Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 4:58 pm on 14th June 2010.

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Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change 4:58 pm, 14th June 2010

May I start by thanking the Secretary of State for the advance notice of his statement and for keeping the House informed of developments regarding the gulf oil spill? Let me join him in expressing deep sorrow for the 11 people who died in the accident and deep sympathy to their families. As he said, it is a reminder of the dangers that come with life in the offshore oil industry. We saw that ourselves last year with the tragic helicopter accident in the North sea. We should never forget the people who have lost their lives in this accident.

May I join the Secretary of State in expressing deep concern about the environmental impacts of the oil spill, which he summarised in his statement? I believe it is in the interests of the environment as well as the employees, shareholders and pension fund investors of BP that there should be a clear and co-ordinated response from the Governments of Britain and the United States. In that context, I want to ask him five specific questions arising from his statement. First, on the private sector companies involved in this accident, does he agree that all the companies involved in the Deepwater Horizon project-Halliburton, Transocean, Cameron and BP-should be subject to investigation, and that finger-pointing at BP in particular is not helpful?

Secondly, on regulation, does the Secretary of State agree that any process of learning lessons needs to look not just at the actions of private companies, but at the regulator-the United States' Minerals Management Service-and at the general level of regulatory standards in place in the US and around the world for deep-water drilling? Will he also comment on his specific understanding-I appreciate that things are at an early stage-of the level of regulation in the US compared with that in the UK?

Thirdly, in terms of the implications for Britain, I welcome what the Secretary of State said about the licensing of drilling in deeper waters in the UK, including west of Shetland. Does he agree that it is essential to look at any lessons learned before beginning that deeper-water drilling?

Fourthly, and very importantly for the long-term future, does the Secretary of State agree that the central lesson of Deepwater Horizon is that we cannot, as a world, simply dig deeper and deeper for oil, plundering the world's natural resources? The opportunity should be seized on both sides of the Atlantic by the Prime Minister and the President, in a way that has not so far happened, to send a louder and clearer message about the need to make the transition to a post-oil economy. It will take decades, but the transition needs to start all around the world.

Fifthly, in the same context, does the Secretary of State agree that, after the tragedy of Deepwater, the best thing that could happen is a renewed push towards low carbon and clean energy around the world, with Europe moving to a 30% emissions reduction, America passing a climate and energy Bill and the securing of an international treaty either at Cancun or as soon as possible afterwards? Does he also agree that domestically we need to play our part? That means maintaining industrial policy support for the low-carbon transition. Looking ahead to his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Budget next week, if we are to make the low-carbon transition ourselves, and send out a clear signal, it is important that the investments promised by the previous Government to Sheffield Forgemasters and Ford, and for offshore wind, go ahead as soon as possible.

The gulf oil spill is an environmental wake-up call for the world. Just as the banking crisis changed the rules of the game for financial services, so this disaster must change the rules of the game across the world for energy policy. That requires strong leadership-including being tough with our allies-in defending British interests, in pushing the United States for a Bill on climate change and in charting a course towards the low-carbon transition. If the Government provide that strong leadership for BP employees, pension fundholders and our environment, we will of course support them.

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