WEDNESDAY 20 MARCH 2002
Mr John Horam, Chairman
Memorandum submitted by Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Examination of Witnesses
RT HON MARGARET BECKETT, a Member of the House, Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, MS SHEILA McCABE, Head of the Environment Protection International Division, and MR JOHN ADAMS, Head of the Sustainable Development Unit, Department for Food and Rural Affairs, examined.
(Margaret Beckett) It is mostly about my visit to South Africa because it is part of the run-up to WSSD.
(Margaret Beckett) I do not know if this is the right moment or not but can I also say that this morning we published a short document about the Department. I hope we have brought enough copies for all the Committee.
(Margaret Beckett) It is about the Department, yes. Put simply, we get quite a lot of queries about what is the Department, what does it mean, what does it do. We have tried to prepare a short accessible document that gives answer to some of those questions and we thought, as we published it this morning, that the Committee might like copies.
(Margaret Beckett) Especially with pictures. Chairman, thank you. You have already had our memorandum as a Department which is setting out all of the work we are doing on WSSD and giving an outline of how we are implementing sustainable development at home. I thought it might be helpful, I hope it will be, if I say a little to the Committee about the outcome of my visit to South Africa last week to discuss WSSD. I was there from the 12th to the 14th March and accompanied by an inter-departmental team of officials including our High Commissioner in South Africa, officials from DEFRA obviously, from FCO, the Cabinet office and the local DFID Director. While I was there I met quite a range of people involved in the summit. It included Valli Moosa, the Environment and Tourism Minister, who is leading on the summit, officials from the Water and Forestry Department, business and NGO representatives and the Johannesburg World Summit Company who are dealing with many of the practical arrangements. I also visited a DFID coast project near Cape Town and launched a DEFRA funded teachers' guide to WSSD at a school in Soweto and I addressed a meeting of NGOs and educationalists. I also had the chance to exchange ideas with Jan Pronk, who is Kofi Annan's Emissary for the summit, who was also visiting. The purpose of the visit was to reinforce the United Kingdom's support for the summit to the South African Government and to explore areas where the UK can assist and advance discussions. So the timing of the visit was just before PrepCom II in New York and the G8 Environment Ministers' meeting in Canada in April. It was clear from my discussions that South Africa and we share many of the same aims for the summit. First, that it should focus on sustainable development and not on environment issues alone. Secondly, it is part of a wider process stretching from Doha through Monterrey to Johannesburg and also linked to the New Partnership for African Development. Third, that it must focus on practical action to help deliver the Millennium Development Goals. The key issues for South Africa are water and sanitation, energy, health, education, technology and food security, and they are very similar to our own. I was particularly struck by their interest in using WSSD to progress and to push for agricultural trade reform. I understand that has been reflected in statements elsewhere by other African ministers and obviously we will be exploring the opportunities for that. Valli Moosa and I discussed how we might generate greater political impetus into the negotiations. Obviously it has to be handled carefully within the UN negotiating system but delivering significant advances at WSSD will, we believe, require engagement and commitment by Heads. There are a lot of ideas, a great wealth of ideas out there, but they need much further work, more concrete work, if they are to deliver action at the summit. We also spoke about the development of implementation projects, engaging a variety of stakeholders, the so-called Type II outcomes where the United Kingdom has shown leadership in developing ideas. This is a new concept for the UN system and we need to develop mechanisms to deliver them, both through the UN and in other parallel processes, and I hope to take some of these ideas forward when I visit the World Bank on the 11th April. As far as the organisation of the summit is concerned, the South Africans still face a funding gap of 190 million rand, over £10 million. The UK is among the largest donors so far at about £1.25 million pounds, but regrettably some large EU countries have yet to make any commitment and we are exploring how to encourage them to contribute. Despite that uncertainty there has already been a substantial amount of planning around the summit in Johannesburg and we were impressed with the comprehensive planning that is already under way. The summit company, which is known as JOWSCO, is well aware of the need to minimise the adverse effects of the summit, to deliver legacy projects and to engage the general public in South Africa. Lastly, I also met some business representatives and the NGO Preparatory Committee. There is plenty of opportunity for business to exhibit at the summit and there will be a day concentrating on business's contribution to sustainable development at the summit on September 1. There have been some difficulties over the NGO preparations, due in part to the NGO Committee being tasked both to prepare the South African NGO position and to organise the NGO events, but they seem now to have resolved those problems with maturity and sensitivity and are firmly committed to organising an effective NGO element. I understand that they were hoping to progress that work at Monterrey this week. Thank you.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed, Secretary of State. I am glad to hear that the practical preparations are going well. This Committee will be sending a delegation to the Johannesburg Summit.
(Margaret Beckett) I am not entirely sure whether it is quite proper for me, to be honest. I am not sure that it is in the public domain because this is information that we sought semi-privately from the South African Government so that we can put on pressure behind the scenes.
(Margaret Beckett) Yes. Can I just say if you think of some fairly large names.
(Margaret Beckett) You may find they have not all done so, although some say that they are going to.
(Margaret Beckett) Physically and financially.
Joan Walley: Thank you.
Chairman: Thank you for that statement and for making it brief too. We will start off the questioning and Mrs Clark, I know, wants to come in.
(Margaret Beckett) Quite. Obviously there is always a risk but I am extremely encouraged. From right back at the beginning when we first had a conversation with the South African Government about the preparations for the summit I recall that I went to that meeting briefed with the point of view that this is not a summit about the environment, this is a summit about sustainable development, and I found that coming back at me across the table from the South African Government. I think they and we have been clear from the very, very beginning and deeply relieved to find that we very much wanted the same kind of outcomes. For my own part, and this is something that I keep shoving into all the speeches that I make on this issue, I think it is so patently obvious that dire poverty and environmental degradation actually feed one off the other and they are a kind of vicious circle that it seems to me to be self-evident as an issue that you have to balance the social and environmental and economic effects. We say about climate change that it is something which affects everybody but particularly the poor who are most vulnerable to it, and again it is the poor who most need sustainable development.
(Margaret Beckett) Indeed.
(Margaret Beckett) I do not think that I would accept that a different line is being peddled. In fact, as I think you said yourself at the outset, and I am sure Clare would say, as departments we work together extremely closely and extremely well on the preparations for the summit and, indeed, on the agenda for it. Without wanting to get into a dispute between two people who apparently said things to this Committee, neither of which I heard, I think certainly there have been times, although I would myself be inclined to say perhaps in the past, when people who were passionately concerned about the environment have tended to look more in their own context because this was where people could first get a handle on things. I think for quite some considerable time it has been the case that the wider perspective of sustainable development is very much the context of what those who care most about and work most on the environment have become involved with. Certainly we were anxious quite early on that because it was a sustainable development agenda, and that is very much the concern of environment ministers, I do not mean exclusively but environment ministers are involved in that because of the environment aspect of it, we were worried we might find that it was mostly environmental NGOs who were looking to come to and be involved in the preparations for the World Summit and, for precisely the reasons that you and I have just been discussing, we were extremely anxious that that did not happen and, indeed, quite early on we put out feelers through DFID and their contacts and through various observations I made at public gatherings, we thought it was extremely important that we got environment and development NGOs engaged in the work and working together, and they are engaged in our Communications Strategy Group and so on.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(Margaret Beckett) They are engaged in various of the discussions, which is no doubt why they came to give evidence.
(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 saying - I see so many pieces of paper I cannot remember exactly what my source for this is - I 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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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 in 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 you 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 do everything.
(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.
(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 more engaged.
(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.
(Margaret Beckett) Yes.
(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 tendency - and, indeed, in terms of an approach to the environment as a whole there has been a tendency - to 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.
(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.
(Margaret Beckett) Not so much impacting on the UK; impacting on the environment primarily where there is the greatest poverty, which the UK is involved in and which can be discerned. Yes, I agree with that.
(Margaret Beckett) I am afraid it is not my daily reading!
(Margaret Beckett) I am obviously following your quotes rather than having the paper in front of me, but I am tempted to say that they are all right.
(Margaret Beckett) It is certainly true that there have been great improvements; whether it be in levels of employment, in what we have to do to tackle poverty, in some of the issues dealing with wildlife and so on, there have been enormous improvements - air quality, water quality. It is also perfectly true that there is still a lot more to do. I cannot quite recall the phraseology you were quoting, something about transport and so on.
(Margaret Beckett) Yes. We are still seeing problems, although one could argue that the problems are growing more slowly than before, but we have not overcome them. So I am aware that various things have been said and quoted. What exactly was said I actually do not know, but what I do know is that the report which was published, and for which the press conference was held, is a report which we publish every year. Am I right in saying that it was at the suggestion of this Committee, Mr Chairman?
(Margaret Beckett) It publishes information on indicators and so on. The whole point is that people can study these things for themselves. Those indicators are showing measured improvement, although there is much more that needs to be done. That presumably was the point of having the report in the first place.
(Margaret Beckett) As I say, it is indeed true and valid to say that there is merit in both points of view. Is the glass half full or half empty? Which way do you prefer to look at it? Are you an optimist or a pessimist? I would concede, I am a natural pessimist. I would say there are still an awful lot of problems to overcome, but it is silly to pretend that lots of them have not been overcome and are not on the way to being overcome.
(Margaret Beckett) Indeed, and I believe we are unique in the world in doing that, so you can congratulate yourselves on recommending that.
(Margaret Beckett) You and I are both reliant on the reporting of what was said.
(Margaret Beckett) When I read a report which says that this was a problem for the DoE, then I start to wonder about the accuracy of all the rest of the report. I accept your point that it is extremely important, that these are serious issues that need to be taken seriously, and that it is important that we try to encourage people to look at the range of outcomes that that report can show, because if we are seeing some improvement and that is not recognised, then that is discouraging. What we want is to encourage people to recognise where there is still work to do, which I think would have been Michael's intention, but from what you say does not seem to have come through from the perception of the journalist who attended the press conference.
(Margaret Beckett) I am very pleased to hear it.
Mrs Clark: So I think we can say that those comments are assumptions made by the journalist, and the journalist would assume without checking the facts.
(Margaret Beckett) I think that many departments are in fact working on it. It is not an easy thing to develop a department or an agency's sustainable development strategy, and I think many departments are in fact working on that. We ourselves, as a new department, are working on our own sustainable development strategy, and many organisations are. I think it will take time for the understanding, the methodology, the approach, to be understood.
(Margaret Beckett) With respect, some does, but not as much as we would like. I think we will find that actually the picture in the business community is not dissimilar to the picture you are describing in Government where some people have managed to do this and have made progress, but others have not. I cannot remember what the figures are, off the top of my head.
(Mr Adams) About 45 out of 100, at the last count.
(Margaret Beckett) We are trying to encourage, not least through the Greener Government Committee, that kind of observance, but, as I said, it does take time.
(Margaret Beckett) I cannot do that, because I have not asked anybody to give me that picture and those figures, and I am not even sure how we see it. What I can certainly give you is an undertaking that my Department and I will continue to work with other departments and to press them to develop the kind of approach that you are suggesting. I can also remind you, if I may, that we have already succeeded with the Treasury in getting a sustainable development underpinning to the whole of the spending review process. Our officials and Treasury officials are engaged in looking through the proposals which departments have made for their future development, not least to assess how they measure against sustainable development criteria.
(Margaret Beckett) No, and it may not be. I accept that you are asking for public information, but being able to do it at all is the first step, publishing it is the second.
(Margaret Beckett) I think that might be optimistic. I am not quite sure how long it took. As I say, we are unique in the world in doing what we do already. Certainly we would be the last people to argue that we do not want to develop and build on that, but as to whether I can give you an undertaking that we can do it in two years, I do not think I can undertake to do that.
(Mr Adams) Can I underline the Secretary of State's point too by the extent of the departmental material which we now make available as part of Greener Government. We now have not just the summary report but the background information which includes identifiable data from every Whitehall department on the environmental impact. Of course, that is not the same as a report from each department, but it contains a lot of information segregated by department, which the Committee can make use of.
(Margaret Beckett) As I said, I think our greatest success probably - and maybe the most astonishing in some ways, although perhaps I should not say that - is to get the Treasury on board and to get the Treasury not only seeing sustainable development as part of the approach to the next spending round review, but also to agree that this should be very much a criterion for the Office of Government Commerce to take into account. When you think of all those years, under successive governments, where the Treasury appeared not to have any interest in anything but what was the cheapest cost and not what was even the most cost-effective, never mind anything else, I think it has been quite a triumph to get that as part of the approach. Of course, that inevitably has an effect, and will continue to have a growing effect, I believe, across Government.
(Margaret Beckett) In a sense, it ought not to be like that. If you are integrating the concept of sustainable development from the beginning, it is a little bit like the things that people say about the use of design. It ought to be integral from the beginning of the process and not something that, when you get to the end, you say, "Hang on a minute, what about design?" We do not want people to say, "Here we've got this nice little policy, now hang on a minute, what about sustainable development?" We want sustainable development to be in there from the beginning, so there ought not to be a point when it changes.
(Margaret Beckett) That is not a specific recommendation for me; that is a recommendation for the Minister for Housing at the DTLR. Certainly it is a very interesting proposal and it is one that, in our contacts with that department, obviously we will be pressing with them.
(Margaret Beckett) It does make people rethink, and I did not mean to convey that it did not. All I meant was that it would be a pity, as I said, to work out a policy and then say, "What about sustainable development?" I accept that if the indicators go in the wrong direction we have to think again about why.
(Margaret Beckett) I think it is a bit sweeping to say that crime is going in the wrong direction. Certainly with violent crime we are seeing a deterioration, but we have seen a very substantial improvement in crime overall. You will know that the Home Office and others are discussing precisely what we do and how we can turn round the issue on violent crime. On wildlife, I thought wild birds had improved. I thought it was farmland birds that had not improved.
(Margaret Beckett) With regard to waste, you will know that we have a PIU review under way at the present time following on the Rio summit. There is presently a PIU review on this, because we have recognised that we have to assess that.
(Margaret Beckett) We are taking action, yes, or we propose to do so.
(Margaret Beckett) You are right in saying that this is something that has changed since Rio, although I think also you were saying that Rio had a strong local and regional focus, but if I understand correctly, Rio did not have the sort of bottom-up regional PrepCom and so on preparation that Johannesburg would have.
(Margaret Beckett) I suppose it is rather top-down, whereas Johannesburg, I think - and I hope this will be successful in itself - has been much more a bottom-up process. Certainly we do anticipate - and I think arrangements are being discussed - greater involvement from the devolved administrations.
(Ms McCabe) Yes, the devolved administrations are invited to meet in the Cabinet committee that is preparing it; they are invited to meet as a steering group that Diana Nicholl chairs and they are on the interdepartmental committee. They are always welcome to send members on delegations. They have not so far taken up that offer, but it has certainly been extended to them.
(Margaret Beckett) I do not think any decision has been made, but I would not be at all surprised if that were the case.
(Margaret Beckett) I am quite hopeful that we will get that kind of local involvement and participation, perhaps even more than in the past, not least through the Type II partnerships. One of the issues we have not touched on so far, I do not think, is that among the players who are engaged in the processes we are working on here are, for example, the local authorities. That is also true in South Africa and elsewhere. If I can give you a particular example which I find particularly interesting and hopefully will be successful, that is the example of the water partnerships which we are working on, which involve water charities, water companies. We are looking at maybe some peri-urban projects, because there is a tendency that projects get carried out in the big cities where there is the greatest urban deprivation, and that is fine, that is perfectly right and so on. However, the smaller towns or the edges, perhaps quite substantial communities, of our big cities do not always get included. This is the sort of thing that our water partnership people are looking at but of course they are looking in conjunction with local authorities and local people in those areas where such projects might possibly be undertaken. It is absolutely something where there is involvement and I am sure the Committee is aware of the tremendous rise, enormously impressive, especially considering the scale of their problems, that South Africa has made in the provision of fresh water. Something like half of the people in South Africa who lacked fresh water have now been provided with it. They have not made nearly as much progress on sanitation and that has now come right to the top of the agenda from the point of view of priority. Nevertheless there is still a lot to do.
(Margaret Beckett) The thinking at the moment is that there will be a political declaration about the direction in which people want to take them, but that there will be a sort of Johannesburg plan of action. Also we hope that there will be the specific and new Type II partnerships which, if they are successful, could be a model for other moves in the future.
(Margaret Beckett) Yes.
(Margaret Beckett) No, no. I expect there to be some sort of overarching plan of action. I suppose what I am really saying is what I find in some ways most interesting is the whole issue of Type II partnerships because they are new.
(Margaret Beckett) Not one that we are specifically pursuing. We are pursuing water and energy. Sheila, do you want to say anything more about the overall plan of action into which water fits? That is what you have been discussing in New York
(Ms McCabe) To go back to your point about local authorities, one of the issues of policy that comes up is sustainable development (and this meeting reflects it) and a lot of it is about what happens at national level and below, so there is quite a lot of discussion going on about, to use the UN jargon, good governance and what happens at national level and below national level. For some countries that is a sensitive issue. It is not a sensitive issue for us and we have always included the local government representatives on our delegations so far. There will certainly be pressure from the EU countries to have references, possibly in the declaration. We have not even started to discuss that so I cannot say we have taken the action, but obviously that is the sort of issue that the EU would press for, to have references to the government as a major action for delivering sustainable development in the declaration. Certainly as the EU we should be pressing for a reference to it in the Johannesburg plan of action. I think we might get a more sympathetic hearing from Africa because local government has quite a strong role and we saw in our visit last week the important role that sub-national government plays in some of these countries. These issues have to be agreed by the whole of the UN and one has to be aware that for some countries in the UN very overt references are difficult for them.
(Margaret Beckett) We all in our different ways and at our different levels are exploring how we can make people more aware and more able to participate in the choices that are available. One of the themes that is part of the new African partnership and is certainly part of our approach is about capacity building, partly in the terra context and partly in a wider context, and the availability of education and training and so on. We are all exploring, are we not, what different mechanisms there are for making sure people's voices are heard? One of the small projects that my department is involved with - and I cannot remember whether this is referred to in the memorandum or not - which one never knows, may have a larger outcome, is that we have funded a teacher's guide to the work of sustainable development which I launched in South Africa last week specifically for all schools in South Africa, to try to get children in South Africa involved and aware and so on. We were at a school in Soweto where they gave us a demonstration of a pilot project that the school were working on with the RSPB on bird life in South Africa, where they gave us a demonstration of a teaching game that is in the guide called The Web of Life. It was very dramatic.
(Margaret Beckett) As you know, we are involved too in trying to raise awareness in our own schools. I take the view that in South Africa, as here, it is just the kind of thing that if you get children involved in and engaged in you are much more likely to get a wider spread of knowledge among the population than you might otherwise do.
(Margaret Beckett) That in a sense goes back to the point I made a moment ago about issues like capacity building. Again, it is an important balance to be struck. There is not any question that many developing countries are extremely sensitive about developed countries' emphasis on, say, labour standards and environmental standards and so on because they see it as disguised protectionism. Of course there could be occasions when that is how it works out or indeed that is what it is. As we see it, the important thing is to try and find mechanisms whereby you can support people and enable them to meet those standards so that it is not a matter of having to lower standards below what we think is right and proper and what we would expect for our populations, but it is a matter of making sure that nevertheless there is access to the markets because people are assisted and supported to reach those standards. I accept that this is not easy; this is a difficult issue, and it is not one that will be resolved in a short timescale, but I do think there is cause for some slight optimism that if we put in the effort we may gradually begin to cover some of these difficulties.
(Ms McCabe) No; they are not sending anybody. They are free to if they want to.
(Margaret Beckett) We are encouraging other government departments to become involved. We would be very happy if they wanted to send someone. We have got the LGA involved and quite heavily so and they have been from the very beginning.
(Margaret Beckett) Except that the targets they set are more domestically orientated. When it comes to the involvement of local government and the part they can play, it is a little bit like DFES deals with UK education, but when we talk about our involvement overseas sometimes it is DFES, sometimes it is DFID.
(Margaret Beckett) We do have very strong links. They are very heavily involved in, for example, the PIU Review and so on. In a sense we have evidence directly as well. It does not always occur through DTLR. I would be perfectly happy for DTLR to be involved. What I am saying is that there is an involvement of the kind you are seeking.
(Margaret Beckett) Yes. The government as a whole is buying in.
(Margaret Beckett) No. I am happy to think they are buying in.
(Margaret Beckett) I will ask Sheila to say what she knows about where we are up to date on that, but we have had a strong degree of business involvement in the UK for quite some time now. We have our range of committees, many of which are involved with people in the business community who are very much engaged in contributing to this agenda. I referred to our own partnerships that the Prime Minister stimulated about a year ago. People in the business community are very much and very heavily involved in that. If I can give you one example, the finance initiative, the development of the London principle that the City of London are working on is very much (and for all the obvious reasons) business derived and business led, but, should it be successful, has really quite a major impact in mainstream sustainable development considerations in the investment decisions business makes. We are quite hopeful of the involvement of the British business community and, as we go a little nearer to Johannesburg there has been quite a lot of involvement of business.
(Margaret Beckett) Let me be completely blunt. I think there has been a little bit of people in the business community not wanting everybody to expect them to pick up all the organisation and all the tab, so I think you will see their engagement but with what they think they ought to be engaged with.
(Ms McCabe) I might add to that. One of the problems has been that it has been rather a long drawn out and still continuing development of the agenda of refinement. It has been quite difficult for business to know where to engage. Having the five business initiatives that we have talked about and which you have had advice on has given them a peg on which they can understand what the role of business is. Until the agenda is refined a bit more, and it will be refined at this upcoming PrepCom, it is hard for business to devote time and resources to such a wide agenda. It is certainly on their radar screens. We are working, as the Secretary of State has said, with the City of London, which is a very powerful and important body in sustainable development. As we get nearer in time then it gets into their time horizon and they begin to see what practical things they can do and they are anxious to take part. It is quite early on in the negotiations for them to be engaged day to day.
(Margaret Beckett) Do not forget it is not so very long ago that we have had a lot of extremely worthwhile stuff coming out of the PrepComs but there is a massive potential agenda for Johannesburg and obviously part of the process has been undertaken to try to bring that down to a manageable core. That is the stage at which you may see more people in the business community becoming engaged, when they can see what there is to engage with. Sheila referred earlier on to some Chatham House work. One document has already been published and the other one will be published quite soon. The whole purpose of that work which we stimulated and supported is precisely to try to put more flesh on the bones of what makes multi-stakeholder partnerships work and what is required from the different potential players and what the chemistry of them is. We anticipate that will be published in the relatively near future and again that may give people a better handle on what it is that they can bring to the party.
(Ms McCabe) We had a consultation only yesterday together with DTLR with business interests in advance of PrepCom III and also we are speaking to them on our different projects.
(Margaret Beckett) It is a massive range of people. I do not think we put it in the memorandum but there is a huge range of people involved in this operation and maybe we ought to send you something on it.
(Margaret Beckett) They are very good at it.
(Ms McCabe) We have a web site. Modern technology helps in these issues.
(Margaret Beckett) It might be helpful, Chairman, to have a note on these issues.
(Margaret Beckett) We can perhaps send you a note on the range of involvement. We have got civil society and youth in local government and so on, quite a range of people involved.
(Margaret Beckett) A lot of them are on our various consultative groups.
(Ms McCabe) It is probably better if we write to you with a comprehensive list.
(Margaret Beckett) We are co-sponsoring a WWF project in our schools, following the advice of the Sustainable Development Education Panel, and of course DFES is trying to spread awareness of sustainable development through the national curriculum, through lifelong learning. We have this specific project where schools are being encouraged to take part in a competition, a project that is focused particularly in the Leeds area, and where we hope those who are successful will perhaps be able to attend part of the Summit. We are now seeing a greater awareness and interest coming through gradually from the education world. The timing of these things is always difficult to get right. I am sure you are right at the moment that large numbers of the British public are not really engaged in or aware of some of these issues, and although I sometimes think that there is a greater understanding, the fact that we have got a problem with climate change and it is already beginning to have an impact on our lives, that some of the technicalities and complexities of dealing with all that rather turns people off who might initially be interested. One of the things that I am hopeful of at the Summit is that if we are able to get greater focus on some practical things that people can understand and relate to, then you get a greater acceptance that we are doing something about the problems of the environment and that we are dealing with an imbalance in the economy and in society in these different situations and that that is what sustainable development means. It is a gradual process. As I say, we have got masses of people involved in discussing our communication strategy. We took a decision, perhaps a gamble, perhaps a mistake, that if we started too early, particularly when we had this long agenda, and it was not getting focused down as it gradually now is, and where nobody knew what the outcome of Monterey would be, which we will know soon, you actually bore people stiff to the point where you did not have anything very concrete to tell them. The intention is to step up the communications campaign as we get near to the Summit.
(Margaret Beckett) Certainly we would very much like to see that communicated to schools and schools communicating it through the work that they do. We are starting to see some moves in that direction.
(Margaret Beckett) I think they might say they have got one or two other things on their plate as well. We work with a one or two other government departments. Somebody has to have the overall policy lead and we try very much to make it a co-operative framework within which we work with others.
(Margaret Beckett) No. As I mentioned earlier on, they deal with the domestic side of education. When we are talking about the Summit and how we can for example pursue the Millennium Development Goal for Primary Education, then we are talking much more about the work much more of DFID or of ourselves or of NCOs and it involves other players.
(Margaret Beckett) I am not a professional in communication.
(Margaret Beckett) This is something our whole communication strategy is attempting to resolve and finance. We have a large number of players engaged. This is in every walk of life one of the most difficult issues. How do you communicate something that seems complex, that is not at first sight frightfully exciting, and focusing on concrete outcomes may be how you do it.
(Margaret Beckett) Exactly.
(Margaret Beckett) Absolutely. We are going back in a sense to what we said right at the beginning which is this is not a summit about the environment; it is a summit about sustainable development. The environment is very much a key element but it is not the only one. If we get one of those elements out of balance, things go wrong.
(Margaret Beckett) I hope so. In a sense that is in part the answer that I am trying to give to the question. If we can get some concrete outcomes, that gives us a way in to say to people, "This is what it is all about. These are the things that are beginning to happen, which we can report on."
(Ms McCabe) We have quite enough on our plate trying to get to the summit but the Sustainable Development Educational Panel is active and is here now, doing good stuff in the United Kingdom and it will be here after the summit. I am sure that ensuring that the United Kingdom delivers what it has committed to at Johannesburg will engage a lot of the population. As the Secretary of State says, if you have specific commitments, it is much easier to give that message to people than, "We might be discussing this or that."
(Ms McCabe) The Sustainable Development Educational Panel will still be there. One thing that is very important about this summit which sometimes gets overlooked because poverty in developing countries is so crucial is that a lot of this summit is about what northern countries can do themselves on resource productivity, energy efficiency, and those are the sorts of messages that we want to get across. It is not only helping the very poorest in the world.
(Margaret Beckett) That is interesting. I am perfectly willing to do it but lately being on the ground has been as difficult as being online.
(Margaret Beckett) Indeed you can. I would certainly take that as a very interesting suggestion.
Chairman: Thank you, Secretary of State. That has been an extremely interesting session and we are very grateful to you.