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As BEIS minister, Lord Callanan is juggling climate change and corporate social responsibility. But amid rumblings the government is dragging its heels on the journey to net zero, he insists criticism is unfair and the department has bold plans for Britain’s greener future
“The thing about the Lords is that it contains lots of experts in every subject. You’ve got to make sure that you know your subjects, otherwise they’ll have you out on the policy detail.”
Such is the challenge for peers serving as government ministers, according to Lord (Martin) Callanan. He is one of seven ministers in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), but covers the parliamentary work of his five Commons colleagues when it comes to the upper House. “Unfortunately, you have to make yourself expert in it,” he explains with a smile.
He says he is not intimidated by the multitude of climate change experts on the red benches he has to face. “They know what they’re talking about, you just have to convey to them that you have an understanding of the issue and understanding of the subject.
“The Lords is less party political, more issue-focused than the Commons. In the Commons you’ll see trading of political slogans across the dispatch box. It doesn’t really work in the Lords, you’ve got to go into the detail of issues.”
After unsuccessfully standing for election as an MP three times in his native north-east, Callanan ended up in Brussels for 15 years as the MEP for the region, including two and a half as leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists group.
Within four months of losing his seat to the UK Independence Party’s Jonathan Arnott in 2014, Callanan was elevated to the House of Lords, joining the government in 2017. His current role as parliamentary under secretary of state for climate change and corporate social responsibility – which he has held for just over a year – is his third ministerial role.
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This year is undeniably huge for the government on the climate and ecological emergency – from fleshing out the Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, to delivering COP26 in November. The Climate Change Committee has called for a “decade of action”, but as it stands, BEIS’s own projections show the government missing its earlier emissions reduction targets, let alone the new target of a 68 per cent reduction from 1990 levels by 2030.
Despite the ambition, it is the questions of detail and the scale of investment which is leading some to query the government’s approach.
I put that criticism of the government’s performance to him. “I’d certainly agree that it needs to be the decade of action, and I think you’re being slightly unfair,” Callanan tells me. “We are doing an awful lot. We’re publishing a lot of different strategies at the moment.”
He points to the challenges Covid is putting on the work. “We as a department have to compete with all the other departments for precious resources, and we have to demonstrate to the Treasury that we have ambitious plans and good projects they can spend on. It’s not my job to look after the nation’s finances, that’s for the Chancellor. But I don’t think it’s any secret that money is tight at the moment, clearly.”
BEIS has made a number of announcements recently, including the recent North Sea Transition deal, published at the end of March. “We’ve become the first G7…
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