Beckett offers choice between positive environmental future and Tory neglect

Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett used her speech at the Labour Party annual conference to highlight the differences between her party's achievements and the years of Tory neglect, this week, although she took care not to promise any real groundbreaking changes to policy herself.

Speaking in Brighton Ms Beckett said Britain faced a clear choice between a positive future for rural areas and for people who want to live in cleaner, greener, safer neighbourhoods and a “Tory party that would lead us backwards, not forward on these issues.”

She said that the environment was now at the top of the political agenda and, as is traditional at party conferences, took every opportunity to attack opposition policies and accuse both Tories and Liberal Democrats of jumping on the green bandwagon.

“Michael Howard now says he wants Britain to lead by example. But, what are his policies? The climate change levy: he’s against it. The 60% target for cutting emissions by 2050: he’s against it. Wind farms: he’s against.”

“The Conservatives claim that they alone understand the problems of rural communities. And so they should do. They created most of them.”

As for the Liberal Democrats, Ms Beckett said that, with them, ‘green’ usually means ‘naïve’. “Nothing properly costed, just the usual extravagant promises whenever there is the whiff of an election in the air.”

The Liberal Democrats held their conference last week (see related story).

By contrast the Environment Secretary said that the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, which she helped negotiate, would help redirect money both to rural development and to the protection of the environment. Such investment in the environment is an investment in future economic strength, she said.

“Today, 8,000 people in the UK work in renewable energy industries. Our renewables target could stimulate 35,000 jobs over the next 15 years.”

She said that she hoped to soon legislate to give local government new powers to rid Britain’s streets of abandoned cars, litter, graffiti and fly-tipping. The government will also start consulting local authorities on voluntary reward schemes for household recycling, she announced.

“We will also consider the creation of an Environment Direct service, to give clear, independent advice to consumers on the environmental impact of the choices they face. Nationally, we will publish my department’s Five Year Plan in the not too distant future,” she said.

Ms Beckett also reminded delegates of the dangers of climate change and said the government was about to review its Climate Change Programme to see what action was needed to stay on course to meet its targets.

“Carbon dioxide levels haven’t been as high for at least 800,000, maybe as many as 25 million years. And they are still rising, to levels not seen since previous species ruled the our planet. And I’m not talking about Margaret Thatcher or Norman Tebbit,” she said.

Climate change was a theme that Tony Blair also touched on during his speech to the party conference. Mr Blair said he would use his presidency of the G8 next year to push for action on the Kyoto Protocol and look for ways to engage both Russia and the United States.

Michael Howard and shadow environment secretary Tim Yeo will have their chance to put forward their own party’s case for the environment next week at the Conservative Party conference.

By David Hopkins

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