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Tuesday, 6 August, 2002, 12:41 GMT 13:41 UK
Minister 'axed' from Earth summit
The talks may include global warming
Fears of press criticism of government "junkets" is being blamed for environment minister Michael Meacher reportedly being dropped from the UK's team for the Earth Summit.

Downing Street is said to have axed Michael Meacher as part of a reduction from 100 to 70 in the number of the UK delegation for this month's Johannesburg summit.

The list of people is still being looked at

Downing Street
The delegation will be led by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, with Rural Affairs Secretary Margaret Beckett and International Development Secretary Clare Short joined for the signing ceremony by Tony Blair.

The Conservatives have accused ministers of indulging in expensive symbolism over the summit.

And Friends of the Earth said that they would pay for Mr Meacher to attend the summit as he was the minister "respected around the world" on the issues being discussed.

'Diplomatic disaster'

Downing Street, denying reports that Mr Meacher had been dropped from the summit, said the rest of the team was still being finalised.

Mr Meacher's ministerial colleague Elliot Morley, insisted that no decision on Mr Meacher's participation had been taken and that it "would be a mistake" to believe newspaper reports.

They have dropped the wrong one

David Davis

For the Tories, David Davis, who shadows Mr Prescott, said the line-up of cabinet ministers going to South Africa was a "diplomatic disaster" in the making.

After the news of Mr Meacher's axing, he said: "They have dropped the wrong one."

Mr Meacher has held the environment brief since Labour came to power in 1997 and has attended some of the preparatory meetings for the summit.

Downing Street communications director Alastair Campbell was said by the Guardian newspaper to originally have decided John Prescott be cut from the party because he no longer looks after environment issues.

Michael Meacher, Environment Minister
Meacher has held his job since 1997
But the deputy prime minister was a key player in the Kyoto climate talks in 1997 and is reported to have urged Tony Blair to overturn the decision.

International Development Secretary Clare Short apparently volunteered to give up her place, but Mr Blair wanted her on the trip because of the key part her brief will play in the talks.

With Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett already included, it was decided to drop her junior minister, says the newspaper.

Bali row

The Earth Summit, also known as the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), runs from 26 August to 4 September.

More than 100 world leaders are due to discuss how to combat world poverty, conserve natural resources and provide clean water and sanitation.

There has already been press criticism of the size of UK teams sent to preparatory meetings in Bali, which Mrs Beckett attended rather than Mr Meacher.

That is said to have prompted Mr Campbell to cut the size of the summit delegation.

Thirty officials from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) are reported to have already been told to hand back their tickets.

Key stories



See also:

30 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
24 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
15 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
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