Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 145)

MONDAY 4 MARCH 2002

RT HON JOHN PRESCOTT, MP AND MR CHRIS WOOD

  140. Are you going to sing a Pop Idol song for us? What can you do?
  (Mr Prescott) The press are gone when we get to the serious stuff.

  141. It is a serious issue. In terms of the different departments what can you do? Is each Cabinet Minister going to make a major speech about the importance of the Johannesburg conference?
  (Mr Prescott) We do it all the time. If you are relying on the press to get it across you have not much chance of interesting them in a speech on sustainability. I see some of the serious reporters are still here so ask them about the difficulty of getting some of these stories in. I ring up and say I am making a speech on sustainability. We keep doing it, please do not assume we do not. At the end of the day, if I look at the NGOs, they are quite emphatic about the whole business of Kyoto. They have not said a great deal publicly in the way they did on Kyoto about sustainability. This is not a criticism of NGOs, they have the same difficulties we have, but these issues are important and we will keep pressing them. I do not know what you can say to make an awful lot of people use the website. There are all sorts of reasons why they use websites, are there not? We live in that kind of society. There are people who try to make these issues attractive, they do seriously put forward serious arguments and they get space for them but in the main I am afraid it does not make it but we still keep doing it. I do not know the answer. If you give me about five points I shall take them away and do them.

  Joan Walley: Maybe we have to look at something like Pop Idol, I do not know, but it has to be as important to young people particularly because we are really talking about education and talking about people understanding what is needed to save the world.

Mr Challen

  142. Perhaps the Government could organise some parallel events for that period in this country so that people locally can get involved.
  (Mr Prescott) To be fair DEFRA have been doing it. If you look at their programme, they have been organising these conferences and we all attend them in different ways and they have been doing that.

Joan Walley

  143. It is not front page news, is it, instead of Stephen Byers or whatever else?
  (Mr Prescott) What is front page news in our papers? It has nothing to do with news, does it? If it were serious stuff, we might be in with a chance.

  Chairman: I entirely appreciate what you say about the difficulty of getting through for an issue like sustainability. For many people and for the media it may be a turn-off. The fact is that the approach of some of the key departments is rather underwhelming. For example, I have a memorandum here from the Treasury, two sides of paper. At the end of the first paragraph they say they have not actively publicised the summit or their own involvement. That does not exactly show enthusiasm.

  Joan Walley: I have the DTI one here which say that they have not undertaken any particular actions on their own account to publicise the summit or their involvement in the preparations.

Chairman

  144. These departments are not trying.
  (Mr Prescott) You cannot say that. The Treasury have done quite a lot of things. I know you have your criticism of whether they do enough but frankly if you contrast this Treasury with any other, perhaps it is just that it has come at this time, they have done quite a lot on the green issue initiative side. You have looked at it a great deal and you have made proper criticisms of their programmes. Perhaps I should have said to you that there is a communications strategy which was set up at the same time as this. One of the objectives is to raise awareness of it and we have used a number of things to achieve that: to work with the key stakeholders, the NGOs ... I shall not read it all. We have established that. What we are complaining about here is that it is not getting over to a lot of people who either read it in the paper or see it on the television. There are difficulties with that, no matter how we put it out. If I were to sack my special adviser or this guy here, that might reach the front page, but it would not be anything to do with sustainability, unless it were my political career and then it would become an issue of sustainability.

Ian Lucas

  145. I just wanted to make what I hope will be a helpful publicity suggestion. You may recall that a couple of weeks ago the BBC had an NHS day during which they gave priority on national prime time television to NHS issues. I wonder whether you think it would be a good idea for them to have a sustainability day. Comic Relief, for example, was a very effective vehicle for raising precisely the issues we are talking about. It seems to me that what has not happened is that the general public has not bought into the fact that the political process is trying to deal with the same issues in a different way.
  (Mr Prescott) Most NHS stories are critical stories. You do not hear positive ones, but everything must have some positive side. BBC are classic at that. I should like to say this about the BBC. If you look at the programme they did on the Blue Planet, that was one of the best things I have seen about sustainability and life on this planet. Some of their programmes are really superb. It is only when a political journalist gets hold of it that it does no good, but we keep pressing.

  Chairman: Deputy Prime Minister, thank you very much indeed. That was a very interesting session.





 
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