Climate change high on agenda as British Deputy PM John Prescott visits Prague

John Prescott, photo: CTK

The environment was high on the agenda during a short visit to Prague by British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott. He launched a youth forum on climate change, and also discussed the subject with Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek and Foreign Minister Alexandr Vondra. Other issues discussed included the Czech Republic's presidency of the European Union in the first half of 2009. Mr Prescott spoke briefly to the media on Wednesday, and was first asked whether he was aware of Czech President Vaclav Klaus's skepticism as to whether mankind is responsible for global warming.

John Prescott, photo: CTK
"Well, I think when people are skeptical...he's a known economist and properly he's got doubts about it. He's not on his own here in the Czech Republic. But there is a proper debate going on. First of all whether you accept the science - I certainly do, our country does and I think Europe does now - that there is a man-made problem and we need man-made solutions for them. But it has to be based on rationale, argument, not extreme arguments - and I agree very much with what the president said about that.

"That's why I brought this particular book here [holds up book], which we commissioned. It's an independent report by the Stern Committee, which was in fact to look at the economic consequences. If we implement the measures and changes to deal with greenhouse gases, will it have an effect on our economic growth? Will it have an effect on our competitiveness?

John Prescott and Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTK
"Those are real questions that you're debating here. I can tell you that after ten years of British experience we have had a tremendous amount of growth, the longest period of economic growth, we've been able to achieve our Kyoto targets, as indeed you have here in the Czech Republic. We've shown that you can have greater efficiency and greater competitiveness with environmental objectives."

What would you like to see achieved during the Czech presidency of the EU in two years' time?

"We've been discussing what will be on the Czech presidency. We do think probably the whole reform of European finance, which we have common agreement about, needs changes, the role of the Common Agricultural Policy, and of course constitutional matters.

"These are controversial issues. They may be settled during presidencies before the Czech presidency, but we have common identity of views to agree those if they come before the Czech presidency."

In the last couple of years you've had over half a million immigrants from this part of the world entering the UK. Some people say there are too many, that they're putting pressure on services. What do you say to the influx of Eastern Europeans to the UK?

Photo: European Commission
"I say they're a contribution to our economy. In fact if you look at the growth, we've had the largest amount of growth of any European country. That is a lot to do with the amount of people that have come in with different skills. We've had difficulty with unskilled labour coming in - we've taken some actions for that.

"But the British economy of growth is about the flexible labour market. Many immigrants come to countries, have contributed very directly to it. When you've got growth economy you need labour, if you don't get into inflationary conditions.

"So we have welcomed them. But we want to do it in a way which doesn't give them any kind of discrimination problems - that's a responsibility for government. But they've certainly contributed to our economic wealth and we welcome that."