November 3, 2011, by Simon Gosling

A Week in Westminster for Simon Gosling… Day 3

Yesterday was my busiest day in Westminster so far. The day kicked off with an Environment and Climate Change (ECC) Select Committee Meeting in one of the Committee rooms of Portcullis House. The Committee posed questions to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Chris Huhne. The main questions were centred around the relative proportions of planned offshore and onshore wind energy farms in the UK and how the UK was fairing in comparison with other European countries in their commitment to reach renewable electricity of 30% of total generation by 2020. The Secretary of State was put under a lot of pressure by the Committee for the Government’s recent decision to cut solar power feed-in tariffs (subsidies for homeowners installing solar power).

I went straight from this meeting, through the underground passageway that connects Portcullis House with the Palace of Westminster, and into the House of Commons to observe this week’s PMQs (Prime Minister’s Questions). The session began with the usual cross-cabinet exchanges between David Cameron and Ed Miliband. This was far more exciting than watching PMQs on BBC News from a Desktop PC in my office in Nottingham – the atmosphere was electric and the charisma of the two party leaders was clear to see. The roars and jeers from various MPs as they supported or disagreed with one another rose up to the public gallery that looks down on the chamber below. While very little appeared to be discussed meaningfully during the Cameron-Miliband exchanges, their shear abilities as party leaders, and moreover as public speakers and the ability to respond wittingly and off the cuff was outstanding. The Speaker, John Bercow, constantly kept the House in order. A range of questions from other MPs to the PM followed, including those concerning winter fuel allowances, food security, immigration control, metals theft, and one on solar power feed-in in tariffs that arose from the ECC Select Committee Meeting I had attended half an hour before. I was now starting to appreciate the link between the detailed and in-depth discussions that take place in the various Committee Rooms, and how these feed into the questions and issues discussed relatively briefly in the main Chamber of the House of Commons. Indeed, UK politics is a complex and iterative process, and my time in Westminster is immersing me into this far deeper and quicker than I was expecting – this has been a fantastic opportunity.

After a quick bite to eat I headed to the second Select Committee Meeting of the day – which again was with the Environment and Climate Change (ECC) Select Committee. The main topic of debate was renewable energy. I left this session early to observe my ‘paired’ MP, Barry Gardiner, in an Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee meeting – Barry is one of the members of the Committee, which is made up of around 10 other MPs from different parties. The main witness (the person being interviewed by the Committee) was Richard Lochhead MSP (Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, Scottish Government). He answered questions on reform of the Common Fisheries Policy and fisheries in Scotland – a highly important topic given that 70% of UK fisheries are based in Scotland. The main issues discussed regarded whether maximum sustainable yields (MSYs) could be achieved, how to address the issue of a lack of data upon which to determine what MSYs should actually be, and whether UK fisheries are being under or over-fished.

The day finished in a meeting that Barry held in the atrium of Portcullis House, with a couple of his constituents.

All in all, Wednesday was a very busy but exiting and rewarding day.

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