HC Deb 17 March 1997 vol 292 cc457-9W
Mr. Luff

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the greening government initiative. [20821]

Mr. Gummer

Green Ministers have taken stock of the Government's approach to the environmental appraisal of its policies and to green housekeeping.

The Government's commitment to assess the potential environmental impact of new policy proposals has been restated in successive White Paper annual reports on sustainable development, and "Questions of Procedure for Ministers" requires all Departments to ensure that papers for Cabinet and ministerial committees should, where appropriate, cover any significant costs or benefits to the environment. Green Ministers have specifically reaffirmed that their Departments will carry out environmental appraisal of policies where appropriate and agreed to ensure that departmental procedures are in place to check that this happens and to keep them under review. They have also agreed to consider publishing those appraisals where there is a significant environmental impact. In 1991 my Department published "Policy Appraisal and the Environment" giving extensive guidance on how to integrate environmental considerations into Government policy. Consultants (KPMG) have been appointed to evaluate the practical application of environmental appraisal and are due to finalise their report shortly.

The Government are also fully committed to running their own operations and buildings in accordance with best environmental practice as an integral part of their contribution to the UK's sustainable development strategy. All Government Departments have had green housekeeping strategies in place since 1992 and have achieved a great deal. Energy efficiency on the Government estate has improved by almost 15 per cent. in the five years to March 1996 and a new target of an overall 20 per cent. improvement by March 2000 has been endorsed by the Prime Minister.

New Government buildings and major refurbishment will be assessed under the Building Research Establishment's environmental assessment method, or an equivalent scheme. The Department of the Environment's office services division has achieved accreditation for its environmental management system under BS 7750 and ISO 140001; this makes the United Kingdom one of the small number of countries that are investigating the application of such techniques in central Government. Work is under way by Government Departments to review the scope for reducing the impact of their travel and transport patterns on the environment and the scope for introducing green commuter plans to encourage staff to switch from the car to public transport, walking or cycling.

Green Ministers have now agreed a further programme of action to take forward the green government initiative. The KPMG report and its case studies will be published as soon as it has been finalised. Green Ministers agree with the thrust of KPMG's emerging findings on the environmental appraisal of policies. Specifically they have agreed to:

  1. (a) prepare a short aide memoire, widely available and targeted more towards policy advisers than appraisal specialists, and showing the range of techniques available;
  2. (b) provide more detailed material on good practice for those needing further specialist advice; the Department of the Environment will be ready to advise other Departments without such expertise, and more generally (including considering the dissemination of case studies using both written material and seminars);
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  4. (c) review in their Departments the systems and processes they have in place to deal with environmental issues in policy appraisal where there are significant; although requirements differ across Departments, they will provide a clear point of contact for officials seeking advice;
  5. (d) take responsibility for ensuring that the necessary systems and processes are being properly used and, where the environmental impacts are significant, demonstrate publicly how they have taken account of environmental considerations in policy development. Collectively Green Ministers will review the situation periodically to satisfy themselves that arrangements are working well.

The Government's corporate strategy on green housekeeping signals the Government's determination to build on the action already taken and to follow sound environmental principles across its operations. In particular, the Government will work to the target of a 20 per cent. improvement in energy efficiency over 1990 levels by 2000, and explore new ways of measuring performance by standard performance indicators. We shall ensure that new buildings and major refurbishments are designed to achieve high standards of environmental performance.

The Government will also monitor targets set by Departments for reducing their waste in accordance with the UK strategy for sustainable waste management and promote the concepts of reduction, re-use, recovery and recycling with disposal as the least favourable option. New guidelines will be issued to Government Departments on taking environmental factors into account in purchasing goods and services consistent with the need to achieve value for money.

Departments will reduce the use of hazardous substances, materials and goods and, where they are essential, dispose of them safely and in an environmentally preferable manner. Furthermore, Departments will minimise the environmental impact of the transport needs of Government operations, promote environmentally sensible choices in the way staff travel to work and provide them with the information and training they need to carry out their duties with the minimum impact on the environment.

Green Ministers recognise that the achievement of improved environmental performance requires the commitment of all staff from senior management downwards and depends on Departments developing proper management systems. Where they have not already done so, Departments will consider whether it would be practicable, and whether it would bring extra value, to seek accreditation under BS 7750 and ISO 14001 or to have their systems assessed by auditors trained in environmental management.

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