Campaigner of the Week: Caroline Lucas
The Green MP talks to Georgina Bailey about her push for Parliament to be a beacon of sustainability
Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion
Lucas is pushing for the House of Commons Catering Services to adopt a ‘less and better’ approach to meat and dairy. This is the latest initiative in her ongoing work to make Parliament a “beacon of best practice, not running to catch up” when it comes to sustainability.
Parliament’s sole Green MP has written to the Commons’ director of catering services urging them to follow the Eat Better roadmap, part of a campaign to reduce meat and dairy consumption in the UK by 50% over the next 10 years. Lucas also wants the Service to re-engage with the Soil Association’s Food for Life Served Here scheme, which promotes locally sourced and ethical ingredients. Despite earning a bronze accreditation in 2016, the Commons catering services left the scheme early last year – shortly before Parliament declared a climate and environment emergency. A Commons spokesperson said this was due to a duplication of work between assessments for this scheme and the Sustainable Restaurant Association’s ‘Food Made Good’ scheme, in which the Lords and Commons teams together hold a three-star rating (the maximum possible).
Unsurprisingly, Lucas has been at the forefront of previous pushes to make Parliament greener, including providing tap water rather than bottled in committee rooms, reducing disposable cup use, and campaigning for the Parliamentary Contributory Pension Fund to divest from fossil fuels. The latter (which Lucas has been working on since her election in 2010) had the public backing of 50 MPs in 2016 – the number rising to over 300 by October last year.
“We should be showing the way,” says Lucas. “If Parliament can get its procurement policies right, then we’ve got much greater authority to call on other players in society to get their procurement policies rights as well.”
As well as health and economic benefits, the ‘less and better’ approach could make a significant dent in Parliament’s carbon footprint. “When people talk about climate change in this place... food and farming comes a very late third or fourth in the list of things that people talk about, yet it is an increasingly significant part of our emissions,” Lucas says of the “hidden” issue. “If you pass a power station or if you’re breathing in the fumes from cars in a pileup, then you’re much more aware of it... It seems slightly less obvious that food and farming would have such a big impact.”
The Catering Services team has already made “some major improvements” to its approach to sustainability, Lucas points out, with an increased focus on local sourcing and availability of ‘Veganuary’ options.
Concerned meat-loving colleagues don’t need to buy in their own supplies yet though: the “aspiring vegan” MP doesn’t want a moratorium on animal products on the estate, just to ensure meat and dairy products are locally, ethically, sustainably sourced, and less abundant. Lucas believes that Parliament’s declaration of a climate and environment emergency last year has focused minds, and that colleagues will support this push. “I think that a lot of MPs are asking what does that actually mean?... the very first thing it should mean surely is that we get our own house in order as well as adopting policies for the rest of the country”.
Lucas has offered to meet with the Director of Catering Services and hopes that there can be a “constructive way forward” on the proposals. A Commons spokesperson told The House, “we are absolutely committed to ensuring that ensuring that the House of Commons catering service operates sustainably and with environmental impact in mind”. However, if there are blockages – whether within the catering service itself or more broadly on the estate – then colleagues can expect Lucas to try and build another campaign “to share the strength of feeling” on the issue.
In the Chamber, Lucas will be keeping a close eye on the upcoming Agriculture Bill, which she regards as a “litmus test” as to whether the government will deliver on its green rhetoric. With the UK leaving the CAP framework, Lucas says “we are going to have to start thinking from scratch about the kind of food and farming sector that we want in this country. And that does give us opportunities.”
Lucas is optimistic about the potential for decarbonising agriculture, with the NFU last year setting a goal of net zero emissions by 2040. “There’s a real willingness from farmers to make the change as long as they’re supported to do so.”