The new government: Defra and Beis

This is the second of two blogs, mainly for CPRE members, on the composition of the new government. The first can be found here.

Department for Food, Environment & Rural Affairs (Defra

The appointment of Elizabeth Truss as Environment Secretary in 2014 was greeted with little enthusiasm by environmentalists. She did not enter the role as a committed environmentalist, but she was willing to engage – for instance, hosting a CPRE seminar on landscape – and she pushed forward the 25 year plan for nature with conviction. Liz Truss also deserves thanks for approving the extension of the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks. I wish her well in her new role as Lord Chancellor.

If Liz Truss’s appointment was coolly received, Andrea Leadsom’s has been greeted by some with outright hostility. This is partly because of her support for Brexit, partly because of her gung-ho support for fracking. I would not expect anyone from the free market right-wing of the Conservative Party to be immediately reassuring to most green campaigners, but it is worth noting that as a Minister in DECC Andrea Leadsom showed that she was prepared to listen. She went in a climate sceptic and emerged as a believer in the need to tackle climate change.

In Andrea Leadsom we now have a Secretary of State who was down to the last two in the Conservative Leadership contest. The first three Defra Secretaries of State – Margaret Beckett, David Miliband and Hilary Benn – were powerful figures in the Cabinet. Whatever their merits, Caroline Spelman, Owen Paterson and Liz Truss were more junior. Andrea Leadsom should have the clout to champion the environmental cause in the next few crucial years as we exit the EU (an undoubted force for good in terms of environmental legislation) – that is, if she wants to.

Whether she will is unknown. But she has worked well with her local CPRE branch and she lists cycling and ‘walking in the Northamptonshire countryside’ as her hobbies (alongside, inevitably, ‘spending time with her family’). She is certainly not a lost cause. As for a much-discussed blog she wrote in 2007, proposing an end to farm subsidies, I am unfazed. I just impressed that a Parliamentary candidate bothered to attend a seminar on the CAP and was sufficiently interested to go home and write a rather breathless blog about it

As someone who played a leading role in the Leave campaign, Andrea Leadsom must know that the referendum was not a vote for weakening environmental protection. Defra must ensure that whatever replaces EU directives on habitats, birds, water quality, air quality, strategic environmental assessment etc. is at least as good, ideally better. Any weakening and many of those who voted Leave will feel betrayed.

What of the rest of the Defra team? The experienced George Eustice is back as farming minister. An enthusiast for Brexit, he will now have to make it work for farming and land management. Rory Stewart, one of the brightest and best Ministers of any party, has been promoted as Minister of State at the department for international development. He will be a big loss. He is replaced by Therese Coffey.

Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

The abolition of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has been condemned by many. Let’s see. The words ‘climate change’ no longer feature, but DECC was not a strong department. Tackling climate change as part of a wider industrial strategy makes sense. And the new department has, in Greg Clark, Nick Hurd and Jo Johnson, one of the greenest teams of ministers ever.

Cabinet Office and No. 10

When David Cameron was running his ‘vote blue, go green’ campaign as Leader of the Opposition, he was in constant touch with NGOs. Once in No. 10, he was beyond reach. Contact came through Oliver Letwin, one of the principal architects of neighbourhood planning among many other things. He will be missed. It would be good to know who will champion the cause of conservation and the environment with the new PM.






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