Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280
WEDNESDAY 20 MARCH 2002
MP, MS SHEILA
280. I think it is the case though, is it not,
Secretary of State, that in most countries it is the environment
department that is taking the lead?
(Margaret Beckett) I think that is probably true in
most countries but then that is partly because in most countries
it is increasingly the case that it is the environment department
that is the home of the pursuit of sustainable development. By
definition, the environment departments are not the sole custodians
and they are not wanting to be the only people who pursue sustainable
development, they are wanting to spread that awareness right across
government. We are the policy lead on the summit and I think that
is true in most other countries. Indeed, one of the things we
are encouraging other countries to do is to send a multi-disciplinary
team and teams of ministers to the summit as we intend to do ourselves.
281. Do you not think, Secretary of State, most
people in Britain still see environmentalism and development as
(Margaret Beckett) No, I do not think I would say
that but I suppose it depends on whether you are talking in a
UK context or in a world context.
282. I am talking about most British people's
understanding of the two ideas. I still think myself that when
people think of environmentalism, and I do not mean the NGOs I
mean the population generally, they think of environmentalism
as an anti-development concept.
(Margaret Beckett) I can understand why that point
of view was held perhaps if you think back to the early days of
awareness of the impact that we were having on our environment,
but my own view would be that although of course in a developed
country there will always be particular pressure on environmental
issues because, frankly, that is where we have tended to do the
most damage the fastest, I think for quite a long time it has
been the case that people recognise that you have to balance these
issues. Maybe, who knows, one of the things that will really bring
that realisation to fruition is, in fact, the World Summit which
we hope is going to force people to recognise that these are all
important issues on their own but they are all issues that you
have to balance because if you get one out of kilter with the
other then your whole policy and approach is out of kilter.
283. Just to follow that through a little bit
because obviously it is of interest to this Committee to know
exactly what attitude will be struck by the UK Government officially
in Johannesburg and what effect that will have on sustainable
development in international aid. Both yourself and John Prescott
have said that access to clean energy is going to have to be one
of the priorities discussed at the World Summit. In Johannesburg
you are quoted as asking "What about clean energy for those
who have no lights or heat and whose health and education are
undermined by the lack of basic facilities?" That is a very
good question to ask. It is the sort of question we did pose to
Clare Short as well and she was very sceptical of the benefits
that something like a solar energy programme could bring to rural
Africa, and perhaps some people might be wedded to the old-fashioned
idea of grid connections and massive infrastructure projects.
The simple question is what is the view that is going to prevail
from the UK Government's point of view in Johannesburg, is it
your view or Clare Short's view?
(Margaret Beckett) I would question whether there
is such a dissonance between us. Obviously it is important that
there is access to sustainable energy in Africa, in particular
where there is such deprivation and poverty. I would have thought,
in fact I am pretty confident from the many conversations that
I have had with her, that Clare would be among the first to say
that the alleviation of poverty has to be something that also
carries with it sustainability otherwise you do not continue to
alleviate poverty. I think that many of these issues will perhaps
become a little clearer after we have had, I think it is, the
New York PrepCom where people are going to try to look at some
of the concrete details.
284. That is the one next week?
(Margaret Beckett) Yes. To look at some of the concrete
details of the action programme that we might all be working on
over the summer to put to the summit. There is a little room for
manoeuvre yet in terms of what the core issues will be. We have
got our core issues that we have been working on as a Government
and the South African Government has identified some of the things
on which they want to see progress: water, water and sanitation
by the way. That is very important. We must all learn to say "water
and sanitation" as the mantra because one without the other
is not nearly so useful. Also there is obviously an interest in
energy, oceans as well as fresh water, where the South African
Government has some of their perspectives. I think that we will
see over the next few weeks hopefully something more like the
shape of the core agenda because there is a list as long as your
arm of things that people could talk about and would like to see
pursued but we need to get it down to something more concrete.
285. Within that core agenda as it emerges if
there was a serious proposal, for example, for a solar renewable
energy programme for rural Africa or any other form of clean energy
programme for developing parts of the globe, you would not characterise
those as a Northern obsession with narrow environmentalism?
(Margaret Beckett) I would always be reluctant to
use such phraseology. I would simply say to you that one of the
five partnership projects that the UK Government has been working
on for probably over a year is a sustainable energy project that
came out of the G8 about a year ago where we have had British
businessmen in the lead. It is one of these multi-stakeholder
partnerships where we have had a whole lot of people engaged.
That, I think, was an FCO lead. My own Department, for example,
is working with, again, a multi-stakeholder partnership in terms
of water and we are working on projects for some peri-urban developments.
Part of what we are all trying to do is to find ways in which
we can make an additional contribution over and above the one
that has been there in the past.
286. I think that the contradiction that has
just been brought in front of us by both Mr Thomas and Mrs Clark
is really about how we bring together economic developments, environmental
issues and where the interface between them all is. I think that
during the time between now and Johannesburg perhaps the Commission
for Sustainable Development could help to explore some of the
issues arising out of that. I think this Committee wants to have
at the very heart of the Government's agenda the fact that environmental
renewable issues should be, wherever possible, prioritised and
steering the way forward so that there is that emphasis on sustainable
development and we do not think about it as an afterthought. I
am thinking of solar and photovoltaics when we have had large
private investment in energy.
(Margaret Beckett) I did not want to get drawn into
the issue of solar particularly because solar may or may not be
the right source depending on where you are.
287. I am just wondering whether or not you
would agree with me that maybe the Commission for Sustainable
Development under the chairmanship of Jonathon Porritt might be
a way of perhaps exploring some of these issues?
(Margaret Beckett) They are engaged in various of
the discussions, which is no doubt why they came to give evidence.
288. Excellent. Maybe that is a way forward.
One of the things that I really wanted to ask you at this stage
is given once in a generation or once in a decade we have a chance
to really shape things and make a real difference, given that
we had Rio and so much success from Rio and then we had the world
trade negotiations and the Uruguay Round shortly afterwards, could
you give the Committee some indicationin your introduction
I welcomed the fact that you made reference to the continuous
process of what is happening now with Monterrey and so onhow
this is relating to trade agreements and how what is going to
be happening at Johannesburg will fit into the continuing WTO
discussions that will be taking place in Mexico and reaching a
conclusion in Rio 2005? Could you comment on how we can make sure
that sustainable development gets fed through into that agenda
from Johannesburg and that we avoid the pitfalls of post-Rio when
that did not quite happen with the World Trade Organisation, as
it was then, and the Uruguay Round?
(Margaret Beckett) I think the principal thing that
I would say is that, as you know, our agenda for the WTO and for
the Uruguay Round was to make globalisation work for the benefit
of everybody and not least for the poor, perhaps particularly
for the poor. It seems to me that if we are able to get, for example,
moves to free up markets for access to agricultural products that
is in itself an enormously important contribution for the developing
world. I think I am right in sayingI see so many pieces
of paper I cannot remember exactly what my source for this isI
have seen some comments from President Museveni to the effect
that it will be excellent and admirable if we get a greater flow
of aid and it will be excellent and admirable if we get a range
of other partnerships which may involve the business community
and so on, so it is not just government aid, it is the private
sector, etc., etc., but on the other hand, and I am paraphrasing
but something along the lines of, all of that would not do very
much good if nevertheless the developed world was not going to
open up its markets to the developing world, in particular for
agricultural products. I think that, in fact, all of this is very
much part of a developing approach. These are not the same moves,
they are moves, if you like, in parallel. I share your view and
your hope that what we will see at Johannesburg is a very different
summit from Rio, it is not Rio plus ten. That was one of the first
things that we said to the South African Government, that we do
not want it to be Rio plus ten, we want it to be Johannesburg
and a fresh start. What it can be is something which creates an
attitude and an awareness that can spread across a whole series
of international negotiations, including into the WTO negotiations.
It is certainly part of the background and part of the pressures
within the European Union for our own negotiating mandate for
the WTO talks and it may well be, and I would certainly welcome
it myself, that out of the Johannesburg Summit will come pressure
on the EU and the United States and the other players who have
committed themselves to phasing out agricultural subsidies and
so on at the WTO and we will see parallel processes which are
moving us in the same direction.
289. That means presumably then that DEFRA will
be working very closely with the DTI in the run-up to Johannesburg
to make sure that what is being taken forward is going to be consistent
with having that same emphasis on environmental issues and the
effects of the trade round as well?
(Margaret Beckett) Just as we have a very good relationship
with DFID, so we do with DTI. I think Michael is certainly the
only EU Environment Minister, possibly one of the few from anywhere
in the world, who was at Doha. I know that there was a very, very
constructive relationship between the cross-departmental team
there and we were able to get environmental issues on to the agenda
in a way that we had not dared hope that we might succeed in doing.
290. It is a question of where the trump card
is, is it not, whether or not trade trumps environment or whether
environment trumps trade and how it could be a win-win situation?
(Margaret Beckett) To have a win-win situation it
has not got to be an issue of one trumping the other, it has got
to be how can they support each other.
291. Secretary of State, last time you came
to talk to the Committee we concentrated on the reorganisation
of departments post the General Election and you will recall that
we talked about some of the recruiting difficulties your Department
had experienced. I understand that around 400 posts came across
from DETR and at the end of January about 17 per cent of those
posts were vacant. In the light of those difficulties, have you
had any problems in preparing for the summit? Have you been happy
with the amount of resources you have been able to deploy?
(Margaret Beckett) Those difficulties to the extent
that they remain, and we have, as you know, had a dispute understandably,
frankly, in the aftermath of trying to reconcile very different
working conditions and pay for different staff, hopefully are
now well on the way to being dealt with. We have had a fair amount
of change. If you look, for example, in the document that we have
just produced at the management board at the back of the document,
there are a substantial number of changes there, people have come
in from other departments, a range of changes, and that is happening
throughout the Department. In terms of the resources, we would
always like more, of course, but my perspective is that we are
reasonably well resourced for the summit and, of course, all of
those who are engaged in it are very enthusiastic about it so
we probably get more for our money, so to speak, than we are really
entitled to get because they all work extraordinarily hard. We
have got something like 12 people working full-time on preparations
for the summit. One of those is working specifically on the projects
that I referred to earlier on that the Prime Minister gave within
the last year. Eleven within the Department, four of those are
working on the British end of things. We have got two people on
loan to the South African Government, one from my own Department
and one from DFID. We have got someone from my own Department
in New York in the Secretariat there and we have got one in UNEP.
Coming in, we have got two secondees, one co-ordinating business
response and one co-ordinating the response particularly related
to the water industry. Those are the people who are working directly
and full-time, but we have also got a very collaborative effort
across Whitehall. Our Director General chairs a steering committee
which has something of the order of 33 members from the whole
range of departments who are engaged. Apart from those people
who I referred to who are working full-time, we have a very substantial
chunk of the time of the Director General and the Director and
Divisional Head. Then there are others in the Department, for
example people who are engaged in water policy who are also engaged
for part of their time. We have got quite a substantial team,
I do not think one could complain about that.
292. What is your impression about how that
compares with other players, European partners, other countries?
(Margaret Beckett) Pretty well actually. This always
sounds terribly immodest but since a lot of it happened before
I came to this post maybe I can be a little bit immodest on behalf
of the Government. We have built up a very substantial reputation
over the years as a result of the work of departments like my
own, so partly we are engaged with others, we are asked to participate
and contribute to the process and so on, and that has continued.
On the whole, I think both in terms of their effectiveness and
the quality of their contribution, and also in terms of numbers,
we do compare quite well. I think I have said to the Committee
before, to take a slightly different example in terms of a specific
subject, at climate change conferences both in Bonn and in Marrakesh,
it may be immodest but it is perfectly true to say that key contributions
came from the British delegation. I am not just talking about
the lead negotiator and myself or whatever. If you met the team,
they are enormously impressive. We have people who are climate
change experts who look about 14 who go and kind of buttonhole
ministers and make them negotiate with other ministers to sort
out this problem and so on, they are just fantastic.
293. The PrepCom III process has been mentioned,
it is five days away. Do you think that we are up to speed in
terms of the work that we have done on that? Are we ready to proceed
with that particular meeting?
(Margaret Beckett) I think that we are. I think we
are reasonably optimistic.
(Ms McCabe) As you know, we negotiate through the
Presidency in the PrepComs so a lot of the work has to be done
in the EU working group where different subjects are being prepared
by different lead countries and the UK is in the lead on three
papers which are poverty and the environment, Africa and science
and technology. Last week there was a two day meeting at which
I think there were about six or seven UK officials taking forward
that work. Also, in the absence of anybody else really taking
the lead on this in the EU, we have done a lot of work on the
Type II initiatives. A long time ago DEFRA commissioned this work
by Chatham House which I think you may have seen, which we can
certainly send to you, on what criteria and elements we would
like to see in a Type II initiative, which has been very widely
shared with colleagues. We have had Chatham House experts out
in New York, we have had them at the UNEP meetings, so we have
had a chance to engage with people from North and South. We have
had a lot of congratulations for the quality and appropriateness
of that work at this time of negotiations. We are very keen to
take forward some Type II initiatives so at that meeting the UK
called a meeting with EU partners to share experience and we will
probably be leading on that in the EU. There is a lot of work
going on by different countries in the EU, there are so many different
subjects to be covered that you cannot expect the Presidency to
294. How will that work at the summit? How will
that interaction work between the objectives of the EU and different
countries taking up different strands?
(Margaret Beckett) At all of these international events
we work through an EU co-ordinating group and then ultimately
it depends a little bit on how well the pattern then works. Sometimes
when you have a wider set of negotiations, as in Bonn and Marrakesh,
you get a slightly wider group, of which we are usually a part.
295. I noticed in your memorandum that the EU
Environment Council has been leading EU preparations for the summit
so far. Would you like to have seen engagement from other councils?
(Margaret Beckett) Other councils have been engaged.
The GAC has been engaged, ECOFIN, particularly in preparations
for Monterrey ECOFIN has been engaged, and indeed the European
Council itself, and also the Development Council. Others have
been engaged. I think we are hopeful of getting the GAC a bit
296. Sorry, the GAC?
(Margaret Beckett) The General Affairs Council, I
beg your pardon. We are hopeful of getting the GAC a little more
engaged even in the future. It is just that the core stuff has
to come from somewhere. It would not be fair to say that it is
only being done through the Environment Council.
297. One of my concerns and, I am sure, that
of members of the Committee, is that we do need an outcome, a
programme of action, to come out of Johannesburg, do we not?
(Margaret Beckett) Yes.
298. Could you give some examples of the types
of commitments you might want to see coming out, what kind of
targets we are pushing for as a UK Government and what you would
like to see as global headline indicators?
(Margaret Beckett) If I can pick up on what you last
said, I am not sure that I am particularly looking for global
headline indicators. We are looking much more for practical projects
and outcomes. I know that when we have in the past had, say, climate
change conferences and so on there has been a tendencyand,
indeed, in terms of an approach to the environment as a whole
there has been a tendencyto have targets and things of
that kind, but I think the feeling this time is that out of Johannesburg
we are looking more for a range of specific projects and perhaps
seeing them as part of an overall process. There is quite a lot
of discussion about this. I am sorry, this is going to sound a
bit airy-fairy at the moment, but that is partly because everybody
is trying to thrash out exactly what we can most usefully achieve.
Certainly, as you know, it was in our memorandum of evidence that
the thinking is that there will be a political declaration and
a plan of action, and then we hope these Type II partnerships
will be mooted. I think the feeling is that what we will want
to do is to try to get a range of proposals for actual partnership
work which will include the Type II partnerships, which will include
what the Government themselves do, which will draw on what we
hope will be a successful new African partnership where you are
getting better governance, things that they are bringing to the
table, and so you draw in private sector investment and so on.
I think people are looking very much to see whether there is a
framework, if you like, for a global plan of action or a global
deal or whatever. There is a lot of sensitivity about the words.
The words do not really matter very much. What matters is whether
we can get the right framework actually to have something to show
for this in two, five, ten years' time, other than just a lot
of very nice words and some potential targets that have not actually
been delivered. As I say, there is a lot of discussion going on
about exactly what is the best way to do that and harness all
these different voices and different initiatives.
299. It is going to be difficult to sell it
to the public, is it not?
(Margaret Beckett) Not necessarily. If we actually
get concrete outcomes and concrete projects, then I think that
the public understand that a lot better than some of the things
that we all tend to talk about in terms of projects and so on.