Chris Huhne’s speech to Liberal Democrat conference

One abiding set of values that all Liberal Democrats share is a respect for our environment, natural systems and sustainability.

With this conference’s backing, we will hold course to be the greenest government ever.

No more, no less.

But are we still on course?

Well, I can hardly pick up a Tory paper these days without a whinge about energy and climate change policies.

It’s been nip and tuck between Vince and me in recent months to win an unpopularity poll – that’s on Conservativehome among Tory activists.

So as we assert Lib Dem values within government, we must be doing something right – or is it Left?

Personally, I have no doubt that climate change is one of the greatest challenges we face.

But if you are facing a pay squeeze or even worse a lost job, if your pay packet no longer buys what you need, people understandably put other priorities higher up the scale.

As always during hard times, every other issue pales into insignificance besides the big issues of earning your living.

Keeping your job.

Making ends meet.

But cutting carbon is not a luxury to be ditched when the going gets tough.

It is essential to the survival of mankind as a species.

The science is ever more clear.

Cutting carbon is also a vital part of our recovery from the deepest recession since 1929.

Then we had David Lloyd George’s Yellow Book: now we have Green Growth.

In the thirties, we did not create new jobs by bringing back the textiles, coal and iron jobs that were lost.

We created new jobs in new industries.

And the same is happening today.

Every month, more than 300,000 people leave the unemployment register to find new jobs.

Thousands of those jobs are now in the low carbon economy. It is our route to recovery. Green business is good business.

There are now a million jobs in low carbon goods and services in Britain, and they are growing rapidly.

New jobs in cars, where Nissan will produce the all-electric Leaf at Sunderland with a £5,000 premium for each car from our government.

New jobs in energy saving, where our Green Deal, launched next October, is set to create 250,000 jobs across the nation, up from 27,000 now.

With the Green Deal, we are stopping the scandal where we use more energy to heat our homes than in Sweden, despite their icy winters.

Saving money that can be spent at home on British jobs, not foreign gas.

And I am proud to announce that our party is putting our principles into practice.

Every single Liberal Democrat council has now signed up to pioneer the Green Deal.

New jobs too in renewable energy, where we are determined to be the fastest improving pupil in class – having started from being 25th out of the 27 EU member states.

Onshore wind farms that are now the cheapest form of renewable electricity.

Offshore wind farms that are setting the standard for the world.

New jobs in heating, where our Renewable Heat Incentive is a world-beating first.

Saving power by drawing heat from the air and the ground.

And from our woodland, where we use only a tenth of the sustainable timber we could produce.

New jobs in nuclear too, without a penny of public subsidy.

And providing that we stick to the strictest safety standards in the world, and learn the lessons of Fukushima.

And new jobs in coal and gas plants, as we provide them with a long-term future through capturing and storing their carbon.

All told, energy investment will be £200 billion in the next ten years, double the normal amount as we replace Britain’s ageing power stations.

Our Electricity Market Reforms will mean three quarters of our electricity comes from low carbon sources by 2030.

Funded in part by the world’s first Green Investment Bank.

When people ask where is the demand coming from to power the economic recovery, tell them its clean energy.

It’s energy saving.

It’s low carbon transport.

It’s the new green industrial revolution.

Now, some people argue that we should not be pushing low carbon business, because no-one else is.


Look at China, with six of the biggest renewable companies in the world.

Installing wind turbines across the South China Sea.

Building 28 nuclear power stations in the time it will take us to build one.

Building 10,000 miles of high speed rail in the time we will take to go from London to Birmingham.

Covering 40 per cent of the Chinese population with low carbon economy zones.

If that’s doing nothing, then climate sceptics have a weird idea of zero.

The real risk is not doing too much.

It is doing too little.

And getting left behind.

Other people argue that we cannot afford to boost the low carbon economy.

It would be cheaper, they say, to rely only on oil and gas.

To say it is to laugh at it.

World gas – and hence electricity – prices have leapt by a third thanks to Libya and far eastern growth.

Global factors.

So we should surely try to limit our dependence on oil and gas, not increase it.

Particularly as our own North Sea resources are running down.

In the storm-tossed seas we have to sail, low carbon energy gives us security.



British energy consumers will on average be better off in 2020 thanks to our low carbon policies. Yes, I said better off.

Getting off the oil and gas price hook and onto clean, green energy makes sense.

And with energy saving, we can offset the effects of higher prices and end up with lower bills.

In one generation, we will go from fossil fuel smokestack to low carbon cash back.

But there is hardship now, and we are determined to help.

Higher energy bills hurt.

None of us should have to save on warmth in a cold winter.

Some of the most vulnerable and elderly will shiver – and worse- if we do not help.

That is why this Government is boosting by two-thirds the discounts to help people in fuel poverty.

Why our Warm Homes Discount is a statutory scheme, not a grace and favour handout relying on energy companies’ good will.

That is also why this Government will make those in fuel poverty a top priority for the Green Deal, helped by our ECO subsidy.

Improving people’s homes cuts fuel poverty forever, while a discount only cuts fuel poverty for a year.

Year after year, fuel poverty rose under Labour.

Now we are helping the poor where Labour flannelled.

We are acting where Labour talked.

We are delivering where Labour failed.

But it is not just the fuel poor who need help.

Today I can announce a new package to help the hard-pressed consumer this winter and every winter.

We are determined to get tough with the big six energy companies to ensure that the consumer gets the best possible deal.

We want simpler tariffs.

Requiring energy companies to tell you whether you could buy more cheaply on another tariff.

And you can save real money.

Ofgem, the independent regulator, calculates that the average household could save £200 by switching to the lowest cost supplier – but fewer than one in seven households do so.

Britain privatised the energy companies, but most consumers never noticed. Contrary to The Times’ report, I neither said nor meant that this was laziness. It is just that consumers still think that they face the same bill whoever they go to.

So I want to help households save money.

With simpler charging.

Clearer bills.

Quicker switching.

I also want more consumer-friendly firms – co-ops, partnerships, consumer charities – dedicated to doing the shopping around for consumers to make sure that you are always on the best deal, even if you do not have time to check yourself.

Ofgem should also have new powers to secure redress for consumers – money back for bad behaviour.

Ofgem is already stamping out bad doorstep practices that lead to energy mis-selling, with the guilty companies suffering swingeing fines.

And we will stop the energy companies from blocking action by Ofgem, which can delay matters by a year.

I remember when I was on the board of Which? the Consumers’ Association that the best guarantee of a good deal is more competition for your pound.

We want to encourage new small companies to come into the market.

Cutting red tape so they can grow bigger.

Making it easier for them to buy and sell electricity in the wholesale market.

And with Ofgem, we are cracking down on any bad practice that could smack of being anti-competitive.

It’s not fair that big energy companies can push their prices up for the vast majority of their consumers – who do not switch – while introducing cut-throat offers for new customers that stop small firms entering the market.

That looks to me like predatory pricing.

It must and will stop.

Labour and Ed Miliband had thirteen years to get this market right, and all they can do now is call for another inquiry by the Competition Commission.

Another delay of two years.

Another chance to sit on the fence.

How feeble!

We know what’s wrong.

And with Ofgem, we are getting tough to put it right.

John Donne once said that no man is an island entire unto himself, and no government in this complex and interdependent world is entire unto itself.

National sovereignty’s historic writ does not run over so many issues that matter to every family in this country.

National frontiers do not bar toxic waste, sulphur or carbon.

That is why we must always work with our partners in Europe – and more widely – to secure our objectives, nowhere more clearly than on environmental issues.

The European Union is also key to our prosperity.

The Eurozone takes nearly half our exports.

We export more to Ireland alone than to China, India and Brazil put together.

Being part of Europe is not a political choice. It is a geographical reality.

It always was. And until the tectonic plates break up, it always will be.

We will not, as Liberal Democrats in government, weaken the ties that deliver our national interest through Europe.

Let me make another point about our Coalition.

Whatever we think of the Conservative campaign in the alternative vote referendum, and I for one thought that the vilification of Nick was appalling, for Liberal Democrats compromise is not and cannot be a dirty word.

Finding common ground.

Uniting in joint purpose.

Partnership politics.

That is what we had to do – Conservatives and Liberal Democrats – to get this country out of the economic danger zone.

Many countries that have suffered from the debt crisis since then – Portugal, Spain, Italy – had smaller budget deficits than us.

Yet we can borrow money at lower rates than at any time in three hundred years.

This coalition government saved Britain’s credit standing by compromise.

The danger if you don’t compromise is now clear from America.

There the markets looked over the brink when the mad-cap Republican right in Congress would not compromise with the President.

Let that be a warning to the Conservative right here: we need no Tea Party Tendency in Britain.

If you fail to compromise, if you fail to seek the common ground that unites us, if you insist that only you have the answers, if you keep beating the anti-European drum, if you slaver over tax cuts for the rich, then you will put in peril the most crucial achievement of this Government.

You will wreck the nation’s economy and common purpose.

We are all in this together and we can’t get out of it alone.

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