Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 100-119)



  100. It would be very useful if we could have a copy of that.
  (Mr Timms) I will certainly do that.

  101. Could I just touch on an issue which I think was a point we raised at your previous visit to the Committee, the question of the Office for National Statistics and their indicators for green taxation. We had this debate before and I would like to push this again. Given what you have said about the Treasury's commitment as an institution, would it not be very useful if we could get the ONS to develop a more useful indicator of green taxes? This does seem to us to be a hole in the overall policy. There seems to be a mysterious reluctance on the part of the Treasury to push the ONS in that direction.
  (Mr Timms) We had an exchange about this earlier on this afternoon as well. I made the point then that I do not think the percentage of total taxes which are environmental is a good indicator because it is not clear whether that going up is a good thing or a bad thing, so while actually it has gone up I am not sure how much one can read into that. Increasingly we are going to need to carry out very careful evaluation of measures that we have introduced and to see whether the environmental benefits that we expected from those measures have actually been achieved. With such a lot of environmental tax measures taking effect recently and in the near future there is quite a lot of work that we will need to do and we are committed to doing that. I think that is the answer, to monitor effectively how successful we have been.

  102. Has that process stopped yet or are you flagging up the fact that this will start to take place in the next few months?
  (Mr Timms) We have done a good deal of planning for this. I made the point earlier on that on the company car tax changes that are coming in the Revenue has put in a good deal of work to plan how we can see whether the million tonnes of CO2 emissions reduction that we expect from that is achieved. I think we are going to need to do similar pieces of work with other measures too.

  103. On a similar point, in terms of the advice you gave to departments following last year's Spending Review in respect of sustainable development policies, has there been any follow-up to that? Has there been any monitoring of what individual departments are doing and how they are implementing their responsibilities in this respect?
  (Mr Timms) I think the monitoring, certainly in the first instance, will need to be carried out by the departments. Having signed up to the PSAs it is for them to monitor how they progress. Of course there will be a process centrally reviewing progress as well but the primary responsibility rests with the departments.

  104. Has the second instance process started then in terms of you exercising your supervisory role over departments' work? Is that in place? Will that happen?
  (Mr Timms) We have not yet started the three year period, that begins at the beginning of the new financial year. We have not quite got there.

  105. But there will be mechanisms in place by which departments will be monitored in this area?
  (Mr Timms) Yes.


  106. Just to come back to this point about shifting the tax burden in Public Service Agreements. In your previous PSA for the Treasury you did have a target for shifting the tax burden and also Customs and Excise and the Inland Revenue had such a target but this is not in your new PSA, there is no target at all mentioned. Is that because you have intellectual doubts about the sense of this, as you have just indicated, or is it some other omission?
  (Mr Timms) There certainly has been no stepping back at all from the sustainable development commitments that we have entered into which are very firmly built into our work.

  107. I appreciate that, but shifting the tax burden, which we were concerned about, that was a target in your previous PSA but not in your new PSA and I wonder why that is?
  (Mr Timms) What I would say is that I do very much see that as part of the sustainable growth commitment that we have been talking about and is in our objectives. It does very much imply that process we have put a huge amount of effort into and are continuing to put a huge amount of effort into to deliver.

  108. I am wondering why it has been dropped? The specific target that was there is no longer there. Why has it been dropped and can it be replaced?
  (Mr Timms) There was a process and a conscious aim in the PSA round this time to reduce the number of targets and to shorten the—

  109. So it is a victimisation of simplification.
  (Mr Timms) I hope nothing has been lost by the process.

  110. It clearly has.
  (Mr Timms) Certainly there are not as many words as there were first time around and I think that is an improvement rather than a loss.

Joan Walley

  111. I would like to endorse what Mr Chaytor was saying about the importance of clarifying the difference between "sustainable growth" and "sustainable development". I do feel that maybe that is a job for the Green Ministers, to make sure that the language in which the Treasury expresses itself is not committed to growth per se but takes account of the sustainable development argument that we want to see at the heart of policy. Can I just ask you about your role as the Green Minister for the Chancellor's Department, which I understand includes the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise. How many meetings have been you been to this year?
  (Mr Timms) I have been to two of the meetings.

  112. Out of how many?
  (Mr Timms) Out of four.

  113. Did you send a substitute?
  (Mr Timms) An official was present when I was not. I should say in self-defence that one of the meetings was on the morning of the Pre-Budget Report, so that was obviously a difficult one for me to attend.

  114. I think you could be forgiven for that.
  (Mr Timms) Thank you very much.

  115. We do not know how they work from outside and we want to get a flavour of how the Green Ministers Committee is actually changing things. Have you brought any best practice away from what you have seen in other departments back to the Treasury?
  (Mr Timms) Yes. What tends to happen is that there is a presentation from one of the departments that are present. I think I am right in saying that at the two meetings I have attended, both of which I found very valuable, at one there was a presentation on the part of the Home Office and at the other there was a presentation on the part of MAFF. For example, the sort of thing that happens, I guess, is part of the MAFF presentation dealt with work on energy crops which tied in very closely with the work that we were doing on the Green Fuel Challenge. That was very useful, to make that connection, and I subsequently had a discussion with the Minister involved. I see it as a very useful way for joining up efforts across Government to tackle all these issues. I certainly had not appreciated before that presentation the scale of the work that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was doing on that and it was a valuable thing to know for my work as well.

  116. Can I just follow on from that. Arising out of that, what consideration did you give to agriculturally supplied fuels? Do you feel that they should be given parity with fossil gas fuels in the Budget? Do you feel that the Green Ministers Committee can be a forum whereby, if you like, you can get parity, you can deliver on whatever issues are raised during the course of the Green Ministers meetings?
  (Mr Timms) Do you mean duty parity?

  117. Yes, in terms of tax. It is interesting that you happened to give the MAFF presentation as an example of good practice. It seems that there are still so many things whereby we need to be much more joined up so we are not discriminating against some fuels that could be environmentally produced by MAFF to move towards a more sustainable route.
  (Mr Timms) Certainly MAFF, as I learned on that occasion, has an interesting, quite an ambitious programme on energy crops. In terms of decisions about levels of duty, of course they are a matter for the Chancellor.

  118. You are the Chancellor's Green Minister, are you not?
  (Mr Timms) I am, yes, indeed. It is for the Chancellor to decide on the basis of a recommendation from me because I am the Minister who deals with these matters directly at the Treasury. We did announce a significant duty incentive for bio-diesel in the Budget, 20 pence a litre. I know from what people have said to me since the Budget, and indeed before the Budget as well, that that will be a significant incentive for the take-up of bio-diesel as an alternative fuel.

  119. I think it is unfortunate that you mentioned the MAFF meeting because we have had a letter from the British Association for Bio-fuels and Oils and they are tearing their hair out because they feel that MAFF has not actually recognised the environmental issues on a level that they would have liked them to have done.
  (Mr Timms) Let me come on to that. I also receive a large number of letters from the British Association for Bio-fuels and Oils and I met Mr Clary, who I imagine would be the signatory of that letter, as part of the process of the Green Fuel Challenge. I have not spoken to him since the Budget but I think he will have been pleased by the announcement we made in the Budget on bio-diesel. I discussed with MAFF Ministers the right approach to this as part of that decision and I want to defend them. I think this was a good piece of joined up work that we put in together with a good outcome from everybody's point of view.

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