October 02, 2023

Thérèse Coffey, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, addressed Conservative Party Conference 2023 in Manchester

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Thérèse Coffey addressed Conservative Party Conference 2023.

Here is what she said:

Conference, thank you.
It’s great to be here in Manchester, as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Defra covers so much on land and sea. Conference, we could do A to Z multiple times over.
Agriculture, animals, bins, chemicals, right through to zoos and pretty much everything in between.
In that, I am fortunate to be helped by my great ministerial team, Mark Spencer, Rebecca Pow, Trudy Harrison and Richard Benyon. Ably supported by our whips Jo Churchill and Jassett Harlech and our great PPSs Jerome Mayhew and Chris Loder.
As Defra ministers, we live and breathe the countryside. 
Three of my ministers farm and the other two, we represent very rural constituencies.
I can assure you here are no greater champions in government of farming and the countryside, apart from our Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, who has put British food and farming firmly at the heart of government whether hosting the UK’s first Farm to Fork Summit at Downing Street, and flying the flag for farmers in our trade deals. 
While we may disagree on who has the best county show (it’s definitely Suffolk), we are united in our mission to back British farmers in supporting nature and supporting rural communities.
And to achieve that we are making necessary long-term decisions for a brighter future and delivering on our plans so that the environment will be in a better state than we inherited it.
Our updated twenty-five year Environment Plan,
Our Plan for Water,
Our Plan on Unleashing Rural Opportunity,
Our Agricultural Transition Plan,
To name just a few.
But conference, of course it is not enough to have plans, it is about delivery.
And delivery at DEFRA needs dogged determination helped by being rooted in reality and by being respectful to the people who will help us achieve the outcomes we all want.
And also by being agile, turning ambition into action.
Conference, we are Conservatives by name,
Conservatives by nature,
And Conservatives for nature.
Throughout the last century, it is Conservative governments who have shown leadership.
It was Margaret Thatcher who was the first leader to speak about climate change on the world stage.
She spoke about Britain’s world leading scientists.
About healthy soils for our farmers, and the importance of international cooperation.
Meanwhile we can see both Labour and Liberal Democrats lassoing themselves to the latest bandwagon,
Trying to be the new best friends of the environment and of our rural communities. 
Well, Conference, I know people are savvy,
They will be wary of the wolves in sheep’s clothing.
They have heard Labour’s plans to have a right to roam.
When we already have well over a hundred thousand miles of public footpaths. 
That is really worrying for farmers, who are our key custodians of the countryside.
Frankly, the only right to roam on those fields should be their cattle, sheep and pigs.
Labour is also not supportive of the sensible changes that the Prime Minister has made on rural homes and heating.
We recognise that rural communities may need more time and more financial support to make an appropriate transition for net zero.
That is the sort of sensible policy that rural communities expect and shows that we are on their side.
They know they can trust us. They can trust Conservatives to deliver for them, for the countryside and for the planet.
The primary purpose of our farmers and food growers is to make sure we have food on our plates.
Food security is a key element of our own national security.
So I reaffirm the Prime Minister’s commitment to ensure that we produce at least sixty per cent of the food that we consume right here in the UK.
But the aftershocks of Covid and the inflation stemming from the illegal invasion of Ukraine have hit our farmers and of course, consumers too,
We want farmers to have a fair deal – which is why we are regulating so that they get fair contracts.
Our farmers produce the best food to the world, to the highest animal welfare standards.
But there are some green zealots who think our farmers should stop rearing livestock and instead we should eat fake meat.
Conference, regardless of what the zealots say – and I am being taken to court in relation to this right now – I am absolutely not going to tell anyone that they should not eat meat.
Fake meat may be ok for astronauts but when people think of a meat feast,
I want them to be thinking about our great Welsh lamb, our Aberdeen Angus beef, our Saddleback pork.
Not some pizza topping.
But there is one other group of farmers whose efforts I want to recognise,
And that’s of Ukraine…
Who, despite the illegal invasion by Russia are still managing to bring the harvest in.
We have continued to support them this year through President Zelenskyy’s Grain for Ukraine initiative and have also sent pumps and flood barriers to protect their homes and fields.
The United Kingdom will remain Ukraine’s steadfast ally for as long as it takes. 
Conference, the countryside is at the heart of what makes our country such a great special place to live.
But as well as the joys of rural life, we know there are challenges, particularly when it comes to digital connectivity.
I share in the frustrations of a crackling call or a faltering video Teams meeting.
Earlier this year Simon Fell, MP for Barrow in Furness, was appointed to be our rural connectivity champion and I know Simon has got to work straight away.
Today, I am delighted to announce that the Technology Secretary is reviewing the Universal Service Obligation which I expect will help rural households and businesses, and looking to get faster broadband to some of the most remote places in the country.
Connectivity isn’t just digital – in the countryside, it is mainly cars, buses and of course tractors!
I was delighted when we extended the two-pound bus fare.
We are going further today, the Transport Secretary is publishing a new rural transport strategy,
Setting out how we are going to support rural communities, revitalise rural roads, and planning for the future of transport technology too.
It’s another example of how we understand the needs of rural areas, and when we say that we are on the side of motorists we mean it.
And of course, everywhere Labour is in power, we see they are not.
Whether it’s London and ULEZ,
The twenty miles per hour blanket thrown across Wales while the Labour Government has cancelled major roads…
And even here in Manchester,
Where Andy Burnham, frankly, is the only Labour politician to beat Keir Starmer for flip flops,
He wanted a region-wide ULEZ as well.
Conference, we also need more homes in the countryside so that rural communities can continue to flourish,
That is why we have consulted to make it easier to turn disused farm buildings into homes,
And we are funding a new team of rural housing enablers right across England,
To support new small schemes,
And boost the supply of new affordable housing to rent.
Today, as a next step, with the Levelling Up Secretary, I can announce that Homes England is publishing a Rural Housing Statement,
Setting out how it will play its part in delivering the Government’s housing and levelling up priorities in rural areas.
So when it comes to the countryside, Conference,
Yes we have lots more to do,
But we have made so much progress and will continue to do so to have a thriving, vibrant countryside.
As the Secretary of State for Rural Affairs, I am the countryside champion across government,
But it’s clear from what work we are doing and new strategies that we are delivering that the countryside matters in all corners of this government.
And Conference, we are going further to help farmers and rural businesses by making the most of our Brexit freedoms.
Freedom from European rules,
Freedom to choose what works best for Britain.
We have already legislated to allow gene editing,
So that we can design crops that are fit for the future.
My officials are cutting red tape and introducing smarter regulation.
Frankly, bent or straight, it is not for government to decide the shape of bananas you want to eat – I just want to assure you they are safe to eat.
So we will be dropping absurd regulations, including the one on bendy bananas.
Contrast all this to Labour,
They are sneakily signing up to keeping in step with whatever Europe decides.
And while we are on the topic of Labour not being honest with people, Conference,
Frankly when they were in Government, there was minimal monitoring of sewage overflows, practically hardly any at all.
They looked the other way – and they were even taken to court by Europe.
And now what they propose in their incredible plan would see your households’ bills rise by one thousand pounds per year.
And as for the Liberals, their plan is nothing but a gimmick,
Switching off storm overflows, great, that would lead sewage to back up into your homes.  
With our Plan for Water, we are fixing Labour’s mess – yet again – and taking long-term decisions.
For the security of supply for homes, for businesses and our farmers too.
So Conference,
Be proud of what we Conservatives have achieved,
Be proud of what we have delivered for the countryside, even in just the last year.
Much progress made,
Still much more to be done
Now and for the long term.
We’re going to get down to business and we’re going to deliver it.
Thank you.