Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 356 - 359)



  Q356  Chairman: Good morning, Minister. Welcome back to the Environmental Audit Committee. Unless I am much mistaken, this marks a change in normal procedure because in the past you have tended to make an important announcement relevant to the Committee's work on the day of your visits to us, but it has not happened this time. Would you like to introduce your colleague?

  Mr Morley: I think it would be better if you introduced yourself.

  Ms McCabe: Sheila McCabe. I am Head of the Sustainable Land Use Division in Defra and I am a co-ordinating point for housing growth issues.

  Q357  Chairman: Thank you. You are both very welcome. Minister, you are obviously responsible for sustainable development. What are your responsibilities in relation to housing?

  Mr Morley: Defra does have a role in the provision of rural housing through the Countryside Agency and the support that we give through the rural housing associations in that sense. We are also consulted in relation to the development of planning strategies, that is PPS1 to PPS25. We also have an involvement in relation to the long-term planning of water resources. We have a responsibility in relation to flood defence strategies and, of course, that links in to planning itself. We have also been a very active partner in the Sustainable Buildings Task Force group and the range of other reviews which the Government has been carrying out in relation to housing policies.

  Q358  Chairman: I think the thing that worries me a bit is that you have responsibility for sustainable development and environmental issues, the DTI is responsible for construction issues and industry and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is responsible for housing and planning. The separation of these responsibilities leads, in some people's view, to an element of confusion. How joined up are you really able to be?

  Mr Morley: We have developed a much improved joined-up approach in relation to all these strategies and developments. We also commissioned Entec, which looked at the impact of housing in terms of environmental and water issues. It is a huge area, as you have quite rightly said, Chairman. There is quite a legitimate debate to be had about how you try to bring this together in terms of government structures and government departments. The problem is, as you have outlined, it is such a vast area that it is quite challenging to include everything within one government department. I think there is a need to have a coordinating role and there must be consultation in terms of our responsibilities in relation to sustainability and, of course, our responsibility of embedding sustainability within all departments. We do not see it, as you know, because we have had this discussion before, as Defra being the department for sustainability. We certainly see ourselves as being a champion within Government's sustainability, but we see every government department having sustainability embedded within its strategies and its approach and that is our objective and I think we are developing that successfully. I would not wish to be as complacent as to say that it is as effective as we would like it to be. I think this area is still developing. I think there is still a dynamic here. In terms of the development of long-term housing strategies covering all those points, in terms of resource use, the use of recycled materials for example, that is also of interest to us and an issue for us. We have developed structures within Government, such as MISC22 for example, where we can bring together all government departments and have a more holistic approach. MISC22 is potentially a very good model.

  Q359  Chairman: You do not feel that it would work better if you were in the driving seat for more of this agenda and not just a consultee? I know you have said it is difficult to have one government department responsible for it all, but that used to be the case. Surely separating these functions out to different departments must have made it harder.

  Mr Morley: It was never the case before, if you are referring to DETR, flood management was always with the old MAFF for example, so there was always an element of separation within the Government's structures. Obviously we are keen to have an active involvement and to be part of the formulation of the policy. There are structures that can be put in place. MISC22 is a Cabinet Committee; it is a pretty powerful committee. The Better Buildings Task Force was launched by three Secretaries of State, ODPM, DTI and Defra and that has a joint ownership in relation to the report and how it is taken forward and the implementation is also a joint responsibility, so I think that is developing. There is always going to be this dynamic about how you get the structures right and I understand exactly what you are saying, but I suspect that within the structure of Government you are never going to get everything in one place. Therefore I think the challenge for Government is to have an effective co-ordination system so that all the areas are considered properly and the strategy is an integrated strategy in relation to what we want.

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