Fossil Fuels: Lobbying

– in the House of Commons am 5:54 pm ar 30 Ionawr 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Robert Largan.)

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion 5:59, 30 Ionawr 2024

To avert climate breakdown, the vast majority of the fossil fuel industry’s coal, gas and oil reserves need to stay firmly in the ground. Yet successive Governments, led by different political parties, have failed to take the kind of action that the science demands. They have known the indisputable facts and the consequences of inaction. Such consequences include the fact that the costs of delaying, and of failing to address climate, economic and social chaos, far outweigh those associated with an orderly transition along the lines of a jobs-rich, inequality-busting green new deal. Yet Government after Government have continued with business as usual. Government after Government have refused to grasp that despite some breakthroughs, successes and progress, the big picture has continued to get worse.

I do not deny that we are now seeing record amounts of energy being generated from renewable resources, for example, but these very welcome achievements do nothing to eliminate the dangerous damage arising from the continued extraction and burning of fossil fuels. Given what the experts have been saying for decades now, we have to ask ourselves why this Government, and others before them, have presided over, and colluded in, the frankly criminal decisions that have seen yet more oil, gas and coal continue to be explored and exploited. The answer to that question can be traced back to one consistent factor: the role of the fossil fuel industry in our politics. For over those very same decades when climate scientists have been warning of the rapidly shrinking window to avert a climate emergency, fossil fuel companies and their lobbyists have been denying the science, and then they have delayed, weakened and sabotaged climate action. Those tactics have enabled them to make billions in profits, while heating the planet and destroying communities.

In this debate, I want to highlight some of the ways in which fossil fuel influence is exerted in our politics and to propose how it should urgently be curtailed. I want to start with a case study, featuring the little-known fossil fuel lobby group Offshore Energies UKOEUK—whose members include North sea operators such as Equinor, Harbour Energy, BP and Shell, and whose activities have resulted in a windfall tax that actually rewards companies for digging up more oil and gas, and a “price floor” introduced entirely at the industry’s behest. Let me explain how that has happened. According to analysis of data in the public domain, OEUK and its members met UK Government Ministers more than 210 times in the year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—that is nearly once every working day. In June 2022, in that one month, when the Energy (Oil and Gas) Profits Levy Bill was drafted and consulted on, the industry went into lobbying overdrive: OEUK and its operator members had twice as many meetings with Ministers as they did in the month before or after. It also held a parliamentary reception, in the name of the all-party group on the British offshore oil and gas industry, for which it provides, conveniently, the secretariat. The main message for the MPs and peers in attendance was that the windfall tax would “undermine and disrupt” investment in the sector. In a meeting a few days later with the then Chancellor, now Prime Minister, the industry spelt out what it wanted to see in the Bill. Its recommendations, also put in writing to the Treasury, included protection for petroleum revenue tax repayments, which are, in essence, an existing tax break that can pay fossil fuel firms back for taxes they have paid in the past. The subsequent legislation did exactly as OEUK requested. Moreover, it introduced an enormous 80% “investment allowance”, which, combined with existing tax breaks, means that fossil fuel companies can claim £91 back for every £100 they invest in UK oil and gas extraction. As a result of that climate-wrecking loophole, Shell, for example, went on to pay no windfall tax at all in 2022.

The lobbying around the Bill was happening in the context of a wider lobbying campaign by OEUK, which had been urging the Treasury all year to reinstate regular meetings of the so-called “fiscal forum”, an advisory group that basically invites OEUK and its members to shape their own tax regime. On 9 December 2022, they got their wish; the fiscal forum met again, hosted by the new Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, and the industry used the meeting to claim, yet again, that the windfall tax would harm investment in the sector. That meeting occurred in the wake of the Chancellor’s already having announced further changes to the windfall tax regime that would, in effect, see taxpayers actually paying and handing over money to oil and gas firms for investments being made. None the less, those companies wanted still more and they used the fiscal forum to demand that a price floor be introduced—and, surprise, surprise, they got it.

In spring 2023, OEUK board members of Harbour Energy and Equinor met with Treasury officials. The minutes, secured via a freedom of information request, state that the “Equinor reps smiled” at Government’s reassurances—yes, I am sure they did.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

The hon. Lady is eloquently setting out how the Government are responding to heavy lobbying from the fossil fuel industry. Does she agree that no future generation—neither our children nor our grandchildren—will ever thank us, the politicians of today, for having put all our energy and focus into the energies of the past? Does she agree that the fossil fuel industry should really look at itself as well?

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

It will come as no surprise to the hon. Member that I completely agree with her. I do wonder what our own kids will think when the planet continues to heat still further, and what their kids, in turn, will think. What were we thinking of? What was the fossil fuel industry thinking of, certainly, beyond its profits? Apparently very little.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I commend the hon. Lady for bringing forward this debate. She has been assiduous in her commitment to these issues. Indeed, I would go as far as to say the hon. Lady has, on many occasions, been the conscience of this House on these issues. Does she agree that it is essential that votes cast and actions taken in this place are influenced by facts and reasoned opinion, and never by one individual or group? While there is a place for lobbying—let us be honest: it is through lobbying that we learn more; I understand that—it should be only a part of the consideration of any issue.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

I thank the hon. Member for both his comments, with which I agree, and his kind remarks. He is right: of course, lobbying happens, but a line gets crossed when money starts to change hands. There are perceptions—never mind what the reality is—of Members and groups potentially pursuing interests that are to their own advantage, rather than for the public good.

In June 2023, after sustained further lobbying meetings, letters and statements in the press, the Government introduced the price floor that OEUK had so assiduously lobbied for—surprise, surprise. To summarise: privileged access and meetings with Ministers, an opaque, official-looking lobbying group and an oil and gas fiscal forum advising the Treasury collectively resulted in significant changes to Government plans, which, in turn, resulted in a windfall tax that raised just half of what the Government had promised and saved corporations billions. All, of course, at a time of record fossil fuel company profits and a cost of living crisis for consumers. That is what happens when we let fossil fuels into every corner of our politics.

That is only the tip of the iceberg. Last year, it was reported that Gulf states pushing fossil fuels at COP28 had hired the now Lord Hammond and Lord Maude, along with former Prime Minister Tony Blair and other former leading politicians as “consultants”. As we know, it is incredibly easy for senior British politicians and civil servants to swap Government offices for consultancy retainers; they simply have to register with the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments—a body which even its chair, the former Conservative MP and now Lord Pickles, admits is toothless—if they take up any new paid or unpaid work within two years of leaving office. For example, ACOBA’s response to Lord Hammond working for Mohammed bin Salman’s regime was to note that his inside knowledge of the UK Government could be

“perceived to offer an unfair advantage”, and then it went ahead and approved it all the same. When, in 2021, Lord Hammond’s advisory work was deemed by ACOBA to have breached the rules, the only sanction was a strongly worded letter.

I know and accept the convention not to criticise the conduct of individual MPs or peers, so I simply want to set out facts that are already in the public domain and on the public record. It is not just former Ministers going through the revolving door between parliamentarians and the fossil fuel industry to take up lucrative consultancy roles. Second jobs, placements, internships and sabbaticals are all different sides of the same coin, and all too often a lot of coins are made or exchanged.

Members of this House can benefit financially from the fossil fuel sector in other ways, too, as Theresa Villiers presumably did when she held £70,000 worth of shares in Shell for five years when she was Environment Secretary, as published in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests in August 2023. I have done the courtesy of alerting any Member to whom I am referring in this Chamber, by emailing them to let them know. The right hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) also did in the shape of payments from oil company clients to business advisory service Zahawi & Zahawi, pieced together in research carried out by journalists Jonathan Watts and Pamela Duncan for The Guardian, from his shareholdings in an oil and gas exploration and production company, and the £1 million worth of donations he received from fossil fuel companies, including a regular monthly payment of £30,000 that stopped only when he became a Minister.

Sir John Hayes—who is in this place and with whom I have had a conversation to inform him that I am about to reference some of his interests—has been a Member of this place since 1997. He served as the Energy Minister under the now Foreign Secretary, and held down a second job for BB Energy, which trades more than 33 million metric tonnes of oil every year. As a strategic adviser, he was paid £50,000 per year for the equivalent of around 11 days’ work, according to his own Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

Three of the biggest donors to the Conservative party are funders or board members of the climate science sceptic think-tank the Global Warming Policy Foundation, or its spin-off Net Zero Watch. Companies from Cardiff Airport to ExxonMobil are handing out football tickets and passes for hospitality events to MPs across the political spectrum. In fact, I think I can safely say that there is probably only one UK-wide political party represented in Parliament that has not had some kind of handout from the fossil fuel industry, whether donations, expenses-paid trips, salaries or gifts. At this point, I give credit to Zarah Sultana for going public about the food hamper sent to her by staff at Heathrow in the hope it would secure her support for their third runway. They obviously did not know her very well.

Financial benefit cannot be divorced from conflict of interest or perceived conflict, It is worth noting that there is no requirement on Members of this House to declare any income from dividends or any income gained from the sale of shares. Given the seemingly routine way in which shares get moved into blind trusts when MPs become Ministers, as used by the current Prime Minister and Chancellor, or the £70,000 threshold at which we are supposed to publicly declare a shareholding stake, the idea that we have transparency around conflicts of interests is laughable.

The evidence suggests that Members of the other place are just as at risk of the perception, at least, that they are influenced by dirty fossil fuel money. A total of 43 peers have a significant stake in the industry according to 2021 data. There, the declaration threshold is lower at £50,000. It is lower again at the Senedd and Holyrood, but they are certainly not immune to fossil fuel influence. A lower threshold would clearly be an improvement, but we need to do more than just tinker with the existing rules. In the vast majority of these instances, nobody is doing anything that breaks the parliamentary rules. The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 only restricts about 5% of lobbyists—mostly trade unions representing workers, and charities. Meanwhile, corporations can pretty much do what they like, and consistently they do.

When we realise, as analysis by The Guardian clearly shows, that there is a direct link between fossil fuel money and the positions that MPs take in Parliament, it is self-evident that the rules cannot be fit for purpose. I believe that being an MP is about serving the public interest, not the interests of fossil fuel companies. In case anyone wants to suggest that they are working in the public interest, let me remind the House of the economic impact of continuing to extract and burn fossil fuels: public debt could rise to 289% of GDP by the end of the century if climate change is left unchecked, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility.

The climate impact is well known: if we want to be in with even a 50% chance of staying within the all-important 1.5° limit, we cannot open new fields, and we should be phasing out existing fossil fuel infrastructure in ways that will secure a just transition. That is not what these companies are using their influence to make happen, and they are frighteningly effective. Climate Action Tracker cites the Government’s doubling down on North sea oil and gas extraction as a key factor in the UK’s insufficient rating on compatibility with the Paris agreement and 1.5°. These companies’ dirty fingerprints can be seen all over our politics, and it is time to clean things up. What does that look like?

First, there would be a firewall between the industry and decision making—no lobbying meetings. If meetings are happening—for example, about the best way to secure the green transition—there must be full transparency, delivered in something approaching real time, not months after the event. At present, the Government publish details of some meetings every three months or so—often, it is every six months—but they are incomplete at best. I had to ask a series of formal parliamentary questions to expose a lunch that the then Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Kwasi Kwarteng, had with Saudi oil company Aramco. It was missing from his official declaration. First I was told that that was because it was a “social” occasion, and then that there had been an administrative oversight. All that happened months after the event—an event that, frankly, should never have happened in the first place.

It goes without saying that the behind-closed-doors cosy dinners, drinks events and so forth have to be dragged into the sunlight. There is no convenient line between social events and political business for Ministers or Ministers-in-waiting. If they have conversations about policy, either off or on the record, with someone from the oil and gas sector, or indeed another sector that stands to benefit, they should be required to make that public pretty much immediately.

A proper firewall means no industry representation on panels, Government research bodies, or expert or advisory bodies; no fossil fuel involvement in climate negotiations; no place on Government delegations to international negotiations or trade missions; no staff exchanges between the industry and Government Departments; far greater periods between leaving a ministerial role and Parliament, and consulting for an oil and gas firm, for example, with a complete ban on any sitting parliamentarians doing that kind of work, paid or otherwise; no implicit endorsements from politicians as a result of their speaking alongside industry representatives, or at events with which the industry has any kind of association; and certainly no fossil fuel company sponsorship of political party conferences.

Last year, Chevron co-hosted an event at Conservative party conference with the tagline:

“Can fossil fuel companies play a role in the energy transition?”

We know that the only role that they want to play is one of delay and obfuscation, so why should they be able to pay to get privileged access to Ministers and potential Ministers?

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Ceidwadwyr, South Holland and The Deepings

The hon. Lady will be surprised to learn that I agree with some of what she has said. It would certainly be wrong of such companies to lobby Ministers on any interests that they have. She will know that my views on these matters long predate any such interests—and for the record, I never lobbied any Minister on any matter connected with the interests that she has described.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and I understand, of course, why he would want to make it. I would simply say that there is concern around perceived influence as well as direct influence. I have no reason to doubt for a second what he has just said—I am sure that it is absolutely true—but at the same time, when people outside this place look at the facts that I have been laying out this evening, in a dispassionate way I hope, alarm bells will start to ring, at the very least. We are talking about an industry that has a massive impact on the future of our planet, and I think it right, given the access that it appears to have to people in high places, to have this debate and raise those questions in this place.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

Does the hon. Lady agree that, although we all roughly agree that we need to get to net zero, the biggest problem is the pace of change? The fossil fuel industry has successfully lobbied us all to say, “Not so fast! You can’t do it so fast. Don’t pull the rug from under our feet.” That is the biggest danger we face, because if we miss the target, there is no point talking about net zero. We have a 2050 target and we need to reach it urgently; we cannot delay any further, or go at a slower pace than necessary.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

I thank the hon. Member for her intervention, which reminds me of a powerful thing that the US campaigner Bill McKibben says: delaying is the new denial, and winning slowly is the same as losing. There is a real imperative here to be fast.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Annibynnol, Dwyrain Caerfyrddin a Dinefwr

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this Adjournment debate, and on the strength of her arguments. I echo the points made by Jim Shannon about her contribution to this House over the years. It has been a pleasure to serve with her over the last decade and more.

Would the hon. Lady add to her list the need to reduce the overall cost of politics? An article I read recently estimated that spending in the forthcoming general election will dwarf anything that has happened before. The expenditure on social media alone will be greater than for the last official campaign period. Political parties go looking, as they are at the moment, for vast amounts of money to spend on electioneering, but it comes at a cost, because the funders who give them that money then want something in return.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and his kind comments. It is always a great pleasure to work with him, and I agree entirely: when it comes to spending on elections, we seem to have an arms race that is out of control, which of course drives the obsession with getting more money to line the war chests that enable parties to fight those elections. A cap on that funding is urgently required, which brings me to the next point I wanted to make.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Trade), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow PC Chief Whip

To take the points that my hon. Friend Jonathan Edwards made about elections a bit further, does the hon. Lady have any confidence that things might change following the next election, given that the Labour party has said that it will stand by any licences granted between now and then?

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. It is incredibly disappointing that Labour has, in a sense, not followed its own logic; it is happy to say that it will not accept any new licences, but if Labour were to make the clear statement right now that once it got into power—if it did—it would revoke those licences, that could have a chilling effect on all the licences that are going ahead. They are going ahead at a huge rate, and the Government want to see them go ahead even faster. When an official Opposition has it in its power to stop that process and chooses not to, “disappointing” is too polite a term, frankly.

I was coming to the issue of dirty money in politics. I want to see an end to it, because it comes with strings attached that are tying up in knots our chances of a liveable future. There can be no conceivable justification for allowing the fossil fuel lobby to directly or indirectly buy favours from politicians, so there should be no donating to MPs or to political parties, and no donations in kind, whether that is to all-party groups or via football tickets, event sponsorship or trips overseas. At the same time, the rules on conflicts of interest need redesigning to shut out vested fossil fuel interests, not simply have them declared on the record. It is time to close the revolving door. No side jobs or cosy secondments; no blind trusts, putting things in the name of one’s spouse, or raking in money from shares or second jobs; and of course, much tougher sanctions for breaches of the rules—including suspension, for example.

Thirdly and lastly, the preferential treatment meted out to the fossil fuel industry must come to an end—most immediately, the handing over of public subsidies and other incentives for fossil fuels must end. Most notably, that comes in the form of favourable tax regimes, which in the past have resulted in oil companies paying less than $2 in tax per barrel of oil pumped from the North sea, compared with the $15 per barrel that companies pay if they are operating in Norway.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The hon. Lady is making some excellent points. Does she agree that it is quite frustrating to look at the regime in Norway, which collects more tax, meaning that the people of Norway have a fund for the future, while we will not have anything at all by way of legacy benefits from the oil and gas industry—only an unliveable planet, if things continue as they are?

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

I thank the hon. Lady very much for her eloquent intervention. She is exactly right. She underlines the point that stopping these vast subsidies for the fossil fuel industry is not only the moral thing to do, or in the interests of the climate; it is in the economic interests of the future of this country. The wealth fund in Norway is a very good model that we could, and should, have followed.

What I have described is one of the countless ways in which our politics is siding with and enabling the fossil fuel sector, as well as the banks, lawyers, lobbyists, consultancies, think-tanks and many others that feed off it. Those companies should have no place in our politics; if they do, it is undemocratic, and deeply dangerous for climate action, given that their priority is putting forward policies that actively and significantly undermine the UK’s climate commitments. Instead, we should seek to change politics into a force that sides with the economic writing on the wall, and the only chance we have of a liveable future: a transition to a climate-safe future with the public we are elected to serve.

I will bring my remarks to an end with three questions for the Minister. First, can he tell me who in Government has overall responsibility for monitoring the influence that fossil fuel companies have as a result of their political lobbying? Secondly, can he confirm whether the Government are satisfied that the checks and balances in place are sufficient to ensure that parliamentarians are not influenced by fossil fuel lobbying? Thirdly, does he agree that this goes to the very heart of how Government and Parliament are run, and therefore warrants the establishment of, for example, a new dedicated Select Committee to properly and regularly scrutinise the influence of the fossil fuel industry, and indeed other corporate influence on political decision making, as well as to make recommendations for change?

We are talking about not just the impact on climate but the standing of Parliament in this country. I think many people look at this place and draw conclusions that are not particularly favourable; it looks as if we are out for ourselves. We need to clean up politics, both because it is the right thing to do and because it might be just one step towards beginning to rebuild our reputation with the British public.

Photo of Alex Burghart Alex Burghart The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office 6:25, 30 Ionawr 2024

I congratulate Caroline Lucas on gaining this Adjournment debate, and echo in part what Jim Shannon said: although we do not agree on everything, we appreciate that she is to some extent the conscience of the House on these matters, and is always there to encourage Government and everyone else to go further.

I am pleased to be able to respond to some of the points that the hon. Lady raised. She made the case that the interactions between representatives of fossil fuel companies, political figures and those in public life should be transparent. The Government believe that lobbying is a legitimate part of political development in all areas, as long as it is conducted transparently and ethically to maintain the highest standards in public life. The Government outlined wide-ranging improvements to transparency around lobbying in their “Strengthening Ethics and Integrity in Central Government” policy statement of July 2023. These include revising guidance to widen the range of lobbying engagements declared by Departments, and linked reforms to the consultant lobbying framework. These measures, when implemented, will ensure that all lobbying activity, irrespective of which sector is being represented, will be conducted openly and in accordance with the principles expected of participants in public life.

In the UK, a number of systems ensure that lobbying activity is conducted honestly and transparently. Taken together, these systems, which set the rules for the consultant lobbying industry, Ministers and Government Departments, Members of Parliament and political parties, ensure that it is clear whose interests are being represented in public life. The register of consultant lobbyists, created by the lobbying Act—the Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014—has significantly increased transparency around the work of consultant lobbyists since its creation in 2015. The register makes it clear whose interests are being represented by consultant lobbyists, and provides accessible online information about those undertaking consultant lobbying and their clients, as well as details of investigations into alleged breaches of the Act.

The Act also established an independent registrar of consultant lobbyists, who has powers to monitor and enforce compliance and administers the register of consultant lobbyists. The register of consultant lobbyists complements existing transparency mechanisms, including the quarterly publication of ministerial meetings with external organisations, business appointment rules and industry-led regulation, such as subscription to industry codes of conduct.

From January 2024 onwards, meetings held between Ministers and consultant lobbyists will be declared through routine quarterly transparency. This will also apply to those senior officials who are subject to meeting declarations. New transparency guidance was published on gov.uk in December 2023, detailing stricter minimum standards for meeting descriptions, to ensure that declarations contain relevant, constructive information. As I said, new guidance expands the scope of transparency declarations for senior officials to include meetings held between external organisations and individuals, and directors general, finance and commercial directors, and senior responsible owners in the Government’s major projects portfolio.

The code of conduct for Members of Parliament sets out the standards of behaviour expected of Ministers, and the rules on the registration and declaration of interests. The code provides that Members must fulfil conscientiously the requirements of the House in respect of the registration of interests in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and must always be open and frank in declaring any relevant interest in any proceeding in the House or its Committees. It is for the Standards Committee, not the Government, to consider any changes to the approach to the registration of interests.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

The Minister is obviously going through the existing architecture that is supposed to guard against undue influence from lobbyists, corporations and so on. I wonder whether he would agree with his presumably former colleague, now Lord Pickles, who admitted that the office of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments is toothless, and that work does need to be done on that. If when a Member breaches the rules they simply get a letter telling them, “You should not do that again,” that will hardly be a sanction that anyone will be particularly worried about.

Photo of Alex Burghart Alex Burghart The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

Obviously, the Government take seriously anything that Lord Pickles says, and I certainly do. He was my predecessor in Brentwood and Ongar, and I hold him in high regard. There is a process by which such comments are considered, and we will continue to go through it.

I hope the hon. Lady will appreciate that a chunk of the framework that I have just set out is new, and it is important that we give it a chance to work. What governs a lot of our thinking—perhaps where we diverge from her—is the fact that we cannot envisage a situation in which it would be wise to shut energy companies out of the discussions. We consider them to be fundamental to the transition to net zero. We also believe that some may have a role when we get to net zero and that it is clear that some fossil fuels will be necessary even when we reach that destination.

Consequentially, the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero and her Ministers regularly met a wide range of stakeholders to discuss issues relating to energy security and net zero. Of course, that includes meeting oil and gas companies and representative organisations, as well as environmental organisations and charities. For a sector that supports around 200,000 jobs and is at the forefront of the drive to net zero and the energy transition, where the workforce is transferable to green jobs of the future, that is a responsible position to take.

The Prime Minister has reiterated that net zero is a priority for this Government, and we remain absolutely committed to meeting our legally binding net zero target. More than ever, we are determined to adopt a fair and pragmatic approach to net zero that minimises the burden on working people. No other country has matched our record on decarbonisation. Unlike most other countries, the UK’s climate commitments are set in law. The UK is a net importer of oil and gas and a fast-declining producer, hence new oil and gas projects simply reduce the fall in the UK supply; they do not increase it on current levels. The new Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill will not undermine those commitments.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

The Minister is being generous with his time. He will know that just today the Climate Change Committee issued an interim report saying that the Government are off target when it comes to their commitments and the thresholds they are meant to meet. He will also know that the same committee has been pretty critical of, for example, the new Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill. He cannot simply rest on his laurels and say that we had a good reputation in the past and therefore things are going to go well now—we are off track right now.

Secondly, the Minister talked about consultant lobbyists, but they are a tiny proportion of who is doing this work. For example, the Foreign Secretary was not registered as a consultant lobbyist when he worked for Greensill. The consultant lobbying issue is, frankly, a complete red herring here. We need to look beyond that at who is speaking to whom and with what effect.

Photo of Alex Burghart Alex Burghart The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

Alas, I have no laurels on which to rest; I am merely a junior Minister. Obviously, the Government are keen that we have a fit-for-purpose regime that ensures that lobbying is transparent. That is why we have introduced a number of the changes that I have already outlined.

On the report published today by the committee, the hon. Lady will have to forgive me because I have not yet had time to consult it, but we always take the committee’s findings seriously. She will also be aware that it has previously said that, even when we get to net zero, we will still require some fossil fuels for certain purposes.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Ceidwadwyr, South Holland and The Deepings

I think Caroline Lucas has got a point about ACOBA, and so does Lord Pickles. Happily, I have never breached ACOBA’s rules or any parliamentary rules, as she knows, but if anyone did so, surely there ought to be some measure that ACOBA could take? My hon. Friend the Minister has been through the process, as those of us who have been Ministers all have, and he will know that my own, long-established views on these subjects are unaltered, unaffected and uninfluenced by anything I do outside this place. But none the less, the point remains.

Photo of Alex Burghart Alex Burghart The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

It is hard to imagine my right hon. Friend breaking any rules, I have to say. I know the authorities will have noted what he said on ACOBA.

The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion has clearly articulated her views on how the UK should aim to reach the goal of net zero. That we might differ on that does not detract from the core principle that a range of energy stakeholders all have a role. The Government’s firm belief is that lobbying activity has an important and legitimate role to play in the policy development process, so long as interactions between lobbyists and political actors are properly declared.

We support the existing rules, which apply to the lobbying industry, Government and Parliament—both to individual Members and to informal groups and all-party parliamentary groups—and we shall continue to drive forward reforms to improve transparency. The hon. Lady might disagree, but in a democratic society, public policy is best informed by engagement and political debate. Elected representatives have to meet a wide range of people, not just people they agree with; that is democratic engagement. Such debate should be supported by an independent free press, and then, at the ballot box, we should trust the people.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.