Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

Environmental Briefing for Stroud CLP


25th May 2007

It would strengthen the law to give local communities a role in enforcing pollution controls. It would also give the Environment Agency the power of “retribution” – not just fining polluters but making them pay compensation and show they are benefiting communities.

Harriet Harman says Labour has to seize the initiative from the Conservatives and expose what she calls “David Cameron’s  photo-op and mood music approach to the most important issue facing the planet.”

Labour’s approach must be “intensely practical” and recognise that “the people first in line to face the environmental problems are poor people here and abroad with the least resources to withstand them. And those are the people who have always been our first concern and why we are in the Labour party.”

She says there are 48,000 members of the public call the Environment Agency every year - complaining about pollution of water supplies, outflows of untreated sewage into people’s gardens or homes and toxic clouds blacking out the sky, chemicals dumped and building waste dumped into parks, roads and rivers.

'This is environmental offending which is lucrative organised criminality and which makes people’s lives a misery.'

She began work on her Bill when she was Solicitor General between 2001 to 2005. As Deputy Leader, she argues, she would have the clout to see that it got to the statute book.

Harriet Harman says “my starting point on the environment is families and communities. As a member of Parliament for the last 25 years representing a hard-pressed multi-cultural inner city area I see the need to build policy upwards.

'I have always striven to put family issues on the political agenda and I find it paradoxical that environmental issues are still sometimes seen as a luxury for the middle classes. It’s not a luxury for those who can afford it – but a necessity for those who can’t. It is no luxurious extra to be caring about the environment when your own home is menaced or your family abroad faces ruin and poverty.

'It is now common ground that human beings are responsible for carbon emissions that cause climate change and that we face a catastrophic threat to the natural conditions of the planet on which human life depends. This is the classic example of where we can do more together than we can as individuals.

My constituency of Peckham in London gives me a powerful insight into this global problem. It has the largest number of people from Africa living in the UK. A great many of them send money back to their family and their village.  That means climate change in Africa will be felt with immediate effect in Peckham -- As soon as an acre of land yields less, the family depending on it suffers and the demand for help grows and so it is felt in the need for more support from Peckham.  It may mean families giving up their struggle to care for children in Africa and sending them to join other members of the family already in Peckham.  This hard-pressed inner London constituency, Peckham is testimony to how we are now globally interdependent as well as interdependent down the generations.

'This is why the Labour Government's energetic work in international meetings has been so important to ensuring that there is shared understanding and the right incentives for cooperation across borders. Isolationism is doomed to fail us and we can learn from others as well as promote change.

“This is not the only way environmentalism sets up good politics beyond the necessity of saving the planet."

- It sharpens the focus on the question of poverty and inequality at home and internationally.  How can people look to the effect on the future of their actions if their life is a struggle just to get through day to day.

- It starkly demonstrates our need to work internationally and the limits of what we can do in our own national interest as a nation alone.

- It challenges conspicuous consumption – conspicuous waste like the recent campaigns on supermarket packaging.

- It springs from and reinforces a focus on the interdependence of the generations.  You may not even have many years left yourself but your concern for the future of your children and grandchildren makes you care about the planet.

- It reinforces the beneficial demand of people for greater transparency – from business as well as from public bodies and political representatives.

- It puts us all under a scrutiny. This is not invasion of privacy – the personal is the political here.

<//li>The Left offers the best hope for progressing the environmental agenda because

- It requires the power of government – national, local and acting internationally to tackle the challenge of climate change;

- It emphasises our interdependence as well as our individualism; 

- It requires internationalism as well as a focus on our own nation;

- It requires social justice and equality.

David Cameron is, on this as on everything else, saying what he wants people to hear, trying to show a break with “the nasty party’s” identity, but the right will never effectively lead on this. Climate change is testament to the limits of the free market, something that even the Cameron Tories find difficult to square. 

It is because the environment must be a bottom up as well as a top down exercise that I convened last June, with the help of Southwark Friends of the Earth and with SERA’s Andrew Pakes, the Southwark Climate Change Summit. I called it a summit purposely to challenge the notion that decisions that matter are made only in places that most people have never visited, like Rio, or most people have never heard of before – like Kyoto. Decisions that matter are made in people’s everyday lives, in their communities, by their local Council as well as their Government. 

As well as local politicians and councillors  the June 2006 Southwark Climate Change Summit brought together Individuals who live in Southwark - including those from Africa; Local businesses and public services – notably Kings College Hospital which is a massive employer and service provider and local tenants and residents associations.”


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