All 4 contributions to the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill 2023-24 (Ministerial Extracts Only)

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Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill

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2nd reading
Monday 22nd January 2024

(3 months, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill 2023-24 Read Hansard Text Watch Debate

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill 2023-24 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Claire Coutinho Portrait The Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero (Claire Coutinho)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Britain is the first major economy to halve its emissions. That is an incredible achievement. How have we done it? We have increased our renewable electricity capacity fivefold since 2010—nearly half our electricity comes from renewables now, up from 7% in 2010—and just two weeks ago, I set out the largest nuclear expansion for 70 years.

We continue to have some of the most ambitious climate change targets of any major world economy. Here in the UK, we are committed to reducing emissions by at least 68% by 2030 from 1990 levels. Where is everybody else? The EU is committed to 55%, having recently rejected a move to 57%, and the United States is at just 40%. It is clear that, when it comes to climate change, we can be proud of our record and the work that we will do.

We have managed to achieve that while acting to help families with their energy bills. We stepped in to help families struggling with energy prices after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and our total support for the cost of living stands at £104 billion—a package that is among the most generous in Europe. Last year, we passed the landmark Energy Act 2023, which lays the foundation for a cleaner and more secure energy system. Our changes to competition, to managing energy consumption and to incentivising investment in new technology will mean billions in savings for consumers as we work towards net zero. We have overseen a huge increase in the number of energy-efficient homes from 14% in 2010 to almost half today, and we are investing more over the next Parliament to continue that important work.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab)
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The Secretary of State paints a very rosy picture, particularly on renewables, so why has her own energy tsar resigned in protest?

Claire Coutinho Portrait Claire Coutinho
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We do not actually have an energy tsar, but we have an energy Secretary of State. I respect the former Member for Kingswood and wish him well in his next job, but if we care about reducing emissions, the question that everybody in this Chamber needs to answer is, “Why would you import fuel with higher emissions from abroad?”

We are investing in more renewable energy, we are starting a nuclear revival, and we will support new technologies, such as hydrogen, carbon capture and fusion. This is our plan to have a balanced energy policy. However, we need to ensure that the transition works for the British public and the British economy. Our plans cannot be based on ideology; they must be based on common sense.

Even the Climate Change Committee’s own data shows that when we reach net zero in 2050, we will still be using oil and gas for a significant portion of our energy. That is because it is not absolute zero; it is net zero. In other words, while our use of oil and gas will diminish rapidly, we will still need both for decades to come. Our Bill will improve our energy security and that of Europe. In the past two years, Europe has had to wean itself off Russian oil and gas. We have responded by tripling gas exports to the continent, and we were a net exporter of electricity to Europe in 2022 for the first time in more than a decade. We do not live in a world in which we can simply turn off oil and gas.

Clive Efford Portrait Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab)
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Is the right hon. Lady saying that the only licences the Government intend to issue are for gas and oil destined for the British market?

Claire Coutinho Portrait Claire Coutinho
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I am glad that the hon. Gentleman asks that question, because the Labour party has been spouting an awful lot of nonsense when it comes to this area. In the UK, we are blessed with the geological gift that is the North sea—it is an incredible national asset. Virtually all the gas produced there goes straight into the UK gas transmission network, and it is equivalent to about 50% of our overall gas needs. When it comes to oil, 90% of what is refined abroad is refined in Europe. We are a net importer overall.

The question that the hon. Gentleman should answer is this: if Europe did not get that oil from the UK, where would he like Europe to get it from—from Russia, or from further afield? That question is at the heart of the Bill. We know that we are going to need oil and gas—where do we want it to come from? Only an ideologue would argue that we are better off importing dirtier fuels from abroad than using what we can produce at home. However, it is not just energy security that dictates that we should use our own resources; the economic case also shows that introducing annual licensing is the right thing to do.

Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP)
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Does the right hon. Lady accept that, despite the way in which some Members of this House have tried to rubbish that idea and argue that having our own oil and gas does not mean any energy security for the UK, 88% of the gas that we extract at present stays in the UK? Would they prefer to import that?

Claire Coutinho Portrait Claire Coutinho
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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for making that point. Not only is it better for energy security, but gas that we bring in from abroad in the form of liquefied natural gas has emissions four times higher, so if Members care about the environment, they should back this Bill.

Domestic oil and gas production adds about £16 billion to the UK economy annually and brings in tens of billions of pounds in tax revenue. To give an example of how that has helped support families with the cost of living, we raised £9 billion in tax revenue last year from the oil and gas sector. That is money that we can use to support families, as we did last winter, paying half the average family’s energy bill, which amounted to roughly £1,500 per household. If we had no oil and gas sector, £9 billion more would have fallen on taxpayers’ shoulders. Why should we concede that tax revenue to other countries? What possible benefit could the British public feel from billions of pounds in tax revenue that could be raised here being sent abroad, all to import fuel with higher emissions?

I now turn to perhaps the most important reason to back this Bill: the workers. There are 200,000 people supported by the sector, in communities such as those in Aberdeen, Grimsby and the north-east of England, and including 93,000 people in Scotland, over 10,000 people in Yorkshire and the Humber, and 14,000 people in the north-west.

Caroline Lucas Portrait Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green)
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The right hon. Lady knows as well as I do that most of the gas we import comes from Norway, where gas production is half as polluting as it is in the UK, so let us not have all this nonsense about imports being so much higher in carbon intensity, because those from Norway certainly are not. Does she accept the fact that most of the emissions are produced when we consume the oil and gas, and therefore will she start looking at scope 3 emissions and not just the production emissions, which are not the greatest emissions in question?

Claire Coutinho Portrait Claire Coutinho
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I thank the hon. Lady for her question, but I think it fundamentally misunderstands the energy market. When we cannot get Norwegian gas and when we have made the most of all of our gas, what is the marginal gas that we use? It is LNG, which produces emissions four times higher than the gas we can produce here. If we produce less UK gas, we will need more LNG.

Coming back to what is a really critical part of the Bill—the workers—a recent report from Robert Gordon University found that a faster decline in our oil and gas sector, which the Opposition are proposing, could halve the workforce by 2030, leading to a significant loss of skills for the future energy sector. Those are the workers whose skills we will need for our future energy production. The same report found that over 90% of the UK’s oil and gas workforce have skills that are transferable to the offshore renewables sector. However, if we do not manage that transition correctly—everybody in the Chamber today agrees that we need to transition—we will lose those very important workers and their skills. It is the same people who are working on oil and gas rigs today who we will need on the offshore wind farms of tomorrow: our subsea installation engineers who lay cables, our technicians who remotely operate subsea vehicles, our divers, our project managers, and our engineering specialists servicing our offshore rigs. Those are all essential oil and gas jobs that we know will be critical in the roll-out of our low-carbon technologies. If we do not protect our world-leading specialists, we will see communities decimated, and ultimately a skills exodus that would put at risk the very transition that we are working so hard to achieve.

Alexander Stafford Portrait Alexander Stafford (Rother Valley) (Con)
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My right hon. Friend is making a very powerful point about both energy security and getting those jobs—those British jobs. Recently, I visited the Falkland Islands with a cross-party delegation, and when we met the Falkland Islands Government, they said that they are desperate to unlock the Sea Lion oilfield and to get British workers to operate that field—obviously, the Falkland Islands is a British overseas territory—yet they are being stymied by the UK Treasury, which will not underwrite it. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the next thing we should do is back overseas territories by developing their oilfields, so that we can have good British overseas territories oil and gas in the UK and British jobs in the overseas territories, and support our one big happy Commonwealth and overseas territories family?

--- Later in debate ---
Claire Coutinho Portrait Claire Coutinho
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My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, and I would be very happy to meet him to discuss it further.

Let me turn to investment in the sector. I think we agree across all parties in the House that we want to be a world leader in clean energy technologies. Here in Britain, we have many competitive advantages, and we want to exploit all of them to have a brighter energy and economic future. Right now, the oil and gas sector is investing in hydrogen, carbon capture and offshore wind. A well-managed transition helps ensure that as we get more investment and grow these sectors people can transition alongside in an orderly and organic way. To shut down the oil and gas sector too soon would not only risk that investment, make it harder to do the transition and see those sectors grow more slowly, but risk people’s livelihoods.

The Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill will give the industry the certainty it needs to invest in this important sector. If we need oil and gas in the decades to come, it should come from Britain where it can. Using the resources on our doorstep to benefit Britain is simple common sense. This new legislation will require the North Sea Transition Authority to run an annual process for new exploration and production licences on the UK continental shelf, subject to key tests being met: first, that the UK is projected to remain a net importer of both oil and gas; and secondly, that carbon emissions associated with UK gas are lower than for imported liquefied natural gas. These tests are in place to provide assurance that proceeding with annual licensing remains the right thing to do.

This Bill will provide the industry with certainty on the future of licensing rounds, increasing investor and industry confidence. It will increase our energy security, protect 200,000 jobs, secure tens of billions in tax revenue and help us reach net zero. Members should not just take my word for it; voices across industry recognise the need for new licences for net zero and for our energy security. In fact, Stuart Payne, the chief executive of the North Sea Transition Authority, recently wrote that

“producing as much of the oil and gas we need as possible domestically is the right thing to do, for security and the economy.”

Offshore Energies UK has said:

“The UK needs the churn of new licences to manage production decline”.

National Gas has said that by backing gas today

“we can create jobs, secure energy independence, deliver net zero, and keep costs down for households and businesses.”

The general secretary of the GMB has said that not proceeding with new licensing risks

“leaving the UK even more dependent on energy imports to heat homes and power industry in future. That’s bad for our national security and prosperity.”

I have no doubt that the Opposition will whip their MPs against the Bill. They want to shut down new oil and gas licences, and they have been very clear about that. I suspect there are many in the Labour party who understand what turning off the taps would mean for British workers, and they will vote against this Bill with a heavy heart. They know that the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) has got this wrong. Is it not just common sense that, if we need oil and gas, it should come from UK waters rather than from foreign and often unreliable regimes abroad? Is it not better to produce our own gas instead of shipping in liquefied natural gas that has four times the production emissions of our own? Is it not right that the billions of pounds in tax that we raise from this sector stays here rather than being sent abroad? Is it not the position of an ideologue to say, “We will not support 200,000 British workers, but we are happy for those jobs to go to Russia or further abroad”?

The position of the Labour party and the SNP is not right for the environment, not right for the economy and not right for the energy security of this country. As the head of the GMB warned this weekend, it would be “exporting jobs” for the sake of “importing virtue”. It would mean thousands of jobs lost, communities decimated, tax revenue forgone, and all so that the right hon. Gentleman can appease his friends in Just Stop Oil. They are putting the interests of extreme climate ideologues over those of ordinary workers.

What of Labour’s wider energy policy? The truth is that, when it comes to this critical policy area, its policies are as clear as mud. We know that it hinges on borrowing £28 billion, which would mean thousands of pounds in extra taxes for every family. While we are cutting taxes, the Opposition would see them soar, which is not what the people of this country need. The right hon. Gentleman should level with the British public: what taxes would he raise to pay for this extra £28 billion of borrowing? When he was shadow Business Secretary, he said that £28 billion is the “scale of investment required”. The Opposition have said that they need to spend £28 billion to meet their 2030 decarbonisation ambition. So why will the right hon. Gentleman not set out which taxes he would raise? How is he going to squeeze more money out of hard-working families to achieve his 2030 pipedream? If he really thinks £28 billion in extra spending is essential, he should have the courage to explain how much worse off taxpayers will be.

While the Labour party struggled to back its own plans, over the past few months we have secured £30 billion-worth of private investment in clean energy. That is the difference between them and us: we know private investment is key to transition, but they would rather taxpayers shoulder the costs alone through more borrowing and higher taxes.

That is the choice the House must make today: do we support the oil and gas sector and the private investment that comes with it or do we leave taxpayers to foot the bill? We cannot afford to lose the skills, the revenue or the investment the sector provides; to do so would put net zero in jeopardy. We must deliver this transition in a proportionate, pragmatic and realistic way, ensuring that we make the most of the energy we produce right here in the UK.

That is common sense, and that is what the legislation represents. With this Bill we will protect 200,000 jobs, strengthen our energy security, secure tens of billions of pounds in tax revenue, ease the transition to renewable energy, and supply ourselves with gas that has only a quarter of the production emissions of LNG imports. Or we could follow the approach of the Opposition and decimate communities that rely on the oil and gas sector, rack up borrowing by £28 billion a year, send taxes soaring to pay for it and send British jobs and tax revenue abroad, all to import fuel with higher emissions. The choice is very clear: we are on the side of common sense, not ideology, and I commend this Bill to the House.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab)
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I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “That” to the end of the Question and add:

“this House, while affirming the need for urgent action to tackle the UK’s energy insecurity, the cost of living crisis, and the climate crisis, and for a managed, fair and prosperous transition for workers and communities, declines to give a Second Reading to the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill because mandating annual oil and gas licensing rounds will not reduce energy costs for households and businesses as the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero has stated, will not enhance energy security, offers no plan for the future of the UK’s offshore energy communities, will ensure the UK remains at the mercy of petrostates and dictators who control fossil fuel markets, is entirely incompatible with the UK’s international climate change commitments and is a totally unnecessary piece of legislation which will do nothing to serve the UK’s national interest.”

I want first to express my deep condolences to the families of the two people killed by storm Isha and my sympathies to all those facing power cuts and disruption from the storm.

The proposed legislation we are considering today will not cut bills or give us energy security, drives a coach and horses through our climate commitments and learns nothing from the worst cost of living crisis in memory, which the British people are still going through—a cost of living crisis caused by our dependence on fossil fuels. Since the launch of the Bill two months ago, the case for it has disintegrated on contact with reality. Let me remind the House of the series of unfortunate events that has befallen the Bill since its publication. On day one—launch day—the Energy Secretary went on TV with the big reveal, telling the public the Bill would not cut bills. Next we discovered from confidential minutes of the North Sea Transition Authority that it thought the Bill was unnecessary and compromised its independence. [Interruption.] The Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero, the right hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart) says from a sedentary position that that is not the case. He is wrong and I will read him the minutes:

“the Board expressed a unanimous view that such a proposal was not necessary for the NSTA…The Board noted that the proposal would significantly challenge one of the tenets of independence for the NSTA”.

Claire Coutinho Portrait Claire Coutinho
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As the right hon. Gentleman is enjoyably quoting the NSTA minutes not its on-the-record comments, will he also support its position that we should maximise all of the oil and gas production in the North sea?

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband
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That is not the NSTA position, as I have discussed with it.

Next, Lord Browne, the former CEO of BP, attacked the Bill and said it was

“not going to not make any difference”

to energy security. Then Britain’s most respected climate expert, Lord Stern, pilloried it as “a deeply damaging mistake”. Then on the eve of COP—the conference of the parties—the former Prime Minister the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), who signed net zero into law, said she disagreed with the Bill; to my knowledge, she does not support Just Stop Oil.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband
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Of course I don’t.

Then the former COP president—[Interruption.] Let’s be serious. Then the former COP president the right hon. Member for Reading West (Sir Alok Sharma), a man respected around the world who we were lucky to have playing that role at COP26, said the Bill was

“smoke and mirrors…not being serious…the opposite of what we agreed to do internationally”.

Finally, their own net zero tsar—the man they trusted to guide them on questions of energy—is so disgusted by the Bill that he is not in the Chamber today. In fact, he is so ashamed that he has fled to the Chiltern Hundreds. That is certainly getting a long way away from the right hon. Lady the Secretary of State and her policies. It shows how far people will go. It is not so much the oil and gas extraction Bill but the Conservative MP extraction Bill that she is putting forward today. The former net zero tsar said:

“I can no longer condone nor continue to support a government that is committed to a course of action that I know is wrong and will cause future harm.”

We should take all these voices—Lord Browne, the former Prime Minister, the former net zero tsar and the former COP President—[Interruption.] I will come to all the arguments that the Secretary of State made, if she will give me a minute, as I develop my argument. The bigger point is that we face massive challenges as a country, but it is not the scale of our problems that is so apparent today, but the smallness of the Government’s response. We have a risible two-clause Bill that she knows will not make any difference to our energy security, because everyone who knows anything about this subject says so.

As the Bill has fallen apart, the Government have thrashed around to try to find a rational justification, and they have made one futile argument after another. Let us take each in turn. The first argument was that the Bill will cut prices. In case the House is thinking, “Did they really make that claim?”, the claim was made by the Prime Minister in a tweet. At 9.57 am on launch day, he said that the Bill will

“help reduce energy bills as we’re less exposed”—

Claire Coutinho Portrait Claire Coutinho
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indicated assent.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband
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The Secretary of State nods, but I put on record my thanks to her, because she has been an internal one-woman rebuttal unit against the Prime Minister. She went on breakfast TV—before the tweet, so we might call it a prebuttal—and said that the Bill

“wouldn’t necessarily bring energy bills down, that’s not what we’re saying.”

She is right, because oil and gas is traded on international markets.

Claire Coutinho Portrait Claire Coutinho
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If the right hon. Gentleman had read the full quote, I said that indirectly, through support to the renewables sector, the Bill brings down bills. The fact that we can raise tax to help people with the cost of living also brings down bills. If he would like to bring down bills for people in this country, he should back this Bill.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband
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That is great, because the Secretary of State anticipates my rebuttal of the second bad argument for this Bill, which is the argument she has just gone on to make. She said that the tax revenues we get from fossil fuels justify this policy, and we have heard it again today. If anything, that is an even more complete load of nonsense than the Prime Minister’s argument, because these are the facts: it is our reliance on fossil fuels that has caused rocketing energy bills. That meant that the Government were forced to step in to provide support for households and businesses [Interruption.] Ministers should just listen.

The cost to Government of the support with bills has far outweighed any tax revenues. According to the Office for Budget Responsibility, the windfall tax receipts from oil and gas companies raised £25 billion, and the cost of Government support is more than £70 billion or, the Government say, £104 billion. The idea that our dependence on fossil fuels can be justified by the tax revenues we get, when they have spent £100 billion trying to help people, is obviously nonsense.

There is a third bad argument, and again we heard it today, which is that somehow this Bill strengthens our energy security. Again, it is important to have a few facts in this debate. Here are the facts: the UK’s North sea gas production is set to fall with new licences by 95% by 2050, or without new licences by 97%. That is the equivalent of four days of our current gas demand. All this absolute codswallop about the Bill guaranteeing our energy security and somehow guaranteeing 200,000 jobs is risible nonsense.

Here is the thing. We have had a real revelation in this debate—the Government have admitted the truth—which is that the vast majority of oil is not used in this country; it is exported elsewhere, and 70% of our remaining reserves are oil, not gas. The idea that this makes any difference to our energy security is nonsense—these are private companies selling on the private market—and the Government have absolutely no response.

The fourth bad argument is that the Bill will somehow protect jobs. That is wrong. We owe it to oil and gas communities to protect them in the transition, but given the Conservatives’ record in constituencies such as mine, we will not take lectures from them on just transitions. We should admit a truth: the fossil fuel market is not just deeply unstable for consumers, as we have seen over the last two years, but deeply unstable for workers. It is a total illusion that new licences will somehow guarantee jobs for North sea workers. In the last 10 years, the number of people working in oil and gas has more than halved. The International Energy Agency predicts a peak in fossil fuel demand by 2030. That is why its head said:

“New large-scale fossil fuel projects not only carry major climate risks, but also business and financial risks for the companies and their investors.”

That applies to workers, too.

The right way to have a managed transition in the North sea is to carry on using existing fields—a Labour Government will do that—and to have a plan for North sea workers by driving forward with jobs in the industries of the future: offshore wind, carbon capture and hydrogen. But that is not what the Government have done. We had a graphic example of that last week. The world’s largest floating wind prototype sits off Peterhead—that is a good thing—but it needed maintenance, so where did the maintenance happen? Not in Scotland, and not anywhere in the UK; it has been towed back to Norway. That is the scale of their industrial policy failure; we know it very well.

The Government have not generated the jobs that British workers deserve, and their fossil fuel policy and net zero roll-back has sent a terrible message to investors around the world. This is what Amanda Blanc, the chief executive officer of Aviva and the head of its UK transition plan taskforce, says about oil and gas and the Government’s position:

“This puts at clear risk the jobs, growth and the additional investment the UK requires to become more climate-ready.”

It is Britain losing the global race in clean energy jobs that will destroy the future of oil and gas communities. The Government have no proper plan for those workers; Labour does have a proper plan.

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Alok Sharma Portrait Sir Alok Sharma (Reading West) (Con)
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I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I agree with the Secretary of State, who I hold in high regard, that the United Kingdom has been a leader in climate action internationally. We have cut our emissions in half over the past 30 years, faster than any other major economy in recent years. We have set ambitious domestic emission reduction targets, in particular ahead of COP26. Through our COP26 presidency, we managed to get over 90% of the global economy signed up to net zero. Just about every G20 nation signed up to a net zero commitment. We led on climate action domestically and we translated that into leading the world on climate action.

Just a few weeks ago at COP28, the UK, alongside other nations, signed up to transition away from fossil fuels. On his return from COP28, the Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero, my right hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart) welcomed that global agreement from the Dispatch Box. He spoke about the importance of listening to the voices of the most climate-vulnerable island nations, who, as we know, wanted the world to agree to stronger language to phase out fossil fuels. Indeed, my right hon. Friend himself tweeted at COP28:

“There must be a phase-out of unabated fossil fuels to meet our climate goals.”

I commend the work that he and the whole UK team did in Dubai.

But today we have a Bill before the House, the sole purpose of which is to double-down on granting more oil and gas production licences. I do not believe, and it pains me to say this, that the Bill will advance that commitment to transition away from fossil fuels. I also do not believe that those climate-vulnerable nations my right hon. Friend referred to will think the Bill is consistent with the pledge that we, along with every other nation, made in Dubai.

As for the substance of the Bill, I think that, as currently drafted—and it pains me to say this—it is something of a distraction. I do not think it is necessary. The North Sea Transition Authority can already grant licences annually, or, indeed, when it considers it necessary. It has been doing that regularly for the past few years. The Department’s own explanatory notes make that clear by stating:

“ The NSTA will remain free to grant licences outside this new annual duty in the usual way, whether or not the new statutory tests are met.”

As for those two statutory tests, they seem to override the already non-binding climate compatibility checkpoint, and I have to say that I think they have been designed in such a way that the computer will always say yes to new oil and gas licences. Overall, the ability of the NSTA to grant new licences will not change materially as a result of the Bill.

Sadly, however—this is my opinion, and others will have theirs—what the Bill does do is reinforce the unfortunate perception of the UK’s rowing back from climate action, as indeed we saw last autumn with the chopping and changing of some policies, and that does make our international partners question the seriousness with which we take our international commitments. I said “it pains me to say this” because I know that the Government have been coming forward, under this Secretary of State, with commitments to try to tackle climate change and deliver on a clean energy transition.

We have heard that the Bill is about improving domestic energy security, but I think we all understand that the oil and gas extracted from the North sea is owned by private enterprises and the Government do not get to control to whom it is sold. Moreover, I think it is acknowledged that the Bill would not necessarily lower domestic energy bills in the UK, given that the price of oil and gas as a commodity is set internationally. I think that the best way to enhance our energy security, and ultimately bring down bills, is for the Government to continue to deliver on their ambitious plans for expanding home-grown clean energy, to which I know the Secretary of State and her Ministers are absolutely committed. That means more wind power, more solar and more nuclear as part of a diversified clean energy mix, and I back the Secretary of State in the work that she and her team are doing in delivering that clean energy mix.

We have heard that the Bill will secure 200,000 jobs. Of course people’s jobs and livelihoods matter, and we must ensure that we secure those jobs, but we must recognise that we are in the process of an energy transition. I support an orderly transition; for me, this is not about turning off the taps overnight on oil and gas. We must also acknowledge that more than 200,000 jobs, supported by the oil and gas industry, have been lost over the past decade, despite hundreds of new drilling licences being issued. We know that many of the skills used in the oil and gas sector are transferable to clean energy—to offshore wind and geothermal. If we want to truly turbocharge a clean energy transition, we need to help, support and retrain the workers who are making the transition, over time, from the fossil fuel sector into the many tens of thousands of jobs that are being created in clean energy as a result of the work that the Secretary of State and her team are doing.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)
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The right hon. Gentleman is making some powerful points, and I have huge respect for him when it comes to this topic. Does he agree that we are in real danger of turning off the interest and the investment appetite among many other nations, such as Korea and Japan, which see the UK as having vast expertise in offshore wind development sites, and that legislation of this kind will undermine that market?

Alok Sharma Portrait Sir Alok Sharma
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There was some commentary expressing concern about investment appetite following some of the statements that were made in the autumn, but I think we must acknowledge that, over the last few months, the Government have managed to secure billions of pounds of extra investment committed within clean energy to the UK.

Turning to the carbon intensity test for granting new licences, I have to say again that I am not sure that the Government recognise the whole picture of where we get our imports from. The majority of the gas that the UK imports comes via a pipeline from Norway. It is not imported LNG. The carbon intensity of Norwegian gas production is around half that of UK domestic gas. If that is the test that the Government want to apply in deciding whether to issue new licences, I think they should take into account the average carbon intensity of all imported gas, not just LNG. Given that around 70% of remaining North sea reserves are oil, perhaps the tests should also include the carbon intensity of UK-produced oil, which is higher than the global average.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab/Co-op)
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I put that very point to the Secretary of State in our Select Committee, and her response was that because almost all our oil is exported out of the UK for processing, we do not know what its full carbon intensity is. Is that not a great example of why our oil is not used in Britain and why this will not help British people?

Alok Sharma Portrait Sir Alok Sharma
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The Secretary of State has set out her position very clearly and eloquently. I am trying to set out my position on the Bill.

The Government said that the independent Climate Change Committee’s own data showed that we were going to need new oil and gas in the decade ahead, but I respectfully say that that is not the same as saying that new licences should be granted. The weekend before this Bill was originally due to have its Second Reading, the interim chair of the committee put out a tweet to reconfirm the CCC’s position. He wrote that

“@theCCCuk evidence is that continued expansion of new oil and gas reserves is inconsistent with our climate commitments, especially more so in light of the recent Global Stocktake COP agreement we just signed.”

For the reasons that I have outlined, I will not vote for this Bill today, but assuming that it proceeds beyond its Second Reading, I hope that it will be possible to work with like- minded colleagues—and indeed the Government, the Secretary of State and her Ministers—to amend and improve the tests that are required to be met before any new oil and gas production licences are granted in the future.

In conclusion, delivering on the UK’s clean energy transition matters on many levels: for jobs, for inward investment, for lower bills, for real energy security and of course for the environment. We see the impacts of the changing climate around us daily: 2023 was the hottest year on record globally, and in recent weeks many people have faced flooding again in our country, including in my own constituency. We really should not need any more wake-up calls to put aside the distractions and act with the urgency that the situation demands.

--- Later in debate ---
Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am well aware of that—of course I am—but the hon. Member will have heard the discussion that took place earlier about global leadership. He will know that other countries around the world are not declining at the required rate, and leadership is about taking a lead.

The logic of drilling for more when the world has already more than it can safely burn is that of the myopic salesman, not the visionary politician, or to use the Prime Minister’s words, it is the logic of the zealot. The Government’s actions are already making the UK a less attractive place for green investment. Three quarters of all North sea oil and gas operators currently invest nothing at all in UK renewables. The largest operator, Harbour Energy, has ruled out such clean investment altogether, yet last year the five oil super-majors—BP, Shell, Chevron, ExxonMobil and TotalEnergies—rewarded their investors with record payouts of more than £79 billion, so we know the money is there to do it.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is asking whether I will give way. The right hon. Member has long confused the scoring of party political points with the ability to debate an issue to arrive at the truth and get decent policies out the other end. However, if he has changed the habit of a lifetime, I will happily give way to him.

Graham Stuart Portrait Graham Stuart
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Gentleman. He mentioned a specific company, Harbour Energy, and it is absolutely investing in the Viking carbon capture centre and playing a positive role. That is true of the whole oil and gas supply chain in this country, which the hon. Gentleman, if he went to visit them, would find are working right across the energy sector. Weakening one part, as he would with no new licences, would damage the new clean emerging sectors, too.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I recognise the work that Harbour Energy is doing and I also recognise the work that the Government have done in trying to attract more investment into green energy and renewables, and I welcome that work. I want us to have a cross-party consensus around getting to net zero. The trouble is that—and the Minister knows this to be true—he and many people on his side, including the Prime Minister, have tried to make this a wedge issue, a political issue to divide people. I think he really does need to step up to the plate. If he wants cross-party consensus, he has to try to build it, not score cheap political points.

--- Later in debate ---
Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

We have had an excellent and pointed debate this evening. Certainly, Opposition Members have together pointed out the deficiencies in the Bill, pointed out what a specious and potentially damaging Bill it is and, indeed, questioned why the Bill was brought to the House in the first place. All that is what I very much want to do.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) called this Bill “illogical and damaging” and pointed out that it could put marine protected areas at risk. My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Dame Nia Griffith) pointed out that it makes us look ridiculous on the world stage. My hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) pointed out that the Bill itself was based on a series of lies and, indeed, quoted the UN Secretary-General stating that “the truly dangerous radicals” are the countries that are increasing their oil and gas output.

My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Zarah Sultana) pointed out strongly that this Bill, contrary to its claims, is not about energy security. My hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western), who reminded us of the real effects of climate change right now, pointed out that the future is largely electric and this Bill is a “great deception”. The hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) called it stupid, unnecessary and dangerous—she did not mince her words very much. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome) laid many of the myths of the Bill to rest and questioned why the Government are pushing it in the first place. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) pointed out the “political theatre” behind the Bill and why it is completely incompatible with our climate change commitments.

This really is a reprehensible Bill. It is a Bill based on a number of myths and, frankly, lies, which require people to believe that there are people around really saying that oil and gas is going to be stopped immediately and will not continue to play a substantial role, as it will in the energy economy up to 2050. No one is saying that oil and gas will not continue up to a period of time and no one is saying that the existing fields in the UK will not continue to produce and contribute their products in the future. There will be jobs in that continuing North sea oil operation.

However, this is a one-clause Bill with effectively two sections in it. The first section ostentatiously requires the Oil and Gas Authority to do what it is already doing; indeed, both the hon. Member for Angus (Dave Doogan) and the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion reminded us that the Oil and Gas Authority has been carrying out regular licensing rounds every 18 months since 2016. It is required to do so because it is bound by the maximum economic extraction requirement. All that is already in legislation and the Oil and Gas Authority is already doing it.

The second section sets out an entirely bogus climate test, which by definition cannot be failed. That is achieved by skewing the test conditions to test UK gas production emissions only against aggregate liquefied natural gas imports, which are overall likely to be dirtier in production than UK gas, and not against pipeline-delivered gas that, in the case of our main importer Norway, is half as dirty in production as gas in the UK.

There is no emissions test for oil, despite its constituting 70% of North sea fossil reserves—80% of which, as we have heard, is shipped and refined overseas. For oil there is a “net importer” test, which requires the OGA to issue licences if the demand for oil and gas products in the UK is greater than the production—when that has been the case in the North sea for 20 years, with no prospect of reversal. It is a Bill built on completely bogus premises.

Graham Stuart Portrait Graham Stuart
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman is talking about bogus premises, but he just suggested that we could get more pipeline gas from Norway. Does he not recognise that if we do not produce as much gas here, it will not be gas from Norway that we can access but will inevitably be LNG with higher emissions? Will he please, for the benefit of the House, step up and be honest? We do not have the option to get massively more gas from Norway—if we did, we would have done it already.

Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Whitehead
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think I am going to get injury time for that intervention. If the Minister had been listening to what I was saying, he would know that I was stating that the Bill, in a very bogus way, has deliberately sidestepped the fact that there is gas available for import that is much cleaner than ours in its production. We should use that as a test, but the only test carried out was on LNG which, conveniently, is a little bit dirtier than the gas we produce in this country.

The Bill is about not what it says as much as what it does. As the former Energy Minister and author of the Government net zero report, the former right hon. Member for Kingswood, said recently, the Bill goes against everything the UK is saying internationally about moving away from oil and gas, and it has already damaged our international stance by appearing to double down on precisely the thing to which we are saying the opposite on the world stage. The right hon. Member for Reading West (Sir Alok Sharma), the former president of Glasgow COP, said in a courageous and precise speech this evening that the Bill puts into legislation something that already happens under the agency of the OGA. He also stated that its sole purpose is to double down on more oil and that nations around the world will not take that very kindly as far as our commitments are concerned.

The OGA itself emphasised that the Bill was “not necessary”, but

“would significantly challenge one of the tenets of independence for the NSTA, to decide when to run a licensing round.”

Whatever the position in the North sea objectively, the OGA would be forced to scrape up at least a licence a year forever. We know the claim that that would somehow do something for energy security is also bogus. The right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) recently said that

“new oil and gas licences only provide for energy security if all that energy is sold into the UK and, actually, it will be sold on the world market”—

a point that a number of Members have made this afternoon.

The whole Bill appears to have come about as a result of a wheeze, cooked up by a couple of strategy advisers over a heavy lunch, to put the Opposition on the wrong foot—or, to put it another way, on the right side of history. Quite honestly, that wheeze should have been put down as soon as the effects of the heavy lunch wore off, but instead it has persisted through the corridors of power and has finally made it to the Floor of the House in the shape of this risible Bill, the contents of which evaporate on the first examination by anybody of its serious purpose.

That says rather more about the state of the Government than anything else. Where were the quality controls on policy making? How did something so evidently content-free and fact-averse as this piece of legislation ever make it so far? How did the present departmental Government Ministers, for whom I have a great deal of respect, allow it to happen on their watch, when they must know it is a load of hokum with no policy merit at all? Now they are forced to go out and try to justify it to the House. It is a very sad reflection of what a tiny, bitter and sad space the Government have retreated into, where serious policy development in the energy sphere—God knows we have enough of that to be working on—is replaced by such ill-advised emptiness. That is what this Bill is, in the end: just empty. If passed, it will linger on the statute book for a short period, make no difference to anything in the meantime and be rapidly overtaken by the reality of the forward march to decarbonisation in energy.

However, the Bill will have one lasting effect, as I have mentioned, because it signals strongly and, I am afraid, potentially lastingly that the UK is not serious about its climate and net zero ambitions and is prepared to say duplicitous things on both an international and a national stage. That is bad news for all the genuine work that has so far been done by the UK on net zero climate leadership. This Bill will not stick, but that charge might. For that reason, if for no other of the many reasons that have been put forward in this debate, it is best that we take this Bill no further than Second Reading and refuse as a House to let it pass to further stages.

Graham Stuart Portrait The Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero (Graham Stuart)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my right hon. Friends the Members for Reading West (Sir Alok Sharma) and for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), and my hon. Friends the Members for Waveney (Peter Aldous), for Moray (Douglas Ross), for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon), for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid), for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew) and for South Dorset (Richard Drax) for their contributions to this interesting debate.

The UK is the global climate leader. It is under this Government that that position has been secured. How is it to be measured? Do we have objective measures? Of course we have. The central challenge is to reduce emissions, and under the Conservatives this country has reduced emissions by more than any major economy on earth. How have we done that? Has it been an accident? No, it has not.

We inherited an absolutely awful situation. We heard from the hon. Member for Llanelli (Dame Nia Griffith) about her time in government, and she talked strongly about the work that Labour did on renewables. Well, it did not add up to much under her and the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband). Renewables were less than 7% of our electricity in 2010. Now, that has been transformed. Coal—the dirtiest of fossil fuels—is a further ghastly legacy of the Labour party. We hear so much piety from Labour Members, but what was their performance in government? I will tell you, Madam Deputy Speaker: it was failure. Nearly 40% of our electricity came from coal as recently as 2012. By October this year, it will be zero.

It is the Conservative Government who have stayed laser-focused on delivering climate leadership, and it is in that light that this legislation comes before the House. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), asked why we have introduced the Bill. The Labour party, the Scottish National party and, of course, the Liberal Democrats say that we must have no new licensing in the North sea, even as our production is expected to halve over the next decade, and despite the fact that if we fulfil our world-leading ambitions for 2030 and 2035, which we will, production of oil and gas in the North sea will fall even faster in the country that is decarbonising more than any other major economy on earth. That is the reality; that is the context for the Bill, which brings in annual licensing.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
- Hansard -

Graham Stuart Portrait Graham Stuart
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Labour party will support oil and gas jobs—just not in this country. Not having new licences here will make no difference whatsoever to our consumption, but it will make a difference to how much we have to import, and our import dependency will go up. Worse than that for those of us who care about the environment, and to put in their place the pieties that we heard from Opposition parties, it will actually lead to imports with higher emissions than production here, as the right hon. Member for Doncaster North and other Labour Members know, and will worsen our ability to move to net zero in the short term. That is not to mention the 200,000 jobs supported throughout the country, 90,000-plus of which are in the north-east of Scotland and being abandoned by the Scottish National party.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
- Hansard -

Graham Stuart Portrait Graham Stuart
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The measures will make no difference to our consumption and no difference to world consumption because we are net importers. We are not spilling our product on to global markets. Our oil, for instance, which the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) often mentions, is refined at European refineries. It is then turned into product that we can use here. It contributes directly to European and UK energy security.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
- Hansard -

Graham Stuart Portrait Graham Stuart
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If Members oppose the Bill and allow no new licensing, the impact will be higher emissions, and they will not see the investment that we are seeing in new projects such as Rosebank. What is the carbon footprint of the product from Rosebank? It is expected to be much lower than the average across the North sea and what is expected globally. So, again, not only does closing off licensing mean that we will import more, but it will get in the way of investment into and transformation of our base.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I want to see far less imported LNG. Can the Minister give us some good news on what we might be able to achieve in getting more gas out, and will he ensure that many blocks—not just one—are put up for a licence round to get rid of that LNG?

Graham Stuart Portrait Graham Stuart
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The estimate from the North Sea Transition Authority is that a billion of barrels of oil equivalent, including gas, would be lost if we did not have new licences. That is lost tax revenue for this country, on top of the 200,000 jobs and lower emissions—[Interruption.] So far, I have not mentioned the tens of billions of pounds of tax. [Interruption.] It is not surprising, given how comprehensively easy it is to destroy the Labour party’s arguments, that the right hon. Member for Doncaster North keeps up his constant chuntering. He cannot win the argument while he is on his feet, so he sits there and tries interrupting those who can. If we do not have new licensing, which is Labour’s policy, we will see emissions go up in the short term; 200,000 jobs undermined; tens of billions in tax not brought into the public Exchequer; and—for those who care about dealing with the climate emergency—we will lose the very engineering skills and talent that we need to retain in this country in order to make the transition.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
- Hansard -

Graham Stuart Portrait Graham Stuart
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In the time I have, I will try to respond to a few of the points that have been made by colleagues.

My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney highlighted the commitment of oil and gas companies to net zero. Oil and gas businesses are funding clean energy work. The hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) picked on one such business, and it turned out that it was investing heavily in our clean energy transition. My hon. Friend the Member for Moray talked about fighting for those 90,000 Scottish workers. I have already mentioned the hon. Member for Llanelli and her rather risible attempt to suggest that Labour had any sort of record on renewables. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central emphasised the importance of oil and gas workers to CCUS, which is absolutely essential.

My hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan said that we are reducing production at twice the rate required internationally. That is true, and it is why new licensing in the North sea is fully aligned with net zero; those emissions are part of that. The hon. Member for East Lothian (Kenny MacAskill) talked about oil and gas being essential to deliver renewables, and supported new licensing. I thank him for that. My hon. Friend the Member for Broadland said that what we use is what counts—that is so true. The most important thing is to look at demand: removing and changing vehicles, factories and homes so that they no longer use oil and gas is absolutely central.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford rightly said how important it was that we present this policy correctly. Of course, if only the Labour party was playing a proper and honest part in that, we would be able to champion the tremendous performance of this country in tackling climate change. I really do appreciate the speech that my right hon. Friend made.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Sheerman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way?

Graham Stuart Portrait Graham Stuart
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) talked about the zero-carbon homes standard, and the importance of improving the insulation and energy efficiency of homes. He is quite right; that is why this Government have gone from the terrible position of just 14% of homes having decent insulation—EPC rating C or above—when we came to power, to above 50% today.

I fundamentally disagree with the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) about net zero, but he correctly highlighted that we would just be sacrificing well-paid jobs without making any difference to our emissions, apart from putting them up.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Sheerman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have been in this House longer than most people, and it is a courtesy to the House in a winding-up speech to give way in an even-handed way. This Minister has given way to a Conservative Member, but he refuses to take any interventions from the Opposition.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point of order. It is up to the Minister to decide to whom he gives way. It would be slightly more usual for him to give way to Members who had been in the Chamber throughout the debate. However, it is up to him to decide. And I really do not like points of order in the middle of winding-up speeches.

Graham Stuart Portrait Graham Stuart
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Sheerman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way?

Graham Stuart Portrait Graham Stuart
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

You have given your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker, which is to give way to those who have been in the Chamber for the debate, not to Johnny-come-latelies who come in and want to usurp them.

The right hon. Member for East Antrim also highlighted an excellent point about the hypocrisy and humbug that is absolutely central to Labour’s response to this Bill.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Sheerman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way?

Graham Stuart Portrait Graham Stuart
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If the hon. Gentleman, who has hardly been here, would sit down, I will fortunately be able to come to a close.

The amendment put forward by His Majesty’s Opposition suggests that maximising the falling production from the North sea will put us at the greater mercy of petrostates. That is so obviously untrue that I hope they would hold their heads in shame about it. That has been at the heart of the Opposition’s approach to this Bill.

The Bill is designed to send a signal to the industry that we have its back. It is all about ensuring that we get to net zero in the most efficient and effective manner possible, and it will underpin this Government’s continued leadership on climate now and for many years to come. I urge the House to support the Bill.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Well, that was lively. [Laughter.] Now that I have Members’ attention, I want to emphasise how important it is for those who have participated in debates to get back in good time for the winding-ups speeches. When the wind-ups come up early, please just keep an eye out for them and make sure to come back, because people who have participated will be mentioned in the wind-ups and it is courteous to be here to hear them.

--- Later in debate ---
20:51

Division 61

Ayes: 209


Labour: 160
Scottish National Party: 26
Liberal Democrat: 10
Independent: 6
Plaid Cymru: 3
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 2
Alliance: 1
Green Party: 1

Noes: 292


Conservative: 285
Democratic Unionist Party: 6
Independent: 2

Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 62(2)), That the Bill be now read a Second time.
--- Later in debate ---
21:04

Division 62

Ayes: 293


Conservative: 285
Democratic Unionist Party: 6
Independent: 2

Noes: 211


Labour: 160
Scottish National Party: 27
Liberal Democrat: 10
Independent: 6
Plaid Cymru: 3
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 2
Alliance: 1
Green Party: 1
Alba Party: 1

Bill read a Second time.

Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Committee of the whole House
Tuesday 20th February 2024

(2 months, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill 2023-24 Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Amendment Paper: Committee of the whole House Amendments as at 20 February 2024 - (20 Feb 2024)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill 2023-24 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Alok Sharma Portrait Sir Alok Sharma (Reading West) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 12, page 1, line 3, at end insert—

“(1ZA) The OGA must not invite any new seaward area production application licences until the Secretary of State has by regulations brought into effect a ban on flaring and venting relating to new offshore installations other than that required in an emergency.

(1ZB) The Secretary of State must by regulation make such provision so that the OGA is only permitted to invite seaward area production application licences after 2030 once a prohibition is in place on routine flaring and venting for all offshore installations operating in UK waters.

(1ZC) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsections (1ZA) and (1ZB) is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

(1ZD) In subsection (1ZA) and (1ZB)—

‘flaring’ means the burning of hydrocarbons produced during oil and gas extraction;

‘venting’ means the release of un-combusted hydrocarbons directly into the atmosphere.”

This amendment prevents the invitation of new seaward area production application licences until the Secretary of State has introduced a ban on flaring and venting by new offshore installations. It also requires the Secretary of State to prevent licensing rounds from 2030 if a wider ban is not in place.

Rosie Winterton Portrait The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Dame Rosie Winterton)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 15, page 1, line 3, at end insert—

“(1ZA) The OGA must not invite any new seaward area production application licences until the Secretary of State has by regulations brought into effect a requirement that—

(a) all new seaward area production application licences require a specific field commitment of a net zero carbon footprint reached through developing the Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage network or such other means as deemed appropriate; and

(b) a percentage, to be specified in regulations but not less than 30 per cent, of all new seaward area production application licences specifically align petroleum extraction with the refining of petroleum at the Grangemouth oil refinery.

(1ZB) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsections (1ZA) is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.”

Amendment 7, page 1, line 4, leave out “in each relevant year” and insert “on a case-by-case basis”.

Amendment 2, page 1, line 6, at end insert—

“(aa) the climate test (see section 4ZD)”

This paving amendment, together with amendment 3, sets out the climate test to be applied by the Oil and Gas Authority before inviting applications for seaward new production licences.

Amendment 8, page 1, line 6, at end insert—

“(aa) the energy and job security test (see section 4ZD)”

This paving amendment, together with Amendment 9, introduces a new test to be applied by the OGA before inviting applications for seaward new production licences.

Amendment 10, page 1, line 6, at end insert—

“(aa) the just transition test (see section 4ZD)”

This paving amendment, together with Amendment 11, introduces a new test to be applied by the OGA before inviting applications for seaward new production licences.

Amendment 13, page 1, line 6, at end insert—

“(aa) the just transition plans test (see section 4ZD)”

This paving amendment, together with Amendment 14, introduces a new test to be applied by the OGA before inviting applications for seaward new production licences.

Amendment 17, page 1, line 6, at end insert—

“(aa) the climate change test (see section 4ZD)”

This paving amendment, together with Amendment 18, sets out the climate change test to be applied by the Oil and Gas Authority before inviting applications for seaward new production licences.

Amendment 22, page 1, line 6, at end insert —

“(aa) the home energy efficiency test (see section 4ZD).”

This paving amendment, together with Amendment 24, introduces a home energy efficiency test to be applied by the OGA before inviting applications for seaward area production licences.

Amendment 23, page 1, line 6, at end insert—

“(aa) the Energy Charter test (see section 4ZD).”

This paving amendment, together with Amendment 25, introduces an Energy Charter test to be applied by the OGA before inviting applications for seaward area production licences.

Amendment 19, page 2, line 1, after “of” leave out “liquefied”.

This amendment, together with Amendment 20, would require the carbon intensity of domestic natural gas to be assessed against the carbon intensity of all natural gas imported into the UK.

Amendment 20, page 2, line 7, leave out “liquefied”.

This amendment, together with Amendment 19, would require the carbon intensity of domestic natural gas to be assessed against the carbon intensity of all natural gas imported into the UK.

Amendment 21, page 2, line 24, at end insert—

“(4A) Within six months of the commencement of this Act, the Secretary of State must produce and lay before Parliament a report on the effect of amending the definition of “carbon intensity” as set out in subsection (4) according to section 93 of the Climate Change Act 2008.”

This amendment requires the Secretary of State to report how the carbon intensity test is affected if the definition of carbon intensity were amended to include emissions of gases other than carbon dioxide in line with the carbon dioxide equivalent measure in section 93 of the 2008 Climate Change Act.

Amendment 3, page 3, line 23, at end insert—

“4ZD The climate test mentioned in s 4ZA

The climate test is met in relation to a relevant year if the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change finds that current global fossil infrastructure will not emit more greenhouse gases than is compatible with limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”

Amendment 9, page 3, line 23, at end insert—

“4ZD The energy and job security test mentioned in s 4ZA

The energy and job security test is met in relation to a relevant year if the OGA assesses that new licences will—

(a) lower energy bills for households;

(b) deliver energy security and reduce reliance on imported fuel sources for domestic consumption;

(c) enhance sustained job security for the oil and gas workforce in areas of the UK economically reliant on the oil and gas sector;

(d) guarantee funding for domestic refineries to increase capacity to process sustainable fuel sources; and

(e) help the oil and gas sector meet commitments set out in the North Sea Transition Deal.”

This amendment sets out a new test to be applied by the OGA before inviting applications for seaward new production licences.

Amendment 11, page 3, line 23, at end insert—

“4ZD The just transition test mentioned in s 4ZA

The just transition test is met in relation to a relevant year if the OGA assesses that—

(a) new licences will support the delivery of the North Sea Transition Deal’s greenhouse gas emission reduction targets of 10% by 2025, 25% by 2027 and 50% by 2030 against a 2018 baseline, to meet the sector’s aim of a net zero basin by 2050; and

(b) the Secretary of State has provided funding to support the development of the renewable energy sector, in areas of the UK economically dependent on the oil and gas sector, equivalent to tax revenues collected from UK oil and gas production.”

This amendment sets out a new test to be applied by the OGA before inviting applications for seaward new production licences.

Amendment 14, page 3, line 23, at end insert—

“4ZD The just transition plans test mentioned in s 4ZA

(1) The just transition plans test is met in relation to a relevant year if the OGA assesses that all existing seaward area production licence holders have published just transition plans for their workforce that are compatible with limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

(2) For the purposes of this section—

“just transition plans” refer to plans agreed through formalised collective agreements with unions in the workplace for consultation on policy;

“workforce” includes workers, directly and indirectly (sub-contracted or agency) employed, or engaged through day-rate or self-employed contract models.”

Amendment 18, page 3, line 23, insert—

“4ZD The climate change test mentioned in 4ZA

The climate change test is met in relation to a relevant year if the latest reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the mitigation of climate change find that the granting of additional seaward area production licences is consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C.”

This amendment sets out a new test to be applied by the OGA before inviting applications for seaward new production licences.

Amendment 24, page 3, line 23, at end insert—

“4ZD The home energy efficiency test mentioned in s 4ZA

The home energy efficiency test is met if the median rating in current Energy Performance Certificates in the United Kingdom falls within or above Band B.”

This amendment sets out the home energy efficiency test to be applied by the OGA before inviting applications for seaward area production licences.

Amendment 25, page 3, line 23, at end insert—

“4ZD The Energy Charter test mentioned in s 4ZA

The Energy Charter Treaty test is met if the United Kingdom has made arrangements to withdraw from the Energy Charter Treaty.”

This amendment sets out the Energy Charter test to be applied by the OGA before inviting applications for seaward area production licences.

Clause stand part.

Clause 2 stand part.

New clause 2—Duty to introduce spatial prioritisation policy

“After section 4 of the Petroleum Act 1998 insert—

4ZAA Duty to introduce spatial prioritisation policy

(1) Before the OGA invites applications for seaward area production licences under this Act the Secretary of State must publish a marine spatial prioritisation policy.

(2) The marine spatial prioritisation policy must establish a process for prioritising offshore renewables, marine protection, fishing activities, oil and gas licensing, and the achievement of relevant targets under the Climate Change Act 2008 and the Environment Act 2021 in any relevant decisions relating to the marine environment made by a body undertaking public functions.

(3) The OGA must comply with the marine spatial prioritisation policy set out in subsection (1) when deciding applications relating to new seaward area production licences.’”

This new clause requires the Secretary of State to publish a marine spatial prioritisation policy, taking into account relevant targets under the Climate Change Act 2008 and the Environment Act 2021.

Alok Sharma Portrait Sir Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

On Second Reading, I said that this Bill was something of a distraction and not necessary on the basis that the North Sea Transition Authority can already grant licences annually or, indeed, whenever it considers it necessary. That will not change with the Bill. I also noted at the time that the two statutory tests in the Bill have been designed in such a way that the computer always says yes to new oil and gas licences, but I also said that I would work with other like-minded colleagues to improve the Bill and bring in further tests that need to be met before any new oil and gas production licences are granted. That is what I and other Members have sought to do.

Amendment 12 seeks to do two things. First, it would stop the invitation of new production application licences until the Secretary of State has introduced a ban on the flaring and venting of methane by new offshore installations. Secondly, it would require the Secretary of State to prevent licensing rounds from 2030 if a wider ban on flaring and venting is not in place. Along with other Members who have signed up to the amendment, I argue that this is an entirely reasonable ask that the Government and all Members should be able to get behind, given that all it modestly seeks to do is put into statute existing guidance on flaring and venting that was issued by the North Sea Transition Authority.

Let me set out the precise wording of the principles that the NSTA expects industry to follow in relation to flaring and venting across all UK continental shelf areas. First,

“flaring and venting and associated emissions should be at the lowest possible levels in the circumstances”.

Secondly, there should be

“zero routine flaring and venting for all by 2030”.

Thirdly,

“all new developments should be planned and developed on the basis of zero routine flaring and venting.”

That is a set of NSTA principles with which amendment 12 in entirely consistent.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Can my right hon. Friend explain why it would be better to import liquefied natural gas, with four times the amount of CO2 produced, rather than have our own gas? His regulations would not apply to the foreign-produced gas we import.

Alok Sharma Portrait Sir Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend makes an important point: LNG has a higher carbon-intensity footprint. But the majority of the gas that we import comes by pipeline from Norway, and the production intensity of Norwegian gas is around half that of the UK’s.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Alok Sharma Portrait Sir Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If I may, I will continue. In their response last year to the Environmental Audit Committee’s report on accelerating the transition from fossil fuels and securing energy supplies, the Government doubled down on the NSTA position. Responding to the EAC recommendation, which called for the banning of flaring from UK installations, the Government noted that they had already signed up to

“make every effort to ensure that routine flaring from existing oil fields ends as soon as possible, and no later than 2030.”

The Government response went on to highlight the NSTA guidance that new developments are approved on the basis of zero routine flaring and venting.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) raised the issue of imported gas. I will just point out to him that, unfortunately, flaring is still a common practice in the UK. By contrast, Norway banned routine flaring in 1971, and the carbon intensity of Norwegian gas production is around half that of UK domestic production.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The marginal gas we would import would come from Qatar or the United States of America. There is not an infinite supply of Norwegian gas, so my right hon. Friend is missing the main point.

Alok Sharma Portrait Sir Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With respect, I do not think I am missing the main point. The point that the Government are pursuing is to ensure that we have less use of fossil fuels overall and that we expand our renewable capacity, including nuclear, which I know my right hon. Friend supports. That is where we should be going with this strategy. The ban on flaring in Norway is one of the key reasons that Norway has become a leader in the cleaner production of oil and gas, which this Government have clearly indicated that they also want for UK production.

I am looking forward to hearing the Minister’s response to amendment 12. I hope he will say that, given that it is consistent with Government policy and guidance, the Government will introduce a similar amendment in the other place. If they choose not to do that, I am pretty sure that a similar amendment will be tabled in the other place anyway, and that it is likely to be supported. I would just humbly observe that if the Government whip against this or any similar amendment, either in this House or in the other place, they will put colleagues in the absurd position of effectively having to vote against existing Government policy. I am really looking forward to listening to what the Minister has to say.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
- Hansard -

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Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab/Co-op)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I rise to support amendments 17 and 19, and to speak to my amendments 22 and 24 on energy efficiency tests and amendments 23 and 25 on the energy charter treaty.

Let me start with amendment 25. At the moment, the energy charter treaty, of which we are a member, is a failed international treaty. It binds us to any contract that we sign for oil, gas or any energy. Once it is signed, we cannot get out of it without paying the hope value of that contract. What I mean by the hope value is that a member does not pay the actual material value if it wants to stop that contract now; it has to pay all the potential value of that contract if the oilfield, for example, were fully exploited.

The treaty has cost other European countries billions and billions of pounds when they have tried to implement climate mitigation policies. It is dangerous, because the decisions are made not by British courts or by international courts with a British judge, but by secretive tribunals where the corporations get to appoint the people who make the deliberations. It is so outrageous that European Union members have agreed to withdraw en masse—they are currently negotiating on how to do so in a co-ordinated way—and to do side letters with each other to ensure they are not bound by the 25-year clause under which any extant licences that have been signed must continue to be honoured, even after withdrawal.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Because if we sign more licences while we are still part of the energy charter treaty, the Minister is binding the hands of future generations. If we withdrew from the energy charter treaty, as our allies and partners are trying to do, and then decided to award new licences, future Governments and generations could, without penalty, withdraw or reduce those licences. That very much relates to the Bill, because I am saying: “If you want to do this for short-term gain”—I do not believe the Government’s premise to start with—“at least allow future generations and Governments to come and fix your mess; do not bind their hands under international treaties.” I think that that is relevant to the awarding of new licences.

The fact that so many countries are fleeing the energy charter treaty means that this is the moment to negotiate with our partners to work out a new way forward. The British Government themselves accept that the energy charter treaty has failed. They have tried to make significant amendments to it to allow flexibility on climate change goals. It has not been possible to amend it, which is why European partners are trying to withdraw. This test would do two things. Not only would it avoid binding future generations, but it would put a rocket up the derrière of our Ministers and Departments to ensure that they fulfil the pledge of reform or withdrawal, which is a pledge that we have already made.

Let me address amendments 22 and 24 on the energy efficiency test for home heating. In reality, the biggest proportion of domestic energy is spent on home heating. Huge domestic bills will not be solved one iota by the Bill, as the Minister has admitted, because the product will be sold on the international market and the marginal price at which we buy it back will still be inflated. Our electricity market, which is linked to that marginal price, will continue to be inflated. The best and most efficient way to reduce energy bills and the demand and need for gas—the way that we all know needs to happen—is to ensure that our homes meet decent energy efficiency standards.

The amendments set out that the Government need to redouble their efforts to ensure energy efficiency before we commit to and invest in new licences for offshore drilling, and that we need a median rating of band B in energy performance. At the moment, C is seen as standard and D is common in private rentals. Privately let homes are the worst in the sector, and greater help is needed. We cannot continue to rely on Government programmes that do not touch the sides. We need a proper approach in which we go street by street with councils and local government, fully funded by central Government, with clawbacks in future years.

However, we cannot expect our citizens to pay a penny out of their pockets up front. Homeowners are already overstretched, with huge additional bills, in a mortgage market that has been destroyed by the Government. They cannot afford an extra cent, an extra penny, for home improvements. That all needs to be covered by the Government. My amendments would incentivise the Government to do that and to ensure that we have made every effort to reduce gas demand before we go ahead with the foolish endeavour of drilling more oil and gas, which will not reduce prices, will not stop fuel poverty in this country and will not deal with any of our long-lasting problems. It would be a sticking plaster that does not even stick.

I worked with the Opposition Front Benchers on amendment 17, which sets out the climate change test, so I am delighted that they have tabled it. A similar amendment has been tabled by my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas). It is important to say that we cannot meet our climate targets if we do not honour and respect the IPCC’s work and reports. We are on a hiding to nothing if we think that we can keep drilling and extracting more while meeting our energy targets.

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On that basis, it is about time that we committed into statute that Scotland’s oil will be refined in Scotland’s refinery. Our workers and our country should expect no less. It is not a great deal of money that is being sought—we are talking about tens of millions to provide the hydrocracker that will increase profitability threefold, which the hon. Member for Angus (Dave Doogan) should take into account. If we do not get that hydrocracker going, we will not have a plant by the time biofuels are brought into consideration. It is for that reason that of the £6.1 billion that the UK Government will get in receipts from the North sea, a modicum or a fraction must be put into ensuring that Petroineos or its successor remains in Grangemouth.
Graham Stuart Portrait Graham Stuart
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to take part in the debate this afternoon, which has been wide-ranging, well informed and genuinely interesting. I thank Members from across the Committee for their participation and for playing an important role in scrutinising this important piece of legislation.

Before I move on to specific amendments I will, if you allow me, Dame Rosie, briefly outline the importance of this Bill. The UK leads the world on tackling climate change, and is the first major economy to halve emissions. The Bill will protect jobs, tax receipts and sovereign capability, so that we can continue that world leadership. As one of the world’s most decarbonised major economies, the UK remains dependent on oil and gas and will continue to be, albeit in reducing amounts, according to the Climate Change Committee. Even when we are at net zero in 2050, we will require oil and gas. However, we are a net importer and, as has been discussed, UK production is falling fast.

The ambition of the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) to destroy UK supply ignores industry, the unions and his own Back Benchers, and would simply replace UK oil and gas with higher-emission imports. That is at the heart of this; that is why we want to pass this legislation—it is because of the policies of the parties opposite. The hon. Member for Angus (Dave Doogan) looks a little confused. The parties opposite are very clear that they want to end new licensing, and we would thus have to import more from abroad. It is as simple as that. That would mean more LNG, which has four times the embedded emissions of domestically produced gas. That is the reality. That is at the heart of the Bill; that is why it is so important that we legislate today to send a signal to industry that continued fast-declining production in the North sea is the right thing to do environmentally, economically, in terms of tax—on every front. If it was not, we should not and would not do it.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way?

Graham Stuart Portrait Graham Stuart
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will make a little more progress.

Annual licensing will improve our energy security and that of our neighbours. It will support 200,000 jobs and safeguard billions in tax revenue and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) set out so well, it will safeguard the skills needed for successful energy transition. Hon. Members can listen to everyone from Offshore Energies UK to Robert Gordon University for evidence of the need for that. These things are not in tension; they mutually complement each other and need to be supported.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Is the Minister going to give way?

Graham Stuart Portrait Graham Stuart
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I promise to come to the hon. Gentleman before I finish.

Turning to the amendments selected today, I first thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Sir Alok Sharma) for amendment 12 on flaring and venting. As has been discussed, the guidance from the North Sea Transition Authority is clear that all new developments should be planned on the basis of zero routine flaring and venting. The Government have already committed to ending routine flaring and venting by 2030, going further than the World Bank’s zero routine flaring initiative. That voluntary North sea transition deal is reaping rewards. Based on the latest data, North sea flaring is down 50% since 2018, and the sector is on track to deliver the 2030 target.

I fear that the amendment would risk replacing voluntary momentum with a slower, compliance-based, more resistant approach from industry. However, I will continue to engage with my right hon. Friend as the Bill moves to the other place, with a view to delivering the end of flaring and venting by 2030 at the latest, which is an ambition he and I share, as do the Government.

With that, if the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) has not lost his mojo and his moment, I shall give way to him.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very grateful to the Minister for giving way, and no—I would not lose my mojo on this. We all know that there is 110% more oil and gas already in the world than we can use if we are to remain within the 1.5°C threshold. Does the Minister think the climate really cares where that oil and gas are used? His argument about imports implies that he does believe that the atmosphere cares. The damage will be done; the only way we can reduce its impact is by ensuring that the proposed additional exploration licences are not achieved.

Graham Stuart Portrait Graham Stuart
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He has taken a long and deep interest in this issue, for which I pay him respect. It is the burning of oil and gas that is the primary issue. He mentions 110%—we probably have 200%, 300% or 400%. There are countries setting out to massively increase their production. That is all driven by demand. If we—as a species, as a globe—are to get to net zero, we will have to cap wells all over the world. We will have to leave it in the ground. The most important thing is to ensure that the demand curve is going in the right direction. Despite all the issues, challenges and difficulties of maintaining our role as the leading major economy in cutting emissions, the UK’s biggest challenge in dealing with climate change is not domestic, despite the difficulty of that; it is to get others to join us on a net zero pathway. The idea of producing our own emissions to ever-lower standards and replacing them with higher-emission products from abroad is for the birds. It makes no sense.

Dave Doogan Portrait Dave Doogan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way?

Graham Stuart Portrait Graham Stuart
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am going to press on. [Interruption.] I do not mean to be rude, but I think I am unlikely, given his previous performance, to be terribly afeared of hearing from the hon. Member for Angus.

I turn to a series of amendments that seek to place conditions on when oil and gas licensing rounds are run. Amendment 15 relates to carbon capture, usage and storage, and the Grangemouth refinery. The oil and gas sector provides a significant portion of the investment that the UK needs to go into wind, CCUS and hydrogen, and I fear that the amendment would drive that investment elsewhere. It would also tie UK production of oil and natural gas to the refining activities of one refinery—Grangemouth—which I am sure Members across the House would agree is neither practical nor desirable.

Amendments 22 and 24 would result in an inconsistent approach between oil and gas licensing and our ambition for domestic energy efficiency. The Government already have a clear aim for as many homes as possible to reach energy performance certificate band C by 2035 where cost-effective, affordable and practical. That is the minimum standard required to replace fossil fuel boilers with low-carbon heating such as heat pumps.

On amendments 23 and 25, we are already reviewing our energy charter treaty membership. As far as we are concerned, there is no longer a clear route for modernisation. We will update the House in due course.

New clause 2 was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby), who was right to highlight the importance of achieving strategic co-existence between different uses while maintaining environmental protection. Work is under way to ensure that we strike the right balance between our different marine priorities. The soon-to-be-commissioned strategic spatial energy plan and cross-Government marine spatial prioritisation programme will ensure, as she rightly outlines, that we take a strategic approach to identifying future sites for marine developments and energy infrastructure, and that these can co-exist with our environmental and wider marine priorities. I appreciate what my hon. Friend seeks to achieve and assure her that the Government share her desire to protect the marine environment—not least, of course, in the Celtic sea.

Amendments 2, 3, 13 and 18 seek to add an additional climate test to the Bill. The UK produces far less oil and gas than we need, and even with new licences, production is expected to decline faster than the average that is required globally to align with the UN’s 1.5°C pathways. All that this test would do is stop licensing and increase dependence on imported products like LNG, which has production emissions that are four times higher than those of domestically produced gas. The right hon. Member for Doncaster North knows this—he must—so what, other than ideology and a desire to please his Just Stop Oil backers, could lead him to table an amendment that could raise emissions, lose British jobs and hammer our economy? Truly, it is a mystery.

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Is the reality not that reducing producer emissions in this country only to increase reliance on imported consumer emissions is entirely counterproductive for the environment and very damaging in terms of public support for the direction of travel?

Graham Stuart Portrait Graham Stuart
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is the absurdity: ending licences will simply increase our imports. It will not change our consumption. If imports such as liquefied natural gas have higher emissions embedded in them, they are counter to our net zero aims.

I now turn to amendments 8 and 9, which together add a new energy and job security test to the Bill. The test, with its complex set of criteria, would damage investor confidence and cause confusion for industry, risking our energy security, jobs, and the skills and investment needed for the green transition we all want to see. It would make our system of administration of this area as opaque as the answers the hon. Member for Angus gave to straightforward questions earlier.

Amendments 10, 11, 13 and 14 introduce additional just transition tests to the Bill. We are absolutely clear on the importance of achieving a net zero basin by 2050 and are on track to deliver that. We need the skills, expertise and resources of the oil and gas industry to support our transition to cleaner technologies, maintaining oil and gas jobs so that they are not lost before renewables and other clean technologies grow to take up those skills.

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The Bill provides certainty for industry to keep investing in ever cleaner, though always declining, UK oil and gas production as we transition to reach net zero. Failing to support the Bill could forfeit tens of billions in tax revenues, which the Opposition have no plan to replace any more than they had any idea how to fund their “Here today, gone tomorrow, maybe it is back again” apparently vital £28 billion plan which is no more. It would betray the 200,000 British workers who depend on a healthy oil and gas sector to make a living, and it would mean more reliance on imported LNG with four times higher production emissions than domestically produced gas. I am grateful to hon. Members for the interest they have taken in the Bill and the valuable scrutiny they have brought to it. I hope they are reassured by what I have outlined, and that they feel able to withdraw their amendments. On that basis, I call on all Members to support the Bill.
Alok Sharma Portrait Sir Alok Sharma
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have listened intently to the Minister and I welcome his willingness to work together on the issue of flaring and venting. What I did not hear from him was the clarity that I wanted on whether Government would look to introducing an amendment similar to amendment 12 in the other place. Perhaps that is something we can discuss before the Bill returns to this House.

Graham Stuart Portrait Graham Stuart
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

indicated assent.

Alok Sharma Portrait Sir Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am delighted to see the Minister nodding. I would just point out that even if the Government do not support a similar amendment in the other place, I am fairly confident that a similar amendment will be moved and I expect supported in the other place. This place will then have the opportunity to opine on that particular amendment, so I will not divide the Committee on this occasion. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: 10, page 1, line 6, at end insert—

“(aa) the just transition test (see section 4ZD)”.—(Dave Doogan.)

This paving amendment, together with Amendment 11, introduces a new test to be applied by the OGA before inviting applications for seaward new production licences.

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15:34

Division 75

Ayes: 44


Scottish National Party: 39
Plaid Cymru: 3
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 1
Independent: 1

Noes: 285


Conservative: 277
Democratic Unionist Party: 7
Independent: 1

Amendment proposed: 17, page 1, line 6, at end insert—
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15:49

Division 76

Ayes: 226


Labour: 163
Scottish National Party: 41
Liberal Democrat: 10
Independent: 6
Plaid Cymru: 3
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 2
Alliance: 1
Green Party: 1

Noes: 287


Conservative: 279
Democratic Unionist Party: 7
Independent: 1

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Graham Stuart Portrait Graham Stuart
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

It is my great pleasure to thank everyone who has supported the progress of the Bill. I recognise the excellent contributions of Members from across the House who have engaged closely with this important piece of legislation. I thank those on the Government Benches who spoke for their engagement with the Bill. In particular, I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Sir Alok Sharma), and my hon. Friends the Members for North Devon (Selaine Saxby), for Waveney (Peter Aldous), and for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid), for their contributions and the excellent points that they have raised in Committee.

I also welcome the robust scrutiny from the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), the hon. Member for Angus (Dave Doogan), who spoke for the Scottish nationalists, the hon. Members for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Neale Hanvey), and for East Lothian (Kenny MacAskill), who represent the Alba party, and others. I thank them all for their participation. I also pay tribute to my officials for their work over these past months, as well to Parliamentary Counsel for their commendable work, the House authorities, parliamentary staff, Clerks and Doorkeepers.

The Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill will give industry the certainty that it needs to continue to invest in the North sea, to strengthen our energy security and to support the transition to net zero. The UK is leading the world on our journey to net zero emissions. We have the fastest reduction in emissions of any major economy —of any member of the G20 on the planet. In fact, we recently celebrated not only fulfilling and even exceeding the targets of the sixth carbon budget coming out of the landmark Climate Change Act 2008, but officially halving our emissions since 1990; we are the first major economy on the planet to do so.

Even when we have reached net zero in 2050, oil and gas will still play an important part in meeting our energy needs, as data from the Climate Change Committee shows. As the most decarbonised major economy in the world, 75% of our primary energy comes from oil and gas. Those who work in the North sea producing oil and gas—there are 200,000 jobs supported by the industry—should not be ashamed of what they do. It is the demand end—our cars, our homes and our factories—that we need to change. We need to meet that challenge; like Don Quixote, we will be tilting at windmills if we, a net importer, try to make our production the problem, rather than demand. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), who could not be with us earlier, but is very welcome now, asks me for the evidence of that. The evidence is that we have cut our emissions more than any other major economy.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That was not what I was asking. The Minister says that we need to look at demand; where is the national insulation programme, so that we can insulate all our homes and reduce demand in that way? There isn’t one.

Graham Stuart Portrait Graham Stuart
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady may not have been present for the previous stage of this Bill, but as she has been present for other debates in this House, I cannot claim that she is an absentee Member, so it is extraordinary that she is unaware of the amazing transformation in insulation in this country since 2010. Is she not aware that, in 2010, just 14% of homes were decently insulated? Today, the figure is well over 50%. We are spending £6.5 billion in this Parliament, and will commit another £6 billion between 2025 and 2028, precisely to deliver the transformation that she calls for. On top of that, we have the eco schemes, and obligations on industry. That is how we have taken ourselves from the parlous, shameful situation left behind by the Labour party in 2010 to one where, although there is still much more to do, 50% of homes are decently insulated.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister was very kind to come to my constituency in Northern Ireland to look at the potential schemes for sea turbines and the contract for difference arrangements. At the time, he indicated that, whenever the Assembly was up and running, the contract for difference scheme would be the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Assembly. He was very keen and eager to assist the Assembly. Is it his intention to contact the Northern Ireland Assembly to ensure that the CfD scheme can be promoted? His input into that will make a big difference.

Graham Stuart Portrait Graham Stuart
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Gentleman, who is a consistent champion not only for his constituents but for the clean transition. I look forward to meeting and working with the new Minister for the Economy, who I believe has the energy portfolio in Northern Ireland.

The Bill will give industry the certainty that it needs to continue investing in the North sea, to strengthen our energy security, and to support the transition to net zero. The Government’s position is clear: we should, as far as possible, seek to meet continued UK demand for oil and gas from the UK’s own sources. That means continuing to use the North sea—a UK success story that has contributed billions of pounds in tax revenue and supports an industry of around 200,000 workers. The oil and gas industry, with its strong supply chains, expertise and skills, is vital to driving forward the net zero transition and the investment in clean technologies that we need to meet our net zero targets.

We all want the energy transition delivered in an orderly way that does not risk thousands of those jobs. Artificially reducing our production from the North sea or banning new licensing would do just that and jeopardise the energy transition, our progress towards net zero and our climate leadership, not to mention the billions of pounds in lost tax revenue. The Bill is about ensuring a smooth and orderly transition. New licences awarded under the Bill will manage the decline in domestic oil and gas production, rather than increase production above current levels, and they will give industry certainty by sending a strong signal of support for continued investment in the sector—investment that is necessary both for our energy security and to help deliver the energy transition. I commend the Bill to the House.

Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Whitehead
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is customary on Third Reading to start with thanks, and I would like to thank two groups of people. First, I thank the civil servants who held their noses to write this pile of rubbish for the House’s consideration. Secondly, I thank the Government for introducing the Bill, because as a number of people will know, it has led directly to the election of a new Labour Member of Parliament for Kingswood, following the resignation of the former Government climate tsar, who wrote the net zero report and had this to say about the Bill:

“This bill would in effect allow more frequent new oil and gas licences and the increased production of new fossil fuels in the North Sea… I can also no longer condone nor continue to support a government that is committed to a course of action that I know is wrong and will cause future harm.”

He then resigned, and the rest is history. Thank you, Minister, for increasing Labour’s representation in this Chamber by one seat. Although we hope to have a lot more seats in the very near future, that is progress.

The Minister has form on this. He was the Minister in the Adjournment debate on fracking some while ago—

Graham Stuart Portrait Graham Stuart
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It was not an Adjournment debate—get it right!

Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Whitehead
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Sorry; the Opposition day debate on fracking, which effectively brought down the Truss Government as a result of the various prevarications at the time. I thank the Minister for that.

What I do not thank the Minister for is the completely misleading and almost erroneous way in which he has characterised the future under the Bill. On licences, the Bill will do things that are already done, and it will not make any change. It will not suddenly increase confidence across the sector, because the sector knows that the Bill is just a piece of performative theatre; and it will do nothing—contrary to what the Minister and others have claimed—to cut energy bills, tackle the cost of living or improve our energy security.

At a time when people across this country have suffered two years of crushing energy costs and an inflationary crisis driven in large part by our significant exposure to gas prices—which, as we all know by now, are set internationally—the Bill offers no solutions. The Secretary of State herself admitted that it would not cut bills, and Lord Browne, the former chief executive officer of British Petroleum, said that it was

“not going to not make any difference”

to energy security. The board of the North Sea Transition Authority, which is responsible for giving out licences, unanimously agreed that the Bill is unnecessary and would challenge its independence. However, even though the Bill will achieve none of its stated aims, it is far from consequence-free.

--- Later in debate ---
Graham Stuart Portrait Graham Stuart
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Offshore Energies UK has said that if Labour’s policy was implemented, it could cost this country 42,000 jobs and £26 billion of economic value. Perhaps the shadow Minister will respond to that consequence.

Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Whitehead
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are talking about what the Government are doing through this policy—that is what we are concentrating on today. I hope we will have another much wider debate about the effect that a comprehensive transition policy for the whole North sea field would have, with associated arrangements for the transition of investment, energy security and worker and job security, in the context of future jobs and future energy security. Many people in the industry have already said that that is exactly what we need to secure the future of the North sea. It is a declining basin; its output will not change greatly as a result of the measures that the Government are proposing. On the other hand, unless urgent action is taken to secure a holistic transition for the North sea, it certainly will not have the investment and the future that so many of us want to see. We need to put that overall consideration alongside some people’s shorter-term concerns about what will happen to the oil and gas industry right this minute.

--- Later in debate ---
Graham Stuart Portrait Graham Stuart
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The data simply does not exist, as I think I set out. It does not exist and we cannot make a comparison if the data does not exist. We are world-leading in having that data; others do not have it. On the methane comparison, we are already below the internationally set goal; we have very low methane emissions in the North sea. On the comparison with LNG— which is the buffer fuel, which is why it is the true comparator, rather than Norwegian gas, which the hon. Gentleman is failing to admit—methane is emitted as it is shipped, so the methane story would make it even worse for LNG versus domestically produced fuel. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would put that into his argument.

Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Whitehead
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I would not put it into my argument, but I am a little puzzled under those circumstances that the North Sea Transition Authority recently published a factsheet on precisely this point about the relative emissions of various contributors to gas and oil into the UK, which looked at the contribution from various countries and at the various emissions levels of those contributions, and set out how those contributions arise. I do not know whether the Minister is quite up to date with what his own North Sea Transition Authority is doing, but perhaps he ought to have a little look at that because he would see that actually the data is there. It does exist, and we can draw the sort of conclusions I drew this afternoon from it, and indeed from a number of other international data sources that are coming in.

The argument that the marginal unit of gas must always be LNG is simply not correct, because the Bill makes no provision whatsoever for the shape of UK gas demand at the point at which the gas is extracted and used. It effectively assumes that our national demand for gas will remain unchanged in perpetuity. When we are in a crisis caused by our reliance on fossil fuels and committed to a net zero transition, that assumption is patently wrong.

Graham Stuart Portrait Graham Stuart
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hesitate to intervene again, but to suggest that this Bill has the assumption that our gas demand remains the same is absolute nonsense. Of course it is coming right down. We are on a net zero pathway. We are leading the world in that and our demand is falling fast; it is just that our production will fall even faster. The hon. Gentleman should not mislead the House, and I am sure he would not want to do so.

Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Whitehead
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think I have already indicated that gas production is predicted to fall by 95% by 2050. The addition of one or two licences will not make any difference at all to that precipitous fall in practice, as it will be four days more of gas over the period. That is the basis for why we say that the Government’s commitment to net zero transition while producing large amounts of additional gas and oil is patently wrong. We should be sprinting towards clean energy. We should be investing in renewables, rather than banning them, as the Conservatives have done with onshore wind. We should be saving the country billions by moving to decarbonise power systems by 2030 and making far greater efforts to insulate homes and reduce gas demand there.

On climate change, on energy security, on jobs and on bills, this Bill has nothing to offer but false promises that frankly insult the public’s intelligence. To support this Bill, we would need to believe that we can double down on the causes of the cost of living crisis and still solve it; that we can somehow defy geology in the North sea and change the fundamental nature of international energy markets; and that we can ignore all the science and credible experts on climate change and still meet our commitments, including our commitment to transition away from fossil fuels made by the Minister at COP28 a few short months ago. It is clearly nonsense, but it is emblematic of a Government who have run out of ideas and run out of road—a Government who can see the many real challenges our country faces, but have no answer to them beyond confected political drama. In their misguided pursuit of a political dividing line, they have shrunk our country on the international stage, made us hypocrites in the eyes of the world and opened the door in this country to a new divisive politics on climate change that I sincerely believe the Ministers sitting opposite me today are not comfortable with, do not want as their legacy and will come to regret profoundly. This Bill will deliver nothing, but it threatens much. For that reason, I urge the House to vote against it.

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17:12

Division 77

Ayes: 286


Conservative: 276
Democratic Unionist Party: 8
Independent: 1

Noes: 221


Labour: 157
Scottish National Party: 39
Liberal Democrat: 11
Independent: 6
Plaid Cymru: 3
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 2
Alliance: 1
Green Party: 1

Bill read the Third time and passed.

Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill 2023-24 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Moved by
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (Lord Callanan) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the UK recently achieved an important milestone in the global fight against climate change. We were the first major economy to set a net-zero target in law, and we are now the first major economy to have halved our emissions since 1990. Of course, we are not resting on our laurels as we pursue our goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 68% by 2030. Between 2010 and 2023, the UK has seen £300 billion of investment into low-carbon sectors, demonstrating that our approach to net zero is working. That is because it is an approach that is proportionate, fair and grounded in reality.

We recognise, of course, that the UK still depends on fossil fuels for meeting around 75% of the energy demand and that that is something that cannot be changed overnight. The independent Climate Change Committee’s data shows that even in 2050, when we reach net zero, oil and gas are expected to continue to play an important, albeit smaller, part in meeting demand and maintaining our national energy security, so managing our remaining reserves effectively will be critical to the transition, and that is why the Government are bringing forward this Bill.

I believe that many of us across the House agree that as a country we must reduce our reliance on oil and gas, but as we do so the question we must answer is: from where do we want to source that oil and gas to meet that residual demand? Oil and gas production in the North Sea has been hugely successful. It has created and supported hundreds of thousands of British jobs and contributed billions in tax revenue over many decades. It continues to provide us with secure, reliable energy and to support jobs and the economy.

North Sea gas currently provides around half the UK demand. OEUK figures show that the sector supports around 200,000 jobs, adds around £16 billion annually to the economy and brings in billions in tax revenue. I think particularly of how important tax revenue like that was in supporting thousands of households with their energy bills following Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. This unprecedented support, among the most generous in Europe, was equal to around half the average family’s energy bill or about £1,500. Without tax revenue from industry, that burden would have fallen to taxpayers alone.

Domestic production is also an important part of our national energy security and the energy security of many of our European neighbours. The simple fact is that if we did not have access to this secure and reliable source of energy, we would be even more reliant on imports. The Government’s position is clear: where oil and gas are needed in the decades to come, as much as possible should come from our own waters.

Having said all that, the North Sea is a mature basin and production is in decline. Even with continued exploration and development, production from the basin is expected to decline by around 7% a year, which is, incidentally, faster than the average that is globally required to align with the IPCC’s 1.5 degrees Celsius pathway. By 2050, the UK’s North Sea oil and gas production is projected to fall by over 90% from today’s levels. The choice before us is whether we seek to reduce our reliance on imports through continuing to issue UK production licences or stop investment in British oil and gas and import even more from abroad.

Without investment in new UK oil and gas fields, we would lose out on more than 1 billion barrels of oil and gas, worth billions in revenue. More than this, our production would decline faster than we could build low-carbon replacements and before the workers in the sector could smoothly transition to jobs in renewable industries. We estimate that such a decline would increase UK import dependence from around 60% now to 70% by 2035. That is more liquefied natural gas with higher production emissions and none of the economic or energy security benefits.

If there was no investment, tens of thousands of skilled British jobs would be placed in jeopardy. Industry leaders have already warned that North Sea workers are at risk of becoming

“the coal miners of our generation”

if we fail to manage the declining North Sea basin in a sustainable way. We cannot allow this to happen.

A recent report from Robert Gordon University found that over 90% of the UK’s oil and gas workforce have medium to high skills transferability to the offshore renewables sector. A key commitment of the North Sea transition deal is to ensure that people and skills from the existing oil and gas workforce are transferrable across the wider energy sector. Make no mistake: these skills are in demand the world over. If they are not wanted here to deliver our own production and our own energy transition, they will surely go overseas and deliver someone else’s.

The general secretary of the GMB—not somebody I quote very often—recently wrote:

“In an increasingly volatile world the UK needs plans and not bans for the future of our energy sector and the transition to net zero”.


In this particular case, the Government could not agree more. We need oil and gas and our domestic oil and gas sector. Industry knows it, the unions know it, everybody knows it—except, perhaps, the noble Lord opposite—and I urge those opposed to continued licensing to think again.

We all want a successful energy transition. This means accepting that oil and gas will continue to play a role in meeting our energy demands for decades to come, and supporting investment and jobs in the North Sea through new licensing so that we can continue to produce that oil and gas from our own resources. However, it also means that during this transition, while we are decarbonising all other sectors of the economy, we should also produce these fuels in the cleanest way possible.

Since 2019, the carbon intensity of global oil and gas production has fallen by around 3%. From the North Sea, it has fallen by 14%. We will go further. The North Sea transition deal commits the offshore oil and gas sector to reducing emissions from operations to 50% of 2018 levels by 2030, with emissions already falling by 23% by 2022. To support this, we have committed to zero routine flaring and venting for both oil and gas by 2030, going further than the World Bank’s zero routine flaring initiative. Industry has made significant progress in meeting this target, with already a near 50% reduction in flaring since 2018. The NSTA already expects all new developments to have zero routine flaring and venting.

This Bill is part of the effective management of the energy transition. This new legislation will require the North Sea Transition Authority to run an annual process for new exploration and production licences in the UK continental shelf, subject to several key tests being met: first, that the UK is projected to remain a net importer of both oil and gas, and, secondly, that carbon emissions associated with UK gas are lower than imported liquefied natural gas. The tests ensure that annual licensing can take place only where it remains the right thing to do.

A more predictable licensing regime will not take us back to the era of peak production in the North Sea; as I said, the reality is that this is a fast-declining basin. Instead, new licensing will simply seek to manage that decline rather than to increase oil and gas production above current levels. However, it will give industry the certainty and confidence it needs to support the continued investment necessary both for our energy security and to help deliver the energy transition. That is an investment worth billions of pounds from companies such as Shell—which is also planning major investment in low-carbon and zero-carbon infrastructure, including offshore wind, hydrogen and carbon capture, utilisation and storage—and BP, which plans to invest up to £18 billion in the UK’s energy system by the end of 2030, in addition to its operating spend in the United Kingdom. The Bill demonstrates the Government’s ongoing commitment to the industry and helps to provide the certainty to ensure that the UK continental shelf remains an attractive investment as we transition to renewables.

The UK is a world leader on climate. We are one of the most decarbonised economies in the world and have met every one of our legally binding carbon budgets, but the fact remains that we will still need oil and gas in 2050, and it is simply common sense to use what we have. If we produce oil and gas here, it is the British public and our European allies—not foreign, and potentially hostile, regimes—that will benefit. If we produce here, we can be safe in the knowledge that our stringent regulations have kept the environment safe. If we produce here, we can reduce our reliance on imports, such as LNG, that have up to four times the production emissions of domestic production. If we produce here, we support a vibrant industrial sector, British jobs and communities that will be key to delivering the energy transition, rather than see them disappear overseas to help to deliver someone else’s. I believe that the choice is clear.

I will leave the House with the words of the chief executive of the NSTA, who said that

“we won’t get to net zero without oil and gas”

and that

“producing as much of the oil and gas we need as possible domestically is the right thing to do, for security and the economy”.

The North Sea has powered us through the last half century and, if we manage the transition correctly, it will power us through the next. I beg to move.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank all Members from across the House for what has been quite a good debate, for the interest that they have taken in the Bill and for the many insightful contributions that we have had today. I think the debate has shown how interconnected the future of North Sea oil and gas production is with the huge effort we are making—and I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for instance, for pointing out the huge effort we are making —to decarbonise the UK economy through what is a renewables revolution. Nobody disputes that. I do not think anybody in the debate disputed the importance of net zero.

The Government’s position is entirely consistent with delivering on our targets, but we have to manage the decline of North Sea oil and gas production in a predictable and responsible way. I thought that was an excellent point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, from the Liberal Democrat Benches. It is a pity that his two colleagues did not reflect his excellent contribution.

Restrictions on future licensing would be a grave act of national self-sabotage and would place in jeopardy more than 200,000 jobs that OEUK figures show are currently supported by our domestic oil and gas industry. It would forego up to 1 billion barrels of oil equivalent and, equally importantly, remove an important source of tax revenue. That would mean more imports, including of liquefied natural gas, which has up to four times the production emissions of our own natural gas—a point well made by my noble friends Lord Lilley, Lord Moynihan and Lord Ashcombe. It would mean that we forego investment in clean technologies and the energy transition that our oil and gas industry is vital to driving forward, and it would leave us more vulnerable to hostile states, as we saw during the invasion of Ukraine. We need this investment, and we need the sector’s existing supply chains, expertise and skills. Introducing annual licensing rounds through this Bill will help to protect this investment. It will strengthen our energy security and support that essential transition to net zero.

Let me now deal with some of the specific point made during the debate. I thank my noble friends Lord Moynihan and Lord Ashcombe for their speeches, which recognised that the Bill will support our essential energy security. However, I am aware that other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Young, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, suggested the opposite. As I outlined in my opening speech, the UK still relies on oil and gas for most of our energy needs and will continue to do so well into the future, despite our excellent record on rolling out renewables. The UK is exceptionally well placed to support our own energy security and that of our neighbours and allies. As has been pointed out, we have pipelines connecting us to Norway, the Netherlands, Ireland and Belgium. We have the second-largest liquefied natural gas port infrastructure in Europe, and our infrastructure was essential to helping out our European friends and allies during the Russian crisis that they all suffered last winter.

Of course, we also have our domestic oil and gas production, which is a vital part of ensuring our own and our allies’ energy security. We currently produce about half our gas demand from the North Sea. The vast majority of UK-produced gas lands in the UK and combines with imports and storage to provide a healthy and well-supplied gas market. While 80% of the oil produced here is indeed refined abroad, 90% of that takes place in Europe, where it is made into the products that we need in the UK. Maintaining this resource reduces our vulnerability and that of our European allies to hostile states and leaves us less exposed to unpredictable international events. If the invasion of Ukraine pointed out anything to us, surely it pointed out that. Following that invasion, it was our domestic capability that helped us to support our European neighbours to wean themselves off Russian gas and oil, which most European states have now successfully done. By giving industry certainty about the future of licensing rounds, the Bill will help safeguard our domestic production and, in doing so, enhance the UK’s energy security.

Next, let me respond to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, that the Bill will not reduce energy bills. Of course, it is true that oil and gas are traded on a global market. As a net importer of oil and gas, this benefits us. The Government have also ensured that excess energy profits are being used to ease pressures on families across the country. This support helped to save the average household £1,500 on its energy bill last winter. The difficult but necessary decision to further extend the energy profits levy for one more year will raise an additional £1.5 billion contribution from the sector to help us cut taxes for hard-working families, reward hard work and support economic growth.

I have also heard claims that the Bill affects the UK’s international leadership on climate. I thank my noble friend Lord Lilley for his excellent speech, which showed why that is not the case. By contrast, some noble Lords—the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman, Lady Sheehan and Lady Blake, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich—suggested that somehow the Bill would negatively impact our climate leadership. Our record speaks for itself. We are, as I constantly repeat, the first major economy to halve our emissions, and we are leading the world with our climate performance. Our 2030 target is one of the most ambitious among major economies, and again I am glad that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, recognised this. The Bill, I repeat, will not undermine those commitments.

Not proceeding with new licensing, as is the Opposition’s policy, is the real risk to our climate leadership. If we lose the skilled jobs that will transfer from oil and gas to renewables, we put at risk the transition to renewables and net zero. Some other noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, who I am sorry to say is no longer in her place—apologies, she is sitting on the Bishops’ Bench, which is a great surprise to us all; I did not see the noble Baroness down there—raised concerns about the tests in the Bill. These tests have been carefully designed to ensure that new licensing supports our important net-zero commitments. The tests are in fact meaningful. Those tests being met would be a reflection of the fact that the UK is a net importer and that production emissions associated with North Sea gas are lower than imported liquefied natural gas.

There was also some discussion of carbon capture, usage and storage. This point was raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Young. The Climate Change Committee, often quoted in this debate, has described CCUS as

“a necessity not an option”

for the transition to net zero. CCUS will be essential to meeting the UK’s 2050 net-zero target, playing a vital role in levelling up the economy, supporting the low-carbon economic transformation of our industrial regions and creating new high-value jobs. The first two CCUS clusters are in the north-west and north-east of England, and we are proceeding as fast as possible to final investment decisions for those clusters. They are already generating thousands of jobs in Merseyside in the north-west and in Teesside, areas that the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, and I know well.

I move on to the points raised about marine protected areas. The noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman, Lady Willis and Lady Boycott, raised the important matter of marine protection. Let me also address the questions posed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich. I assure the House that the Government share the desire to protect the marine environment. Indeed, we have committed that we will be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than that in which we found it. The UK is committed to the 30 by 30 global target under the Kunming-Montreal global biodiversity framework.

We already have a robust regulatory framework in place to ensure that marine protected areas are effectively protected. Licences will be awarded only after ensuring that the environmental regulator OPRED is satisfied that activities will not have negative effects on those important protected areas. Future licensing will not affect our ability to reach our targets for ensuring that our marine protected areas are in a good or recovering state.

Furthermore, it is important to emphasise that human activity is not banned in marine protected areas. We constrain activities in MPAs, but the intention of the policy is not to forbid activity, especially where the environmental impact is assessed as not causing damage and is closely evaluated and monitored. Work is under way to ensure that we strike the right, important balance between our different marine priorities. The soon-to-be-commissioned strategic spatial energy plan and the cross-government marine spatial prioritisation programme will ensure that we take a more strategic approach to identifying future sites for marine developments and energy infrastructure, while allowing for nature’s important recovery.

In response to the questions from the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, the North Sea Transition Authority is responsible for ensuring that operators decommission abandoned wells within the recommended timeframe of two to five years. The noble Baroness also asked me if we would be giving any grants for oil production: no is the answer. In fact, the opposite is the case: any new production will generate billions in tax revenues, the very opposite of giving out government grants. The Government continue to work with the NSTA and the Health and—

Baroness Sheehan Portrait Baroness Sheehan (LD)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister has not addressed my third question, about stranded assets. Should these fields become so in the fullness of time, will he put in place safeguards to make sure that the British taxpayer is not liable for the costs?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The noble Baroness often raises this point. The industry pays billions of pounds in taxes every year, and oil companies are ultimately responsible for decommissioning their assets. As has been pointed out, they are commercial operations. If the fields are stranded assets and the oil companies lose money on them, I doubt whether anybody will shed any tears for them. They are responsible for decommissioning the assets, as is taking place now in many of the depleted fields. I think she needs to have a friendly cup of coffee with her noble friend Lord Bruce, who will fill her in on the details of how the industry works.

Baroness Sheehan Portrait Baroness Sheehan (LD)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, we get billions in taxes; that is because trillions are made in profits. What I am really concerned about is that if the businesses fold, the profits have been pocketed but the taxpayer will be left with the costs. Does the Minister accept that?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If the noble Baroness is asking me if they pay billions in taxes and make billions in profits, then yes, I guess the answer is that the international oil companies do very well out of it. Of course, some of them are also financing renewable infrastructure. Some of the big oil and gas companies are helping to invest in CCUS in this country. We very much hope that they will continue to make profits, because it pays our pension funds and a lot of investors, and a huge amount of money into the UK Exchequer that the Liberal Democrats are normally very keen on spending. The noble Baroness needs to allow that money to be raised in the first place. The companies are responsible for decommissioning their assets.

The Government continue to work with the NSTA and the Health and Safety Executive to ensure that well decommissioning is progressing in line with the relevant safety and environmental regulations and standards. That is exactly the same as has been happening previously. The UK has a very robust decommissioning regime whereby operators are responsible for decommissioning their assets at the end of their useful life. This regime of course includes protections for taxpayers, so that the costs fall on those operators. I hope the noble Baroness is reassured by that.

I was of course also pleased to hear the support of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, for the jobs in the sector. He has a lot of relevant experience, particularly in north-east Scotland. This is in line with the words of Sir Ian Wood:

“Owing to a world-class oil and gas sector, the North East … is home to the critical mass in skills and expertise that will be crucial to ensuring that we successfully accelerate new and green energies, protecting and creating jobs as we do so”.


I am pleased to have the support of the Labour Party, but we must retain those skilled jobs in the industry, and our firm belief is that this Bill will help us to achieve exactly that.

To conclude, the Bill will give industry the certainty and confidence it needs to continue to invest in the North Sea, strengthening our energy security and supporting the energy transition as we move towards our goal of net zero, through the introduction of annual licensing rounds, subject, of course, to all the appropriate tests being met. I look forward to continuing the scrutiny of the Bill as it progresses through the House, but in the meantime, I beg to move.

Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before the Minister sits down, could he answer my question about whether discussions are continuing on the issue of methane, as was raised in the other place, and particularly the withdrawal of the amendment from the right honourable Alok Sharma? Can we expect to have some discussion on where those conversations might lead us, if they are indeed taking place?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I always do, I will listen very carefully to the point of view the House expresses in Committee, and, as is normal practice, as a Government we will then consider whether there are any concessions or changes we want to offer in the Bill. I am sure we will want to talk further to the noble Baroness and her colleagues at that point.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Grand Committee.

Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Committee stage
Tuesday 23rd April 2024

(3 weeks, 5 days ago)

Grand Committee
Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill 2023-24 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 49-I Marshalled list for Grand Committee - (19 Apr 2024)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill 2023-24 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

With that, I look forward to the Minister’s comments.
Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (Lord Callanan) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, first, I thank everybody who contributed to what I think has been a positive debate on a number of important issues.

Amendment 1 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, seeks to prevent the NSTA inviting applications for licences until regulations banning non-emergency flaring and venting on new offshore installations are in force. After two years, it would also prevent the NSTA inviting applications until additional regulations banning all flaring and venting on existing offshore installations are in force.

Flaring and venting are controlled processes to dispose of gas. These activities can take place for emergency or safety purposes, during non-routine operations and on a regular basis, as a result of the design of existing platforms. This latter category is known as routine flaring and venting.

The Government are clear on the importance of having a target for zero routine flaring and venting in the North Sea. This is a key measure for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from production. We are committed to the World Bank’s zero routine flaring initiative, which aims to eliminate the practice globally by 2030; indeed, we are going further with a commitment to ending not just flaring but venting for both oil and gas by 2030.

The North Sea Transition Authority’s current strategy includes enforceable obligations on industry to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from a range of sources, including flaring and venting. As the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, and my noble friends Lord Moynihan and Lord Lilley pointed out, the NSTA’s current guidance to industry also makes it clear that all new developments should be planned on the basis of zero routine flaring and venting. Further, the new OGA plan, published last month, confirms the expectation that there should be zero routine flaring and venting on all platforms from 2030 and requires industry to report in more detail, including on financial planning, to ensure continuous improvements in flaring and venting.

The UK’s proactive approach is already reaping rewards. Based on the latest data, North Sea flaring is down by 50% since 2018. The sector is on track to deliver on the ambitious decarbonisation target in the North Sea transition deal to reduce emissions from operations to 50% of 2018 levels by 2030, ultimately ensuring that the UK continental shelf reaches net zero by 2050. Key to delivering a 50% emissions reduction by 2030 will be eliminating routine flaring and venting in a responsible manner and electrifying platform operations to enable this to happen.

I say in reply to my noble friend Lord Moynihan that it is the Government’s view that our 2030 flaring and venting target is already ambitious. Significant changes to infrastructure, which require appropriate time and planning, need to be made. If we do not carefully manage the ending of routine flaring and venting, it will lead to the early closure of platforms—I suspect that some noble Lords would welcome this—and the potential loss of both the appropriate UK production and the jobs, tax revenue and economic activity that go with it.

Of course, as I have pointed out repeatedly, loss of domestic production will also increase our reliance on imports, including liquefied natural gas, which, as we have said repeatedly, has higher production and transportation emissions. My submission is that that would make no sense either economically or from the point of view of emissions. As drafted, this amendment would also prohibit flaring and venting for emergency and non-routine purposes after two years. That would create unacceptable health and safety risks for workers and would likely result in a shutdown in production in those circumstances. Taking on board the suggestion of the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, I am always happy to meet further with the Opposition to discuss this important matter.

Amendment 2 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, would require the Secretary of State to publish a green skills retraining plan for oil and gas workers before the NSTA could invite applications for offshore production licences. I can reassure the Committee that the Government absolutely recognise how important the skills, expertise and resources of the oil and gas industry are for our transition to cleaner technologies. A report by Robert Gordon University found that over 90% of the UK’s oil and gas workforce have medium to high skills transferability to the offshore renewables sector.

It is vital that the transition to cleaner energy is managed carefully and responsibly. We must ensure that oil and gas jobs are not lost before renewables and other clean technologies grow sufficiently to take up those valuable skills and workers. That is why we are taking action, including by introducing this Bill to safeguard those jobs for the future.

To take an example, a key commitment of the landmark North Sea transition deal between the Government and the industry is to ensure that people and skills from the existing oil and gas workforce are transferable across the wider energy sector. This includes the development of a digital skills passport to facilitate this transferability, which is being funded by the Scottish Government and industry. We are interested in this work and keen to take it forward. Indeed, we are working with the Scottish Government, the industry, relevant skills bodies and trade unions to support the delivery of this work, which is led by Offshore Energies UK and Renewables UK.

In addition, the Government are shortly due to launch our green jobs plan in the first half of this year, supported by the green jobs delivery group. This plan will provide the actions needed to ensure that we have the skills and occupations within the UK workforce, at the right time and in the right place, to develop our net-zero, nature and energy security targets.

All in all, the Government’s spending and policy ambitions will support up to 480,000 green jobs by 2030. The additional requirement that this amendment places before further licensing can take place would damage investor confidence and cause confusion for industry, employers and the workforce. It would therefore only undermine the ongoing work across the UK and could be inappropriate, given the responsibilities of the devolved Administrations also in this area.

Amendments 6 to 8 are in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Russell. Amendment 6 would remove requirements on the NSTA to invite applications for production licences when both the net importer and carbon intensity tests have been met. I take this opportunity to remind the Committee of the purpose of the Bill: it is designed to give industry certainty on the future of licensing rounds. By providing industry with this confidence, the Bill will support the required ongoing investment and protect the jobs and skills required to support the energy transition. Amending that duty on the NSTA when the net importer and carbon intensity tests have been met would undermine the purpose of the Bill and the confidence that it is designed to provide, and will put these important benefits at risk.

Amendment 7 would modify the duty that the Bill places on the NSTA, so that only companies that have committed to investing half their profits from activities carried out under licences in the green UK economy would be invited to apply for production licences.

The Government have a tremendous record for attracting investment into green industries. Since 2010, we have seen around £300 billion of public and private investment in the low-carbon sectors. According to BloombergNEF, total public and private investment in UK low-carbon sectors reached £60 billion in 2023—up by 71% in real terms from 2022.

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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I was just making the point that the licences provided for in the Bill, where granted, will give exclusive rights to explore an area. Additional permissions will be required before any activity can take place, such as the drilling of a well or construction of a development facility. At each stage and ahead of every such permission being granted, an environmental assessment takes place including, where necessary, public consultation and consultation with nature conservation bodies, to ensure that the impact on the environment, including MPAs, is taken into account in the licensing process.

In response to a specific question, I am not aware of my department having received any communications from the Joint Nature Conservation Committee about the Bill, but noble Lords can be assured that the Government remain committed to ensuring that we meet our Environment Act target on MPAs.

The Government’s marine spatial prioritisation programme will ensure that a strategic approach is taken to identifying future marine development sites. The programme is exploring opportunities to optimise the use of the seas and enable marine activities to co-exist.

Similarly, the strategic spatial energy plan, which the Government will commission in spring 2024 from the National Energy System Operator, will assess the most efficient locations and types of energy infrastructure, reducing inefficiency in infrastructure build. The Bill will not undermine our ability and ambition to ensure co-existence between strictly regulated human activities that may be both possible and necessary in an MPA and, of course, the wider marine environment, including fishing, offshore wind construction and offshore oil and gas, to ensure that we continue to strike the right balance between the full range of our different priorities.

I hope that with those assurances and the explanations that I have been able to provide, noble Lords will feel able not to press their amendments.

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Lord Moynihan Portrait Lord Moynihan (Con)
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My Lords, I recognise the expertise of the noble Lord who has just spoken, but I think that the two tests in the Bill—which is the subject of this group of amendments, because we are looking to see whether it is feasible and appropriate to add to those tests—are important tests.

On the net importer test, it is fundamentally important as a country to have security of supply. Security of supply comes through diversity of supply, and that security of supply has been shown to be exceptionally important recently, not least with the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the impact that had on western Europe’s gas, being at the end of the pipeline from Russia. It was important to bring home the reality that we need to develop our own energy sources efficiently and economically, in the most benign, sustainable way that we can possibly do with modern technology. The net importer test is important, and I am pleased that it is in the Bill. It absolutely underpins the concept of security of supply, which has always been the basis for our energy system in the United Kingdom.

The carbon intensity test is also relevant, in this day and age of developing reserves internationally and bringing them here with LNG, then transferring that LNG, through a process, to natural gas for power generation in the United Kingdom. If the LNG had a lesser carbon footprint than what we produce in the North Sea, then there would be a very real argument for not having further licensing rounds in the North Sea, because the environmental impact of what we do in this industry is vital, and that is shared on both sides of the Committee.

It is important to question whether we should move towards a position whereby we go to a global test, which the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, suggested, through what was probably a probing amendment rather than one that he would like to see in the Bill. We have an important but minimal impact on whether that 1.5 degree average surface warming above pre-industrial temperatures under the Paris Agreement is achieved. We should be looking to make sure that, as far as possible, everything we do in the North Sea is as sustainable as possible, with the lowest possible carbon footprint. As far as I am concerned, sustainability is one of the four pillars for the consideration of our energy sector. We must address sustainability concerns; we must address GHG emissions; and we must ensure the protection and stewardship of our environment. As I have mentioned, at the same time, we need to have security and reliability. That is the second pillar. We must ensure that current and future energy demand is supplied reliably and responsibly, and, as I said earlier, is able to robustly withstand system shocks.

The third pillar is accessibility and affordability. We must enable energy provision to consumers while minimising cost, and we must support social and economic development. That is one of the reasons we have diversification of supply in the country and the free market to ensure that that is the case.

That free market point is important because we need economic viability of investment. Investment in, and the adoption of, energy solutions characterised by a sustainable return on investment is the fourth and most fundamental pillar. I would just question whether we need to go further than the two tests in the Bill.

I have never, either at Second Reading or in Committee, thought that this Bill was top of the agenda in terms of importance to any Government. I am not sure that it is. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, that we can have annual licensing rounds if we want them. In any event, if it is important that they are annual as opposed to biennial, to me, is debateable. The important thing is that all the licences that are awarded must be awarded against a set of criteria; increasingly important in the set of criteria is the environmental footprint around every single aspect of offshore oil and gas production.

We need firm, reliable energy in the United Kingdom to underpin a growth in renewables, but that firm power must be uninterrupted. At a time when we are not moving towards new nuclear as fast as we should be, gas is that basic firm power that will fuel the whole electrification of our system. The other side of this coin is that we are looking for far greater electrification of our rail and wider transport system. Well, for that, you need firm power.

How renewables are at the moment, as well as the lack of good battery storage power—it is interesting to note that the existing battery storage power in the UK covered approximately only eight minutes of average UK electricity demand for the whole of 2023—this lack of battery technology and breakthrough on renewables, without firm power, shows just how much further we have to go. We must have improved and enhanced battery technology. We need firm energy as our lifeblood in this country, not sporadic energy, although moving towards a greater reliance on renewables is, to me, critical. That needs to be underpinned by maximising our gas reserves in the United Kingdom.

Given the limitations of this Bill, those two tests seem reasonable and appropriate to me. I am not sure that the additional tests that are being recommended in the amendments are necessary or helpful in achieving the four pillars that I set out in response to the noble Lord’s very good introduction, if I may say so, of his amendment.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I thank all those who contributed. I start with Amendments 3 and 18 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, which seek to impose a new climate change test as part of this Bill.

I say at the outset, in response to the challenge presented by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that this Bill is entirely consistent with the Government’s target to reach net zero by 2050. Even with continued exploration and development, UK oil and gas production is expected to decline by 7% a year. This decline is faster than the average annual global decline needed to align with the IPCC’s 1.5 degrees Celsius pathway. The noble Baroness might not like those facts but they are facts nevertheless.

As net importers, we produce less than we need—a point made ably by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce. This is projected to remain the case even as our demand for oil and gas shrinks as we achieve net zero. There are already a number of climate checks to ensure that offshore oil and gas activities remain consistent with our climate goals: the climate compatibility checkpoint ensures that the compatibility of future licensing with the UK’s climate objectives has been evaluated before a new licensing round opens; and the North Sea Transition Authority has a specific obligation to assist the Secretary of State in meeting the net-zero target. The recently published OGA plan makes clear that, for production to continue in the North Sea, it must continue to become cleaner. Adding a new test to this Bill is, in our view, therefore unnecessary.

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Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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I acknowledge the comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell. To repeat the concerns as outlined at Second Reading, our belief is that the tests identified in the Bill will be impossible to fail and are thereby fundamentally flawed, as my noble friend Lord Lennie has previously outlined.

Amendments 12 and 15 in my name are straight- forward. The intention is to be as simple as possible, leaving out “liquified” from the Bill to include all natural gas imported into the UK. We need to achieve clarity, which is not present in the current wording. If the Government want to keep it in, they should be open about the consequences. Liquified natural gas will always be more greenhouse gas intensive in production than UK natural gas. The North Sea field will not meet our total demand for oil and gas, as we know. We need to replace these tests with ones that produce a proper judgment about whether a licence should be issued. The main consideration should be whether issuing a licence is in line with our climate change goals.

Another disappointment with this Bill, as we have discussed, is that there is no reference to previously introduced climate change compatibility tests into production generally—quite an omission. Including only LNG presents a serious problem. We acknowledge that substantial amounts of natural gas come into the UK from Norway via the pipeline. The production of that gas is substantially cleaner than that of UK natural gas. Indeed, we need to be sure that managing the decline in demand for gas is at the heart of a successful net-zero transition. The best and fairer test would be to consider gas imports in the round.

We are trying to amend a Bill that is deeply flawed, as I have previously recognised. I recognise the opposition of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, to the Bill as a whole. I believe that this a simple way in which we could make some improvements; I look forward to the Minister’s comments with interest.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, tabled notice of her intention to oppose Clause 1 standing part of the Bill so let me begin my remarks by briefly outlining the purpose of that clause. Under the Petroleum Act 1998, offshore oil and gas licences are administered by the Oil and Gas Authority, which is operating as the North Sea Transition Authority. A seaward production licence grants exclusive rights to the licensee to explore, bore for and produce oil and gas from the geological formations that lie beneath the UK’s offshore waters, within an area defined by the licence. Additional permissions are required before any activity can take place.

Periodically, the NSTA launches licensing rounds inviting companies to apply for such licences. During this process, interested companies submit bids and licences are awarded to bids that promise to ensure the economic recovery of the UK’s oil and gas resources, while of course supporting the drive to net zero by 2050. This existing arrangement means that industry does not have certainty as to when—or, indeed, if—the NSTA will launch a new licensing round. This clause provides that certainty by amending the Petroleum Act 1998 to place a duty on the NSTA to invite applications for seaward production licences in each annual period, which runs from October to September each year. This is subject to two tests being passed: that the average carbon intensity of domestic UK gas is lower than the average carbon intensity of imported liquified natural gas; and that the UK remains a net importer of both oil and gas.

Together, these tests, which will be conducted by the NSTA, will ensure that the annual duty on the NSTA applies only where this supports our wider energy security and energy transition objectives. If the annual duty is triggered, the NSTA proceeds with the current licensing process. It will remain a matter for the NSTA as an independent regulator to decide how many and which blocks or part-blocks to offer for applications—with a minimum of one block—and to ensure and apply the appropriate criteria for determining those applications. It will remain the responsibility of the NSTA to decide whether to offer and grant any licences at the conclusion of that process and whom to offer them to; the NSTA will retain the discretion to grant licences outside of this new annual process in the usual way where needed.

I assure noble Lords that the offering and granting of licences under the new annual process will remain subject to the existing rigorous environmental regulatory requirements. These include the obligation written into the NSTA’s strategy to assist the Secretary of State in meeting the target of net zero by 2050. Indeed, I want to be clear that nothing in this clause contradicts our steadfast and, of course, legally binding commitment to achieving net zero by 2050. We do not need to choose between either delivering net zero or supporting our domestic oil and gas sector; the two things are not mutually incompatible.

Amendments 11, 13, 14 and 16 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and Amendments 12 and 15 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, seek to amend the carbon intensity test. This test looks at historical carbon dioxide emissions from the production and supply of natural gas during an assessment period spanning the preceding three years. The test is passed if, during that timeframe, per unit of energy, the carbon emissions of producing gas domestically were lower than the average carbon emissions from the production and delivery of liquefied natural gas from all geographic locations.

The amendment put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, seeks to change the test to include in the comparison all imported and produced petroleum products, including crude oil, and all forms of natural gas. The amendments put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, seek to include an assessment of the carbon intensity of all imported natural gas.

It is important to recognise that the markets for oil and gas work very differently; it is not possible to make the same comparisons for oil as it is for gas. In the case of gas, we have a choice either to maximise domestic production or to import more. The more gas we produce domestically, the less we need to import; that seems obvious to me. For oil, we do not have that same choice because oil has to be refined before it is used. For historical reasons, UK oil is generally processed abroad—predominantly in Europe, where our production supports the energy security of our European allies. So a comparison of the carbon intensity of imported oil versus domestically produced oil would be the wrong one to make.

Turning to the test for gas, LNG has been chosen as the relevant comparator as it is a critical marginal source of energy, providing an essential buffer source—especially in winter, when gas demand is higher. Over the past decade, LNG has become an increasingly important method of moving natural gas to market. This will only intensify in the coming years because UK natural gas production peaked in 2000 and the UK has been a net importer since 2004 in order to meet domestic demand.

It is fortunate that some of the UK’s gas imports, in particular pipeline imports from Norway, have relatively low production emissions. However, it is a fact that Norwegian production, like our own, is declining. We will still need gas in the coming years as we transition to net zero. With both UK and Norwegian production declining, it is likely that LNG will play an increasingly important role. During periods of high demand in winter, LNG is a key, flexible source of supply; this role will only increase over time as UK and Norwegian production declines. Producing less domestically means importing more carbon-intensive LNG, which is why a comparison with LNG is the right one to make, in our view, and why we have included it in the Bill.

With the explanation I have been able to provide, I hope that it is clear why the test focuses on LNG and not comparators with oil, which is completely different, or other forms of gas. I therefore ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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It is hard to summon up the energy to rebut anything. What the Government proved to us yesterday with the Rwanda Bill is that they are prepared to deny reality. So I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Lord Lennie Portrait Lord Lennie (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank everyone who has spoken in the debate so far. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for his proposal about omitting Scotland from the Bill, and the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, for his horrified response to the proposal to omit Scotland from the Bill. I am not sure about the debate on Scotland, to be honest, but on balance I think I would keep Scotland in the Bill. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that I can see why these amendments would delay the Bill coming into effect, which would not be a bad thing. It would be better if the Bill were not here at all, but, hey, we cannot have everything we want.

The Government have admitted that the Bill will not take a penny off energy bills and will do nothing for energy security, because oil and gas are sold on the international market. The Bill will send precisely the wrong signals to investors about the UK’s commitment to the green transition: Amanda Blanc, chief executive officer of Aviva said that new oil and gas drilling

“puts at … risk the jobs, growth and the additional investment the UK requires to become more climate ready”.

The Bill has been slammed from many quarters, including some surprising ones, such as Theresa May, former Prime Minister. The noble Lord, Lord Browne, former chief executive officer of BP, said it

“is not going to make any difference”

to Britain’s energy security.

Annual licencing rounds will not boost the UK’s economy, as North Sea oil and gas is already in decline, as the Minister confirmed, and over the next decade, in Scotland and England, there will be 25 new jobs in clean energy for every job that is lost in oil and gas. That is what we have to secure: the transition of workers from oil and gas to the new green, clean energy. More extraction in the North Sea will not improve any security or lower energy bills. Remaining reserves are mostly oil, not gas, and 78% of that oil is exported, as it is not in the right form for use in the United Kingdom. The UK is already feeling the devastating impact of climate change, and granting licences simply amplifies the effects. Campaign groups have indicated that the current licences will send “a wrecking ball” through the UK’s climate commitments.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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First, I thank noble Lords for their brevity on this group.

Amendment 20 seeks to amend the Bill to exclude Scotland. Of course, the vast majority of offshore oil and gas activity takes place off the coast of Scotland to the benefit of all citizens across the United Kingdom. Excluding Scotland from the scope of the Bill, which I understand is the intention of the amendment, would significantly undermine the benefits that the Bill is intended to create. It would risk causing unnecessary confusion for industry and create considerable complexity for the independent regulator. This is particularly true as we transition towards a low-carbon economy and workforce.

As I have already mentioned in previous groups, a report by Robert Gordon University found that over 90% of the UK’s oil and gas workforce have medium to high skills transferability to the offshore renewables sector. Many of those, of course, are in Scotland, where OEUK estimates that over 90,000 jobs are supported by the oil and gas industry. If we rush the transition, or create additional uncertainty in the investment environment, we risk losing the jobs and skills that we will need as we scale up the clean technologies needed to realise that crucial net zero target.