New clause 3—Corporation tax treatment of the oil and gas industry—
‘The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall, within six months of the passing of this Act, commission a comprehensive review of the corporation tax rates and investment allowances applicable to companies producing oil and gas in the UK or on the UK continental shelf, and publish the report of the review.’
New clause 6—Oil and gas: decommissioning contracts—
‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall commission a review of the ways in which the tax regime could be changed to increase the competitiveness of UK-registered companies in bidding for supply chain contracts associated with the decommissioning of oil and gas infrastructure.
(2) In undertaking the review, the Chancellor shall consult the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Oil and Gas Authority; Scottish Ministers; and any other stakeholders that the Chancellor thinks appropriate.
(3) The Chancellor shall report to Parliament on the results of his review within six months of the passing of this Act
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mr Howarth. These measures bring into statute a £1 billion package of fiscal reforms for the UK’s oil and gas sector. These changes will deliver the next stage of the Government’s reform plan for the oil and gas fiscal regime, and they will give much-needed support to an industry facing exceptionally challenging conditions. They will provide the right conditions in which to maximise the economic recovery of the UK’s oil and gas resources by lowering sector-specific tax rates, updating the current system of allowances and expanding the types of activity that can generate financial relief. The Government are making these changes to protect jobs, encourage investment in new projects and infrastructure, and safeguard the future of one of our most vital national assets.
I will provide hon. Members with some background to the changes. Almost 200 companies are currently in production in the UK oil and gas industry. They support 30,000 jobs directly and 250,000 in the wider supply chain. As hon. Members know, since 2014 the industry has experienced highly challenging conditions. Oil prices have fallen to less than half their 2014 value, putting thousands of jobs at risk. In the 2014 autumn statement, the Government set out our plan to reform the oil and gas fiscal regime in the publication “Driving investment”. That document recognised the need to reduce the future oil and gas tax burden in order to maximise economic recovery and keep the UK basin attractive to investors as it further matures. We delivered on that plan by reducing the rate of the supplementary charge and the petroleum revenue tax in 2015. As announced in the March 2016 Budget, we will lower both those rates further.
Between 2013 and 2015 the Government introduced the investment, onshore and cluster area allowances, which replaced the old suite of field allowances with a simplified and expanded relief system to generate greater investor certainty in the sector. The Government intend to include tariff income—income from third-party access to oil and gas infrastructure—in the scope of the investment and cluster area allowances. We will introduce secondary legislation later this year to facilitate that. Clauses 55 to 59 update the investment, onshore and cluster area allowances to align them with that piece of future legislation and ensure that the allowances are not generated twice.
The changes made by clause 54 will halve the rate of the supplementary charge from 20% to 10%. That will make the sector more attractive to future investors, thereby providing much-needed support for jobs and supply chain opportunities across the industry. As I said, clauses 55, 57 and 58 update the disqualifying conditions of the investment, onshore and cluster area allowances to prevent allowances being generated twice and to limit opportunities for avoidance. Clause 55 amends the investment allowance to update the conditions that disqualify expenditure incurred before a field is determined. This will protect the Exchequer and ensure the legislation works as intended.
Similarly, clause 57 updates the onshore allowance to introduce certain disqualifying conditions. This will provide parity with the other allowances available to the sector. Clauses 55 and 58 insert leasing into the disqualifying conditions for the investment and cluster area allowances. Together these three clauses will align the investment, cluster area and onshore allowances with future legislation while ensuring the allowance is not open to avoidance opportunities.
Clauses 56 and 59 amend the investment and cluster area allowances and introduce a power to expand the meaning of “relevant income”. The Government intend to enable tariff income to activate the investment in cluster area allowances and incentivise owners to maintain investment in the sector’s infrastructure, including key pipelines. These measures will encourage further investment in exploration and appraisal projects, which are the lifeblood of the industry.
Finally, clause 128 changes the petroleum revenue tax by reducing its rate from 35% to zero. Our commitment is effectively to abolish this tax by zero-rating it on a permanent basis. This change will simplify the tax regime for investors and level the playing field between investment opportunities in older oil fields and infrastructure and new developments across the North sea. Furthermore, clause 128 will update the Oil Taxation Act 1975 to reflect the new zero-rated nature of the petroleum revenue tax and amend the cap on interest carried on its repayments. The clause will work in tandem with clauses 54 to 59 to deliver the next stage of fiscal reforms to support the oil and gas sector.
New clause 3, tabled by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, calls for the Government to review the taxes and allowances that apply to oil and gas-producing companies in the UK within six months of the Bill receiving Royal Assent. However, a further review into oil and gas taxes is not required because the Government already carried out a broad review of the fiscal regime in 2014. The outcome of that review, as I mentioned, was the publication “Driving investment”, which sets out our long-term plan to ensure that the fiscal regime continues to support the objective of maximising economic recovery while ensuring a fair return on those resources for the nation.
The principles in “Driving investment” recognise the need for the oil and gas tax burden to fall as the basin matures, and the need to factor wider commercial opportunities when making judgments about future fiscal policy. The March 2015 Budget delivered on many of the reforms set out in that plan by reducing the rate of both the supplementary charge and the petroleum revenue tax. The package announced in the March 2016 Budget delivers the next stage of our plan for reform.
The Government understand now, as we did in 2014, that certainty and stability are crucial to providing the right conditions for companies to continue investing in this vital industry. Another review could create further uncertainty for the industry and delay investment, particularly in the current environment. Therefore, given the volume and range of work that has been done in this area recently, an additional review is unnecessary, so I urge the hon. Gentleman not to press his new clause or, failing that, I urge Members to reject it.
New clause 6, which was also tabled by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, calls for a review into how the tax regime could increase the competitiveness of UK-registered companies in bidding for supply chain contracts associated with decommissioning. Decommissioning in the UK continental shelf brings significant opportunities for UK business and we want to maximise those. The Government fully support the vision of Sir Ian Wood to establish the north-east of Scotland as
“a global centre of knowledge and excellence in offshore mature basin technology and decommissioning”.
That is why the Government support the creation of an oil and gas technology centre in Aberdeen as part of the Aberdeen city deal. It is also why the Oil and Gas Authority will soon be publishing a decommissioning plan for the continental shelf. This will be focused on enabling the £15 billion service sector in Aberdeen to become the centre of a new global market for decommissioning and will help UK firms to capitalise on the huge opportunities that will become available. It is of course important that we have a tax regime that supports that ambition, and the package being delivered in the Bill will ensure that the UK has one of the most competitive tax regimes in the world for oil and gas. In addition, the Government have cut the rate of corporation tax to 20%—the lowest in the G20—and we are committed to going further.
With a competitive tax system in place and the OGA’s focus on realising the opportunities of decommissioning, I firmly believe that UK businesses are in a strong position to benefit. Certainty and stability are vital, and I do not believe that these would be supported by a further review. I therefore urge the hon. Gentleman not to press new clause 6.
The changes brought about by these clauses will deliver the £1 billion package of fiscal reforms announced in the March 2016 Budget by cutting tax rates, encouraging investment in infrastructure and updating the oil and gas allowances. These measures will send a strong signal to the global investment community that the UK’s oil and gas sector is open for business and ready for investment.
Thank you. In relation to new clause 3, the cut to the supplementary charge set out in clause 54 is of course welcome. It will assist in encouraging business investment, and I commend this initiative. However, the UK Government’s support for the oil and gas industry, as it pertains to the cut in the supplementary charge and in a more general sense, does not go far enough. The alterations made to the financing of the oil and gas sector fall significantly short of the fiscal and regulatory reforms necessary to ensuring a steady recovery in the ongoing North sea crisis. Despite the oil price continuing to rise—it is currently around $50 for Brent crude—instead of the extensive regulatory changes experienced over the past 15 years, stability and certainty are required to increase and retain investment as well as some incentivisation. I must admit to being further encouraged by the Minister’s statements in this respect.
However, the UK Government must consider all possibilities that could facilitate fresh investment in the oil and gas sector. These possibilities need not be restricted to fiscal support. For example, schemes such as Government guarantees ought to be explored. I would welcome such initiatives from the Minister. Has he considered further the following suggestions, made by the Scottish Government to the Chancellor in February 2016: removing fiscal barriers, specifically for exploration and enhanced oil recovery; implementing fiscal reforms to improve access to decommissioning tax relief and encourage late-life asset transfers—that would reduce costs and help prevent premature cessation of production, which is critical if marginal fields are to be garnered in future—and implementing additional non-fiscal support, such as Government loan guarantees, to sustain investment in the sector? I welcome his commitment to future legislation, especially in relation to cluster allowances, and look forward to its introduction. The industry has called for a comprehensive strategic review of tax rates and investment allowances. Based upon my own experience of working in the sector, I believe that this review would be beneficial, hence my support for new clause 3.
In relation to new clause 6, the UK continental shelf is one of the first large fields in the world to reach super-mature status. This poses both a challenge and an enormous amount of opportunity. While no reservoir on the planet has harvested more than 50% of its reserves, and most of the “sweet oil”—the high-quality, easy-to-reach oil found to date, which requires minimum processing—has gone from the sector, we need to look at improving recovery and the technology required to maximise output through enhanced oil recovery, in order to maximise profits from these fields, marginal or otherwise.
Decommissioning is a key part of the life cycle of UKCS assets. Some have now lasted for over three decades, which in many cases considerably exceeds their original design life. It is advances in technology and additional tie-backs—additional nearby fields that can be tied into the existing infrastructure—which would otherwise be unprofitable if they required a bespoke pipeline, that have made our oil and gas industry so successful.
Oil & Gas UK has estimated that between now and 2040 the total decommissioning spend in the North sea on offshore assets is set to rise by £46 billion. That represents a huge opportunity for domestic supply chains, not to mention extensive finds further west of Shetland and off the west coast of Scotland, which as yet have hardly been touched. The companies that operate on the UK continental shelf are respected all over the world, as it is there, in rough seas with heavy swells, that technology has advanced in conjunction with safety measures to ensure that the North sea, and Scotland in particular, are at the forefront of offshore construction and sub-sea technology, which is something I specialised in at BP, Shell and Premier Oil.
Given our well-deserved status in sub-sea technology and the maturity of some of our fields, there is a real opportunity to become world leaders in well plugging and decommissioning. The UK Government need to incentivise and support the oil and gas industry so that UKCS expertise can be further developed in the North sea and exported around the globe. That begins with ensuring that the oil and gas industry is working in a fiscal regime that is appropriate to the maturity of the field, which is what new clause 6 seeks to do. Although there are always new fields being discovered and technological advances rendering previously unprofitable reservoirs profitable, it is in the management of mature assets, via enhanced oil recovery and further tie-backs, that optimise power output and profitability, a strategy adopted by Statoil, our near neighbours, the Norwegian national oil and gas company, where every barrel counts. That has proved very successful and is a strategy we should copy.
The removal of fiscal and regulatory barriers is imperative to the advancement of an internationally competitive tax regime in the North sea, such as Norway’s incentive to remove taxation on exploration where the contractor or operator drills a duster. The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, Andrea Leadsom, in response to a question from my hon. Friend Callum McCaig in September 2015, committed to a proactive policy to encourage the development of a capable and competitive UK supply chain. That proactive approach needs to start sooner rather than later.
I welcome the Minister’s announcement on the oil and gas technology centre in Aberdeen, and on the decommissioning focus in Aberdeen and the offshore construction centre in the UK, but what steps have the Government taken to compensate oil and gas companies for exploration in the UKCS where a duster is drilled? For example, in Norway no tax is applied to such exploration. What tax incentives are in place, or are being considered, to encourage or subsidise decommissioning projects by UK companies, where new technologies, techniques or even tried and tested decommissioning methods are utilised on various types of assets?
In September 2015 Wood Mackenzie reported that low oil prices could render marginal fields economically unviable and lead to potential decommissioning of up to 140 fields within the next five years. I reiterate that Brent crude remains at around $50 a barrel. If prices continue to rise to the forecast $70 to $75 dollars a barrel after the summer, what tax incentives has the Minister put in place to identify and retain critical infrastructure across the UKCS?
With that in mind, new clause 6 calls for a review of the ways in which the tax regime could be changed to increase the competitiveness of UK-registered companies in bidding for supply chain contracts associated with the decommissioning of oil and gas infrastructure, with the aim of ensuring that we take advantage of this momentous opportunity.
With permission, I will speak to clauses 54 and 128 together before moving on to the remaining clauses and new clauses.
As we have heard, clauses 54 and 128 reduce the rates of the supplementary charge levied on the ring-fenced profits of companies involved in oil and gas production and petroleum revenue tax respectively. Companies involved in the exploration for and production of oil and gas in the UK are charged ring fence corporation tax and a supplementary charge. RFCT is calculated in the same way as corporation tax but with the addition of a ring fence so that losses on the mainland cannot be offset against profits from continental shelf fields. It is important to note that the rates of RFCT differ from those of corporation tax, and that the main rate of RFCT is 30%. The supplementary charge is an additional charge on a company’s ring-fenced profits. Clause 54 would reduce the supplementary charge from 20% to 10% from
Petroleum revenue tax, which was introduced in 1975, is a tax on the profits from oil and gas production from fields approved before
According to the tax information and impact note, and as the Minister confirmed today, there are around 200 companies extracting oil and gas in the UK. The industry directly supports 30,000 jobs, with another 250,000 in the supply chain. The decrease in the supplementary charge and the petroleum revenue tax will have a positive impact on company post-tax profits and result in lower instalment payments being made. We have already welcomed this support for the UK’s oil and gas industry. The industry trade body, Oil & Gas UK, has broadly welcomed this reduction in the headline rate of tax paid on UK oil and gas production, from a rate of 50% to 67.5% to a rate of 40% across all fields.
However, it is important to note that Oil & Gas UK has stated that the reduction in tax will help only those companies that are actually making a profit. It estimates that fewer than half a dozen companies are paying corporation tax this year. Indeed, the 2016 Budget stated that the tax receipts for these companies in 2015-16 were zero. A reduction in those tax rates is therefore welcome, but it is a long-term benefit.
Frankly, I think that more needs to be done in the short term. Stakeholders have said that they are more concerned about the lack of exploration activity. Only one well was drilled in the first quarter of 2016, so more has to be done to stimulate exploration. Can the Minister confirm whether any plans are in the pipeline—excuse the pun, but we have to get our fun somewhere in the Finance Bill—to stimulate exploration on the UK continental shelf in the short term?
I have also heard concerns from the industry about the late-life asset market. As we have heard today from Scottish Members, decommissioning is a normal part of a production cycle, but it is very expensive. I am aware that a tax relief is available, but it depends on a company’s tax history. If new companies buy older fields, they cannot access the relief, thus blocking late-life asset trade. Essentially, assets are not being sold on as they should be. The policy paper on the 2016 Budget states that the Government are open to exploring
“whether decommissioning tax relief could better encourage transfers of late-life assets”, if “significant progress” on reducing the cost of decommissioning has been made. I worry that that is rather vague. I would therefore welcome clarification from the Minister on exactly what “significant progress” means.
Clauses 55 to 59 make minor changes to the investment allowance, cluster area allowance and onshore allowance. These three allowances provide relief by reducing the amount of ring-fenced profits on which the supplementary charge is due. Investment and cluster area allowances are given at a rate of 62.5%, and onshore allowance at 75%. Clauses 55 and 58 update the conditions that disqualify expenditure from generating investment allowance and cluster area allowance respectively. They expand the conditions following the extension of the allowance to include some leasing expenditure by secondary legislation not yet enacted. As we have heard from the Minister, this is to ensure that there are no gaps in the legislation that would permit these allowances to be generated twice. This will have effect for expenditure incurred on or after
The clauses are technical measures with which I have no issue whatever. However, stakeholders have expressed frustration that it has taken so long to lay before Parliament the regulations extending the allowances. According to Oil & Gas UK, the consultation on the draft statutory instrument concluded in January, and since then things have gone quiet. Could the Minister take this opportunity to confirm exactly when the draft SI will be laid before Parliament?
Clauses 56 and 59 give the Government power to extend the meaning of “relevant income” in relation to both investment allowance and cluster area allowance. The Government intend to allow tariff income to activate the allowances. When these allowances were introduced, they could be activated only by production of income from an oilfield. The allowance did not work well if the investment was in a pipeline that the company owned, but that transported another company’s oil and gas, which generated tariff income. In that case, no production income was generated, so the allowance was not activated.
The Government originally intended to include tariff income, but it was not included in the original legislation because of the complexities of identifying and apportioning capital expenditure to infrastructure owners and users. Having taken steps, the Government now intend to allow tariff income to activate the allowance, in order to encourage investment in infrastructure. The clauses give the Government power, through secondary legislation, to expand the meaning of “relevant income” to include tariff income. We are wholly supportive of that extension. Will the Minister assure me that the introduction of secondary legislation to expand the allowances to include leasing expenditure will not be delayed while the Government draft the SI to include tariff income in “relevant income”? Time is of the essence when it comes to supporting investment in the UK continental shelf. The industry simply cannot wait for the legislation to be published while the Government get their act together.
Clause 57 relates to onshore allowances, which reduce the amount of ring-fenced profits subject to the supplementary charge to the equivalent of 75% of capital expenditure on onshore oil and gas fields. When it was introduced, there were no disqualifying conditions and a few loopholes were identified, including the ability to generate the allowance twice on an asset. The clause amends the onshore allowance to mirror disqualifying conditions for the cluster area allowance, essentially tightening up the legislation.
The Opposition had some concerns about the onshore allowance when it was introduced in the Finance Act 2014, and we pressed our amendment to a vote. That amendment called for a review examining the impact on onshore oil and gas exploration and field developments in the next 10 years, and the differential impact on individual shale fields, among other things. We are pleased that the Government are introducing disqualifying conditions to provide parity with other allowances, but are still concerned that the allowance provides an incentive for fracking. Why is this allowance more generous than those for investment in cluster areas? Will the Minister also confirm when the advice from the Committee on Climate Change on how fracking will affect the UK’s ability to meet our climate change targets will be published? We will support clause 57, but I hope the Minister will address my concerns.
New clauses 3 and 6 were tabled by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath. New clause 3, as we have heard, calls for a comprehensive review of the corporation tax rate and the investment allowances applicable to oil and gas companies. New clause 6 calls for a review of how the tax regime could be changed to increase the competitiveness of UK-registered companies bidding for supply chain contracts associated with the decommissioning of oil and gas infrastructure. As I mentioned earlier, the sector has identified significant issues with the late-life asset market. We support the Scottish National party in its calls for a review of decommissioning contracts. Legislation surrounding the UK oil and gas tax regime has been remarkably piecemeal, and a review of the whole regime would not be unhelpful. We support all the clauses in this group. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
It is a pleasure to respond to the pertinent questions put by the Opposition and SNP Front Benchers. They both asked about exploration, which is the lifeblood of the industry’s future. We had a choice: introduce a complex system of reliefs and incentives relating to exploration, or have a simple, straightforward tax cut across the board. We chose the latter. Reducing the tax payable on the economic activity lowers the hurdle point for investments, improves the net present value of projects, and means that more will take place. It is cutting the headline rates of tax, rather than anything else, that provides a clear incentive to invest in the continental shelf. The Government have also twice provided £20 million for seismic surveying to help kick-start those processes.
Allowances came up a number of times. Over the past few years, the Government have been simplifying that system. Allowances mean that projects that are economic, but not commercial at the higher rates of tax, can go ahead. That is good for the Exchequer, as it brings in more income, and good for the companies concerned. The hon. Member for Salford and Eccles, who speaks for the Opposition, asked when the Government would finalise the secondary legislation expanding the definition of qualifying expenditure for the investment cluster area allowances. Draft legislation was published at the end of last year and the technical consultation ended in January. HMRC has been analysing the responses to that and liaising with the Treasury and the OGA to ensure that the legislation works as intended. We plan to lay the new regulation before the House after the summer recess. It will apply to all qualifying expenditure incurred after
The hon. Lady also asked about the power to extend the definition of relevant income and the timing. The Treasury will consult with industry shortly, and will ask it to provide information and evidence to inform the design of the inclusion of tariff income in the investment cluster area allowances. It is a complex area, with a range of commercial arrangements that we need to understand if we are to ensure that infrastructure owners and users can benefit from the allowances. The power has been drafted in such a way as to ensure that the inclusion of tariff income can have a retrospective effect. That measure will not delay the introduction of the extension to qualifying expenditure.
The hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill rightly asked about the crucial opportunity area of decommissioning. Decommissioning across the shelf is expected to become a multibillion-pound industry, and there are significant export opportunities as other basins around the world become more mature. Decommissioning costs here could be more than £40 billion. As I said earlier, the Government support Sir Ian Wood’s vision of establishing north-east Scotland as a real centre of excellence. That is why we support the creation of an oil and gas technology centre in Aberdeen as part of its city deal. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the OGA will soon publish its United Kingdom continental shelf decommissioning plan.
The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles asked about late-life assets and asset transfers. We are in constant discussion with the OGA and industry to understand what impediments there may be to value-creating deals going ahead, and we retain an absolutely open mind on that. The hon. Gentleman also asked about Government guarantees. Again, that is something on which the Government have an open mind, in recognition of the importance of the sector. The Government are willing to consider proposals for using the UK guarantee scheme for infrastructure where that could help to secure new investment in assets of strategic importance to maximise economic recovery. Any proposals would need to meet the scheme’s criteria, including those relating to commerciality and financial credibility.
The Government have recognised the exceptionally challenging conditions that the industry faces, and in response announced a £1 billion package of fiscal reforms in the March 2016 Budget, which built on the extensive package from the previous year. The package includes halving the rate of the supplementary charge, permanently zero-rating the petroleum revenue tax, and extending the scope of key allowances to incorporate leasing and to encourage investment across the North sea. The Government have also committed £20 million of funding to a second round of seismic surveys to encourage development in under-explored areas.
Despite the extremely challenging conditions, this remains a sector of opportunity for Scotland and the UK; it is estimated that somewhere between 11 billion and 21 billion barrels of oil and oil equivalents are still to be had. More than £11 billion was invested in the sector last year. I am constantly encouraged by the positive attitude of the industry, and all the work that it is doing to get its cost base down and continue to look for new opportunities. I assure you, Mr Howarth, and all hon. Members, of the Government’s absolute commitment to the very positive tripartite approach between the industry, the Oil and Gas Authority, which is really more than a regulator, and the Government, who include the Scotland Office, the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Treasury.
There is no doubt that the UK offshore oil and gas sector has a world lead, provides huge revenue and technical expertise to the UK, and needs to be protected, but my hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles raised the spectre of onshore fracking. Can the Minister give reassurance that our efforts to support the offshore oil and gas industry will not be used as a back-door way of giving tax breaks to onshore fracking?
Mr Howarth, you would not want me to stray on to topics that are not strictly in the scope of the Finance Bill. The Government believe that there is significant potential for unconventional oil and gas—for fracking—and I think that we owe it to future generations, to ourselves and to British industry to make sure that we discover what opportunities are there. Exactly how the regime develops, in fiscal terms, is to be determined, but we know that there will be an absolutely robust safety regime. In the initial phase, the important thing is to find out on how big a scale that opportunity may be.
I had reached the conclusion of my remarks, having reiterated the very firm commitment across Government to supporting this industry. This is a bold package of support in the Budget. We know of no other country in the world that has responded on quite such a scale to the extremely challenging conditions presented by the world oil price. I commend the clause to the Committee.