Huhne speech in full

Read Chris Huhne’s speech to the Liberal Democrat conference in full on

“Conference, we face many challenges. An unfair tax system. Withered personal freedoms. The biggest gap between tax and spending in the top 20 developed economies. But when we have got the deficit down, and the economy up, when the Freedom Bill is law and millions more low-paid are taken out of tax, we will still face the prospect of runaway climate change. We will still face the threat to our children’s future. The challenge not of a parliament but of a generation.

The science is growing more alarming, not less. 2010 has been the hottest year on record. Forest fires in Russia. Mudslides in China. Devastating floods in Pakistan. A massive iceberg breaking off Greenland’s ice sheet. Being the greenest government ever is not just an ambition, it’s a global necessity. So yes to cutting the deficit. But also yes to cutting carbon emissions.

Since there is no money left, my department is pioneering new ways of turning this government into the greenest ever. Our homes are responsible for a quarter of the UK’s carbon emissions, because they leak heat like a sieve. We use more energy to heat our homes than Sweden, where it’s seven degrees colder in January. We might as well be standing outside burning 50 pound notes.

By stopping this waste, we can make big savings on bills, and use them to pay businesses for the cost of insulation. This is the Green Deal, which I will be introducing through Parliament before the end of the year. Companies will pay up-front to insulate your home, recovering their spending from the energy savings that will result. Every home will be better off with the Green Deal than without it. And we will provide extra help directly for those in hard-to-heat homes and in fuel poverty.

Under the Green Deal consumers will save energy and save money. But the Green Deal could also create a whole new industry that will help offset the drag anchor of the budget squeeze. Not just the 26,000 people working in insulation now, but up to 250,000 jobs in every part of the country, working on 26m homes. And going into commercial premises too, so that small businesses also save money. Local councils will be able to promote the renewal of whole neighbourhoods, bringing energy savings, purchasing power and local jobs to every community across the country, from Falmouth to Fort William.

The Green Deal will be a revolution. The first scheme of its kind in the developed world. The most ambitious energy-saving plan ever put forward. A once-and-for-all refit that will make every home in Britain ready for a low-carbon future. No more half-measures going off at half-cock.

And there’s another part of our Liberal Democrat green revolution, the enormous increase in electric power as we get the country off the oil and gas hook and on to clean growth. Electric vehicles charged at night. Electric high-speed rail. Electric ground and air source heat pumps to provide warmth. And all that electricity – a doubling of what we use now by 2050 – has to come from low-carbon sources. This is a revolution in our economy. It is as profound as moving to steam, iron and coal in the first industrial revolution. Or to steel, petrol and gas in the second. In Britain, in this third industrial revolution, we will build a new economy of low carbon and clean growth. As we have done before, we will show the world the way.

People worry now about where the growth will come from. But add the Green Deal to the investment needed to renew our ageing power stations, and you are talking billions. Add our new Green Investment Bank, and you have turbo-charging. Every year, new private spending will be enough to offset the money that the Treasury has to take out to put the public finances right. Green spending for a green economy set fair for green growth.

Forty miles from here, at Gwynt y Mor, they’ll start building a new offshore wind farm next year, big enough to power a third of the homes in Wales. I want to see this again and again round Britain’s coasts. And there is huge potential too for other renewables: energy from waste, wave, tidal power, and solar. Much of this will be local as it is in Germany. That’s why last month I repealed the ban on local councils selling their surplus electricity into the grid. That’s green, and local, and Liberal Democrat.

At last we will deal with the most shocking aspect of Labour’s Brown legacy. In Europe’s class of 27 on renewable energy, Britain is the dunce in the corner: we are 25th. Only Malta and Luxembourg are worse. I make you this promise now: by the end of this Parliament, we will be Europe’s fastest improving pupil when it comes to renewables. No more second best.

The coalition agreement, of course, involves give and take. I expect George Osborne to take more millions of the low-paid out of income tax even though he is a Conservative minister implementing a Liberal Democrat pledge. And George Osborne expects me to deliver our agreement on nuclear power, which is that there is an important place for new nuclear stations in our energy mix as long as there is no public subsidy. A deal is a deal, and I will deliver. I’m fed up with the stand-off between renewable and nuclear which means we have neither – we will have both. We will have low carbon energy, and security of supply.

And I say again there will be no subsidy to nuclear, for a very clear reason: it is a mature technology, not an infant needing nurture. Every person in my department has a very clear motivation to ensure that the full costs of nuclear – present and future – are fully taken into account. More than half our budget – £1.7bn a year – goes on the clean-up costs of old nuclear facilities. Britain had artificially cheap nuclear electricity for decades. Governments repeatedly looked only at the short term. The result is that we are paying far, far more than if we had dealt with waste and decommissioning in a timely manner. Never again. Not on my watch. No hidden subsidies.

The fourth pillar of our low-carbon policy is clean coal and gas: taking the carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels and storing them safely under the North Sea. The days of dirty fossil fuels are over. We will guarantee this through strict emission performance standards and by pioneering four carbon capture and storage plants. We in Britain can become to clean coal and gas what Germany is to solar and wind, and France is to nuclear. And our low-carbon policy will insure consumers, and businesses, against the oil price shocks to come.

Whatever the source of our energy, it is consumers who are at the heart of our plans. Our energy must be clean, but it must also be low cost. That’s why I can announce today that if energy companies don’t tell customers when they hike their prices, I will use my ministerial powers to intervene. In any other business, consumers know the price before they buy. Energy should be no different.

We will also insist on energy bills containing more information about the best deals on offer, so consumers can see straight away that they can switch. Giving consumers this information will mean competition forces unfair prices down.

Of course many key government departments will make a major contribution to our Green Revolution. And for the first time, there are Liberal Democrat ministers there to make a difference. Norman Baker at Transport, shifting to electric vehicles and building high-speed rail. Andrew Stunell at Communities and Local Government, setting building regulations for low-carbon homes, using powers he himself put on the statute book through a private member’s bill. Vince Cable and Ed Davey at Business, fostering the green economy and its skills.

This low-carbon revolution poses the greatest challenge across Whitehall in peacetime. It requires joined-up government on a heroic scale. That is why I can announce that I will be launching a new government-wide carbon plan to set out, department by department, policies and deadlines to ensure real action on climate change.

And we have powerful backing from the top: from Nick, of course, but also from David Cameron. This government will not just hope to be the greenest ever. We will deliver.

Now of course Britain cannot tackle the global challenge of climate change by itself. But we can build a successful and prosperous low-carbon economy that will shine as a beacon to others. And we can ensure that Europe follows the same path. I am working closely with my French and German counterparts for greater ambition in cutting carbon. By 2020, we want a cut not of 20 per cent but 30 per cent – that’s one cut that shouldn’t be too controversial here. We met in Berlin three weeks ago to speed up progress. And we will work together tirelessly for an effective global deal. Because time is running out.

Conference, I’m proud to serve in this coalition of conscience and reform. Our government is off to a flying start. But we face four towering tasks. To rebalance and rebuild our distorted economy. Reform our rotten politics. Heal our selfish society and protect our imperilled planet. Every single Liberal Democrat in this hall shares that vision. And every single one of us in government simply hasn’t a prayer of achieving it without you.

When the next election comes, we Liberal Democrats will fight on our record and on the promise of more. We are an independent party with a proud tradition and an ability without parallel to generate new ideas, inspired by the values of liberalism: freedom, fairness and sustainability. We may face dog days of difficult decisions, but even next May voters will know Lib Dems work hard for their area and local people. That’s why we are still gaining council seats in by-elections. Where we work, we win.

And in the long term? By 2015, the economy will be recovering. The gloom will be lifting. And our achievements will speak for themselves. Restored freedoms. Fairer taxes. An elected Lords. Fixed term parliaments. The world’s biggest programme of energy saving. A renewable renaissance without parallel in Europe. A new green economy.

At the next election, the people of Britain can vote Liberal Democrat, Conservative or Labour … Green, Nationalist, or even UKIP. But they can’t vote Coalition. We must show – and tell and convince – the country why we, the Liberal Democrats, not the coalition, deserve more votes, more seats, and above all more power. Because if you like partnership politics, this is the party to support. We are the party that believes in working with others to unite the country.

We’ve been crying in the wilderness for far too long. And we’ve come a long way. This is the breakthrough we have worked and waited for. The culmination of our efforts. The day of our dreams. Our time has come – to fight for our party, our values, and our country.”