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Theresa May: Delivering a sustainable future for generations to come

Speech to Conservative Party Spring Conference 2004

"What an extraordinary year it has been since we were last here - for you, for me, and for the Conservative Party.

Now of course we all know that politics can be a rough old ride. And sometimes we even find ourselves asking, "Why do we do it?"

But then you have days like yesterday. Yesterday, I visited All Saints Junior School in Maidenhead. I sat in with a class of ten-year-old boys and girls. The class was persuasive writing. The childrens' project had been to write an advert for products they wanted to be invented in the future.

I heard about the 'sugar sprouts' - all the goodness of sprouts - but with a sweet taste! I heard about 'dinner gum'. A traditional roast dinner in a single bubble gum. And then I heard about the 'Zippo car'. The Zippo Car would get you to Australia in just 60 seconds.

Imagine the possibilities! Of course, there had to be a question or two. What would your question have been? I know what mine was - how much would this amazing car cost? A fortune surely? Well not for these children.

Rather than ask how much it would cost or how many would be available, the first question was - does it pollute? The answer by the way was sadly yes, the Zippo car does pollute - it emits chocolate!

But the answer does not alter the fact that the most important question was about the environment. These young primary school children already understand what's really important.

They truly care about the environment we live in. And they will expect us to tackle their concerns. So there you are. We don't have to guess what it is that future generations want. We should just ask them. But you can't just listen to what they want. You have to understand it.

And that's the problem with Labour. They listen, but they don't understand. They don't know what it would take to improve our environment, sustainably, for all time. Tony Blair 'proved' his green credentials by signing up to endless European Environmental directives that he has no idea how to implement.

That's why today there are mountains of fridges piled up across the country - because we don't have the systems to dispose of them. That's why our towns are scarred by fly tipping and abandoned cars that Labour do nothing about, while our countryside is being blighted by the construction of ten thousand wind turbines.

Of course, the headline was Labour's commitment for 10% of Britain's energy to be from renewable sources. But Labour doesn't understand that it isn't helping the environment if you ruin the natural beauty of our countryside in the process. And you see, there's the problem.

Labour say they are environmentally friendly, but they don't know the half of what really makes up our environment.

It's the air that we breathe. The land we walk on. The view we look at. The place we live. It's our quality of life! If you fail to protect, or worse still destroy, parts of it as you improve something else, then you are achieving nothing.

And we cannot afford to gamble with our future. That's why we have a right to demand honesty from this Government over GM crops.

Of course, we know that this Government doesn't understand our rural way of life either. They know what they think is most important for our countryside - they're going to ban hunting.

This is a government that doesn't know and doesn't care what matters for our countryside.

We've got to make Tony Blair understand.

You don't create a better planet, a better environment, a better countryside just by generating better headlines. Labour's 20th Century approach to Government - controlling, interfering, narrow-minded, just isn't working.

Not on health and education.

Not on crime.

Not on the economy.

Not on our society.

And certainly not on the environment.

If we are to deliver the sustainable future for generations to come, we, 21st century conservatives - we will have to find a new way.

A way to start treating the planet as if we intended to stay. Not as if we were just passing through. And we are working hard to do just that. Not only me, but also my excellent Environment team.

I would like to say thank you for all the work they do - Caroline Spelman, James Gray and Anne McIntosh on environment.

John Whittingdale, and Owen Patterson on Agriculture.

And of course Damian Green, Chris Chope, and Greg Knight on transport.

We have only been up and running for a matter of months, but already this new team is working hard to tackle these difficult issues.

Sometimes it's things that aren't always sexy or exciting, but just sometimes plain necessary if we are going to put together a credible plan for tackling the challenges we will face in government.

And it's not just them, but also our MEPS in the environment and agriculture committees out in Brussels, who are playing such an important part in the Conservative Environment team.

And finally of course there are our Conservative councillors across the country, who are daily forced to deal with the raft of targets and requirements forced on them by this Government.

It will be no surprise to anyone in this room to learn that 8 out of the top 10 councils across the country for recycling are Conservative ones. And it should be no surprise to hear the Conservative Party focusing so seriously on the environment.

After all, it was our leader, Michael Howard, who represented Britain at the landmark Rio Summit back in 1992.

And we're going to keep doing it.

There are issues we must tackle, as a Party and as a country, if we are to secure a better future for the generations to come.

What we do about GM crops. How we deal with mounting problems of waste. The creation of a roadmap to a sustainable balance of environmental priorities.

Under the leadership of Michael Howard, we have embarked on the most radical and wide-ranging consultation this Party has ever engaged in on the environment.

And we want your views too so please get involved today.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we all know that we are the party of the countryside.

We must continue to be that.

But we must demonstrate too that we are the party of the environment.

Because we can be. And we should be.

We must capture the imagination and respect of the children like those in All Saints Junior School.

Young people are the voters of tomorrow, the voters of the future. They live in a world of aspirations and dreams. Our job, as Conservatives, is to work to realise those dreams."

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