Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100
WEDNESDAY 14 NOVEMBER 2001
MP, AND MR
100. That is the next point really. It is an
industry in which the sustainability problem is now in its most
(Margaret Beckett) Indeed.
101. yet it is not being effectively
sustained by finance from DEFRA. The Scots have put up £25
million, DEFRA has put up a mere £6 million effectively for
decommissioning, yet fishing, if it is going to become a sustainable
resource, does need financing to get from the present point A
to sustainability, point B.
(Margaret Beckett) The £6 million, if I recall
correctly, is for a decommissioning scheme. What we do have to
do is to try and look at the range of issues which are causing
such problems and devastation. It seems to me it is the wider
remit of our new Department, the whole marine stewardship issues,
environmental issues, which are germane and which underlie the
concerns that you are expressing and which we all share for the
future of fish stocks.
102. So we have your assurance that fishing
will not be discounted?
(Margaret Beckett) Certainly not.
103. And will get the attention of world-class
(Margaret Beckett) We have very high quality staff
in the fishing section as elsewhere in the Department.
Chairman: I think you will find that if you
do your sums, the amount of public money as a proportion of the
value of the product is higher in fisheries than almost any other
sector in your Department.
104. David's view of fishing always was a very
jaundiced view. The comments on the aims and objectives, did you
get a lot of comments and were they coloured really by the foot
and mouth problems and attitudes to MAFF produced by that problem?
(Margaret Beckett) Yes, I think they were a bit. Roughly
speaking, as I understand it, we sent the consultation document
to all staff and to about 1,700 stakeholders, and we also put
it on the internet, and we had responses from about 320 organisations
representing a fair cross-section of stakeholders, and about 62
individuals. We also had responses from individuals and work units
within the Department, representing roughly speaking about 700
staff. On the whole, the responses were reasonably favourable.
Obviously there were a range of responses which said, "You
have not given enough importance to fishing, you have not given
enough importance to farming", inevitably you get the, "Why
did you not mention X, Y and Z" approaches in responses,
but on the whole our impression is that the responses were broadly
in favour and, not least, to the fact that the overarching approach
and theme of the Department should be sustainable development.
That was pretty widely accepted and welcomed.
105. What changes were made as a result of those?
When can we expect to see the final document?
(Mr Bender) Possibly even today; very, very soon.
106. I was intrigued by one sentence in your
document, in fact two. It says, "An aim should be a single
sentence which encompasses the purpose of the Department",
followed by this sentence, "It is clearly difficult to encompass
in one sentence . . ."! Who won the competition!
(Margaret Beckett) There was not a prize, I am afraid.
107. Secretary of State, you were in Marrakech
last week and I wonder if you would like to spend a few minutes
giving a brief report on how successful you felt the meeting was
and what progress was made.
(Margaret Beckett) I think it was enormously successful
and really quite dramatic in many ways. What we did, of course,
was to build on what was agreed in Bonn and give it effect, and
as I understand it, this is the first occasion at which any international
environmental agreement has had the kind of detailed teeth and
legal force in reality that now exists around the implementation
of the Kyoto protocolworkable rules on the mechanisms and
so on. The thing which I think was very striking in Bonn and remained
striking in Marrakech was the degree to which there was such a
drive to get agreement. We are talking about a conference at which
180 countries were represented, and when we arrived in Bonn everybody
was expecting doom and gloom, but it became apparent almost at
once, first, that nobody wanted a repetition of the failure there
had been in The Hague and, secondly, if it was going to fail nobody
wanted to be held responsible for it, which is also quite a useful
driver. It is true to say, and it will not of course necessarily
be a universally popular view, but it is absolutely and completely
true to say, that at Bonn the European Union as a cohesive group,
which we were to a greater degree than I have ever experienced
before, was a driver of success in the negotiations. That was
strongly my view in the aftermath, and that is what I reported
to the Prime Minister. It is clear that was indeed everybody else's
view, because when we arrived in Marrakech we discovered a pretty
widespread expectation, a slightly daunting expectation, that
the European Union would carry out the same role in Marrakech.
Indeed, frankly, I think most people would accept to a large degree
we did. The other thing which was absolutely clear and consistent
in both Bonn and Marrakech was because people so much wanted agreement,
all parties were prepared to give ground on what would have been
their ideal outcomes in order to get an agreed outcome. That was
true of the developing countries. It was a magnificent feat of
negotiation and representation, something like 120 countries,
described as the G77 although there are a lot more of them actually,
being able to work in a united way and to reach an agreement on
what they could as a bottom line accept. The only other thing
I would say at this point is that part of the reason we reached
that degree and scale of achievement was because the European
Union negotiating strategy in Bonn was to seek a package of overall
proposals at quite an early stage, instead of going through bit
by bit and seeing if we had a package everybody could sign up
to, but saying, "What would the shape of the package be",
and thenand this is why I referred to the cohesiveness
of the European Union negotiating forcesay, "We within
the European Union can accept this package. There are lots of
things in it we do not like, there are lots of things in it we
would like to see improved, but if this was the final outcome,
we could live with it. What about everybody else?" That was
the basis on which we drove agreement in Bonn, and a very similar
approach was adopted in Marrakech. Initially, in this case, it
was the G77 who said, "This is a package we could live with,
what about the rest of you? Are you going to come on board?"
Then, obviously, you get some changes, but you get changes at
the margins, instead of people spending hours wrangling about
things which are not their top priority. It makes people focus
on what are their priority concerns. The thing which was very
clear in the final, literally minutes, not just hours, in Bonn
was that mercifully the top priority and anxiety for the different
groups were not identical, so the thing the G77 cared about most
was not the thing which the umbrella group cared about most and
so we were able to reach an accommodation.
108. One of the things which was said after
the Bonn meeting was that certain countries had signed up, but
there was a feeling when it came to the crunch they would not
sign up when it came to Marrakech. Obviously an agreement has
been made at Marrakech to reach agreement but actually ratifying
the protocol are two completely different things. When do we expect
to be in a position to ratify the protocol? Have you any views
in terms of how long it will take key nations in other continents
to ratify the protocol as well?
(Margaret Beckett) We expect, along with our European
partners, to ratify the protocol before Johannesburg. I cannot
give you a date at this moment because it is something people
have to look at.
109. Would that be co-ordinated?
(Margaret Beckett) That is what I anticipate. Obviously
different countries have different procedures but it is the intention
of the European Union as a whole to ratify before Johannesburg.
The Japanese Government announced, I think, yesterday they will
now put a proposal for ratification to the Diet and that, taking
into account their own procedures, they hope they can get agreement.
You will appreciate there is still a good deal of controversy
in Japan but the Japanese Government will argue for ratification
and they hope if they are successful in that argument in the Diet,
Japan will ratify before June. There were also, I believe, some
encouraging words coming from the Russian delegation, but since
not everybody was fully awake at the time when they were made
in the early hours of Saturday morning there is still an amount
of slight dispute amongst us as to precisely what was said, but
there is every reason to hope that Russia will look favourably
on the prospects for ratification, not least because Mr Putin
does wish to hold an environmental conference in Russia in 2003,
I think. So again, to be seen to be working with the world community
is beneficial. Our hope is, our goal is, to try to encourage ratification
so the protocol can come into force before the Johannesburg Summit.
110. You have told us a lot about bringing the
new Department together and the many tasks which are on board,
but you are responsible as well for a number of executive agencies
and a long list of non-departmental public bodies. Some of these
are big players, particularly the Environment Agency and the Countryside
Agency, have you got the time and scope to have an effective oversight
of these bodies?
(Margaret Beckett) We have six executive agencies
and, as you say, we have a number of public bodies. Obviously,
it is my role as Secretary of State to determine the overall policy
and the financial framework for those agencies and bodies, with
the day-to-day management delegated to the chief executives. There
is also an ownership board for each of the agencies. However,
I ought straight away to say that we do plan very shortly to launch
a review of the five science-based executive agencies and their
relationship with the Department, and obviously that will include
their corporate governance. Kew is currently subject to a quinquennial
review, a number of the others, the Countryside Agency for example,
was already treating MAFF along with the DETR as an informal joint
sponsor, so there is a history of working there. But we will in
time obviously be looking at the range of responsibilities we
have and how best they can be exercised.
111. These are key players.
(Margaret Beckett) They are.
112. The Environment Agency, which you have
just mentioned, clearly links in with your waste aims, and waste
is growing at a compound rate of 3 to 4 per cent. How can you
be sure that the advice and the work that the Agency does with
you really fits your agenda and timetable?
(Margaret Beckett) It is a process of continuous discussion
and monitoring, not obviously all on my part. It is a matter of
getting the right framework of agreement as to what the aims and
objectives of the Agency should be, it is a matter of monitoring
implementation and seeing how successful they are in meeting their
targets. I believe I mentioned to the Committee last time I was
here that my diary secretary has a nightmare prospect of trying
to fit in all the people who have a strong belief that it is urgent
they see the Secretary of State, and in the course of pursuing
that she has identified something like 3,500 bodies which relate
in some way to my Department.
(Mr Bender) On the Environment Agency, the machinery
of government change actually simplifies matters. MAFF dealt with
floods, MAFF dealt with inland fishery issues, DETR on the heartland
of the environmental regulation. We at least now bring that into
one Department and therefore can take a more co-ordinated look
inside the Department.
(Margaret Beckett) The same applies to English Nature.
I do not know how public it was but I gather English Nature had
some anxieties about possibly reporting to a Department of Rural
Affairs because they felt it was hugely important they did not
lose the environmental dimension, and I have got it.
113. Secretary of State, one thing which does
seem slightly perverse is that we have an organisation called
the Food Standards Agency, and we have a Department called the
Department of Food, but the Food Standards Agency does not report
to the Department of Food. Is that not a bit odd? We are the only
Select Committee which has ever interviewed Sir John Krebs.
(Margaret Beckett) As you know, it was a decision
taken sometime ago, I cannot precisely recall when, that the Food
Standards Agency, which is very much an independent agency and
an independent voice in Government, should report to the Department
of Health. Since they are in the process of getting under way,
I do not suppose it was thought wise to make a short-term change.
I think also it indicates the perspective of the Agency itself
that it reports to the Department of Health.
114. In terms of this sort of cross-cutting,
joined-up proofing was it a good idea?
(Margaret Beckett) We have very good, constructive
working relationships with them.
(Mr Bender) We have a very close relationship in terms
of day-to-day contact at all levels, including myself to Professor
Sir John Krebs. It is essential we do work closely together while
recognising their independence.
Chairman: But you will equally recognise when
we have an issue, as we have in the last few weeks, about the
safety of lamb and sheep meat, clearly the implications for your
Department are enormous and we naturally take a very strong interest.
So maybe it is a piece of geometry which can be rearranged in
115. What were the main staff shortages that
the foot and mouth outbreak demonstrated?
(Mr Bender) I am not sure I understand your question
about staff shortages?
116. Where were you weak?
(Margaret Beckett) I think the problem that people
had, and obviously I am looking at reports I have seen, was the
sheer scale of the outbreaks. I think that was the real difficulty.
Nothing like it had been seen before, it was completely unprecedented,
so in that sense there was bound to be difficulty.
117. You also appeared short of vets as well.
(Mr Bender) Let me give you a figure. In the middle
of April, over 4,000 people, excluding 2,000 armed forces people,
were engaged in foot and mouth activity. That was just past the
peak of the disease but it was when the activity was at its height.
There was certainly, along the way, a question of whether we had
enough skilled veterinary resources. We imported a lot from overseasthe
European Union, America, Australia and Canadawe certainly
used large numbers of private sector vets who came on to our books.
One of the issues we will be looking at, and I think the CVO may
have mentioned it to the Committee, and we expect Dr Anderson's
Inquiry to look at, is how we can have what I call loosely a territorial
army type of arrangement in the future, so that in the event of
another such outbreak we have people who can be available on tap.
We ramped that up very quickly indeed but it would be nice to
have it on tap rather than ramped up next time.
118. Is there also an issue as to whether the
staff are used properly, in the sense that vets were being used
to take on questions of property law, powers of entry, private
property and interpretation of statutes, which is not their job?
(Mr Bender) In the middle of March we created a different
structure involving regional operations directors especially to
deal with that point which you raised, Mr Mitchell, so that the
vets with professional skills were not required at the height
of the crisis to be diverted in non-veterinary professional areas.
One of the issues we are looking at in the Department now is how
we can strengthen or integrate in some way or another the management
of the state veterinary service with the management of the rest
of the Department, so that things like financial management and
other administrative management skills are integrated better.
119. It also appears there were delays in doing
the samples at Pirbright.
(Margaret Beckett) I think I have mentioned to this
Committee before, and I was just wondering whether it was worth
saying, we are not necessarily talking about staff numbers but
resources. When this outbreak occurred, we had in the UK the capacity
to test something like 400 samples a week. We now have capacity
to test 200,000 samples a week. It is a pretty Herculean task
to ramp up in that way.