Examination of Witnesses (Questions 215
WEDNESDAY 28 NOVEMBER 2001
215. Can I welcome you, Secretary of State,
to the Committee. Can I also thank you for your memorandum, can
I say we were rather disappointed that we only received it late
(Margaret Beckett) Sorry.
216.and the Committee therefore only
got it this morning, and that does lead to some difficulties in
preparing sensible questions for you. We really had not seen your
Department's statement or their responses to the questions. I
hope you can do better next time.
(Margaret Beckett) Indeed. I apologise.
217. Is there anything you want to say of a
brief or a preliminary nature in addition to the memorandum?
(Margaret Beckett) I do not think so, particularly.
Obviously there is the general issue in terms of departmental
responsibilities as to where one draws boundaries and how you
can encourage work across them. It will always be the case, I
suspect, that there will be people who want the boundaries to
be drawn in different places from where they are. Unless one has
an all-encompassing government department there have to be boundaries
somewhere. What is important is to try and make sure there is
cooperative work across those boundaries, wherever they may be.
On the whole there has been a good track record on these issues
and we hope that good track record will be maintained.
Chairman: I am sure there is a lot of sense
to what you say. There have been some huge changes in your area
and obviously we would like to question you on those. They are
218. Let us start off with that issue, a great
deal was made of our integration in 1997 of many policy areas
into the DETR and now it has been split. I am just wondering what
lessons were learned from that period of five years and why it
was split? Why did the policy areas have to be taken apart again?
(Margaret Beckett) Obviously I was not involved in
the department or in the decision to change the perimeters. I
think that while it was thought there are clear links between
the policy requirement on the environment and, for example, transport
or planning, and so on, nevertheless I think it is clear that
as years have gone by there has come to be more and more emphasis
on the overall issue of the framework of sustainable development
and a growing belief within and across government that there was
much to be said for having a department that had sustainable development
as its prime focus. That was the underlying thinking on creating
the new department.
219. I think a lot of people would, perhaps,
look for what is the emphasis of government now in terms of environment.
I would say that the emphasis has been shifted to DEFRA, which
includes rural affairs and perhaps excluding urban affairs, can
you see the difference which that is developing and how people
would consider our approach to this?
(Margaret Beckett) We would be extremely unhappy if
anybody thought that the fact that my Department included rural
affairs meant that we have lost focus on the issues that arise
in the urban environment, I think it is almost the other way round,
there was a bit of a danger before that it was rural areas and
the overall problems of the rural economy that people ran the
risk of losing sight of. The fact that there is now a department
which deals with rural areas as a whole and not, for example,
specifically with farming and the issues surrounding farming,
is actually an increased strength where, perhaps, there was something
of a gap before. It is not that a gap has opened up on urban environment,
the thinking is there might have been thought to be a gap in rural
areas on these issues and that has now been dealt with.