UK Politics

Labour Party: Hilary Benn's speech to Labour Party Conference

News   •   Oct 01, 2010 12:06 BST

Hilary Benn MP, Labour's Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, speaking to Labour Party Conference today said:

Conference,

I want to begin by expressing my appreciation to you Michael, the members of the Policy Commission, and to the ministerial team who served in Defra – Jim, Huw, Dan, and Bryan – and Joyce, John and Emma who have joined us since May for everything you’ve done.

As Ed said on Tuesday politics is about our values. It’s about wanting to change things for the better. About what we do when we have the chance.

The financial crisis taught us a painful lesson. Take things for granted. Get things out of balance, and they become unsustainable.

Conference, we cannot – we must not – le t the same thing happen to our planet.

We have to leave behind the view that we must choose between the economy and the environment.

That it’s a case of head against heart.

It is not a choice; in the times ahead a strong economy will be built on a strong environment.

And that is why our task is to look to the future.

Now some will say ‘it’s too difficult’. Others will say ‘now is not the time’.

We must reply with confidence that we’ve faced big challenges before.

Our party was founded by the trade unions because the biggest challenge of that age was for us to make the economy – to make life – fair for working people.

From that single powerful idea was born a movement - a movement to protect workers in the mills and factories, to give every child the chance to go to school, to win the right to free medical care when we are ill, and to end the scandal of £1.50 an hour jobs by bringing in a minimum wage.

Yes there’s more to do, but let’s celebrate how our politics changed people’s lives for the better.

This century’s challenge – however – is a different one. How do we sustain a strong and successful and fair economy on our small and fragile planet when the world’s climate is changing?

Where resources – oil and water – are becoming scarce.

Where the population is growing and there will be more mouths to feed.

Where poverty and inequality and disease still scar the lives of many.

The big question of our age is how do we make our planet fair.

Now, we did a lot in government when we had the chance.

The world’s first climate change legislation.

Two new national parks.

A huge increase in recycling.

Putting food production at the heart of our future security.

Producing more electricity from offshore wind than any other country in the world and feed-in tariffs so that peo ple can generate renewable energy at home.

Winning the fight to stop the products of illegal logging from coming into Europe.
The Marine and Coastal Access Act which will protect the wonders that lie beneath our seas around Britain and create a coastal path for everyone to walk and to enjoy.

Every one of these was once just a dream, but it was our values and our politics that made them happen.


It was a Labour Government that made them happen.

What a contrast with the Coalition Government.

David Cameron tells us we are all in this together. Really? If that’s so, then why are you determined to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board. For 70 years it has ensured a fair deal and fair pay for farm workers, overtime rates, standby allowances, bereavement leave.

Even Mrs Thatcher did not dare do this.

All in this together, Mr Cameron ? No. This is a shabby little plan and we will oppose it every step of the way.

A government that says it is compassionate. Really? It wants to bring back the barbarous spectacle of fox and stag hunting, and hare coursing to our countryside. Mr Cameron, this isn’t compassion. It’s animal cruelty and we will oppose it every step of the way.

A government that claims to be the greenest ever but is undermining confidence in feed-in tariffs, dithering on the renewable heat incentive, says it’s alright to go on throwing waste into landfill when it could be recycled, reducing funding for our national parks, abolishing the Sustainable Development Commission, and is about to unveil cuts that will surely affect farming and the natural world.

Cuts that will affect the lives of our children and our grandchildren.

For what does the natural environment give us?

Clean water. Clean air. Food. Fuel. Plants for medicines. But once we start to lose plants or species, they can disappear for ever and no amount of money can bring them back.

That’s why we must protect them every step of the way.

Greenest Government ever, Mr Cameron? No. That’s just empty words from a government devoid of optimism.

And why do we need optimism?

Because what we do about climate chang e and about the loss of forests and habitats is not only about protecting nature’s capacity to inspire and to lift our spirits.

It is also about the biggest – and oldest – cause of all.

Conference. We must build a world that is just.

We must build a world that is fair.

Because those who have least are already feeling the costs and the consequences of our changing climate.

From the floods in Pakistan to the drought in Kenya.

From the melting of the ice sheets to crops ravaged by disease.

From the erosion of soil to the felling of forests that takes from people their food, their fire wood and the chance to shelter from the heat of the mid-day sun.

It’s why we need a climate deal in Cancun.

It’s why we need to invest in renewables.

It’s why we need to put down our axes and pick up our shovels to plants saplings and grow trees.

And we will not be immune either.

Remember the heatwav e in Europe seven years ago. It killed thousands.

Remember the flooding in Hull, Sheffield, Tewksbury and Cockermouth.

Imagine what rising sea levels would do to our coastal towns and communities.

Conference – the earth is trying to tell us something and our future existence depends on us using its gifts in a way that can be sustained in the years and centuries ahead.

In a way that will create new jobs.

In a way that will give life to new industries that can both lead the world and lead the change we must make.

And this change will require purpose, determination and, yes, optimism.

That’s how we secured our greatest achievements as a Party and that’s how we will do so again.

And that’s exactly what Sadiq and I saw last week at the Olympic Park in East London.

Environmental sustainability at the centre of every decision and every building.

New homes.

New jobs.

Renewable energy.

Green spaces for all to enjoy.

A community transformed, and an infectious sense of enthusiasm.

And if we can do all of these things there, then we can do them everywhere.

A future not of hairshirts and backward glances.

But a future of possibilities, where by using technology, design, imagination, passion, commitment – and all the skills of all the people – we can build a new Jerusalem of green and pleasant lands.

It’s what Labour has done before.

It’s what Labour does best.

And it’s what – now – together we must do.