New energy at UK DTI

The appointment of UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister of State Peter Hain to the post of Minister for Energy on Jan. 24-part of the Labour government's emergency cabinet reshuffle prompted by the resignation of Northern Ireland Sec. Peter Mandelson-brings a character in every likelihood very different from Helen Liddell into the Department of Trade & Industry to handle oil and gas issues.

The appointment of UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister of State Peter Hain to the post of Minister for Energy on Jan. 24-part of the Labour government's emergency cabinet reshuffle prompted by the resignation of Northern Ireland Sec. Peter Mandelson-brings a character in every likelihood very different from Helen Liddell into the Department of Trade & Industry to handle oil and gas issues.

Though not necessarily a familiar name in oil and gas circles, Hain, whose brief at the FCO covered areas including the Middle East, Africa, and Southeast Asia, will nonetheless certainly bring a politically informed view of some of the international regions key to future exploration and production in the industry.

In the weeks before his transfer to DTI, Hain was on an extensive tour of African states, lecturing on what he sees to be the principal solutions to Africa's ongoing development problems, namely the continent's "economic potential," "free-standing technology," and, notably, "modern renewable energy."

Controversialist

Nor does the Kenyan-born Hain show any inclination to shy from controversial subject matter. He recently spoke at a World Diamond Council meeting in London in support of an international certification scheme to eradicate the traffic in "conflict diamonds," trade that he belives is depriving Africa of a natural resource that "should mean prosperity."

His questioning in his speech whether "industry [could] really respond to the concerns of civil society in a meaningful way-one that put human issues at the heart of commercial activity"-makes plain his broader views on the rightful beneficiaries of the exploitation of natural resources.

In the Middle East, meanwhile, Hain has been an outspoken opponent of calls to relax economic and military restrictions against Iraq, branding critics of the present United Nations oil-for-food sanctions-such as Hans von Sponeck, a former UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq-"apologists" for Saddam Hussein.

Environmentalist

A rising star at the FCO tipped for Prime Minister Tony Blair's next cabinet before his "sideways" move to DTI, Hain has also developed a reputation as a stern environmentalist, recently pledging

Some reports on the day of his reappointment even went so far as to suggest these green leanings-especially his membership in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, at a time when the US "Star Wars" program is back on the international agenda-may have indirectly led to his transfer.

Hain's insistence, however, that he is "100% behind the government's energy policy," which includes a nuclear element, perhaps hints at a willingness to toe the official party line to improve his longer-term career prospects.

The day after Hain moved offices, a DTI spokeswoman said no decision had yet been taken as to his remit at the department. First suggestions were that he will be focusing foremost on issues of economic reform in the European Union-an attached responsibility of the Labour minister for energy. Time will tell what Hain's attempt to walk a middle road between personal beliefs and political aspirations will mean to the UK oil and gas industry at home and abroad.

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