Queen’s Speech: Bishop of Oxford speaks about levelling up and the environment

On 11th May 2022, the House of Lords debated the Queen’s Speech. The Bishop of Oxford spoke in the debate:

The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, it is a privilege to share in this debate, and I thank the Minister for her careful and thoughtful introduction. I particularly look forward to the maiden speech of my colleague, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford. I have heard him speak before, and it is always a profitable experience.

I congratulate the Government warmly on the priority given to the levelling-up agenda and the ambition of 11 of the 12 missions outlined in the White Paper. I know from my seven years as Bishop of Sheffield that the gap between different parts of the country has been widening for many years, and it is very good that this is being addressed.

However, I believe that there is a missing, or misnamed, mission, which is a fundamental flaw in these proposals. It is right to look to increase public investment, jobs and digital connectivity, and to focus on education, health, skills, well-being and the rest, but there is scarcely a mention of the environment, climate change and climate mitigation in the levelling-up White Paper. Surely all our citizens have a right to expect clean air free of particulates, clean water, and good access to nature. They have a right to new homes that are well built and well insulated. Everyone should expect that national and local government will lead on reducing CO2 emissions, recycling, public engagement on these issues, and mitigation of the damage caused by extreme weather now and in the future. Instead of an ambitious mission on environment and climate, the White Paper settles for the much weaker concept of pride of place, which I believe needs to be challenged. I want to ask for change here.

Local government at every level has a key role in addressing the climate and environment emergency. A few weeks ago, it was a privilege to interview Yuriko Koike, Governor of Tokyo, along with other members of your Lordships’ Environment and Climate Change Committee. I was deeply impressed by the steps Tokyo is taking towards behaviour change to net zero. The example of Tokyo and many towns and cities in the UK demonstrates that local government is an essential partner in improving the environment and can engage local populations sometimes even more effectively than national government. Local government needs to be supported to take full advantage of the potential of the green economy and green jobs, and every policy decision needs to be consistent with the net-zero goals and reflect the latest understanding of climate risks. In this respect, the levelling-up Bill needs to be future-proofed for this decade.

One of my key learnings from our committee’s current inquiry into behaviour change is that such change must be led through positive vision, good public engagement, such as through climate change assemblies, and supportive policies to ensure that change goes with the grain of what it means to lead a good life in a positive environment. For this to happen, the UK Government must demonstrate leadership and joined-up thinking, and every policy in every department must be aligned with the net-zero and environmental goals.

As the gracious Speech indicates, the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill will be a major piece of legislation in this Session. So I ask the Minister: will the department commit to further reflection on the White Paper and the Bill, and on taking the opportunity to set high environmental and climate standards for the Bill, replacing the concept of pride of place with a full-throttle commitment to creating a safe and sustainable environment for the flourishing of all?


Extracts from the speeches that followed:

Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab): As my noble friend Lady Blake said, the substance of the levelling-up Bill amounts to little more than the Government marking their own homework on their 12 missions. It lacks new money and new ideas. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford talked about the missing mission and the importance of addressing climate change in this context, as well as the importance of clean air, clean water and access to the environment. I am also concerned that the proposals will continue to pit communities against each other, competing for pots of money, with success determined by the quality of the bid rather than the levels of disadvantage and real need. Last time this happened, many of our poorest areas received nothing at all.

Lord Greenhalgh (Con, Minister of State – Home Office and the Department for Levelling Up): The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford raised the important question of the environment. The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill will give communities the tools to put environment at the heart of their neighbourhoods. It will simplify the environmental impact assessment process, and the green belt will continue to be protected.

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