Recent events in the UK and globally have highlighted the need for urgent action to tackle the growing climate emergency.
Parliament is currently considering the Agriculture, the Environment and the Fisheries bills. But writing in The Ecologist, Baroness Natalie Bennett recently emphasised the complete inadequacy of this legislation to deliver the “urgent, transformational direction and action” necessary to tackle the global nature crises.
Bennett referred to the lack of a joined-up approach to these Bills and argued persuasively for a complete rewrite of the legislation - in particular of the Environment Bill. She identified some of the amendments she believes are necessary to make it fit for purpose to help tackle the climate emergency.
Her proposed amendments to the Environment Bill include setting targets on the face of the Bill to reduce air pollution, establishing an independent expert body to advise on environmental targets, and introducing a stronger focus on intermediate targets.
Baroness Bennett also called for amendments to introduce binding non-regression clauses to safeguard existing environmental standards, and to guarantee the independence and resourcing of the Office of Environmental Protection.
I worked in the House of Lords for a number of years on legislation, have led campaigns which have secured important changes to legislation at Westminster and have recently written a book about how to make the most of opportunities to influence policy and legislation in both Houses of the UK Parliament, and at UK government level.
Below are seven top tips to help environmental campaigners to secure the type of significant changes to the legislation Baroness Bennett has called for as it progresses through Parliament.
1. Review the legislation to identify the key issues arising from the Environment, the Agriculture or Fisheries bills in addition to those highlighted by Baroness Bennett.
Influencing legislation is the gold standard against which the effectiveness of public affairs strategies are often judged. Put simply - change the legislation, and you change the law because once your amendments become part of the legislation they will remain in force until amended or repealed by subsequent legislation.
2. Ensure amendments are tabled to progress key issues, because amendments to the text of these bills will have to be formally moved to strengthen the legislation. If an amendment is agreed either because the Minister accepts it, or it is won on a Division i.e. a vote, the amendment will then become part of the Bill.
Amendments can add new text to the Environment Bill, or replace or leave out existing text within the legislation, to introduce the type of changes suggested by Baroness Bennett. Draft the amendments yourself or instruct a parliamentary draughtsperson.
Alternatively, tell the politicians why particular provisions in the Environment or the Agriculture or the Fisheries bills need to change, or why new provisions must be added.
Then work with the government or with the opposition parties’ relevant spokespersons, or with individual MPs and peers to draft amendments to secure the changes to the legislation you believe are necessary.
Bottom line - organisations without amendments tabled to these bills will generally be unable to secure tangible changes to the legislation. Beyond the second reading debate, they are likely to become spectators helpless on the side-lines, having missed opportunities to change the legislation.
3. Engage with key policymakers. Having amendments drafted, with persuasive supporting briefing papers, will strengthen your ability to open negotiations with the government to try and secure changes to these bills, and to secure meetings with the government’s bill team, or to be involved in such meetings along with the MP or Peer sponsoring your amendments.
Having amendments already drafted will also improve your chances of securing meetings with the opposition parties’ relevant spokespersons, and with individual MPs and Peers to discuss the main issues raised by the legislation, and the potential solutions offered by your amendments.
Holding a briefing event for MPs and or Peers will also help your organisation to identify support in each House for the issues you are seeking to raise on the legislation, and for the specific amendments you wish to progress.
4. Take a ‘Two Chambers’ approach to influencing the environmental legislation. Your public affairs strategy should take into account, and reflect, the unique dynamics of Westminster.
Successful public affairs strategies in response to these bills will be those which include activities to influence key policy makers in both the House of Commons and in the House of Lords. Taking a flexible, ‘Two Chambers’ approach is vital if organisations are to maximise their ability to influence key environmental legislation.
5. Develop a cross-party alliance in support of your amendments. This offers the best opportunities to secure major changes to the Environment, the Agriculture and Fisheries bills.
Given the government’s majority in the House of Commons, developing a cross-party approach in the House of Lords, where the government lacks a majority, in support of your amendments offers real potential to secure legislative change.
The secret is to identify issues which are likely to receive support from Peers on all sides of the House, including from Conservative peers and the crossbench peers, and to identify and approach those peers most likely to obtain cross-party support to table your amendments.
This will increase the chances of your amendment being agreed on a Division, or of the government accepting your amendment or making concessions that meet your aims.
6. Mobilise support. Organisations should develop a media strategy to promote awareness of the key issues raised by the legislation, and to build up the alliance of support, both within and outside Parliament, which will be vital if their amendments are to become part of the legislation.
Social media can play a vital role in mobilising support to raise concerns about the legislation and to build up support for specific amendments, including encouraging supporters to contact key policy makers urging them to back these amendments.
7. Work collaboratively. Partnership working with like-minded organisations to progress specific amendments to the Environment, the Agriculture and Fisheries bills will demonstrate to the government, the opposition parties and groupings, and to the individual MPs and Peers considering the Bill that your organisation has wider support for the issues it is raising.
This will often make them more likely to support your amendments to the legislation.
These tips can help you to contribute to the complete overhaul of the Environment, the Agriculture and Fisheries bills that Baroness Bennett and others have been calling for to help tackle the global climate emergency.
Robert McGeachy is an award winning public affairs professional, and the author of The Public Affairs Guide to Westminster: The Handbook of Effective and Ethical Lobbying published by the Welsh Academic Press.