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Last Updated: Sunday, 7 November, 2004, 14:42 GMT
Green credentials?
Please note BBC Politics Show must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

NB:This transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.

Margaret Beckett, MP
Rt Hon Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

On Politics Show on Sunday, 7 November, 2004, Jeremy Vine interviewed the Environment Secretary, Margaret Beckett, MP:

Jeremy Vine: I'm joined now from Derby, by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Margaret Beckett.

Welcome to you, thanks for coming in. Fascinating story that wasn't it.

I wonder if you are aware of all that's going on in Woking at the moment.

Margaret Beckett: Yes I am but I don't entirely share the view of the punch line in your, in your film because I think it's when Woking isn't remarkable that we'll really be able to see we've made progress.

Jeremy Vine: But the film will shock a lot of people won't it because it seems that the company that wants to sell this green power, can't do so because of a technicality.

Margaret Beckett: Well, that was the only bit about, I mean I'm familiar with the fact that Woking has been doing a great deal, and I think it's excellent that Alan Jones is now going to bring that expertise and advice to London, because obviously you can do things on a much bigger scale, and with much greater effect. I wasn't familiar with the specific restrictions he talked about, but I can assure you I will be by the end of the week.

Jeremy Vine: Well good. It's an Order In Council saying the company can't supply more than a thousand homes, and it's - I guess you ought to pick up the phone and talk to Patricia Hewitt at the Department of Trade and Industry.

Margaret Beckett: Well, I have to find out what the position is, but where I agree with the remarks that Jonathan Porrit made in your film, I think he was a bit too pessimistic, but he's absolutely right that we have to, and we are, work with the Department of Trade & Industry, and the Department of Transport; we have a joint goal to try and tackle these issues.

Jeremy Vine: But there's a perception here isn't there that because you're environment, and because it's low in the pecking order, for all those historic reasons, they don't cut you enough slack, and so this rule has come in, and they never asked you about it.

Margaret Beckett: Er, well, er, I, I, there are a number of things there that I would dispute, but let me move on to what Digby Jones said, which I thought was extremely interesting because I totally and wholeheartedly share his view that one of the problems that we have generally, not - now within government, generally, is that people have been so anxious to communicate the fact that there is a real problem with climate change, which there definitely is, that we've rather overlooked the real opportunities that come with tackling that problem.

I entirely applaud what Digby said about the way this can be used to drive innovation, to tackle some of these issues, in ways which can create new industries and new jobs, and I genuinely do think this is an agenda we have to move on to much more.

Jeremy Vine: Just before we move off Woking specifically, to get it on the record for you, you will have a look at the technical order in council, that is stopping the expansion of that firm and others.

Margaret Beckett: Yes, I will.

Jeremy Vine: Thank you very much. Tell us then, on the wider point, what you make of the accusation that the government is, is green when it suits it, but not when environmental concerns collide with market place considerations.

Margaret Beckett: I have somewhat mixed feelings about it, in that I'm very much in favour of people keeping up the pressure for us in the UK and outside it, to do more, because there isn't any question we do all, need to do more, but it's really a rather confined picture, to sort of talk about - oh there's just a problem in the UK. Recently, we've seen from reports of studies in Hawaii where they've been following this for about fifty years, that over the whole of the Northern Hemisphere, we saw a slight up-turn in carbon dioxide emissions, over the last couple of years. Now that's very alarming, but it isn't just an issue for the UK. It does mean we have to try and do more, but it also means we have to take a lot of others with us.

Jeremy Vine: But Mr Blair has recently said, it is urgent, it requires global leadership, but he said, we cannot aspire to such leadership, unless we are seen to be following our own advice; so he wants us to be special in some way. Now if you just look at the ...

Margaret Beckett: (overlap) Every, every other country, and every other government in the world by the way, believes that Britain is already achieving that. It's only here in the UK that people question it. Go on.

Jeremy Vine: Well one reason for questioning it might be, and - bring in another of your Cabinet colleagues here, Alistair Darling; he rather likes aircrafts flying around the place, he doesn't restrain flying. We've got cheap flights, we've got tax breaks for airlines, we got expanding airports, that all runs counter to the kind of thing you'd like to see, doesn't it.

Margaret Beckett: But if you think back to our aviation White Paper, which was of course Alistair's White Paper, but we were consulted about it; we do explicitly say in that white paper, that one of the things that we would like to see happen is aviation emissions, part of the European trading scheme, which we hope we will be getting just at the end of this year, and that is very much a goal for our Presidency of the EU, which comes in the second half of next year, and that will be the first time anywhere in the world, that people have tried to take account of emissions from aviation, which we all accept, is a big factor.

Jeremy Vine: But meanwhile we're expanding airports and there are more cheap flights.

Margaret Beckett: Well, if you look at the potential demand for aviation, you will see that what the government tried to do in the Aviation White Paper, as we continually do, is to get a balance between what is not damaging economically, but also what is not damaging environmentally. Now that inevitably means that you disappoint people at both ends of the spectrum.

The people who want unbridled economic opportunity, are critical because you're holding back on them, the people who want nothing to be done, that could ever be conceivably said to harm the environment, don't want economic expansion. It's for a government to try and steer a course between those two.

Jeremy Vine: But that doesn't really fit with Mr Blair's rhetoric does it, when he talks about climate change being the single most important long-term issue that we face as a global community. You don't make compromises with that.

Margaret Beckett: Well, yes you do have to, to some degree, and let me tell you why. In the UK, what we have managed to do, since the early 1990s, is to grow our economy massively, but cut our emissions and green house gases, and indeed of carbon dioxide.

Jeremy Vine: Not since '97. Not since you were elected.

Margaret Beckett: Well, we cut our green house gas emissions - there's a lot of misunderstanding about this. People make claims that we're not on track for our Kyoto target, absolute nonsense, we've already exceeded it. But there is a particular problem with one of the green house gases, which is carbon dioxide, and that's where we set ourselves a more stringent domestic target, and where we have to do more.

But if I can come back for a second; one of the most important lessons that we have to try and learn, and that we have to communicate to the rest of the world, is that you can tackle the problems of climate change, without having to sacrifice everything you aim for in economic growth, because across the world, there are growing, developing countries, India, China, to name but two, where they passionately need to lift their people out of poverty, but also they have huge problems with climate change.

If the message to them is for the sake of the planet, where people have to stay in poverty and degradation forever, the ears will be closed, and it isn't true either, because as Digby Jones said, there are real opportunities, there are ways that I believe human ingenuity can find, to solve these problems, and that's why the Prime Minister is absolutely right to say, it's an issue on which international leadership is required, and I come back to the point I made to you a moment ago, everywhere else in the world, people believe Britain is supplying it.

Jeremy Vine: Stay with us, we're going to hear from Soutra Hill Wind Farm, which is in Scotland, which has twenty six turbines, and our reporter David Eyre is there. David, is Scotland bracing itself for more wind farms.

Into wind farm package

Jeremy Vine: Margaret Beckett, back to you. How do you deal with that position, which is likely isn't it if you try to build more wind farms on shore, in England for example.

Margaret Beckett: Well, much of the wind farm development we think will probably be off shore, but we do have to look at that. We do have to try much harder than has been the case in the past, to develop wave power and see whether that is something that can also come alongside it.

But you know, first of all, I suspect I mean now, we look at windmills, you know the old kind, the Dutch kind if you like, with the wind sails and so on, and people think how lovely they are, they're part of our heritage, I suspect that when they were first put up, there was just the same furore.

But one thing that people I think do have to understand is that it is necessary to tackle the problems of climate change and that, that means yes, real opportunities, new jobs, new industries for the future; it also may mean some unpalatable choices. And if not wind farms, then what.

Jeremy Vine: Are you happy with the idea that wind farm companies may offer sweeteners to local communities, to get planning permission, they may offer them goodies, so that local people say oh well, we'll drop our opposition to it.

Margaret Beckett: Well, as I understand it, most of the evidence is that in communities where there are existing wind farms, people are okay with it. It's people where there aren't wind farms (interjection) who don't like them.

Now I'm not aware of any evidence that this is because they've been offered sweeteners, and certainly a few years down the road, from when the development is first proposed, that's very unlikely to be the case.

I think what happens is that there's a natural resistance to change, it doesn't have to be a wind farm. If you got a house, and it's overlooking a lovely field, and somebody says, I want to come along and put some more houses there, you're likely to say, you're taking away my lovely field.

Jeremy Vine: (overlaps) And what do you say to someone ...

Margaret Beckett: ... but we all recognise we all have to make progress.

Jeremy Vine: What do you say to somebody, sorry to interrupt, exactly, looking at their lovely field from their house in, somewhere in England, where they never thought they were going to have to see a wind farm, suddenly gets told, sorry, we're saving the planet, you need to have a wind farm out the back of your house. What do you say to them.

Margaret Beckett: It depends on where they are. If for example they're on one of England's or Scotland's coasts, they may find that the other choice is that their farm, their lovely field disappears under the sea. These are problems that are not going to go away. The impact of climate change is built in from what we did in the last hundred years, and we have to tackle it. And if not wind farms, then what - nuclear power station? Would they be any happier to see that.

Jeremy Vine: What about the US - let's move finally to the United States and of course Mr Blair is on his way there. America is the world's biggest polluter and we know that George Bush doesn't share very much of, of your analysis of the problem. Doesn't Mr Blair need to change his mind.

Margaret Beckett: I don't think that's entirely true. I think that when President Bush first came to power, and bear in mind that before he was elected first time round, the Senate had unanimously rejected the idea of signing the Kyoto protocol, so this is not just an issue with this administration, it has been an issue with public opinion and political opinion in the United States, although there are signs that that is changing. And one of the first things that President Bush did, was to commission a report from the American National Academy of Science, saying, is this science sound, and the answer was a resounding yes.

And things have been changing, not fast enough, but changing in the United States ever since, and if you go in to some of the states, particularly with the seaboard states and California and New York, states often which have Republican governors, you find not only an acceptance and an understanding that this is a problem, but a determination that they are going to start taking steps to deal with it, whatever the federal government does.

Jeremy Vine: But individual states can't sign the Kyoto Protocol, and lots of people who are in the know in this, say that that's just the starting point for countries that are trying to turn their policies around. After everything that Britain's done in the last two years with the USA, can't Mr Blair at least bring Mr Bush on board, on Kyoto.

Margaret Beckett: I think one of the things that is well understood in the United States is that for something like a year or more, Mr Blair has been saying that come the New Year, when Britain takes over the Presidency of the G8, climate change, along with the problems in poverty in Africa, are going to be our top two priorities.

He has made it crystal clear privately, with the US administration, and publicly, in the speeches he's made in the United States and elsewhere, that this is a major issue, and a top priority, and you're right that individual States can't sign the Kyoto protocol, but California for example, is something like the 6th biggest polluter in the world, just on its own; so action which is taken in the states, can in itself make a difference, and of course if what we get is a kind of bottom up movement in the United States, particularly now the Kyoto protocol is ratified by the Russians, and will come in to force in the next ninety days, that I think can potentially make a real difference.

Jeremy Vine: Okay.

Margaret Beckett: Not least because many opponents of tackling climate change in the United States have believed up to now, that the Kyoto protocol would never come in to force (interjects), it's the first step, but it's a very important one.

Jeremy Vine: Margaret Beckett, Environment Secretary, thank you very much indeed for your time to-day.

NB:This transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.

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The next Politics Show will be on Sunday, 14 November at 12.10.

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