased that we will have the
opportunity to explore in a month's time the wider issues about
the new department and the ethos and culture. I think it would
be a shame not to touch on that today at our first evidence session.
I would like to draw some attention to that. I have noticed that,
Secretary of State, you have made a lot of comment about the concept
of sustainability being at the centre of this department. That
is a goal that is very ambitious and it is claimed across all
government departments. Therefore I do understand that no one
department can do the work of all the other departments in pursuing
sustainability, but could I ask you if you would begin at least
to explain your understanding of sustainability as it applies
to this department? It has been touched on earlier but in particular
do you think that the department may be weakened in seeking to
pursue sustainability in the rural areas when it does not have
control and possibly not much influence over issues related to
transport and town and country planning, for example? I understand
that there is no requirement for local authorities to consult
the department on major planning issues, for example.
(Margaret Beckett) First of all, what I understand
by sustainability is that you have to try to balance economic,
social and environmental issues so that you are able to proceed
in a way which is sustainable. There is a farming definition which
I hope I can remember and get right, which goes back a very long
way, so I am told, which is that you should live as though you
are going to die tomorrow and farm as though you will live forever.
That seems to me to be quite a good definition. What do I mean
by sustainability? As it applies to the department I think it
is for us a matter of balancing that different range of issues
that come under the ambit of my department. Yes, of course I accept
that it is an indirect influence through government as a whole
that we would be able to exercise over, say, transport or planning,
but it is part of our goal as a government to spread an understanding
of sustainability throughout departments so that it is not a matter
of one department pursuing it while everybody else gets in the
way. I would simply say that there will always need to be boundaries.
You can have this discussion in any field of policy. I remember
when I was Shadow Minister for Health and being pressed because
of the interface between health and social services that health
ought to be a matter for local authorities and not central government.
What you have to do is to get the right mechanisms to get co-operation
and to get consideration of all the relevant factors, whatever
the boundaries. I also say to you that sometimes boundaries do
arise even within departments that have to be overcome.
62. My point is that if we are to pursue sustainability,
and I am talking about the new department, it is very important
that the department has credibility in that area. That is perhaps
particularly so if the department (and you yourself) is to pursue
sustainability, for example, in CAP reform. Also, will the department
be contributing on behalf of the Government to the World Summit
on Sustainable Development which is due to be held in Southern
Africa next year?
(Margaret Beckett) Indeed we will, yes. You are right
to identify one of the things which we said in the earliest days
of Parliament being set up, which is that we have to pursue sustainable
agriculture, and it seems to me that CAP reform has to be key
to that. People have been talking about CAP reform ever since
I have been in politics. I remember us saying that it was hopeless.
There are a number of very strong reasons why this is a good time
to be pursuing these issues without presuming that we can have
success. Certainly the issue of enlargement raises very starkly
the question of CAP reform. So do the discussions that are taking
place under the World Trade Organisation where there was an agreement
to look at agricultural issues at about this time, so there are
a number of what I might call external drivers which have CAP
reform very much on the agenda and that is quite apart from the
fact that within the EU itself we are committed to beginning the
process. We have had some improvements in the Agenda 21 and then
we are committed to review of the CAP. I entirely share your view
that it does mean that this has to be a very high priority for
my department, and it is. So too is the World Summit. Obviously
we know that against all the odds, and certainly against expectations,
we were successful in reaching agreement in Bonn. We do wish to
take forward and to pursue the issues with regard to ratification
and bringing into force of the Kyoto Protocol, not least, I would
hopeI do not know whether this will be achievable; we have
a meeting soon in Marrakeshin making progress before we
get to Johannesburg because the focus that I would want to see
us have in Johannesburg is on poverty and on the desperate vicious
circle that arises from poverty and environmental degradation.
To me one of the most interesting passages in the speech that
the Prime Minister made recently at our congress was where he
was talking about the implications of, for example, the Africa
initiative. I think all of that is hugely important for the future
of the world and I think it is also a very important opportunity
to take that agenda forward at Johannesburg and certainly that
is what the South African Government want and want to be the focus
of the discussions in Johannesburg.
63. Finally, again on the theme of sustainability
and pursuing and exploring it, the new department must have adopted
the public service agreements and targets from the former MAFF
and the former relevant bits of DETR. Has the department had time,
given the obvious but necessary distraction of foot and mouth,
to look at those targets and agreements and see whether or not
they need to be added to or amended? Is there a programme or an
action plan for the new department to pursue its targets with
the theme of sustainability being at the centre of them? Will
we be able to see that programme?
(Margaret Beckett) First of all, yes, the nearest
we could come to getting everything together was simply to adopt,
as you quite rightly say, the targets from the previous departments
and put them together. That means that we have too many targets.
Yes, we are undertaking the process of looking at them and seeing
if we can refine them and come up with something which is more
rounded and reflects the shape of the new department. That work
is being undertaken, it is at a slightly early stage. It will
take some little time to do it because, as you rightly say, people
are involved heavily on other issues, but we are very mindful
of the need to do that. We certainly do not intend just to say
that we have those targets and those targets. We are not going
to do anything in a hurry as before. We will re-assess them to
see what are the targets for the new department.
Patrick Hall: So that might be something that
we might want to look at some point in the future.
64. Obviously it is a new department. It is
the first time that you have linked together agriculture and the
environment and rural affairs. You have said that the department
is naturally going to be outward facing and inclusive in the way
that you work with your partners and stakeholders. I wonder if
you could give us some idea of who you identify as your major
partners and stakeholders and where in that priority are the stakeholders
that come from the agricultural sector? Only the major ones.
(Margaret Beckett) First of all, what you are quoting
from is our draft aims and objectives. Of course one of the ways
in which we are seeking to be outward facing is that we have put
that into circulation, not just in the department but also among
our range of stakeholders in order to try to get people's input
as to whether they think we are getting our approach to our aims
and priorities right. Who are our major partners and stakeholders?
My heart sinks with the thought of trying to draw up a list. There
seem to be an awful lot of them.
Chairman: Your heart sinks at the thought of
missing one out, I should think.
65. So that we do not leave out the important
guest at the party, where in that are the stakeholders that come
from the agricultural sector?
(Margaret Beckett) Obviously they have a very key
role not only in their own right as an important part of the economy
and of our society, but also because of the very important need
to get sustainable agriculture. That makes it a very key part
of the work of the department and the fact that CAP reform, alongside
implementing the Kyoto Protocol are both on the agenda of my department
I think is a clear indication of the balance. Perhaps I can give
a brief example as to why my heart sank slightly when you invited
me to identify them. My diary secretary tells me that in the first
week after the election she received 400 requests urgently to
meet the Secretary of State, absolutely necessary before the summer
Chairman: You should sell them, Secretary of
State, introduce a market. You are a public/private sector marketplace.
You may be able to make a bob or two as well.
66. Diana has in a way covered the question
I was going to ask. I know there was some concern expressed by
the farming community when DEFRA first published its first thoughts.
I think Farmers' Weekly commented that farming came somewhere
like halfway down the list of key tasks for the department. I
just wonder whether in the two or three months since that list
was published and consultation has been going on with many of
those unnamed stakeholders those concerns have perhaps begun to
disappear a bit on the part of the farming community.
(Margaret Beckett) Far be it from me to suggest that
anybody's concerns ever disappear. One thing I would say is that
it is not exactly a list and it is certainly not in a kind of
order of priority, but it is a framework of approach to sustainability
which has to contain all the elements of the department's work
of which, as I say, farming is a hugely important area. Some of
that concern early on, and I understand it completely, was because
we did not have the word "farming" or indeed the word
"fisheries" in the department's title. I know that many
people in the world of agriculture actually have recently been
moving more and more towards discussion of the food chain and
farming's role within that. That again is also part of the work
of my department. It is partly a first stab at an attempt to give
expression to the nature of the different relationships with which
my department is trying to deal and grapple.
67. The words "outward facing" were
chosen. Are those in deliberate contrast to the record of MAFF?
(Margaret Beckett) I am simply saying that I think
they were identified as a highly desirable goal, which is not
always possible to achieve.
68. Have you decided to draw down the agri-monetary
compensation decision which has to be made, I gather, by the end
of this month?
(Margaret Beckett) The decision does have to be made
by the end of this month. It is an important decision. I am conscious
of the concerns of that sector of the farming community. I am
also conscious, as I have to be and as I know you will be, of
the fact that while it is an important element and it is always
referred to as kind of free good, it is of course something which
involves a heavy call on the Treasury of the United Kingdom.
Mr Borrow: You mentioned, Secretary of State,
the issue of the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change and those issues.
I understand that there is some responsibility in that area that
is undertaken by the Deputy Prime Minister and some responsibility
by your department and ministers within your department. Is it
possible to briefly explain how that fits together? I am sure
this is an issue which we are going to return to.
69. Without hesitation, deviation or repetition.
(Margaret Beckett) The policy lead obviously is with
the department and it was I who led the delegation involved where,
incidentally, some of you will be surprised and some of you will
not but there was an enormously profitable role played, in fact
I would say absolutely crucial, key role played, by the EU delegation
as a whole, operating as a whole with all their different interests
and so on, and it was critical to the success in Bonn, one of
the most exciting things that I have taken part in in its final
stages. The Deputy Prime Minister obviously has played a very
major role in these issues, not least in the Kyoto Protocol, and
retains a very keen interest in it, and of course does from time
to time operate on behalf of the Prime Minister upon these issues.
Obviously he has both an interest and a role and can contribute
very helpfully to the policy direction that we as a government
wish to pursue.
70. Secretary of State, can I ask you one final
question? You will be aware that the Food Standards Agency is
looking at the issue of BSE in sheep. None of us wants to create
another catastrophe. Could you give us some idea of what happens
from that point onwards in terms of that particular debate and
the ministry's preparations for this?
(Margaret Beckett) The Food Standards Agency obviouslyand
I am not telling you anything you do not know but let me remind
you for the recordis an independent agency and in so far
as it reports to and liaises with a government department it is
the Department of Health. They will be meeting early next week.
I genuinely do not know and cannot tell you what they are likely
to say. They did make some observations, I think in early August,
from memory, and they will probably return to some of these issues.
There have been some work and some experiments under way and they
have reported to the Agency and they will come to their own views.
71. You are conscious that this could either
remain the size of a man's fist or it could become something quite
difficult to handle.
(Margaret Beckett) I am, as ever, conscious of the
range of interesting issues for which my department is responsible.
Chairman: Secretary of State, thank you very
much. Ministerial evidence is normally published on the Internet
as soon as we can get it on. I take it my Committee agrees with
that principle. Thank you very much indeed for coming. You have
been our inaugural guest in this session. I think you will be
one of our regular interlocutories. We are going to see Jim Scudamore,
I think, quite shortly on some of those more detailed questions
of the management of the disease. Thank you very much indeed for
the answers you have given today. We look forward very much indeed
to our relationship.