With the CEE Bill to be presented once again to Parliament I, like all of my parliamentary colleagues, will we inundated with requests to support it. There are also many councils who are also supporting the Bill but I fear they are doing so without fully understanding what the Government is already doing or what the CEE Bill actually is.
The CEE Bill seeks develop a citizen’s assembly to come up with policies on how it can reach an earlier, and in my mind, unachievable Net Zero Target. Government is listening; however, this Bill seeks to change the way that parliament operates. Regardless of the good intentions of the Bill, that is not something that I can support.
Tackling climate change is a priority for me and my ministerial colleagues, and I am proud that the UK was the first G7 country to legislate to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. As an active member of the Conservative Environment Network I have championed practical ideas on how to encourage more cycling, restore our carbon-rich marine ecosystems, consume more sustainably produced food, and much more. We already have an ambitious interim target (a 78% cut by 2035) that will accelerate decarbonisation across the economy and, if achieved, would put us ahead of other major economies.
There are some parts of the CEE Bill which I do welcome such as the idea of reversing biodiversity loss by 2030 in addition to the existing Government pledge of stopping biodiversity loss by 2030. This is important both for demonstrating domestic leadership ahead of the biodiversity summit in China later this year where a new post-2020 biodiversity framework will be agreed, and for mainstreaming biodiversity across government policy. While biodiversity is addressed within the Government’s Environment Bill, I hope this target will be considered alongside policies to develop low-carbon hydrogen and carbon capture storage for use in industry, and to build battery factories to supply the market for electric cars. The Government also plans to bring out a transport decarbonisation plan, a heat and building strategy, a hydrogen strategy, and much more ahead of COP26 setting out how we will meet our already stretching targets. We are working nationally and locally to address these challenges already.
I have met with the CEE Bill Alliance and I do genuinely appreciate that they have made a concerted effort to adapt this Private Members Bill and engage with Conservative MPs. I will however not be supporting this Bill. This Bill has been developed by campaign members of Extinction Rebellion, Big Ask and Power for the People. Their aims are about more than addressing environmental issues.
In not voting for this Bill, I am not voting against action to support our Environment. I am voting against a legislative change on how we approach the task, even if it is only limited to this issue, voting through this Bill would have further consequences on the way democracy works in the UK. I can see citizens' assemblies being useful tools for consulting a small group of people and seeing what they would decide to do if given lots of information and a particular set of choices. But most of the country would not be involved in the assembly and would not regard the assembly as having democratic legitimacy. It may be the case going forward, that we do indeed need to change and adapt the way we work in Westminster and beyond. I welcome that conversation, but any change needs considerable thought and scrutiny, and a single issue Private Members Bill is not the place to do this.
I do not believe citizen's assemblies have advantages over conventional policy making in this context. Previous experiences in Canada, for example, included citizens in the decision making process, however they failed to produce impactful or long lasting results.
I trust that the CEE Bill Alliance do not see a further defeat of the Bill as this Government not taking environmental issues seriously – we do. I hope that they will continue to engage and advise both MPs and the Government. There is a lot to do and we need all the ideas, innovations and advice that they can offer.
Meeting the 2050 deadline for Net Zero is going to be very challenging while also maintaining broad public support for decarbonisation. The Government is fully aware that to meet our commitment, we are going to have to enact policies that will impact on our day to day lives. We do need to engage with the public, we cannot move forward without support, but that in itself does not warrant a citizen’s assembly or a special committee.
We do not need the CEE Bill to address our environmental, ecological, biodiversity, energy and sustainability problems. We do need to act and this Private Members Bill, unfortunately, acts as nothing but a distraction.