Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP speech at the Angela Marmont Centre for Biodiversity
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP speech at the Angela Marmont Centre for Biodiversity.
Thank you all for taking the time to be here, great venue.
When my kids were younger, I was glad of this museum to help entertain them in the school holidays, and it did the trick, two are geographers and passionate about climate change.
I’m delighted to be in a place that celebrates so obviously a natural world so vividly before us. Not just the dead and the extinct but also the huge variety of living species with which we share this planet.
In the first ever International Year of Biodiversity I can think of few more fitting places for a new Secretary of State for the Environment to begin my conversation about the need to protect and promote that variety.
Now I’m not going to claim instant expertise.
I have been in my new post for just a few hours short of a week.
And for the first time in many years - for me at least - that old chestnut about a week being a long time in politics is a cliche no longer.
This Monday I was in Brussels, making our case at the Agricultural Council and on Tuesday I attended a very productive bi-lateral meeting with the German agricultural Minister and have had conversations with the French.
So I have already started building the foundations for our future work with Europe. But there is still research to review, briefings to digest and hard decisions to be made.
All this lies ahead.
The announcement this morning by the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister clearly outline the will of our new Government to work together to deliver a renewal of society and a reformed politics.
It is refreshing to see commitment to running this country based on a model of good will and co-operation instead of bad feeling and attrition.
But we are facing unprecedented challenges.
We have to talk about the money.
While the contents of the outgoing Chief Secretary of the Treasury’s handover note may have been an exaggeration there can be no doubt that the larder looks pretty empty.
We can’t, today, give exact details of the savings statement that the Chancellor will make on Monday but finding £6 billion of real savings is going to affect us all.
Every single Department is going to have to do more with significantly less.
It is the way in which we do this that will be crucial to what, and how successfully, we deliver.
At Defra, my whole team has been engaged in this process and taking decisions collectively.
We are looking for value. Not price.
Because cheap may be cheerful but it doesn’t tend to last.
And I want the achievements of my Department to stand the test of time.
I want to help make our farming and fishing industries, our water and soil and our biodiversity and ecosystems healthier and stronger than they are today.
I have been involved in agriculture and the environment for over 25 years.
In that time I’ve learned one thing above all others - the interdependency of our environment, our economy and our society.
So we will not be making choices between economic productivity, thriving ecosystems and a healthy environment but choices which create a successful synthesis of all these.
We will promote British farming.
Reducing unnecessary red tape and regulation and helping farmers get on with what really matters - producing the food we eat.
We will help this country protect the environment while adapting to the climate change we know is already happening.
And, when it comes to the Big Society, I think safeguarding our environment is a perfect illustration.
Even with the best will in the world and a healthy bank balance, the state can neither do it all nor do it best.
The third sector - from high profile national charities to local residents’ associations- have a long and valuable track record of protecting our environment, ecosystems and biodiversity.
The state can only encourage social responsibility but the third sector can inspire it to action.
We all have a stake in the living, breathing environment around us.
We all have a responsibility to play our part in protecting it.
We will build a strong - and sustainable - green economy.
Because we have a real opportunity to create green jobs and green growth - this is our chance to take our share of the green industries of the future.
This morning’s announcement provides a more in-depth analysis of Defra’s priorities than I can cover here today.
But there are some specific issues I would like to pick out for you.
Our manifesto stated our intent to repeal the Hunting Act. And the coalition has committed itself to bring forward a motion on a free vote enabling the House of Commons to express its view on the repeal of the Hunting Act.
Obviously, I am not able to pre-judge today how MP’s will vote.
We must address Bovine TB.
TB in cattle must be brought under control. As part of a package of measures we will introduce a carefully managed and science - led policy of badger control in areas with high and persistent incidents of Bovine TB.
Time has been lost and, as someone who was working on the issue at the time of the Krebs report, I know that up to date evidence is all.
That report was published in 2003.
Seven years later both the incidence and geographical spread of bovine TB has changed.
The Krebs proposals may no longer be enough.
There are no quick fixes and no magic bullets for this disease.
It will take many, many years before it can be eradicated from our herds. And the system that we develop to start that process will be strictly science-led.
Now let me turn to our environment and, specifically, to our trees.
Because if ever organisms demonstrated their ability to multi-task, it’s trees.
They capture carbon and hold soils together, prevent flooding and help control our climate.
They also add immeasurably to the quality of life of our towns and cities.
In some parts of inner London, for example, each tree is calculated to be worth as much as £78,000 in terms of its benefits.
So we will promote a national tree planting campaign to spread trees throughout our high streets and neighbourhoods, providing a greener environment for millions more urban citizens.
We have a clear responsibility to protect biodiversity at home.
But we also have a responsibility to influence governments internationally - Britain, after all, contains just a tiny fraction of the world’s total biodiversity.
So we will work with both the EU and other states to secure a deal in Nagoya this October that delivers clear commitments to action. What I really want to see is for a greater push for biodiversity to be linked to our efforts to tackle climate change.
I said at the start that much of my first week had been taken up with building relationships in Europe.
And I am increasingly optimistic about the opportunities for meaningful CAP reform.
All member states are facing up to tough economic choices and this has focused their minds on reform.
I believe we have the opportunity to shape the negotiations to deliver a CAP which reflects our four-pronged approach to good value for farmers, taxpayers, consumers and the environment alike.
We are an inclusive Government.
We want to help shape a society where no-one is marginalised and where everyone has the right to define their own futures.
We know from the Rural Advocate’s report earlier this year that a lack of broadband access is restricting the opportunities which exist for young people who live in the country side.
We know, too, this hampers the work of farmers in many areas and isolates many other groups.
So we will prioritise the roll-out of broadband to rural neighbourhoods, bringing everyone the same benefits and opportunities of digital technology which so many of us already enjoy.
We are what we eat.
And what we eat affects the health of our local and national economies as well as our selves.
Animal health and welfare standards in this country are probably the highest in the world and many, many people would prefer to choose local if they actually had that choice.
The public sector spends around £2 billion on food every year.
I want Defra to lead the way in encouraging public procurement to choose food which is local and involves the fewest food miles in its journey from producer to plate. It’s a step which can save money as well as carbon emissions.
One of the places I want to visit is the NHS trust in Nottingham.
Catering managers at Nottingham City Hospital and the Queen’s Medical Centre have switched to sourcing fresh ingredients from local producers.
90% of the fresh food these hospitals use now comes from the East Midlands.
There have been savings all round as a result.
Local producers who hovered on the verge of bankruptcy have saved jobs.
150,000 food miles have been saved.
And the Trust is saving £2.50 a day per patient - more than £6 million a year.
The Trust’s catering manager estimates up to £400 million could be saved each year if this scheme was rolled out across the NHS.
This is a prime example of how to span the gulf from individual decision making to the way we run a Government, that wants to be the greenest Government ever.
We can’t do it all alone; we need you, your families and friends to join us in delivering the economic recovery and environmental sustainability our country so desperately needs.