Labour could seek to ‘simplify’ the process for holding the government to account over environmental laws, the party’s Shadow Minister for International Climate Change, Barry Gardiner, has said.
Mr Gardiner made the comments at an environmental election hustings event, hosted by the Greener UK coalition in London yesterday (30 May), where he faced the Conservative minister Therese Coffey, the Liberal Democrat peer Kate Parminter and the Green Party’s Caroline Russell.
The event, which was chaired by the TV presenter and Woodland Trust president Clive Anderson, saw the politicians questioned on issues ranging from Brexit, to specific policies on farming subsidies, the green belt and energy provision.
On the issue of Brexit, Mr Gardiner claimed that many people see the UK’s withdrawal from the EU as a ‘threat’ to environmental protections – which includes laws to limit emissions of harmful air pollutants.
He said: “I think what most people will see is that Brexit does present a threat to environmental protections in this country.
“For so long the EU has provided an umbrella of oversight and enforcement for those environmental laws that we have to make sure that they were implemented and that there would be infraction proceedings if they were not.â€?
He also accused the Conservative Party of being ‘driven by the prospect of Brexit as a vehicle for further deregulation’, adding: “that is what is so frightening that there will not be that oversight that was provided by the European Court and the EU.â€?
He added that a Labour government would introduce an EU Rights and Protections Bill to bring all EU-derived environmental laws into the UK statute book.
He said: “We are also looking to consult on an environmental tribunal with a simplified procedure because the idea that you have to go to the High Court or the Supreme Court and all the expense that entails, it is really difficult then for the ordinary citizen to challenge the government.â€?
Dr Coffey, who has served as a junior minister for the environment within Defra since July 2016, claimed that a Conservative government would seek to provide ‘stability’ on environmental laws through the Great Repeal Bill, which was introduced prior to the election campaign.
She said: “Our first priority as a government is to give stability. The whole point of the Great Repeal Bill is that we are repealing one act of parliament, the European Communities Act, we are bringing into our law the European Acquis as it is today, so there will be stability from one day to the next as we leave the European Union.â€?
She added: “After the initial element of stability, it will then be for Parliament to have the opportunity to consider whether these rules are working as effectively as they could.“
Also during the debate, Green Party spokesperson Caroline Russell, called for more clarity from government on what Brexit will mean for the environment. She also claimed that the UK’s departure from the EU could also see some air pollution limits strengthened above those set by the European Union.
She said: “One particular example is air pollution; the EU limit is 40?g/m3 of nitrogen dioxide in our air is deemed to be an acceptable level for pollution, the World Health Organisation says it should be half that, so that is one example where we could have a much more ambitious set of environmental protections coming on after Brexit.â€?