Energy minister Matthew Hancock defends decision to charter private flight

Matthew Hancock

Matthew Hancock

An energy minister from Suffolk has said accusations that he set a bad example on tackling climate change by chartering a private flight to return from a meeting in Scotland were unfair.

Matthew Hancock, who is standing for re-election in the West Suffolk constituency in May, took the flight from Aberdeen to London on March 5, despite there being numerous scheduled services that day.

The Independent reported that Mr Hancock had been signing a series of agreements with the Mexican president to secure investment in the North Sea and work together on environmentally friendly development.

The meeting resulted in the UK and Mexico agreeing to take a “progressive stance of both countries and our shared aim to reach an ambitious, equitable, comprehensive and legally binding global agreement” to reduce carbon emissions.

Mr Hancock was first reported as having denied the reports that he took a chartered flight with just two Foreign Office diplomats. However a spokesman later confirmed the flight was taken, but said the aircraft was full.

Mr Hancock has since told the EADT that the reference to climate change was “unfair” as his capacity at the meeting was to secure new business for the North Sea industry and not, as had been reported, to make environmental commitments.

Environmental campaigners and political opponents, however, have criticised the decision to charter a flight.

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Oliver Hayes, energy campaigner with Friends of the Earth, said: “Many people will find it astonishing that a government minister shunned scheduled flights to rack up carbon emissions and unnecessary expense for taxpayers.”

“Ministers hiring private jets to sign billion dollar oil deals will further dent confidence in the Government’s commitment to tackling climate change.”

Caroline Flint, Labour’s shadow energy and climate change secretary, said: “So much for setting a good example on keeping the government’s carbon footprint down.”

A spokesman for Mr Hancock said: “Matt was in Aberdeen to host the Mexican president and promote this great British industry [North Sea]. He joined a flight with officials and diplomats, which was full.”

“The visit was a success and since then further progress has been made in landing contracts to secure UK jobs.”