Appointment as Shadow Environment Secretary

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16 September 2015
I am delighted to have been appointed Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs.

As you will know, I have a long standing interest in the issues within this portfolio: protecting our natural environment and biodiversity; promoting sustainable food and farming; campaigning on food waste and food poverty; marine conservation; and animal welfare.

I am currently co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Agro-ecology Group for Sustainable Food and Farming, chair of the All-Party Food Waste Group, and Vice-Chair of the Agriculture & Food for Development APPG. I will have to step down from these roles given my new frontbench position, but will continue to do what I can to support their work.

I am a patron of FoodCycle, the food poverty charity, and recently introduced a Food Waste (Reduction) Bill in Parliament, which has gained a huge amount of support, not just from food waste campaigners and environmentalists, but also from the general public. It is listed for a Second Reading on January 29th and you can read my speech introducing the Bill for its first reading here.

I have always been keen to promote sustainability and environmental change in Bristol, for example, in working with local groups to get Bristol’s Urban Pollination strategy off the ground. This is linked to the national campaign on the decline of our bees and other pollinating insects – I strongly objected to the Government’s decision to oppose the EU suspension of neonicotinoids and, more recently, to lift that suspension for 5% of oil seed rape fields. I was asked by the RSPB last year to become its ‘Swift champion’, highlighting the loss of suitable nesting habitats in urban areas and the decline in the swift population.

For an overview on how I want to encourage a popular environmentalism, that starts in local communities but also broadens out into the pressing global issues such as climate change, here is an essay I wrote for a Fabians pamphlet earlier this year.

I held a debate in Parliament earlier this year on local food growing and the planning system, highlighting some of the great projects in Bristol, and the need to protect our best agricultural land (see here). Food and farming is not just a rural issue, it affects and involves us all. And it’s not just about farmers, but about the role of our supermarkets and food manufacturing industry, and of course about consumers too. I look forward in the new role to working across the board with everyone with an interest in policy development.

Food and farming policy is a hugely important area of public policy, currently facing major challenges – the prevalence of low-pay and insecure employment in this sector, which is something the South West TUC has done some excellent work on; the difficulties facing farmers trying to make a living in the current climate (but also the desire of many to start their own smallholdings and farms); the decline in biodiversity and wildlife, soil erosion, land management and flooding; the need for long-term food security; reducing the greenhouse gas footprint of agriculture; CAP reform, fisheries policy and TTIP; and public health issues such as the growth of diet-related ill-health (especially diabetes) and rising food poverty.

Although I have been vegan for many years, this will not affect Labour policy in relation to the farming industry, although I am of course keen to see farmers adopt the highest welfare standards, and keen to develop policies which promote a move away from intensive, industrialised farming. The dairy industry - Britain’s largest agricultural sector - has been facing considerable pressures. I will no doubt be meeting with farmer’s representatives soon, and when the new Shadow Minister for Farming and Food is confirmed in post, this will be one of his/ her first tasks, to look into the urgent need for farmers to get a fair deal for their milk.

Animal welfare is an important priority for me. I am a Vice-President of the League Against Cruel Sports, and will continue with the long-established Labour policy of opposing any attempts to overturn the ban on fox-hunting. It is also Labour policy to oppose the badger culls, as both ineffective and inhumane, and I will continue with that policy, particularly in opposing the Government’s attempts to roll out the culls in Dorset.

Marine conservation will also be an important issue for me. (Some examples of my interventions on this issue here). On Sunday I will be taking part in the Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean in Weston-super-Mare as the first official engagement in my new role.

It is also important to remember the third part of my job title – rural affairs. I may represent an urban seat, but have spent my political life (indeed, my whole life) in two regions – the East of England and the South West – which are predominantly rural. Poverty in rural areas and our coastal towns, lack of affordable housing, transport infrastructure, access to superfast broadband, and flooding are just some of the issues that will be on my agenda, and I look forward to working with communities and representative groups on all these issues and more. On the urban front, air pollution is a major issue and I will continue with Maria Eagle’s excellent campaigning work.

I have been contacted by so many individuals, organisations and campaigns over the past few days, and would like to thank everyone who has congratulated me on my new role. I hope that I will get to swap ideas with you, campaign with you, visit you and talk to you over the coming months.


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