Huhne defends nuclear deal with Tories

By Ian Dunt

Chris Huhne has defended his decision to give way to Tory policy on nuclear power to a skeptical Lib Dem audience.

In his key note speech to the party conference in Liverpool, the energy and climate change secretary delivered a passionate defense of his decision to back down on his opposition to nuclear power.

“The coalition agreement involves give and take,” he argued.

“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.”

Mr Huhne went out of his way to remind the hall that compromise was a price worth paying for having Liberal democrat politicians holding the reins of power.

“We’ve been crying in the wilderness for far too long,” he said.

“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.”

Mr Huhne also announced departmental timetables to tackle climate change across government, calling the creation of a sustainable economy Britain’s third industrial revolution.

“This low-carbon revolution poses the greatest challenge across Whitehall in peacetime,” he said.

“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.”

Labour leadership contender Ed Miliband said Mr Huhne had failed to properly commit to nuclear because of the caveat about subsidy.

“Chris Huhne has let down those who believed the coalition’s pledge to be the greenest government ever,” he said.

“Going green involves tough choices and he has ducked them all, including pandering to his party on nuclear power when the industry needs certainty to invest.”

Green Party leader Caroline Lucas took the opposite view, and argued against any moves towards nuclear.

“He’s wrong about nuclear. It won’t deliver emissions cuts fast enough or big enough,” she said.

“And he is being completely disingenuous about no public subsidies. The fact that nuclear doesn’t pay its full liability costs is a subsidy, the fact that it doesn’t pay its full waste and decommissioning costs is a subsidy.”

Mr Huhne acted as home affairs spokesman when the Lib Dems were in opposition, but was given the energy and climate change brief after playing a prominent role in the coalition negotiations.