Future of the Oil and Gas Industry — [Mr Charles Walker in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 1:30 pm on 14th March 2019.

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Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee 1:30 pm, 14th March 2019

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the Sixth Report of the Scottish Affairs Committee, The future of the oil and gas industry, HC 996.

It is a pleasure to serve under such a distinguished member of the Panel of Chairs today, Mr Walker. I am grateful to see so many members of the Scottish Affairs Committee in their places and ready to go for this very important debate.

The Scottish Affairs Committee decided to hold an inquiry into oil and gas because of the unprecedented uncertainty caused to the sector by the dramatic fall in oil prices at the end of the last decade. We were interested in assessing how—or indeed whether—the sector had recovered and in better understanding the contemporary issues in the industry and how new innovations and interventions had played out.

Critically, we wanted to explore the readiness of the sector for transition and decarbonisation. We also wanted to look at its preparedness for diversification of the skills acquired over 40 years of production and development in the North sea.

We are, as always, grateful to the many people who gave evidence and contributed to our inquiry, and for the support we received from the sector. We held six evidence sessions and received more than 30 written submissions to the inquiry. We are particularly grateful to the Oil & Gas Technology Centre in the constituency of Ross Thomson, which hosted one of our evidence sessions and kindly lent us their premises to launch the report a few short weeks ago.

I should say first that the sector is in a reasonably good place. The resilience shown by our oil and gas industry in the face of such turbulence is to be commended. The tenacity that has been shown by the workforce and others involved in the industry is something we all recognised, and which has supported the sustainable recovery that has been put in place in the past few years. There remains a strong and positive future for Scotland’s oil and gas sector, and the opportunities of a just transition to a decarbonised future are there to be grabbed.

Scotland remains at the forefront of the global oil and gas industry, which contributed £9.2 billion to the Scottish economy in 2017 and supports 135,000 jobs in Scotland. Only this week, the Oil and Gas Authority predicted that 11.9 billion barrels will be extracted by 2050—a hike of almost 50% from the forecast four years ago of 8 billion barrels. That shows an industry and a sector in a reasonably healthy condition.

More than that, Scotland’s oil and gas is central to the UK’s energy security. It is forecast that two thirds of the UK’s primary energy needs will be met by oil and gas until at least 2035.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

The hon. Gentleman is speaking of the benefits to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I have some constituents who depend on the Scottish oil and gas sector for their employment. The skills that they have learned are not specific to Scotland—they are for everyone. Does the report acknowledge that all regions of the United Kingdom benefit from the Scottish oil and gas sector and it is therefore good for everyone?

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

The hon. Gentleman is of course absolutely right—this is a UK-wide industry, which has a footprint in most nations of the United Kingdom. Practically every region of England has some link to the supply chain serving the oil and gas industry across the UK. He is absolutely right to remind us that this is a UK-wide industry and one that we should all be very proud of, whether we are in Northern Ireland or in rural Perthshire.

It will not surprise hon. Members, however, that the inquiry found that the sector is still facing unprecedented challenges. Fluctuation in the oil price has hit companies with extreme uncertainty, particularly those working in the supply chain, while the rate of new well exploration has nose-dived. At the same time, the industry needs to properly prepare for the decline in production that will inevitably happen, to ensure that the economic benefits and highly skilled jobs the sector has acquired in and brought to Scotland are not lost.

The industry also has to find new ways to reduce its carbon footprint and use its skills and engineering knowledge to help develop low-carbon and renewable technologies. That is no small task, and those challenges are at the heart of the Committee’s report. We address how the Government should support the industry while it gets ready for production to decline. How do we meet the UK’s energy needs, of which oil and gas will remain a major component, while meeting our climate change obligations?

We believe that the best way for the Government to support the industry through those challenges is to agree an ambitious sector deal. A sector deal backed by a combined investment of £176 million from industry and the Government could deliver £110 billion for the UK economy, with particular benefits for Scotland and the north-east of Scotland. The funding would support three centres of excellence, focused on transformational technology, underwater innovation and decommissioning.

When the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth, Claire Perry, appeared before the Committee in December, she said that she was not able to go into the detail of the deal, which we totally accepted given that the Government were still to properly design it and come forward with what would happen. She said that progress would be announced in weeks, not months. It is not many months since December, but it is certainly weeks. I know the Energy Minister could not join us today because of other pressing business, but we are fortunate to have the Minister responsible for sector deals with us. Perhaps he can update us on the progress and shape of the sector deals.

I am certain that any delay will, of course, be down to the Government’s taking very seriously the recommendations in our report, and designing the deal around some of the very useful recommendations that we made—that the sector deal is forward-thinking and sets up the industry to meet the challenges of climate change, decommissioning and of the industry’s future beyond the UK continental shelf head on, rather than focusing on the usual support for maximisation of production in the short term. The days of short-termism in the North sea are over. Long-term planning and strategic thinking is required, and those are the priorities for the deal that the report outlines.

I will explain the detail a little further. First, a sector deal must capitalise on the opportunities arising from decommissioning. The North sea is not only going to be the first major basin to go through large-scale decommissioning; without doubt, it is also one of the most challenging environments anywhere in the world for decommissioning. As one of the witnesses said to us in an evidence session, if we can decommission a rig in the North sea, we can decommission a rig anywhere in the world. Scotland has an unmissable opportunity to export its decommissioning knowledge to the rest of the world and the Committee has therefore called for the sector deal to be accompanied by a Government decommissioning export strategy to anchor a global decommissioning industry in the north-east of Scotland.

The sector deal also needs to deliver on reducing the cost of decommissioning. We were surprised when we heard the range of estimates of the cost of decommissioning—the gulf between the lowest and highest point was quite extraordinary. We need to see that cost reduced for UK taxpayers, because half of the decommissioning cost will still be met through the Treasury and by taxpayers through tax relief.

The sector must find ways to transfer its unique expertise to other sectors of the economy so that the jobs are not lost when oil production stops. One of the most impressive features—I think all members of the Committee recognised this when we were taking evidence for the report—is the range of skills available to us from North sea exploration. The skills acquired over four decades of production are among the most impressive to be found in the oil and gas sector anywhere in the world. It is absolutely imperative that the skills, expertise, talent and energy that have been built up in the sector are not lost as we move towards decommissioning and the ending of production.

We heard that there is no end to the opportunities available if we get decommissioning right. Sectors including aerospace, data analytics, marine and offshore engineering, digital manufacturing, satellite technology and offshore wind are all open for skills and technology transfer. We were particularly taken by the opportunities in the renewable sector, and we call for the sector deal to contain specific and measurable proposals for how it will improve skill and technology transfer to the sector. Scotland gained by acquiring North sea oil. It is questionable whether we secured the benefits of discovering North sea oil; we must not lose any benefits of what happens next with renewable technology. The skills acquired in the North sea are perfectly fitted, and could be adapted, for use in renewable energy.

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk

The hon. Gentleman is speaking very well about the work of the Committee in this regard. We worked very well to produce the report. On the redeployment of skills as the supply of oil continues to diminish, paragraph 82 of the report identifies fracking as an opportunity for these skills to be redeployed. Colette Cohen, the chief executive of the Oil & Gas Technology Centre, said that fracking would provide

“increased opportunities for the workforce” and

“for the technologies and skills we already have.”

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is an opportunity to continue to use these skills in fracking and connected industries?

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

I had a sneaking suspicion that I would secure an intervention based on the hon. Gentleman’s desire for fracking to be included in all this. As he knows, there was a robust debate among Committee members on the value of fracking and what we should say about it in the report. He knows that I do not share his views, although I am aware of the evidence that was given sincerely by some members of the sector. The Committee agreed a consensus that this was something we were not really concerned with as we went forward, and we have left it as such in the report.

Photo of Hugh Gaffney Hugh Gaffney Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

Yesterday in his statement the Chancellor talked about banning gas from new homes in 2025. Surely we have to look to the benefits of oil and gas in the future. Is that not a worry for us?

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

Absolutely. I was intrigued by the message from the Chancellor yesterday, when this was mentioned. Yes, there are huge opportunities for us. I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that it was mightily impressive to see the things that could come and how these skills could be applied and transferred. Perhaps the Minister can say what more work could be done to ensure that we get this. We would be grateful for any insight into the conversation he has been having with the sector on skills transfer.

The sector deal must bring forward proposals for how the sector will address its carbon footprint, both in the process of producing and extracting oil and gas, and by finding ways to reduce emissions from their use. The report received a mixed reaction from some environmental groups—I will put is as delicately as that. That surprised me, due to the range of recommendations we made and the care and diligence that we gave to shaping up some of the transition recommendations. We believe in a just transition and said as much in the report. We believe that if that is achieved, we will get to a new future—a green and transformative future for the sector.

Photo of David Duguid David Duguid Conservative, Banff and Buchan

I agree with the Chairman of the Committee, who is speaking very well about the report. We received criticisms from Friends of the Earth, for example, which said that there was no coverage of the impact of climate change. Does he agree that the organisation had clearly not got as far as chapter 6?

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

Absolutely. When the report came out, all of us on the Committee were quite surprised by the scale of the response. I do not think there was a true examination of what we had in the report. We say in it that a transition is required, but it has to come from a position of strength. We cannot do anything that would compromise our ability to have a viable and sustainable sector that is in a position to carry out the just transition that environmental groups are looking for.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

The hon. Gentleman is being very generous with interventions. One of the things that I noticed in the report was the impact on fisheries. The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation referred to the retention in the seas of artificial rigs and so on, which might disadvantage the local fishing community. What consideration did the report give to that?

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

I was not going to mention this, but it was a fascinating feature of the report; I am really grateful that the hon. Gentleman has drawn my attention to it. We took a lot of time speaking to environmental groups, particularly some of the wildlife groups, about sustainable fisheries. There was a suggestion of switching from rigs to reef: to leave the infrastructure in place as a magnet and attraction for wildlife and fish species.

We received very mixed evidence on that. One group told us that in the gulf of Mexico, where this project had been initiated, people had to drag the reefs off the seabed, take it onshore to clean it, and then put it back again. One recommendation in our report is that the environmental groups have to decide among themselves about the best way forward. We encourage that debate among our friends in environmental sustainability groups, and I am grateful the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue.

We were struck by the importance of carbon capture technology for the long-term future of the industry. The Committee on Climate Change told us that without this technology, decarbonisation of the sector will happen much more slowly and be more costly. This is one area where the Government are ahead of the industry, having announced £45 million of funding for carbon capture innovation, with more potentially available from industrial strategy funds. I know that particularly pleases David Duguid, because most of that investment will be in his constituency. It is right that it should be, because of the infrastructure that exists there.

We believe that the industry needs to step up its contribution in this area, and that the sector deal must contain a detailed proposal from the industry on how it will support the development of carbon capture technology and how that progress can be measured. The oil and gas sector has a bright future ahead of it.

Photo of Colin Clark Colin Clark Conservative, Gordon

I am very impressed by the report. Oil and gas obviously have an enormous footprint in my constituency. Does the hon. Gentleman welcome the fact that the UK continental shelf oil and gas industry operates in what is recognised as one of the best fiscal regimes in the world, and does he welcome Her Majesty’s Treasury’s fiscal policies on oil and gas?

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

Obviously. It goes without saying that some of the fiscal support that has been given to the oil and gas sector has been welcome, and it is of course necessary. I think we are going to the next stage, which is the sector deal initiative. That is now critical, according to the report and what we found in the course of the inquiry. That type of investment will be required to try to ensure that some of the things highlighted in the report take place.

We believe there is a bright future for the industry; it is now up to the Government to respond with how they will help the industry to secure it. I hope that the Government and industry rise to the challenge of the report and secure Scotland’s future as a global leader in energy technology for decades to come. We have 30 to 40 years, and we have the opportunity to maximise economic recovery. We now have the ability to ensure that we can transition to a new type of future for the North sea. I am sure that with the right type of approach and the right type of mentoring and support, we can get there. Our oil and gas industry still has a viable future.

Photo of David Duguid David Duguid Conservative, Banff and Buchan 1:48 pm, 14th March 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. As a member of the Scottish Affairs Committee, and as someone with 25 years’ experience of working in the oil and gas industry, I have taken a particular interest in this inquiry and very much welcome the report’s publication. Like all parts of north-east Scotland, my constituency has a deep relationship with the oil and gas sector. Many of my constituents work in the industry, as I did. The industry has helped bring prosperity to the area over the last half a century or so.

It is clear that the industry is moving into a new era, which is why the report is so important. While the industry is emerging from the downturn of the last few years, the medium to long term promises smaller reserve finds, reduced production rates, more decommissioning and the challenge of a wider transition towards a low-carbon economy. The prosperity of north-east Scotland relies on the industry making the most of this transition. The report makes a valuable contribution to the important debate on how we can achieve that. The industry has led the way in that debate, and its recognition of long-term risks and the need to address them will give many people confidence in the industry’s future.

It is worth recognising the work that many of the large oil and gas companies have been doing to encourage a transition towards low-carbon energies. They are often cast as cartoon villains in relation to climate change, but throughout the inquiry I have commended them on leading the way in the sector, and on taking climate change seriously. That commitment was exemplified by the creation in 2015 of the Oil and Gas Climate Change Initiative, initially made up of the BG Group, BP, Eni, Pemex, Reliance Industries, Repsol, Saudi Aramco, Shell, Statoil—now known as Equinor—and Total. Significantly, it was joined in the last year by American companies—Chevron, ExxonMobil and Occidental. Having worked for many of those companies as a member of staff, mostly for BP, and as a consultant for some of the others, I can confirm that that commitment to a low-carbon future is not just lip service.

The Committee’s report praises industry efforts such as Vision 2035 and the “maximising economic recovery” strategy, which aim to ensure that the industry continues to thrive in the medium to long term. As recommended in the report, I hope that the UK Government continue to listen to the call for an oil and gas sector deal to help the industry achieve those aims.

We need to use the next couple of decades to diversify the industry beyond just exploration and the production of hydrocarbons. Decommissioning technology and expertise will not only accelerate the reduction of decommissioning costs in the North sea but open up new export opportunities for the industry. Similarly, the subsea or underwater sector has great export potential, provided that we act quickly and do not fall behind other countries with expertise in this area, such as Brazil and Norway.

I am particularly pleased that the report recognises the potential of carbon capture, use and storage for the future of the industry. As Pete Wishart mentioned, that is particularly important in my constituency. CCUS technology will be vital if we are to continue to use oil and gas in a low-carbon economy. In assets that have ceased or are due to cease production, decommissioned infrastructure can be converted to use for CCUS purposes. This report is certainly not the first time that that potential has been recognised. Banff and Buchan has been the location of previous proposals for CCUS projects, which were sadly deemed not viable at the time. I continue to believe that CCUS can be part of a great future for the energy sector in Banff and Buchan, provided that the right proposals come along.

I am particularly excited by the Acorn project by Pale Blue Dot. Unlike previous proposals, it focuses on the St Fergus gas terminal, which is the third-largest emissions site in Scotland. The St Fergus gas terminal is an attractive proposition because it is already linked by pipeline to the Grangemouth industrial complex. Unlike previous proposals, Acorn aims to achieve commercial viability by starting small and growing through additions to the core project later. Whereas a previous proposal for a CCUS power station at Peterhead would have cost about £1 billion, the cost of the initial Acorn project is estimated to be just £300 million.

I pay particular tribute to the Oil & Gas Technology Centre, run by Colette Cohen. Its vision is to become more about the technology than the oil and gas. The trade body, Oil & Gas UK, led by Deirdre Michie, provides a huge amount of co-ordination and expertise for the industry. Finally, the Oil and Gas Authority, run by Dr Andy Samuel, is an exemplar of how a UK Government body can be hugely effective when based closer to the action.

I look forward to the Minister’s response to the report and, in particular, the recommendations on the sector deal. The report’s tone and the industry’s approach are constructive and optimistic, so I hope that the UK Government’s response will be similarly constructive and encouraging. Together, we can build on the work already done, and take the necessary steps to help the oil and gas sector continue to contribute to the economy, not just for Aberdeen and north-east Scotland, but for the whole United Kingdom, sustainably and for decades to come.

Photo of Hugh Gaffney Hugh Gaffney Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill 1:53 pm, 14th March 2019

Thank you for calling me to speak in this debate, Mr Walker. I thank all my colleagues on the Scottish Affairs Committee for their work in producing this report.

It would be an understatement to say that the oil and gas industry is a vital part of the Scottish economy. It contributed £9.2 billion in 2017 and, as we have heard, it supports about 135,000 jobs. It is essential to the UK’s energy security, and forecasts suggest that oil and gas will account for two thirds of the UK’s primary energy needs until at least 2035.

The industry has suffered in recent years, but is starting to come through a challenging downturn, although there are still worrying signs, such as the low levels of new well exploration. There are also future challenges for the industry, such as declining production, climate change targets and the decommissioning of oil and gas rigs. I agree with the report’s central finding that the Government must provide serious and credible support to the industry through the sector deal. A sector deal supported by the Government and industry has the potential to deliver £110 billion for the UK economy by 2035. It must help with the development of new technology to maximise the recovery of the 10 billion to 20 billion barrels of oil that remain in the UK. It must find ways of encouraging greater decommissioning of oil and gas rigs, while reducing the cost of doing so. It must ensure that the industry’s skills, expertise and technology are protected for the future, including by transferring them for use in renewable energy, subsea engineering and carbon capture. The oil and gas industry has many opportunities for Scotland and the whole UK, which we should not waste. That is why I endorse the report’s findings, including its key recommendations about a sector deal.

I want to touch on some of the issues raised with the Scottish Affairs Committee, particularly by Unite and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers. Those unions play a crucial role in organising and representing the interests of workers in the oil and gas industry. They were both keen to emphasise the need to maximise the industry’s economic recovery to its full potential. They share the sentiment of the industry and the Government.

It is welcome that the Oil and Gas Authority will lead exploration by commissioning surveys of unexplored areas of the sea bed. The creation of the Oil & Gas Technology Centre through the Aberdeen city deal was welcome. The “maximising economic recovery” strategy cannot be implemented through significant reductions in costs, given the impact that they could have on the workforce. There is a clear case for the Oil and Gas Authority working with the UK and Scottish Governments to create strategic public stakes in the implementation of the strategy. Those stakes should include infrastructure, such as pipelines, and public investment through borrowing and national investment banks. Only through co-investment by public and private stakeholders can we ensure the strategy’s success.

The fall in the oil price in recent years led to an 18% reduction in the core offshore workforce between 2014 and 2016. It also led to a reduction in the workforce’s terms and conditions. RMT highlights the growing use of short-term and zero-hours contracts. The industry and trade unions have observed practices including the application of retrospective charges for training, the exclusion of trade unions from heliports, the denial of holiday entitlements and the ignoring of TUPE requirements. I believe that Unite is right to call for the full devolution of employment law to Scotland so that we can begin to address those issues, alongside investing in skills, apprenticeships and training in the industry.

Although decommissioning must be a crucial part of the sector deal, it must be done in a way that preserves skills, expertise and technology. It is clear to me that there should be a national decommissioning strategy to ensure that decommissioning delivers for workers and our economy. The strategy must be devised through discussions between the UK and Scottish Governments, local authorities, industries and trade unions.

I would like to talk about safety in the industry. As a trade unionist, I want to ensure that all workers are safe in their workplace. It alarms me to see the findings of a recent report by Robert Gordon University, which received responses from 40% of offshore workers from the major companies in the industry. It found that 52% of workers are dissatisfied with their work-life balance; 45% said that it takes them longer to recover from their shifts, and 57% believe that the conditions of their offshore sleeping environment have worsened. Let us not ignore workers’ concerns about offshore helicopter safety. Some 62% said that they would be unlikely to fly in a Super Puma helicopter if given a choice.

Photo of Bill Grant Bill Grant Conservative, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock

I share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about the safety of workers and the avoidance of accidents. What does he think the Government can do to bring the oil companies to the table for discussions with trade unions about the important matter of the safety of personnel on their rigs and in helicopters?

Photo of Hugh Gaffney Hugh Gaffney Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

I will come to that point; I take an interest in it. I recently met Oil & Gas UK, with which the unions are getting together to bring the workforce on board. Without the workers on board, no company can go anywhere. Unless companies involve their workers in the process, there is no point trying to organise the company.

I declare an interest: 27 years ago today, I took an interest in North sea oil safety helicopters when a Super Puma helicopter went down, killing 11 men, of whom my brother was one. Today is the 27th anniversary of the crash, so I welcome the report. I hope that the industry will take serious steps to address those safety concerns, particularly as employers have a duty to ensure that workers are safe in their workplace and can get home safely.

To conclude, I reiterate my support for the findings of the report, including its recommendation of a sector deal. It is clear, however, that there are challenges that we will have to address: “maximising economic recovery”, decommissioning, terms and conditions and, most importantly, the safety of the workforce.

Photo of Ross Thomson Ross Thomson Conservative, Aberdeen South 2:00 pm, 14th March 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I genuinely welcome the report and thank colleagues on the Scottish Affairs Committee not only for looking at this important issue, but for taking the time to come to Aberdeen—the heart of the UK’s oil and gas industry—to speak with representatives and hear the views of the industry on how we can move forward. That was much appreciated by the oil and gas companies there.

My constituents in Aberdeen South know better than most just how important the future of the oil and gas industry is and how difficult the past few years have been. The climb out of those difficult days has been long and not without challenges. I see those challenges every day when I speak with constituents and meet local businesses.

I was encouraged to hear the latest news from the OGA this week that North sea production reached a seven-year high last year. That shows that the sector still has huge potential to form an integral part of the UK’s energy mix and be a major source of high-value jobs across Scotland and the whole of the UK. Last week, I was pleased to welcome my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to Aberdeen, where we met representatives from Oil & Gas UK at Aberdeen harbour. During his visit, the Foreign Secretary highlighted the huge opportunities that await oil and gas companies once we leave the European Union.

Balmoral Group, a company based in my constituency, specialises in subsea buoyancy, renewable energy products and engineering solutions. It employs 500 people and is highly dependent on the rapidly growing markets of west Africa, South America, and the gulf of Mexico. The company is clear that its opportunities for growth are truly global. Aberdeen is a global city, and oil and gas companies based in my constituency have an increasingly international outlook. The new technologies developed through the Oil & Gas Technology Centre show the great export potential that will place Aberdeen at the centre of supply chains reaching around the world into mature and emerging markets.

Oil & Gas UK’s Vision 2035 has the ambitious aim of doubling the supply chain’s share of the global market from 3.7% to 7.4% by 2035. Those new technologies will be key to achieving that goal. They will not just unlock the future potential of the UK continental shelf, but secure the future of companies throughout the sector, as they diversify their interests. I welcome the Government’s continued work with industry to invest in technology that maximises recovery, improves efficiencies and extends the life of the UK continental shelf, while boosting the potential for export growth.

From the day we arrived in Westminster, my colleagues and I have worked hard to secure much needed support for this vital industry. I remember vividly lobbying the Treasury at every opportunity, and we were successful in securing transferable tax history for the sector, which unblocked billions of pounds of investment. Maintaining certainty on tax relief and reducing barriers to investment will be crucial to attracting the investment that the sector requires to maximise economic recovery and secure the long-term future.

The UK’s position as a market leader at the centre of global supply chains rests on the industry and Government working hand in hand to attract talent and investment as the sector prepares to navigate the challenges and opportunities of the coming years. I welcome the report on the future of the oil and gas industry, as it sets out the case for a sector deal for the industry and calls on the Government to commit to securing the long-term future of this vital industry. I look forward to the Minister’s remarks on the progress of that sector deal.

The future of the oil and gas industry rests on innovation not only in extraction to ensure that we maximise recovery, but in decommissioning. Decommissioning does not represent the end of the oil and gas industry, but a huge opportunity to use the expertise and talent of a globally focused industry to turn a liability into an opportunity. The UK will be the largest market for decommissioning spending over the next decade, and is placed at the forefront of a rapidly growing market. I welcome the report’s emphasis on the benefits of a sector deal to unlock the global potential of the oil and gas industry not just in my constituency, but in constituencies across the United Kingdom.

There is a lot of life left in the North sea, and a bright future for the oil and gas industry. Investment in new technologies and the growth of the sector at the centre of a global supply chain are key to grasping future opportunities. I welcome the report, which sets out how industry and Government can work together to secure that future.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Devolved Government Relations), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment and Rural Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales) 2:06 pm, 14th March 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Walker.

As has been mentioned, Scotland’s oil and gas industry is a world leader in many areas, health and safety being a notable one. Of course, we know the reason for that and we should pay our respects to the memory of the workers who have lost their lives in the industry, particularly in the Piper Alpha explosion and fire, but also in other incidents, including helicopter crashes, which Hugh Gaffney mentioned.

We should acknowledge that other workers have suffered serious injuries over the years while working in the industry. The safety record of North sea operations is better now, but that did not come easily or free of charge. The North sea industry has come a long way since its beginnings in the 1960s and the first gas from the Sea Gem rig, which gave us the first large-scale loss of life three months later. The industry has delivered substantial sums in wages, profits and taxes over the last half century, and it is incumbent on the Government to make a substantive contribution to decisions on the future of the industry, as the Committee’s report lays out.

That should include the transfer of skills to new industries, and it seems to me that renewable energy should be a major recipient of those transferred skills. Offshore wind farms and marine energy schemes would be ideal recipients of those skills. I recently had the privilege of visiting Nova Innovation, which is headquartered only a few hundred yards from my constituency office in Leith, and I was extremely impressed by the advances it is making and the pace of change in the offshore renewables industry. Nova leads the way in the tidal energy industry, and the Shetland tidal array looks like it may be at the leading edge of a new energy revolution. Just as Shetland was important in the development of the oil and gas industry, it may well be important in the development of the next energy industry.

While the Government are developing their future plan for the oil and gas industry, they really should be developing a parallel plan for the future of renewables that offers proper financial support for research and development and for connection to the grid. I have a bit of trouble having confidence in the UK Government to do that, however, given the record of past UK Governments when it comes to the North sea. Regulatory and taxation changes have come abruptly and swept in with very little consultation. Frankly, there is little in the current Government’s approach to legislating that gives me much hope of an alternative way of working.

Photo of David Duguid David Duguid Conservative, Banff and Buchan

Does the hon. Lady, my Committee colleague, agree with me and the testimony of witnesses that locating the Oil and Gas Authority, which is responsible for the regulations, in Aberdeen, close to the action, has already shown benefits and should show more in the future?

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Devolved Government Relations), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment and Rural Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales)

I agree that that was a definite point of progress and much to be welcomed, but the industry has been going for some 50 years, and some within it would argue that it was too little and almost too late. It is great that that came along, but much more can be done to support the industry.

As I mentioned with regard to improved support, I hope that the Government will surprise me, because the industry still has a lot to offer. The industry has plans to increase productivity so that in 16 years’ time it will be producing an additional £920 billion in revenue—not bad for an industry that we get told regularly is finished.

The scale of the contribution that the industry has made over the years is breathtaking. Scots will be aware of the famous, or infamous, McCrone report that was uncovered in 2005 by a friend of mine, Davie Hutchison, but written some years before he was born, in 1974. Professor McCrone was a UK Government civil servant at the time of writing, when he pointed out that the resources in the North sea were so enormous that they destroyed all the economic arguments against Scottish independence. Recently, Professor McCrone said that he regrets that the UK Government wasted that resource, frittering the income away, rather than investing in a sovereign wealth fund.

Furthermore, the McCrone report was written some years before the biggest discoveries in the North sea. Peak annual production did not come until 1999 and, as we have heard throughout the inquiry, new extraction techniques are increasing the potential recoverable resources even now. With another half century of extraction still possible, and new fields coming on stream in other areas, the industry has a long future yet. The Government need to step up to the plate.

One of the issues that has been mentioned is the protection of the environment and the development of serious carbon capture and storage proposals. Previous attempts to develop such schemes fell foul of Government inaction and broken promises. We need to see some serious commitment to making progress. I once heard about a pilot project, I think in Poland, where the carbon was captured and pressurised only to be driven a couple of hundred miles in tankers to the injection site, possibly defeating the purpose.

Some schemes that have been suggested before may well be capable of revival, and I am sure that more ideas would emerge when asked for. I hope that the Government will open the door to those ideas and help fund them, perhaps even hypothecating some of the revenue gleaned from the offshore industry, which should have gone into a sovereign wealth fund for Scots but is instead frittered away by successive UK Governments. The Government should consider doing a lot more for the environment with the resources brought in by the offshore industry. They could match the Saltire tidal energy challenge fund launched by the Scottish Government earlier this year, or reinstate the marine energy subsidy. If oil and gas were the energy choices in the second half of the 20th century, renewables will fill that role in the 21st century. We urgently need Government investment to make that industry a world leader.

The oil and gas industry is not dead yet, not by a long way. With at least as many years of exploitation left as we have already seen, there is still some way to go. The UK Government should sit down regularly with the industry to help plan the next half century. Vision 2035 is the industry view of the next few years; it would be good to see a UK Government vision or, better still, one agreed by the Government with the industry.

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney 2:13 pm, 14th March 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I congratulate the Scottish Affairs Committee on producing this informative report and on securing the debate.

The oil and gas industry is extremely important in the north-east of Scotland, but it also has other clusters, although not quite as large, in the north-east of England and East Anglia, which I represent. I chair the British offshore oil and gas industry all-party parliamentary group. It is important to remember that the industry is a national one and that it has a supply chain that extends throughout the whole of the UK.

The industry has been, I would say, the British industrial success story of the past 55 years. The results of extracting hydrocarbons on the UK continental shelf have been the creation of thousands of well-paid good jobs, the generation of an enormous amount of money for Her Majesty’s Treasury, and the development of expertise that can be taken, and has been taken, all around the world. Go to Libya, the gulf of Mexico, Kazakhstan or China, and one hears Scottish, Geordie and East Anglian accents.

Photo of David Duguid David Duguid Conservative, Banff and Buchan

Following on from something the Chair of the Committee said in his opening remarks—I meant to say this in my speech—I have benefited from that skills transfer, having worked not in Libya but in some of those other places around the world where oil and gas are prevalent. Does Peter Aldous agree that an important aspect of the sector deal, and the urgency of it, is to encourage the retention of those skills in this country in order to develop the technologies and innovations that we have discussed?

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney

My hon. Friend is right. We have developed enormous expertise in the oil and gas sector which it is important to retain and build on. We are just beginning to see that in the offshore wind sector as well and, as I will come on to, the two are inextricably linked.

Yesterday was an important day for the industry. The APPG had its annual parliamentary reception, and those attending were in good heart and had a positive outlook for the future. We also had the Chancellor’s spring statement. Normally, the APPG lobbies Government hard coming up to annual Budgets and statements, but yesterday the Chancellor made no mention of the industry. I think that was mainly because he is keen for statements to be just that and not mini Budgets, but in many respects that was good news, because the industry wants a stable fiscal regime with no unforeseen, unpleasant or unhelpful surprises. That said, as we anticipate the autumn Budget, I suggest that we should all be back in top lobbying gear.

I acknowledge that we are now entering the second half of the contest—perhaps I should say challenge—of extracting oil and gas on the UKCS, but we should emphasise that this is not a sunset industry, as indeed colleagues in all parts of the Chamber have said. As in many matches, the best performances, goals and tries come in the second half. The industry has come through a great deal in recent years, but while challenges remain—in particular the low level of drilling activity and exploration—it is largely in a good place. Last year, significant final investment decisions were made on a number of major projects, production performance was strong, and unit operating costs had stabilised.

I shall highlight three areas in which the industry, the Oil and Gas Authority and the Government need to work together in the immediate future to maximise the sector’s potential for the benefit of all those who work in it and for the UK. First, attention needs to be given to strengthening the industry’s supply chain. Many companies’ revenues and margins are under extreme pressure, and increased collaboration and innovative contracting models are needed. If those are put in place, as a country we will be able to continue to compete for international investment, to provide security of energy supply, and to create and support highly skilled and fulfilling jobs.

Secondly, we need to build up expertise and create specialist hubs to carry out decommissioning. A good start has been made with the launch of the National Decommissioning Centre, but we must have it in mind that that is an enormous prize, not just on the UKCS—and, from my own perspective, most immediately in the southern North sea—but in basins all around the world.

Thirdly, the sector has made a good start in promoting and facilitating the transition to a low-carbon economy. Instead of the Danish oil and natural gas company and Statoil, we talk about Ørsted and Equinor. Gas has an important role to play in the transition to a low-carbon economy. In the southern North sea, the oil and gas and offshore wind sectors are collaborating on such innovative projects as gas to wire, which involves gas being generated into electricity offshore and transmitted to shore via spare capacity in the subsea cables that are used for the wind farms.

There are plenty of challenges, but my sense is that the industry is resurgent and brimful of ideas. With the right nurturing, promotion and collaboration, it can play a key role in the UK on the post-Brexit global stage.

Photo of Douglas Chapman Douglas Chapman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence Procurement & Nuclear Disarmament) 2:20 pm, 14th March 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I thank the Committee members and the witnesses for helping to reach the well-considered conclusions and recommendations, and I thank the Chair, my hon. Friend Pete Wishart, for his push to consider matters of real significance to Scotland. If one sector has been a dominant industry in the political discourse of Scotland in the past 40 or 50 years, it has been oil and gas.

Today’s Scottish oil and gas sector is in a strong position. With up to 20 billion barrels of oil equivalent remaining, there is enough to sustain production for the next 20 years and beyond. Recent discoveries such as the Capercaillie and Achmelvich wells by BP, the huge and significant gas reserves west of Shetland and Clair Ridge, and Nexen’s phase two of developing the Buzzard field, demonstrate the significant untapped potential that this industry holds should we wish to exploit reserves.

Figures published in the last week by the Oil and Gas Authority forecast that 11.9 billion barrels will be extracted by 2050, up almost 50% from the estimated 8 billion barrels predicted just four years ago. That is why the Scottish Government are keen to do everything they can to support the industry and its workforce. In 2016, the Scottish Government launched a £12 million transition training fund to help oil workers retrain and make the most of their transferable skills to forge careers in other sectors. Some 4,000 applications have been approved, with training satisfaction at around 90%.

We have helped the Scottish supply chain to capitalise on an expanding decommissioning market that is forecast to reach £17 billion by 2025. The decommissioning challenge fund has offered grant funding of £3.1 million for projects focused on delivering innovative infrastructure improvements and technological advances in this area. As part of the Aberdeen city region deal, the SNP has committed £90 million over the next decade to support the Oil & Gas Technology Centre.

We are looking at an uplift of over £194 million in the enterprise and energy budget to support entrepreneurship, construction and productivity. That additional funding will contribute to an investment of almost £2.4 billion in enterprise and skills through our enterprise agencies and skills bodies.

The Scottish Government offer an impressive range of support for the industry. As we move forward, I hope the UK can step up to the plate and do more to support the industry as it moves into its next phases of production. However, successive Tory and Labour Governments have continually exploited the oil and gas industry for cash, with little regard for its future sustainability. They have been quite content to rake in a tax take of £350 billion from North sea revenues alone over the past 50 years. The Tories failed to deliver any real fiscal support when the sector was in depression after the oil price dropped. I hope that is a lesson learned. This is an extremely important sector for the future, and we need to support it to allow it to continue, maintain jobs and transition out of oil and gas into other areas.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Devolved Government Relations), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment and Rural Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales)

On successive UK Governments’ management of the oil resource, I should say that in recent years Norway’s state-owned oil sector has generated many billions of pounds in Government revenue, while the UK has lost many. Does my hon. Friend agree that that points to a gross mismanagement of this valuable resource over many years by successive UK Governments?

Photo of Douglas Chapman Douglas Chapman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence Procurement & Nuclear Disarmament)

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Norway’s population is very similar to Scotland’s and it has a similar ability make good from the resource it found on its doorstep. It now has the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, yet in Scotland and the UK we have not put anything aside for future generations. That is a huge lost opportunity for the industry and the UK people.

Photo of David Duguid David Duguid Conservative, Banff and Buchan

We often hear about the Norwegian sovereign oil fund. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the same fund is investing heavily in the UK market as we prepare to leave the European Union?

Photo of Douglas Chapman Douglas Chapman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence Procurement & Nuclear Disarmament)

That is a fantastic option that Norway has, but in the UK we do not have that wealth fund to decide how we will invest in the future. That makes a bit of a mockery of us. We have had all that wealth; Norway has done a huge amount with theirs, but we have taken ours off our balance sheet and spent it as it came in. We should have put some away for future generations.

Photo of Ross Thomson Ross Thomson Conservative, Aberdeen South

I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point that there is no sovereign wealth fund in the UK, but the revenues generated from the oil and gas industry in the UK were used at the time to invest in what we enjoy now: hospitals and infrastructure. That money was used for huge investment in infrastructure that is still used today by people across the United Kingdom. In the 1970s, it was used to help lessen the costs of unemployment.

Photo of Douglas Chapman Douglas Chapman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence Procurement & Nuclear Disarmament)

The UK Government has had a spend, spend, spend approach, but as I said, I would like us to put away much more of that wealth for future generations. Perhaps it is a bit late to do that now; we probably should have started doing it from the beginning. It is easy to say in hindsight, but it should have been part of the overall oil and gas strategy right from the start.

It was interesting to hear the Chancellor’s reply to my hon. Friend Kirsty Blackman during the spring statement yesterday. He said:

“Scotland gets its share of…capital and resource, but precious little thanks do we ever hear from…the SNP Benches”.—[Official Report, 13 March 2019;
Vol. 656, c. 360.]

The fact that £350 billion went into Treasury coffers but not a brass farthing went directly into the Scottish economy underlines the point made by my hon. Friend Deidre Brock about what Scotland has got out of oil and gas. We could have had an awful lot more to benefit every man, woman and child in our country. The Chancellor’s concept of pooling and sharing is much different from mine.

I am grateful that the control, stewardship and the tax take will soon be back in Scotland’s hands—“stewardship” is the key word rather than “management”. I return to the eloquent point made by the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Hugh Gaffney) on safety: if companies are being brought to the table to talk about how to license certain fields, surely that is a fantastic opportunity to talk about their responsibilities for trade union recognition, and the safety and security of people who work on rigs far out in the North sea.

Scotland does not underestimate the vital part the oil and gas sector plays in meeting our energy needs; as the Committee points out, it is forecast that two thirds of the UK’s primary energy needs will be met from the North sea until at least 2035. However, we must also appreciate that we need to transition to a low-energy, low-carbon economy. Our world-leading, export-oriented supply chain already plays a positive role in that respect by looking at ways to reduce its carbon footprint at every turn. Average emissions per unit of production on the UK continental shelf have fallen year on year since 2013, and total emissions have been in decline since their peak in 2000.

Our oil and gas industry is awash with highly skilled individuals in possession of world-leading expertise. The sector currently supports 283,000 jobs across the UK. We must seek to hold on to those workers to retain the value they add to our economy. As I said, the Scottish Government’s transition training fund has made good progress in that regard, facilitating training for many oil and gas workers to move into renewables such as tidal, onshore and offshore wind, wave power and solar. However, the UK Government’s decision to slash funding for the renewable energy sector does not give us much encouragement. In fact, it does exactly the opposite, removing opportunities for talented individuals to utilise their skills to develop new wind technology and other low-carbon technologies such as carbon capture and storage—not so much opportunity knocks as an opportunity lost.

Brexit looms large in many people’s minds. We stand at a Brexit crossroads, with freefall into no deal on one side and a car crash of a bad deal on the other. It is inevitable that business across the UK will suffer if we ever actually leave the EU, but the oil and gas industry is likely to be one of the hardest hit, due to its highly globalised nature. With approximately £61 billion of oil and gas-related goods traded with the rest of the world, the threat of tariffs looms over the industry. In a worst-case scenario where the UK reverted to World Trade Organisation rules with the EU and the rest of the world, the cost of trade would likely almost double to around £1.1 billion per annum, assuming trading behaviours remained unchanged.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Procedure Committee

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that we want to share the time out: if he could wrap up in two minutes, that would be great.

Photo of Douglas Chapman Douglas Chapman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence Procurement & Nuclear Disarmament)

Certainly, Mr Walker; I will move on to my final comment.

The report’s conclusions focus on the positives: developing an ambitious deal for the sector as a whole, which I hope will be supported; developing new technology, which many Members spoke about, so we can recover more of what we need; reducing the costs of decommissioning; exporting the sector’s skills and experience, not just in exploration but in subsea work; and making the vital transition from carbon energy such as oil and gas to renewables—especially hydrogen, which could be a game changer and might just help save the planet. The opportunities remain immense, and the sector deal outlined by the Committee would offer energy security for decades to come and allow Scotland to remain a sector leader.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change) 2:33 pm, 14th March 2019

I congratulate the authors of the Select Committee’s excellent and wide-ranging report, and everyone who took part in the Committee’s proceedings. The report goes well beyond some previous considerations of the future of the North sea by putting it in the context of a number of other issues relating to where we stand on the exploitation of North sea oil and gas and what the future looks like.

As the report states, the North sea is a very mature basin. Hon. Members mentioned that its exploited resources total some 43 billion barrels, and estimates of what is left vary from about 8 billion to 10 billion barrels. Some of the discoveries to the west of Shetland notwithstanding, it is extremely likely that there will be no more Brents and that we will see the exploitation of smaller pools, which are more difficult to exploit. Clearly, there will be great emphasis on the efficiency of exploitation. The report emphasises the extent to which the oil and gas industry has increased its efficiency; it needs to continue to do so for that exploitation to be effective.

The report also goes into considerable detail about not just the future alternative paths, but what we might call the future imperative paths for the North sea as a mature basin. My hon. Friend Hugh Gaffney mentioned that the oil industry has come through a challenging period—it is in a better position than it has been in for quite a while, given its efficiency achievements and what is happening with the exploitation of future fields—but he drew attention to the need to look at a future industry for decommissioning in the context of the climate change imperative. I was pleased to see that the report did not duck climate change; quite a few of its passages actually centred on the challenges that the fight to get us to a low-carbon economy will present for the oil and gas industry, and on how the industry can take part in that process rather than opposing it.

Ross Thomson is right about the need to consider how decommissioning can be turned from a liability into an opportunity and, indeed, become a substantial part of the industry. We need only reflect on what is at stake: 250 fixed installations, 250 subsea platforms, 10,000 km of pipeline and 5,000 oil wells need to be decommissioned. The potential decommissioning industry is huge, not just in its own right but in terms of the expertise that already exists, which could be added to. The UK could be a world leader in decommissioning, exporting its expertise and methods. I commend the report’s attention to the detail of decommissioning and how it can be undertaken to the advantage of jobs, skills and exports for UK plc.

We must recognise that the imperative of climate change will cause us to take a considerable number of decisions about the oil and gas industry. Indeed, the report identifies a number of those decisions, one of which is the question of what we do about carbon capture, use and storage. That is not just a possible extension of activity and industry for the North sea as fields are depleted—indeed, those fields are enormous potential repositories for carbon dioxide—but can be used to the benefit of the North sea fields in their own right.

I would link that to the decommissioning efforts that are under way, because the next phase will be about exploiting smaller fields. That needs to be done on the back of existing infrastructure, which arguably should not be decommissioned but rather kept in place, so that those fields can be exploited without the infrastructure having to be completely replaced. If we decommissioned all that infrastructure when a lot of it could be used as the carrying capacity for carbon capture and storage, we may well live to regret it.

We need an understanding about future roles for the North sea. We should not only think about potentially depleted fields that could be repositories for carbon capture and storage, but look at practical considerations in respect of how the capture, transport and sequestration chain can be completed, possibly by using installations that are already there. The same applies to the future North sea wind industry. As Peter Aldous said, there is a close link between the skills and practical measures involved in developing offshore wind energy and maintaining the structure and infrastructure of the North sea oil and gas industry. Those two industries should work in tandem, rather than separately. As is mentioned in the report, that is important for satisfactory developments in the North sea and for the transfer of skills to the new industries. The skills, facilities and techniques that are already there in the North sea can greatly aid us in creating world-beating offshore wind energy installations and similar technologies, and ensure that the North sea plays its part in the transition to the attainment of a low-carbon energy economy.

In conclusion, the report marks an important milestone. It shows where we need to go next with the North sea oil and gas industry, and its recommendations and suggestions will stand the test of time. In the immediate future, I commend the report’s suggestion that we need to get on with a sector deal for the oil and gas industry. I do not need to say more about that, because I am sure the Minister will update us about it in his response. I emphasise my support for the need to get that deal over the line. In addition to milestones for the future, we have ambitions for the immediate time ahead to ensure that the oil and gas industry continues to be in a better position than it was in before and that it has the wherewithal to make its mark over the decades to come.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Procedure Committee

Minister, please could you leave two minutes at the end for Mr Wishart to wrap up?

Photo of Richard Harrington Richard Harrington Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 2:43 pm, 14th March 2019

Certainly, Mr Walker. It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. The Chairman of the Scottish Affairs Committee referred to you as a distinguished member of the Panel of Chairs. The next time I appear in front of him in a different capacity, I will remind him of that, as it implies that he is less than distinguished. I am sure nobody could say that about him; in fact, Mr Walker, I think you would agree that the opposite is true.

I congratulate the Scottish Affairs Committee and its Chairman on bringing forward the report, which I have read. One never knows what happens with Committee reports behind the scenes—the whole idea, of course, is that that information is privileged to the Committee—but from what I can gather, the Committee is an exemplar in the way that its members work cross-party. With the greatest respect to Douglas Chapman, the spokesman for the Scottish National Party, most of the comments today were of a non-partisan nature. I will try to answer in that spirit.

Ministers in Westminster Hall debates either give a prepared speech—written by civil servants, then checked and rewritten by Ministers—or respond to comments; the difficulty is that so many comments were made today, and I disagree with so few of them, but I will absolutely do my best.

The former Prime Minister referred to this sector as the real jewel in the crown of the UK economy. Of course, I would refer to the former Prime Minister as the jewel in the crown, but he is not here to answer that. I briefly held the energy portfolio, but I am here today because there was a fight of a verbal nature between myself and the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth as to who should appear at this debate. I cover sector deals generally and she covers the oil and gas sector, but we are not both allowed to speak. I discussed the subject extensively with her and I am trying to speak for us both.

When I held the energy portfolio I went on a visit to Aberdeen, and I was amazed by the way the industry was fighting back from a real recession, if not depression, caused entirely by the reduction of the oil price on the international markets. I have not had any experience in oil and gas, but I realised that the cycle was similar to those in the mining sector that I had read about, though I have no experience in mining, either. Once skills disappear, it can be difficult to restart. In mining, as in oil rigs, some sites can become disused, and it is difficult to get them back into action. Exactly the opposite has happened; I was amazed by the way the oil and gas industry fought its way out of the recession, especially given that the core bit—the international commodity price of oil—is completely beyond its control.

To paraphrase some of the Brexit debate—the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife brought Brexit into this, so I felt I should—the oil companies are market takers, rather than market makers. They cannot control the international oil price—the price of what they have to sell. At least, I assume they cannot; nothing I have read suggests that they can. The sector has changed itself into a lower-cost, more nimble industry, which is interesting. Some big companies found that difficult because of their high overheads, but other companies have come into the market, are more nimble and have new sources of cash. I found that fascinating.

On setting a regulatory environment in the oil and gas industry and funding for research and development—that funding can come about in different ways, including from Government—Government’s work has been absolutely brilliant. In these discussions, it is easy to criticise Governments generally, but please do not think I am making a party comment; any sensible Government would have done this. I am pleased to say that we have had a lot of sensible Governments in this country. My comments are not a reason for complacency, though; I hope hon. Members do not think that I am saying that.

I am completely ignoring the speech that I prepared because I was so excited by some of the things that were said. To an outside person, perhaps a reader of the Daily Mail, it may seem as if North sea oil is finished and the continental shelf is clapped out. The exact opposite seems to be the case. I am pleased that the report reiterates that, and that it has been confirmed by hon. Members. There is huge potential. I hope the Government are on top of it.

A formal response to the report will be made in the usual way. However, the major conclusion, as far as I can see, was that a sector deal—a really ambitious one—should be agreed. I absolutely share the Committee’s desire to support the sector; there is a close relationship there.

I will make one comment that might be politely critical, if it is possible to be politely critical, to Deidre Brock regarding what she said about the McCrone report. I know one should not talk about drinks party conversations, but I had the pleasure of meeting Gavin McCrone—I believe that is his name—once. I do not think it was quite a formal report. He was a well-respected adviser to different Scottish Secretaries of State, I seem to remember his telling me—if Gavin McCrone is the same person. The way the hon. Lady quoted him, if I may respectfully say so, was a little unfair to what has happened.

On sovereign wealth funds, Norway sounds really great—it is wonderful what it does; it invests billions of pounds all over the place—but it is a little bit selective to say that our money was squandered. First, as has been said, a lot of tax came from it. We have a big economy and a big population. It is not as though the money was spent somewhere else; it was spent for the benefit of everybody in the United Kingdom, so I do not accept the “squandering” point of view.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Devolved Government Relations), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment and Rural Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales)

I think we will have to agree to disagree on the benefits or otherwise of sovereign wealth funds, but can I ask about the taxation situation and North sea oil revenues? In 2017, Norway taxed the Royal Dutch Shell company £4.6 billion, while the UK gave the company £176 million. Can the Minister talk a little bit about the implications of those figures? I find them quite staggering.

Photo of Richard Harrington Richard Harrington Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

The hon. Lady has caught me unawares, because I am afraid tax is not one of my specialities; I apologise to her. I will find out about that, and if she would like me to write to her—or we could have a coffee together outwith this place—I would be happy to do so.

I should make some progress, because I am testing the patience of the Chair, and he wants two minutes left over. Trevor Garlick and the team have done a lot for the industry. He has brought a diverse sector together, which is the purpose of our sector deals; previously, most relationships between Government and companies seemed to be based on a few big companies that had very effective lobbying machines and knew the way the Government worked. In the oil and gas sector, he has helped to break that and has brought a lot of things forward.

The leadership has been very good, as have many of the work streams; we have five areas of focus in the report, but it seems to me that work on them is already being undertaken. For example, the National Decommissioning Centre has already been launched, with £38 million in funding. The Oil & Gas Technology Centre continues to lead on new technology and to support MER UK, which I was happy to visit in Aberdeen, on transformative technology. The work on exports that was mentioned is progressing well.

The work streams on other things that are part of Government policy, such as diversity and inclusion as well as CCUS, have developed very well. I was pleased that the Chancellor yesterday called for evidence to identify what more should be done to make Scotland and the UK a global hub for decommissioning, as the Chair of the Select Committee has talked about.

Photo of Hugh Gaffney Hugh Gaffney Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

The Chancellor yesterday mentioned, if I can rephrase him, using less gas by 2025. The Minister is talking about decommissioning. Is that not a worry for the oil and gas sector?

Photo of Richard Harrington Richard Harrington Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

If I were the hon. Gentleman, I would not worry about that. We are also asking how the sector can support the development of UK carbon capture, usage and storage infrastructure through the effective use of legacy assets. The focus on underwater engineering proposed by industry, as part of a phased approach, is welcome. We are a global leader in subsea engineering, a market forecast to grow exponentially, but competition is fierce.

I am responsible for sector deals generally, and I am very much looking forward to advancing these proposals. What impresses me most about the way this sector has developed is that with Mr Garlick’s work and the co-operation of many people in Government, Parliament and the industry, so many of these things are already happening. I am very impressed by that; I wish I could say that was true in other sectors that I have been involved in. I commend the Committee’s report, and I look forward to developing the points in it.

Photo of Danielle Rowley Danielle Rowley Labour, Midlothian

The Minister is coming to the end of his remarks, but I worry that he has not touched on the issues raised by my hon. Friend Hugh Gaffney. Can he outline how the Government will work with the workers in the industry and the unions?

Photo of Richard Harrington Richard Harrington Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

The hon. Lady has brought up an excellent point. From what I have seen—I expect to be corrected by her or by Hugh Gaffney if I am incorrect—I feel that there is a lot of co-operation between companies and the union. However, I was very concerned by the points that the hon. Gentleman brought up about the survey from Robert Gordon University on the stress and everything else; that is of concern. While this is, I hope, a highly-paid industry, it is one where we must be very conscious of health and safety—not just the formal things to do with safety regulations, but things to do with the wellbeing of the workers in it. Danielle Rowley was correct to bring the question to my attention; I am sorry I had not answered it in the body of my speech. I will confine my remarks to that, and thank the Committee again for the work it has done.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Procedure Committee

Mr Wishart, you have three minutes, 45 seconds, or thereabouts.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee 2:56 pm, 14th March 2019

I am grateful to you once again, Mr Walker. I thank everyone who has contributed to a very fine debate, which has touched on and explored most of the issues in the report. It is a report that all the Committee are proud of, and I am glad to see so many Committee members here, contributing and making their own particular points.

In particular, I am impressed with Hugh Gaffney, who reminded us of very real trade union-related issues that we touched on in the report. We took evidence from the trade unions, as he will remember from the visit to Aberdeen. We heard about his personal tragedy—something that was taken very seriously. Safety at work remains a live issue throughout the industry.

I am grateful to the Minister for the update on issues to do with the sector deal. I recognise that we are making solid progress on the global hub for decommissioning, but we need to hear a bit more about the other ambitions we mentioned—things that we believe should be included in the sector deal—particularly as regards transformational technology and underwater innovations.

We have a real opportunity to be world beaters here, and we cannot lose it, because it is so important to the sector. The skills that have been acquired over the decades of production in Aberdeen and the north-east must be utilised to full effect, and we must ensure that the investment follows that; £178 million of investment between Government and industry could return something in the region of £110 billion for the whole UK, but primarily for Scotland and the north-east. We must ensure that we get that investment and that support from Government.

I am grateful to Peter Aldous for reminding us again that this is a UK-wide industry, with a footprint in practically every nation of the UK and every region. That is something we recognise. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend Douglas Chapman for reminding us about the history of all this; I know this has been a consensual report and we have all ensured that we can agree on it, but in Scotland we still have issues about not being able to secure the benefits, and we look across the North sea at what Norway has secured and acquired. We will leave that to one side just now, but it is worthwhile our being reminded of that as we go forward, and seeing what we can do to ensure that we continue to see the fruits and benefits of the North sea.

The key point, which I think everyone touched on, is ensuring a just transition from a hydrocarbon past to a low-carbon future, and that the investment, skills and expertise carry on into the next stage. I do not like talking of doing away with what we have, or a lack of production. A new adventure is in store for the North sea, and that will include all the things in this report—transformational technology, underwater innovation and decommissioning.

We have a great future, if we are able to ensure that all the wonderful skills that have been acquired can be properly utilised in the next stage of the story of the North sea. I look forward to seeing that chapter written with the support of both Governments, and of Members of Parliament right across this House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered the Sixth Report of the Scottish Affairs Committee, The future of the oil and gas industry, HC 996.