MP for East Surrey, explains his shadow cabinet role.
DEFRA, the Department which I shadow, used to be seen as a bit of a political backwater. It would occasionally find its way on the front pages. Usually for the wrong reasons – how could we forget the distressing images that were the subject of daily news during the Foot and Mouth outbreak? More recently there has been the furore over Avian Flu.
However, DEFRA is not just about handling (or mis-handling) crises. The protection and preservation of the environment has shot up to the top of the political agenda. The most immediate reason for this is the focus which David Cameron has given to green issues since becoming Conservative Leader. Readers who are local councillors (as I was before I was elected to Parliament) or grassroots activists will recognise that people really care about the quality of their surroundings. Local house-building plans; a proposal for an incinerator at the end of your street; flood risk; urban squalour, litter, graffiti, fly-tipping are things that really get the political adrenaline coursing. As Conservatives, we have always engaged on environmental issues, even if we have not always thought of them in this way.
What is exciting for me, both as a Party Member and as Shadow Secretary
of State for the Environment, is that we seem to have framed the debate
on climate change. The public are now looking to a generation of
politicians to lay the policy foundations that will endure long after
their likely term of office has expired. In the case of climate
change, it really is necessary to dispense with the short term outlook
that comes with the electoral cycle. I feel that responsibility
keenly. This was one of the reasons that I have worked hard to build a
cross party consensus to ensure that all political parties are
committed to taking action on climate change. Unfortunately the
Liberal Democrats decided to withdraw abruptly last year – by press
We have had a major breakthrough with the Government’s decision to
publish a Climate Change Bill in this Parliament. We always know we’ve
had a good idea when the Government nick it! The real work to make the
Bill as robust as possible starts now. To be effective I believe that
the Bill must include rolling year-on-year emission targets; an
independent body to set and monitor them; and an annual carbon budget
report, with any new measures being subject to approval in Parliament.
This approach would provide a rather more effective discipline than the
current one, which, as we have seen, involves waiting 10 years for
policy to fail and then surreptitiously walking away.
Government has got to set a framework whereby it is easy, and
profitible, for consumers and business to ‘be good,’ otherwise the
market will never have the confidence to invest in low carbon
solutions. Edmund Burke wrote that “History is a pact between the
dead, the living and the yet unborn”. It is with this sense of respect
for the past, for the value of life, and of duty towards tomorrow that
we should approach the challenges facing our generation of politicians.