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Yeo: Action on Environment and Transport

Speech to Conservative Party Conference 2004

"It's a pleasure to speak after Theresa in this debate and follow in her footsteps, although I can't aspire to step into her famous shoes.

Few subjects are more important to our quality of life than transport and the environment.

Even though Tony Blair's new list of ten promises doesn't mention them. We all travel by road, rail or air nearly every day.

And we're all affected by the environment, at work and at play. Our countryside is a national asset, farming a vital industry.

Though Margaret Beckett couldn't bring herself to refer to it in her conference speech last week.

Because these issues matter so much to us I'd love to be able to say Britain's doing well.

A successful economy depends on a modern transport system. A rich country like ours should set an example in how it protects the environment and uses natural resources.

Unfortunately it's not like this in Tony Blair's Britain. Forget about what he says. Look at what he's done.

Traffic jams and late trains are daily events.

Stressful for people, costly for business.

Despite motorists paying £8 billion a year more in taxes we have worse congestion and spend more time commuting than any other European country.

Britain's motorway coverage is less than half the European average.

When John Prescott launched his first Ten Year Plan he promised road congestion would be reduced.

In practice it's got worse.

When he relaunched the plan two years later he promised the road maintenance backlog would be eliminated.

That target's now been dropped.

In his latest plan he promised local roads would be improved. The Freight Transport Association tell us they've got worse. So there you have it. Four years, three plans, two Jags and one congested country.

But if you think motorists have had a bad deal, spare a thought for rail passengers.

It was said of one dictator that at least the trains ran on time.

You can't say that about Tony Blair.

One train in five runs late, twice as many as when Labour came to power. Even though fares have risen faster than inflation. Even though taxpayers subsidise railways by £9 million a day.

Things got so bad in 2002 that Tony Blair called in his favourite Scotsman. I don't mean Gordon Brown

He summoned Alistair Darling and put him in charge of transport.

"Don't worry, Darling," Tony said. "You needn't actually do anything - just keep the issue out of the news." Darling's done his best.

Modernising the East Coast main line's been put on ice. Neither Thameslink nor Crossrail even has a starting date.

And Darling's answer to overcrowding on the M6 isn't a new road. It's a new consultation process. Maybe we should be glad he hasn't made more promises.

In 2002 he said the Strategic Rail Authority would provide leadership and funding for the rail industry. Two years later he abolished it.

Isn't it time the voters said: "Move over, Darling"

The environment story isn't much better.

The Government is set to miss its own target for cutting CO2 emissions. And though Tony Blair's still best pals with President Bush, he hasn't once tried to persuade the Americans to sign the Kyoto Treaty.

There's no coalition of the willing when it comes to climate change. Britain's recycling record is the worst in Europe apart from Greece and Portugal.

The ten worst local councils at recycling are all Labour or Lib Dem controlled.

The only bit of rubbish Tony Blair's managed to recycle is Peter Mandelson's career.

Labour Ministers are no better than Labour councils.

When new rules came in for disposing of fridges they'd only got two sites ready to do the job.

What was the result?

Britain's answer to the wine lake.

Our very own fridge mountain.

Most people know land is an irreplaceable asset. Most people, that is, except John Prescott. He's busy concreting over our green fields.

Building on more than a thousand hectares of Green Belt each year, often against the wishes of local people.

Now Ministers have taken power to overrule local councils on wind farms so the countryside will soon have more of those where it doesn't want them.

Meanwhile brown field sites are ignored and seven hundred thousand homes lie empty.

Farmers suffer too, exploited by supermarkets, overwhelmed by red tape and fighting unfair competition from abroad.

Do you know, there are now more bureaucrats in DEFRA than there are dairy farms in England.

And those that survive are threatened by bovine TB. I mean the dairy farmers not the bureaucrats.

Hundreds of diseased cows are slaughtered each week but Ministers still don't use the Protection of Badgers Act to cull the worst affected areas. Bovine TB is out of control and the Government are to blame.

Just as the Government were to blame three years ago when they refused to listen to me and let Foot and Mouth get out of hand.

When it comes to more talk and less action only the Lib Dems can rival Labour. They claim to be keen on recycling but which council has the worst record in Britain?

Step forward Lib Dem Liverpool which recycles just 2 per cent of its waste. The Lib Dems like to talk about renewable energy too. But what happens when they get into power? Take a look at Lib Dem controlled Lewes.

There the council have banned solar power. I'm not kidding. And Lewes is a town that's been particularly badly flooded.

In loony Lib Dem land there's no connection between violent floods, climate change and the need for renewable energy.

Just as there's no connection between a lot of what the Lib Dems say they'll do nationally and what they actually do locally.

There's nothing more dangerous than a Party that says one thing and does another.

So how will a Conservative Government be different?

Transport first.

If British business is to compete abroad it needs a world class transport system at home. In the taxes and fares the British people pay they've certainly spent enough to buy one.

So that's what Chris Chope, Greg Knight and I will provide.

It'll need more vision and urgency than Labour's shown. Private investment and new technology are the key to future success.

People should be free to choose the kind of transport they want.

I'll end Labour's war on the motorist.

The car has improved the lives of millions of people, giving them chances only the rich enjoyed a hundred years ago.

How characteristic that it should be Labour that wants to take that freedom away.

To tackle congestion I'll expand the road network and speed up maintenance and repairs.

To pay for new roads I won't sting the taxpayer. The Midland Expressway shows drivers are willing to pay as long as there are real improvements.

In my first month I'll start an audit of all speed cameras to get rid of those that are money raisers rather than life savers.

I'll crack down on uninsured drivers so responsible motorists don't have to cover the costs of those that don't insure.

But cars affect the environment, so we must help drivers to be greener. Manufacturers have begun making less polluting cars and we'll encourage them to go much further. Not just through tougher voluntary standards but by using the tax system to make the greenest cars and fuels cheaper.

We mustn't only think about the motorist.

Rail passengers travel twenty five billion miles every year. For many the experience is bad. There's no reason why trains shouldn't run as well as cars.

All Darling's done is abolish the SRA and hand power to Network Rail. He's even giving Ken Livingston more say over railways. Darling's obviously not been on the tube lately.

No wonder government transport policy is more stop than go if they are giving the green light to Red Ken. Politicians are the last people who should manage railways.

Privately owned train operators have increased passenger numbers to the highest level since 1961 and boosted investment to £4 billion last year. I'll give the best ones longer contracts so they can invest even more for the benefit of passengers. And I'll make Network Rail more accountable.

Journey times will be shortened by widening some main lines so faster trains aren't held up by slower ones. And lastly I'll bring stations out of the nineteenth century and into the twenty first.

Compare stations with airports. Today airports are designed for the comfort of travellers, with good shops, business services, and protection against the weather.

Stations couldn't be more different. Outside London they've hardly changed in a hundred years. Car parks are dark, open to the elements and far from platforms.

Four thousand people commute from Colchester every weekday, from a platform with no waiting room, no shelter and no refreshments.

In our first year in government I'll start transforming twenty large stations by exploiting the huge brown field development opportunity they offer.

Using planning agreements retailers and developers will fund improvements like longer platforms so trains can carry more passengers and safer car parks which will cut crime

Let me turn finally to the countryside.

I believe farming and food production are strategically important.

I worry about how much food we import and the risk of disruption to supply in today's uncertain world.

I worry about how flying masses of food around the world increases CO2 emissions.

Too much imported food is produced in ways which don't respect the welfare of animals or the environment.

The result is unfair competition for British farmers.

In my first month in office I'll publish a Bill to introduce honesty in food labelling, so every consumer knows where and how the food they're eating was produced.

I'll toughen up the Code of Practice to stop supermarkets exploiting farmers.

I'll start cutting the red tape which strangles so many small businesses in the countryside.

I'll simplify the rules for Single Farm Payments.

Jim Paice, Hazel Byford, Owen Paterson, James Gray and I will all be on the side of British farmers and British consumers.

And now a word about hunting.

So there are no doubts about it let me make clear that in my first month I'll publish our bill to reverse any ban on hunting Labour rams through Parliament before the election.

Of course for many people it's their own neighbourhood that they care about. Graffiti on the wall, rubbish on the street.

We'll tackle these problems, too

On waste we'll make fly-tipping an arrestable offence.

And in the next few weeks I'll set out how to ensure that far more development takes place on brown field not green field sites.

Turning to the global environment the greatest challenge for governments in the twenty first century is how to enable men women and children in all parts of a more crowded world to enjoy richer life styles without ruining our planet.

It's fifteen years since Margaret Thatcher told the United Nations how seriously she took the threat of climate change.

After that speech Britain led the debate about how the world should respond.

Taking this issue seriously once more isn't just morally right, its good business too."

Developing technologies to enable a richer and more populated world grow without damaging our planet will bring business opportunities.

Even the sceptical Americans are investing far more than Britain in researching hydrogen power and other fuels of the future.

I want British ideas and innovations to point the way ahead and spread once more across the globe.

We support the Kyoto targets and the Government's 2050 goal but getting there requires firmer leadership.

I've mentioned how we'll encourage greener motoring. I've got ideas about aviation, too, the fastest growing source of CO2 emissions.

There are other practical steps we'll take such as phasing out HFCs.

And we'll make Britain energy efficient, starting at home because homes account for over a quarter of all CO2 emissions. Because I prefer the market to regulation I'm exploring how energy efficient homes could benefit from a cut in stamp duty.

I'll make sure we produce more electricity in an environmentally friendly way too.

I'll change the rules on renewable energy so the incentives don't just help on shore wind farms.

Instead I'll encourage new technologies like biomass, off shore wind, tidal and wave power as well, areas where Britain has natural advantages and should lead the world.

Richard Ottaway, Anne Macintosh and I will help me do these things, not to win votes or grab headlines.

I'm interested in action, not words.

I'll do them because they're right.

Right for our country.

Right for our planet.

Today we're probably only seven months from the General Election.

Seven months to decide our country's future.

The next election will be very different from 2001.

Voters have fallen out of love with Tony Blair.

He's lost the trust of the British people as well as of his own party.

This time we can win.

To do so we must show we've learned our lessons in Opposition.

A party is only ready for government when it addresses the concerns of all voters and not just those of its own supporters. Britain deserves a Government that is more efficient and trustworthy than Labour.

Policies that are more realistic and honest than the Lib Dems

A vision that is broader than UKIPs

Under Michael Howard that's what the Conservatives can provide.

Elections are won on the centre ground. Margaret Thatcher understood that. Tony Blair understands that. We understand it too.

And we understand that people are fed up with politicians who prefer spin to substance. Fed up with too much talk and not enough action. Fed up with paying more tax and seeing nothing for it.

In 2004 Britain is looking for politicians it can trust. For a government with integrity

For Ministers with courage. For policies that are honest. Looking round this hall I see people who yearn for the Conservatives to win that trust.

To offer that integrity

To show that integrity

To deliver that honesty

In the next seven months we will rise to this challenge

Working together with all of you we will drive Tony and his cronies out of Downing Street for good."

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