Local residents quiz Lib Dems on support for a green economy
24 September 2012
Last night saw a lively debate during the RSPB’s question time event being run alongside the Liberal Democrat Party Conference taking place in Brighton, with a local audience asking MPs to prove their environmental commitment.
The event, Economy and environment: Hand-in-hand?, was chaired by the Guardian’s environment correspondent Fiona Harvey.
Dr Mike Clarke, Chief Executive of the RSPB was joined on the panel by David Heath MP, Minister for Agriculture, Stephen Gilbert MP, Parliamentary Party Secretary to Ed Davey MP (Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change) and Cllr Steve Bradley of the Green Lib Dems.
The event focused on the words of Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, who said earlier in the year that he believes our future wealth depends on protecting the natural environment.
This was a chance for local people to ask the panel whether the government’s economic and environmental agendas reflect this and really go ‘hand in hand’.
After a showing of the RSPB Stepping up For Nature film, there was a chance for the panel to outline the role the Liberal Democrats have to play in putting the environment at the heart of government.
The debate was then opened up to the floor with a question from Simon Biddle of West Sussex.
He was concerned about how we can protect Agri-Environment Schemes which support wildlife friendly farming alongside food production. He asked: “How can UK agriculture produce food sustainably without further damaging biodiversity?”
David Heath MP responded by voicing his concerns around the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and saying that he was ‘seriously worried we might find ourselves going into reverse on this issue’. However he gave assurances he was ‘determined to what I can to make sure that doesn’t happen.’
He said: “When farmers are producing a public good, and biodiversity and environmental protection is a public good, then we should reward them for doing that.”
Next up was Sacha Shaw of East Sussex who asked about the environmental advantages of offshore wind farms versus the disadvantages. This raised some interesting discussions around energy production and use.
Stephen Gilbert MP responded: “We face a choice in this country. How are we going to generate the electricity that we need. Do we want to do it in a way that protects our grandchildren by using the very best renewable technology, do we want to look at carbon capture and storage, or do we do it in a way that’s exploiting and denying future generations the ability to take the choices for themselves because we today will use the resources with a devil may care approach.”
David Heath MP stated: “The only way of meeting energy demand, that doesn’t involve difficult choices in terms of pros and cons and benefits and disadvantages, is reducing our use of energy.”
The debate then addressed the decline in young people’s connection with nature.
Jenny Sweet of Brighton raised the issue of how politicians can tackle the emerging ‘nature deficit disorder’ amongst children.
Cllr Steve Bradley took this up, referring to urban areas and the need to invite nature back by creating wildlife corridors and providing day to day access to good quality nature.
He said: “Education in schools has a huge role to play……..but there is no substitute for physical engagement with nature. There’s a piece of work to be done around parks and commons so they become less flat land and better for nature.”
There was also a question in response the motion passed earlier in the day by party members rejecting major aviation expansion in the south east and what this means for proposals such as a Thames Estuary Airport.
Cllr Steve Bradley answered by saying: “We need to look to reduce our need for air travel………we need to get business engaged a lot more with alternative ways of doing what they do.”
He went on to talk about the improvement in technology such as video conferencing and the need to push these forms to reduce business travel.
He also talked about the need for a shift from flights within the UK to other forms of transport. He acknowledged there isn’t a level playing field when it comes to taxes on fuel and said: “I would like to see us charge normal tax on aviation fuel. I would even go further, I would suggest that there should be a tax on any flights where there are very viable alternative rail options.”
Reflecting on the evening, Chris Corrigan, RSPB south east regional director, said: “This was a great opportunity for local people to speak up for their environment, and it was great to see local residents put these and other questions to MPs to ensure the Lib Dems – as a party of government act as a strong green voice within government so that it lives up to its promise to be ‘the greenest government ever’.
“The south east in particular is under huge pressure for development but it is vital that this is done in a sustainable way. Getting the UK’s economy back on track does not mean we have to sacrifice our natural environment; in fact it is critical to our future wealth. Economic recovery and environmental protection can and must go hand-in-hand.”
To see edited highlights of the evening go to:http://youtu.be/xcXDx6C1ZMI