Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-46)




  40. You have put enormous emphasis on the word "clout". You have used the word "clout" repeatedly. "A department with clout". How do we manage government if everybody wants clout, if you see what I mean? If this was an education committee and somebody said, "Education has to be the department of the Deputy Prime Minister" or perhaps not the Deputy Prime Minister in that context, or a big minister, then you would have somebody else saying, "Transport has to be a department of clout". It was the department of clout; it has just been demerged. Do you have a view, for example, about any energy agenda?
  (Mr Thompson) I think whatever happens to the energy portfolio, we would be disappointed to see the remit for energy efficiency taken away from DEFRA because clearly that would only reduce the Department's remit further. If anything is going to happen to the energy remit, we would encourage the removal of the Green energy brief from DTI and giving that to DEFRA, which would make an awful lot more sense as far as their role goes on the climate change side.

  41. So when you say, "We as a department should have clout", are you telling me that Margaret Beckett does not have enough clout?
  (Mr Thompson) There is no question but that Margaret Beckett is undoubtedly an effective leader and has an awful lot of political clout. I think it is more a question of how the department itself functions with the process in the greater scheme of things across the machinery of government.

  42. You are a nation-wide organisation; how do you rate DEFRA in delivering what you think matters compared with how Scottish Executive is delivering?
  (Mr Rothwell) At present, I would have said that the signs are that DEFRA is doing as good if not a better job than some of its government colleagues in the devolved administration.

  43. One would expect, I guess, that the Scottish Executive, being smaller and with responsibilities more clearly focused, might have expected to do a better job or find it easier to do the job.
  (Mr Rothwell) It has had an integrated approach to the rural environment for a long time in England. It is actually quite difficult to categorise but I think that in certain sectors Scotland has been very good at developing thinking on national parks and upland management systems, but perhaps it has not been quite so good at grasping the opportunities for change that the CAP reform would bring and I think that would be true. It is sometimes difficult to say why that is.

  44. Finally on the questions of the geometry of government, you will be aware that the incoming Cabinet Secretary, Sir Andrew Turnbull, has been busy drafting away machinery of Government projects, one of which talks about consolidating around the Prime Minister agreeing a sort of Prime Minister's office perhaps with a more cabinet type of structure. Have you been making representations to that? Is that a way of giving the things you want clout or is it a way of removing clout from all the departments?
  (Mr Thompson) I think if there is one thing Andrew Turnbull can do as part of his reshuffle of machinery of Government, it would be bringing in some sustainable development expertise to the centre of Government, be it in the form of his existing sustainable development unit or the make-up of the previous performance innovation unit. I think that either way, it is clear that delivery and the Government's focus on delivery needs to be applied to this agenda in a really effective way.

  45. We are two years down the road; we have dodged inflation for three years and it is at least two years away from the foot and mouth disease. Give me the three criteria which you think this Committee should judge you by if we were conducting this inquiry two years from now. Good, solid, concrete, tangible, outcome like things.
  (Mr Rothwell) One would be a significant move in CAP reform from the current subsidy driven approach to one which rewards farmers for things that the taxpayer really wants. So, that involves change in CAP or through the mid-term review and it involves more modulation within the UK. We would certainly judge that as being an important factor. The PSA targets that relate to wildlife that DEFRA has to report on to the Treasury, one relates to the health of sites of special scientific interests which are the backbone of conservation throughout the UK and the second relates to the health of farmland birds which in a sense is the backbone of the wider countryside beyond those sites of special scientific interest and I would very much hope, although I hear rumours that they are at risk, that those are kept by the Department and, what is more, that they are successfully achieved, although I would admit quite challenging.

  46. That is two.
  (Mr Rothwell) The two PSA targets were two and three.

  Chairman: Gentleman, thank you very much indeed and you will no doubt see the transcript—everything you said was taken down and will be used in evidence! If you want to add anything, you will let us know. Thank you very much.


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