Committee (2nd Day)

Part of Energy Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 4:02 pm on 9th September 2015.

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Photo of Baroness Worthington Baroness Worthington Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 4:02 pm, 9th September 2015

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing these amendments at the beginning of the second day of Committee. Before going on to discuss them, I am afraid that I want to revisit the issue of the impact assessment. Since our debate on Monday, a partial impact assessment has been issued. The date on the impact assessment as published is 17 June 2015; the date of signing by the Minister is 7 September 2015. What happened in the intervening months? Why was it not made available to us during the Summer Recess? In fact, it could have been made available to us before Second Reading, had it been published closer to the date on which it was presumably drafted.

Now we have it, but it is only a partial impact assessment. We are still missing the impact assessment for the most controversial elements of this Energy Bill—namely, the clauses on onshore wind. Will the Minister give me a strong confirmation that we will have that in good time for our debate on Monday? If that is not the case, we may have to take further steps because this is simply not good enough. The Committee is not being treated in the way that it should be on these issues. This information is important and it is an important Bill. We should not be seeking to rush it through without due scrutiny. That said, I will move on to the amendments.

The impact assessment is interesting, as these things tend to be, which is why we like to see them. It confirms some of the issues that we debated on Monday such as the rapidly changing nature of activity in the North Sea. The impact assessment reiterates that we are seeing a sharp decline in production and investment into the North Sea and times are changing very fast. However, unfortunately, the impact assessment does not give any reassurance that the Government are applying any long-term vision to this issue. On page 10 of the impact assessment, we see that there has indeed been talk in the Government about what to do about these rapidly changing circumstances. Ideas have been discussed and mooted, and four of them are mentioned on page 10. There is absolutely nothing about repurposing the North Sea or considering how it might be reused.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Liddell for her contribution. She talked in terms of reuse for renewables, but I am far more concerned, as I am sure the Minister is now aware, with reuse for carbon capture and storage. There is no mention of repurposing a site for storage and no mention at all of decommissioning within the role of the OGA in relation to this moving forward. We have an impact assessment, but it does not exactly give me any great cause for reassurance. I am hoping that we will continue to revisit these issues when we come to Report. They relate very much to the scope of this piece of legislation.

Turning to the amendments, I want to give one illustration of why the scope issue of the OGA is so important. Under Amendment 33, we are being introduced to the concept of the right to appeal. After Clause 56, the amendment would insert new Section 87A, under which an appeal can be lodged if,

“the information required by the notice is not relevant to the exercise of the OGA or its functions under this Chapter”.

On Monday, we had considerable debate about the issue of the functions and the principal objectives of the OGA. Will the Minister reassure me that yet again this reference to the OGA functions includes the need for information to be made available in relation to carbon capture and storage?

I hesitate to go over the ground we went over on Monday, but we need clarity on the principal objectives of this new body. I request that we have the primary objectives as set out in the Infrastructure Act, which amended the Petroleum Act 1998, stated on the face of the Bill. We could have some consolidation. Instead of having to refer back to pieces of legislation that then amended other pieces of legislation, could we not have some clean objectives clearly stated so that we can then interpret all of these powers and changes that the OGA will be overseeing in light of the clear statement of the primary objectives? Those primary objectives must be fit for purpose. They must cover the issues we have raised in relation to decommissioning and repurposing for use in carbon capture and storage.

I hope that the Minister will be able to respond with some reassurances on the general point about the Bill handling but also in relation to that specific issue on Amendment 33. Can he assure me that the appeals will not allow the industry to claim that requiring information in relation to carbon capture and storage activities falls foul of this requirement, being outside the primary objective of the OGA?