Backbench Business — Summer Adjournment

Part of Child Benefit Entitlement (Disqualification of Non-UK EU Nationals) – in the House of Commons at 3:23 pm on 22nd July 2014.

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Photo of Eric Joyce Eric Joyce Labour, Falkirk 3:23 pm, 22nd July 2014

I have two issues that I will put together as seamlessly as I can. I might not be as seamless as Mr Amess because I plan to breathe a couple of times.

A little while ago, there was an issue in my constituency and the surrounding area involving the Grangemouth refinery. It was a sad story and there was much tumult locally. I will not bore Members with the detail but, suffice it to say, there was an issue between the employer and the trade union, Unite, that almost led to the closure of the refinery, which employs about 1,400 or 1,500 people and a further 4,000 or 5,000 in the local labour chain. In the long run, 5,000 or 6,000 people would have lost their jobs, had the refinery shut. I have my views on the situation, but I do not think that this is the place to air them.

In due course, the situation was solved by a combination of the union seeing a bit of sense and the employer negotiating with the UK and Scottish Governments. The UK Government gave some guarantees about future investment. This week, the employer, INEOS, announced that it had secured a £230 million facility through the Government’s loan guarantee scheme and that, in addition, it was investing £300 million in a new plant to process shale gas imported from the US. For the first time in many years, that will secure the jobs at Grangemouth for a long time to come. It has always been touch and go whether Grangemouth’s future would extend beyond five or 10 years; it now seems to be secure for at least 20 years.

I hasten to say that Grangemouth is not in my constituency, but it is just a few hundred yards away and the majority of the people who work there live in my constituency. There are also several thousand people in the supply chain who live in my constituency.

A couple of issues arise from the current situation. First, given that the gas that is imported will come from fracking, we need to take a position on whether we support fracking. I do support fracking, but it is a contentious issue and not everyone in this House agrees with it. In addition, Dart Energy has a substantial coal bed methane extraction project in my constituency. I firmly support that as well. Locally, the Scottish National party has campaigned against coal bed methane extraction. I do not know what position it will take on the importation of gas that is extracted through fracking. The view that it has taken suggests that it will be against it in principle, and therefore against the employment of a large number of my constituents. However, I will leave it to the SNP to answer that. Having said that, the SNP Government in Scotland have made a contribution of £6 million. The Scottish Government are taking one position and the local representatives are taking another.

The extractive industries in Falkirk, Grangemouth and the surrounding area in central Scotland are concerned primarily with oil. I am fortunate to be one of the civil society representatives on the extractive industries transparency initiative to which the UK is signing up. That is going very well and the Government have just submitted their application to the EITI. That is an important symbolic measure for the UK.

Of course, the primary element of the EITI in the UK is oil and gas. That leads on to the second issue that I want to raise. Recently, I have had quite a lot of communication with politicians from other parts of the world who are involved in the EITI, which is about transparency and good governance in the extractive industries. That relates mainly to mining in some countries and mainly to oil and gas in others.

Recently, I have had a lot of contact with Nigeria. The governor of Rivers state, which is Nigeria’s Aberdeen as it is the main centre of the oil industry, has led the EITI process in that country. By chance, I was in the region a couple of weeks ago for a day or two and I visited him. It was striking what a good job is being done there. What is being done varies across Nigeria and we tend to hear the bad news stories. One can see the link between the money that is being paid into the state and the investment by the state—both the federal state and Rivers state—into the infrastructure. That is the whole point of EITI. Hundreds of new schools are being built, several of which I visited. A monorail system and a good road system are also being built. That is a good example of what can happen through good governance.

I am reluctant to praise the Government, but they are pushing ahead with some good legislation and have signed up to the transparency and accounting directives. The beneficial ownership stuff will also be coming up shortly. The UK is pretty much in the lead on that, with the support of the Opposition.

I will conclude on this point, Madam Deputy Speaker, because you will pull me up if I go over my eight minutes. I do not want to delve into how other countries vote or into which Governments are returned. I know that nobody wants to do that, except for in a few rare cases where there is consensus. However, I have noticed over the past couple of weeks that the party of government in Nigeria has effectively started campaigning. I am a little sympathetic to the plight of the opposition in that country, not because I know a great deal about the internal politics of Nigeria, but because I see what is going on in Rivers state, which is very good. I am therefore prepared to accept that the opposition—the All Progressives Congress—has some kind of plan. I would not wish to be any more explicit than that. It seems to me that there is a coherent opposition. The governor of Rivers state is an important member of that opposition and there are many others. At the moment, we tend to hear the party of government’s campaign through one or two things that are said in this House. I noticed that there was a visit by the Finance Minister of Nigeria two weeks ago, and those things were echoed in statements in meetings around the place. Some things that were said were essentially party political, and Members who were, I think, being supportive for good reason of the Nigerian Government were essentially echoing party political themes, and the opposition in Nigeria cannot campaign at the moment because it is unlawful to campaign until November.

I urge Members to reflect on the fact that there is a presidential election next February in Nigeria, and some of the stuff that is coming out, and coming through London and back through CNN, the BBC World Service and so on, is blatantly party political campaigning that the Nigerian Government can do, but which an increasingly well-organised opposition cannot.