Energy Bill Committee: the end is in sight (or is it?)

I’ve been very engaged in the Committee on the Energy Bill, which has been meeting four times a week for the past three weeks. To say this takes up your time is something of an understatement. Not only does it occupy pretty much all of each Tuesday and Thursday, but then there’s the preparation for amendments, of which a number put forward by me have been debated, and then there’s writing and putting them down, which if you’re the opposition means a resource base of you, your researcher, and if you’re lucky, a friendly pressure group to help out.  I’ve been actively discussing Contracts for difference, decarbonisation targets, capacity and decapacity payments, investment instruments, conflicts of interest with the new system operator, a strategic power reserve and other matters, which is one reason why I haven’t posted much here for some time. If you really want to know what I’ve been saying during committee, then my researcher (the same one who has been doing much of the work on preparing amendments) has posted everything on my website, and you can access it here.

But something rather strange has just happened: the committee has ground to a halt (as of 3.30 Tuesday afternoon.)  This is not to do with the fact that there isn’t anything more to discuss, because there is. What it seems to be about is that, according to the rules of the Committee, if the business on the order paper has been completed, then even if there are theoretically further sessions of the Committee available, any amendments or new clauses that haven’t been tabled at that point automatically disappear.  And – how can we put this delicately – the government is in danger of screwing it up.  A clutch of clearly rather badly thought out amendments on decarbonisation targets arrived very late on Monday night, too late to be debated on Tuesday (since the rules state that you need two clear working days before they can be) and promised amendments and new clauses on energy efficiency and demand side reduction simply haven’t materialised.  So after we had spent Tuesday morning discussing and rejecting carbon emission limits (with two Liberal Democrats on the Committee voting to reject their own Party’s policy, by the way)  there remained to discuss by early Tuesday afternoon just three new clauses, two put forward by the opposition and  one by the Scottish National member of the Committee Mike Weir.  And let’s say all the movers of these clauses had been terse and to the point, then… well all would have been up with the Committee by five o’clock. So the Government Whip moved to adjourn proceedings after less than an hour’s business, letting the Government live to fight another day, and more to the point save the life of their belated clauses for discussion and give them the opportunity to put some of their missing clauses onto paper in time for next week… if we get there.

The possibly unique spectre of Government Ministers filibustering all day Thursday to limp to the finishing line and give the poor harassed scribes below DECC, so to speak, time to rush something out looms.  So: look out for lengthy disquisitions on ‘Hegel and the theory of idealism as applied to energy-saving devices’ from Minister John Hayes, or perhaps ‘keeping my pet dog warm in winter’ from Minister Greg Barker.  I’m sure the Chair will not rule them out of order and I’m sure they’ll be interesting. But not really the best example of how to run a professional whelk stall.

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