Blair turns green with pledge on environment

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair last night promised that the environment will be at the heart of a Labour government's decisions, in what the environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth described as the greenest speech made by a major party leader.

Mr Blair raised expectations of new green policies on transport and agriculture in the next few months, and repeated a commitment to set a target to cut global warming gases by a fifth by 2010.

Charles Secrett, director of Friends of the Earth, led a number of green groups in welcoming "a good speech, which put the leader's personal authority behind a number of specific pledges not heard of from the Labour front bench since an excellent policy document was approved in 1994".

Mr Blair told the Royal Society of the Arts in London: "The left of centre, I believe, is the natural home of those concerned about the environment. Such concern is founded on mutuality, on what is around you, not just you as an individual. That mutuality extends not merely between people in one generation but between generations."

The Labour leader made his first public commitment to the principle that economic growth should be "sustainable" environmentally. And he promised a parliamentary green audit committee which would scrutinise government action.

The speech made no reference to the sensitive issue of Labour's pledge not to build any more nuclear power stations - for which Mr Blair was responsible as energy spokesman in 1988. Former environment spokesman Jack Cunningham last year suggested the policy would be dropped. But Mr Secrett said: "We're confident the current [Labour Party] energy policy review will not lead to a change of policy. We have that on good authority from the highest levels within the party."

Mr Blair has not made a speech on green issues since being promoted to employment spokesman in 1989, although he did insert a reference to the environment in his new Clause IV of the party's constitution last year.

John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, described him as a "Tony-come-lately greeny" and said: "I am surprised he has the nerve even to give a speech on the subject."