WEDNESDAY 20 NOVEMBER 2002

__________

Members present:

Mr John Horam, in the Chair
Mr Colin Challen
Mrs Helen Clark
Sue Doughty
Mr Mark Francois
Mr Simon Thomas
Joan Walley
David Wright

__________

MR ROBERT LOWSON, Director, Environment Protection Strategy, MS HELEN LEGGETT, Head of Branch, SDU, and MR ANDREW RANDALL, Policy Adviser, Environment Protection International, DEFRA, examined.

Chairman

  1. Thank you very much for coming this afternoon. Thank you for the very helpful information you have given to the clerk in the run up to this meeting. Is there anything briefly you would like to say before we crack on with questions?
  2. (Mr Lowson) Perhaps just a word of introduction. My name is Robert Lowson and I head DEFRA's Environment Protection Strategy directorate. I am accompanied this afternoon by Andrew Randall who helps coordinate our work on the sustainable development side and by Helen Leggett who is in the Sustainable Development Unit which sits within my directorate in DEFRA. I am very glad to have this opportunity to give evidence to this hearing. It was our impression that the Committee's earlier inquiry helped to raise the profile of the UK's preparations for the summit and now we are embarked on a process, which I hope we share, of ensuring that the commitments are properly followed up. DEFRA is still finalising proposals on exactly how this is going to be done and I imagine that Mrs Beckett will be able to say a lot more about this when she appears before the Committee in January. By then I hope too that we will have produced the UK's annual report on sustainable development which will also inform the Committee.

  3. We are promised that for January?
  4. (Mr Lowson) Yes.

  5. That is a firm promise?
  6. (Mr Lowson) It is a firm intention. On that basis, I am very happy to have this opportunity to talk about the outcome of the summit and the way we are going forward.

    Mr Challen

  7. If somebody stopped you in the street and asked you what change the summit would have on their lives, what would you say to them?
  8. (Mr Lowson) Do not expect there to be a change tomorrow afternoon because the summit was not about signing up to new commitments that would be implemented immediately. Kofi Annan described what the purpose of the summit was in his opening remarks as being not to rip up the fabric but to weave in new strands of knowledge and cooperation. We wholly abide by that. The outcome of the summit has been to intensify and develop the process of pushing forward sustainability that we were embarked on anyway, in which the UK Government was a leading figure. That said, there were a good many concrete results from the conference. We went to Johannesburg with an objective of making globalisation work for sustainable development, particularly for the poorest. We identified a number of headline areas where we wished to make progress. Overall, the Government thinks that Johannesburg did make progress, that it built successfully on last year's Doha talks on the new trade round, on the Marrakech accords on climate change and on this year's Monterrey conclusions about financial development. It therefore fits into an ongoing rhythm of multinational cooperation to promote sustainability and particularly to benefit the poorest part of the world's population. Among the concrete things which the conference agreed was a new target to halve by 2015 the proportion of the people in the world living without basic sanitation, which supports the existing millennium development goals on safe drinking water and health. There are also targets and timetables on the safe handling of chemicals, biodiversity, marine protection and fish stocks. There is to be joint action on reliable and affordable energy provision for the poor and urgently and substantially to increase the global share of renewable energy. The developed countries agreed to lead the way on developing a ten year framework of programmes to accelerate the shift towards more sustainable consumption and production. None of these will be changing on the day after the conference concludes, but they represent commitments to ongoing programmes of action. As Mrs Beckett said in describing the outcomes of the conference last month, the right way to look at Johannesburg is as the beginning of the process rather than the conclusion. In addition to these multilateral conclusions, over 300 new partnerships were launched at the summit which represented over $235 million of new resource. We have provided a table setting out the detail of that. In these partnership areas, there is concrete action underway already, for example, in some of the water initiatives that have been taken with African countries, in the development of sustainable tourism initiatives, in the promotion of sustainable financial instruments. Things are beginning to change and were beginning to change, even before the summit concluded, particularly in the area of partnerships. It was certainly our intention that we were not going to Johannesburg to sign new statements. We were going to Johannesburg to do things which would change people's lives and we are confident that, over the time to come, that is what will happen.

  9. From a British perspective, how would you rate the conference on expectations from one to ten, if you could?
  10. (Mr Lowson) I have never thought whether it was one out of ten or ten out of ten. The conference did not have to succeed at all; against the background of an unpromising international, economic environment and political strains around the world, it was not a given that the parties to the conference would come away from the conference having agreed anything.The fact that they did and maintained a multinational approach to dealing with the consequences of globalisation was itself a valuable step. In some ways, the conference broke new ground. The 300-plus new partnerships that I mentioned were in no sense a substitute for international, multilateral action; they were an additional means of delivering the objective of sustainable development using the Johannesburg Summit as a framework within which to adopt them. The prominence that these partnerships achieved at the conference is one of those elements that would push the score up in the direction of ten. One of the elements that would push the score down is the extent of the involvement of non-governmental parties. The negotiation at the end was clearly a negotiation between governments and the intentions which had been clearly expressed in the early months of negotiations -- we are talking about a process which had run on for two years or more -- to involve non-governmental players more than in conventional, multilateral negotiations faltered. It was not clear that the involvement of non-governmental parties in the event led to outcomes that were different from conventional, multilateral negotiations. That said, during Johannesburg there was a series of discussions chaired by the South Africans, facilitated by the Dutch Minister, Mr Pronk, involving a wide range of stakeholders on the five specific topics which the Secretary General had identified as crucial to the future of sustainable development. Those events seem to me to signpost an interesting and important way forward, a way of bringing non-governmental parties more actively into the negotiating process. It is perhaps disappointing that those did not happen earlier because happening at the last stage of the negotiating process meant that it was very difficult to integrate the outcome of that process into the final results.

    Chairman

  11. Overall, would you say five out of ten?
  12. (Mr Lowson) More than five.

    Mr Challen

  13. You said that Margaret Beckett said that this is the beginning of a process rather than the conclusion. I am wondering if the conference is work in progress or whether it had some sort of schizophrenic personality, because it started off, I understand, as Rio plus ten and I would assume it would have reviewed how far down the road after a decade the agreements of Rio have been implemented or not. That would be a sensible approach. That seems to be reflected in this document which you have given us with the gaps and the achievements of Johannesburg. This is peppered with the words "reaffirmation", "recommitment", "renewed focus", which suggest that it was looking back to some extent at what Rio perhaps had started or indeed other international conferences. Now we are being told that it is a fresh start. I wonder if we are going to continue having fresh starts when we find that things have not been done in the past.
  14. (Mr Lowson) You are absolutely right that part of the background to the conference was indeed to look backwards to how well the world had done in meeting the commitments that it had taken on in Rio. A large part of the documentation that the conference had in front of it was around that objective. Throughout the preparatory process and throughout the conference itself, there was a growing realisation that the world could not be satisfied with the progress that had been made. There was a need not just to take new agreements, although these were taken in some new areas such as the sanitation target that I have already mentioned. There was also a genuine need for parties to recommit themselves to some of the things which they had already pointed themselves towards at Rio.

  15. What worries me about it is that it is about recommitting and perhaps not addressing why the failures took place in the first place.
  16. (Mr Lowson) I would share some of that concern. It is necessary to examine why the world has fallen short in the delivery of some of the commitments that it entered into at Rio and do something about it. That is, in my view, what is happening.

  17. Where you have identified gaps, will the UK act unilaterally to fill those gaps?
  18. (Mr Lowson) Where it is necessary and appropriate to do that, we will look at ways of filling those gaps but in a lot of cases these are gaps which have arisen because the conference did not reach the unilateral agreements that are touched on in those areas.

  19. On the issue of partnership agreements, I read in the documentation that these totalled $225 million-worth which does not seem a great deal in global terms. What proportion could you say of that would be UK originated and are there, in global and UK terms, many more partnership agreements about to be struck which are not in that $225 million-worth?
  20. (Mr Lowson) It is certainly the UK's view that there is scope for more partnerships to develop, not as a substitute for multilateral action but as an addition to multilateral action. We think an important strand of the future work at the international level will be to develop means of promoting further coalitions of the willing. That is what these are. That is the difference between a multilateral agreement and a partnership. With a multilateral agreement, there is bound to be a level of compromise. With a partnership, it is the parties who are actually interested in acting in a particular area who can carry the work forward. We would certainly hope that, at the international level, machinery might develop for promoting new, additional partnerships.

    (Mr Randall) Off the top of my head, I am afraid I could not give you a precise breakdown. Obviously, we can see whether we can give you any further data on what the basis of the figure is. One of the interesting things though is that the partnerships which were officially registered for Johannesburg are not the full total of the partnerships. There were some quite prominent partnerships which were not officially registered. We know that some things the UK has done were not submitted to the secretariat, which was a slightly bureaucratic process. There will be a continuing effort to take forward those sorts of initiatives.

  21. These partnerships have to be officially registered to qualify, do they, or could that also extend to other things which perhaps were going to happen anyway and, all of a sudden, somebody has a brainwave that this could be sustainable development so we are joining the good guys?
  22. (Mr Randall) We were conscious in going into this that there was a danger of double counting and people simply registering things that had already happened. The organisers of the summit were as well. We set down various criteria that had to be met for things to be submitted and a closing date. As Johannesburg approached, a number of governments were trying to get things together to make them known. In some cases, they missed the deadline but partnerships were brought to the summit and announced by leaders. We have to recognise that there is a lot of useful activity which will continue, which was catalysed by the summit, but will not necessarily have been caught in what was officially registered at the summit.

  23. Could I ask that we have those figures, to know how they become officially recognised as a partnership?
  24. (Mr Randall) Yes.

    Chairman

  25. How big a disappointment was the failure on renewable energy?
  26. (Mr Lowson) I do not know if I would describe it as a failure on renewable energy. We had gone into the conference with an aspiration to secure targets, timetables and deadlines to the maximum extent that we could get people to sign up to in detail. There is a commitment in relation to renewable energy. It was striking that at the closing stages of the conference a large number of parties did say they wished they could have gone further. We in the UK are certainly committed to promoting further international efforts to accelerate the development of renewable energy. Some of the highest profile partnerships that we were involved in are designed to that end, such as the renewable energy and energy efficiency partnership. We are going to keep on working in this area. We are optimistic that the conference, although it did not go as far as some parties, among them ourselves, would like it to have done, nevertheless will have provided some momentum.

  27. The opposition from the oil producing countries, the Middle East countries, Russia and America is still pretty basic, is it not?
  28. (Mr Lowson) Yes. Some of the oil producing developing countries have taken quite a strong line on this, but we have to remember that, at the beginning of the conference, those parties were resisting any kind of commitment at all. We have undoubtedly done two things. First of all, kept the renewable energy issue on the agenda and we have raised the profile of it and secured quite a reasonable amount of international opinion which was in favour of at least looking at going further.

  29. Do you detect any movement on the part of the oil producing countries?
  30. (Mr Lowson) Not a lot on the part of the oil producers. It is noteworthy that, during the negotiating process, the divisions that you would expect to exist among some of the groups of countries did begin to emerge. Mexico and Brazil are members of the renewables coalition which emerged during the conference and these are important, very influential members of the group of 77. The realignment was beginning to happen during the conference, which we can expect to go further.

    (Mr Randall) To underline the significance of that, at Johannesburg it was very much a question of people negotiating in blocks. The G77 were maintaining a very disciplined front on a lot of issues, even though it is difficult for them, given the range of different countries involved, to reach agreement. They were operating in a very disciplined way so it was highly significant that we had them breaking ranks on the renewables issue and that you had Brazil quite actively lobbying for a switch in the way the G77 were approaching renewables. There are no signs yet of a softening of the OPEC position, but it is important you have Mexico and Brazil coming in. Only last week we had the EU Commission with representatives from the Danish presidency and indeed from the UK going to Brazil for a meeting about how they could take forward the renewables coalition. This is a very significant development and I think it could be very interesting to see how it develops.

    Mr Thomas

  31. Looking at the impact of the summit on UK domestic policy, you quoted Kofi Annan saying this was not ripping up the fabric but it was weaving in new threads. A critic might say it is just patching up a bad job. What would you say to that critic in terms of what policies at a UK level you would expect to change now as a result of the world summit?
  32. (Mr Lowson) It is perhaps not right to split UK-level policies and others. The Government will be pursuing action internationally at an EU level and domestically to deliver the results of Johannesburg. We will be working in the UN Commission for Sustainable Development which meets next spring, in the UNECE Governing Council next February, to embed WSSD commitments in the way they work. A key milestone will be the Environment for Europe Conference in Kiev next May, which will be looking at actions within the UNECE area to promote environmental improvement and the scope for new partnerships within that area and new multilateral agreements within that area. Within the EU, we will be pressing for the EU to continue to give a high priority to its own sustainable development strategy, which will be considered at the European Council next spring, and we will be intent upon ensuring that the EU sustainable development strategy gets the right level of priority at this very high, political level. Domestically, what we aim to do is to embed the outcomes of the summit in existing processes and work streams. We do not want to regard WSSD as something that happens in a ghetto; we want it to become something which is mainstreamed throughout the Government process and beyond, picking up on major policy developments which we expect to occur over the coming months, such as the publication of the Energy White Paper and the action that will follow the publication of the Strategy Unit's work on waste, which are probably the most important elements when one comes to consider the delivery of the Johannesburg commitments of sustainable consumption and production.

  33. Would you say that those two very important pieces of work are now influenced by the outcomes of Johannesburg?
  34. (Mr Lowson) Yes, definitely.

  35. To take an example of how policy may change, there was an agreement which you included in your document to us on sustainable consumption and production patterns with an outcome of a ten year framework. No target, however, from what I can see and therefore how will that now affect UK domestic policy? I am focusing on domestic policy for the moment. The outcome has to be surely a reversal in the trend of the use of natural resources. That has huge implications, does it not, for domestic policy over the next ten years?
  36. (Mr Lowson) It certainly does. Because of the size of those implications, we did not come back from Johannesburg knowing exactly what we were going to do; nor did we come back to a domestic scene where things were not already happening. There are already undertakings like the sustainable technology initiative, Envirowise, the waste recycling action programme, the market transformation programme, the Carbon Trust and things like that. We need to pick up the work that is happening there, to pick up the work that emerges on waste and energy that I have talked about already, talk to stakeholders and partners about how we can build the commitments we have taken at Johannesburg into the work that is already in train in the way I have described.

  37. In ten years' time, how can we measure this at a domestic level? How can we see that these implementation plans achieve something? Surely the Government has to have some sense of target there?
  38. (Mr Lowson) Over the coming two years, we have a commitment to review the UK sustainable development strategy. A key element of the sustainable development strategy is the suite of headline indicators within that strategy. We will look at those indicators from the point of view of the commitments that we came back from Johannesburg with and we will ask ourselves do those indicators match up to measuring the Johannesburg outcomes. There is a clear agenda there which we will certainly be pursuing during the review process, which we aim to start quite soon.

  39. Although you were in the business of giving promises and firm indications, would you firmly indicate that that review should have indicators that can test whether we have reversed that decline in natural resources over the next ten years?
  40. (Mr Lowson) We would certainly be looking at how far we can develop indicators that do just that, yes.

  41. Looking at the EU level, I accept that you cannot totally separate the two. You mentioned earlier on the EU strategy itself and the meeting coming up in the spring to discuss this. What view will the UK Government now be taking at the EU level? What we saw in Johannesburg was a number of positions taken by the EU negotiating team and on some aspects the UK was leading. On others, it was further behind. If we take as an example renewables where the EU position is perhaps a bit more further advanced than eventually was agreed at Johannesburg, what position is the UK Government taking at European level? Is it one where we will be holding that negotiating position? In other words, being ambitious, or are we going to retract and say, "Never mind about that. Whatever ambition we had before Johannesburg, we are simply now about implementing what action came out of Johannesburg"?
  42. (Mr Lowson) We will be doing two things but this has to be under the reserve that we are talking here about what happens in summit meetings and the line that we take at summit meetings is decided by Prime Ministers. In broad terms, I am quite sure that we will first of all be seeking to maintain our fairly ambitious position and we will also be very keen to deliver concrete outcomes. We will be looking for ways, for example, of securing at EU level concrete measures which promote the use of sustainable technologies. This has been a theme that the UK has been pursuing for some time and I cannot imagine that ministers will want to go back on that. It is an ambitious agenda but a practical one.

  43. Is there anything that you can put your finger on now in the EU's sustainable development strategy which you think needs to be revised in the light of Johannesburg and the EU negotiating position at Johannesburg? Are there clear areas now where you think you could achieve your ambitions and these will have to be reviewed?
  44. (Mr Lowson) I cannot immediately think of anywhere where the two are not consistent. What Johannesburg does mean is that there needs to be an increased emphasis on ensuring that the words of the sustainable development strategy feature in the policies that the EU is considering. That is not at all out of line with mainstream EU approaches. That is quite consistent with the conclusions that have been reached by the General Affairs and External Relations Council.

  45. There was a recommitment in the political declaration to Agenda 21. What does that mean for involving local authorities and the local aspect within the UK? What sort of work would you be expecting to do on that?
  46. (Mr Lowson) We certainly need to work with local authority partners, regional partners and the devolved administrations. Beyond that, I am not an expert and I am not an expert on Agenda 21.

  47. Have discussions started already with the local authorities on the outcomes of Johannesburg?
  48. (Mr Lowson) Yes, at a fairly superficial level so far. I have talked in the last few days to the local authority associations about how do we ensure that there is a process that enables us to pursue these outcomes. We have not taken it further than that yet.

  49. Is there more that you could give us now in terms of a written memo on how that might work?
  50. (Mr Randall) I suspect that might be the kind of thing that would be addressed when we look at how we deal with sustainable development within the UK. When we move into that sustainable development strategy review next year, maybe some of the implications will become clearer.

    Chairman: It was very striking that there was no mention of sustainable development at the Urban Summit which Mr Prescott held in Birmingham a month ago. You were saying you wanted to get into the mainstream of policy making and it was absolutely absent on that occasion.

    Joan Walley

  51. You would have expected it to have gone from the World Summit to the Urban Summit. You would have expected that to be the absolutely vehicle to bring it down locally and globally at the same time. Why was it not? Did you try to get it included? Could you give us an insight into what went wrong?
  52. (Mr Lowson) The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, who was the lead minister on the Urban Summit, was fully involved with the negotiating process up to and during Johannesburg.

    Chairman

  53. That is what makes it so surprising. Mr Prescott himself was involved in Johannesburg and yet he did not mention any of this at the Urban Summit.
  54. (Mr Lowson) Their approach to the Urban Summit is something you need to talk to them about but my take on it is that their approach is likely to be highly conditioned by what came out of Johannesburg and the interest they take in Johannesburg and, although the expressions "sustainable development" or "WSSD" have been mentioned at the Urban Summit ----

  55. It may have been subliminal.
  56. (Mr Lowson) It may reflect their approach to mainstreaming. This is something you need to talk to those involved in the Urban Summit about.

    Joan Walley

  57. Are you saying that it was not included because of the timing? It was too close to the outcome of the World Summit? Surely, the Government should have been planning, whatever the outcome, to make sure that that could be fed through so that you were giving opportunity for local initiatives to be taken forward. For example, in respect, say, to the housing policy and the pathfinder policies where I understand there are talks going on in the Sustainable Development Commission. Surely that should have been dovetailed together and it was not.
  58. (Mr Lowson) You are quite right that it does need to be dovetailed together. I am not familiar enough with what happened at the Urban Summit to be able to go very much further than that, I am afraid. What I can tell you is that the Deputy Prime Minister's Office were fully engaged in the Johannesburg process and will have taken away from Johannesburg the same key messages that we took away and I would expect those messages to be reflected in the policies for which they are responsible, even if they do not use the words. It is something which needs to be pursued with them.

  59. You would not say it is something for DEFRA?
  60. (Mr Lowson) I would see it as DEFRA's job and our responsibility to promote sustainable development across government to ensure it is being carried forward in the right direction.

    Chairman

  61. It looks as though this was something that dropped between DEFRA and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. How far was DEFRA involved in the Urban Summit?
  62. (Mr Lowson) My area of DEFRA was not heavily involved in the Urban Summit and the reason I did not feel an urgent need to be one of the parties of the Urban Summit was because I knew that Mr Prescott personally and his advisers had participated fully as members of the negotiating team and had been central to developing our position before the conference.

  63. Clearly the Sustainable Development Unit should have been involved in the Urban Summit?
  64. (Mr Lowson) Were you involved?

    (Ms Leggett) Not to my knowledge.

  65. Since you have a remit to look right across government, the Urban Summit should have been a key thing and it seems a pity that the SDU was not involved.
  66. (Mr Lowson) I think the Urban Summit was rather like the Johannesburg Summit. It was at the start of the process rather than at the conclusion. It will be our concern to ensure that all government departments whose actions are going to impact on sustainable development are aware of the imperatives of sustainable development.

    Sue Doughty

  67. One of the big opportunities of the Earth Summit in Johannesburg is very much education, about informing the populace at large; it is about the press; it is about getting messages across. I am interested in how successful this would be. I would like your feeling in your role as the director of communications. You will have taken a view about what messages are getting across in the papers, what sort of press the UK was getting and particularly the areas where you had responsibility. How do you think it went?
  68. (Mr Lowson) I think it went pretty well. We have to start with the notion that the summit was the conclusion of an ongoing process and during the preparatory phase we had a well developed, coherent communication strategy which did not achieve front page news status in the daily, London based media on many occasions. However, we did secure a high level of awareness among a range of audiences, I believe, through segmenting the messages, being clear about the audiences and being clear about the way those messages were conveyed to those audiences. We involved non-governmental organisations from the start in preparing the UK's negotiating position and as members of our delegation in Johannesburg. We were engaged in a range of awareness raising exercises like the WWF Joint Earth Champions Project, which appealed to a particular kind of audience and was very successful. Ministers placed articles of their own in the national press in the weeks running up to the summit. It is clear from looking at the number of visits to the DEFRA sustainable development website that interest in that website grew and the use of that website grew as the summit got closer. We relied, as anybody has to rely in dealing with specialist organisations, on that website as an important element of our communications effort. Generally, my impression was that we ran a coherent, coordinated communication campaign, not just focused on or measuring success by appearances or headline stories in the London based national media. When we were in the conference itself, my impression was that the communications effort was such as to seize the opportunity to raise awareness among new audiences. Here was an occasion where it was going to be possible to secure space in the national media, printed and broadcast, and we did so. There were about 30 UK journalists in Johannesburg. We organised daily media briefings, several of which the Secretary of State attended. She did a total of 35 interviews. Michael Meacher and John Prescott both did media interviews themselves. A range of substantial stories did appear in the written and broadcast national media during the period of the conference itself. At the same time as that was going on, we put a lot of effort into the outreach to the UK organisations represented in Johannesburg. I took a daily meeting with all those organisations and we had open house. Anybody who wished to come was welcome to be brought up to date with the progress of the negotiation. We had non-governmental participants on our delegation. Members were therefore able to be kept fully informed in the process and influence ----

  69. On the press side, I appreciate that you did include that group. When you look at some of the things that are happening in the general press - I appreciate that the press does not always react in the way we would like, but on the other hand we seem to have had a string of things that went on from the prepcom at Bali, where we did not get any positive press, where there was even a failure to have a statement in the House. We went through then about the whole fiasco about Meacher was not going to go, which was an absolutely appalling press story. I was on holiday in Greece and I looked at the BBC news once a day. It was Meacher being cut out of that and the whole fiasco about that and pictures of Prescott in a rather smart lift. I appreciate nothing could be done about that because that was the nature of the lift. By the time we came home and looked at the papers, The Independent had a list of successes and failures which was definitely a case of damning with faint praise. All of us who were at Johannesburg were asked to do quite a lot of speeches afterwards, various organisations, and the better informed people or those who were sharing the platform all had that Independent list. I appreciate that you can be preaching to the converted. Friends of the Earth put information on their website and it might be slightly critical. People who read that are already up there. Hits on the DEFRA website do not equate to what the general public's perception is of what happened. We have this huge opportunity to make waves about the environment and yet this is the sort of story. You cannot be responsible for the lobster and caviar story in the Murdoch press which may have emanated from a vested interest but nevertheless it was not quite brilliant, was it?
  70. (Mr Lowson) In my previous incarnation as DEFRA's communications director, I was always held personally responsible for whatever the press chose to print about DEFRA and it was one of the unsatisfactory aspects of that job. With reference to your comment about websites, I do not think anybody would pretend that having information on a website was the way to get messages across to the broad, general public. You use a website to inform an informed audience. Penetrating national media with stories that you want to get into them is always one of the most difficult jobs to do because the national media, quite rightly, do not want to print something just because we would like them to do it. What we can do is what we did, which is to provide abundant interview opportunities, to provide frequent briefings. A good deal of written material that formed the basis of The Independent article, if I remember rightly, was material that we provided about the way that the negotiation was going. We took a clear view throughout the negotiation that the way to handle it was to be open about both the successes and the failures of the negotiation. "Failures" is perhaps not the right word, but where we did not get as far as we wanted to get. That I think reflected itself in a step change in the level of interest in the fact that the conference was going on and UK negotiators had an ambitious position that occurred while the event was in progress.

  71. I do not really feel though that we have got much further on this in terms of the impression that the general public has been left with. We seem to have quite a dissonance between the letter we have received from Margaret Beckett and the Independent list. If you put the two side by side, have you any comments about the effects of this strategy? Would you like to review that strategy? Would you do anything differently now?
  72. (Mr Lowson) I do not think I would have done anything differently. Within the limits of what the Government can do to lead the national media, what we had was a coherent, well-organised approach which provided audiences at a range of different levels from the expert through to the generalist journalists with the material that they needed to produce the stories on this topic. What they did with that at the journalistic level is their own affair and a good thing too. What we are doing is carrying the process forward. We are working on a communication strategy for sustainable development over the months to come, as we develop our approach to reviewing the strategy, as we try to embed the outcomes of Johannesburg in government policy. We are already looking at the kind of events that we might launch to reach the specialised audience and we are looking for opportunities to get messages across to more general audiences. A particular issue which we need to pursue is to demonstrate the linkages between policy steps as we take them and Johannesburg and sustainable development. We want to be sure that the policy departures DEFRA takes over the months and years to come are firmly situated in our sustainable development strategy.

    Mrs Clark

  73. I would like to pursue some of the very trenchant comments that Sue Doughty has just made. You have used the 3Cs, if you like: coordinated, coherent and consistent, about the press strategy. What amount of forward planning went into it? I think not very much. Anybody who was going to have as successful as possible a press strategy should have started out trying to get into the mind of The Daily Mail before anybody even went. Anybody who reads newspapers or is involved in politics is aware that rightly or wrongly John Prescott has become for many years quite a butt of some tabloid papers, so they would obviously try and do anything to imply that his responsibility for the environment is not serious. For example, I can remember the two Jags business at the conference. Transport Minister, two Jags, taking a trip in a Jaguar for five minutes etc. In terms of anything to do with expense, the tabloids like to have a go at John Prescott as well. The idea of the British delegation staying in a hotel, involving John Prescott, that had lobster and caviar on the menu seems to be insane. Looking at those papers and the agendas, the second point is the position of Michael Meacher. Everybody knows that Michael Meacher is Mr Environment and regarded as so by business and NGOs. The idea that you could send a delegation off when the Environment Minister, who many people feel should be in the Cabinet anyway, as in fact they are in other countries -- the question over why is Michael not in the Cabinet has never gone away -- and the fact that he should be allowed to be possibly left off and then have the humiliation of Friends of the Earth coming forward and saying, "Well, if Her Majesty's Government cannot pay for Mr Meacher, we will buy his ticket and maybe even enough money for a packet of sweeties. This is absolutely insane. It does not seem to me that you have faced up to it. I would like assurances that never again is so much money going to be wasted on sending a delegation to such an important conference when, whatever you say, the average constituent, my constituent, is not going to think about what is the policy on this, that or the other on the DEFRA website; they are going to say, "What is wrong with Michael Meacher?" and, "Oh dear, two Jags has done it again."
  74. (Mr Lowson) I can assure you that our approach on communications around this conference was probably regarded within DEFRA as the highest profile event that we would be participating in through most of this year. We produced and worked on a communication strategy to match that, which involved clarifying the messages we were trying to get across, clarifying the audiences we were trying to reach and clarifying the means and opportunities which we would aim to seize. We did so. We were clear about our messages. We were clear about the style of our communication and we provided for ourselves and seized a whole range of communications opportunities to reach the audiences that we needed to reach. Communications directors within government, no matter how skilled -- and DEFRA's present communications director is, in my opinion, one of if not the most professional communications directors in Whitehall -- cannot dictate and rightly so what a journalist will feel will interest the buyers of the newspaper that he writes for.

  75. They do not like John Prescott though, do they? We all respect Mr Prescott's abilities but they do not like him so they are going to try and seize on vulnerable points of blowing him up and making him look ridiculous.
  76. (Mr Lowson) That is exactly right, whether we approve of it or not. I certainly do not approve of it. It is quite clear what line the press will be looking for.

  77. What you are saying is this could have been avoided?
  78. (Mr Lowson) I think it would have been very difficult under the circumstances to have avoided such stories being written altogether.

  79. What about the business of Mr Meacher? Where did that come from, this whole business of was Michael going to be a Cinderella?
  80. (Mr Lowson) I know where that came from. It came from the journalistic treatment of what appeared to be developments on the ground during that pretty brief period when the size and shape of the delegation was being discussed.

  81. With respect, it seemed to go on for ages. Mrs Doughty has mentioned that she heard about it when she was in Greece and I remember a totally unacceptable delay in stamping out this issue. I remember it being at the top of every radio programme for about two or three days, whether Mr Meacher was going or not. There was too much slack in the event and it was not stamped out. Of course Mr Meacher is going; do not be so ridiculous.
  82. (Mr Lowson) We are beginning to stray, if I may say so, into areas where these are clearly issues that were discussed among ministers. I can tell you about our approach to a communications strategy and the mechanisms of the process which, in my view, was conducted in a very well organised, exemplary, professional manner.

    Joan Walley

  83. In terms of the accommodation that the UK delegation had, they along with everybody else stayed in the conference centre and I do not think any delegates could be responsible for the fact that the conference centre had restaurants. As somebody who was there, one would expect our delegates to stay in the conference centre. Can I get back on to the post-summit machinery in terms of what is happening now that everybody is back? Who is responsible for coordinating the follow-up and what monitoring systems have you for checking that there is progress and, more important, delivery?
  84. (Mr Lowson) We are working on that still. This is one of the things I can imagine Mrs Beckett might have more to say about when she sees this Committee in January. You have seen, among the notes that we sent you, the grid that is headed "Sustainable Development Commitments Originating from WSSD Outcomes." This is one which DEFRA has taken the lead to produce because we have been the lead department in the negotiating process and which has tried to identify what commitments emerged from the negotiation and to identify which department should carry those commitments forward. We are still in discussion among departments about how this is going to be done in detail. We regard it as our job to identify the commitments and to identify which departments should be carrying them forward and to satisfy ourselves they are being carried forward. Going back to what I said earlier on, this is with the objective of embedding sustainable development in general, including Johannesburg commitments, within the weave of what all departments are doing within government.

  85. I understand that and I am grateful for the fact that you have set out what needs doing and where the gaps are but what I cannot quite grasp is what the overall coordinating mechanism is. Going back to what I was saying earlier on about the Urban Summit, where is the mechanism that would have instantly spotted that there was a gap there? What overall mechanism have you introduced to make sure that, whether it is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office or International Development or the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, they are pulling their weight?
  86. (Mr Lowson) We are not writing on a clean sheet of paper. We already had a range of policies designed to move towards sustainable development and we already had a range of interdepartmental consultation mechanisms. We have to think over the weeks to come whether these mechanisms are adequate to mainstream the sustainable development messages and the Johannesburg outcomes within them. That process has not reached its end yet.

  87. As part of that process, could you give the Committee some indication of when since Johannesburg the Cabinet Committee, MISC 18, met and what account that committee has taken of the need to get all this set up?
  88. (Mr Lowson) MISC 18 was created to prepare for Johannesburg and ministers still need to decide whether it is going to continue or whether the existing structure of interdepartmental committees without MISC 18 are adequate for the job.

  89. Has it already met?
  90. (Mr Lowson) It has not met since Johannesburg, although there has been interministerial correspondence and pretty intensive work among officials specifically about follow-up to Johannesburg.

  91. When is it intending to meet?
  92. (Mr Lowson) It does not have a meeting schedule at the moment.

  93. It has basically been a committee that prepared for Johannesburg but has not met since?
  94. (Mr Lowson) That is right.

  95. Do you think it should have met?
  96. (Mr Lowson) From observing the process so far, I do not think that events post Johannesburg have ripened to the extent that it was necessary for the committee to meet. The work has been carried forward at official level and it has not yet reached the point where the need for ministers to get together in the structured way that they do in the Cabinet Committee, has emerged.

  97. If MISC 18 has not met to discuss this, has the Green Ministers' group met to discuss this?
  98. (Mr Lowson) Not since Johannesburg.

  99. There is no overall political direction as to how it is being taken forward at this stage?
  100. (Mr Lowson) No. There has been no meeting of those committees.

  101. In the absence of that, do you think the Sustainable Development Commission or yourselves should be coordinating an effort, because where is the direction coming from? Is it really left to civil servants?
  102. (Mr Lowson) There are a number of elements to the answer. First of all, the fact that the committees do not meet does not mean there is not political direction. It is clear that, from the Prime Minister downwards, there was a high degree of political commitment to making progress at Johannesburg and that level of commitment is still there. As to should the Sustainable Development Unit or the Sustainable Development Commission do the coordination, there is an easy answer with regard to the Sustainable Development Commission, which is definitely not. It is not the job of the Sustainable Development Commission to coordinate government activity. It is the job of the Sustainable Development Commission to advise on promoting the sustainable development agenda and we in DEFRA, for example, are working hard with the Sustainable Development Commission at the moment to identify ways in which they can develop their work programme to yet further improve the impact they have and to take account of the outcome of Johannesburg. As far as the Sustainable Development Unit is concerned, it is a unit within one government department and I would regard the role of that unit which sits within my directorate as being to provide expert advice and to provide proposals for pursuit with other departments about how we should be carrying the agenda forward. That is what we have been doing.

  103. Where is the leadership?
  104. (Mr Lowson) The Prime Minister has the leadership. The Prime Minister started very committed to Johannesburg. He is one of the first Prime Ministers to express his personal commitment to Johannesburg. That commitment did not dissolve with his leaving Johannesburg.

  105. I am not suggesting that. What I am concerned about is where is the mechanism and the overall responsibility for the leadership of that mechanism post-Johannesburg?
  106. (Mr Lowson) I am not clear whether there is a need for a new bit of bureaucratic machinery bringing together ministerial consultation or whether the existing pieces of machinery are adequate to the task. That is for ministers to decide and they have not yet decided.

  107. In that case, what is going to be the format for that decision to be made? You said you were not sure. Is it that you will be advising ministers on how it should be done? How is this going to be brought to the attention of ministers? Because MISC18 has not met, because the green ministers have not discussed this, there seems to be a vacuum really as to where the responsibility and leadership is for driving this through? Yours is a kind of technical expertise from what you are saying, it is not the political side.
  108. (Mr Lowson) We mislead ourselves if we think the fact that a cabinet committee has not met means that there is not political leadership. Political leadership comes from individual politicians getting together and identifying the key issues to which they are committed. They do not need to have a committee structure to be able to do that. I am quite confident that ministers have been thinking very hard about how to carry this work forward and to make sure that the political commitment is not lost. The message I would leave is that one should not confuse the existence and the meeting of cabinet committees with the existence of a political will to make progress. The second of those is undoubtedly there. A cabinet committee structure is only there to provide a means of ensuring that political will is, in fact, expressed. It is a tool, it is not a thing which itself generates the commitment but the commitment is certainly there.

    Mr Challen

  109. Could I just ask if DEFRA, or should I say the environmental section of DEFRA, has gained any clout at all from the Summit within government?
  110. (Mr Lowson) I think it has. I am talking now as an official because you talked about the environmental area of DEFRA. My perception is that the professionalism and efficiency with which my colleagues - it was not me that did it - in DEFRA co-ordinated our approach to the Johannesburg Summit and the preparation for it led many of our colleagues in Whitehall to recognise us as a department which has got expertise, leadership and efficiency to do this kind of job and it has put us in a strong position, I think, to ensure that the follow-up is properly co-ordinated.

    David Wright

  111. I am interested in the tables that you have produced for today's meeting. Were they produced specifically for this meeting? Will they be produced by yourselves in the future at intervals? What status do they have and who is going to monitor them?
  112. (Mr Lowson) These particular versions of these tables were produced specifically for this meeting because they are living documents, they are amended - I do not know how many of these drafts of documents have happened before - they are designed as working documents which we are sharing with you. We have not identified these documents as something which is specifically designed for this Committee, although it is a version which we did specifically for this meeting because we needed to prepare something on this occasion. They have the status which I described, which is that they are working documents designed to help departments ensure that we have a shared understanding of what came out of Johannesburg and of who is carrying forward the follow-up action. They are definitely designed as working documents and the documents you have got is our attempt to share those working documents with you.

  113. So when will they be updated? Do they now go and sit on a dusty shelf in a room somewhere and everybody forgets about them? What is the structure that we have to see progress on some of the targets that we can see here, progress on some of the gaps that we can see here? What worries me is that we get documents like this that come forward when we ask for them but that is not good enough really, they need to be used within the structures of the Civil Service to actually achieve delivery. I am not interested really in terms of just getting a document that is going to go on a shelf after today's meeting, I am interested in seeing something that is going to give us practical change.
  114. (Mr Lowson) I think that is entirely reasonable and that is just the approach that we will be following. Let us take the 'Sustainable Development Commitments Originated from WSSD Outcomes' note. We will be using this as the basis for checking the extent to which the departments concerned are making progress with each of those elements.

  115. How regularly will you check?
  116. (Mr Lowson) I go back to what I said before, that we regard delivery as a matter for the parts of government responsible for those particular areas, so we want to see this work embedded in their activity and the primary responsibility for delivering outcomes in these areas rests with those departments rather than with DEFRA. We will have an interest nevertheless in being able to demonstrate to ourselves and demonstrate to the world in general that we are making progress in delivering the outcomes of the Conference and the wide sustainable development agenda. How it will be done I do not know. I have not reached any conclusions, and I do not think my colleagues have, about how best to present the steps that we will be going through from now on. I go back to what I said about the Sustainable Development Strategy and also mention the Sustainable Development Report which we produce annually and which will be emerging in January, as I said earlier. We will be ensuring that the outcomes of Johannesburg are properly reflected in what we are reporting on in these annual reports. You have certainly got that as a basis for high level recording of the progress that we are making in delivering sustainable development outcomes. I have mentioned also the indicator process. What we are interested in is moving indicators in the right direction. We have got over 100 sustainable development indicators and we publish progress in relation to those indicators as the information relevant to them becomes available. There is already a process for monitoring and publicising our progress as a government in meeting sustainable development targets. I, and we in DEFRA, need to reflect on whether we need more to build on some of this other documentation that we have shown you today that will provide more of a picture as to how far we are actually bringing home the Johannesburg bacon.

    Mr Thomas

  117. I have to say that on this I am still unconvinced. We have established on Mrs Walley's question that the cabinet committee that met to discuss co-ordination before Johannesburg has not met since, and possibly was a committee that was only going to meet before anyway, the green ministers have not met since Johannesburg which is a bit of a concern in that we have got a pre-Budget statement next week. We also have from you a working document, and I accept that status, that nevertheless sets out in its list the departmental interests and, importantly, which department is co-ordinating those interests and they are in bold, so we have got DEFRA and FCO and whoever it might be, and also the co-ordination. The impression I am getting very strongly from your responses is that there is an awful lot of co-ordination going on at the Civil Service level but very little, if any, going on at a political level. There does not seem to be a meeting of political minds between the political heads of departments, the ministers, or the green ministers at least, to drive this forward. Are the cabinet ministers themselves aware that their departments are committed to these things just at that level or is it just remaining at the moment at the Civil Service level?
  118. (Mr Lowson) I do not think it is remaining just at the Civil Service level, although there is an enormous amount of work at that Civil Service level going on. Civil servants do what they are doing because ministers have told them to do it or they have invited ministers to tell them to do it and that certainly means that the key ministers are fully engaged in this process. Ministers do not just have to meet in committees to co-ordinate the activities of their departments, they can write to each other, and they have been doing that, they can discuss issues bilaterally, and they have been doing that, they can work through their civil servants, and they have most certainly been doing that. I think it would be quite wrong to give the impression that the fact that particular groups of ministers have not got together does not mean that ministers have not got a firm grip of the process.

  119. I would be very interested to put down questions to the FCO on what they do on renewable technology. I would be interested to see what the response is because there has been no indication until now of that being taken up at a high political level, shall we say. We will have to leave it there I suppose but I am unconvinced that there is that strategic direction. Where does it all come back to? Does it all come back to DEFRA? You are the lead co-ordinating department for negotiations, surely you are the lead co-ordinating department for implementation as well?
  120. (Mr Lowson) We are certainly the lead co-ordinating department for initiating the follow-up action and there are quite a lot of areas here where we are the lead department for actually leading the action.

  121. Yes.
  122. (Mr Lowson) It is rather like asking who is the lead department for financial regularity. All departments have to do financial regularity even though you would say that perhaps the Treasury is the lead department on that issue and has the job of suggesting to other departments how they should undertake that role. The whole philosophy that we are following, as I have said on a number of occasions, is one that is designed to identify responsibility and ensure that the departments that are responsible for delivery in a particular area take that responsibility seriously.

  123. Who is there to audit that, to make sure it happens?
  124. (Mr Lowson) I have already mentioned in answer to the previous question the existing structure of annual reports on sustainable development, sustainable development indicators, etc. I am quite sure that we in DEFRA, prodded I have no doubt by the Sustainable Development Commission in its role as critical friend, will be maintaining an overview of the extent to which the government's commitments on sustainable development as a whole are being fulfilled. We have to do that because we are responsible for producing the Sustainable Development Report every year, for example. There is not an individual minister or an individual department who has the job of overruling what other individual ministers or departments might do to say "you are not doing the sustainable development job properly, you must do this rather that", it is something which is to be integrated in the activities of the range of government departments. That is quite in line with the way that a whole range of government policies operate.

    Sue Doughty

  125. I am sorry but we are on the attack and I do apologise, it certainly is not meant to be personal or specific to DEFRA.
  126. (Mr Lowson) It is ever so friendly.

  127. It just so happens that DEFRA tend to be the people we interview because you have that lead responsibility. I appreciate that you cannot always deliver for other departments but nevertheless we have established the situation. These documents and tables that you have produced are very useful and I do appreciate those. They are a very handy summary. I appreciate that this continuum of trying to make progress on sustainability is one large step but going along the line as you have explained. What I am failing to see is the commitment from other departments that says "Right, we have come so far but now we have new requirements. We expected some. We have failed on others but now we have got an agreed new set of requirements". Are they going to be built into your sustainability indicators? Are you going to measure those? What I would like to see is something that is almost a bench mark that says that post-Johannesburg we have reviewed the sustainability indicators, we have published those for all the departments concerned, so that we as a committee, and this is a very important piece of work that we did at the Inter-Parliamentary Conference, as time goes by can interview possibly heads of other departments - I appreciate you are not responsible for what goes on in other departments - and ask "What progress have you made against those targets?" so that we can see at that stage ---- I appreciate there is a period of time post-Conference when you do have to get together and say "What does this mean, how does it fit with what we are doing", it is only sensible to do that, but at some stage a bench mark that says "These are our new targets in the light of Johannesburg", so that in the future we can review progress against those and hold not only DEFRA but, within the remit we have got, other departments to account on the progress they have made since the Earth Summit.
  128. (Mr Lowson) There is a lot of food for thought in what you say. There are quite a lot of elements to that question. Certainly, as I said before, we intend to review the Sustainable Development Strategy and hence, therefore, the indicators in the light of the outcome of Johannesburg. I doubt whether we will be looking for indicators that, for example, government department x has done a particular job that is attributed to it in this sort of grid of activity. What we are interested in, what everybody is interested in, is whether the sustainability outcomes are being delivered in terms of environmental improvement, social development, economic progress. We are certainly very ready to consider your idea of bench marks without any commitment at all because I do not know how it would work. It certainly would chime in with our approach to implementing sustainable development commitments, particularly post-Johannesburg, if the delivery by individual departments, which is the only way I think we can do it, is matched by individual departments measuring the extent to which they are, in fact, promoting the sustainability agenda. Not all government departments have got sustainability strategies, for example, but it is certainly wholly consistent with an approach that says that it is for the whole government to deliver this agenda for individual departments to be able to assess the extent to which they are doing their bits and for that to be auditable. It is certainly an approach which is well worth thinking about.

    Mr Thomas

  129. You mentioned at the start of this session that the civil dialogue had been useful and interesting but had come too late in the day.
  130. (Mr Lowson) Yes.

  131. First of all, what about the stakeholder dialogue that took place in the UK before Johannesburg? How did that affect the UK's negotiating position at the Conference?
  132. (Mr Lowson) Most of that happened before I arrived in my job so in a moment I will turn to Andrew Randall in particular to see if there are specific examples he can quote of the way that stakeholder dialogue might have made an impact. We certainly attached a lot of importance to ensuring that not just stakeholders knew what was going on but were closely involved in the negotiating process, and not just in the negotiating process but also in delivering specific outcomes. That was the significance of the Prime Minister's involvement in the five UK initiatives, for example, which led to specific partnerships, some of which are actually working now. It was not just a matter of conditioning our approach to the negotiation, it also led to agreement on particular outcomes.

  133. I accept that but partnerships could happen anyway. I was thinking of what was the effect of the wider stakeholder dialogue?
  134. (Mr Lowson) I will turn to Andrew, who has now had a few seconds to think about it, to see if he can provide some more detail on that.

    (Mr Randall) To start off, obviously Johannesburg was a sustainable development conference, it was not just an environmental one, and our effort was very much focused at getting something that covered the range of activities and integrated them. In some ways the dynamics of the negotiation were such as to push us in the direction of looking at "southern" issues, developmental issues. In many ways the involvement of stakeholders was useful because it reminded us, as the environment department, not to undervalue environmental issues but to keep them on the agenda, to avoid those being marginalised. That was obviously a useful reminder for us to have although at the same time as part of trying to take a balanced approach we were very careful to engage a wide range of constituencies so, for example, with the NGO community we involved development NGOs as well as environment ones. I think if there was one particular topic that came through maybe it would be the whole issue of corporate social responsibility and accountability where, of course, Friends of the Earth and others did mount quite extensive campaigns. While we did not necessarily agree with the final objective that they were setting out, which was some kind of mandatory international convention, nonetheless we found it very useful that they were raising the profile of the issue. That was useful for dialogue within government in formulating a position and I think it was instrumental in pushing towards the kind of result that we did get in the plan of implementation at Johannesburg, which was a very useful one that has certainly strengthened the hand of those who want to promote this. I think that is probably one good example.

  135. Were there any disbenefits from stakeholder involvement?
  136. (Mr Randall) Disbenefits from stakeholder involvement? Lots of time and energy needed of course.

  137. The impression I got looking at it was that UNED-UK played a significant co-ordinating role in stakeholder dialogue. How do you rate their performance?
  138. (Mr Lowson) I will turn to Andrew in a moment.

  139. Are you reviewing it?
  140. (Mr Lowson) We had a particular concern to have them deliver a process of stakeholder consultation which ended with the Conference. We have not had a formal after the event review but in thinking about how we consult stakeholders in the future we will certainly take account of what has come out of the process so far. In general the impression that I drew from this was that they did an immensely difficult job, which was to ensure that the whole range of stakeholders that might be interested all got a reasonable crack of the whip. There is always a danger, and I suspect our process fell into it too and it was not UNED's fault, that you consult all the usual suspects rather than trying to get at groups that are inherently difficult to consult, so you do tend to consult effective organisations rather than groups of people who for whatever reason are not effectively represented but there were, nevertheless, NGOs who would claim to represent the problems that these harder to reach groups suffer from.

  141. What about stakeholder involvement now for the actual implementation? You have got the partnerships that stakeholders might be involved in, they have a bilateral relationship anyway, but you have also got this range of issues: biodiversity, sustainable consumption patterns, poverty reduction process, fisheries, clear stakeholder interests there. How will you continue to involve those groups now? Is UNED-UK still going to be the body? My other question is, is there going to be a review of how this process actually works?
  142. (Mr Lowson) We are certainly thinking very hard, and we have not reached conclusions yet, about how we will involve stakeholders in, if you like, central DEFRA sustainable activity. Throughout DEFRA, throughout government, there are a whole kaleidoscope of ways of involving stakeholders. You rightly point to fisheries and as a department we have got very close relationships with interested organisations there and I cannot imagine that what came out of Johannesburg will change the framework for interaction with those organisations. As far as carrying forward the big themes of sustainable development is concerned, we are still thinking about how best to do it. We are quite committed to doing it. How far has the process gone of stakeholder involvement just in the next few months or so?

    (Ms Leggett) We are looking to run some kind of stakeholder engagement event and are looking at people to do that work for us but we have not agreed on that just yet. On 9 October there was a meeting with stakeholders to discuss some of the key issues coming out of Johannesburg at which Margaret Beckett and Michael Meacher met key stakeholders. We definitely want to build on that initial work.

    (Mr Lowson) That was a good example of the approach we want to try and pursue. Although Michael Meacher and Margaret Beckett both participated it was actually chaired by Jonathan Porritt, and one does not need to be wholly DEFRA-centric here, we can invite other people to do the job for us and that is a very good way of involving the stakeholders.

  143. It is certainly good news to hear that there has been follow-up on the stakeholder side at least. What does slightly concern me, however, is we examined earlier how these different responsibilities were spread over different departments, some of which are better known for their stakeholder involvement than others, some of which are known for their non-stakeholder involvement. Is there going to be anyone who is going to take the overall co-ordinating role of ensuring that those who were important in putting some ideas at Johannesburg and those bodies that were missed will have an opportunity to be part of the implementation as well?
  144. (Mr Lowson) I confess that we had not thought that there was a job to be done in the way of central co-ordination here. A much better way of doing it is to look for good practice and to try and spread messages of good practice rather than messages about rules and trying to impose views on other departments. We would like to think that we are towards the front of the good practice pack.

  145. Would you reflect that in your annual report, the stakeholder involvement? Is that going to be reflected?
  146. (Ms Leggett) I cannot say at this stage whether it would be in there or not.

    (Mr Lowson) It is certainly something worth thinking about because it was a key feature of Johannesburg and the preparation for it that stakeholders were involved. It would be strange to forget that in our reporting of what happened.

    Joan Walley

  147. This is a reflection really. After attending some of the meetings with the stakeholder groups, the briefing meetings in Johannesburg, I do not know about my colleagues but I distinctly got the view that there was a momentum and the joint discussions that were taking place at Johannesburg were a vehicle, if you like, for providing an impetus to get the momentum going and there was this joint working which was going to really invigorate the process back home. Listening to the part of the proceedings that I have listened to today I have to say that I feel really deflated. I want you to comment on whether I am right or wrong. There was nothing there in the Urban Summit but that opportunity that there was of really taking up where the Johannesburg Summit left off immediately we got back, keeping the momentum going, looking at all the opportunities that there were for joint working, I do not see it. I would like you to comment on it.

(Mr Lowson) I think I agree that there was a sense of momentum and involvement and it was easy to have that in Johannesburg because we met every day and there was something very concrete going on right next door. The meeting that Helen Leggett mentioned on 9 October with stakeholders was an attempt to capitalise on that kind of mood, and I think it was quite successful. The event was fresh in people's minds and they were beginning to think through what the implications were when they got back home. That is what we are going to try and do through the autumn as well. It is not just for us. It is encouraging that quite a lot of other organisations have had similar events over the past few weeks. The whole tone of the discussion has raised what I would recognise as a real issue, which is that we have come back. If you like, until we finished the Conference in Johannesburg it was easy, we made it easy for ourselves, we got a well co-ordinated negotiating position in which we were able to take some pretty forward positions, be quite ambitious, and we got what I would regard as more than five out of ten results as an outcome. Then the hard work starts, which is coming back to the whole government machine and saying "This is what we have signed up to, how are we going to carry the principles of sustainability into our operations as a government rather than our operations as a negotiating team?" We have got to recognise that it is a different atmosphere. The Government departments with all their numerous priorities are not going to be fired up by a particular strand of activity that flows from a particular event, it is hard grind, and that is what lies behind the process we have launched, which is to embed sustainable principles and what came out of Johannesburg in the hard grind of regular government life. You are quite right, the atmosphere is not like it was when we were actually negotiating in Johannesburg but I do not think I would expect it to be. The atmosphere now is different, it is one where we have got to proceed with a lot of rather unflashy continuing effort and that is the process that we have tried to launch.

Chairman: I appreciate we have pushed you rather hard, Mr Lowson, on one or two areas where you have not got direct responsibility but you will understand the concerns of the Committee to see that this process is carried out at all levels of government. Thank you very much for your patient answers.