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North Sea Oil and Gas

Volume 609: debated on Wednesday 11 May 2016

Of course this is an important sector and it faces difficult times. That is why I am delighted that the Chancellor announced a £1 billion package of measures in the Budget: a reduction in headline rates of tax; major investment opportunities and encouragement in relation to exploration, infrastructure and late-life assets; a quarter of a billion-pound Aberdeen city deal; and the creation of an inter-ministerial group specifically targeting the oil and gas sector.

Does the Minister agree that we need a long-term approach to secure the future of the jobs in the oil and gas sector in the North sea, and that part of that future is about making sure the skills that have been developed over many decades are not lost at a time when world prices are very low?

I could not agree with my hon. Friend more, which is why we have established an inter-ministerial group specifically looking at this and many other issues, and in a short period of time we will publish our workforce plan.

The North sea oil and gas industry provides vital home-grown feedstocks to Britain’s chemical industry—Britain’s largest manufacturing sector. Will the Minister assure the House that the Government will continue to take steps to support the many jobs that depend on this vital sector?

The short answer is, of course, yes. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work he does on the all-party group on the chemical industry. This is a very important sector. I meet people from it on a regular basis and I am very pleased to see the sort of work they are doing to increase exports.

Last week, I raised concerns about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the threat to our public services, only for them to be dismissed by the Prime Minister as

“the reddest of red herrings.”—[Official Report, 4 May 2016; Vol. 609, c. 170.]

Since then, several high-profile organisations, including Unite, have rejected his claims. Will the Secretary of State make representations to the Prime Minister to insist on specific exemptions to protect Scotland’s NHS and public services?

At this Dispatch Box, I and other Ministers repeatedly have said that these sorts of claims—[Interruption.] I am waiting for the right hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Gavin Williamson) to take his seat. I do not wish to be rude to the hon. Lady, but I must say that this is absolute rubbish that she puts forward, as others do. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is absolutely right: this is a red herring. I undertake to share with her all the letters from impartial sources who have written to support our contention that public services, especially the NHS, face no threat whatsoever from TTIP—it is a good idea.

I hope that the Minister is aware of the increasing anxiety of Scottish and indeed Teesside workers about reductions in investment in safety offshore and the failure in many cases of companies to work co-operatively with trade union safety representatives. What recent assessment has she made of safety offshore? What can we say to our constituents to reassure them that the Government are on the case?

The hon. Gentleman makes some very important points and I am more than happy to meet him to discuss them, including any allegations that the unions are not being fully engaged with. As he knows, I do not have a difficulty with trade unions, having been a shop steward. I am more than happy to have a meeting to discuss this important matter.