Oil and Gas Industry — [Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 12:18 pm on 9 October 2018.

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Photo of Colin Clark Colin Clark Conservative, Gordon 12:18, 9 October 2018

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate John Mc Nally on securing the debate, only a few months after my own debate on the industry.

Oil and gas is a massive part of the UK economy and an enormous part of my constituency of Gordon, with 233 service companies operating from Gordon alone. I routinely claim that I have the largest oil and gas footprint, but other Members may try to argue the point. Thanks to this Government, and the transferable tax history that will come into effect in November, billions of pounds of investment will be released into the industry. I am disappointed that voices from the Opposition Benches have said that transferable tax history is the wrong thing to do.

The industry continues to develop efficiencies in decommissioning, supported by Her Majesty’s Treasury. It contributes £1 billion a year to HM Treasury—somewhere short of the estimated £11 billion that the Scottish National party, during the independence referendum, claimed would be contributed. Fifty-nine UK constituencies have a major oil and gas footprint and, as my hon. Friend Andrew Bowie said, the same Members seem to turn up for such debates. Many other areas should realise what a significant industry oil and gas is. It is truly national and international, and it is not a dying industry. It has shrunk from 4.5 million barrels a day to 1.5 million. It is still of great importance, and it has tremendous longevity.

Why is that industry so important to the north-east? The north-east has 8% of the population of Scotland, but 18% of its economy. Even during the downturn, unemployment only got to 1.2%, because the people of the north-east believe in getting out and working, even if it is in another part of the world. The north-east is the engine room of the Scottish economy. The cost of living is higher and house prices were driven up by the boom years, but we have the highest council tax bills. It is the most expensive place to live in Scotland, because the Scottish Government chose to put council tax bills up. Employers feel penalised by higher business rates, to the extent that buildings are being knocked down in the north-east of Scotland. I recently drove past the Baker Hughes GE building in the constituency neighbouring mine, and I am told it will have to be knocked down because the business rates are so punitive.

The UK Government have delivered, with transferable tax history, a massive incentive for oil and gas estimated at £30 billion. The fiscal policy that is making the UK continental shelf the place to produce oil and gas is that of the UK Government, and there is low corporation tax for the whole sector, UK-wide, because of the UK Government. In the north-east there is the highest concentration of technicians and engineers in the UK. We have an incredibly strong and robust economy. The industry puts safety first, absolutely, and I pay tribute to Step Change in Safety, which has brought together producers, the service sector and offshore workers in a collaborative effort.

As for any downturn in activity, the Oil and Gas Authority estimates that £400 billion is still to come from the North sea through collaborative action. Chrysaor, a private equity-backed organisation, invested £3.8 billion to buy Shell assets. Wood Group bought Amec, to be a FTSE 100 company. General Electric and Baker Hughes have merged their oil and gas, which is going to float on the New York stock exchange. There is not a lack of activity because of Brexit—far from it. The size and type of mergers and acquisitions deals last year signalled confidence in the UK continental shelf. The sector needs fiscal stability and I agree with other Members that that is a message we are sending, loud and clear, to HM Treasury. Businesses are not seeking to exit the UK continental shelf, which is still seen as a strategically important basin. SNP claims of a Brexit downturn simply do not ring true. They should look at the money and where it is being invested. In the past couple of days, I and colleagues visited Wood Group, an £11 billion organisation only 6% of whose business is in the North sea, because it is a dynamic company investing further afield. As to oil and gas being something of the past, let us remember that it is our throwaway culture, not the hydrocarbons, polluting the sea.

Oil and gas have been pivotal in transforming the carbon intensity of the power sector, as has been mentioned. Let us get to the nub of things. Higher taxes in Scotland will encourage companies to register and operate from outwith Scotland, damaging its tax base. Punitive business rates in the north-east are costing jobs. Having visited 90 north-east firms related to oil and gas, I have not heard anyone speak about Brexit. Every single one has mentioned business rates. Both Scotland’s Governments need to get their shoulder to the wheel and drive the industry forward.