Coffee House

Lawson: Abolish DECC

8 February 2012

Did we need to replace Chris Huhne at all? Nigel Lawson, a former editor of The
Spectator (amongst other things), has an intriguing idea in a letter to today’s FT: just break up the
Department for Energy and Climate Change. It has done nothing to encourage the development of shale gas, which — as we argue in a leader in tomorrow’s Spectator — could keep
Britain in energy for the next 100 years without the need to build another windmill. Lord Lawson, a former energy secretary, says that Ed Davey:

‘…has the opportunity to enter the history books as the only minister to use his position to abolish it for the wider public good. The yoking together of energy and climate change has
given this country the worst energy policy for a generation – bad for the economy, bad for industry, bad for the taxpayer and bad for the consumer. The time has come to put responsibility
for climate change policy back into the environment department, where it properly belongs, and to put energy policy into the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills from where Mr Davey has
just emerged.’

 Cameron believes in cutting the size of government. This could be a perfect place to start.

Give the perfect gift this Christmas. Buy a subscription for a friend for just £75 and you’ll receive a free gift too. Buy now.

Show comments
  • mikehaseler

    Better than break it up – scrap the department and make all the idiots in the department redundant.

    The civil servants are worse than useless and we need to cut the public budget.

  • Major Plonquer 1

    Chris tells us:

    ‘You’d have thought someone with Lawson’s record would keep very very quiet out of sheer embarassment.

    Along with that other incompetent Lamont he owes me several tens of thousands of pounds.’

    Dear Chris, you are a resident of the UK. I am a resident of China. By my calculations you owe me ten times as much.

  • Grumpy Optimist

    The world may or may not be warming …. global warming may or may not be a bad thing … if global warming is taking place and is a bad thing then mankind may or not have something to do with this …. if mankind has something do to with this thing that may happening and may be a bad thing, then we can or cannot do anything about it …. and if can do something about it then perhaps or perhaps not the way to proceed it through government subsidies and international agreement … and if government action in aggregate might help then for sure, the UK taking the lead in this is a costly crazy mistake that will cost us all dear.

    I rest my case

    • mikehaseler

      The only thing that we can be sure about, is that the way we have allowed this minuscule problem from the little bit of CO2 to be blown up out of all proportion will make our generation look like headless chicken morons.

  • El Sid

    @Rhoda Klapp. Thanks. I think the best analogy is the hype surrounding nuclear power back in the day, the assertion that it would be too cheap to meter. In fact it ended up costing a bit more than fossil fuel electricity (Sizewell B electricity costs about £60 per MWh, 15-20% above the current wholesale price; it’s not just renewables that get subsidised) and of course there’s a whole host of other problems with it. Some of the hype was justified, nuclear is still an important part of our generation mix, but we’re a long way from “too cheap to meter”. As for shale gas, the best thing for government to do is just get out of the way and let companies place their bets on the geology without too much interference.

    [filter gah!]

  • El Sid

    Sure, there’s huge amounts of very high technology now going downhole during exploration, and things like horizontal drilling are very clever – but it all costs, and the effect is that technology doesn’t reduce drilling costs that much, in fact it tends to send things the other way. What technology tends to do is get you to places you wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach, and at less cost to the environment. Yes there’s been a lot of innovation in the shale gas world – but the technology is now pretty mature. There’s no obvious fairy dust out there that will make a big difference to your cost per therm, there’s a few things that may increase the total gas recovered though.

  • El Sid

    @Draughtsman – yes and no. The basics of drilling haven’t changed much since Spindletop in 1901 – there’s only so many ways of making a hole in rock.

  • El Sid

    I’d also reform European gas markets, that’s for another day.

    @Hexhamgeezer – yes, “our” gas has obvious implications for security of supply – but only if it’s vaguely economic. We can get a lot of the benefits of UK-produced gas at lower cost by expanding our gas storage. As an aside, Gazprom don’t supply much of our gas, although their actions do have a knock-on effect via the interconnector to Europe. The kind of discussions you talk about happen automatically, via the market price.

  • El Sid

    The other problem is the way the gas markets work in Europe – in general they are tightly linked to oil, which means that they’re not very good at responding to the different needs of the gas market.

  • El Sid

    What @PayDirt said. Particularly the bit about gas storage. Although the Italy story is a bit complicated, people are trying to spin it as Russia turning off the taps when in fact Russia only supplies 20 percent of Italian gas. The biggest problem with the Italian gas supply is a legacy of a slothful nationalised monopoly, and a Byzantine planning system. Berlusconi cleared out a lot of the planning hurdles, but then the credit crunch hit followed by the Euro crisis and nobody has been particularly keen to throw millions of euros at projects in Italy.

  • salieri



  • Simon

    Megan Sullivan: Quick lesson on the ‘so called’ consensus.

    >10,000 people (claimed to be scientists) were sent a questionnaire about Global Warming belief. Approx 3,000 responded, of which only 97 responses were selected and only 2 of the questions of the survey were used and published, the rest kept secret. 95 of the 97 agreed that man’s (CO2) emissions were responsible for the rising temperature.

    Hardly scientific, and somewhat awry on the maths. 95 out of 10,000 or even 3,000 most certainly isn’t 97/98%. So you see, the consensus is a total fabrication, and anyone who quotes it is either totally ignorant of fact, or lying.

    Remember: “Nullius in verba”, which means don’t take my word for it but go and find out the facts yourself. When you do, you will find this to be true.

    Also remember: consensus is an anathema to science. Science does not operate by a vote (or belief), it operates by testing hypotheses with experiments that produce real observational data – facts!

  • Rhoda Klapp

    Where does that 98% of climate scientists come from? Is it not in fact an exaggeration of the result of a twisted fiddled self-selected survey, long since rebutted?

    I am convinced by El Sid’s attempts to curb any over-enthusiasm about shale. Either it is a miravle get-out-of-jail card, or it is just one of a range of variously competitive options. The important thing is that the stupid bloody government neither ignore it nor bet the farm on it. It has its place. But not as the next home for rent-seeking money.

  • Andrew Shakespeare

    Nice idea. Nobody will listen to him. Not a chance in hell.

  • David Ramsbotham

    The price of energy is a national disgrace. When will the Government admit that its energy policies are doomed?

    Are you disillusioned by rising electricity prices, over dependence on the “green” dream [especially uneconomical and inefficient wind farms] and the destruction of our countryside then please register your objection to the Government by GOOGLING “E-PETITION 22958” and following the link.

  • PayDirt
  • PayDirt

    Costs will not be driven down here, more like costs will rise to extract profit from the customers. We are not talking Chinese workers undercutting world market but every Tom D&H getting in on the scene, most obviously the tax take. Besides other countries have higher shale gas estimates, Poland Argentina to name two. Much more critical is for the Govt to encourage UK gas storage capacity, buy cheap gas and store it for winter use / energy security.

  • Cynic

    Lord Lawson must have read my comment on the reshuffle story.

  • Mr L

    I see Megan Sullivan has been taking lessons from Blair et al. The issue is not whether the world is warming up (although it sure as hell doesn’t feel like it today) but whether man’s puny efforts are responsible. The world may well be warming up: this would not be surprising as it is still emerging from an Ice Age. It is another New Labour canard that spending money on something automatically achieves something. This is plainly wrong but it is a standard part of the straw-man argument typical of this way of thought.

    Spending money on windmills etc is a sheer disgrace. Stop the subsidy tomorrow, and start building some proper power stations.

  • Draughtsman

    El Sid – Drilling and fracking technology is advancing very quickly and costs will be driven down. There doesn’t seem to be too much doubt that there are more large shale gas discoveries to be made in the UK so I wouldn’t be too downbeat about the future in this regard. Always providing of course that there is a will to develop the resource and the naysayers, who have far too much to say for themselves in my opinion, don’t get their way.

    Shale gas will be the ideal bridging fuel whilst new technologies are developed which will promise energy security in perpetuity.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    Surely the key point about shale gas is not it’s potential cheapness but that it will be OUR gas and, at the very least, a bargainig chip (via tax regimes) with Gazprom.

  • Wily Trout

    Did anyone see the article in the Sunday Times citing evidence that wind farms actually change the weather?

  • El Sid

    As I mentioned in response to James’ article, John Richels, the boss of Devon Energy reckons that most shale gas needs prices of $6-7 per mcf (ie 38-44p per therm) to be sustainable (*ttp://, others put it at over $8 per mcf. In the UK it’s going to cost potentially twice as much as the average US well for a variety of technical and planning reasons. So you could be talking 80p/therm or more – and the wholesale price is averaging about 55p/therm in the UK.

    The other danger is getting caught up in the hype, before the engineers have done their work. In other words – don’t believe everything Cuadrilla say. By 2010 the Marcellus Shale had seen many more wells than Lancashire, and the US government reckoned that the Marcellus basin could yield nearly 20 years of US consumption. After just one more year of drilling, they were forced to cut that estimate by 66%. It’s still a lot of gas, but it shows the fragility of early resource estimates.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think we should be pressing ahead with assessing the UK shale resource – but I would be cautious at this stage, it probably won’t be a cornucopia of cheap gas. Same applies for underground coal gasification which is the other great white hope – another case of a big potential resource, but probably not cheap to extract.

  • El Sid

    Oh Fraser, I hope you’re not going to embarass yourself in this leader by putting too much weight on that piece by Dieter Helm the other day. It really is scary if that guy has any influence on government as James said. Certainly for a professor of energy policy at Oxford, he is unbelievably ignorant about how energy markets work – even the teaboy on a trading floor would know more about the subject. Truly schoolboy stuff.

    Plus he twists stats to fit an agenda in a way that even the Guardian would be embarassed by. Give me an hour with him and I might be able to talk some sense of reality into him….

    As discussed in the comments of *ttp:// – perhaps the biggest issue with shale gas is the cost of extracting it. There may be a lot of it but it is not cheap gas.

  • Megan Sullivan

    The clue’s in the title Mr Lawson. Shale gas does nothing to tackle climate change. DECC is short for the Department of Energy and Climate Change. DECC correctly recognises that whilst gas has a role it is important to encourage energy efficiency and renewables. The first step would be to acknowledge that the 98% of climate scientists who agree that global warming is occurring are better placed to inform policy than a former member of the Thatcher government.

  • Andrew Tennant

    Curious – under your editorship is The Spectator intent on being a magazine solely for right wing climate change denying headbangers, or does it aspire to broad political readership?

    I ask because, on reading this article, I’ve decided to bite the bullet and to cancel my subscription.

  • EC


    Unfortunately your blag, and Mr Lawson, were upstaged by somewhat more thorough job by Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail yesterday.

  • Sir Graphus

    It is the ministry of conflicted interests. Its job is to keep us warm and to avoid climate change.

    The trouble for a minister of “modern” calibre is that to commission a new power station is difficult and potentially unpopular, while to waffle on about climate change is really easy.

  • David Ossitt

    Fergus Pickering

    “That’s a very silly remark, telemachus”

    His always are.

  • Heartless Curmudgeon

    Q1. Did we need to replace Chris Huhne at all?

    A. NO!!

    Q2. Has the H2B the guts and gumption to do it?

    A. ?

  • JohnPage

    On shale and government

  • oldtimer

    This a sensible suggestion. Unfortunately sense seems to be a scarce commodity in the Coalition.

  • JohnPage

    It’s so realistic to suggest that the LibDems are going to give up a cabinet position, isn’t it.

    Vince can’t grip his present brief, so what a great idea to add more to it.

    Glad to hear, though, that The Spectator is going to highlight shale – a word that senior ministers seem scared to utter.

  • PayDirt

    Just when I was getting used to DECC. Back in the good old days it was Dept of Energy (1974?). Then DTi sometimes, then BERR, then DECC since 2008. So confusing these Governments switchbacks, they obviously have not a clue how to manage on of the country’s vital resources. It’s all jumping on whatever the latest bandwaggon: amateurs!

  • Publius

    When the power cuts start, Huhne will be long gone, enjoying his fast cars and his millions.

  • Robert Christopher

    It makes a change from blaming Mrs (now Lady) Thatcher.

  • Fergus Pickering

    telemachus, this is not some fell design to diss you, but what does the apostrophe represent? I ask in the spirit of genuine enquiry.

  • EC

    Here you go Schweizer Bob:


    [You’ll need to replace the leading “*” with “h” after pasting link into your browser]

  • telemachus’

    Fergus. Some commentators are so devalued by their actions that we have to suspect their future advice. Ask (Sir) Fred Goodwin.

  • Keith

    No: Telemachus is right. Everyone knows that greed was invented by the Tories during the 1980s.

  • HFC

    It seems Lawson has now stated the obvious rather well – hopefully well enough for the government to rip the scales from their eyes and put a quick end to this unnecessary high cost climate change taxation.

  • Fergus Pickering

    That’s a very silly remark, telemachus.

  • telemachus’

    Do we really want to take the advice of this ex-chancellor who probably singlehandedly led to the bonus culture of the Greedy Bankers?

  • Swiss Bob

    Even the Germans, the greenest of Europeans are giving up on this scam:

    See WUWT (can’t post the link as this crappy s/w is on the fritz again)

    Germany’s top environmentalist (an apt description of these people) has given up on this bollocks.

    PS while I know weather is not climate (note to BBC who promote every warm day as evidence of global warming) my central heating can’t even keep my place warm it’s so damned cold.

  • Bruce, UK

    What Rhoda said.

  • Owen Morgan

    DECC has done nothing to promote any kind of useful energy generation. Huhne was delighted to plant useless, expensive, destructive wind turbines on every hillside from Cornwall to Caithness, but, even though he very grudgingly acknowledged the need (as perceived by sensible people, not by himself) for the prolonged use of nuclear power generation, I can’t see that he took one single, practical step to make that happen, or to establish any kind of realistic plan for energy generation in the UK.

  • Chris

    You’d have thought someone with Lawson’s record would keep very very quiet out of sheer embarassment.

    Along with that other incompetent Lamont he owes me several tens of thousands of pounds.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    ” Cameron believes in cutting the size of government.”

    Oh come on.

  • Maggie

    The only thing that will be lost is the wind turbine industry that has mysteriously sprung up in Chris Huhne’s constituency – one of the few constituencies that has no wind turbines of its own to blight the horizon.

  • johnfaganwilliams

    Hurrah for Lord Lawson!! Agree every single word of that extract. Finally the world awakens from the gigantic slumber of intellect that will be known in future as the Climate Change Bubble.
    Now if we can just get him to have a chat in The PM’s ear asap the shale gas (and oil) revolution can transform our economy in about five years.

Can't find your Web ID? Click here