Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260 - 268)

Question Number



  260. Certainly there is a role for the private sector but should we not be doing more perhaps to create indigenous private sectors rather than merely transporting our own—
  (Mr Porritt) Yes, indeed.

  261.—where the profits are then kept in the local economy?
  (Mr Porritt) Indeed. I am very involved with a small charity called WaterAid, which you probably know about, which is funded by the water companies, for what it is worth, here in the UK. Its remit is specifically to build indigenous expertise in developing countries to bring these water and sanitation services to more and more people. It does it in part by having access to some of the corporate muscle of the companies with whom it works, but it does it very sensitively within those local communities, saying, "These assets are communal assets and the management of them must involve local communities in a very different way from how we might think of it in the UK." Is that the kind of partnership which will create the delivery of sustainable water services for the millions of people in the Third World? If you ask me, the answer is yes, indisputably, but a critical role in that is the NGO which creates the trust with the local communities to make these solutions really work.

Joan Walley

  262. I know we are coming towards the end of what I think has been a really interesting session but I wanted to pick you up on what you said in the last exchange. Did you refer to the London Principles?
  (Mr Porritt) Yes, they are going under the name of the London Principles.

  263. Could you tell the Committee a little about those please?
  (Mr Porritt) I think so. This is essentially a DEFRA initiative, working together with the Corporation of London and the Royal Institute of International Affairs, to develop a set of guidelines or principles which will be signed up to by global financial service companies basically—big banks, big insurance companies, others of that kind—which would voluntarily constrain the ways in which they bring their investment power to bear in developing countries. So what are the principles they should work to as they bring their influence into these countries.


  264. That is a good example of how a department and yourselves now are trying to bring sustainable development into the mainstream of their thinking.
  (Mr Porritt) Very much so. The financial services sector is about as mainstream as you can get and their role is just enormous. To be able to influence their behaviour is crucial. It is ambitious, because you can imagine all the things they start saying about how to deploy capital in developing countries, but it is the equivalent, if you like, of Kofi Annan's global compact for the financial services sector seeking to bring some of these voluntary principles to bear on the activities of a very large global sector.

  265. From your perspective, do you get the impression that any other departments—and you talked about the Department of Health earlier on—have the idea they can use Johannesburg this year to pitchfork (perhaps that is not the right word) sustainable development but get sustainable development more mainstream in their thinking?
  (Mr Porritt) I am not sufficiently up on the other four initiatives, I am afraid, to answer that. It has just been pointed out that the London Principles is not a DEFRA initiative but Treasury and DTI.

Mr Francois

  266. Are these published yet?
  (Mr Porritt) They are in development.

  267. So they are not yet finalised.
  (Mr Porritt) They are publicly available but they have not been signed off yet.

Joan Walley

  268. I think it is really important that we end our session in an up-beat mode about what can be done and to have some heart and hope about the direction we are going in. Can you say how important you think it is that we should not just say but we should do as we mean and do as we say, and can you tell us what scope there is within different departments to put that into action? I am looking, for example, at the example we had in the last few days whereby, as I understand it at least, there has been a question mark over whether Brazilian timber which has been brought into the country has been legally or illegally logged. How much do you think that Government, right the way across the joined-up agenda, should make sure it is looking at being 100 per cent in the way all these difficult issues are interpreted and acted upon?
  (Mr Porritt) I think it is absolutely fundamental. The pre-condition for Government to act in an advisory role, either to the general public or the private sector, and exhort both individuals and companies to behave in more socially and responsible ways, is that it does it itself in every aspect of its behaviour. We are looking very carefully, as indeed this Committee has, at the whole area of procurement. How can it use procurement to advance this integrated approach to meeting people's needs. I would like us to look much more carefully at investments in the built environment. I am looking at the new build programme for hospitals and schools and I am thinking, "How much of that flow of money, those billions and billions of pounds, is actually going to come up to any kind of sensible sustainability standard on things like energy, waste, raw materials, impact on local communities?" To what extent are we going to have exemplars of really serious sustainable construction coming out of two of the biggest capital investment programmes this country has ever seen. I am asking the question rhetorically because I think you know as well as I do that the answer is not a great deal.

  Joan Walley: I think that brings us back to the very heart of the debate which is going on nationally about private finance and how we have environmental issues at the heart of that.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed, Jonathon. We are delighted your first appearance before a Select Committee was in front of ours because we do share a similar agenda and can help each other along that path. Thank you very much.

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