‘Government has given up governing’, says Labour as Kwasi Kwarteng skips energy scrutiny

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Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, and Dominic Raab have all missed committee meetings since Boris Johnson’s resignation, with Michael Gove suggesting some areas of the government are ‘not functioning’ (POOL/AFP via Getty)
Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, and Dominic Raab have all missed committee meetings since Boris Johnson’s resignation, with Michael Gove suggesting some areas of the government are ‘not functioning’ (POOL/AFP via Getty)

Labour has accused the government of having "given up governing", after the business and energy secretary Kwasi Kwarteng skipped a key evidence session on energy security with parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee.

The committee aimed to scrutinise the government’s record on accelerating the transition from fossil fuels and securing energy supplies – a major aspect in the current cost of living crisis.

Despite having agreed to the meeting on 13 June according to the committee, the secretary of state wrote to members at the last minute to say he was "no longer able to attend" Wednesday’s meeting alongside witnesses from Shell and BP.

On Twitter, Mr Kwarteng remained active before and after the meeting was held, writing that he was today at a private investors event aiming to secure £9bn of funding for UK hydrogen technology.

The Environmental Audit Committee’s official Twitter account hit out at Mr Kwarteng’s decision not to attend the meeting.

It wrote: "In Britain’s biggest energy price crisis since the 1970s, @beisgovuk SoS @KwasiKwarteng writes to pull out of today’s important evidence session, having agreed to it on 13 June.

"He gives no explanation nor apology. This is not the way for senior ministers to treat scrutiny."

Shadow secretary of state for climate change Ed Miliband said: "Britain burns in a heatwave, but the business secretary dodges scrutiny. Tells you everything you need to know about a Conservative government that has given up governing."

Green MP, Caroline Lucas, who quizzed oil companies on their future plans at the committee, suggested Mr Kwarteng was "too scared to defend [the] government subsidising fossil fuels and pouring fuel on the flames".

Boris Johnson’s outgoing administration has already been accused of avoiding scrutiny since his resignation, with two other cabinet ministers also failing to attend select committees they were scheduled to appear before.

The home secretary Priti Patel failed to come before the Home Affairs Committee on 13 July, blaming "recent changes in government", and the following day, the justice secretary Dominic Raab cancelled his appearance at the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

The so-called "zombie government" was also criticised by former cabinet minister Michael Gove this week, who said parts of the government were "simply at the moment not functioning".

During the Environmental Audit Committee meeting, representatives from BP, Shell and Harbour Energy answered questions on their plans to decarbonise the sector in line with the UK’s net zero strategy.

MPs questioned the scale of the companies’ ambitions on reducing fossil fuel demand, and shift away from fossil fuel production, while expert witness Tessa Khan, a human rights and climate change lawyer and campaigner, also provided evidence.

Ms Khan highlighted how research by the Energy Research Centre, which aggregated 15 different studies that found that for every million pounds invested in the oil and gas industry you generate three jobs, "while in renewables it is ten times as much".

She said the UK was the third most attractive market in the world for renewables.

"We have heard from the International Energy Agency and others, who have shown that in a scenario where we stay below 1.5C [of global warming], we simply can’t have any new oil and gas developments."

She rejected that BP and Shell’s plans to invest 75 per cent of their future budgets was representative of the picture in the North Sea oil field.

"Of the 42 active operators on the continental shelf at the moment only 11 currently invest in renewables, and of those 11, about a third of them are investing in renewables in order to power their oil and gas operations. It’s not renewable energy that they’re generating to go into the grid."

Asked whether Shell’s plans were as ambitious as BPs, which has said it will cut production of fossil fuels by 40 per cent by 2030, Shell’s UK country chair, David Bunch, told the committee: "Just because BP stop producing, does that mean it’s not produced, or does somebody else come along and produce? There’s a demand. Demand just doesn’t evaporate when production stops."

Instead, he suggested Shell could pursue more oil and gas, but at "lower carbon intensity".

He also indicated the government needed to play a key role in legislating for the shift to a cleaner economy, though with no minister present, the committee was unable to examine how this could work.

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