The Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill is a Private Member’s Bill first presented in the UK Parliament in September 2020 by Green MP Caroline Lucas. Over the last year, it has gathered the backing of more than
140 MPs and Peers from all major parties – as well as from hundreds of organisations, businesses and local councils. East Sussex County Council is NOT one of them. HIP reports on the growing anger at that decision. 

In common with local authorities up and down the country, East Sussex County Council (ESCC) planned to hold a full debate on the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill earlier this autumn. The bill’s backers were delighted when Conservative Cllr Nick Bennett said that he would go against the advice of his officers and support it. As the council’s Deputy Leader and Lead Member for Resources and Climate Change his backing was important. Yet at the eleventh hour he reversed his position, putting forward what has been described as a ‘wrecking’ amendment. It resulted in the Conservative majority on the council voting against adopting the bill and for an alternative motion.

Now, the council faces a formal complaint from Dr Amy McDonnell, Campaign Coordinator for Zero Hours, the campaign behind the bill. The group’s detailed analysis has led it to conclude that the council’s decision should be reconsidered. Dr McDonnell wrote, “On 12 October 2021 East Sussex County Council voted not to support the bill. That decision was based on incorrect information, false statements and by misleading interpretation of Government policy. To make decisions on this basis is not only wrong, it is bad governance. I am, therefore, writing to ask you to reconsider that decision.” Her submission is supported by a closely argued six-page dossier which the council is now considering.

The Complaint against ESCC

The letter sent to all East Sussex County Councillors offers an in-depth analysis of the counter-motion which takes each point made during the county council meeting and cross references it against the bill. This, they allege, reveals inaccuracies and untrue statements.

Cllr Bennett and fellow Conservative Cllr Gerard Fox said that the bill will have “an adverse impact on developing countries” because “the bill seeks to take into account overseas carbon emissions when auditing those in the UK.” Dr McDonnell pointed out that the word “audit” does not appear in the bill. She went on to cite six paragraphs from government documents to show that the government is already intending to take into account overseas carbon emissions.

Citizens’ assemblies were a special focus of attention in the counter motion. Cllr Bennett said the bill, “has recourse to citizens’ assemblies which are of dubious efficacy and run counter to our Parliamentary traditions. Liberal Democrat Cllr Colin Swansborough said, “For some reason the Conservatives go a bit crazy when you mention citizens’ assemblies. They really cannot handle it.”’

Dr McDonnell responded that the Climate Assembly has been set up in six House of Commons Select Committees with cross-party support. She cited from government documentation that shows their support and praise for them. 

Climate campaigners deliver a giant ‘Two years of climate fudge’ cake to County Hall,
Lewes on 12 October 2021. 
CREDIT: Katie Vandyck

“Bare-faced political skulduggery” 

County Councillors have been keen to share their views – both for and against – the Conservative amendment. Most vocal has been Cllr Colin Swansborough, who said: “The procedure followed was strange and improper – it was not done with the lead member contacting opposition parties. It was a case of when he got up to speak, he reneged on the whole thing. We know the process and we were shocked, and we said so. I am old enough to remember the definition of skulduggery. I accused Cllr Bennett of bare-faced political skulduggery. We were then given a recess. We went back into the room on a main vote. The revised wording did not support the bill but, on close examination did contain much that was worthy of Lib Dem support, although we would have preferred to go further and to have an opportunity support the bill.”

Fellow Liberal Democrat Councillor Catherine Field said that opposition parties all opposed the Conservative position. 

Green Party Cllr Georgia Taylor said that Cllr Bennett’s counter-motion had been sprung on her on the night of the meeting and members had been given just 20 minutes during a recess to study this important and complex subject. She felt that many of the non-Conservative members of the council voted for the counter motion because of the short amount of time and pressure not to look bad if they did not vote. She said, “I had submitted my motion four months before the meeting, there was ample time for this counter-motion to be cooked up and shared with the rest of the council.” After the meeting she met Democratic Services to determine whether or not there were grounds for a complaint. Although, it was understood that the process was poor, the submission of last-minute counter-motions is allowed.

Conservative Cllr Bennett denied being pressured by the Conservative Party or the government, and said, “I certainly did not get any pressure from anyone, even though I discussed the matter with colleagues almost up to the morning of the meeting.” He added, “The reasons why I could not support the motion regarding the bill can been seen on a webcast at the councils website. I can’t express the reasons for changing my mind more clearly.”

The full text of the complaint can be seen at: www.stopclimate catastrophe.com/blog/east-sussex-county-council-voted-not-to-support-the-climate-and-ecological-emergency-bill


VIEWPOINT

HIP’s Environment Reporter Richard Price gives his own view on the Bill

As someone who is passionate about the environment and has been following climate change for decades, I know that stopping climate change requires policy change at all levels of government. There is scientific consensus, we know what will happen if radical action is not taken. Once the global temperature changes, we are stuck with hothouse Earth and the consequences. The change will be irreversible. The transformations to the planet will happen slowly at first but eventually the changes will be dramatic as they speed up. Habitats will change: rainforest to savannah; savannah to desert; lakes and ponds will dry up; wetlands become grasslands; ice caps will melt; the sea will acidify. These disasters are avoidable with the right political decisions. We know that changes have to be made at a policy level and that governments are responsible for them. Imagine being a politician right now, one who could effect such a change – and choosing not to do so?

The bill was created to avoid a climate disaster. At the bill’s heart is a citizens’ assembly that involves everyday people. If the bill is made law, the government will have to account for our entire carbon footprint while conserving nature here and overseas.

None of the 118 Westminster MPs who support the bill are Conservative. There appears to be a secret party line or policy or guidance to Conservative MPs that states: ‘Do not support this bill.’ The Bill was created by legal experts and scientists such as Sir David King. The bill does not contain any glaring errors or omissions.

Why attack something that is beneficial for all of us? We can only speculate as to why the Conservatives would not support it. It is for none of the reasons given to date.


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