Corporate Environmental Reporting

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 30th January 2003.

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Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Liberal Democrat, Guildford 11:30 am, 30th January 2003

What steps her Department has taken to encourage corporate environmental reporting; and if she will make a statement.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Minister (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Environment)

We have pursued action in several different ways. Most importantly, the Government have set out proposals for strengthening the statutory regime for company reporting in our White Paper "Modernising Company Law".

Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Liberal Democrat, Guildford

I thank the Minister for that reply, but does he recall that in October 2000, the Prime Minister set a challenge to the top 350 companies to bring in environmental reporting by the end of December 2001, and yet a year later, only approximately a quarter are doing so? What is the Minister going to do to make that happen faster?

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Minister (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Environment)

I am very keen that that should happen faster, and I certainly have sympathy with the hon. Lady's point. However, between 60 and 70 per cent. of companies in the top FTSE 100 now provide environmental reporting, and some of them at considerable length. About 30 per cent. of the top FTSE 350 report on their activities, with another 40 per cent. making some form of public statement about their environmental engagement. Matters are progressing, and as I said, the White Paper "Modernising Company Law" requires that about 1,000 of the most economically significant companies in the country include information on environmental, social and community issues in a new operating and financial review—which they will be asked to produce—where those matters are material to, or relevant to, the understanding of the business. After five years of exhorting industry, that is now the right way forward.

Photo of Ms Linda Perham Ms Linda Perham Labour, Ilford North

I welcome what the Minister said in his initial response, but will the Government's commitment to greater corporate responsibility and the public reporting of corporate environmental standards, which they made last year at the Johannesburg world summit on sustainable development, result in the implementation of the intergovernmental agreements through national regulations in this country?

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Minister (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Environment)

I have already explained what we propose to do about environmental reporting. The wider issue of corporate social responsibility was on the agenda, and a decision was reached within the text of the WSSD. We are certainly keen to follow that up, and discussions are taking place within the Government as a basis for further, wider international discussions on how proper measures on corporate social responsibility can be implemented.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Is it not time for the Government to set more of an example to the private sector in terms of corporate environmental reporting? Can the Minister confirm that every Government Department is obliged to prepare a sustainable development report to show how its policies and expenditure plans help to deliver the Government's environmental objectives? These reports are currently kept secret, and rather than lecturing the private sector about its responsibilities, will the Minister commit himself today to making those Government reports public, and thereby start to practise what he is so keen to preach?

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Minister (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Environment)

The hon. Gentleman is not quite right. The Government Green Ministers Committee, which I chair, has published three annual reports that give detailed information on a whole range of indicators on the performance of all Government Departments. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman may shake his head, but I suggest that he look at those reports. I am extremely keen that there be full transparency and publicising of the performance of Government Departments—both where we do well, as we generally do, and where we do not do so well. I should also point out that the Government's framework for sustainable development on the Government estate requires Departments to report publicly on environmental performance in respect of environmental management systems, travel arrangements for staff and their environmental impact, and water usage. We are considering taking those measures further.