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Thursday, 8 August, 2002, 16:23 GMT 17:23 UK
Meacher back on summit team
Johannesburg
Johannesburg will host the Earth Summit
Environment Minister Michael Meacher will be part of the UK's team for this month's Earth Summit despite suggestions he had been axed from the delegation.

Mr Meacher was reported to have been dropped amid Downing Street fears that the size of the team going to Johannesburg would lead to more criticism of government "junkets".

The world is in a very serious state

Michael Meacher

That news prompted environmental campaigners to lobby for the minister to be put back on the delegation - with some even offering to pay for his fare.

The shadow secretary for the office of the deputy prime minister, David Davis, said the composition of the delegation appeared to be driven by the demands of media management rather than the needs of the environment.

UK's priorities

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 and conserve natural resources.

Downing Street said the UK's priorities would be energy, health, agriculture and bio-diversity.
Michael Meacher, Environment Minister
Meacher has held his job since 1997

Officials insisted the final list of UK delegates had not been drawn up until now.

Mr Meacher said it was true the team had only just been finalised.

"I was never officially told I was not going to be on the delegation," he told BBC Radio 4's World At One.

'Concern then talks'

The first he had known about his possible omission was in the newspapers.

Those reports had concerned him and since then he had held discussions on the plans.

Mr Meacher denied Downing Street communications director Alastair Campbell had been in charge of streamlining the delegation.

John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister
Prescott says the focus will be on key priorities
The minister said the incident should not distract from the "serious crisis" facing the world, although it might have pushed sustainable development issues up the political agenda.

"It is a tragedy if the question of personalities conceals the overriding, overarching importance of this conference," he said.

Mr Meacher added: "By the middle of this century we will need two planets to sustain the standard of living which is used by many people in the developed countries and wanted by people in developing countries.

Extravagance attacked

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.

Fears of repeats of the criticism of government "junkets" which accompanied pre-summit talks in Bali apparently prompted Number 10 to cut the delegation's numbers from 100 to 70.

Mr Meacher was reported to be the only ministerial casualty - now it looks like Foreign Office Minister Baroness Amos will not attend.

With the ministers will be 45 officials and five security officers.

Campaigners' delight

Earlier, John Prescott attacked what he called "speculation, misinformation and inaccurate reporting" in the press over the UK's summit line-up.

Mr Prescott said the UK delegation would again punch above its weight.

Appointed to his job when Labour reached power, Mr Meacher has won the respect of environmental pressure groups.

Friends of the Earth (FoE), which had offered to pay for Mr Meacher to attend the summit, were delighted by the apparent backtracking.

FoE summit co-ordinator Mike Childs said: "It was absurd to consider leaving him at home. His knowledge and commitment could be essential."

Liberal Democrat spokesman Malcolm Bruce said it had been outrageous to think of leaving Mr Meacher at home.

'No fire'

Mr Bruce accused Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett of lacking enthusiasm for environment issues.

"There is no sense of mission - of purpose," he said. "There is no fire."

For the Tories, Mr Davis said: "It is right to send Meacher but yet again it seems that the Government has been choosing its delegates on rank rather than the contribution they can make."

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Environment Minister Michael Meacher
"I am very pleased that I'm on the list"

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See also:

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