Meg Hillier's Speech to Labour Party Conference

27 September 2011

Meg Hillier

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Thank you.

Conference, we’ve had an excellent debate, proof that the Labour Party understands the threat to the environment, and we’ve the political will to protect it.

There are people – some of them in the Conservative Party – who are climate change sceptics. They dispute the science, downplay the risks, denounce us as cranks. 

Conference, they are wrong, wrong, wrong.

Under Labour, Britain signed up to the toughest carbon reduction targets in the world. We enshrined them in law. 

And we did it with Ed Miliband in charge of the Department for Energy and Climate Change. 

As Energy Secretary, Ed displayed leadership on the world stage on climate change. 

He understood the audacity needed to meet the challenge.

What a contrast with the Department for Energy and Climate Change today. Humiliated almost daily. The laughing stock of Whitehall. Trampled by the Treasury. Undermined by No. 10. 

Just look at the government’s record since last year:

The Green Investment Bank – promised in Labour’s manifesto, but hobbled under the Coalition. Delayed, and unable to borrow capital.

Research into bio-fuels - scrapped.

Zero Carbon homes – scrapped.

Charging points for electric cars – scrapped.

Low carbon businesses watching their orders disappear abroad.

A ‘green deal’ for home insulation which promises the earth, but few have even heard of.

Ministers call this the ‘greenest government ever’. 

Never has a claim been so much hot air.

The great tragedy is that it doesn’t have to be like this.

The economic recovery could be built on low-carbon growth: growing green firms, world-beating inventions, more apprenticeships, and most of all, what the country is crying out for: new jobs. 

Jobs in manufacturing, design and engineering.

On Sunday I met some of the workers at Cammell Laird just across the River Mersey from this conference centre. They’re famed for building battle ships. Now they are gearing up to build wind turbines. 

Off-shore turbines the height of the Gherkin in London, blades the span of a jumbo jet’s wings, a diameter the same as the London Eye.

The best of British engineering, delivering green energy. 

That’s the way forward. 

We need energy security in a dangerous world – a mix of renewables, clean coal, gas and nuclear. 

And we should never forget the price some families and some communities pay for coal.

This Movement has always stood shoulder to shoulder with the mining communities. We pay tribute to the four miners who lost their lives. We offer heartfelt condolences to their families and communities. 

We should also pay a tribute to their local MP Peter Hain, for his compassion and support in the worst of times.

Safeguarding our environment is not a cost. It is an opportunity, to be seized if we want real growth to return. 

The next Labour Government will put the fight against climate change at the top of its agenda, not just because it is the morally right thing to do, to save the lives of millions around the world, but also because we can lead the world in new technologies and create green jobs at home. 

We will campaign for poverty and climate change to be tackled at the international summit in Durban this autumn. It’s a vital meeting.

The Energy Secretary didn’t even mention it in his speech last week. 

I hear the Prime Minister is not even showing up.

Social justice. Economic efficiency. Environmental protection. The three pillars of the next Labour Government.

And if you have any doubt, look into the eyes of these child workers in Manila Bay.

This stunning, shocking picture is called ‘Where The Pellets Of Poison Are Flooding Their Waters’, words from Bob Dylan’s song ‘A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall’. 

The lives and communities of these little children are being damaged by actions on the other side of the world. Actions we could do something to stop.

Hard Rain is the name given to an amazing series of photographs by Mark Edwards. He’s been documenting the effects of pollution and climate change for over 20 years. 

For the sake of children like these, we must stem dangerous climate change. 

It’s a hard rain that doesn’t have to fall.

Finally Conference, I must turn to a great national scandal that’s brewing up in every community, every household. Labour has been warning about it for months.

I mean, of course, the scandal of soaring gas and electricity prices.

One after the other, the Big Six energy companies have hiked their prices this summer.

This winter we’ll all start to pay.

There’s a winter fuel crisis coming down the track, and ministers seem helpless to prevent it. 

Increasingly, people think the Big Six energy companies are behaving unfairly. 

As Ed Miliband said this weekend, they represent a vested interest – a stark example of unaccountable power. 

They may be private companies, but they should deliver a public service.

This winter, many thousands will be unable to heat their homes. Many will find their pre-payment meters running out. Many more will struggle to pay the bills.

The people shivering under blankets need an Energy Secretary who can act, not just talk.

This Government has not moved on since Edwina Currie told cold, poor people to put on an extra woolly jumper.

So I am putting the Big Six on notice – the next Labour Government will break up your strangle-hold. More powers for consumers. More players in the market. More Co-ops and social enterprises. 

Fairer prices.

And we will insist that they make their tariffs and their bills crystal clear so we can all see the true cost of our energy.

Fair energy prices, green jobs, action on climate change.

A decisive shift to a low-carbon economy. 

Leadership on the world stage. 

That’s Labour’s promise – one worth fighting for, one worth winning for.

Thank you, Conference.