Why weren’t you there? Welwyn Hatfield and Potters Bar MPs explain climate change no-show

PUBLISHED: 16:16 06 March 2019 | UPDATED: 16:24 06 March 2019

The House of Commons was not busy at the time of MP Layla Moran's climate change debate, which MPs Grant Shapps and Oliver Dowden did not attend. Picture: Parliament TV

The House of Commons was not busy at the time of MP Layla Moran's climate change debate, which MPs Grant Shapps and Oliver Dowden did not attend. Picture: Parliament TV

Parliament TV

Welwyn Hatfield and Potters Bar’s MPs have explained why they didn’t attend a landmark climate change debate in Parliament.

After thousands of schoolchildren nationwide skipped class to join a protest about climate change, Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran put forward a debate in the House of Commons on the UK’s progress towards net-zero carbon emissions.

MPs gathered for the debate - but as several national media outlets noticed, it was a very small number.

While the opposition side of the house had a few bodies, a mere smattering of MPs on the Conservative and DUP-led government side stuck around for the debate.

On March 1, Green Party leader Caroline Lucas tweeted that the no-show was ‘unforgivable’.

Oliver Dowden and Grant ShappsOliver Dowden and Grant Shapps

Neither Welwyn Hatfield MP Grant Shapps nor Hertsmere MP Oliver Dowden attended, so this newspaper asked them why.

Mr Shapps said that, as far as he’s aware, he has voted for every piece of green legislation that as come through the house and pointed out the action he has taken on climate change.

As chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Aviation, he explained he has established a working group that aims to develop “entirely clean” electric flight.

On the day of the debate, he said he was working on this as well as on constituency case work. “So although I wasn’t in that debate, I spent over half my day working on the green agenda,” he said.

“It is also a common misconception that if you’re not in the Commons chamber then somehow you’re not working,” he added.

“On the specific issue of the environment, I am an enthusiast about leaving the planet in a better state than we found it.

“I installed solar panels before it was fashionable, back in 2011, and I’m pleased to report that they are continuing to function very well up until this day.

“I haven’t changed my car for 15 years, but I can confirm that my next vehicle will be all-electric.”

He said he is proud of Britain’s track record in “slashing” CO2, which according to the Committee on Climate Change was on track with targets by 2018.

“I believe that measures like requiring all cars to be electric by 2040 are an important development,” he said.

“We will look back and be amazed that it was ever acceptable to have fumes spew out, in the same way that we look back and are surprised that you could once upon at time smoke in restuarants.”

He did not respond to our query about whether or not he considered the pupils’ march to be legitimate protest or truancy.

Mr Dowden, who is also a government minister for implementation, said: “I was unable to attend the debate last Thursday afternoon as I was giving evidence in my capacity as a Cabinet Office Minister on behalf of the Government to the Senior Salaries Review Board.

“It is also a strict Parliamentary convention that Ministers may only speak in the House on subjects that fall within their responsibilities and climate change does not sit in my portfolio.

“However, climate change is an important issue and I know there is a growing body of evidence about just how harmful its consequences could be.

“I know how seriously the Government takes this and it is committed to going further and faster to tackle it.

“I am proud that we are leading the world in reducing our carbon emissions and developing clean energy sources, such as offshore wind.”

Ms Moran rounded off last Thursday’s debate with a message for the pupils: “To those young people who got together and made us act, let this not be the last time we do this - may this be the first of very many times that we come together and we solve this problem for them.

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