Speech to Scottish Conservative Spring Conference
A recent study in the EU calculated that environmental issues have to be taken into account in over 40% of EU legislation, and the environment is at last moving up the political agenda in Scotland.
I want to touch on 4 main issues this morning, waste management, water, energy and GM crops, and I hope these topics will stimulate debate in the time allocated.
Starting with waste management, just last week the Government published its National Waste Plan. It has taken 4 years to come up with this plan which is fundamentally flawed, as its first target of 25% disposal of municipal waste cannot be met by 2006.
Our view is that this can be achieved by 2007 or 8 but only if we start today working towards delivering recycling for Scotland.
Conservatives believe it is unacceptable that Scotland is bottom of the European league in terms of recycling municipal waste at 7.4%.
We believe the good work on environmental matters started by John Gummer in the 90s has been squandered by Labour nationally and in Scotland.
We need to instil a sense of urgency into delivering best practice into recycling before our landfill sites fill up, or are closed down, as a result of increasing regulation and taxation.
That means recycling plants will have to be built all over Scotland.
More than 20 such waste recycling plants will need to be built across Scotland and markets will need to be found for recycled glass, aluminium, plastic, etc.
We must adopt worldwide best practice and coming from so far behind gives us the opportunity to study the best systems worldwide and start copying them.
Moving on now to water and sewerage issues, and the biggest single issue is cost.
In Scotland we are paying £86 / household more for our water and sewerage service than in England and Wales.
Water quality too is poorer and this combined with the excessive cost is unacceptable.
Scottish Water, created by the Scottish Parliament last year is not delivering.
It is inefficient and its costs are too great.
It has been protected from competition because government ministers have ruled out competition in Scotland.
Water charges are rising faster than inflation and will continue to do so until the hybrid company that is Scottish Water becomes more efficient.
The Water Commissioner must be given more powers to deliver savings to water consumers and the future of Scottish Water must be looked into in the long term.
Moving on to energy now, we in the Conservative Party are in favour of the development of renewable energy.
With 40% of Europe's Wind resources available to us in Scotland, we must harvest it.
We cannot do this though without the approval of local communities, and we maintain therefore that as with all projects, location is everything.
Wind farming must be sensitively sited, but no meaningful large scale development of this resource can or will take place however until the grid infrastructure is upgraded and that needs to be addressed urgently.
Wave and tidal power are in their infancy but welcome, and the potential for job creation in these renewable industries is enormous.
We cannot however neglect our traditional energy producing industries and we will continue to support gas, coal and nuclear power stations and the vital jobs they bring to local economies.
We are and must remain a net exporter of electricity from Scotland and we can only do that by pushing ahead on all energy supply fronts
Lastly and briefly I want to address GM crops.
Government announced this week that they are to press ahead with commercial production of GM crops.
I believe they are wrong and this decision if justifiable at all, is certainly premature.
Questions have been asked but not answered about the health effects of GM crops.
Scientific evidence is divided about the wisdom of releasing them into the environment even on a trial basis, never mind on a commercially grown basis.
The crop trials in Scotland have been flawed and mismanaged by DEFRA and SEERAD and the time is not right to do this in Scotland.
Our view that an ultra precautionary approach must be taken would imply letting others take the risk if they are so keen to pioneer these crops.
We in Scotland do not need to carry that risk and the public mood is certainly against doing so.
I hope these comments stimulate debate and give you a flavour of our thinking and I thank you for your attention.