Fossil fuels and political lobbying: an adjournment debate

On Tuesday 30th January 2024, the House of Commons debated the subject of the fossil fuel industry’s political lobbying. From the personal investments of MPs and Peers, to the industry’s privileged access to meetings with Ministers, the debate considered the deep entanglement between the fossil fuel industry and the UK’s politics.

Caroline Lucas MP (Brighton Pavilion, Green Party) speaks at the adjournment debate on fossil fuels and political lobbying Tuesday 30th January 2024.

Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, lead the debate. She laid out various examples of the fossil fuel industry’s political influence in action, and proposed measures to create a firewall between the industry and policy-making.

To watch the debate, click here (from 17.58). To read the transcript of the debate, click here. And stick with us here to read our summary and response.

“… 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.”

Caroline Lucas MP, fossil fuels and political lobbying adjournment debate, 30 Jan 2024

At the end of each day’s sitting in the House of Commons, there is a half hour adjournment debate. These debates are an opportunity for backbench MPs to raise an issue and receive a response from the relevant Minister.

As these debates do not require participation from other MPs, it is often the case that only the MP who applied for the debate and the Minister are in attendance. However, in this instance, there were various other cross-party MPs there, who made supportive interventions. This was largely due to the emails that they received from their constituents urging them to attend, using our email-your-MP tool, co-sponsored by the StopRosebank campaign and Tipping Point. Thank you everyone who took the time to do this!

  • The lack of urgency in the political response to the climate crisis is mostly the result of fossil fuel industry political lobbying. The industry has used its vast resources to delay, weaken and disrupt climate policy at every turn. The UK repeatedly claims to be world-leading in its response to the climate crisis, but the same day of the debate, the Climate Change Committee issued an interim report stating that the UK is off target to meet its climate goals.
  • The fossil fuel industry enjoys privileged access to meetings with Ministers, which allows it to shape policy. Opening case study, based on research published by Fossil Free Parliament: how Offshore Energies UK (OEUK) – the leading trade body for the oil and gas industry – used its privileged access to Ministers (we’re talking 211 meetings in the year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – that’s almost one every working day) to ensure the Windfall Tax was as favourable to the industry as possible. This was part of a larger lobbying effort over the course of 2022 to reinstate the ‘Fiscal Forum’ – a special advisory group comprising of OEUK and the Treasury, which essentially allows the industry to shape its own tax regime. To read about this in much more detail, please see our report.
  • The revolving door: it is very easy for politicians and senior civil servants to take on roles with the fossil fuel industry after, or even during, their time in politics. They just have to register with the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) if they take up this work during their time in office, or just within two years of leaving office. In the vast majority of instances, ACOBA approves the appointment, and regulation breaches – say the appointment offers an unfair political advantage to the company who has hired the former politician – very rarely result in serious repercussions. The chair of ACOBA, former Conservative MP and now Lord Pickles, has called the organisation “toothless”. (Please see the discussion of our ask ‘Break the Revolving Door’ for fossil fuels and politics revolving door case studies.)
  • Many politicians receive significant financial (and other) benefits from the fossil fuel industry, which creates a conflict of interest. A few examples given: Theresa Villiers, MP for Chipping Barnett and former Environment Secretary, held £70 000 worth of shares in Shell that remained undeclared until last year. Nadhim Zahawi, MP for Stratford-upon-Avon and former Chancellor under Boris Johnson, received more than £1 million in direct payments and shareholdings from the fossil fuel industry. Sir John Hayes, MP for South Holland and the Deepings and former Minister of State for Energy, has been receiving £50 000 per year for 80-90 hours of consulting work for BB Energy, a company that trades more than 33 million metric tonnes of oil a year. (Note: John Hayes was present, having been informed that his interests would be referenced, and he intervened to state that he broadly agrees with the points that Caroline Lucas was making about the problem of lobbying, and wished to assert that he “never lobbied any Minister on any matter connected with the interests”.)

“…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.”

Caroline Lucas MP, fossil fuels and political lobbying adjournment debate, 30 Jan 2024
  • The transparency regulations don’t go anywhere near far enough. The threshold for declaring shareholding stakes is £70 000 for MPs and £50 000 for Lords. There is no requirement to declare income from dividends, or from the sale of shares. Shares can also be moved into blind trusts when MPs become Ministers – removing all possibility of scrutiny.
  • End lobbying meetings with the fossil fuel industry, and other interactions that happen behind-closed-doors or ‘off the record’. If meetings have to occur with the fossil fuel industry – to discuss, for example, the green transition – then there must be full transparency, with the content of the meeting publicly disclosed as quickly as possible.
  • Eliminate the benefits. The fossil fuel industry must not be allowed to make donations to parliamentarians, or offer benefits-in-kind.
  • Close the revolving door. No staff exchanges between government departments and the industry; no sitting MPs to take on any work, paid or unpaid, for the fossil fuel industry; a greater time period between leaving office and assuming work in the fossil fuel industry.
  • De-platform the industry. The industry should not be permitted to sponsor, or have any kind of presence, at party conferences. And parliamentarians should not implicitly endorse the industry by sharing a panel with them or attending fossil fuel industry-affiliated events. No industry representation in Parliamentary organisations, expert or advisory bodies, or at climate negotiations.
  • Who in government has overall responsibility for monitoring the influence that fossil fuel companies have as a result of their political lobbying?
  • Can the Minister confirm whether or not the government is satisfied that the measures currently in place are sufficient to ensure parliamentarians aren’t influenced by fossil fuel lobbying?
  • Will the Minister agree that this goes to the heart of how government and parliament are run, and therefore that it warrants the establishment of – for example – a new dedicated select committee to properly scrutinise the influence of the fossil fuel industry and other corporate influence on political decision-making, as well as to make recommendations for change?

Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat MP for Bath

Made two interventions. In the first, she spoke about how future generations will be unable to forgive past generations for fixating on the energy “of the past”. In the second, she argues that the biggest problem is no longer climate denial – but climate delay. Lucas agreed.

Jim Shannon, DUP MP for Strangford

Suggested that all political decisions should be influenced by facts and reasoned opinion. And that lobbying can be a part of this, because “it is through lobbying that we learn more”. Lucas broadly agreed, but stated that the problem really arises when the there is money involved.

Jonathan Edwards, Independent MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

Argued that the overall “cost of politics” – election campaigning – needs to be reduced or restricted. “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.” Lucas agreed.

Hywel Williams, Plaid Cymru MP for Arfon

Asked Lucas if she “had any confidence” that things might change at the next election, given that Labour have said that they will not revoke the new oil and gas licenses signed off by the Conservatives. Lucas replied saying that the stance Labour had taken was more-than-disappointing, given that if they were to say that they would revoke the licenses, that would really disrupt investment in new oil and gas projects right now.

Alison Thewliss, SNP MP for Glasgow Central

Pointed to how Norway collects much more tax from the fossil fuel industry than the UK does, so that they are at least bolstering their sovereign wealth fund, while the UK’s only inheritance will be an unliveable future. Lucas agreed.

Sir John Hayes, Conservative MP for South Holland and the Deepings

As aforementioned, Hayes stated that he largely agreed with the points Lucas was making, and wanted to assert that he has never lobbied any Ministers with regards to his own interests in BB Energy.

Alex Burghart, Conservative MP for Brentwood and Ongar and Parliamentary Secretary for the Cabinet Office, was responsible for responding to Caroline Lucas’ points and questions. The following points summarise his response:

  • The government believes that lobbying is “a legitimate part of political development in all areas, as long as it is conducted transparently and ethically”
  • He argued that the measures to ensure that lobbying is conducted transparently and ethically are already good and that they are being improved – for example, from January 2024, lobbying meetings will have to be reported quarterly.
  • Any changes to the approach in the way that Members’ interests are registered needs to be decided by the Parliamentary Standards Committee, not the government.
  • The government believes that fossil fuel companies need to be a part of the transition, particularly because the industry currently supports 200 000 jobs. He also argued that the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill does not contravene the UK’s climate commitments because even the Climate Change Committee has said that fossil fuels will need to be a part of the UK’s energy mix for decades to come. (Note: The CCC has been critical of the government’s pursuit of new oil and gas projects in the North Sea.)
  • Closed by arguing that continuing to have a relationship with the fossil fuel industry is crucial to democracy – in which all parties and organisations, across the spectrum of view points, must be engaged with.

This debate presented a critical first step towards the possibility of Parliament restricting the political access and influence of the fossil fuel industry. For the Commons to even formally discuss fossil fuel lobbying as an issue is unprecedented, and suggests that the tide could be turned on the industry’s political license – like the tobacco industry before it.

Given how often adjournment debates are attended only by the MP who applied for the debate and the Minister, we were really pleased by how many other MPs came along and made supportive interventions. We would like to thank Caroline Lucas for blazing the trail in this direction, for speaking to the issue in such a compelling fashion, and for working with our research into OEUK and the Windfall Tax. We would also like to thank everyone who took the time to email their MP to ask them to attend.

Of all of the points that Alex Burghart made in response to Caroline Lucas’ speech and questions, there were two that stood out to us. First, the point about the number of jobs that the industry supports – and why it is therefore responsible for parliamentarians to continue to engage with the industry. And second, about how – generally – engagement is the democratic choice. The jobs point has served as further encouragement to our team to put greater effort into collaborating with industry workers on any mutual objectives with respect to a just transition. Meanwhile, the engagement point reinforces the need to strengthen the public and political understanding about how engagement with the fossil fuel industry is only further serving the industry’s interests, and not that of people and planet. The fossil fuel industry has made it perfectly clear that it intends to remain the fossil fuel industry, and not evolve into the renewables energy. Their business model is completely antithetical to a liveable future, and therefore the only responsible position for our parliamentarians to take towards it is to legislate its fast and just decline.

Revealed: climate and energy parliamentary groups have received at least £240K in benefits connected to the fossil fuel industry

Read the full story as covered by DeSmog on 11 December 2023

Fossil Free Parliament and DeSmog have uncovered 12 APPGs with connections to the fossil fuel industry, including three that have received benefits worth more than £240 000 from oil-and-gas-funded think tanks.

APPGs – or All-Party Parliamentary Groups – are informal collectives of MPs and Peers around a particular theme (such as “Climate Change” or “American Football”). They discuss issues pertaining to that theme and attempt to influence relevant policy areas. They are required to register financial interests and “benefits in kind” – services at a reduced rate or free. However, the House of Commons Committee on Standards has found that these requirements do not go far enough to ensure that APPGs are transparent and accountable, and stated in their recent report on APPGs that:

Summary of findings:

The British Offshore Oil and Gas APPG

The APPG is co-run by trade body Offshore Energies UK (OEUK), the rebranded Oil and Gas UK, which also acts as its secretariat. As Fossil Free Parliament revealed in October 2023, OEUK used its position within the APPG to lobby against the windfall tax.

The Net Zero APPG

Chaired by Labour MP Alex Sobel, the Net Zero APPG says it works to “secure a low carbon and clean industrial and economic future for the UK [and] embed zero carbon solutions”. In January 2023, the group received up to £51,000 from Vision10, a policy group whose members include Calor Gas, the UK’s leading supplier of  liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). Vision10’s membership also includes green groups and renewable energy companies. 

The group’s website says its supporters include British multinational energy supplier Centrica, which owns British Gas, and French energy supplier EDF. Both provide gas for domestic heating, which accounts for 14 percent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. 

The Environment APPG

In December 2022, the APPG received a £5,000 donation from German energy company RWE, which is listed as an “associate member” on the group’s website. RWE runs the most polluting coal power plant in Europe. In 2022, 36 percent of RWE’s output was gas, compared to 33 percent renewable energy, including offshore wind. 

The Hydrogen APPG

In February, the Hydrogen APPG received at least £70,000 worth of services to help run the group from Connect, a PR firm paid for by oil and gas companies. 

The companies include Shell, Cadent and Equinor. Connect has provided similar funds in previous years, according to the register.

The Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage APPG

The CCUS APPG is co-run by a trade group called the Carbon Capture and Storage Association (CCSA). As DeSmog reported in September, nearly a fifth of the CCSA’s 100 members are oil and gas companies, including BP, ExxonMobil, Shell and Equinor. 

The CCSA board is also dominated by key figures at oil and gas companies, including BP, Equinor, and Shell. CCSA is also part of Vision10, the policy group which donated to the Net Zero APPG.

The Energy Studies APPG

The stated objective of this APPG is to “advise the Government of the day on the energy issues of the day”. The APPG lists its associate members for 2021-22 as BP, Equinor, ExxonMobil, Cadent, and RWE. Additionally, Cadent is on its executive council for 2022-23. 

The Carbon Monoxide APPG

In January, the APPG received up to £120,000 of benefits in kind from Policy Connect, a cross-party think tank which connects MPs with stakeholders on issues including industry and sustainability. According to its website, Policy Connect’s biggest funders, which donated £20-30,000, include gas distributors Cadent, Northern Gas Networks and Scotia Gas Networks. 

The Corporate Governance APPG

The stated purpose of the Corporate Governance APPG “is to develop and increase understanding of corporate governance through the promotion of a culture based on responsible leadership and investments.” In April 2023, the APPG received a direct donation of £5000 from BP.

The Marine Energy APPG

The stated purpose of the APPG is to “promote the economic, supply chain and energy security benefits from the development of marine energy resources in and around the UK.” The APPG lists Renewable UK as its secretariat. The renewable energy trade body’s members include major producers of oil and gas, Shell and BP. The APPG received between £4,501 and £6,000 of benefits in kind from Renewable UK in October 2021, the most recent entry.

The Energy Costs APPG

The APPG has three stated purposes: to promote evidence-based discussion on all aspects of energy costs; to inform energy policy decisions and public debate; and to enable communication between interested parties and relevant parliamentarians.

It lists as external members Calor Gas and RWE, along with environmental groups including Greenpeace. 

The Football APPG

The APPG received a £25000 donation from Cadent in August 2022.

The East of England APPG

The APPG received between £37,501 and £39,000 from Steve Barwick Political Consultancy, a communications firm which claims it “helps create and drive change in Westminster, Whitehall and throughout the UK’s regions”. According to the APPG register, the consultancy’s funders include gas distributor Cadent.

BREAKING: How shadowy groups and privileged access enabled the fossil fuel industry to derail the windfall tax – a new report from Fossil Free Parliament

Read our newest report into the fossil fuel industry’s political influence: How shadowy groups and privileged access enabled the fossil fuel industry to derail the windfall tax

No Fossil Funding Pledge launched

Fossil Free Parliament has launched a new pledge for MPs to sign, committing to reject donations, gifts, sponsorship deals and any other benefits from the fossil fuel industry and its affiliates. This is in line with the first of our five demands, to Block the Money Pipeline. 

The pledge is now available online for any MP or Peer to add their name to, and we encourage anyone to write to their MP about it and ask them to sign. We are pleased to announce that the first ten MPs have already signed the pledge and will be sharing the list of signatories very soon!

This pledge is important because the fossil fuel industry offers benefits to MPs in a bid to curry political influence. When MPs accept benefits from the fossil fuel industry or its affiliates, they both implicitly condone the industry’s dangerous disregard for its role in accelerating the climate crisis and open themselves up to further influence in support of the industry’s interests. When our decision-makers should be channelling every effort into bringing about a just and fast transition away from fossil fuels, accepting benefits from the fossil fuel industry now creates a particular conflict of interest for MPs.

For example, in the year leading up to the publication of the government’s North Sea Transition Deal in March 2021, the governing Conservative Party received a total of £419,900 in donations from companies and individuals involved in the North Sea oil and gas industry. When published, the deal made no mention of an end-date for fossil fuel extraction in the North Sea, and included grounds for the approval of new drilling licences, contravening International Energy Agency advice. This year (2023), the Government has signed off on hundreds of new drilling licences, making it very clear that the interests of the fossil fuel industry in the North Sea are a political priority. 

There are also various cases of individual MPs accepting fossil fuel industry benefits. For example, in summer 2023 SNP Westminster group leader Stephen Flynn was gifted VIP tickets to Wimbledon worth £1500 by BP. As the MP for Aberdeen South – Europe’s oil capital – Flynn has a clear role to play in decisions about the future of the fossil fuel industry. In response to questions from the press about these tickets, Flynn responded by pointing to BP’s role in the development of Aberdeen’s new “Hydrogen Hub” – a new hydrogen production, storage and distribution centre in Aberdeen, purportedly to be powered by renewable energy. As BP plans to invest double the amount of money in fossil fuel projects than in renewable projects this year, and has rolled back on its emission reductions targets after a major bump in its oil and gas profits – emphasising the company’s role in the Hydrogen Hub contributes to its efforts to greenwash its image. 

In this way, it is clear that when MPs accept donations, gifts, or benefits of any kind, they are likely to be put in a position where they have to defend that decision and thus do the work of greenwashing these polluters for them. Disallowing the fossil fuel industry to supply decision-makers with donations, gifts or benefits of any kind is a necessary precondition for decision-makers to be able to make impartial decisions on phasing out the fossil fuel industry. Please see the dedicated No Fossil Funding Pledge page for more information.

Write to your MP!

If you want to help us address the issue of fossil fuel industry donations, gifts and benefits, please write to your MP asking them to sign the pledge. You can find out who your MP is and their email address using this online tool. We have all sorts of useful resources that you can use to help with contacting your MP, so please don’t hesitate to email if you want any advice or support. 

We also want to know what your MP says in response. If they say yes, then we’d love to celebrate this. If they say they can’t sign for some reason or have technical questions to ask, we would love to help you with the next steps of the conversation. Again, please email us on anytime.

Equinor hosts a breakfast reception at the House of Lords; Fossil Free Parliament calls on MPs and Peers to reject the invitation

StopRosebank campaigners protest Equinor’s involvement at a TED climate conference in London, 6 Oct 2022

On Thursday 22nd June 2023, all Parliamentarians were invited to a breakfast reception at the House of Lords, where Norwegian oil giant Equinor’s Senior Vice President and Chief Economist, Eirik Wærness, presented an update to Equinor’s “Energy Perspectives” report.

The invitation refers to Energy Perspectives as an “independent report” (prepared by Equinor analysts…) that sets out a range of “possible contrasting pathways” up to 2050, to provide a “platform for debate and decision-making”. In the report, Equinor states that the Russian war against Ukraine is making the 1.5 degree global heating limit ambition “increasingly difficult to achieve”. While Equinor has been pushing the UK Government to support their plans to develop Rosebank – the largest undeveloped oil and gas field in the North Sea – the subtext of this report is clearly an argument for continued fossil fuel extraction to ensure energy security, at the cost of accelerated devastation to our climate.

In response, Fossil Free Parliament collaborated with the StopRosebank campaign on a Twitter storm and email campaign – encouraging members of the public to contact their MPs to ask them to boycott the reception, thereby denying Equinor the special privilege of presenting its arguments directly to MPs. Given that the response was coordinated at short notice, we were thrilled that 7 MPs stated that they would reject the invitation: