In his maiden speech, Zac Goldsmith, the new MP for Richmond Park, argued that conservatism has always been green:
"The environment is the defining challenge of our era. It goes without saying—I hope—that without a healthy environment, we have no economy or future. It is the defining, underlying issue, and the basic maths tell us that we are heading in a dangerous direction: a growing population combined with an increasing hunger for resources means that the cost of living will at some point go up. If we take that to its logical conclusion, we will reach a point when conflict is almost inevitable.
We need only look at the facts. We can argue about climate change and our exact contribution to it, although I will not do that now, because other people have already done so today. The world’s bread baskets are being eroded. That is not a matter of opinion; it is a matter of fact. There is the destruction of the world’s forests, the loss of species and habitats and the collapse of the world’s great fisheries. These are real issues, and they are not subject to debate; they are matters of fact. They are not niche problems, but fundamental problems. I hope it also goes without saying that as we undermine the natural world and natural systems, we eventually undermine the basis of our own existence.
The cause of many of those problems is also, fortunately, the solution: the market. But if the market is blind to the value of valuable of things, if it is blind to the value of natural systems, and if it fails to put a cost on those things that should have a cost, economic growth can only be an engine of environmental destruction and a process that effectively means cashing in on the natural world until there is nothing left. Nevertheless, the market is the most powerful force for change that we know, other than nature itself. It is a tool, and if we allow the natural world to be plundered, it is simply because we have failed to understand how to use that tool. We need to put a price on pollution, waste and the use of scarce resources, and we need to invest the proceeds in alternatives. I do not think that green taxes should ever be retrospective—we have seen too much of that—and I do not think that the green agenda should ever become an excuse for raising stealth taxes. We have seen too much of that as well. However, whatever we do introduce must be real, not synthetic. We need rapid change.
I want to read out something that Margaret Thatcher said 20 years ago—she was well ahead of her time on this issue—so I hope that hon. Members will indulge me:
“Many of the precautionary actions that we need to take would be sensible in any event. It is sensible to improve energy efficiency and use energy prudently; it’s sensible to develop alternative and sustainable energy sources; it’s sensible to replant the forests which we consume; it’s sensible to re-examine industrial processes; it’s sensible to tackle the problem of waste. I understand that the latest vogue is to call them ‘no regrets’ policies. Certainly we should have none in putting them into effect.”
Margaret Thatcher was way ahead of her time, but she was also following a long but occasionally forgotten tradition in the Conservative party of paying tribute to and understanding the importance of the environment. It is a tradition that goes all the way back—as far back as anyone wants to go—to Edmund Burke, who said:
“Never…did Nature say one thing and Wisdom say another.”
Stewardship; looking out for future generations and recognising limits, particularly nature’s limits; providing security—these are core Conservative values. For as long as I am able to stay in this House, they are values that I will stand up for."