Environmental bills welcome but do not go far enough

New legislation proposed for the next session of Parliament has received a mixed response from environmentalists.

The Queen's Speech outlined new legislation, which will have a direct impact on the environment and rural life.

But many campaigners are arguing the impact will be minimal and more should be done.

The speech saw the introduction of the Natural Environment & Rural Communities Bill which would create a new catch-all agency, Natural England, by amalgamating English Nature, parts of the Countryside Agency and most of the Rural Development Service by the beginning of 2007.

In a nod to the vocal countryside lobby it would also establish a Commission for Rural Communities to give what the Government is calling 'a powerful voice' to people in country areas.

A number of measures to modernise national parks legislation would also be introduced under the bill and it would give the Secretary of State wider discretion when allocating funds and delegating responsibility to bodies working under Defra's aegis.

Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: "Economically thriving rural communities and businesses, fair access to services and a rich and diverse natural environment are the aims of the legislation.

"The organisations that will form Natural England are already working closely together.

"Over the coming months they will increasingly act as a single voice and address environmental issues in a more integrated way, providing an authoritative body to conserve and enhance our landscapes.

"The Commission for Rural Communities will be a strong new national rural adviser, advocate and watchdog.

"It will be charged with ensuring that Government policies are making a real difference on the ground in tackling disadvantage in rural areas."

A draft Marine Bill looking at the sustainable management of our seas has also been included in the programme for this parliamentary session, receiving enthusiastic support from the Wildlife and Countryside Link, an alliance of environmental organisations including the Marine Conservation Society the RSPB the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, the various Wildlife Trusts and WWF.

The link's Ben Stafford said: "We are pleased to see the inclusion of this draft bill pledge and we will be campaigning to ensure that the bill makes better protection of marine wildlife a priority.

"The marine environment provides the basis for an increasing number of economic activities, but without efficient planning and management of these our marine resources and wildlife will continue to suffer."

"Britain's rich marine wildlife has been damaged through years of neglect, over-exploitation and inappropriate development.

"There is now an opportunity to make real change, and Ministers must seize it."

But, according to Friends of the Earth, the most interesting thing about the Queen's Speech was the omission of emissions.

The campaign group condemned the speech for completely ignoring climate change despite Tony Blair having described it as "the world's greatest environmental challenge" and "so far reaching in its impact and irreversible in its destructive power, that it alters radically human existence", and claiming it is a top priority.

Friends of the Earth director Tony Juniper said: "It is time for action not words on climate change.

"We need a legal framework for year on year cuts in carbon dioxide emissions, and every year we delay makes it harder and harder to make the cuts on time.

"There are many specific legal changes needed to tackle climate change - changing energy markets, making houses more efficient, improving alternatives to car use and ensuring companies do their bit to stop climate change.

"The fact that not one of these is included in the Queen's Speech shows that that, despite all the talk, Labour will continue to ignore climate change and we could see further rises in emission in the next 4 years - just as we have since Labour came to power."

By Sam Bond



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