This directionless, policy-lite government is doing terrible damage to our environment

The Queen's Speech made clear that the Tories aren’t willing to lead

 

The Tories election manifesto has become the subject of jokes today, as many of the most contentious promises have been dropped, leaving the Queen’s speech remarkably policy light. But while we can heave a sigh of relief that we have been spared the return of fox hunting or fast tracked fracking, a government with no policy direction at all will be deeply damaging for the environment.

Our air is toxic, we have legal climate targets to be met and the renewable energy market is changing rapidly, with reduced costs and new technologies, offering huge potential. The environment desperately needs leadership; today’s Queen Speech made clear that the Tories aren’t going to provide it.

There was no mention of domestic action on climate change, decarbonisation or air quality.  As a result, we are left with uncertainty and the responsibility to act of these vital issues will fall on other actors – from businesses to local councils – with limited resources to try and intervene. The speech also failed to mention the mandatory Clean Growth Plan. We’ve been told for months that its publication is imminent – but if this is the case why not include it in on the agenda? If a Queen’s Speech is meant to set the roadmap for a Parliament, then this is one that has no green vision.

And some of the policies ditched for the Queens’ Speech include the few green glimmers of hope from the Tories’ manifesto – gone is the energy bill price cap, and the independent commission on energy bills. Their replacement is vague and tiny in scope – a possible consultation on energy tariffs and support for switching initiatives and smart meters – hardly the radical action we were promised.  Action to reduce waste and litter is similarly dropped, along with animal welfare reform.

What scant mentions of environmental policy there were are contradicted by the Tory’s woeful record. Much was made, for example, of the promise to ‘support international action against climate change, including the implementation of the Paris Agreement’.  Yet this was the self-same government which was unwilling to join other world leaders calling on Trump to stay in the agreement, and again refused to join them to condemn his decision. It was also the same government that’s been attempting to water down key energy efficiency legislation across the EU.

Likewise, while the plans for an Agriculture Bill is welcome news to farmers facing an uncertain future post-Brexit, the Tory record on farming is worrying. We’ve been waiting for over a year for the 25 year plan for farming to be published, while the new Secretary of State for DEFRA, Michael Gove made the incomprehensible claim that the UK can have both cheaper food and higher production standards. Coupled with calls from Tory backbenchers for cheap meat imports from the US, this is a piece of legislation that will need to be keenly watched.

There are further dangers with the Repeal Bill. For all the apparent innocuity of the powers of delegated legislation ‘enabling corrections’ and technical amendments, there is significant potential for their misuse. As the GreenerUK coalition have highlighted, the government’s own White Paper includes worked case studies where a key oversight mechanism would be removed under ‘technical amendments’. Further questions remain over the enforcement of legislation once transcribed.

It is perhaps ironic that, on the same day that the Queen’s Speech proved how little this Tory Government has to offer, Labour in government was showing exactly what bold leadership looks like. Sadiq Khan’s London Transport Strategy – published today – doesn’t shy away from the big challenges, setting ambitious targets for reducing car use and air pollution.

Whilst it could have hidden behind Brexit and a short-term agenda, it instead addresses the real challenges facing London. Likewise, Labour’s manifesto agenda didn’t shy away from a transformational vision, with clear, bold ambition on the environment.

It’s not only on the environment that this Queen’s Speech is lacking. But at such an important moment for energy, clean air and climate action, for it to be silent on these issues is damning.

Melanie Smallman is Co-Chair of SERA – Labour’s Environment Campaign

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