Hutton shuffled out of new UK ministry

23 October 2008

Energy policy and climate change have been brought together in a new UK government department as part of a cabinet reshuffle announced on 3 October. Previously, energy had fallen under the remit of the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Berr), with climate change issues the responsibility of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). The reshuffle, described by a spokesman for prime minister Gordon Brown as an attempt to strengthen the government's capacity to deal with global economic challenges, saw former business and enterprise minister John Hutton moved away from the energy brief to a new role as secretary of state for defence.

The new Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is headed by Ed Miliband. An economist by background and former parliamentary adviser, he is a relative newcomer to parliament, elected MP for Doncaster North in 2005. Nonetheless, Miliband has held cabinet positions since 2006, with experience as minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He is joined in the new ministry by two ministers, Mike O'Brien and Phil Hunt (who is also serving as minister for sustainable development, climate change adaptation and air quality at Defra). O'Brien will be responsible for nuclear strategy and delivery, including radioactive waste, international nonproliferation, as part of a wider responsibility for delivering a low-carbon economy and ensuring secure and affordable energy supply. Joan Ruddock is parliamentary under secretary of state in the new department.

“The new department reflects the fact that energy policy and climate change are directly linked," Miliband said in a press release marking the establishment of the new ministry. However, the full remit of the new department is not yet clear. The energy section of Berr covered energy policy, encompassing energy security and the management of energy liabilities, and the Office for Nuclear Development (OND), launched in September to facilitate new nuclear investment in the UK, also came under Berr's energy umbrella. It is not clear if the new department will be taking on Defra's responsibilities for radioactive waste management as well as its climate change roles.

The UK nuclear industry is losing an outspoken champion in the transfer of Hutton, MP for Barrow and Furness in Cumbria, who has frequently highlighted nuclear energy as a vital part of the UK's energy policy. However, the new department is retaining some of Berr's ministerial energy expertise. Former energy minister Malcolm Wicks is to take on a new role as the prime minister's special representative on international energy issues, working with the new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

Commenting on the move, Wicks said he has been tasked by Gordon Brown with producing a report on global energy trends and considering the implications for the country's energy security. "I am greatly looking forward to this new challenge," he said.


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