Like all good select committee hearings where MPs are grilling some unsuspecting witnesses on something they’ve decided to be very angry about, this hearing of the Energy and Climate Change committee took a very long time. It has been cut off for the time being from Ofgem’s evidence by a series of votes in the Commons, but here’s what we’ve learned from this first mammoth hearing in any case.
The first is that the MPs clearly read Iain Martin’s memo in the Telegraph about show trial-style select committee hearings. Only Ian Lavery managed the kind of fury that all members of these committees normally feel it necessary to manufacture, and even that was just a bit of a lecture rather than a rage. But perhaps the MPs mis-read Iain’s piece: he was advising them to not show off, rather than to not ask useful questions. The only incisive questions have really come from Peter Lilley, which is perhaps reassuring because he is a member of the Number 10 policy board, but the energy companies have hardly had the grilling they were expecting: more of a gentle warming.
In fact, the person who has done the most to make the big six witnesses uncomfortable is himself a witness: Stephen Fitzpatrick, the managing director of Ovo Energy. He took apart those sitting next to him in the Thatcher Room, saying that Ovo couldn’t see the prices on the wholesale market that would lead to the sort of rises that the Big Six have been announcing recently. ‘I’ve been confused by the explanations for the price rises from our competitors,’ he said.