Tony Hayward will find British MPs milder than US congressmen

What can we expect from Tony Hayward’s testimony before the UK parliament’s energy select committee at 3pm today?

The first question he will be asked relates to the FT’s revelations this morning that the company has been cited on several occasions for failing to comply with safety regulations in the North Sea. Tim Yeo MP, kicking off the questioning in his role as committee chairman, will ask Hayward the following:

When you took over as BP CEO two years ago you promised to make safety your top priotity. Why then has the company not only gone through the Deepwater Horizon spill, but faced multiple safety problems on its North Sea rigs?

The FT found particular concerns about safety training on board rigs. The MPs will ask Hayward what training procedures were in place, whether they had been adhered to, and if not, what has been done subsequently to rectify the situation.

And then, for an hour and a half, the 11 members of the committee will take it in turns to quiz Hayward about safety procedures at the company, about whether the UK regulatory system is “fit for purpose”, and about the risk of a spill in the North Sea.

For industry professionals, it is unlikely that the session will bring any startling revelations. Committees rarely throw up anything completely unexpected, and often provide more of a platform for politicians to posture.

But the energy committee is sensitive to that criticism, and Yeo has told me he does not intend to give Hayward and his fellow BP execs – Bernard Looney, MD of BP North Sea and Mark Bly, head of safety – the kind of grilling Hayward faced at the hands of the US Congress.

We are not going for a Congress-style roasting here. We want answers, but I think when it comes to getting them to say a bit more, my approach is, “Let’s engage in a constructive way.”

In fact, Hayward might be positively delighted by one line of questioning:

I will ask him whether he feels the way this upset was dealt with by Congress creates political risks for companies in the US. I think political considerations were uppermost in the minds of Congressmen, and have serious anxieties where the goverment tries to dictate the dividend policy of a private company.

Perhaps, then, the party to come out most bruised from this afternoon’s hearing most will be Congress.

UPDATE: The FT will have coverage of the testimony on FT.com soon after the session has finished

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