A summary of the Greener UK Hustings

On 30 May we attended the Greener UK hustings to hear four party candidates discuss their parties’ General Election pledges for the environment and climate change.

Green Alliance flickr.com/photos/greenallianceuk

The main themes included the impact of Brexit on environmental legislation; energy and climate change; improving upon the Common Agricultural Policy; balancing an increasing housing need with protecting the environment and finally how to encourage more people to get involved in the green movement. One key area missing from the discussion was the marine environment.

Clive Anderson (TV and radio presenter and president of The Woodland Trust) chaired the panel that was composed of:

  • Dr Thérèse Coffey, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Environment and Rural Life Opportunities, Conservative parliamentary candidate for Suffolk Coastal
  • Baroness Kate Parminter, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for environment, food,  and rural affairs
  • Barry Gardiner, Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade and Shadow Minister for Climate Change, and Labour parliamentary candidate for Brent North
  • Caroline Russell, Green London Assembly member, spokesperson on transport and parliamentary candidate for Islington North.

Brexit and environmental legislation

As to be expected the candidates stuck closely to their party manifesto pledges (which we have summarised) and in response to the first question of where the UK can improve laws and standards beyond the current EU levels, Thérèse Coffey was quick to talk of providing stability. She referenced the value of existing domestic laws, a continued commitment to international agreements and explained Parliament will scrutinise existing laws and move towards an outcome focus. She picked out the Waste and Nitrates Directives as where the UK could improve upon the current EU standard. Caroline Russell highlighted air pollution as a key opportunity for improvement since the EU standards are double the World Health Organisation recommended levels. Whilst Barry Gardiner focused on the need to negotiate an environmental goods agreement with the World Trade Organisation, Baroness Parminter focused on having more ambitious animal welfare and land management policies.

When asked what would replace the role of the European Court of Justice, Barry Gardiner talked of the need for an EU Rights and Protection Bill that will ensure all EU laws will be transposed into domestic laws to safeguard environmental protections; Labour’s alternative to the Conservatives “Great Repeal Bill” If the Liberal Democrats get into power (and if after a second EU referendum the UK still wanted to the leave the EU) an Office of Environmental Scrutiny would be set up to hold Government to account. Thérèse Coffey stated that the law will be enforced by the courts of the individual UK countries.

Concerns were raised during the event over how the one third of the EU Legislation that cannot be immediately ‘dragged and dropped’ into UK law will be transposed, with fear over the use of secondary legislation without parliamentary scrutiny While the answers were not entirely clear, Thérèse Coffey mentioned that plans are being developed to transition across the legislation. All of which will go through parliamentary scrutiny and that legislation brought across in Great Repeal Bill would not then be subject to “1 in 2 out” deregulatory rule.

International leadership on climate change

The next question asked of the panel was what the UK must do to tackle climate change and become an international leader. Caroline Russell said the Green Party are ambitious in their drive to ‘leave fossil fuels in the ground’, which aligns with their manifesto pledge to phase out coal by 2023. She called for public transport to be revolutionised to reduce carbon emissions and to improve home energy use through improved insulation. Barry Gardiner highlighted the need for a Carbon Implementation Plan in order to meet the legally binding carbon budgets, within which a standard for building zero emission homes could sit. Following the energy theme, the panellists were asked whether retrofitting homes or an energy price cap would save more money. Thérèse Coffey promoted working with companies to embrace clean growth technologies and to ensure a mix of energy sources to provide energy resilience and security to the UK.  Baroness Parminter supported retrofitting of homes and called for zero emission standards to be brought back as well as using the International Climate Fund to help the UK provide leadership. Barry Gardiner wanted to empower the formation of regionally owned energy companies which can trade energy around the country and ensure the profits stay within the UK. However, this would require a restructuring of the energy market to enable local companies or local authorities to buy their local grid.

Agriculture beyond the CAP

Next the panel answered on what their parties would do to improve upon the EU Common Agricultural Policy once we are no longer bound to it. Most parties appeared to agree that farming subsidies should be used to support the production of public goods. Baroness Parminter stated the Liberal Democrats would support small to medium-sized farms (especially in the uplands) to produce public goods such as healthy foods, carbon storage in soils, water storage and access to the countryside. She would like the natural health service provided by land managers to be recognised by supporting them. Caroline Russell emphasised degraded soil health as a priority issue and one that needs to be tackled through supporting farming systems that benefit soil condition. Thérèse Coffey talked more of working in clusters for landscape scale management and using the Lawton principles to provide a more connected natural environment.

Protecting the natural environment and increasing engagement

How the UK is going to meet the increasing housing demand and continue to protect the environment including green belts was the next challenge put to the panel.  Baroness Parminter highlighted the need for the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to be strengthened and to give greater clarity on building on the green belt. She stated the need for a Nature Act that provides clear targets (such as the Climate Change Act). The Biodiversity Strategy and the NPPF then need to be set to meet the Nature Act targets. Caroline Russell would focus on the use of brown-field sites but was keen to ensure housing and business planning needs are integrated to reduce road commuters, and thereby helping improve air quality. Barry Gardiner talked of increasing Local Authority funding to enable them to deliver their planning duties properly.

Finally, the panel were asked to consider how to get more people involved in the Green movement. Thérèse Coffey said the conservatives would bring the concept of natural capital into the forefront of everyone’s lives to help communicate the importance of nature for people.  While both Barry Gardiner and Baroness Parminter were critical of the Lobbying Act and the restrictions it had placed on charities, Baroness Parminter also suggested environmental charities need to get better at collaborating, for example with social justice organisations, to communicate their messages more widely and engage more people.

There was a lot covered in the hour and half: while it didn’t produce as much heat as the leadership debate, it was still an attention-grabbing event and it was helpful to hear more of the detail behind some of the parties’ manifesto pledges.

To find out more about the relevant science and environmental pledges in the manifestos of the seven main parties, download our General Election 2017 Manifesto Briefing.

For more information from the Greener UK hustings see the Storify here or watch on YouTube