Prime Minister Gordon Brown was accused last night of playing down the importance of the offshore oil and gas industry in his new Energy and Climate Change Department.
Critics said the duties allocated to ministers in the department gave greater prominence to climate change than securing the last drop of oil and gas from the North Sea.
It was only apparent after inquiries that the minister in charge of the industry will be Mike O’Brien, who held the post in 2004.
But his list of duties starts with “delivering a low carbon economy” and ranges through “renewable energy (including the Severn tidal barrage)”, to “resilience and emergencies” before any mention of “licensing and exploration” and “offshore environment and decommissioning”.
North-east Tory MSP Alex Johnstone said the lack of a specific duty to boost the offshore industry was “an extraordinary omission which betrays the obsession with politically correct environmentalism”.
He said: “We ought to have a minister fighting for the industry, not one whose task it is to wind it up.”
Gordon Liberal Democrat MP Malcolm Bruce said the announcement contrasted with the understanding Mr Brown had showed during earlier questioning of the need to maximise production offshore and deliver policies to achieve that.
He said: “I am not saying there is too much emphasis on climate change but it is not balanced by the recognition that, however much we move towards a low carbon economy, we will continue to need as much oil and gas as we can produce from our own resources.”
Aberdeen North Labour MP Frank Doran was more positive about the move and recalled the decision of former Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher to submerge a separate Department of Energy into the Department of Trade and Industry.
He said: “One of the most exciting changes Gordon Brown made in his reshuffle was the creation of a department which looks at both energy and climate change because the two are interlinked.
“That the two issues have been put together will mean the interests of energy will be interlinked with the climate change process and that will be better for the country and the energy industry.”
Oil and Gas UK chief executive Malcolm Webb welcomed the new department and said he hoped there would be “a more coherent approach to energy policy which acknowledges and accounts for the UK’s continued reliance on oil and gas for the vast majority of its primary energy demand until 2020.”
He said failure to invest offshore would be “a sure-fire recipe for an enduring crisis in UK energy supply, beginning in the near future and with potentially disastrous economic and social implications for the country.”