Climate of bitterness overshadows Energy Secretary's big day

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The Independent Online

Chris Huhne soldiered through a gruelling hour in the Commons yesterday, setting out the Government's policy on climate change, as he awaits a decision from Essex police on whether he is to be the subject of a criminal investigation.

His Commons appearance was preceded by a day's speculation on whether he would show his face at all. Downing Street had said the previous day that the Government's ambitious plans for carbon reduction would be set out in a written statement. But Mr Huhne reportedly insisted on making a personal appearance, when it appeared that Labour MPs might appeal to the Speaker to order him to be at the despatch box.

Mr Huhne has consistently denied the allegation made by his estranged wife, Vicky Pryce, that he evaded a driving ban by illegally identifying her as the driver of the car that went through a speed trap on 12 March 2003. The eight-year-old story came to light as part of what is evidently an increasingly bitter break up of their 25-year marriage, caused by Mr Huhne's decision to abandon his wife to live with his former researcher, Carina Trimingham.

Mr Huhne was an MEP at the time of the speeding offence. The European Parliament's attendance records show that he was in Strasbourg on 12 March but not the following day, making it plausible that he retunred to the UK that evening.

The blogger Guido Fawkes turned up proof that on the same evening Ms Pryce was speaking at a seminar organised by the LSE. The seminar was followed by a dinner, raising doubts about whether she could have been driving through Essex that evening.

As the Energy Secretary delivered his long statement on climate change, several Labour MPs found ways around the Commons rules to taunt him about the threat hanging over his career.

Simon Danzcuk, the Labour MP who called in the police, sat directly opposite the minister throughout, and rose to ask whether he was able to give green issues his full attention "over the coming days and weeks". Mr Huhne replied: "I can indeed".

The minister also dead-batted a question from the Labour MP Geraint Davies, who suggested that lower speed limits might be an answer to the problem of carbon emissions. He replied that the decision was "well above my pay grade".

Yesterday, Ms Pryce was reported to have moved out of her London home to escape the glare of publicity. Her daughter, Lydia, told journalists outside the house that her mother was unlikely to return "for at least a week".