Westminister Comment - Energy and Climate Change

Last Tuesday I chaired the last scheduled formal session of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee of this Parliament.

I have focussed a lot of my time on the Committee, as so much of the work of the Department we scrutinise impacts on us here in the North East. We are all consumers of energy and many local jobs depend on investment in energy regulated by the Department.

At the start of this Parliament we strengthened the role of committees by electing their membership and chair by secret ballot, when traditionally these posts had been party appointments.

The public image of Parliament is very much of the point-scoring at the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions. Yet, in the corridor above, and less in the public eye, much of the work of Parliament goes on in the various committee rooms.

Our enquiries are informed by many external written submissions, as well as evidence sessions where we question witnesses. Our reports and their conclusions are influenced by the evidence we receive.

Our reports are submitted to the Department and the Department has to respond to what we recommend. The exchange is all the more powerful as we tend, in most cases, to agree across party lines. If there is division it will be on the issue itself, with members from different parties uniting.

I certainly find that approach refreshing and think the reforms have helped us in our work

The week before last, I travelled up to Glasgow on the Tuesday afternoon to take part in a television debate about oil and gas, especially in the light of the job losses in the North East. In the run up to the debate, there were public tours of the BBC building.

As I passed a lift I heard one member of the public say, “It is an oil and gas debate” and the other replied, “I cannot think of anything more...” The lift doors shut before I could hear the last word. It may have sounded boring but it is vital to many jobs across the UK.

The debate did focus on the need to tackle the challenge of maturity and highlighted the importance of the Budget next week. This is something I returned to at Treasury Questions this Tuesday.

After getting back to Westminster, following the TV debate, I travelled to Norwich on the Thursday for a meeting of the cross-party group of MPs for offshore industries.

We have been set up by Ed Davey, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, to encourage investors in North Sea oil and gas to look at UK yards to meet their construction needs.

The following Thursday I attended an event to mark the first oil from the Kinnoull Field at BP’s headquarters in Dyce. At a time of uncertainty, it is good to see positive achievements like this. With the right incentives there is still a good future for the North Sea.

This week saw the Energy and Climate Change Committee’s report on smart meters published.

We see the potential savings as a benefit along with accurate bills, but are concerned that the current progress will delay the delivery of those benefits.

One of the other committees I have served on during my time in Parliament is the International Development Committee. We saw first-hand the positive difference UK aid makes to some of the world’s poorest communities.

The recognition that we were prioritising poverty reduction actually gave the UK greater influence. During our visit to Afghanistan, we saw a range of projects assisting the efforts to bring stability.

That is why I have joined other parliamentarians in congratulating Michael Moore MP on delivering our commitment to enshrine in law our aid budget.