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Oil and Gas Authority

Volume 599: debated on Thursday 17 September 2015

8. What assessment she has made of the implications for her policy of (a) the findings of the Oil and Gas Authority's “Call to Action” report, published on 25 February 2015, on employment in the oil and gas industry and (b) that report's other findings; and what steps she plans to take to support employment in that industry. (901439)

The Government are fully committed to the oil and gas industry. In fact, the first visit that I made as the Minister was to Aberdeen. The industry is vital to our energy security, and it supports about 375,000 jobs across the United Kingdom. We fully recognise the huge challenge presented by lower oil prices, and accept the Oil and Gas Authority’s Call to Action report. The OGA is working with groups such as the Scottish Energy Jobs Taskforce to encourage companies to consider all possible alternatives to redundancy, as well as ensuring that we keep the vital skills that we will need in the future.

I welcome the OGA’s early identification of the need to support a technology and innovation strategy. What measures will the Minister introduce to encourage technology and innovation, and to boost efficiencies in the oil and gas sector?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the legislation to establish the OGA formally is currently being dealt with in the House of Lords. The authority’s key responsibility will be to maximise the economic recovery from the North sea basin, and it is already fully employed in that respect. The Government have made some fiscal changes to promote investment, and, importantly, we have also invested £20 million in seismic surveying of under-explored areas in the North sea basin to try to identify new opportunities for businesses that are based there, in order to encourage the investment that we so badly want.

17. Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am sorry; I was slightly thrown.I would appreciate it very much if the Minister would tell us what action the Government are taking to ensure that decommissioning is delayed for as long as possible. A total of 375,000 people are employed in the industry, directly and indirectly, and many of them are based in my city of Aberdeen. (901450)

You threw me as well, Mr Speaker, but I get the point.

I am entirely sympathetic to what the hon. Lady has said. We all agree on the need to avoid decommissioning for as long as possible. The OGA is working with operators throughout the supply chain to try to increase co-operation in relation to, for instance, supply ships, and to ensure that they share resources rather than saying, “That is mine, so you cannot have it.” A great deal of work is being done, but key to this will be looking at the long-term possibilities for new exploration. I hope the hon. Lady welcomes the new Culzean project near the Shetlands, which has just been given the go-ahead. That is a good example of what we can do if we all work together.

May I commend you, Mr Speaker, for the element of surprise that you are introducing to our proceedings?

According to the OGA’s report, more than 5,000 jobs were lost in the sector last year, but analysis carried out by Oil & Gas UK suggests that the wider impact on the industry could involve the loss of some 60,000 jobs. The industry’s calls for support must be listened to. A survey of 450 industry leaders, conducted by the Press and Journal’s Energy Voice, found that there was an overwhelming demand for tax breaks to boost exploration in the North sea, and those calls were echoed yesterday by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport workers. Does the Minister agree with me, and with industry leaders and trade unions, that the Government must provide incentives to encourage exploration and protect jobs?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Chancellor introduced some strong fiscal measures in the March Budget to maintain and build investment, including a reduction in the supplementary charge, introducing a new investment allowance and a reduction in the petroleum revenue tax from January 2016, and we will continue to look closely at what else we can do to provide that fiscal support for further exploration and to keep the oil and gas sector thriving in the North sea basin.