Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Excerpts
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.

Dave Doogan Portrait Dave Doogan (Angus) (SNP)
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The Scottish National party declines to give this Bill a Second Reading—[Interruption.] Would the Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero, the right hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart), like to intervene already? I would be happy to take it. This Bill is as unnecessary—much like the chuntering from a sedentary position—as it is unwelcome. The Prime Minister, no less, claimed that these measures would reduce energy bills, but of course that is untrue, and the Secretary of State was well advised to distance herself from that fantasy. It is claimed that the Bill will assist with the UK’s energy security, but of course it will do no such thing, given the combined effects of an international energy market and the vagaries of the UK’s refining capacity, which is increasingly and substantially incompatible with oil extracted from the North sea basin. The Government seek to gaslight us with claims that there are strict tests to be met in order to issue any new licences, when in fact these Potemkin tests will inevitably be met for each and every licence application in the future, should the Bill pass.

The Bill will not provide an evidence-based assessment of all licences on a case-by-case basis, and as a matter of actual fact, 27 new licences were granted in 2023 alone in the absence of any legislation of this nature and a licensing round has been held by the North Sea Transition Authority every year and a half since 2016. This proposed legislation will, in effect, undermine the NSTA by placing a statutory obligation on it to hold new licensing rounds every year, rather than as and when it deems them necessary in its professional capacity, as is currently the case. Moreover, the NSTA board unanimously agreed that the legislation requiring annual licensing rounds is unnecessary, but the Government are advancing it as a means to guarantee unfettered access to continued hydrocarbon extraction. That is not what we need.

The Bill’s proponents would have us believe that having more licences will deliver lower energy bills, but it will achieve no such thing. We all recognise that oil and gas will continue to be an essential part of our energy mix and, as the right hon. Member for Reading West (Sir Alok Sharma) said, we use oil and gas—certainly oil—for more than combustible uses, so we will need a measured and qualified licensing regime to accommodate an ongoing reliance on oil and gas as a source of energy and much else, but that is not what the Bill proposes.

The thing that is pushing up the price of household and commercial energy is not a lack of licensing but the price of gas on the international market that consumers are forced to pay not just for heating but for electricity, given the bizarre pricing structure and how the UK is set up to favour gas. That energy pricing disaster is compounded by this Government’s failure to invest properly in alternatives such as large-scale, long-duration storage solutions, which would dial a considerable amount of gas out of the system and dial down prices, too.

Fourteen years of Tory mismanagement of our energy security have seen barely sufficient investment going into renewable generation to meet the demands of the climate emergency, and practically no investment going into the network to transmit this new energy. That means consumers are denied access to large swathes of cheap, green, renewable energy because of a lack of grid capacity. Renewable energy, once switched off, to compensate for a 1960s network, is substituted by gas. I appreciate that the Government are improving and investing in capital infrastructure, but it is 14 years too late.

The Bill will not deliver energy security. Indeed, the former chief executive of BP, Lord Browne, said that the Government’s decision to expand North sea drilling is

“not going to make any difference”

to Britain’s energy security, and the former head of the NSTA, Andy Samuel, said in 2022 that the introduction of new licences will make a difference only “around the edges”.

What we need from the Government is a bold plan to further accelerate the electrification from renewables of our domestic energy market. What we are presented with is a backward-looking cash grab for Scotland’s hydrocarbons, which comes at the cost of a just transition. Scotland will lose out by having our energy policy dictated by a remote, luddite Westminster Government who are relentlessly focused on the rear-view mirror, rather than on the future and job security.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle
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The hon. Gentleman is talking about energy policy being directed by other people. Does he share my concern about our continued membership of the energy charter treaty, which means that any deals signed now will have to be fully remunerated on their potential hope value, not their actual value, even if they are phased out or cancelled by a sovereign Britain or by a sovereign Scotland? I am neutral on the latter issue. Does the hon. Gentleman not think that, like our European partners, we should withdraw from the energy charter treaty to allow ourselves true energy independence?

Dave Doogan Portrait Dave Doogan
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I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman’s ambitions on the energy charter treaty. It is about time that the Government got off the fence on the issue and made a decision.

On job security, let us be clear that this Government care for oil and gas workers in Scotland every bit as much as they cared for the miners and the manufacturing workers in Scotland who were put to the sword in the 1980s, every bit as much as they care for our service personnel living in squalor, every bit as much as they care about the Post Office staff thrown into the privatisation mincer, and every bit as much as they care for junior doctors in England.