Lord Peter Lilley is a controversial appointee to the Lords' new environmental committee. Photograph: Parliament Lord Peter Lilley is a controversial appointee to the Lords' new environmental committee. Photograph: Parliament

Lords’ appointment of climate sceptic means ‘constitution is not fit for purpose’

The Green Party has criticised the government’s appointment of Lord Peter Lilley, who has had close ties to the fossil fuel industry, to a new parliamentary environment committee.

"A long-time apologist for, and financial beneficiary of, the petroleum industry, and one of only three MPs to vote against the Climate Change Bill, it is impossible to conceive of how he could make any contribution to the committee except a wrecking one,” said peers Natalie Bennett and Jenny Jones.

The Lords is due to confirm Lilley, alongside former Environment Agency chief executive Baroness Barbara Young and others, as members of the Environment and Climate Change Committee on Wednesday. Young said that she is “delighted” to be on the committee, which will replace the existing EU Environment Sub-committee. “We haven’t met yet so haven’t come to any views about topics,” she added.

But Lilley’s participation in it “is a blow to the generally high reputation of House of Lords committees and their work,” the green peers claimed. Bennett had expressed an interest in joining it, reflecting her colleague Caroline Lucas’ role in the Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee.

In the Lords, committee places are allocated to the three largest parties and crossbenchers through a rigid quota system, “which in no way reflects either the modern UK political landscape or the expertise of the House,” the peers said in a joint statement to ENDS. So the Conservative whips must have put him forward.

"This is one more sign that our current constitutional arrangements are not fit for purpose. We have had talks with House authorities - and know that the increasing number of peers who are excluded by the current system are also pressing for a more flexible and appropriate approach. The appointment of Lord Lilley to the committee might be designed to highlight the type of outcome the current system produces,” Bennett and Jones added.

None of the environmental NGOs that ENDS approached were willing to comment on the record, partly connected to the Easter holidays, though one figure suggested that this is because they will be hopeful of appearing before the panel at some point. Its other members have likewise declined to criticise him.

But one senior environmental figure, who declined to be named said: “I don’t think it’s a bad idea” to have him, as there is “nothing to fear from a lightweight like Lilley. Think of including him as vaccinating the committee against public attacks from the right and insidious, and potentially more damaging, whispering about its bias inside the belly of the beast.”

But Lilley himself has already anticipated criticism. “You are probably right that the NGOs will object to my membership,” he said in an email to ENDS.

As an MP, “my appointment to the Commons Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change evoked cries that it was ‘like throwing a human hand grenade into their discussions’! Why are they so insecure about their case being subject to scrutiny? They must believe that their case is based on unjustifiable exaggeration,” he said.

He referred to a 2014 debate in which he defended voting against the Climate Change Bill, stating that “the political class had collectively set reason aside” due to the cost of enacting the measures needed to meet an 80% cut in emissions by 2050. Now updated to 100% target, there is broad consensus that the cost of meeting it will be much less than that of not doing so.

“In case anyone suggests that my views are the result of vested interests – alas I have none. I left the Board of Tethys Petroleum many years ago without the £250k payoff the Guardian claimed I was to be paid and GEM Limited which may still be on my register of interests is, sadly, dormant,” he clarified.

The Government Whips’ Office was invited to comment.

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