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.