Examination of witnesses (Questions 120-130)|
WEDNESDAY 14 MARCH 2001
TIMMS MP, MR
120. I just raise the Green Ministers Committee
because I think it is so important that that forum starts to work
effectively across Government. There is one issue that is concerning
me as well which is following on from the commitment that the
Government gave at Okinawa about the purchase of sustainable produced
timber. It is clear to me, for example, that there are a whole
load of issues which could be taken up whereby there is not a
clear reporting system as yet despite one that was promised some
nine months or so ago. It is really how the process of the Green
Ministers Committee is enabling the Treasury to take on board
these issues which comes back to the whole issue of parity and
transparency that we have been raising throughout the course of
this session. I would like to think that the Treasury has a system
of reporting in respect of sustainable produced timber. Perhaps
you could let us know about that.
(Mr Timms) On that point, I would make the point that
the Prime Minister, of course, did make a number of references
to this point specifically in his speech last week. I think there
will need to be mechanisms put in place across Government to deliver
what is the Government policy.
121. It is the delivery mechanisms that I am
concerned about which is why I think the Green Ministers Committee
is so important. Just finally, and briefly, the Green Technology
Challenge, you mentioned this in your introductory comments to
the Committee, could you just very quickly tell us how much money
you are going to commit to this initiative and how long the competition
and consultation is aimed to be? Is it going to be in 2002 that
people will be starting to have the effect of that? Are you going
to be making it part of the long-term initiatives so that, for
example, just looking at the long-term it is linked to other cleaner
technologies innovation and design? How and when do you see it
(Mr Timms) To pick up your last point first, yes,
I do see this as a long-term exercise. I am sure you will have
noticed in the announcement about the Green Fuel Challenge the
comment about hydrogen. It is clearly going to be some years before
we see commercially available hydrogen fuelled vehicles but I
think there is a widespread view that is the direction we are
going to be going in and what we said in the Green Fuel Challenge
about duty incentives or duty exemptions for pilots in that area
I see as the first step, a fairly modest first step but a very
significant first step, in a much longer term process of change
in moving us towards a hydrogen economy, which I think is the
direction we need to move in. Equally, the Green Technology Challenge
I see as being a long-term exercise as well. We have not, as yet,
put a timetable on how we see that challenge being developed.
I would certainly hope we would have something significant to
say by the time of the next Budget, but quite what the steps are
going to be between now and then I am not certain at this stage,
there is still some further work to be done.
122. Can I just come back briefly to this question
of the evaluation of performance and reporting which we touched
on earlier which Mr Chaytor asked about. There is nothing in the
Treasury's Annual Report at the moment about environmental performance.
There may be a table in the Budget but there does not seem to
be anything in the Annual Report. When can we expect to see that
information in the Annual Report, or might you even think of a
separate environmental report or something?
(Mr Timms) I think we have talked this afternoon about
a good deal of work that we have carried out in the Treasury on
sustainable development, sustainable growth. There is a lot in
Treasury publications more generally on these areas. I hope the
Committee will accept that these are matters we are taking extremely
seriously. I must admit I cannot recall precisely what was in
the Annual Report. I certainly regard what appears in a document
like this one as much more significant and a much more important
document setting out the policy objectives that we are pursuing.
I would not want to read too much into what did or did not appear
in the Annual Report.
123. I take the point that the Budget book is
about policy objectives but we did agree earlier that a very important
part of what needs to be done is looking at what has happened,
evaluating performance, and that is something which maybe one
would not find so easily in the Budget book. Can I ask a question
on a connected issue, or I think it is connected anyway. You said
to us in 1999 in your Greening Government memorandum that a specific
environmental audit was a topic in the assessment of audit need
to be put to the Treasury's Audit Committee in 2000. I am not
necessarily sure I know exactly what that meant but if it meant
that the Treasury was looking, for instance, at what internal
audit capacity it needed to be able to do an environmental audit
then that is obviously something I think we would want to see
happening. Can you tell us what the outcome was? Did anything
come out from the Treasury's Audit Committee specifically in relation
to environmental audit or is that something that you may need
to come back to?
(Mr Timms) I think I need to check back on that reference.
124. It was in the 1999 memorandum from the
Treasury on Greening Government, there was specific mention of
(Mr Timms) I will check back on that. Can I just make
the point that there is a section, I have been reminded, in the
Treasury Annual Report on environmental performance. The Annual
Report is very much an internally focused document. In external
policy terms it is documents like this one that are more important.
125. The final point I want to ask is about
associate bodies. The Treasury has not got a huge range of non-departmental
public bodies that some Government departments have but each department
was supposed to be producing an action plan by March 2001. It
was the Green Ministers' deadline for an action plan for integrating
sustainable development into the work of associate bodies. Has
the Treasury actually done that?
(Mr Timms) There has been a good deal of work to achieve
that. We do have a number of bodies such as Customs and Excise,
Inland Revenue, the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency,
the Buying Agency, ONS.
126. I was thinking more of, say, the Bank of
England rather than people like the Inland Revenue who are to
some extent within the Government departmental structure.
(Mr Timms) The Royal Mint I can comment on, which
has had a good record in this area. I think they hope to be accredited
to the ISO 14001 standard by the end of 2001.
127. Has the Treasury actually done the action
plan it was supposed to be doing that the Green Ministers said
every department was supposed to do?
(Mr Timms) Let me ask Mr Hall to comment on that.
(Mr Hall) The Minister has asked to see the action
plan within a month.
128. Within a month?
(Mr Hall) Yes.
129. The deadline was March 2001, so we are
slipping a bit.
(Mr Timms) We might be a few days behind.
130. Minister, I think we are all very grateful
to you for your patience this afternoon. We have covered a great
deal of ground. Thank you very much again.
(Mr Timms) Thank you for giving me the opportunity.