Margaret Beckett – 1985 Speech on Housing Benefit

Below is the text of the speech made by Margaret Beckett, the then Labour MP for Derby South, in the House of Commons on 27 June 1985.

I beg to move,

That this House condemns the Government’s record on Housing Benefit which brought administrative chaos when it was introduced and has since been repeatedly cut with the result that pensioners and poorer families have been deprived of essential help with housing costs; and opposes further proposals in the social security reviews which would bring further cuts and greater poverty.

The history of housing benefit has been one of the most extraordinary—and and that is saying something—in the lifetime of this Government. The Government have been warned consistently about the structure of the benefit itself and about the problems created by the timing of the changes that they propose. Consistently, the Government have ignored the warnings and now, in their amendment, they blandly try to take credit for simplifying the system that they introduced. I shall look first at the proposals that the Government have laid before us and then briefly at their record in this area.

Housing benefit highlights the absurdity of the Government’s pretence in the Green Paper, that no figures are available for the changes that they have discussed. Not only have examples been given of a joint taper of 70 per cent. that might be proposed, but we have been told what losses or cuts the Government expect to make from their housing benefit proposals. They expect to save some £500 million.

On the basis of the 70 per cent. example given in the Green Paper, I understand that a pensioner couple on about £75 a week would lose the whole of their present rebate of almost £5. Similarly, a married couple with two children on £110 a week, which is not a large sum by anybody’s standards, would also lose all or most of their present rebate, again of almost £5. Those are substantial sums for people on such incomes, particularly for those who are trying to raise children.

One of the first things that we hope to hear from the Government in the debate is whether those figures are accurate and how great the damage to claimants will be. The Government know that they will save £500 million but they claim that they do not know who will contribute to the savings. They do not know how they will contribute to the savings or how much each particular group will lose in order to make that contribution. My first question is: is there any further titbit of information that the Under-Secretary can give us about the numbers of gainers and losers? If not, why not? If not, the unworthy thought occurs to us that it may be because of the contrast between the review team’s proposals and those of the Government, and perhaps more because of the effects of the review team’s proposals.

In the recommendations from the carefully selected group that carried out the review, we were told that about one third of those who get housing benefits would lose, although about one quarter — a smaller, but still substantial, number—might gain. However, when the review team suggested that there might be somewhat more losers than gainers, and that that was the order of magnitude, it was on the basis that the same money would be available from the scheme as a whole, and that there ​ would be separate rent and rates tapers. Even with those provisos, the review team identified losses for what was reckoned to be 3 million people who now receive housing benefits.

The Government are not making the same proposals. They are proposing not nil-cost changes, but changes that will save at least £500 million. Nor are the Government proposing separate rent and rates tapers—they are going for a joint taper. On rebates alone, it looks as if the Government’s proposals will mean losses for 5 million people. On rent and rate rebates, it looks likely that about 7 million people will suffer losses in their housing benefit.

If those figures are incorrect, we should be happy to learn from the Minister what the real figures are, but the Government’s reluctance so far to give us any information makes us suspect that those figures may be accurate. Of the 5 million to 7 million people who will lose benefit, it has been estimated that between 1 million and almost 2 million will lose all entitlement to any housing benefit.

That brings me to the second question that I should like to ask the Minister, which is in two parts. First, I noticed that on Monday his hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security said in a reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) that the £500 million savings that the Government hope to gain may be drawn over a period. The first thing that we want to know is, what period?

Secondly, what we should most like to know is whether the £500 million savings quoted by the Secretary of State include the savings from the proposal that claimants pay at least 20 per cent. of their rates. It has been estimated that taking 20 per cent. of rates from claimants would bring in some £250 million. If that is part of the £500 million, we accept that it is a substantial part of it, although we would argue that it is an unjust proposal. However, if it is not part of the £500 million, it means that we are talking about savings of some £750 million, an increase of 50 per cent. on the savings that the Government have admitted, so far, that they wish to make.

We are talking about enormous sums—more than the Government have already saved in the many cuts that they have made in housing benefit in the past couple of years. The savings through the 20 per cent. of rates proposal will be more than the Chancellor tried to cut from housing benefit in July 1983, just after a general election campaign in which he told us how terrific our economic performance was, and that roses and gaiety were around the corner. Sadly, only a month or so later, he had to introduce cuts in housing benefit. We are talking about even greater cuts than those.

These large savings do not result from the recommendations of the Government’s review body, and this applies particularly to the proposal to take 20 per cent. “at least”, to use the Government’s phraseology, in rates. The review body said:

“100 per cent. help with housing costs for those on the lowest incomes is the only fair way of meeting their needs within the present vagaries of the housing market.”

We wholeheartedly support that view.

We know that the Government intend to remove help with water rates while at the same time, with another hat on, they are forcing up the water rates. Is there any intention to offer any recompense to those claimants who will be asked to pay 20 per cent. of their rates, even at the level of the rough justice of an average figure, which will be disadvantageous to those in areas with high rates?

Apart from the proposals to take 20 per cent. of rates from claimants, we also oppose the severity of the proposed rate taper. Here, both the Government and the review team are guilty of peculiar logic. In the phrase much beloved of the Government, they say that the rate taper goes too far up the income scale. Their justification for that is that it goes further up the income scale than the rate taper. However, the only reason for that is the Government’s cuts in April 1983, April 1984 and November 1984. They have used the cuts that they made to justify further cuts in the rate taper.

The proposal for such a combined sharp taper will hit most the least well off owner-occupiers who get help only with their rates, and who so often figure among those groups for whom the Government claim to have concern. Again, the Government and the review team part company. The review team proposed to sharpen the rates taper. Although we question its logic in doing so, it also proposed that some form of what one could call rent rebate—in other words, some other help—should be available to all owner-occupiers, so that the impact of the reduced rate rebate that it proposed would have been diminished. Characteristically, the Government have taken the proposal for cuts and left out the proposal for improvement. Once again, one of their hand-picked review teams has gone too far and been too generous for the Government’s liking.

It seems that the Government may further restrict the entitlement of those on supplementary benefit for help with mortgages, although they must be aware that that is bound to lead to an increase in the number of evictions. I understand that the number of people in serious arrears, which was running at 8,400 in 1979, rose to 29,000 last year. That is under a Government who claim to be devoted to encouraging owner-occupation. Proposals such as those that the Government are making can only lead to these figures rising, and to increases in evictions.

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

Is it not a fact that in 1984, according to building society figures, there were 11,000 repossessions? A number of those people will find themselves on the homeless lists, and a number will come under board and lodgings regulations. The Government had to admit this week that they had got those regulations wrong. Is there not a strong possibility that they have also got this proposal wrong?

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend is correct, and it is an unfortunate feature of the Government’s housing and social security policies that they continually create conditions of whose affects they then complain.

Another action proposed by the Government that will create substantial disadvantages is the proposal to remove from local authorities the discretion they have to give greater help to particular groups. As local authorities seem mostly to exercise, that discretion to the benefit of groups such as widows and war pensioners, about whom the Government claim to be concerned, this is a strange proposal for the Government to introduce. How many gainers and losers will there be from the proposals to remove that discretion from local authorities?

How many gainers and losers are there likely to be from the effects of removing the extra help available for those in high-rent areas? I seem to recall that last March, when we were discussing the changes that the Government were then making in the proposals for high rents, some 120,000 ​ people were being affected. Presumably, those people are likely to be affected, all of them for the worse, by the Government’s proposals and in some areas undoubtedly substantial sums could be involved for the individuals who will be affected.

All these proposals are particularly disgraceful because they follow the removal of the Government’s general subsidy, which has forced up rents. We are horrified and appalled at the thought that the Government are likely to try to take as much as £500 million from housing benefit. Since 1979, they have already taken about £1,300 million from general subsidies for housing and councils’ housing revenue accounts. This follows the pattern identified by my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes).

When the Government began this process of cutting the general subsidy to housing accounts, they gave reasons that may sound remarkably familiar. They said that it was better to cut the general subsidy because then they would be able to target help on the poorest through housing benefit. Having cut the general subsidy, and increased rents so that more people were forced to draw housing benefit, they then forgot about targeting help on the poorest, and said that, as too many people were claiming housing benefit, that would be cut.

In these circumstances, it is no wonder that not only the Labour party but all who are on benefits regard the Government’s talk about targeting and efficiency with considerable cynicism. They know that targeting and efficiency, may be the buzz words for cuts this year, but next year and the year after the Government will have different buzz words, although they will be pursuing the same policy.

Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)

Does the hon. Lady concede that the purpose of social benefit is to help those in most need and that therefore targeting is worth while if the system is to be effective?

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Gentleman has fallen prey to a delusion common to Conservative Members. The words he used, and the description he gave, have been given for every mean-minded poor law system since time began. The idea of the welfare state is not what the hon. Gentleman identifies.

Mr. Gale

The hon. Lady is ducking the question.

Mrs. Beckett

I am not ducking the question. I am not surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not understand, because the policies of his Government show every sign not only of a lack of understanding but of their wish to destroy the welfare state. The whole point of the welfare state is that it is for everybody—everybody pays as much as he can when he can, and everybody should have the right to draw when he has a need. That is what the welfare state is about, and it is because it is about everybody being able to draw to the extent that he needs when he has need that it is more expensive. The welfare state is not just for the poorest.

Surely the Government are not claiming that, under them, anybody who has need can draw benefit. Over 1 million people have lost entitlement to housing benefit since 1983. These people had need and were drawing benefit and they have lost the money only because the Government have made cuts so that they could give more ​ away in tax handouts to the wealthy. If the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) does not understand that, he does not understand the welfare state.

Mr. Gale

Answer the question.

Mrs. Beckett

I have answered the question. The hon. Gentleman does not understand anything about the welfare state or the reasons why most people attach such value to it. Fortunately, it is a loss that will cost him and his party dear.

Over the past couple of years, the Government have taken 1 million people out of housing benefit entitlement. The numbers of claimants have grown only because of the failure of the Government’s economic and housing policies—a failure that, characteristically, they blame on everybody but themselves. However, the penalty for that failure they exact from claimants. The Government’s proposals are also likely to cause problems for local authorities.

The subsidies for housing benefit, now 100 per cent., though less in some cases, will be cut to 80 per cent. From what we can discover — the Government give no justification—this is an arbitrary figure. As I am sure the Minister is aware, local authorities believe that this will mean substantial cuts in the sums made available to them. Will local authorities lose money, because of the change in the subsidy offered to them? If so, what is the justification?

Local authorities will lose the 60 per cent. grant that they were given towards the cost of administering the scheme—yet another flagrant breach of an undertaking which the Government gave only a couple of years ago, when the scheme was introduced. This is another extraordinary example of how the Government are proceeding. In the same Green Paper, the Government have reduced the money local authorities receive in subsidies for administration and they have had the cheek to say that claimants have got to pay at least 20 per cent. of rates to encourage them to press authorities to reduce the costs that the Government have just increased by the proposed administrative changes. Not the least of these is the burden of collecting the 20 per cent. deduction from, I understand, some 2·5 million households. The Government then have the unmitigated gall to tell local authorities that they are reducing this 60 per cent. subsidy, not—perish the thought—just to save money, but to

“provide a greater incentive to local authorities to contain costs and improve efficiency”.

The local authorities are less than amused by the gall of the Government. Local authorities never wanted the housing benefits scheme as it was introduced, and they have consistently told the Government that they have not been allowed enough time or enough funds to run the scheme properly. The permanent secretary to the Minister’s Department admitted that to the House recently. The Government have now taken the subsidy away from the local authorities, they say to encourage local authorities to improve efficiency. This is similar to the nonsense that we heard about the National Health Service, and it is equally unwelcome.

The justification which is continually cited for cutting housing benefit is that benefit is paid too far up the income scale. May I remind the Minister again—we cannot get this on record too often — that, for those who pay ​ average rents, all entitlement to benefit for a two-child family is lost at more than £40 below average national wages. Those who live in areas where rents are higher have had rents forced up, but they receive housing benefit above that level, perhaps even up to average wages. I assure the Minister that those people would be only too pleased if the Government were to restore the housing subsidies cut so that their rents could be cut and hence there was no need for them to claim housing benefit, only to be abused by the Government for doing so.

We condemn the effects of the proposals in the Green Paper. We find it outrageous that the proposals are put before us in the Green Paper while we are in the middle of a consultation period — a consultation period of a whole four months. That was not excessive, one might have thought, for—what was it?—the most fundamental review since Beverage. But four months is too long for this Government to wait for their policies to come to the House to take effect.

The changes which the Government have proposed in the uprating—it may be an uprating in some benefits but the term is not justified for housing benefit—make exactly the same kind of reductions in rate support that are proposed in the Green Paper, or at least in some of the proposals. It is proposed in the Green Paper to reduce the rates taper to 21 per cent. on net income. However, in the November upratings, when the Government make the rate taper 13 per cent. on gross income, they will carry out the policy which they put forward for consultation in the Green Paper. That is one of the most controversial changes that they have put forward in terms of housing benefit. It is the change that bears hardest on owner-occupiers and it is likely to bear hardest on pensioner owner-occupiers. It was introduced in June, two weeks after the Green Paper, without any opportunity for consultation or reply.

I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm my figures. About 2 million households will lose money from the housing benefit changes and about 500,000 again will lose all entitlement to housing benefit. There is no need for those changes as part of the uprating because, in the scheme that preceded housing benefit, changes and tapers were not made customarily. In this case, they are merely yet another aspect of the Government’s desire to make cuts.

I believe that a pensioner couple who are paying £5 in rates a week can now get rate rebate on an income of up to £95 a week but that, from November, under the uprating of which the Secretary of State spoke so warmly today, they will cease to qualify for housing benefit on a gross income of £85 a week—£10 a week less. Many of those who are affected by these latest proposals are the same people who have lost rebates in every cut that the Government have made in the few months since the scheme was introduced, but this cut will be the steepest so far.

I notice—I ought to say this to save the Minister the trouble—that there are some small improvements in the housing benefit scheme. The Minister of State claimed credit for the increase in the dependent child addition, in response to a question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown). We occasionally give the Government the odd cheer, or perhaps even two cheers, but I do not think that the Government deserve even half a cheer for that. We are singularly bored with giving the Government any cheers for the increase in the child addition, as this is the third ​ time that it has been before the House. They give the addition, postpone it, take it away altogether and then decide to give it again. Every time they say that they will increase the child addition, they expect a fresh round of applause. Not tonight, I am afraid. That behaviour is typical of the Government’s approach to housing benefit, which befits the short title of the party to which they belong—it is a con.

We all know that the Government have made massive cuts in the sums available for housing support, whether through general housing subsidy or, once they managed to cut that, through housing benefit, which many families were forced to take in its place. They know, as do we, that pensioners and less well-off families are bearing the burden of cuts in housing support, but the Government merely increase the burden still more, complain about those who are still able to claim benefits and expect to be congratulated on their compassion.

The housing benefit scheme shows up the Government’s incompetence and callousness. The cuts that they are proposing in the November uprating and in the Green Paper will, I am afraid, inflict further damage on claimants. The only advantage is that the cuts may inflict so much damage that they will help us to remove the Government.

Margaret Beckett – 2019 Speech on Brexit

Below is the text of the speech made by Margaret Beckett, the Labour MP for Derby South, in the House of Commons on 1 April 2019.

I shall seek to be extremely brief, Mr Speaker, because I have been fortunate enough to catch your eye before on these matters.

One of the merits of last week’s indicative vote process was that the arguments for each option, and also the prime concerns, have become much clearer. Discussions on the proposal for a confirmatory ballot devised by my hon. Friends the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) and for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) revealed considerable reluctance to contemplate the longer extension, and hence the delay, that would be needed. I completely understand that reluctance, especially if, as may be, it would lead into the holding of Euro elections. But to me, that would be a price well worth paying for the sake of achieving the settlement that a confirmatory vote could produce, as it did with the Good Friday agreement. It may also be the price that we need to pay to allow enough scrutiny of the different options before us to provide the basis for a stable majority, not just a fleeting majority, in this House.

As it happens, I very seriously doubt that such a longer extension can be avoided in any event. The Government can only deliver either the Prime Minister’s deal or any other deal when the necessary legislation passes both Houses of this Parliament. That legislation is said to be ready, but, as the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) pointed out last week, the House has seen neither hide nor hair of it. I have heard that it is long, perhaps even 100 clauses, and that it is also complex—and it is obviously an extremely significant part of this process. But whenever it is mentioned, Ministers speak briefly and dismissively as if its passage is just a given thing that will be both brief and uncontentious. Frankly, I rather doubt that. So as we are likely to need a long extension anyway, for a whole variety of other reasons, why not take advantage of that reality to hold a confirmatory vote on the likely outcome of Brexit, whatever option ultimately emerges from these deliberations?

Lucy Powell (Manchester Central) (Lab/Co-op)

I agree with what my right hon. Friend is saying. Does she agree with me, though, that in order to get that long extension, the EU would need to be satisfied that this ​House has actually taken forward a view through a substantive, positive vote, and that otherwise—if we do not take that difficult step—we could just crash out with no deal?

Margaret Beckett

I agree that that would make it infinitely easier. The EU might be convinced of that on the basis of our wanting to hold such a vote, but I totally accept my hon. Friend’s point. This is all based on us trying, if humanly possible, to get such a deal.

Dr Murrison

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Margaret Beckett

I am trying to be brief, but all right.

Dr Murrison

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady. This country has had half a dozen or so referendums in recent years, and we have honoured the outcome of those referendums on each occasion. She is suggesting that we do not honour the outcome of the June 2016 referendum. If we do not honour the outcome of that referendum, are the public not entitled to ask why we should honour the outcome of the referendum that she is advocating or any other?

Margaret Beckett

I am sorry, but I utterly reject the notion that what I am proposing does not honour the outcome of the 2016 referendum, and I will come to the reason why I do not accept that for one second. We should take the step of a confirmatory vote whatever the deal or option that is finally agreed, or even if none is agreed, because whatever the hon. Gentleman may say, not one of the options before the House tonight or over the last few weeks was on the ballot paper in 2016—not one of them, including the Prime Minister’s deal.

Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon) (Lab)

My right hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, and I agree with her, but for a confirmatory referendum to take place, there needs to be a viable leave option on the ballot paper versus remain. Does she agree that those campaigning for a second referendum should support the other motions on the Order Paper that present a viable leave option—namely, a customs union and common market 2.0?

Margaret Beckett

I am happy to agree with my hon. Friend about that, but I hope it cuts both ways. I heard the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) say, “Of course, those who want a second referendum can come back to this some other time in legislation when all of this is done,” but it must be a two-way street.

Nick Boles

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Margaret Beckett

I am sorry, but I really must go on.

Nick Boles

She has referred to me.

Margaret Beckett

I did; all right.

Nick Boles

I will be brief. I just want to reassure the right hon. Lady of one thing. Last Wednesday I abstained on her motion, and I will abstain on it again tonight, as a gesture of good will towards it.

Margaret Beckett

I am duly grateful to the hon. Gentleman.

What is most often heard in these discussions is the argument that to hold a confirmatory vote would be not only wrong but undemocratic, which is the point ​that the hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) was trying to address. That argument is advanced both by those who believe that the view of the people has not changed and that they will still vote to leave—and, according to Mr Farage, by a bigger margin—and by those who fear that their view might have changed and who resist holding such a vote for that very reason. It seems to me that there is something mutually contradictory in those arguments.

We have heard a great deal about the resentment that would be felt by those who voted to leave, but I again ask Members to carefully consider the position in which this House would place itself if it is the case—I do not know one way or the other—that the British people do not now wish to leave the European Union. We are being invited to vote to take the UK out of the European Union even if it is now against the wishes of the British people, and to do so while refusing to give them the opportunity even to express such wishes. I fear we may find such a refusal difficult to defend, especially if the basis of our decision ends up being the Prime Minister’s deal, which will itself have been presented to this Parliament for decision more than once.

There is another dangerous argument being advanced: that we should leave, and if we do not like it, we can always rejoin. This House knows that if we leave, we lose the special opt-outs on the euro and Schengen that successive Governments have negotiated. Rejoining would put us in a very different place from remaining with the concessions that we have now.

I accept that, in a variety of ways, the alternatives proposed on today’s Order Paper by the Father of the House and others offer advantages over the Prime Minister’s proposal. I could live with any of them apart from the option of no deal, but I repeat: none of them was before the British people three years ago, and for that reason, if for no other, they should be asked for their view on the reality that is before them, rather than the fantasies they were spun in 2016.

Margaret Beckett – 2019 Speech on Brexit

Below is the text of the speech made by Margaret Beckett, the Labour MP for Derby South, in the House of Commons on 27 March 2019.

Negotiations succeed when no one gets everything they want but everyone gets something they want, and I hope that is the spirit in which we can approach today’s proceedings. This consultative process is too little and too late, but it is a lot better than carrying on as we were. We all owe a debt of gratitude to hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House who have striven to find proposals that could command wider support so that, finally, some alternative ideas are before the House, and I very much hope some common ground can be identified.

There is one vital thing that all these varied proposals have in common: not one of them reflects what the British people were told were the prospects before them when they cast their votes in 2016, and nor does the Prime Minister’s package, although that is not on the Order Paper. These differences from what was said to be on offer are substantial. The one key element that figures in each and every one of the proposed alternatives is the matter of sovereignty. It is key because all these proposals, including the Prime Minister’s, would mean that we follow EU laws and regulations without having any real say in their content.

In 1975, during the first referendum on our links with Europe, I campaigned against continuing those links, mainly because of the diminution of sovereignty they implied, but at least then we were not forfeiting sovereignty but sharing it. Today’s proposals mean we stand to lose our voice, our vote and our veto. Successive British Governments have used voice, vote and, occasionally, veto to considerable effect. We already have special deals all over the place. We do not have to be in the euro and we do not have to be a member of the borderless Schengen area. And we have helped to shape agreements within the EU and, as an EU member, across the world.

School students across the world recently went on to the streets to campaign against the threat to life on this planet, including the threat to the continued existence of the human race. Within the EU, the UK has played a substantial role over the years, under successive Governments, in pursuing these issues, and it was experiencing the influence that we could and did wield internationally in this sphere that finally and wholeheartedly convinced me of the value of our EU membership.

The Prime Minister’s deal and the various alternatives, one and all, surrender that shared sovereignty. They would make us rule takers without being, as we have been, influential rule makers. It is clear that many who voted leave have accepted the possible economic damage, of which they have been warned, as a price they are prepared to pay for the return of sovereignty, and I honour them for that stance, but sovereignty is not returning. In fact, we are sacrificing sovereignty for the sake of saying we are no longer a member of the EU. I recognise that such a deal may be all that is on offer, but to me it is inconceivable that its acceptance should be solely a matter for Members of this House. I genuinely have no idea what view the British people might take of these various compromises, and certainly many, including in this House, vehemently oppose their even being asked.​

Ever since the day of the second referendum result in 2016, a deluge of not only warnings but threats has come from those who take that view, forecasting unrest, civil disorder, greater division and a dramatic further reduction in the public’s trust in politics. But I invite colleagues who determinedly resist a confirmatory vote to look starkly at the full implications of what they are saying. They are willing, some are determined, to vote to terminate our membership of the European Union even if it may now be against the wishes of the majority of the British people. Consider the possible consequences for trust in politics or for social peace if this House forces an outcome on the people of this country that they no longer desire—that really would be the undemocratic, establishment stitch-up of all time.

We have all heard people say that the deals now available are worse than the one we now have as EU members, and some still say that, nevertheless, they still wish to leave. My mother would have called that cutting off your nose to spite your face, but if that is still the view of the majority, so be it. But how, in all conscience, can we alone in this House force through such a decision on their behalf without allowing them any say as to whether that is still their view?

David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con)

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Margaret Beckett

I am sorry, but I do not have time.

As with the Good Friday agreement, whatever emerges from these complex negotiations, the outcome should go back to the people for confirmation. The people started this process. They set a desired goal. It has proved far more difficult and tortuous than predicted, but we will now soon have a potential outcome. It is the people who should choose whether, on the terms now on offer, they still wish to proceed. Theirs should be the final decision on this, which is the first stage only of our withdrawal from the EU. With a clear conscience, I can look my constituents in the eye and tell them that that is the outcome that this House has secured. The European Union needs reform. Britain could play a key role in shaping it or we can just walk away and live with the consequences. But it is the British people who should now decide what comes next.

Margaret Beckett – 2017 Speech on Withdrawal from the EU

Below is the text of the speech made by Margaret Beckett in the House of Commons on 31 January 2017.

May I say at once that although I deeply regret the decision made by the British people, including in my constituency, to leave the EU, I do not seek to challenge it? I regret the opening remark made by the Secretary of State—I am sorry he is not here to hear me say this—that this debate is about whether or not we trust the British people. It is not about that; it is about whether we commence the process of implementing their decision, a process that will not be simple, easy or fast. It does no one any favours to pretend otherwise.

Although I accept that decision and I will vote for the Bill, I fear that its consequences, both for our economy and our society, are potentially catastrophic. I therefore hope that the practice of dismissing any calls, queries and concerns, however serious and well founded, as merely demonstrating opposition to the will of the British people will now cease, along with the notion that they would merely obstruct the process. Once we commence this process, there are serious and profound questions to address, and it helps nobody to cheapen it in that way.

A second practice I deplore is that of pretending that the question the public actually answered—whether to leave the European Union or to remain—is instead the question some leave campaigners would prefer them to have answered. I hear many claiming that the people voted to leave the single market—that they voted to leave the customs union. First, those were not the words on the ballot paper. Secondly, although we all have our own recollections of the debate, mine is that whenever we who campaigned to remain raised the concerns that if we were to leave the EU to end the free movement of people, we might, in consequence, find that we have to leave the single market, with massive implications for jobs and our economy, some leave campaigner would immediately pop up to assure the people that no such complications or problems were likely to arise and that we could have—

John Redwood rose—

Margaret Beckett

I am looking at one of them now. They would suggest that we could have our cake and eat it—that we could leave the EU not only without jeopardy to our economy, but even with advantage, because we could negotiate other trading relationships without any such uncomfortable ties.

John Redwood

Does the right hon. Lady not remember that the official leave campaign said that one of our main aims is to have many more free trade agreements with the rest of the world and that in order to do that of course we have to leave the single market customs union, because we are not allowed to undertake free trade? No, honestly I do not particularly recall that. I recall those in the leave campaign saying that we could have trading arrangements with a whole lot of other countries, and I am going to turn to that now. India was cited as one example, but I have the distinct impression that when the Prime Minister discussed these issues with the President of India she may have been advised that far from closing the immigration door, he would like to see it opened wider. Nor do I think a trade deal with China will be without any quid pro quo.

Wes Streeting (Ilford North) (Lab)

Further to that, does my right hon. Friend recall the International Development Secretary making the case to my constituents of Indian descent, of Bangladeshi descent and of Pakistani descent that leaving the EU would not only lead to future trade deals, but would improve immigration to this country from the Commonwealth? Does my right hon. Friend expect that promise to be delivered?

Margaret Beckett

I am extraordinarily grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, because not only do I recall it, but I originally had it in my speech, only to take it out on the grounds of time.

As for the United States, I am sure that the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, who, like me has had a degree of experience in complex international negotiations, is as conscious as I am that one of the first prerequisites is to listen to the words. It was not the President of the United States who said that Britain would be at the front of the queue, it was British politicians. What the President said was, “You’re doing great.” I do not take much comfort from that, especially coming as it does from a President whose motto is “America first.” I wholly share the fears that have been expressed, and that probably will be again in this debate, about the possibility of America’s companies wishing to exploit the healthcare market here or weaken our regulations on, for example, food safety.

The negotiations we will trigger with this Bill will be extraordinarily difficult and very time-consuming. I do not think for a second that they can be concluded within two years, and I do not think anybody who has ever negotiated anything would. It will therefore be vital to make allowance and preparations for possible transitional arrangements.

I am conscious of the time, so I shall make my final point. It is not clear whether the Prime Minister frightened the European Commission with her threat to devastate our tax base and, in consequence, all our public services, but she successfully frightened me. I do not believe—not for one second—that that is what the British people thought they were voting for. When this process is concluded, the European Parliament will have the right to vote on the outcome. If taking back control means anything, it must mean that this House enjoys the same right.

Margaret Beckett – 2015 Speech on Syrian Air Strikes


Below is the text of the speech made by Margaret Beckett, the former Foreign Secretary, in the House of Commons on 2 December 2015.

This debate centres on national security and the safety of our constituents. There will be differences of view within and between every party in this House. In good faith and conscience, Members will reach different conclusions. Anyone who approaches today’s debate without the gravest doubts, reservations and anxieties simply has not been paying attention. We are sent here by our constituents to exercise our best judgment—each our own best judgment. This is a debate of contradictions.

The terms of today’s motion, echoing the UN resolution are stern, almost apocalyptic, about the threat, which is described as

“an unprecedented threat to international peace and security”.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) said, the proposal before us amounts to only a relatively minor extension of the action that we are already undertaking. We have been asked to agree to act in both Iraq and Syria, precisely because that is what Daesh does, and its headquarters are in Syria. We have been asked to make a further contribution to an existing international effort to contain Daesh from extending the mayhem and bloodshed that accompany its every move even more widely across the middle east.

Serious questions have been raised, and I respect those who raise them. There is unease about ground forces. There is proper concern about the strategy and endgame, about the aftermath, and about rebuilding. Some say simply that innocent people are more likely to be killed. Military action creates casualties, however much we try to minimise them. Should we, on those grounds, abandon action in Iraq, although we undertake it at the request of the Iraqi Government, and it seems to have made a difference? Should we take no further action against Daesh, which is killing innocent people, and striving to kill more, every day of the week, or should we simply leave that to others? Would we make ourselves a bigger target for a Daesh attack? We are a target; we will remain a target. There is no need to wonder about it—Daesh has told us so, and continues to tell us so with every day that passes. We may as well take it not just at its word but, indeed, at its deeds. It has sought out our fellow countrymen and women to kill, including aid workers and other innocents. Whatever we decide today there is no doubt that it will do so again, nor is the consequence of inaction simply Daesh controlling more territory and land. We have seen what happens when it takes control. The treatment, for example, of groups such as the Yazidis, in all its horror, should surely make us unwilling to contemplate any further extension of Daesh-controlled territory. Inaction too leads to death and destruction.

Quite separately, there are those, not opposed in principle to action, who doubt the efficacy of what is proposed: coalition action which rests almost wholly on bombing, they say, will have little effect. Well, tell that to the Kosovans, and do not forget that if there had not been any bombing in Kosovo perhaps 1 million Albanian Muslim refugees would be seeking refuge in Europe. Tell that to the Kurds in Kobane who, if memory serves, pleaded for international air support, without which they felt they would lose control to Daesh. Tell them in Sierra Leone that military action should always be avoided because there would be casualties. Their state and their peace were almost destroyed. It was British military action that brought them back from the brink.

Of course, that military action took place in conjunction with political and diplomatic activity, and I share the view that it is vital that such activity is substantially strengthened. I was heartened by what the Prime Minister told us today. Our conference called for a United Nations resolution before further action, and we now have a unanimous Security Council resolution. Moreover, that resolution calls on member states in explicit and unmistakeable terms to combat the Daesh threat “by all means” and

“to eradicate the safe haven they have established”

in Iraq and Syria.

Although it speaks of the need to pursue the peace process, the UN resolution calls on member states to act now. Moreover, our French allies have explicitly asked us for such support. I invite the House to consider how we would feel, and what we would say, if what took place in Paris had happened in London and if we explicitly asked France for support and France refused.

George Kerevan:

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Margaret Beckett (Derby South) (Lab):

I am sorry, no.

These are genuinely extremely difficult as well as extremely serious decisions, but it is the urgings of the United Nations and of the socialist Government in France that, for me, have been the tipping point in my decision to support military action.

Margaret Beckett – 2006 Speech in Berlin


Below is the text of a speech made by the then Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, on the 23rd October 2006 at the British Embassy in Berlin.

Good morning and welcome to the British Embassy. It is a pleasure to be here in Germany and to have the chance to speak to such a gathering of foreign policy practitioners.

I chose Berlin to make a strategic speech on foreign policy after a few months in this post for two reasons.

The first reason is that I want to talk today about the changing face of foreign policy: and there could be no more potent symbol of that than this city itself.

When the walls came tumbling down that November evening seventeen years ago, the world changed. And those whose job it was to comment, understand and shape that world had to change too.

The old skills of cold war analysis – understanding foreign policy in a bipolar world – were still valued and necessary. But as the long-standing power blocks fractured and reformed, new skills, new knowledge had to be added.

And in the time since the collapse of those political barriers we have also seen an erosion of the barriers of distance and of time: a technological revolution – quieter and less visible perhaps– but no less startling and no less fundamental.

Ten years ago, I had never sent an email. I suspect that I am not alone in that. The internet was not a daily part of our lives. Over in Britain we had four television channels – and two of those shut down for the night.

Today the way we live our lives has changed beyond all recognition. No serious commentator now can hope to make sense of the world if he or she does not grasp how that world has been transformed by rolling news coverage and the instant sharing and transfer of information across borders.

Take Islamist terrorism. It is the internet which is such a vital tool not only for planning and financing attacks but for radicalisation and recruitment. And it is from 24-hour news channels that the terrorists draw much of their power to shock and to intimidate.

That same technology not only flashed images of the tsunami around the world but also enabled huge amounts of money to be raised in record time.

So foreign policy has never been a static profession: it has always meant being part of an evolving process in which we seek to deepen and broaden our understanding of a changing world.

Today, nowhere is that change more significant and relevant to what we do than the threat of massive and dangerous disruption to our global climate

The basic science of climate change is no longer in dispute.

But what we have been hearing over the past weeks and months is that the scale and urgency of the challenge we face is worse than we had feared.

Last month, the British Antarctic Survey and the US National Snow and Ice Data Center both reported that polar ice was breaking up faster than glaciologists had thought possible.

And NASA scientists warned that another decade without a reduction in emissions and it will probably be impossible to avoid catastrophic effects of climate change.

Earlier this month we saw the UK’s foremost authority on climate impacts, the Met Office Hadley Centre, present new and worrying data on the likely extent of climate-induced desertification and extreme drought conditions.

It is now clear that tackling climate change is an imperative not a choice, a problem for today not tomorrow.

When I became Foreign Secretary, I made responding to this threat – I call it achieving climate security – a new strategic international priority for the United Kingdom.

I am in no doubt – and the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was in no doubt when he offered me the job – that today being a credible foreign minister means being serious about climate security.

Because the question for foreign policy is not just about dealing with each crisis as it hits us. Our obligation to our citizens is to put in place the conditions for security and prosperity in a crowded and interdependent world.

An unstable climate will make it much harder for us to deliver on that obligation.

This is why.

The foreign policy community has long understood that the stability of nations is to no small degree predicated on the security of individuals.

When people are exposed to the stresses caused by overpopulation, resource scarcity, environmental degradation, as they feel the security upon which they and their families depend progressively slipping away, so we see the slide down the spectrum from stability to instability.

What should concern us here in the foreign policy community is that an unstable climate will place huge additional strain on these tensions which we spend our time trying to resolve. They are already at breaking point and climate change has the potential to stretch them far beyond it.

Take food security – the ability of people to have enough to eat. In simple terms climate change will bring more frequent and more prolonged famines. Studies suggest that temperature rises of just 2-3 degrees will see crop yields in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia fall by as much as 30 to 40 per cent. It’s a similar story in China.

Access to fresh water – water security – is already a problem across the globe. Climate change will make it worse. One billion people in the South Asian sub-continent are likely to be suffer from a reduction in Himalayan melt-water and changes to the monsoon. The Middle East and Central Asia will both see significantly less rain.

And then there is energy security – vital not just for keeping the economies of the developed world running but also – crucially – for giving the developing world the means to lift itself out of poverty. Climate change threatens this too. An increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events will threaten port and drilling facilities across the world.

And it’s not just storms that we need to worry about. Melting permafrost will damage energy infrastructure – pipelines – in Russia. Melting glaciers in the Himalaya threaten India’s plans to increase hydro-electric capacity. Plus there is the danger of increased instability in key producing regions like the Middle East.

No wonder that last week Kofi Annan said, and I quote: “Action on climate change is particularly urgent, given its profound implications for virtually every aspect of human well-being, from jobs and health to growth and security”.

We in Europe should be in no doubt that how the world responds to climate change matters as much to us as to anyone.

Look at those things that are highest on the European agenda – strong borders, poverty reduction, the risks of conflict and international terrorism, energy security, jobs and growth. Get our response right to climate change and our ability to deal with all of these is enhanced. Get it wrong and our efforts across the board will be undermined.

Take immigration. If people find their homes permanently flooded they will have to up sticks and move. Simple as that. One study suggests that a sea-level rise of just 50 centimetres – half the most optimistic estimates – will displace two million people from the Nile Delta. A one metre rise will displace 25 million in Bangladesh. Environmental degradation is already driving economic migration out of sub-Saharan Africa and onto Europe’s shores.

By tackling climate change we can lessen the push factors driving immigration. If we don’t tackle it, we have to brace ourselves for populations shifts on a scale we have never seen before.

Or take conflict. Wars fought over limited resources – land, fresh water, fuel – are as old as history itself. By drastically diminishing those resources in some of the most volatile parts of the world, climate change creates a new and potentially catastrophic dynamic.

The Middle East is a case in point. Five per cent of the world’s population already has to share only one per cent of the world’s water. Climate change will mean there is even less water to go round. Current climate models suggest that – globally – Saudi, Iran and Iraq will see the biggest reductions in rainfall. Egypt – a pivotal country for regional stability – will suffer a double blow. Drastic loss of Nile flow from the South and rising sea-levels in the North destroying its agricultural heartland across the delta.

The same pattern emerges elsewhere.

South Asia. Migration into the Indian state of Assam from Bangladesh is already causing tension. Climate change will make this worse.

Central Asia. Nations increasingly at odds over water rights.

The added stresses of climate change increase the risk of fragile states dropping over the precipice into civil war and chaos. And it edges those countries that are not currently at risk into the danger zone.

In short, a failing climate means more failed states.

And that has implications for everything we want to achieve from conflict prevention and resolution to counter-terrorism.

By tackling climate change we can help address the underlying securities that feed and exacerbate conflicts and instability. By ignoring it we resign ourselves to the same crises flaring up again and again. And new ones emerging.

So climate change is not an alternative security agenda. It is a broadening and deepening of our understanding as to how we best tackle that existing agenda.

And whether and how we respond to climate change potentially has an even broader read across to global political stability. Levels of trust between North and South are already at a low ebb, not least because of the lack of progress on the Doha Development Round.

These gaps will only widen if and when the impacts of climate change start to take hold. Because it is the developed world which has had historically high levels of greenhouse gas emissions but it is the developing world – those least able to cope – which will be hit first and hit hardest.

So here too the choice is clear. Work together on a shared challenge that bridges traditional divides and engenders new trust. Or risk a further polarisation of the international community.

But what do I mean when I say that we must tackle climate change?

One thing is clear. We will have to face the shared dilemma at the heart of the debate on climate change.

We all have an interest in continuing economic growth. We all want to see the developing world lift itself out of poverty. But at the moment that growth and development is being driven by the burning of the fossil fuels which cause climate change.

In other words, the very process which is making people’s lives better across the world today is destroying their future.

But the choice between economic growth and a stable climate is a false one.

We have to have both. And we can have both.

Later this month we will see the most detailed and comprehensive study ever undertaken into the economics of climate change. In it, the UK’s Chief Economist and former Chief Economist at the World Bank, Nick Stern, will show that climate change will have a potentially devastating effect on the economies of developed and developing countries.

But that same study will also show that moving to a low-carbon global economy does not mean sacrificing economic growth or condemning people to poverty.

Indeed if we take this road, it is not only affordable: it offers huge opportunities for us all.

For developing countries, an opportunity to be in on the ground floor of a reconfiguration of the global economy. It means that they can leap-frog old technologies and produce new fuels and advanced technologies for others. It means better health through lower pollution. And it will provide them with the clean, affordable energy they need to keep growing.

For us here in Europe, it is key to hitting another two of those priorities which I listed a moment ago.

It reinforces our energy security: addressing fuel poverty and reducing our reliance on imported hydrocarbons. In turn that opens the door to more stable strategic partnerships with key energy suppliers around the world. And it means that we can forge more constructive relations with other major economies in our dealings with some third-party countries: encouraging China to take a deeper and longer-term interest in improving governance in Africa is just one example.

It also reconnects the governments of Europe to their citizens. Not only by taking decisive action on an issue which – as every opinion poll shows – they care deeply about. But also by providing the jobs and growth which we have promised and which we have put at the heart of the European agenda.

Here in Germany it is estimated that the renewable energy sector has already created 170 000 jobs and 16 billion Euros in turnover. Industries offering climate protection technologies are growing faster, exporting more and creating more jobs than the broader market.

It’s the same story in my country. Last week, the British oil company, BP published a study showing that responding to climate change is a £30 billion business opportunity for British companies over the next decade.

So taking action on climate change is not just an imperative. It is an opportunity.

And yet, in fact, we are dangerously behind the curve. We are on a direct path to climate chaos.

In the past I have spoken of the need for a globalisation of responsibility. The need to build a politics of interdependence in which we define ourselves by what we hold in common, not by what divides us.

But when it comes to our inaction on climate change our generation is in danger of global irresponsibility on a massive and irreversible scale.

I make no bones about the fact that the challenge we face is a big one.

The International Energy Agency estimates that US$20 trillion will be spent in the energy sector between now and 2030. We must use that money to transform the very foundations of how we live: how we generate and consume power, how we move around, and how we use land.

Most of the US$20 trillion will be from the private sector. But a stable climate is a global public good: and that makes it a responsibility of governments to put in place the conditions that will achieve it.

Our task is nothing less than to build the biggest public-private partnership ever conceived. We must construct the mutually reinforcing frameworks of incentives and penalties, of opportunities and burdens equitably shared, that will drive private capital towards low carbon solutions. And these frameworks will need to be built simultaneously at every level – national, regional and global.

That needs the widest possible political coalition. And that is what makes it our problem too. This is not just an environmental problem. It is a defence problem. It is a problem for those who deal with economics and development, conflict prevention, agriculture, finance, housing, transport, innovation, trade and health.

Building that coalition is a challenge for the whole world: from consumers to the heads of government.

But I am making this speech here today because I want to lay down that challenge to three groups in particular.

First, it is a challenge to the foreign policy community.

Climate change is a serious threat to international security. So achieving climate security must be at the core of foreign policy.

All of us here have to pick up the pace.

I went to the G8+5 meeting in Monterrey earlier this month. It was a good meeting. But most of the ministers there were environmental ministers. It is our responsibility to make sure that this is something that heads of state, energy ministers, foreign ministers, and defence ministers are discussing regularly and at the highest level.

At every level – UN, G8 or EU – one of our top-line objectives must be to make real, concrete progress on climate change.

We need the political resources of foreign policy to create a shared vision for the future. We need to use the expertise of those in this room – and beyond – to build coalitions, to set agendas and to make multilateral institutions work.

It is foreign policy practitioners who can help impress upon a national and domestic consciousness the international imperative of climate change.

Second, it is a challenge for the European Union.

We are the world’s biggest single market.

We have a budget – more than 120 billion Euros a year – that gives us the ability to drive progress in the areas that will define the global response to climate change: research and development, advanced technologies, renewable energy, energy efficiency.

In short, we have the intellectual capacity, the technological capability and the resources not just to steer the global debate on climate change but also to drive global action.

That is what the European Union is for. That is what makes it relevant to its people. Europe has already achieved so much on the environment: more than any country could ever have done on its own.

Now we must make climate security one of Europe’s greatest priorities.

That is why I have put Europe at the heart of my strategy on climate change.

It is why at Lahti European Leaders clearly stated that the EU had to be strong leaders in tackling climate change.

Others have responsibilities too – of course. But we should not use that as an excuse to lower our own ambitions. So for example:

Strengthening the Emissions Trading Scheme by putting charges on airlines as early as 2008 and progressively tightening caps beyond 2012.

Forging deeper and broader energy partnerships with China, India and others to set the technology standards for a global low carbon economy

Agreeing to invest more on renewables

Putting the Commission proposals on energy efficiency into action

Moving as soon as possible to zero emissions fossil fuel plants within the EU.

Accelerating the demonstration and deployment of carbon capture and storage.

And the energy security papers that the UK and other European countries are now preparing will be key and must reflect the full extent of our ambition.

Third it is a challenge to Germany. And that is the second reason why I chose Berlin, now to make this speech.

It is why David Milliband, the Environment Secretary was here a few days ago. And why the theme of the recent State Visit was climate change.

Of all the countries in the world it is Germany which at this moment matters most.

What you do right here, right now during your dual presidencies in the next six and twelve months is pivotal.

There is no point in us sitting down to discuss what we are going to do five or ten years down the line. It will already be too late.

It will be up to you whether Europe delivers on the agenda I have just outlined.

It will be up to you whether the G8 can galvanise broader global action.

We will support you.

We need a more specific, better co-ordinated and large scale project to accelerate development and introduction of clean coal technology – before China builds a new generation of power plants.

We are ready to work with you on a concrete proposal to come out of your twin presidencies.

I know that you are keen to do something specific on degradation of the rainforests. We stand ready to be a partner.

So we will support you. But you must lead.

It is you here in Germany that have the economic clout and the diplomatic and moral authority to make a significant difference now.

Ladies and Gentlemen.

One hundred and fifty years ago Bismarck famously remarked: “The great questions of the day will not be settled by means of speeches and majority decisions but by iron and blood.”

Today I contend that the exact opposite is true.

The greatest security threat we face as a global community won’t be met by guns and tanks. It will be solved by investment in the emerging techniques of soft power – building avenues of trust and opportunity that will lead to a low-carbon economy.

There is no backstop: politics and diplomacy have to work.

Bismarck was famous for another thing too. He was the first European statesman to recognise that if you wanted to sustain economic growth, you had to invest in the conditions that underpinned that growth.

Bismarck’s concern was for social conditions at the national level: it led him to lay the foundations of the welfare state system that underpins modern Europe.

Today our concern is wider. The threat we face is to the most basic conditions underpinning our global society.

We too must invest in our future. Or risk losing it.

The baton has passed to Germany. Please don’t drop it.

Beckett, Margaret – 2005 Speech to NFU Conference


Below is the text of a speech made by the then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Margaret Beckett, on 21st February 2005 at the Hilton Birmingham Metropole.


1. It has already been said a couple of times that 2005 will be a watershed year. Certainly it will bring momentous change to the farming industry. But I would like to see it as a turning point. Four years ago Defra was created in the middle of the FMD crisis. This year we set out on a new road to create a sustainable and prosperous future for British farming.

2. The foundations for such a sustainable future have been laid. This year we will see the first year of applications for the new Single Payment Scheme, the introduction – as Tim [Bennett – president of the NFU] said a moment ago – of the new Environmental Stewardship Scheme and later in the year the Whole Farm Approach, all vital building blocks of our Sustainable Farming and Food Strategy.

3. And while all this change takes place at home, on the international stage, the UK will hold presidencies of the G8 and the EU, and will be working hard to secure real progress in the WTO negotiations. So our agriculture policy is developing in not just an international but a global context.

4. Looking back on these four years, there is much of which Britain’s farming community – and not least those who represent it in the NFU – can be rightly proud. I may as well say to this audience what I say to agriculture Ministers and politicians across the world – that you were well ahead of the game in recognising, not just that the CAP had to change, which seems to have taken some people longer – but the nature of that change. And across the EU there are growing signs of other farming organisations following where the NFU has led. And while there are – and will remain – many difficult issues – including some which Tim touched on – I do detect a growing self-confidence amongst many farmers and an increasing willingness to innovate, to take measured risks and to grasp the benefits from changing market opportunities. At the same time I also see evidence that farmers are increasingly conscious of the importance of sustainable development and of their crucial role in safeguarding the rural environment.

CAP reform & Single Payment Scheme

5. Clearly the biggest immediate change for every farmer is the introduction of the Single Payment Scheme. Application forms will be sent to you in early April. I cannot stress too highly the importance of your members completing and returning these forms on time. It is never easy but it will never be more crucial. After all, in this – the first year of operation – they will be activating claiming payments, but also activating entitlements for this and future years. So please remind all your colleagues the deadline for applications is 16 May.

6. Defra and the RPA are currently running a series of events for farmers around the country at which our experts will be on hand to provide details of the application process and to try and answer your questions. These events will be running until 22 March; there are still places available and I would strongly urge as many as possible to go along.

7. Moving from ten different production-dependent subsidy regimes, many paid quarterly, to one single decoupled payment paid after the end of the year will mean, once the system is bedded in, a clearer and much simplified system. But the change-over inevitably brings its problems. The first year will be more complex but subsequent years will be hugely easier. And in moving to the new system I do recognise that for many there will be cash flow problems as well. The payment window runs from 1 December 2005 to 30 June 2006, but as you know – and as Tim recognised -the RPA recently announced that payments are likely to be made from February 2006. I will not disguise from you my deep disappointment that we cannot bring in the new system earlier.

8. The February date is based on our best estimates for implementing the new scheme and assuring that the payments are accurate and valid. We will keep farmers and their advisers up to date with proposed payment dates so business plans and forward profiles can take account of cash flow and we will shortly be approaching the banks, I hope together with the NFU, to see how best they can support farmers through this period.

9. My Ministers and I recognise our responsibility to do everything we possibly can to ensure that if any payment can be made it is as early as possible.

10. These new payments reflect the new context of agricultural support.

11. Decoupling support from production means that farmers will be freer than for decades: free to produce for the market and not simply for subsidy, free from the levels of bureaucracy required for the many production-linked subsidy schemes and free to decide how their own skills can be used to best effect.

12. I fully realise that not all individual farmers will find the transition easy. For some there may be painful decisions. Some may leave the industry as it restructures, perhaps even after generations of farming.

13. Some areas and some sectors are bound to come out of the change better than others. That happens in any period of transition and even though the majority will benefit from the freedom to pursue the market rather than the subsidy, some will find it difficult to adapt.

14. There may be problems particularly for tenant farmers if landowners try to take advantage of the changing subsidy system by changing leases or succession arrangements – and I recognise in government we have a responsibility to help avoid abuse there. But overall we are moving away from an era of dependency and depression to one of challenge and fresh opportunity.

Environmental Stewardship

15. The crucial role farmers play in protecting and enhancing the environment – landscape, wildlife, soils, water and other natural resources – on 70% of England’s land area is becoming much more evident to the people at large. The very best of farming has shown for decades what can be achieved in the normal course of business, and – as again Tim mentioned – next week I will be launching our new Environmental Stewardship scheme. Within that scheme is a new concept for this country – Entry Level Stewardship. It is a simple, flexible scheme with a menu of options that can be used by all farm sectors. We piloted the scheme in four areas in 2003 and the evaluation was very encouraging. It was popular with farmers, simple to understand and relatively cheap to run. The experts agreed too, that it would deliver the environmental outcomes we want across a much wider area than with existing schemes.

16. And where production-linked subsidies attracted criticism and opposition, public attitude surveys show that most people do support the concept of paying farmers to protect and even regenerate habitats and landscapes – public money for things the public wants but the market will not reward.


17. But obviously production for the market will remain your primary role. Since the lows of 2000, we have seen a welcome rise in farm incomes despite the most recent dip. Farm incomes reflect so many factors, price volatility, exchange rates, let alone the weather. But that is why it is so important to get farm businesses on to a long-term competitive footing, so that they will be able as other businesses must and do, to adapt to market fluctuations and to be ready to seize opportunities as they arise.

18. That is why we have been supporting initiatives such as the Food Chain Centre, which has been working with industry bodies to identify scope for efficiencies within the food chain; to promote benchmarking; to encourage the spread of best practice; and to investigate the benefits of information sharing.

19. Similarly, English Farming and Food Partnerships has been set up with Government support, to promote and encourage collaboration and co-operation between farmers, and between farmers and the rest of the food chain.

20. We are also working with and supporting industry forums for the red meat, dairy and cereals sectors to help them improve their competitiveness and identify solutions to the challenges they face.

21. Each of these bodies has received support from the Agriculture Development Scheme. They are not of course alone. Since 2000 we have awarded almost £14million under this scheme and so successful has it been that we are planning to boost the budget by an extra £3million over the next three years so that we can continue to fund projects that will help farmers and primary producers in England become more competitive and market orientated.

Farm Business Advice

22. I recognise too that farmers may need help to take full advantage of the opportunities of the Single Payment Scheme for restructuring, diversification, collaboration or other business change. That is why we have recently announced that we will be launching a new advice service to help farmers get to grips with the business implications of CAP reform. That service will replace the current Farm Business Advice Service and will be launched later this year. It should ensure that over the next 18 months to two years, farmers across England have access to specialist support to help them consider their options for the future.

23. One of the potential advantages of the Single Payment Scheme is its potential to reduce bureaucracy, although of course it will require meeting certain basic standards.

24. But alongside the Scheme itself we have been developing the ‘Whole Farm Approach’, to further reduce bureaucracy and help farmers to both understand and plan for regulatory compliance, including rationalising inspections. Phased delivery of the Approach will begin with the roll out of electronic Appraisal in September of this year.

Supermarket Code of Practice / Buyers Charter

25. I want now to touch on a couple of issues where I know that you have particular concerns. The first is the perennial issue of the relationship of farmers and the supermarkets. The Government is very aware of suppliers’ concerns about the effectiveness of the Code of Practice and again Tim touched on this in his speech. That is why we encouraged the OFT to review it’s operation. The Code is of course a formal remedy to a very specific adverse finding by the Competition Commission, which applied only to the then four largest supermarkets, and to a limited range of practices they engaged in when dealing with their immediate suppliers.

26. The OFT has since commissioned a focussed audit of the supermarkets dealings with suppliers, which I believe it hopes to publish within the next few weeks. I can assure you that the Government will consider the findings of such a report, and any recommendations that the OFT may make, very carefully. Supermarkets have to recognise that in the long run they and their customers need a sustainable UK based supply chain, and that it is not in their long-term interests to squeeze suppliers to the point of elimination.

27. But while the Government is keen that the Code should operate effectively, it is not the only possible way forward. Tim referred to the work the NFU is doing to develop a voluntary Buyers Charter that would apply throughout the food chain. We welcome this initiative and would encourage all sections of the food chain, whether they be retailers, processors or manufacturers, to work positively with the NFU to develop the proposal.

Bovine TB and Badgers

28. The second issue on which I want to touch is another perennial issue – but let’s hope not forever – bovine TB. Over the past year we have been working with farmers, vets and wildlife interests and will launch next week a new 10-year strategic framework for the control of the disease.

29. Bovine TB causes real hardship to farmers in high incidence areas. Other parts of the country do not have TB. It is particularly in these areas where farmers must take responsibility for reducing the risks of introducing disease through cattle movements. We have established a farmer-chaired stakeholder group to develop a practical proposal for pre-movement testing and I look forward to their report shortly.

30. We work continually to improve TB controls and in November 2004 we announced new cattle surveillance measures to reduce the risk of the disease spread.

31. But of course, wildlife, particularly badgers, do also pose a risk. We will be prepared to consider badger culling if the evidence supports this as a cost-effective, proportionate and sustainable contribution to disease control.

32. I welcome the report of the Irish Four Area Culling Trial, and we are now considering independent scientific advice on the significance of those findings for Great Britain. The results, along with emerging evidence from our own culling trial will make an important contribution to the evidence base on which decisions will be made. The new TB strategy will provide a transparent process for assessing all the strands of evidence and I hope an effective partnership between Government, industry and others will be key to tackling TB effectively.

Further CAP reform

33. As I said at the outset, UK agriculture has as always an international and global context. So I am delighted to welcome today our new Agriculture Commissioner, and to say a little about these global issues. While the CAP reforms of June 2003 and April 2004 covered the bulk of subsidies, they did not extend to all sectors.

34. And a major remaining challenge will be reform of the EU Sugar Regime, and particularly reform to achieve agreement in time to contribute to the Doha Round discussions in Hong Kong in December. There is general acceptance – sometimes begrudgingly but general acceptance – both that the present arrangements are unsustainable, and that we should bring sugar into line with the market-based, decoupled CAP model already agreed for most other sectors. We also need to take account of the impact of reform on the EU’s existing preferential suppliers and to ensure that the changes result in fair competition for all concerned, including UK sugar beet producers.

35. Dairy reform is another area which the 2003 reforms failed fully to address. I hope the review of milk quotas in 2008 will provide an opportunity to revisit this regime.

36. We also need to look at rural development. At European level, we will argue for a continued transfer from pillar 1 subsidies to rural development expenditure, but to useful rural expenditure:

For helping farm businesses to adapt, and to take their place as productive, knowledge-based businesses responding to their customers demands, in line with the EU’s Lisbon Agenda for growth and employment;

For delivering the environmental land management benefits that only farming can provide;

And, for those rural areas which are heavily dependent on agriculture, helping to develop the wider business opportunities needed to give them a more diversified and confident future.

WTO; the Doha Round

37. On a global level, the current Doha WTO round is the key negotiation for the future economic prospects of the world as a whole, though especially for, of course, developing countries. Boosting trade in agricultural produce is critical to the success of Doha and the economic development of rich and poor alike.

38. The Framework agreement reached in August 2004 was a significant step forward to which the CAP reform made a huge contribution. I assure you that in Hong Kong we will be working hard for a successful and a balanced deal. Liberalisation of trade if properly phased in to avoid drastic disruption will be in the interests of both Europe and the developing countries. But part of the EU negotiating mandate is on non-trade issues so that food safety, animal health and welfare and environmental standards are not undermined and may even be enhanced by liberalisation.


39. I would like to end with a few words about climate change. Its impact, how we adapt to that impact and what we can do to ameliorate that impact was a focus of a recent stakeholder conference in London. And this year climate change will be one of the priorities for the UK Presidencies of both the G8 and the EU which will include an Informal Council meeting of EU agriculture and environment ministers to focus on climate change and EU agriculture.

40. I think it is very much for the long term benefit of the farming community for policy now to be so firmly placed in the context of sustainable development. When I was first appointed to head of Defra many farmers asked me if British farming had a future. It unquestionably does. That future can be – I believe will be – one of success, of prosperity and of genuine and renewed public esteem. But – most important of all – that future, more perhaps than at any other time in the last 50 years, is in your hands.

Margaret Beckett – 2005 Speech to the Industry Forum


Below is the text of the speech made by the then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Margaret Beckett, to the Industry Forum at Smith Square in London on 12th January 2005.

1. It is becoming increasingly widely acknowledged that climate change is the biggest threat to our environment. There is no doubt, although there are occasional dissenting voices, that the scientific consensus is that it is happening and that human activity is leading to increasingly severe impacts.

2. And there is increasing recognition that extreme weather events are costly, both in terms of economics and human lives and suffering. In the last week, we have seen high winds and severe flooding particularly in Carlisle and Northern Ireland, and this is a reminder of the types of events that we expect to become more frequent as a result of climate change.

3. As I say this has significant costs for all those involved. In Autumn 2000 sever floods led to an insurance pay-out of £1 billion; in 2003 the European heat-wave led not only to 26,000 deaths and £8billion in direct costs. So the costs of inaction are there, and they are high.

4. 2005 is a very important year for the UK and Climate Change both internationally and domestically. It’s the domestic aspect that I’d like to focus on today and in particular how the private sector can help us meet our challenging targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

5. Internationally it is absolutely recognised and acknowledged the UK is helping to lead the way in showing what action can be taken at a national level – I say that because although this is questioned in the UK, it is not questioned elsewhere in the world. We are on track to meet our Kyoto target to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 12.5% by the period of 2008 – 2012. In fact latest provisional estimates suggest that greenhouse gas emissions in 2003 were about 14% below 1990 levels, you will appreciate an increased achievement on previous figures.

6. Carbon dioxide emissions were about 7% below 1990 levels. That means that we have made some progress towards our domestic goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20% below 1990 levels by 2010, because although the figures are down from 1990 then have plateaued. But it is clear that we need to do more and the current review of our Climate Change Programme will be looking at ways in which we can achieve our domestic goal.

7. Historically, economic growth has gone hand-in-hand with increased environmental impacts from production, use and disposal of goods and services. The sustainability challenge is to break that link – to innovate the impact we make is in line with what the planet can bear – and our 5-year strategy launched in December confirms that breaking this link is a key priority not least for my Department.

8. This means we need to continue our actions to halt losses of biodiversity, protect natural resources, minimise waste, improve chemicals management as well as combat climate change. We all want greater prosperity and, if we do things differently, we believe we can have this without damaging the environment in a way that is unsustainable. Indeed, the innovation necessary to meet this challenge will be a driver both for growth and improved competitiveness. I certainly firmly believe that in terms of climate change, economic growth and environment improvement can go hand-in-hand and the fact that greenhouse gas emissions were 14% lower in 2002 than in 1990 and our GDP was 32% higher does confirm this is perfectly possible to break the link. In China also emissions and growth have not kept pace. Their economy has far outstripped their emissions levels.

9. The sustainable use of energy is a key means of helping us meet our climate change targets. Government has put in place a number of policies and programmes to support and encourage the industry to move in the direction of greater sustainability. The EU emissions trading scheme, Climate Change Agreements, Climate Change Levy, the Renewables Obligation, and other targeted tax allowances, including those for Combined Heat and Power, our most energy intensive industries and the power generation sector have strong incentives to reduce their emissions in the most cost-effective way.

10. I’m pleased to see that business’ commitment to tackling climate change is growing in the UK. Many firms are now recognising that action to reduce emissions can bring wide-ranging benefits including lower costs, improved competitiveness and new market opportunities. The DTI’s 5-year strategy confirms that the transition to a low-carbon economy will create significant economic opportunities for UK business. Two years ago, environmental technology industries were worth £16 billion and employed around 170,000 people. Today, they are worth £25 billion and employ around 400,000 people.

11. We need the private sector to continue that good work. We want to encourage and if we can enable you to take the lead in finding and implementing cost effective measures to cut emissions, while ensuring that a healthy and competitive business base is maintained and indeed improved. Central to this is the EU Emissions Trading Scheme; a major policy measure designed to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases at least cost to industry, which began on the first of January this year. We are discussing with the European Commission amendments that we notified to our National Allocation Plan last October. We will announce our proposed installation level allocations next month, we hope, and aim to make final allocations by the end of March.

12. Emissions trading itself makes sound business sense, enabling market mechanisms to deliver emissions reductions cost effectively. That is an idea that has already been recognised in the private sector, evidenced by the introduction of the London Climate Change Service Providers Group. This group has been established to promote the business opportunities and economic benefits for its members from the development of emissions trading markets in Europe. Potential benefits include increased employment opportunities, innovation, and of course revenue. The UK’s commitment to emissions trading means we believe well placed to secure a significant share in this new and emerging market.

13. The scheme will also make climate change an even more important factor in shareholder investment decisions. From April 2005, I expect many quoted companies to use their Operating and Financial Review to report on their climate change and indeed their wider environmental performance.

14. In addition to allowing us to take a detailed look at progress being made towards meeting emission reduction targets, the review of the Climate Change Programme, to which I referred earlier, will also allow us to consider how successful we have been in delivering our climate change policies.

15. One of the most important of these is energy efficiency, which is generally acknowledged as the most cost-effective way to deliver the critical goals set out in the 2003 White Paper. The 2004 Energy Efficiency Action Plan provides a clear framework for improving energy efficiency at an unprecedented level. We are now working in partnership with industry and other stakeholders to deliver the 12 million tonnes of carbon savings by 2010 that are targeted. In all, the measures and policies in the Action Plan will save businesses and households over £3 billion per annum on their energy bills.

16. But of course in many way that is just the beginning. Many of the measures in the Plan depend on voluntary action by homeowners and businesses, so communicating the urgency of climate change and promoting demand for energy efficient products and services is a high priority. It is vital to raise awareness more widely of the links between climate change, energy policy and the choices and behaviour of individuals, businesses and also, of course, of public sector organisations.

17. We recognise we need to communicate better about climate change at every level, recognising that Government must play a leading role. In support of this aim, my department expects to contribute substantial new resources to a new approach to climate change communications and we hope that you, as leaders in the business world, will embrace and reinforce these messages and help ensure that carbon emissions and energy efficiency have an increasingly high place in your companies strategic priorities.

18. Even where awareness has been raised, many unsustainable behaviours are basically locked-in and made to seem ‘normal’ by the way that we produce and consume, by the absence of easy alternatives. We need to enable different choices, even where the barriers to change appear too great.

19. Better products can enable people to do things differently. Each time someone buys an inefficient product we lose the opportunity to reduce environmental impacts until it is replaced or wears out – often up to 10 years later. The mandatory A to G energy label enables consumers to choose the most efficient products. It has also enabled industry to innovate in bringing to market more efficient products. And we are looking to strengthen approaches for driving up environmental standards of products. At EU level, the framework directive on eco-design for energy using products will be particularly important.

20. We are continuing to inform, advise and support both businesses and the public sector through the activities of the Carbon Trust, with additional funding of £60m announced in Spending Review 2004, to support its advice, information and support services. Services that are leading to real benefits for their customers. Services that are leading to real benefits for their customers. Scottish and Newcastle plc for example are implementing carbon savings worth £2.5 million a year, saving 13,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

21. Innovation can also play a key role in helping us make a step change in energy efficiency and in the move towards a low carbon economy. In the Pre-Budget Report the Chancellor announced a £20million fund, to be managed by the Carbon Trust, to accelerate the development of energy efficient technology. The new funds should provide a focus for investment in energy efficiency, and will help to build new partnerships between business, research and policy-making. Additionally, a joint Defra/Treasury ‘Energy Efficiency Innovation Review’ into whether technological, policy, financial and behavioural innovation, by Government, industry or consumers, is contributing fully to energy efficiency measures is now underway. And that review itself will provide an important input to the Climate Change Programme review.

22. So all of us – whether in Government, business and as individuals – should be prepared to think more deeply about how the benefits of a modern lifestyle can be enjoyed in a way that enhances rather than harms the world around us. At present, our homes and their contents, our transport choices, our food supply all come with big environmental footprints that must be reduced if we are to meet the sustainability challenge.

23. We have made and are continuing to make progress, but to reduce these emissions further does require radical thinking and the participation of all sectors of society. I am looking to the business community to help us find the answers and would like your views on what we can do to help you to engage fully in the review of our Climate Change Programme.

Thank you.

Margaret Beckett – 2003 Speech to Labour Party Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by the then Environment Secretary, Margaret Beckett, to the Labour Party Conference in Bournemouth on 29th September 2003.

By the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone”

Those words from the Party’s membership card have been coming into my head all week since I saw in a recent newspaper article the reported comments of a pensioner. Asked what she wanted from this Labour Government – what kind of future she sought, she called for a better quality of life – greater security, good healthcare, safer streets, less vandalism.

It’s what she wanted for herself. It’s what we want for every citizen because that is only fair – fair and right and just.

As that pensioners comments revealed, the public face of public services for the great majority of Britons starts at their front door. That public face may not be of our schools, unless there are school age children in the family. For the majority it may not immediately be healthcare unless there is a current experience of ill-health. But for each and all of us it is the condition of our streets, and open spaces. It’s litter, graffiti, abandoned cars or even discarded chewing gum. It’s vandalism experienced or even just feared.

These are the things that blight all of our daily lives, which make us feel more insecure. Yet we know that all of these things are beyond the reach of any of us as an individual. They require that common endeavour.

Government’s role is to provide local authorities and others with powers and funding to help address these problems in the communities where they occur, working with those closest to them, community groups, the police, youth services and local businesses.

We cannot just will this change from Whitehall but the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill, for example, will give local authorities new powers to tackle fly-tipping, graffiti and noise.

If we are to meet the challenge set for us not only by that pensioner but by the millions of our fellow citizens at home and across the world who share her ambitions for their own lives, we must strive to overcome the divisions which beset our communities.

Above all, we must achieve this in international climate change negotiations. I believe this to be the predominant challenge of our time – the challenge that dominates our future, no matter what else may befall. And though that challenge will affect us all, it will affect first and most the most poor and the most vulnerable. Even if we act now, with as much boldness and effectiveness as we can summon, the science tells us that, for example, by the end of this century 20 million more people are likely to be affected by flooding every year- most of them in developing countries. If we do not act that figure will be at least 90 million.

We and other developed countries accept that while everybody has a part to play and must find ways of playing that part, we the developed countries have a duty to act earlier, to make a greater contribution, to shoulder a larger part of the responsibility – because we can. That is fairness. It is also international solidarity in practice.

The contribution of Britain’s scientists and the lead taken by our government as well as personally by the Prime Minister has brought us huge international respect.

But none of us have taken more than the very first steps on a long long road. Agreeing the Kyoto Protocol and its legal framework laid the foundation but there is much much more to do to match the scale of the challenge we face.

President Putin acknowledged that challenge today. We are in no doubt that it is in the interests of the whole world, Russia included, for the Kyoto Protocol to come into force with Russian ratification. It is also strongly in Russia’s economic interest.

But as I say we must do more. That is why in our Energy White Paper this year we set out on a long-term path for Britain – we set the goal of reducing our carbon emissions – the main source of climate change – by around 60% by the year 2050 – the recommendation of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. It is at the heart of our pursuit of a low carbon economy. In Britain we have already shown that economic growth and emission reduction can be achieved side by side. We do not need to choose between them. Carbon emissions fell 13% between 1990 and 1999, while the economy grew by 28%. In fact in many cases environmental gain can bring economic benefits. Companies and individuals saving carbon are companies and individuals saving money.

There is one other area I want to raise, which people do not often mention when you ask them about their quality of life, perhaps because wrongly we take it too much for granted. That is the way Britain looks and is. Our landscape. Our forests. Our rural environment. And what that means to all of us in terms of leisure opportunities and tourism.

The creation of DEFRA strengthens the link, between the quality of our landscape and our quality of life. We are developing agri-environment schemes for farmers which reward them for improving landscape and biodiversity. We’re considering the creation of two new National Parks in the New Forest and South Downs. River water quality is at an all-time high. Wild bird populations are at their highest level since 1990. And there are more trees in England than there have been for 100 years.

And this is just the beginning. For decades the structure of the Common Agriculture Policy with its powerful and direct links between levels of production and subsidy was providing a perverse incentive to undermine much of what we most value, about what is after all a managed landscape – 70% of it farmed.

Incidentally it was the perverse incentive to overproduction which also led to us dumping our surpluses on world markets, undermining the prosperity of farmers in many developing countries.

The dramatic changes which we can make as a result of the recent historic agreement on CAP reform stem from breaking that fundamental link between production and subsidy levels. They offer us an opportunity to work towards the goals set for us by the Curry Commission at the beginning of this Parliament – a more sustainable agriculture which is better for consumers, taxpayers and farmers – as well as being better for our environment.

That reform deal formed the basis for our approach to the recent WTO talks in Mexico, where for the first time the world community as a whole sought trade deals whose over-riding purpose was to improve the long-term prospects for developing countries.

At those talks there was the opportunity to maintain the momentum created by the Millennium Development goals, the Monterrey finance agreement the Johannesburg Summit and the many practical partnerships for development that it launched.

Sadly, in Mexico that opportunity was not seized. I am well aware that many who passionately support the cause of development believe that this is for the best. I hope more than I can say that their tactics and their optimism prove to be justified. What I profoundly fear is that we are in danger of irrevocably damaging the prospects for sustainable development which will be of most worth to those who need it most. There is a terrible risk that major players in many different parts of the world will judge that country to country deals could serve them almost as well. Yet it is only through multilateral processes that we stand any chance of protecting the interests of the smallest and the most weak.

So it is internationally as well as at home that we must all strive for real improvement in the quality of life for all.

The issues brought to mind by that phrase are fundamental to our well-being. Few of them are easy to tackle or to overcome. But real benefit to human health and happiness follow from addressing them successfully. And as I said at the outset that can only be a common endeavour. Perhaps after all it’s not “the economy stupid”. It is the quality of life.


Margaret Beckett – 2002 Speech at Labour Party Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by Margaret Beckett at the 2002 Labour Party conference.

I commend to conference the Quality of Life report, and composite number 8 on the Johannesburg world summit.

Ten years ago at the Rio earth summit the world accepted the need to manage the planet as a single whole for the whole of the human race. And it was at Rio that the ideal of sustainability through true integration between environmental, social and economic issues took on substance and shape – that all must be weighed one with the other if human beings are to thrive and prosper without destroying our natural inheritance or the prospects for generations to come.

Concerted international efforts were agreed to tackle global problems: climate change, land degradation, the threat to biodiversity. And with them recognition that governments alone cannot deliver so ambitious a programme, which requires commitment from across our society and economy.

And 10 years on the theme that ran through the Johannesburg summit a month ago was this decade’s recognition that, just as dire poverty and environmental degradation are mutually undermining, so action on poverty and the effective management of natural resources are often mutually reinforcing.

Much has been achieved on Rio’s programme agenda 21 but somewhere down the line momentum was lost. We began to regain momentum with the setting of the millennium development goals. But the main focus for new momentum was the Johannesburg summit itself – part of a continuum of commitment from the Doha trade round focussed on addressing the needs of the developing world, through a substantial increase in international aid at Monterrey. And then Johannesburg – not a new earth summit but as someone called it the ‘down to earth summit’.

It was never the intention to draw up a new master plan in Johannesburg. There’s nothing wrong with the master plan we already have. But at Johannesburg we sought to create a mosaic of implementation – including what some have called a new Marshall plan for the environment, since disintegration of the environmental pillar of sustainable development would lead to the inevitable collapse of the others.

More than 200 concrete partnerships for delivery were promised in Johannesburg – including governments, national and local, developed and developing countries, NGOs and the business community.

These are partnerships for water supply and sanitation, for energy supply, including renewable energy and energy efficiency. Forest partnerships include a project of over a dozen nations to save the forests of the Congo basin – one of the richest sources of biodiversity remaining on the planet. Targets and timetables were set for tackling sanitation, toxic chemicals, biodiversity, natural resources, fish stocks, oceans and energy.

That was Johannesburg.

And though some expressed regret that we did not propose further action on climate change in Johannsburg in three weeks in India, we will examine the next steps on climate change.

The same complaint was made about agricultural subsidies but the Doha trade talks will take on reality in the spring. These talks are vital. In Africa particularly, agriculture is key to sustained economic growth. It accounts for two-thirds of the labour force, on-third of GDP and half of all exports.

Yet OECD figures show that while in 2000 developed countries gave $50bn in aid, they spent $350bn subsidising their own agriculture. The World Bank has calculated that a 50% cut in agriculture subsidies and opening our markets, would be worth three times as much to developing countries as they get in aid.

That’s why this winter’s talks on CAP reform are so important. The CAP takes almost half the EU’s budget. Yet no one believes this is money well spent. We all pay twice, both as taxpayers and as consumers. Farmers resent both the bureaucracy and the failure to secure their livelihoods. And, as the commission on food and farming, chaired by Sir Don Curry, reported earlier this year, it is often actively damaging to the environment.

We want to switch resources from irrelevant or damaging subsidy so that we can support environmental improvement or rural prosperity more directly and effectively than is possible today.

There is no doubt that such a switch and such support are needed. When the Conservatives left office Britain’s rural communities were as devastated as the rest of our country.

Between 1983 and 1997 an average of 30 village schools in England were closing every year. By 1997 only one in four parishes had a daily bus service, and a third of all villages had no shop.

Today a Labour government is working to deliver the goals of the rural white paper, and to produce high quality services in rural areas.

Already total unemployment in rural areas is down by over two-fifths on its 1997 level, long-term youth unemployment is down by over three quarters, and the proportion of young New Dealers entering work is 17% higher in rural than urban areas.

There is a drive to provide affordable homes. NHS direct is available throughout England and an investment programme in rurual healthcare is underway. A new rural police fund to the tune of an extra £30m stands alongside £70m a year for rural buses, and an extra £80m a year for small schools which particularly benefits rural areas. And there is wider support for rural regeneration including particularly in market towns.

And across the country we are addressing issues whose existence the Tories failed even to acknowledge.

In the last two years alone we have taken 400,000 people out of fuel poverty and will take a further 400,000 out in the next 2 years.

Continuing work on energy and resource use in industry and transport help tackle individual prosperity and economic sustainability.

And there is much more to do – not least on waste. Every week we could fill Wembley Stadium with what we throw away. And unless we change course that will have doubled by 2020. We’re running out of space and we need a new approach.

Such problems can be successfully tackled. Drinking water, river water, beaches and bathing water – including at Blackpool – are at the highest quality ever, and 50 years on from the great smog of 1952 in which people died levels of some air pollutants have already fallen to levels last seen before the Industrial Revolution.

These issues all contribute to our quality of life, now and in the future, in this country and across the world. The pursuit of sustainable development is not a luxury for a few rich countries. It is a necessity for all.

This year more detailed forecasts of the impact of climate change tell us to expect greater extremes of weather, along with rising sea levels – devastating floods, the spread of tropical diseases and the loss of biodiversity. Poorest countries will be the worst affected because they will be the least able to adapt. But all countries will suffer.

These global problems cannot be resolved by nation states acting alone. Climate change, migration, poverty, terrorism, drug abuse are challenges to the international community as a whole and require the engagement of that whole community.

I fully understand the disappointment of those who wanted more from Johannesburg but the summit was not the end of a process it was a beginning.

Let there be no doubt. The combination of the millennium development goals and the Johannesburg programme of implementation represent the greatest challenge the human race has ever set itself. If delivered it would mean a revolution in the lives of the poorest people on the planet and the start of a revolution in our approach to the planet itself. We dare not fail.