WEDNESDAY 28 NOVEMBER 2001

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Members present:

Mr John Horam, in the Chair
Harold Best
Mr Gregory Barker
Mr Colin Challen
Mrs Helen Clark
Sue Doughty
Mr Mark Francois
Mr Mark Simmonds
Mr Simon Thomas
David Wright

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Memorandum submitted by Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

Examination of Witnesses

RT HON MARGARET BECKETT, a Member of the House, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, MR JOHN ADAMS, Director and MR IAN PICKARD, Sustainable Development Unit, examined.

 

Chairman

  1. Can I welcome you, Secretary of State, to the Committee. Can I also thank you for your memorandum, can I say we were rather disappointed that we only received it late last night -
  2. (Margaret Beckett) Sorry.

  3. - and the Committee therefore only got it this morning, and that does lead to some difficulties in preparing sensible questions for you. We really had not seen your Department's statement or their responses to the questions. I hope you can do better next time.
  4. (Margaret Beckett) Indeed. I apologise.

  5. Is there anything you want to say of a brief or a preliminary nature in addition to the memorandum?
  6. (Margaret Beckett) I do not think so, particularly. Obviously there is the general issue in terms of departmental responsibilities as to where one draws boundaries and how you can encourage work across them. It will always be the case, I suspect, that there will be people who want the boundaries to be drawn in different places from where they. Unless one has one an all-encompassing government department there have to be boundaries somewhere. What is important is to try and make sure there is cooperative work across those boundaries, whatever they may be. On the whole there has been a good track record on these issues and we hope that good track record will be maintained.

    Chairman: I am sure there is a lot of sense to what you say. There have been some huge changes in your area and obviously we would like to question you on those. They are very significant.

    Mr Challen

  7. Let us start off with that issue, a great deal was made of our integration in 1997 of many policy areas into the DETR and now it has been split. I am just wondering what lessons were learned from that period of five years and why it was split? Why did the policy areas have to be taken apart again?
  8. (Margaret Beckett) Obviously I was not involved in the department or in the decision to change the perimeters. I think that while it was thought there are clear links between the policy requirement on the environment and, for example, transport or planning, and so on, nevertheless I think it is the clear fact that as years have gone by there has come to be more and more emphasis on the overall issue of framework of sustainable development and a growing believe within and across government that there was much to be said for having a department that had sustainable development as its prime focus. That was the underlying thinking on creating the new department.

  9. I think a lot of people would, perhaps, look for what is the emphasis of government now in terms of environment. I would say that the emphasis has been shifted to DEFRA, which includes rural affairs and perhaps excluding urban affairs, can you see the difference which that is developing and how people would consider our approach to this?
  10. (Margaret Beckett) We would be extremely unhappy if anybody thought that the fact that my Department included rural affairs meant that we have lost focus on the issues that arise in the environment, I think it is almost the other way round, there was a bit of a danger before that it was rural areas and the overall problems of the rural economy and that people ran the risk of losing sight. The fact that there is now a department which deals with rural areas as a whole and not, for example, specifically with farming and the issues surrounding farming, is actually an increased strength where, perhaps, there was something of a gap before. It is not that a gap has opened up on urban environment, the thinking is there might have been thought to be a gap in rural areas on these issues and that has now been dealt with.

  11. People might say the environment is so important it should stand on its own and not be pushed into some other area, particularly when, for example, this year your department has been so involved in dealing with all of the rural crises that are, perhaps, not themselves environmental in the way we normally talk about environmental issues, animal welfare, for example, is not the high sort of environmental issue that people would naturally take it to mean.
  12. (Margaret Beckett) If I may say so, there are two things about that, first of all, I think the thinking is increasingly that one should not try to deal with environmental issues on there own. Of course it is a legitimate argument for different structures to say you should have a department that just does environment. Sustainable development is the balance of the economic and the social and the environmental issues. Right across the world the focus is increasingly on those balances and trying to get them right and to deal with environmental issues in that context instead of trying to isolate. It does seem to me that that is a more practical way forward and likely to be in long term a more fruitful way forward. You mentioned specifically animal welfare, let me give you one example as to why I think there is great merit in the kind of integration we have now. One of the most useful contributions we can make in the UK is to have a sustainable policy towards the whole agricultural industry. If you look at what is happening in terms of pollution, because we are taking steps to tackle some of the things that were brought up earlier it is increasingly the case that one of the greatest remaining pollutants likely in the next few years is ammonia and nitrates and those associated substances and the biggest contributors to that probably are land management, animals, and so on. It seems to me to make a lot of sense that these things are dealt with in this particular way.

  13. Finally, I am fairly new here -
  14. (Margaret Beckett) That makes two of us.

  15. - in the whole building I would say, not just in this room this afternoon. I think Treasury might be considered to be a stand-alone department, it is fully integrated, as we know, into every department of government. Whereas we talk about cooperation with other departments or integration do you not think there would be some virtue in having a more focussed environmental department which is not tagged on to something else? Have we actually studied the lessons of when we did have this more integrated department in the last five years? Has there been anything published on that and any research done on how the DETR works?
  16. (Margaret Beckett) I am not aware of that. One thing I would say is that I could reject the notion that ours is a department that in some way has things tagged on to the environment. You make a correct and pertinent point about the way in which Treasury has a role and a remit across government. I think an indication of how successful a department is already beginning to make its concerns and sustainable development felt that we have convinced Treasury both to make an issue of sustainable development as an unpinning theme for the entire Spending Review across government in the next review term. Also we have Treasury agreement that the office of government procurement should have sustainable development as one of its key goals. Anybody, whether from outside Parliament or in it who studied the role of Treasury over the decades and generations will know that to get Treasury to take on board issues other than straightforward, sometimes lowest price or on a more enlightened day value-for-money is quite an achievement.

    Chairman

  17. Can we assume from that that DETR did not work?
  18. (Margaret Beckett) No, I do not think you can assume that.

  19. It was changed.
  20. (Margaret Beckett) I think the belief is that the department in its new form will be able to work better.

  21. One concern which has been expressed, you may be aware of it, is that civil servants concerns are not so happy with the set up, because the previous set up they felt was a triumvirate a three-legged department of environment, transport and local government, fairly equal partners in quite a large department. Now they are quite a small element of a department which is inevitably dominated by the Ministry of Agriculture. Margaret Beckett: I am aim sure you will find people who will say that, equally I believe it is the case that very large numbers of people who come to the new department very much want to make that new department work and believe in the role that it can play. That, obviously, is very much something that I welcome.
  22. David Wright

  23. You touched, Secretary of State, on the Spending Review, I think Michael Meacher was commenting that the initial processes on the Spending Review did not really look in enough detail at sustainable development considerations. How do you feel that the round for 2002 has gone? What work has your new Department been doing in relation to the sustainable development targets and the public service agreement process?
  24. (Margaret Beckett) We are very much in the early stages of the new review, so there is not very much I can say about that. All I can simply say to you is that we do believe it is very much a matter for Treasury per se to set and monitor the PSAs individual departments. The fact that they have agreed to make sustainable development a theme of the Review process, we believe, will focus the departments' minds on the implication of sustainable development of their policy approaches and goals.

  25. Have all of the departments been coming to you and saying, can you help us on this and work with us jointly across government?
  26. (Margaret Beckett) There have been individual departments who have drawn up their strategies and within my own department there are people are very willing to help and to give advice, and so on, if that is helpful. I believe I am right in saying that DTLR is, in fact, discussing with us their own statement and department strategy and we are happy to have an input wherever it is thought to be helpful.

  27. What about specific spending projects on the environment and sustainable development, are there any that you are proposing in the Spending Round you can tell us about at present?
  28. (Margaret Beckett) If and when we get agreement to any proposals we make that is when it will come into the public domain.

  29. Treasury guidance says that the department needs to sustain a development report along side their 2002 bids. Are you intending to make that report public in July next year, after the announcements come forward on the process of the Spending Round and Spending Review?
  30. (Margaret Beckett) I frankly do not remember whether we have given consideration to that or not.

    (Mr Adams) The Treasury have been asked.

    (Margaret Beckett) It is obviously an issue for discussion. It is one of the many decisions that has not yet been taken.

  31. The point I am driving at is, for a committee that is looking at auditing environmental progress it is critically important we draw out reports supporting evidence in relation to Spending Review activity then we can start bench marking the quality of the work each department is doing. The more information we can get into an open environment the better we can measure how government departments are progressing.
  32. (Margaret Beckett) Department themselves are producing their own strategies and reports that contain all of the information that you may need.

     

    Mrs Clark

  33. Obviously with any new department you are going to have a certain amount of teething problems, whole new fiscal structures, team building, joined-up working together and working relationships. You have all of that to cope with and suddenly you are bang in the middle of an old fashioned industrial dispute. What I would like to ask is, how much of the progress policy making has been hampered and held back by the disputes arising from pay and conditions of former DETR employees and former MAFF staff? Has it been a marriage of true minds or not?
  34. (Margaret Beckett) Obviously it always creates problems within a department when there is an industrial dispute of any kind, it is not something that any department would wish and would certainly prefer to avoid. To that extent it has had an impact on the department's overall work, but I do not think that I could pinpoint any particular aspect of policy in the making and say that that is something that has been markedly affected. There has been some concerns that our service to our stakeholders might begin to be affected and we are attempting to mitigate that, if we can.

  35. Could you develop that please? In what sort of particular way? We are interested in a permanent resolution of the dispute. How much progress has there been since the interim payment in August and when do we think there is going to be a conclusion to this?
  36. (Margaret Beckett) Some of these are matters for the Permanent Secretary rather than myself. Obviously the interim award was made in August, discussions with the representatives of the workforce are continuing and I very much hope the differences can be reasonably amicably resolved, and it is not yet plain how long that process might take.

    Chairman

  37. As you rightly say, Secretary of State, some of these are matters for the Permanent Secretary to deal with, but the word on the street, if I can put it like that, is that you may be losing too many good, young civil servants than is desirable and they may feel that a department which has a relatively low pay structure by comparison with other departments and dominated by agriculture is not one they want to serve in by comparison with the DTLR, which is the other half of the old DETRA Department. Is that a problem?
  38. (Margaret Beckett) There are those clearly who have such feelings and will from time to time voice them. I think it would be sad and disappointing if it were a substantial problem because I personally take the view this is a very exciting new department with a great deal of potential to deal with issues well and to have good staff relations and good opportunities, improved opportunities, so it would be a great pity if people took a rather stick-in-the-mud attitude and said, AWe would rather hang on to what we know@, but I hope that will not be sustained over time. Certainly there are some very interesting posts opening up within the new department and very real opportunities, not only for promotion but also for really worthwhile work.

  39. What worries us here is that the old DETRA was set up with this three-pronged remit and it really is only 42 years and it has been all torn up, and if you reckon it takes two years for a department to bed down, it will take you, on your calculations with all these problems of civil service transfers, pay, structures, another two years to settle down totally, so four years out of six years have gone in transitional problems.
  40. (Margaret Beckett) Of course that can be an issue but I think there is already a great deal of cross-departmental working and co-operation of exactly the kind this Committee I am sure would wish to see. We have now a very different, slightly smaller but very different, management board, we have a range of people from different backgrounds, from across government not just between the old DETRA and the old MAFF, and I am encouraged to think these are not insuperable obstacles, not least because, for example, when I attended in July the climate change discussions in Bonn, and when I went recently to Marrakech, one was working with a team drawn not just from the two principal departments you are referring to but from literally right across Whitehall, from the Foreign Office, from DFID, the Treasury and so on, and it was an absolutely shining example of cross-departmental working. You cannot tell who comes from which department and nobody seems to care.

    Chairman: Good.

    Mr Francois

  41. Secretary of State, just taking you back briefly to something you touched on in your opening remarks, the symbolism of the alignment of rural and agricultural matters with sustainable development creates in the minds of many people the question that sustainable development is solely a rural issue. How are you going to guard against that potentially dangerous perception?
  42. (Margaret Beckett) By continuing to address issues which are self-evidently not just rural and by making sure we pursue issues of sustainable development across government. If I can give you an example, we had about a week ago, a waste summit which obviously dealt with the issue of waste creation and handling waste across the economy but where I think many people actually believe that it is quite heavily often an urban problem. Similarly, it was a cross-department initiative with the DTLR, the recent announcement on the handling of abandoned vehicles. We have a range of issues - I have a list somewhere if the Committee is interested - on which we work with other government departments, and obviously DTLR is one of them. Certainly it is very clearly the case that many of these issues are urban as well as sometimes, rather than, rural.

    Chairman

  43. Could we have a copy of that list? It would be very useful.
  44. (Margaret Beckett) You can. May I offer to leave it with you?

    Chairman: Yes.

    Mr Francois

  45. The memorandum that your Department delivered to us stated that the location of a sustainable development unit Amakes no difference@, but we then had the recent PIU report which suggests placing it in the Cabinet Office. That being the case, are you prepared to reconsider on the issue of the location?
  46. (Margaret Beckett) I am always prepared to discuss these issues. I think we remain of the view that it makes a very useful contribution where it presently sits, but obviously we are always willing to keep these issues under review and consider whether there is merit in different proposals.

    (Mr Adams) As somebody who has worked in the Sustainable Development Unit since it was set up, I have no sense that we are in any way hampered in doing the things we need to do as a result of being in a new department after the election, and I challenge anybody to come up with evidence that we are hampered. The PIU Report I think said that in due course it might be sensible to look at putting the Sustainable Development Unit into the Cabinet Office but specifically did not have that as a recommendation. As the Secretary of State has said, it is always good to review these things from time to time, but I think there is no hard reason to believe we could do our jobs better in a different place than where we are at the moment.

    Chairman

  47. I think there is a hard reason, which is the reason which lay behind the PIU not recommendation but suggestion, which is, if you have something like the Social Exclusion Unit, which is across government looking in that way, the same logic applies to your unit, so it should be in the Cabinet Office.
  48. (Mr Adams) Not all central units are in the Cabinet Office. It is necessary to take them case by case. The Neighbourhood Renewal Unit which was one of the most recent is now in DTLR albeit it has a cross-government remit and looks at the worst neighbourhoods from all points of view.

    Mr Best

  49. I want to raise issues which cross your Department and others. The constituency I represent has a very mixed base, we have beautiful open Wharfedale at one end and at the other end all those problems associated with inner cities. That little bit of beautiful open Wharfedale with the small market town of Ilkley falls within the metropolitan district council boundaries, and we had the cattle market closed because of the problems with foot and mouth, and it has remained closed almost all of this year, and we have also seen the damage done to the businesses which are associated with environmental enjoyment - walking in the area and so on - and I am wondering whether or not there is consideration that there might be cross-departmental responsibilities for the enjoyment of the environment, the pleasures which come from it and how important that is commercially and industrially for those people who work in that curious relationship of being inside a metropolitan district council and also inside a small market town.
  50. (Margaret Beckett) I think there is very widespread recognition now of exactly the kind of impact and mixture of interests and so on you identify. In fact it was the Chairman of the EFRA Select Committee who made the point to me very early on in my period in this Department that in his locality, for example, the bulk of the tourism was not international, it was from the industrial cities and towns in the vicinity.

  51. Precisely.
  52. (Margaret Beckett) So we are very very mindful of those different impacts and of what a mixed society we are. As you will know, we have set ourselves, as part of our goals, the maintenance of access to the countryside and an interest in landscape and how that landscape develops and is maintained and so on as well as having access to it.

    Mr Barker

  53. Secretary of State, following on from that, given your goals, as you have just said, are about preserving the landscape and conservation and indeed in terms of fulfilling your wider environmental remit, would you not be more comfortable and confident about achieving that if you had responsibility for town and country planning?
  54. (Margaret Beckett) It goes back to the remarks I made to Mr Horam right at the outset of this discussion. You can make a logical case for many of these things but there is a danger of you ending up with one absolutely massive government department trying to do everything and perhaps not doing anything very well. If I can just say to the Committee, I think one of the things it is always important to bear in mind is that it is not always the case that being encompassed within one departmental title is more productive of co-operative working than not being encompassed with it. What matters is the quality of the relationships, the links which are built up and the attention people give to them.

  55. But in terms of having a single vision and having sustainable development at the very centre of that vision?
  56. (Margaret Beckett) It is the intention of the Government to make sure sustainable development is a vision for the whole Government.

    Joan Walley

  57. Secretary of State, I cannot tell you how pleased I was when you said in terms of the recent negotiations you were talking about you could not tell who came from which department and no one seemed to care. It seems to me if we have that situation, that really is a real way to put sustainable development at the heart of Government. In relation to the preparations which are taking place now for the UK submission to the World Summit on Sustainable Development, Rio + 10, which will be taking place next year in Johannesburg, what sort of initiatives have you got planned? How are you making sure that all the different departments which need to be contributing to that are actually able to do that work? How are you making sure they have the vision that you have and are able to put that into practice? What are those initiatives going to be?
  58. (Margaret Beckett) There are a range of initiatives being taken within and outside Government. You will know that all but one of the regional preparatory conferences has now taken place, I think the last one is this week. Following on from that, people are then assessing what has come out of those regional conferences, which have been somewhat disparate, and seeing whether there are key themes which can be identified. Then in the early part of next year, there will be a further round of preparatory international gatherings feeding through to Johannesburg. I think there is a general view certainly within the United Kingdom, in Government and outside it, that instead of trying to do everything, we should try to narrow down the agenda and focus on a smaller number of key things. You will know that some little time ago the Prime Minister issued a challenge to people in the business community to come forward with specific projects and proposals in the area of finance, of access to water and sanitation, of sustainable energy and indeed sustainable tourism too, and people have been working on these things. There has been an interim report back to the Prime Minister as to how that work is going and an encouragement to people to continue with those initiatives. So there is a cross-UK really, not just cross-Government, set of interests working. There is also an intergovernmental committee which is steering the overall pattern of preparations. We also are going to try to make sure we draw in a sufficiently wide range of other organisations. For example, it was said to me recently that there is a tendency for people to think of the World Summit as an environmental summit - and this goes back to the conversation we were having earlier about whether the environment is separate from sustainable development, so it is the environmental NGOs who people expect to be engaged - but it was put to me by people from the development NGOs that they too should be involved, and I whole-heartedly agree with that. One of the things I would very much like to see as the outcome of Johannesburg is practical initiatives to really improve and deliver on policies, as I say, for sustainable energy, clean water and sanitation and so on, so that people can see real outcomes from the conference rather than very worthwhile and interesting statements or philosophies and so on.

  59. I think it is really interesting that you and the Government are now talking about things outside of Government as well as inside Government. I certainly feel very heartened by the prospect of what has been suggested in respect of Johannesburg could really create a whole culture where we start talking about not just these things in the abstract but what we are going to do about them. Can I ask, is it your Department which is now taking the lead on bringing together what Downing Street set up and these outside intergovernmental agencies as well? Is it still DEFRA which is leading on these preparations?
  60. (Margaret Beckett) Yes, I am the lead negotiator on these issues. Obviously others are involved, and the Deputy Prime Minister is playing an important co-ordinating role, but it is our Department which is in the lead.

  61. If we were to have the NGOs sat in front of this Select Committee now and we were to ask them, do you think they would say there was sufficient opportunity for them to be directly involved in this whole process of change? What more do you think could be done to make sure people outside Government and business as well for that matter could really be brought into the mainstream?
  62. (Margaret Beckett) A number of the NGOs are involved in the process I identified earlier, although I said the Prime Minister had challenged the business community - and he has because of the obvious resources - there is a partnership there between some of the NGOs and people in the business community. In fact, from memory, the water initiative, for example, is being worked on jointly by WaterAid and various of the water companies. I am sure they would not sit here and tell you we are doing enough ---

  63. There is never enough.
  64. (Margaret Beckett) Absolutely. Perish the thought I should allow it to remain on the record that they would think that, but there is a recognition that we are seeking to involve them and a willingness and enthusiasm to be involved.

    (Mr Adams) And providing funding for them to get involved as well.

  65. Adequate funding?
  66. (Margaret Beckett) Again, almost certainly not!

  67. Can I ask about Marrakech. Is it your Department that has taken the lead? Is it you who is taking the lead? What is your Department=s role in the climate change talks that we have and where does the Deputy Prime Minister fit into it and where does Downing Street fit into it? Who has got the clear leadership role in all this or is it just a joint team? Is there a captain?
  68. (Margaret Beckett) In Bonn I led the UK delegation, as I did in Marrakech. Obviously we worked through the European Union because the EU Co-ordination Group is a kind of negotiating forum, and the Deputy Prime Minister came to Bonn just for the day, dropped in and made contact with some of the people with whom he deals from time to time, and we engaged him in making some contacts during the discussions in Marrakech. But basically in Bonn there was an interesting and very thorough process of negotiation and organisation in which the UK was heavily involved, and that meant I was heavily involved. In the final negotiations in Bonn, which were carried out in the President=s room, there were some 15, 20 or so ministers present representing the various negotiating groups, of whom I was one. That was the process whereby it was delivered, so we played a role there, as we did in Marrakech. Indeed, in Marrakech I think it is fairly openly known it was the UK negotiating strategy which the EU ultimately followed and which actually brokered agreement in the final session. I always say these things with great caution because one does not wish to offend other participants but there is no doubt what was absolutely evident and very encouraging, both in Bonn and Marrakech, was the very strong wish of the participants - and we are talking about something like 180 countries - to get agreement and to move forward on these issues. That was very encouraging. It is clearly not only we who think the EU and within it the UK played a key role, because when we arrived in Marrakech, one of the first reports made to the negotiating group by the Belgian Presidency was, since we had brokered and delivered agreement in Bonn, everybody now expected us to do the same thing in Marrakech, which was a slightly daunting expectation with which to approach a conference. But it would be wrong of me not to say again how important was the role of all the negotiating groups and how important was the drive across them. The G77, for example, was a tour de force of international diplomacy in getting something like 120 countries into a coherent agreement and to accept and deliver that agreement. I would also say, Chairman, those two conferences between them - well, each individually in fact - were the most exciting, certainly in the last hour, half hour, when you did not know whether you were going to get agreement or not - the most exciting events I have participated in in politics.

    Chairman: Really?

    Joan Walley

  69. I would like to think that success will breed success in that way and we can be proud of the way in which the UK is adding value to these new environmental international negotiations. Could I ask you, in view of the Deputy Prime Minister=s role, if you were me would you be a little disappointed that the Deputy Prime Minister had not yet given to this Committee a submission on his role in these negotiations, or do you think that should be something just for your own Department? We feel the Deputy Prime Minister has had a vital part to play as well.
  70. (Margaret Beckett) The Deputy Prime Minister was obviously the lead negotiator in Kyoto for the United Kingdom and he continues to take an interest in these issues and play a very helpful role acting on behalf of the Prime Minister. Obviously it is for him to say but I think he probably would be reluctant to give any appearance of second-guessing the Department which now holds that responsibility.

  71. On some of the detail of Marrakech, Greenpeace described the outcome as Aa hard-won battle for a token outcome@. It seems clear looking through some of the small print that there were some concessions which perhaps had been made, and we understand why they had to be made, but I wondered whether or not you expected those concessions, whether or not those were the concessions you expected or whether you thought there would be other concessions, and how crucial they were to reaching agreement.
  72. (Margaret Beckett) They were utterly crucial to reaching agreement, I am afraid. It is always a problem, of course people want even more, they always do and it is perfectly understandable and reasonable they should, but all I can say to you is that those in Bonn and in Marrakech, the NGOs, played an extremely positive role and they acted as a channel for information and advice between the different delegations. I can give you an example without naming the individual country, NGOs from another key Member State in the different negotiations were helpful in illuminating who would be most effective at government level in brokering agreement with their own Member State, so NGOs were exchanging information with each other about how to try to get agreement, and both in Bonn and Marrakech it was the very clear view of the NGO representatives who were there that they wanted an agreement. Indeed there was a point in Marrakech where a point was made fairly forcefully to delegations that if the EU failed to successfully broker an agreement that the NGOs who were participating and wanting agreement would be very strongly inclined to blame the EU for the break-down of the talks. There is not any doubt in my mind that people wanted more, but there also is not any doubt in my mind that what we all wanted more than anything was agreement. It is unprecedented, there are more teeth to this agreement than have ever been seen in any international environmental agreement and it was and is a real historic achievement.

  73. Do I take it that in view of the expertise of the environmental diplomacy exercised by the NGOs that Mr Adams has got funding in respect of the climate change negotiations as well as in relation to Johannesburg?
  74. (Margaret Beckett) I do not know about that. They all seem to manage to be there anyway.

  75. I think it is important they have the resources to play that part. Can I briefly ask about the carbon emissions trading scheme. The UK is pushing ahead with a voluntary agreement yet it looks as though there will be EU-wide trading arrangements by 2005. Is it right for us to be going ahead? Are you hoping we will influence what the European Union does? How will the twin-track development help?
  76. (Margaret Beckett) Yes, I think it is right. You said quite correctly that the EU has now published some proposals for a scheme which is proposed to come in but we are literally at the preliminary stage. All that has happened in the last couple of weeks is that the EU has published proposals, no more than that - just before Marrakech in fact if I recall correctly. The scheme does have some differences with the proposals that we ourselves have put forward. I discussed these issues with the Environment Commissioner, Margot Wallström, and our view very strongly, to use a classic phrase, was there was great benefit in the EU learning by doing as a result of having experience of our own scheme. Our scheme was worked up in discussion with the business community and with a lot of thought and input put into it as to what would be the most practical and workable set of proposals. There are other differences with the EU scheme but, as I say, the key thing is that it is not even proposed to get off the ground, even if everybody tomorrow agrees they like the proposals in the EU scheme - and that is not going to happen because not everybody does like the proposals - until 2005. We very much hope that our scheme will be up and running from April and that will both give the UK a first mover advantage and will also give very important information and input to any proposals that may come forward ultimately in a final form from the European Union. Incidentally, I understand you may know that we did have to seek state aids approval for the incentive we would like to have to underpin our scheme, and I understand that has been granted today.

  77. Excellent.
  78. (Margaret Beckett) I agree.

    Joan Walley: Congratulations!

    Mr Thomas

  79. I wanted to be completely clear on the responsibilities which are now emerging on the climate change talks. We did not have a statement on Marrakech to the House, which is slightly more surprising now after you have given it such importance than I felt at the time. If we had had a statement, and in the future when we have statements on these sort of talks, it is clear it would have been you in the lead giving that statement. In terms of the work of this Committee and how we follow through accountability and audit the accountability across government departments, and accepting all government departments, some more than others, are involved in things like the climate change negotiations, it would be correct from the evidence you have given today to set aside the press release from Downing Street on 10 July, which talked about the Deputy Prime Minister having a leading role in the climate change negotiations, and accept the seesaw has changed. It is your Department now and in terms of the way we should be pursuing things as a Committee it is directly through yourself and your Department. Would that be a reasonable thing to conclude?
  80. (Margaret Beckett) I do not know whether I would put it in those terms. What I would say to you is from the time my Department was set up, the policy lead on sustainable development has been with the Department and with whoever is Secretary of State of that Department.

  81. But climate change in particular?
  82. (Margaret Beckett) But overall on sustainable development. Partly because of the great interest that the Deputy Prime Minister has in these issues and the role he has played, he continues to play a role. His own description of it is that from time to time he acts as a Sherpa on behalf of the Prime Minister on these issues - and obviously that is a very specific and slightly different role. He did not come to Marrakech and I would be slightly surprised if he went to the next one.

    Mr Barker

  83. We are all glad that Marrakech did not end in disaster or break up but clearly concessions were made.
  84. (Margaret Beckett) Yes.

  85. Could you tell the Committee specifically which concessions were made and, of those, which things you were more disappointed not to be able to get into the final agreement?
  86. (Margaret Beckett) May I offer to send you a note about it because it is both long and complicated and I think it would probably be more illuminating for the Committee if I sent you a piece of paper rather than try to describe it. I do not know if you are aware but in Bonn there was a considerable dismay on the part of the Russian Federation that they believed that the information they had provided about their own circumstances had not been correctly assessed and they protested at that in Bonn. I mentioned the Bonn agreement was exciting, part of what was exciting about it was how we put it to the conference as a whole from the EU, which was, here is a package of proposals, we the EU have got lots of anxieties and concerns and disagreements with this package of proposals but we will take this package if that is what is on the table, if that can be agreed, and then in effect challenged everybody else to do the same. The thing that was very nail-biting was particularly in the last 20 minutes, half an hour, to see whether any one country would actually in effect veto the agreement that was potentially there. It was both noteworthy and very much to Russia=s credit, although they made very, very plain their displeasure and their concerns and said they would return to the issue, Russia did not veto in Bonn. In Marrakech in the final session, the final plenary, the Russian delegate - and I have not got the words on me but I can send you a transcript of the observations of the Russian representative - said he believed the agreement in Marrakech had opened up the way for the Kyoto Protocol to be ratified by a large number of countries, and the Russian Federation would be looking positively at that. Of course the Japanese Government has now said they will be putting the proposals for ratification to the Diet, and indeed they hope to have been able to ratify by June. So the pressure is now on for people to ratify before the Johannesburg Summit which is excellent, because that will be an obstacle very much removed from the way. That was one of the key areas and that was a long-standing concern. Also Japan has had a long-standing anxiety about how we handle the issue of whether or not the controls and compliance measures in the Protocol are made legally binding. There is no question Japan is absolutely adamant about their determination as a government, should the Protocol be ratified and everything go ahead, to observe all the mechanisms to comply indeed with all of the agreement, and adamant there is no question of Japan not complying absolutely with the undertaking required, but equally has great concerns about the legal and cultural impact of proposals for making something legally binding on a sovereign state. So these were the key areas where ways were found to reach enough common ground to actually reach agreement. There were also some concerns about the conditions on reporting and things of that kind, but nothing that was so overriding as to make it not worthwhile actually having the agreement.

  87. It would be very useful if you could make the list available, because while it is very interesting for politicians to hear about the drama of the negotiations, as a Committee it is really the specific issues we are here to audit.
  88. (Margaret Beckett) Quite.

    Mr Gerrard

  89. We have just had the Fourth Ministerial of the World Trade Organisation at Doha, and I believe a minister from your Department attended.
  90. (Margaret Beckett) He was the only Environment Minister who did attend, I understand.

  91. Can you tell us in broad, general terms, whether you were happy with the outcome?
  92. (Margaret Beckett) Yes, we were, partly because obviously the Government is anxious to see the start of a new trade round and, as you will probably know, there was an outstanding commitment to begin negotiations on agriculture. One of our very important goals as a Department is to achieve CAP reform but we can only do that in an international context, self-evidently. So on the one hand there was much pleasure that we actually got agreement to start a round, there was support for the fact that that round contains deadlines for proposals to reduce subsidies to agriculture, a package of initial proposals has to be put forward by November 2003 by organisations like the European Union and in theory the negotiations are supposed to be completed by January 2005. From the point of view of drivers on CAP reform, in many ways opening the debate is as important if not more important. So we were pleased about that. We were also very pleased that for the first time ever we got agreement that issues of the environment are part of the negotiations, and a strengthened role for the committee or sub-committee on trade and the environment. So we actually achieved everything we could possibly have hoped for.

  93. Some people have been quite critical of the outcome and are saying that the only reason the US and the EU want a new trade round is we want to open up access in developing countries to big multinationals to trade with developing countries while at the same time we keep the barriers up and prevent trade in the sort of commodities they might like to trade in, agriculture being the obvious example. How would you respond to that?
  94. (Margaret Beckett) Obviously there are those anxieties and concerns. I do not think they are in any way borne out if you look at what is the nature of the agreement which was reached at Doha. Indeed, it is the intention to have much better market access for developing countries. Part of what happens in these discussions is that there are those who, for understandable reasons, are not happy with the way the world trade regime works at present, and who rather than moving forward to try to improve it are almost saying, ALet=s stop the process and let=s handle it in a different way.@ I am afraid I have been long of the view that is not realistic. The global market place is with us, it is not going to evaporate because it creates concerns and anxieties and problems, we still have to deal with that part of the world we inherit, and the question is how best we can manage and mitigate its impact. These views are by no means all the views coming from developed countries. I recall having a conversation with the former President of Mexico in which he expressed very strongly the view that globalisation, if anything, if handled correctly and the right kind of international agreement could be reached, could work to the advantage of countries like his own.

  95. Is not the argument that has been put by some of the developing countries in particular that what we ought to be doing, before we start a new trade round, is do a proper evaluation of the last one and that that has not been done?
  96. (Margaret Beckett) Yes, of course, and that is a perfectly legitimate standpoint, but, to be honest, sometimes I think you achieve more by moving on than you do by standing still and analysing exactly what is wrong with where you were before. We are all familiar with the process whereby as human beings, never mind as politicians, sometimes it is better to find ways in which people can move away from a stance they have previously taken, or deal differently with an issue they had particularly handled in some specific way. If you ask people to stand still and say, AWhere did you get it wrong@, they will never say yes they did, but they will move on, and I think that is exactly true of the Doha negotiations.

  97. Can I come back to the specific point about agriculture because that is an important one and is something which is going to be critical in this new round. I would say that many people in this country have been arguing for a long time we needed to reform the Common Agricultural Policy.
  98. (Margaret Beckett) For as long as I can remember.

  99. In terms of the WTO negotiations, that is going to be done at an EU level.
  100. (Margaret Beckett) Yes.

  101. Do you detect a real willingness within the EU to make the significant changes in the CAP which are going to be necessary if we really are going to get the sort of agreement we would want?
  102. (Margaret Beckett) It is a mixed picture and it is perfectly understandable it should be so. All I can say to you is, first of all, to give you a slightly different example, I am encouraged to think it is perfectly possible for two reasons. One is because, and this was particularly evident in Bonn but also in Marrakech, the way the countries of the EU as a group work together in a very unified and cohesive way. That is not because we have identical interests or identical points of view. We have not, but people were prepared to give ground for the greater good. If we can do that on the sorts of issues that we were discussing in Bonn and Marrakech then that is an encouraging precedent for other areas. Secondly, of course the EU did go to Dohar with a negotiating remit that said that we wanted to be part of the new trade round that involved cutting or eliminating subsidies on agriculture. It was not easy for that agreement to be reached, that that was the negotiating brief, but that was the negotiating brief that Pascal Lamy took to Dohar. Everybody signed up to that, no doubt with varying degrees and kinds of reservations, but they signed up.

  103. That does have immense implications for the EU.
  104. (Margaret Beckett) Indeed it does.

  105. How far will people in the end be prepared to go in facing up to some of those implications?
  106. (Margaret Beckett) Only time will tell. We have to take what encouragement we can - and I take quite a bit of encouragement - from the fact that we have come already a lot further than I think many people would have anticipated.

  107. You mentioned as well some positive moves on environmental issues in relation to the WTO. Do you think we ought to be looking at how we can better evaluate what the effects might be of WTO rules on the environment? Is there any mechanism there at all for appraisal that is adequate, compared with what you might do for instance within your own department to appraise the environmental effects of the policy?
  108. (Margaret Beckett) The mandate for the Committee on Trade and Environment which I referred to - and it is a committee, not a sub-committee - is that they should make recommendations about what future action or negotiations are needed and the first bullet point on the areas they have to make recommendations on is the effects of environmental measures on market access and where the elimination or reduction of trade measures can benefit trade, environment and development, and the third point is a labelling requirement for environmental purposes. There is a very clear remit there for the first time to focus on environmental issues. One of the other things that comes through the declaration as a whole is a recognition of the importance of technical assistance and capacity building in developing countries in fields of this kind, trade and environment.

  109. Has that Committee got enough clout? Does it carry enough weight or should we be looking to bring in someone from outside, maybe UNEP or an organisation of that nature, to have more influence?
  110. (Margaret Beckett) It has not had before, I accept, but it has now got a strengthened mandate and remit. I know that Michael, for example, who has worked with the committee before, is very encouraged by them. Of course they do have a reporting deadline too. They have to report to the Fifth Ministerial in WTO in 2003, so they have now a deadline, they have a strengthened remit and mandate, and again, being blunt about it, for us as politicians, if you as a group, as a committee of that kind, are given a strengthened remit, a strengthened mandate, a role to play, and you do not seize it, then obviously you would have to think about whether there were other steps you could take, but I would be surprised if they did not seize it.

  111. There has been some concern for some time about the relationship between multilateral environmental agreements and WTO rules.
  112. (Margaret Beckett) Indeed there has.

  113. An impression that if there is conflict between the two it will be the WTO rules that win out each time.
  114. (Margaret Beckett) Yes. Many of us have never accepted that but you are right, there has always been that argument.

  115. Do you think we ought to be looking as part of these negotiations to get more formal agreement on what the relationships are between the two?
  116. (Margaret Beckett) I am not sure. It may be so. I think it is a little early to judge but I assume that is precisely the kind of issue this Committee will now be examining and on which it will be reporting.

    Mr Thomas

  117. I just wanted to pursue a couple of Mr Gerrard=s points there because you set out very clearly how you felt the WTO had beefed up the environmental side and how there were new possibilities there. However, there is a very real difference between the environment and sustainable development and that difference is a quite crucial difference with developing countries in particular because their socio-economic development has to be taken into account, not just the environmental side. Can you tell us about what might happen to sustainable development in that wider context following on from the Dohar talks? Has that been strengthened? Is it on the WTO=s agenda as such or is the WTO where we were 15 years ago in this country, that sustainable development is the environment and we have still a lot of work to do to get sustainable development across a range of WTO talks?
  118. (Margaret Beckett) That is a very interesting question; I am not entirely sure that I know the answer to it. Obviously I was not in Dohar. My impression is that generally across the world community, whether in the WTO or anywhere else, the notion of sustainable development is beginning to be understood, and of course the Johannesburg Summit is very much a contributor and a focuser of minds in that respect. I think it is okay. Many of the people are the same players wearing different hats. The South African Minister, for example, who was involved in Marrakech, is obviously a close colleague of the Trade and Industry Minister at WTO. It is not an accident that we had a trade and environment delegation, as we did of course in Seattle, but that unfortunately did not bear fruit.

  119. What would you say as your department? Perhaps, AWe have to look again at the WTO, exactly how they are looking at it@? From your point of view in your department you seem to suggest that you have got quite a clear view on how you might evaluate on the environmental side what the effects of WTO policies are, or at least your negotiating positions, but how can you be clear and what sort of guidelines can you use within your department to ensure that the Government=s own view of sustainable development, which presumably will be promulgated very strongly in Johannesburg, is also being promulgated at these sorts of organisations, WTO as well, because the general complain seems to be that the WTO is not a sustainable development body? It is a trade body of course, but if we are serious about the long term combining of trade,, environment, development and everything together in that package which we call sustainable development, then surely there does need to be a greater appreciation within these negotiations and in the WTO of that aspect of things.
  120. (Margaret Beckett) I agree, but you will know that there was a lot of controversy. It was the EU primarily who drove the demand for the role of environment to be properly recognised in Dohar and did so very successfully. I think the EU is acting as a catalyst in a lot of these discussions, and I mean the EU as a whole, I do not just mean particular departments or individuals. When we had the last Environment Council a few weeks before Marrakech the Environment Commissioner was asked whether she was intending to travel to Dohar and she said no because she had absolute confidence that her colleague Pascal Lamy would not only do a superb job but would absolutely reflect the view and the approach towards sustainable development that the Environment Council could wish, and that indeed turned out to be the case. We are going in the right direction although obviously there remains something to be done, and in the face of some quite negative reports here in our news media, people attacking the EU for insisting on making those necessary links with environment.

    Mr Best

  121. I was very interested to hear what the Secretary of State had to say about the benefits that come from an expansion in world trade and I share that view. I think it is a view which is probably shared by most people, certainly those I generally encounter, but I wondered if she might share my view that it is helpful to see that the balance of benefit from world trade favours those nation states whose needs perhaps are the greatest, and if that were manifestly so it might actually encourage the further development of that kind of trade. I am fearful that at the moment that it seems not to be the case.
  122. (Margaret Beckett) I do share that view and again it is widely shared across the EU. I was not engaged in them at the time, but in the negotiations that took place within the EU on putting together a new package of agreements with the ACP states, for example, the approach that has been taken more internationally by the EU is about opening up access to developing countries in developed country markets. I think that that is the right course of action and I share your view that it would be beneficial to all concerned.

    Mr Barker

  123. Waste, Secretary of State, has raced up the political agenda as we are all aware and incites very strong passions in those local communities which are unfortunate enough to find themselves part of their waste disposal plan, be it landfill or incineration. You have already alluded to the Waste Summit which you called on 23 November. Could you first tell us what prompted you to call that summit? What came out of that summit, what areas of concern do you have about current waste policy, what is working, what is not working? I would be interested to know as a new Secretary of State what you personally feel about the growth of the number of incinerators in this country. That is causing a great deal of concern because of the uncertainty about what is coming out of both their chimneys and the ash. I would welcome your views on that and how you intend to address the concerns of people who potentially find themselves living in an area with a new incinerator. I am grouping within this question the whole issue of waste planning. We had a very brief discussion before you came in and were unclear amongst ourselves as to the exact position. I wonder if you could clarify for me the responsibility of county councils to draw up a waste plan. Are they legally obliged to take care in that plan of all waste generated within their boundaries? The direction that I am coming from is that often it does not make sense because of the proximity of different towns, populations and landscapes to draw up a waste plan that directly falls within county boundaries which are historic and may make sense to dispose within the region and not to pay strict attention to specific county political boundaries.
  124. (Margaret Beckett) If I can go back to your first question as to what prompted me to call a Waste Summit, it was a growing feeling that we were grinding to a halt in terms of policy discussion on these issues. We have made a lot of progress but we have an awful lot more progress to make if we are to satisfy the requirements of the Landfill Directive and, while we are presently on track, we will not be on track unless we start to take some further steps. In other words, we are not behind at the moment but we would slip behind if we were not very careful. A very negative tone had crept into all the discussions about waste where people had been able to focus on one issue and not to contemplate the whole range of policy choices which faced government at national or local level. I noticed increasingly, and I am sure you noticed it too, a growing and to my mind rather alarming tendency when faced with any proposals for the handling of waste streams for people to say, AAh, well, the answer is that we should not create so much waste in the first place@, and then that is it. AI do not need to think about it any more and I do not need to say anything else and I do not need to contemplate any of these uncomfortable choices. I can just say, >Ah well, we should not be doing it=, and that is the end of the matter.@ It seemed to me that it could not possibly be the end of the matter and if we were to continue to move forward on the scale which is needed to fulfil our obligations under the Landfill Directive we had to get those different and disparate interests and people with very different points of view to engage in the debate and to come to views and conclusions about what are if you like the least worst options. As to what came out of the discussions, one of the most encouraging things that came out of them was how pleased everybody was to have been asked to participate in that discussion and how much positive response we got both from people who attended it and from people who did not attend, were not invited or whatever but who are part of the general public debate. There was a very positive response from people saying, AThank goodness you decided to bring this up the agenda and to flag it up as an issue that we have got to get involved in because we felt that it was slipping away from us and we would be very worried about that.@ That was one of the first reactions. I hope you are aware that we did announce that there will be a PIU review, for which I am the responsible Minister, in the ensuing period which also will look with some urgency at where we are and where we need to be and what are the steps that we need to consider, and obviously we are encouraging those who are involved in that discussion to take part in it and to give evidence to that review. Part of what I believe needs to be the outcome of the day is this further study and review and for a further ongoing process of wider public debate. One of the things that I said to people at the outset was that first of all I was there to listen rather than to engage specifically in dialogue with them, and secondly, we had some representation from most of the interest groups (nobody said we had not anyway) present in the room and that although there was a tendency for them to engage in dialogue with each other through government what we wanted from them that day was to engage in dialogue with each other full stop, which indeed they did and we so we did get the different points of view as we went on through the day beginning to emerge and be aired and considered and people challenging each other, not in an unpleasant way but in a very positive way, about the different points of view they were expressing and the different policies that they wished to see pursued. Areas of concern were the obvious ones: were we doing enough to minimise the amount of waste we produce; what more could we do and who should be doing it. Should we be looking more at that area? Why are we not doing more? What more can we do to promote recycling, and also a concern expressed on the one hand from people who said, ANo more incineration of any kind ever anywhere@ and on the other from others who said, AThat is not realistic. Nobody is proposing hundreds of vast incinerators all over the country@. The picture that emerges if you look at these things is that there will be some material that cannot be re-used or recycled and which in the end will have to be incinerated and we have to look at how best we do that together with the issue of energy saving from incineration and that kind of thing. All of those issues which you would expect were aired and there was a general familiar approach to the issue of what is and is not working, the experience that people know and have, not enough recycling in particular. There was a demand on a scale that I personally have never encountered before, an almost universal demand from every interest group represented, that the Government should put up taxes in order to help to tackle these problems - and that was cross-party - as well as everything else. There was a lot of input as to what people thought and the steps that needed to be taken in a preliminary way. As to how I feel, obviously we await the outcome now of the PIU review but I have not yet seen evidence which stands up sufficiently for me to say that I do not believe there will never need to be another incinerator built anywhere. That is where I am at the present time.

  125. What message does that deliver to incinerators which are currently forming part of emerging waste plans, particularly as of course you are not responsible for planning any more, but forming planning applications and planning waste strategies?
  126. (Margaret Beckett) What I was about to go on to say was that part of the message that we want people to take is that one thing which seems to come through already is that nobody likes any of the methods for tackling waste. People just do not like waste and they do not like how we handle it. Where there seems to be most engagement and buy-in and where there also seem to be the most successful policies, and not least the most recycling, there does seem to be something of a correlation. I do not want to push it too far but there seems to be some correlation between where authorities and others have engaged the local community in the discussion about what they do about their waste and where it is being successfully tackled and also where there is most recycling. One of the things that I hope we will be able to stimulate across the country is to get people engaged in the issues of what waste they as a community produce and how that should best be managed and handled, not just that this is a problem for somebody else to deal with and whatever proposals they come up I am not going to like them and I will attack them. We need to get an engagement of the public and government at every level in these issues.

  127. Part of the problem, is it not (in my area and it must be the same over the country), is that the district council has responsibility for taking rubbish away and the county council has responsibility for disposing of it? It is very difficult to try and get an overall holistic approach to waste, particularly to get really good recycling programmes off the ground. Are you confident therefore that under the existing structures the Government can meet what I think are relatively pedestrian five year targets for recycling? How are we going to get more impetus given these structural problems?
  128. (Margaret Beckett) These are exactly the issues that the review will have to address. One of the things we need to do, which is partly why I am saying that we need to get people to focus on the issue of how the waste that is generated in their area can be dealt with, is to make sure there is a public engagement with this so that different authorities have to shoulder whatever aspect of responsibilities is properly theirs. That does have to be and is the only option for the way forward.

  129. In such an important area clearly they are looking for a very strong policy direction from you, Secretary of State. When will you be able to come back to this Committee and give us a very clear line on what your policy is and how you are going to enforce it?
  130. (Margaret Beckett) As I say, it will not be until after we have had the PIU review that we come forward with further proposals. The issue of enforcement will be part of those discussions.

  131. Just for my benefit - I am a new Member and I am not familiar with how long these processes take - what would that mean?
  132. (Margaret Beckett) We are talking months, not years.

  133. So by spring?
  134. (Margaret Beckett) Perhaps not quite so few months. Realistically we are hopeful that it will be by the summer.

    Mr Best

  135. Would the Minister=s department consider supporting those local authorities who want the power to ensure that the new developments that are taking place in housing, commerce and industry include sustainable drainage systems? I am thinking of the natural water supply, the run-off resources that would for example support the wildlife and other things which are dependent upon it. This last year, when we have had some severe flooding, we had some flooding in a place in my constituency which was 1200 feet above sea level on a hill. When I went there to have a look at it, I do not think the man meant to be joking but he said, AIt only happens once a flood@. What had happened was that the natural course of events had taken over. The rain had been that heavy that it had returned to its Ice Age run-offs. Those are the kinds of things which should be taken into consideration and local authorities have had some problems with those. Would you support them in trying to get that resolved?
  136. (Margaret Beckett) It is a mixture of course and the responsibility is directly with my department and officials, but also the Environment Agency in terms of the advice they give. Both as a department and also the Agency - and indeed the other agencies who deal more specifically with environmental issues and report to us - we do already have and are building up structures and links with DTLR to try to make sure there is a proper flow of information. Of course I have to say with a caveat here that there is a quasi-judicial process and procedure as far as DTLR is concerned and that means that decisions are for them, but obviously we are anxious to make sure that the right information is made available, that it is properly considered and assessed and so on. There are links, specific new links.

  137. You would be an ally, would you not?
  138. (Margaret Beckett) We are very much allies along with the Environment Agency and others in trying to make sure that we assess what are now increasingly the impacts of climate change on our own country and elsewhere and look at what impact that has on public policy. We are much too much in our infancy in doing that and it is clearly a very important part of the work that my department is doing.

    Sue Doughty

  139. It has been very interesting, Minister, listening to some of these responses, in particular on waste and things like flooding. I have a number of questions about waste but, going back to some of the points you were making earlier about changes in departments, on the one hand we are hearing that it takes a while to bed things in but we are all doing things together, and on the other hand, as Members of Parliament looking at our constituencies we are still up against the same old problems with local authority boundaries coming in the middle. It rains in one local authority and runs down the hill in another local authority, and we get all these dreadful arguments between local authorities about who is going to sort out the flood or why the golf course is waterlogged when the water should be going into the hole that was dug. We seem to be losing knowledge instead of gaining knowledge. I would be interested in how much help the department can give, going through its own period of change, to recognise that local authorities are struggling sometimes with these results of climate change in terms of flooding and what they are going to do about it.
  140. (Margaret Beckett) We did write to all Members of Parliament when the House resumed in October making it plain that it was a combination of the work and of the investment of the Environment Agency and of my own department, and also of course with many local authorities, that the breaches in flood defences that have been created last year had not been repaired. In very many cases not only had we overcome damage that had been done but they had been strengthened, and also a lot of work is being undertaken on planning and making preparations for further works, not all of which of course can be done on a timescale which can be completed now because sometimes we are talking about quite substantial further works. From that point of view we and the Environment Agency are engaged with various local authorities, as is DTLR itself. We do also have some co-operative structures for trying to manage the contingency of flooding to get the right flow of information and so on, and again all of that has been strengthened. It would be wrong of me not to imply that there are now no problems. Of course there are continuing problems for the reasons that we have been discussing.

  141. I hope then that as time goes by, and I appreciate that you prioritise the big areas where houses are going to go under water where people=s homes are affected, and I have no problem with that, but it is lots of little things that are happening across the countryside as land is no longer able to absorb the amount of water. I hope that the little schemes will continue to be reported as well as the big schemes.
  142. (Margaret Beckett) I do not think there is any question about that. I am very mindful of that. The Committee may also recall - I am not sure how long ago it was but it does not seem to be so very long ago - that we were all being told that there was going to be a perpetual water shortage in the United Kingdom because the water table had now fallen so far that it could never recover. It does not seem like five minutes ago; I expect it is probably five years. It is certainly well within memory and so we do have to deal with the position in which we find ourselves, but what none of us can be sure of is that that position in precisely that form will be sustained.

  143. Returning to the waste problem, we seem to have a few things coming along particularly from Europe which on the face of it are quite good things, the Electrical Waste Directive, other directives that we have been getting and the Landfill Directive. We seem to be slightly slow in anticipating these things coming along, so that at the moment we have got problems about what we need to do with fridges. The usual routes by which fridges are disposed of are closing down but we do not necessarily have much coming down the pipeline. It is the same with abandoned cars. The large number of abandoned cars is quite a burden on local authorities now. I am very interested to see how we can anticipate the new European directives (which are probably well worth having) to make sure that as soon as they are imposed upon us we are in a position to do something about them and that local authorities are in a position to do something about them, as opposed to suddenly it is all change now and we do not know what to do.
  144. (Margaret Beckett) On abandoned cars of course we have recently produced a consultation document to try to substantially strengthen the regime for dealing with those. We await the outcome of that consultation. I take your point about many of these issues. With regard to fridges, the particular difficulty was that everybody knew that the directive was there and knew that it would have an impact and were geared up to deal with the impact as they thought it would be. We did then have a court case which gave an interpretation of the directive which was not that which had been anticipated. These things happen. It is unfortunate but they do happen and now we have to discuss how we handle the outcome of that particular interpretation of the directive itself. I share your view. I think this is perhaps a little unusual. On the whole we are very fortunate. Our Civil Service is very effective and very skilled at following what is happening in negotiations within the EU and what is in the pipeline and so on and trying to make sure that we are up to speed with it. There we are quite fortunate and obviously even the best laid plans from time to time do not go exactly as one would hope.

  145. I really would be happier if we had fewer of these incidents. I take your point that we are now responding but it is very worrying.
  146. (Margaret Beckett) I entirely agree.

  147. Looking at the approach to waste management, we seem to have had quite a number of reports over the years, in particular a very strong report from the Council For Sustainable Waste Management, which was delivered in March and which had a lot of good recommendations in it; the Environmental Services Association manifesto for achieving environmental sustainability; the Advisory Committee on Business and the Environment, their report in August; the PIU report in November. We seem to have a whole industry deciding what to do about waste on the one hand. We have lots of local authorities with their backs against the wall on waste on the other hand, and we have had the summit as well, and life seems to be constantly that the answer will be round the corner. Are we certain that when we get round the corner in spring or summer when the PIU makes its report we will be in a situation where we are going to get a strategy that is not only acceptable to the Government but is also acceptable to local authorities? I take your point about the debate on waste but also your point on the general public. We do need to engage the general public a lot more. I am very worried that some of these reports have had extremely good recommendations but we are still getting another report.
  148. (Margaret Beckett) I understand that, but that is in part, as I have said in answer to the first question on the issue, because I think things have rather ground to a halt in terms of the public debate. There was an encouraging climate of discussion and proposals and so on moving forward and then, for whatever reason (and we all understand the reasons for it), a sort of road block was erected and the debate and discussion and so on rather ground to a halt and we need to re-engage in that debate and to encourage the public to re-engage in that debate and to accept that there are no simple answers which will mean that we do not have to make some of these difficult choices, because we are creating a very considerable amount of waste and are likely to continue to do so if there are not successful ways found to minimise it.

  149. I understand the problem that we have about whether lower waste is achievable and it is quite interesting that those who have been claiming that it is achievable backtrack when you say AHow?@. It does seem to me though that we are still, both at central government and at local government level, in the Amust burn or bury@ mode, so that even if we call it energy from waste, although it is a very inefficient form of energy, we should be trying to get people to say that it can be a combination of composting, pyrolysis, gasification, all these up-coming things which we need, and looking at more and getting much more in the way of trials or studies of how it has been working in Europe or America where they have been using these techniques.
  150. (Margaret Beckett) I agree with that.

    Sue Doughty: It is a matter of urgency to a lot of local authorities. There are those around the table who are all sitting there with massive plans for incineration and waste strategies where they are going to be signing on the line some time this year possibly for a 30-year technology which people do not want and have made that very clear, but they know they will have to make some compromises if it is not going to be fast burn incineration, and they want those compromises available now. It is very urgent for a lot of people.

    Mr Barker

  151. Is it not extraordinary though, on reflection, and I very much agree with the points that Mrs Doughty is making, that particularly so soon after a general election (and the Government has been in for four years) there should be this policy vacuum?
  152. (Margaret Beckett) There is not a policy vacuum. There was a White Paper.

    (Mr Adams) The White Strategy 2000 last year.

    (Margaret Beckett) There are strategy targets, very demanding targets, set for local authorities. There is not a policy vacuum but, as I say, where we are beginning to get to the stage where we could have problems unless we move the debate forward, is that there is a sort of mood grown up that neither local authorities nor other participants, nor the public as a whole, want to come to grips with these issues and recognise that we have a lot more to do and that we have to build recycling plants and we may have to do a little more perhaps.

    Chairman

  153. There seems to be a delivery blockage rather than a policy vacuum.
  154. (Margaret Beckett) Yes, that is a very good way of putting it. Thank you very much.

    Sue Doughty

  155. Do you feel that there is any room for manoeuvre in the problem that we have all the time, and I think it is a local authority problem, that obviously it is a strategic approach as well where we do have that difference, as we were talking about earlier, between a collecting local authority and a disposing local authority, because if those two local authorities do not have a particularly strong relationship or if some of the borough councils are at odds with what the county council is trying to do, again it is very hard to get an integrated approach and draw out some of these holistic approaches which we all agree we need to be looking at?
  156. (Margaret Beckett) Part of what we need to consider is whether we have the right mix of incentives and penalties to encourage the right behaviour. I share entirely the view you expressed a little earlier that, whether it is on waste minimisation or waste handling, we need both to acquaint ourselves with the best of what is available in terms of innovation and new technology and we also need to be encouraging further steps on innovation and new technology.

  157. I have a further concern. I am sorry, I am getting very heavy on waste but there are those of us who sit with these problems on our doorsteps who are concerned at the moment. My further concern is about commercial waste because on the one hand we have a lot of influence about what is happening with municipal waste and then we have the problem of commercial waste. One of the issues we are looking at is where we are going about trying to integrate our approach on commercial waste, whether it is landfill or incinerator, in order to start reducing the amount of waste available because other initiatives are taken up and then just grab the whole commercial waste. To me there are all those streams as well.
  158. (Margaret Beckett) We could do a great deal better on industrial and commercial waste and it is not surprising that we should really because we are talking about costs to business. Again, one of the issues that people will look at is whether we have the mixture of incentives and penalties right in that respect. Right across the field of sustainable development, whether it is waste production or energy use or water use or whatever it is, we are looking both at whether there are economic means of encouraging the right behaviour and also at how we encourage and publicise the beneficial effects of better management and the spreading in this area, as in so many other areas, of best practice and bench marking and so on. There are some spectacular examples now in, for example, the use of water, the production of waste water and so on, or indeed in the use of energy, of massive savings relative to the size of the organisation that different companies and organisations have made. There is a very clear incentive there in the commercial and industrial sector. The thing to do is to make sure that everybody is very conscious of that in the same way that we try to do with a whole range of issues, and encourage people to drive for quality and high standards by bench marking themselves on the best practice.

  159. Landfill tax credits: I know you are looking at whether these instruments are the right ones and whether they are effective. The tax itself was due to be reviewed in 2004. How do you feel currently about the possibility of incinerator tax, landfill tax, landfill tax credits, that whole area of instruments about penalising bad behaviour and investing in good behaviour?
  160. (Margaret Beckett) You know from the pre-Budget Report that the Government as a whole is very mindful of the fact that there is a range of measures potentially available to penalise behaviour that we do not wish to see and to encourage behaviour that we do wish to see. Those measures continue to be kept under review.

    Chairman

  161. Could I turn to energy briefly because energy efficiency is very much part of your responsibilities? Everyone seems to agree that the combined heat power industry is now in severe difficulties. The sort of difficulties they are having were extensively flagged up during the consultation period. What went wrong?
  162. (Margaret Beckett) That too is in the area where there is continued discussion. We hope in the new year, I think I am right in saying, to produce a further consultation document. There have been discussions with Ofgem. There is a working group I think you will find that is examining these issues now and we hope to come forward with some proposals and a consultation document around the turn of the year.

  163. Is this an example of what you were referring to earlier, Secretary of State, where you said it is easier to persuade government to move on than to admit to a mistake?
  164. (Margaret Beckett) No, I do not think so. In any case it is an important issue and we do recognise the need to address it.

  165. But it is huge. A recent Ofgem report showed that CHP output sold to the network had fallen by 60 per cent in the first three months of the NETA agreement and two major energy firms have announced that they are axing all further investment in CHP. This is dramatic stuff.
  166. (Margaret Beckett) I can only repeat what I have already said, that we have taken steps in the past to help encourage investment in CHP and there have been discussions with Ofgem. We will continue to have those discussions, particularly to discuss what is happening with smaller generators. Of course we are also awaiting the PIU=s own energy review which has not quite been published yet but I anticipate will be in the not too distant future.

    Mr Gerrard

  167. We had the Secretary of State for the Department of Trade and Industry here a couple of weeks ago on a similar question about NETA. Who has the most powerful voice? Is it the voice of reducing electricity prices through competition or is it the voice of investing in renewables and CHP and the other things which may have a premium attached to them? There seems to be a bit of a battle between these two policy objectives.
  168. (Margaret Beckett) There is a bit of creative tension if you like. I do not think I would say that there is a battle between them. The Government is committed as you know to increasing the use of renewables and is committed to innovation, and again if I can remind you, in the pre-Budget Report yesterday the Chancellor took some further steps on exactly these kinds of issues. I think it remains clear that the Government is indicating that it is keen to see the development of sustainable energy.

  169. There was ,270 million mentioned in the pre-Budget Report -----
  170. (Margaret Beckett) I do not remember the figure.

  171. ----- to be given to renewables in various forms of subsidy, but that pales into insignificance in terms of the subsidies given to other forms of energy such as nuclear, for example. Do you have a view on that?
  172. (Margaret Beckett) We are talking historic now, are we not? The nuclear industry was set up many years ago. It has always had substantial public funds, but it is under this Government that a more forthright and sustained drive to promote and to develop renewable energy use has begun to take shape and I anticipate that that will continue.

  173. Is there no truth in the rumours in the press that the Government is planning to build 15 new nuclear power stations?
  174. (Margaret Beckett) If this is a reference to what it says in the PIU Energy Review we shall see when that review is published.

    Chairman

  175. Your department has been working on a grand CHP strategy for some time.
  176. (Margaret Beckett) Yes.

  177. But are you saying that this is going to be held up until after the PIU energy report?
  178. (Margaret Beckett) As I say, we hope to consult on the strategy around the turn of the year.

  179. We are talking about January or February?
  180. (Margaret Beckett) Yes, probably around then. We are not talking about a long delay, but we are talking about having the PIU review which obviously is an important backdrop to this strategy.

  181. Could I just ask you on the Carbon Trust what is your responsibility for that? We are not quite clear which department is responsible for it.
  182. (Margaret Beckett) That is because it was set up jointly by ourselves and the DTI. It is one of the joint initiatives between the two departments.

  183. So it is a joint responsibility?
  184. (Margaret Beckett) Indeed.

  185. As you know, the Council for Business and the Environment has expressed a lot of concern about the small level of revenue coming into that from the Climate Change Levy and has called for a review of that situation. Have you a response to that?
  186. (Margaret Beckett) The Trust has only just been set up and it is in its formative stage. It is a perfectly legitimate view to be expressed that in time the scale of its work is something that might cause people to say -----

  187. You are at an early stage yet?
  188. (Margaret Beckett) Yes. It was only set up in April so I think it is a bit early to say it has not got enough money.

    David Wright

  189. Secretary of State, the Marine Conservation Bill is in front of the House at the moment. Clearly we have to find a workable compromise between serving the marine environment and our drive (positive drive, you might think) towards harnessing offshore wind and wave power. What work have you been doing with colleagues in DTI - indeed have you been doing any work with colleagues in DTI - on this and what is your overview about promoting alternative forms of energy?
  190. (Margaret Beckett) Obviously it is part of the work that DTI is engaged in, the promotion of renewables, and it is something that my department is engaged in as well, but I think you will find that both DTI and my department are committed to safeguarding marine biodiversity and to safeguarding the marine environment. In fact we jointly fund something called the Joint Nature Conservation Committee whose role is to provide us with the kind of information we need to identify special areas of conservation and special protection areas in the marine environment, particularly close to our own shares, and to help us to meet the provisions of the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive.

  191. Are there any protocols for that or any background notes for that which we can look at?

(Margaret Beckett) Pass. I will find out.

Chairman: Secretary of State, that was a very worthwhile session from our point of view and I hope you found it so too. Thank you very much indeed.