Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200-219)|
WEDNESDAY 10 JULY 2002
200. With respect, they want a Bill to sort
out their status with reference to the employment of their staff.
That was dealt with in our previous report.
(Lord Whitty) That is also taken account of in the
quinquennial review. We do not regard that as the essential element
of the future of HRI. There are financial problems with HRI, but
I do not believe that the lack of legislation is preventing us
from sorting those out. In relation to Covent Garden, if one were
ever to change the status of it a complex piece of legislation
would be required and it would probably be a hybrid piece of legislation.
I am not able to answer for the totality of the Government's legislative
programme, but I suspect that there will be difficulties in squeezing
that in until we are absolutely clear about the direction in which
it will develop.
201. Minister, do you think that the department
has an image problem?
(Lord Whitty) We have now been in existence for a
year. We had a difficult inheritance and we have a range of areas
that is not entirely, in the public's mind, pulled together sufficiently.
We have been effective in pulling together in terms of policy,
establishing our role within Whitehall and with the various clients
with whom we deal, but if you ask me whether DEFRA, in public
consciousness terms, has yet established itself, I believe that
we have some way to go. That is certainly an area that is taking
the attention of the Secretary of State and the department.
202. Following on from what the Chairman said,
I have been to a number of shows and at the Royal Show you had
exactly what the Chairman said, but at another show the main focal
point of the image of DEFRA was this vast complex span. I do not
know how much it cost. I can well appreciate that the department
has a wide remit and wants to emphasise diversity and rural affairs,
but in that stand I had to search to find anything to do with
farming. It was hidden away around the side. It struck me that
if a Ministry of Defence stand did not mention the Armed Forces,
people would regard that as not typically focused. Do you think
that that is a fair impression?
(Lord Whitty) No. I think it is a complete caricature.
For example, as soon as you go in on the right there is a service
relating to the RDAs and another one relating to the vets. The
first two items that you would come across would relate to farming.
In relation to our broader remit, the Environment Agency's stand
focused on issues of pollution, waste management and nitrates,
which are primarily farmers' concerns. However, it is important
to say that we are not the ministry for farmers; we are the ministry
for rural affairs and the environment. An important part of rural
life is farming, but we are not the ministry for farming in the
way that the Ministry of Defence is the ministry for the Armed
Forces. The creation of DEFRA attempted to get away from that.
It may be that we are making some difficult presentational decisions
in how we get away from that, but we want to get away from that.
The criticism that we are not sufficiently farmer-focused seems
to me a wrong one and one that leads to a misunderstanding of
the changes to the government machinery that we intend to achieve.
203. I think we may disagree on that. If the
Ministry of Defence was called the ministry for the Armed Forces
I could understand that. The Ministry of Defence has a broader
remit. The impression that I had was that when Ministers were
at the Royal Show they were not interested in the farming element.
You can correct me, but I felt that they went out of their way
not to go near any animals.
(Lord Whitty) No. If you had been at the Exeter Show
you would have seen me in very close proximity, and probably too
close a proximity, when I presented all the prizes to the livestock
at Exeter. So that is untrue. It is true that yesterday, due to
House of Lords' business, my intention to visit the cattle lines
had to be curtailed. Normally, I would have gone down to see the
livestock, as I did at all the other showsCornwall, Bath
and West and so on.
204. In the culture change that has taken place
in DEFRA, you are saying that you do not want it to be seen as
the ministry for farming. Where does farming fit into it? Do you
think that farming has a core element, not only in terms of food
production, but also in terms of managing the countryside, diversity
and that kind of thing that is so important in terms of your aims?
(Lord Whitty) Absolutely. It seems to me that the
problem of the past is that quite often the relationship between
the agricultural sector, strictly the primary producer part of
the agricultural sector, and the ministry of agriculture was focused
on the subsidies production and on the regulation production and
not on placing agriculture in the wider context of the landscape
management and the rural economy as a whole, horizontally, nor
vertically, for example, in the food chain. Although MAFF had
"food" in its title it was not responsible for the industry
and it tended to deal with agriculture in a different way from
the way in which it dealt with the rest of the food chain. Some
of that was inevitable because of the European regulations and
the way that the CAP worked, and subsidies for farming before
that, but in practice there was a bit of a ring-fence around agriculture,
both in relation to the rest of the neighbours in the rural economy,
their environmental impact on the rural economy and their relationship
with the rest of the food chain. The Curry Commission and, as
I understand it, Commissioner Fischler's proposals today indicate
that the future for farming must be to see itself in a broader
205. This Committee was very disappointed when
the Permanent Secretary came to give evidence on a not very good
annual report and he could not answer all our questions. We found
that agriculturewe were studying the future of agriculturewas
very much a small part of the report. I come back to the point
that all Members of this Committee appreciate that farming not
only has to change, but that old-fashioned farming is probably
dead and buried. There is an image problem. To do all the things
that you want to do, it seems that farming has to be a core element,
or perhaps we are wrong. Do you think that the countryside, the
environment and everything else can be developed and so perhaps
reduce farming to being more like a national park with most of
our food coming from overseas?
(Lord Whitty) I do not believe that you could derive
that conclusion from anything that I or any spokesperson at DEFRA
has said. We want to see a thriving farming sector. It may need
to change, but we need to see a thriving farming sector with money
going back into farming and with it making its contribution to
the wider countryside and rural environment. We are saying that
to do that, agriculture has to see itself in a wider context and
its relationship to Government in a wider context. The relationship,
particularly, between the sponsoring department and the industry
needs to change in order to help to give it that wider focus.
From day one that was part of our difficulty in the sense that
MAFFexcluding the Armed Forces and the defence industrywas
the only remaining department that was responsible for a single
line of industry. It had a certain Soviet-life overtone to it,
in that the Government decided the level of subsidy, decided to
a large extent what shape the industry would be and to some extent
via the European Union decided its prices and its output. That
kind of relationship is not appropriate to the modern age and
there have been painful changes needed to the relationship between
the department and the farming sector. The more progressive elements
in the farming sector recognise that.
206. When we looked at the department's annual
report a few weeks ago, most of us felt that it was strong on
aspirations. There is nothing at all wrong with that. Central
to those aspirations was sustainable development. Recently, as
a department you have published a sustainable development strategy.
Could you say something to us about how in a year's time you feel
that the department and the rest of us will be able to measure
the success of that strategy? What will be the indicators that
will tell us whether that strategy has succeeded or is succeeding?
(Lord Whitty) Whether it "is succeeding"
or "has succeeded" would probably take longer than a
year. Whether it is succeeding can probably be measured in two
broad ways. One, we are the department for sustainable development
across Government as a whole. We are the driver for sustainable
developmentenvironmental, social and economic. We are the
body that is charged with ensuring that the whole of Whitehall
and the government agencies operate on a sustainable development
basis, and take sustainability as a benchmark for their policies.
The degree to which we will have achieved that in a year's time
will become apparent, in so far as it is not already. On our own
policy areas, the change in direction of farming may well be a
symbolic policy area where we can best measure sustainability
being inculcated into the policy. We have to follow through to
the Curry Commission and we have the mid-term review of the Common
Agricultural Policy, the outcome of which is subject to considerably
difficult negotiations. Nevertheless, by this time next year we
shall be clear on the direction of European, Government and industry
policies towards the future of farming, which will be to put it
on a more sustainable basis, a less production dominated basis
and one that ensures that farming contributes to the other aims
of the department on landscape, rural economy and the environment.
I think we shall be able to measure those things in a year's time.
207. Other Members may want to follow up on
what you say about farming. I believe that I am the only Member
of the Committee who comes from an almost wholly urban constituency.
I was surprised to find that I have a rural post office, on the
University of Sussex campus, which is protected. However, I represent
an urban constituency. I would be interested in how DEFRA sees
itself promoting sustainable development over the next year and
into the future in an area such as mine where we have people living
in city centre households.
(Lord Whitty) Much of the direct delivery in relation
to the environment, will rest with other Government departments
and with local authorities, but part of our objective will be
to ensure that sustainability is built into their approach to
planning decisions, to our development of the social fabric of
those inner cities and to the way in which we provide their services.
On transport, for example, there is the question of whether we
can move to a form of transport that is accessible to the kind
of communities that you are talking about, and that does not create
congestion and other environmental problems. Most of the delivery
is down to other agencies rather than to ourselves. That is why
the first measure of how far sustainability has entered Government
as a whole is a measure of our success or otherwise.
208. One theme that we have heard consistently
over recent weeks, and indeed since the department was created,
by outside agencies who come before us, is a concern that DEFRA
at the moment does not have sufficient impact on the work of other
departments of Government. You have mentioned transport policy
and planning policy. You have rightly said that delivery on those
policies is the responsibility of another department. However,
from what we have heard we have acquired a feeling that some of
those links that should exist between DEFRA and other departments
to ensure that environmental concernsconcerns about sustainable
developmentare informing the policies of the other departments,
are not as strong as they should be. For instance, when the CPRE
appeared before us last week, Mr Hamblin said that the Cabinet
Office website, which lists cost-cutting issues, sustainable development
and the Sustainable Development Unit is absent from that list.
Could you comment on that?
(Lord Whitty) I regret to say that I am not responsible
for the website of the Cabinet Office. In policy terms, we have
achieved a certain degree of success. Certainly sustainability
through the various interdepartmental activities has become much
more central to their assessment during the course of this current
spending round. We are to make an announcement. I have to be careful
as I am aware of what the announcement will contain, nevertheless
I hope that it will reflect the work that we have done with the
Treasury in ensuring that the assessment of everybody contains
a sustainability dimension. I hope that we shall see that when
the announcement is made next week. Clearly, much of the delivery
relies on that. In relation to your previous question, there is
in one of our documents, Foundations for our Future, a
list of indications of progress on sustainability, much of which
depends on other departments and local government meeting that.
We are the driver for it and we have to take responsibility for
trying to ensure that the rest of Whitehall and the government
bodies as a whole pursue that. Although we may not achieve as
much as we would like with the Cabinet Office in adopting those
policy levels, we are discussing the matters closely with the
Cabinet Office, with central Government generally and with the
209. And with the Office of the Deputy Prime
(Lord Whitty) Yes, indeed. In terms of the process
and structure, when the department was first set up, and the DETR
was dealing with planning and transport, we developed a close
relationship there. Previously we had all been in the same department
and previously I had had responsibility for transport myself.
We needed a new concordat and we established that contact. We
are now in close contact with the two successor departments and
the Permanent Secretaries meet regularly to establish a new basis
for engagement between the two departments. Clearly, planning
in the rural context and in the environmental context are very
important to us.
210. Those discussions are at ministerial level?
(Lord Whitty) We have discussions at ministerial level
on planning and on transport continuously. The machinery of Government
involves a regular Permanent Secretary contact which will lead
to a new concordat between the two departments.
Mr Lepper: We await the Chancellor's statement
in a few days' time to see one measure of success.
211. Sustainability, by its own definition and
nature, looks a long way into the future. There is a feeling that
there needs to be a greater recognition of striking the balance
between the needs of today's generation and safeguarding the interests
of future generations. How can that balance be struck between
those competing environmental, economic and social needs of today
and those of what we perceive to be the needs of future generations?
(Lord Whitty) That is a big question. One of the jobs
of the department is to ensure that our decisions and the decisions
of other departments have a longer time focus than is often the
case in Government. So you have a time potential, a time conflict
in short-termism or even in medium-termism and what happens in
the long term. It relates to using resources. I believe that it
differs policy by policy because in many areas what one does in
the short term alters the long term. Therefore, one has to ensure
that the short-term decisions are in the right direction; for
example, on achieving the Kyoto targets. We want to see where
we are in 2012, but we have to take decisions now that move us
in that direction. In so far as there is conflict on the three
pillars of sustainabilityeconomic, environmental and socialthat
is the responsibility of all policy areas. There is sometimes
not as great a conflict as is suggested between environmental
and economic objectives. In the long term, the wrong environmental
decisions are also the wrong economic decisions. Sometimes the
decisions taken for environmental reasons primarily turn out in
the not very long term to be economically beneficial. There is
not continuous conflict. There is occasional conflict and policy
departments have to be responsible for managing that. Our job
is to give the bigger framework.
212. To what extent does DEFRA devise investment
plans that would impose greater spending today in order to achieve
the long-term objectives of sustainability?
(Lord Whitty) In any direct sense the only capital
programmes with which we are concerned are those that fall on
our budgets and on our agencies, which is a relatively small part
of the totality. We are engaged, for example, in relation to the
DTLR, in ensuring that transport projects have a strong long-term
environmental dimension to them. Therefore, again we have an influence
beyond the area of capital spending for which we are responsible
which frankly is pretty limited.
213. Do you think that investment spending plans
for sustainability for future generations is something that should
be increased and, if so, what would you propose to do about that?
(Lord Whitty) Increasing the totality of capital spending
is a matter that I had better not comment on, especially as it
is a few days before the spending review comes out. The way in
which particular projects are planned, within a given quantum,
needs more of a focus on longer term objectives than sometimes
state and private projects supported by the state have done in
the past. The transport system is one such area.
214. A moment ago you said in relation to the
environment, on which I want to focus, that a lot of the responsibility
will lie with other departments. I am paraphrasing what you said.
In earlier evidence to this inquiry the CPRE observed that "the
environment is becoming divorced from other Government policy
decisions". Friends of the Earth at an earlier inquiry said
that "environment officials and Ministers have been marginalised,
and distanced from the big decisions". Finally, the RSPB
said in earlier evidence that DEFRA could become a "policy
ghetto for green issues". Do you feel divorced and marginalised
in a Smith Square-esque ghetto on the environment?
(Lord Whitty) No, not at all. They used to make the
same play in relation to the DETR and to the Department of the
Environment in the past. It is the job of government-oriented
NGOs to push for greater emphasis for an environmental dimension.
215. Name one or two early successes on the
(Lord Whitty) One success that has not been fully
recognised is the degree to which the department has pushed forward
on the Kyoto agenda and the agenda leading up to Johannesburg.
One of the Secretary of State's early triumphs was to rescue the
Bonn talks on the policies of Kyoto, followed by Marrakesh. By
the time we reached Johannesburg we would have made an across-government
effort on putting sustainability on the government agenda in a
big way. That is a substantial success by the Government. If one
looks at other more specific areas, more domestic areas, and if
one looks at decisions on transport, one will see that there are
decisions that a few years ago would not have gone the way that
the CPRE and others had suspected. I used to be responsible for
road projects, whether welcome or not, and they have had a much
bigger environmental dimension in the past year or so than certainly
was the case in the past. One sees the influence of environment
ministers, both under the previous structure and carried through
into the current structure, reflected in significant government
projects. We are there and clearly we are influencing other people's
strategies. Therefore, I would reject what the CPRE is telling
you. I do not think that we ghetto-ise at all. I think there was
a danger of MAFF on many occasions being ghetto-ised, but I do
not think that the current department is ghetto-ised. I think
we are a bigger player and a more central player to Government
as a whole.
216. In some key respects the performance indicators
may be arguable, but what about domestic recycling? Is not our
record one of the worst among the European developed nations?
(Lord Whitty) It has been, yes.
217. Is it heading in the wrong direction?
(Lord Whitty) No. It is heading in the right direction,
but not as fast as we would want.
218. What is that code for?
(Lord Whitty) It is code for the fact that we need
to do more and we need to get local authorities to do more and
to get public opinion and behaviour more focused on recycling.
Yes, a lot more needs to be done in that context. There is no
slippage; we are moving forward.
219. How many more incinerators, heaps of scrapped
fridges and burnt out unrecycled cars do we need to trigger DEFRA
into more energetic action on that front?
(Lord Whitty) We have to consider what we are trying
to do and some of the unfortunate by-products. The aim of the
fridges directiveI do not want to go over all that ground
again as the Committee is probably sick of it as wellwas
a clear environmental objective.