Speech to the National Assembly for Wales
"I will begin by welcoming the Assembly's focus on tackling climate change, on which we also held a debate last week. In general, there is cross-party agreement on the need to tackle this hugely important issue.
Michael Howard, the leader of the Conservative Party, said in his speech last week, that he leads a party, 'which has consistently placed concern for the environment at the heart of its philosophy'.
We would all agree with that. The Conservative philosophers that I most admire are Burke and Disraeli. I am not sure how fashionable Disraeli is now, but a key foundation of Edmund Burke's thinking was that the living are temporary possessors and life-renters of this world.
I am sure that there is cross-party agreement on that, but within that, there is also plenty of room for interpretation.
We are talking today about a change in attitude, and all you can do is talk about money. That just highlights the hopeless inadequacy of Liberal Democrat thinking. Energy efficiency has a hugely important role, and I agree with the general objectives in the plan.
Elin [Jones] had a point when she said that the plan lacks specifics. I will touch upon one or two of them. First, I make a policy suggestion, in which the Minister may achieve his global showcase.
I believe that it is sensible to use fiscal measures to achieve one's objectives. Michael Howard, who is taking this issue seriously, has suggested that stamp duty may be amended to encourage people to invest in their own homes. That is worth exploring.
In the Welsh context, we do not have tax raising powers, but an amendment to the council tax regulations could be made, whereby a huge amount of money is spent on developing properties that are environmentally efficient, but there could be some sort of concession in council tax. That sort of fiscal measure can lead to great improvements.
I highlight the fact that where you have private sector businesses, something is delivered; televisions are one small example.
If a Philips television is on standby, it uses about 3 per cent of the electricity that it uses when it is operating, but nearly all other televisions use about 50 per cent.
It is perfectly reasonable for us to say publicly that it would help the environment hugely if everybody bought a Philips television. I see no reason why one should not say that.
Innovation is another important objective. A new kettle has been invented in Britain that only boils the water that you need, no matter how much you put in it—if you press '1', it produces enough water for one cup. It is a wonderful invention.
If we reward that sort of innovation through Government policy and recognition, it will do more for the environment than any general Government initiative.
I return to targets, a matter that I raised last week. We must ensure that our targets are relevant. The much-reported target of 50 per cent—or 60 per cent by 2050—is completely meaningless.
I was pleased to hear that the Minister is looking at bringing forward a reconsideration of the targets.
As I mentioned last week, the way in which targets can twist policy in a way that is not sensible concerns me hugely.
We all want to achieve an advance, but we need an annual target to know exactly where we are going. The Labour Government, over the last five years, has simply not dealt with this issue with anything like the speed that it could have used.
It has panicked and brought forward an objective that involves betting its entire farm on onshore wind, which is hugely damaging.
Targets are twisting policy in a way that could damage the landscape of Wales. Only yesterday we saw the issue of nuclear power raised, and the coincidence is just too great.
I am certain that the Government has realised that opposition to onshore wind is growing across Wales, so it has asked its friends in the trade union movement to raise the spectre of nuclear power, to force people to go down the road that it wants to follow.
I am certain that that is happening. We want a clear strategy across the board, that will take annual targets into account, so that we know exactly where we are going and how the Government is delivering and performing. If the Government does that, it will receive great support from the Conservative Party."