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Gas Tariffs Code (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019

Volume 799: debated on Thursday 26 September 2019

Motion to Approve

Moved by

My Lords, I did not expect such a packed House for my statutory instrument. Let me give your Lordships some background. EU legislation governing our energy markets will be incorporated into domestic legislation via the withdrawal Act retained law. The department is working to ensure this energy legislation continues to function smoothly after exit, and supports a well-functioning, competitive and resilient energy system for consumers.

What does this statutory instrument do? The Article 50 extension to 31 October means that additional EU law will now be retained. Chapters 2, 3 and 4 of the TAR code, which established network code on harmonised transmission tariff structures for gas, have applied since 31 May. We need to amend our previous legislation, the Gas (Security of Supply and Network Codes) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, to address inoperabilities in these additional chapters—for example, with reference to the naming of EU institutions. This supports our aim to retain regulatory functions and frameworks in all eventualities by keeping Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s gas markets working effectively, and by providing continuity for UK industry and its consumers.

The aims of TAR are to increase transparency and the coherence of tariff structures for gas sale and purchase and procedures used to set tariff structures. Tariff structures cover ways in which transmission system operators collect revenues associated with the provision of services at entry and exit points, and collect via capacity and commodity-based transmission tariffs and non-transmission tariffs.

Chapters 2, 3 and 4 applied across the UK and the EU from 31 May 2019. Regulations need to be amended by this statutory instrument to correct deficiencies in what will be the retained EU law—namely, where we state EU entity functions and references to EU institutions and bodies. Deficiencies need to be removed or replaced with reference to UK entities—for example, replacing “member states” with references to UK elements. The regime introduced by TAR is retained, subject to these amendments. The statutory instrument aims to maintain existing domestic rules while amending or removing provisions no longer functioning on exit day. It also aims to retain technical specifications wherever possible, with the result of maximising business continuity for market participants and cross-border gas trading.

In conclusion, the regulations are an appropriate use of the powers of the withdrawal Act to maximise business continuity for UK market operators, facilitate continued efficient international trade in gas, and help to protect security of affordable gas supplies for UK consumers. On that basis, I commend these regulations to the House.

My Lords, first, I welcome the Minister to his role. I know this has already been done by our official Front-Bench spokesman, but I very much welcome that he has taken on this broader brief, particularly when the areas of climate change and energy are of great importance—globally as well as within this country. I have no issue with this secondary legislation, but it enables us to ask some key questions related to energy markets, Brexit and, in particular, gas.

The first area that I want to explore is the island of Ireland. As the Minister will be well aware, there is a single energy market across the Irish Sea. I notice particularly that this statutory instrument covers the whole United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland. It is important for the Minister at this stage, particularly in the context of potential no deal, which this secondary legislation is about, to assure us that the single energy market, which includes gas as well as electricity, remains coherent. There are ways of making it remain coherent, given the total dependency that there is on energy supplies between both sides of the border in a no-deal situation. The Republic of Ireland is almost completely dependent on the UK for its gas supplies—gas is starting to come through from its own fields, but that is far from full at the moment—and any disruption of that totally integrated market would be very negative for both the Province of Northern Ireland and the Republic.

I also want to ask about interconnectors, which are an increasingly important part of our energy strategy, and rightly so; I have welcomed many times the fact that we have pushed the interconnector concept forward in relation to energy balancing within the UK, particularly with the increase in renewables. When it comes to gas, we have three interconnectors: one is with Ireland, of course, but we also have them with the Netherlands and Belgium. Again, I seek the Minister’s reassurances—I hope with some reason—that those interconnectors will continue to work, given the fact that we have had, albeit on the electricity side rather than gas, a number of energy incidents recently that mean that our energy security is particularly important in this area. As I understand it, PRISMA and the systems around it will stay in place but, as we come out of the internal energy market if we have a no-deal Brexit, I am not confident that those interconnectors will be quite so straightforward as they might be.

I wish to push the envelope slightly into the important area of oil. As I understand it, the Government have said that when we leave the European Union, however we do so, one area that has not been dealt with in terms of a rollover of European law will be the reserves of petroleum held by the UK after Brexit, and that the Government do not feel bound by the European Union rules on fuel reserves, which I think would mean some 85 million barrels of petroleum being held within our reserves. Rather, they are looking to the International Energy Agency rules, which would reduce that to 35 million barrels, under half that figure. I understand that some of that reserve is actually held in the Rotterdam/Antwerp area. If that is the case, I wish to be reassured by the Minister that in the event of no deal we would still have access to those reserves abroad.

Given the situations in Saudi Arabia with the drone attack, in the Strait of Hormuz, in Iran and in Venezuela, I caution strongly that at this time we should not look to reduce our petroleum reserves in the United Kingdom. This is fundamental to our national security and I urge severe caution on the Government. I would be very interested to hear the Minister’s response to that.

In the Mansion House speech by the previous Prime Minister, and indeed this has since been confirmed by the previous Minister, Claire Perry, we intended to remain—if we could, difficult though that may be outside the single market—a member of the internal energy market, where we have been one of the greatest proponents of liberalisation and one of the countries that has done most to set up that internal market. I wonder whether it is still government policy to try to remain within that energy market, which covers gas as well as electricity.

One of the fears of the gas industry on Brexit is about our need for labour mobility. This industry, more than almost all others, depends on the mobility of expertise and the way that it operates. Why should the Minister be confident of keeping that expertise in circulation following Brexit?

Lastly, this statutory instrument mentions the transmission systems operator. Since the electricity brownout during the Summer Recess, there has been a question about conflict of interest and whether National Grid is the right body to remain as the transmission systems operator. Will the Minister comment on this with reference to the gas side of that operation?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, has raised some very penetrating and expert questions—as one would expect from him—and I will briefly pursue two of them. He referred to our connectors. Of course, most of our interconnectors are for electricity, but there are some important gas connectors. These are part of our gas import scene, which is vastly important, given that domestic onshore gas is not really happening and offshore gas is still not at the level that it was. Post Brexit, will the auction rules on the granting of contracts for developing gas supplies and turbines apply equally to gas that originates inside the EU and comes to us when we are outside it? Remaining in the internal energy market of the European Union would be fine, but it is undergoing considerable stresses and strains—including, notably, the ever-growing appetite of Germany for imported gas, particularly Russian gas, from both existing pipelines and the new Nord Stream, which seems to be going ahead although the Americans oppose it. Will the Minister show a little more of the Government’s hand and their attitude to the internal energy market, which is not working well—it is causing considerable difficulties in eastern and central Europe—and requires a steady hand to ensure that it works for us if we remain in it?

Building on the interventions by the noble Lords, Lord Teverson and Lord Howell, I have a question. The Minister will be aware that gas networks and cross-border supplies are a matter of high politics and security, as well as energy policy. The Russians, in their disputes with Ukraine, frequently threaten to interfere with gas supplies crossing Ukraine. When originally proposed, the new German pipeline that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, referred to, which connects Germany and Russia, was described by Poland and the Baltic states as the economic equivalent of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, in that it exposed them and made them vulnerable to discrimination by Russia, to put political pressure on their democracies.

As I understand it, if there was a such a crisis involving Russian gas supplies, we would be protected by the principle of non-discrimination, because we are members of the internal market. In other words, if there was pressure on gas supplies on the continent it would not be legal for suppliers on the continent to turn off the taps to Britain. What will the situation be when we leave the EU: will we have those kinds of legal protections, and will the Minister enlighten us as to what they are?

My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, in welcoming the Minister to the Dispatch Box. I am sure that in preparing for this SI, looking through the paperwork and the impact assessment, which says there is no significant impact, he might have thought this was a nice, easy one, but the noble Lords, Lord Howell, Lord Teverson and Lord Liddle, have rightly asked further far-reaching questions on the wider issues of energy and gas supply as we move forward. I shall take the Minister back to the start.

The regulations before us deal with the establishment of a network code on harmonised transmission tariff structures for gas, arising from the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. This issue was debated at length during the debate on the Gas (Security of Supply and Network Codes) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. The Explanatory Memorandum makes it clear that today’s instrument is needed because exit day has been pushed back: it therefore amends those regulations. Will the Minister therefore begin by assuring the House that these regulations do not mark any shift in policy towards the regulatory framework relating to gas?

Looking briefly at how these regulations were laid, I need not remind the House that they would not have been debated and passed until next month had the Supreme Court not announced that Prorogation was invalid. In such a situation, can the Minister be certain that they would have completed their passage before exit day? If not, what would the consequences have been? On the drafting of these regulations, the House will be aware that other regulations need to be amended as a result of the change in exit date. Will the Minister explain why these need to be amended? If this instrument is necessary to make such a small change, will he say why the Government chose to pass this through the affirmative procedure?

More widely, the regulatory framework is an important cornerstone of energy policy, and while the subject has been debated at length, I want to return to one core issue. My noble friend Lord Grantchester has been vocal on the transfer of powers relating to energy policy, particularly on the many responsibilities due to be handed to Ofgem, which has faced budgetary constraints under this Government. Can the Minister say whether any further regulations due to be laid before exit day will transfer any energy powers to UK agencies? Going back to a point made by the three noble Lords who spoke earlier, protecting our energy supply is critical to our safety and security in such difficult and troubling times. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that retention of the petroleum reserves is an issue of national security. Although it does not relate directly to the SI, some words about that from the Minister on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government would be appreciated.

I thank all noble Lords for their participation in this short but none the less instructive debate. I will begin where the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, left off, to answer some of the questions specific to the statutory instrument.

The issue to remember is that because we did not leave on 31 March, the legislation that had been passed at that point as retained law had to incorporate the fact that this piece of EU law was passed on 31 May and therefore became part of EU retained law. The reason we have brought this back now is that there are certain elements of that retained law which would need to be adjusted to be functional after Brexit within domestic law. The changes are relatively modest but none the less critical.

The answer to why it was done via the affirmative procedure is simple: because it has elements in relation to fees. As to whether it represents any shift in our policy, at a fundamental level the answer is no. This is simply a tidying-up exercise, which is modest in its implications but none the less critical to make sure that there is a functioning statute book after Brexit. As to the transfer of powers to Ofgem—it was not in my briefing pack but it is now—in the transfer of powers from the EU regulator ACER to Ofgem, no additional powers are created.

Those are the specific answers to the questions on the statutory instrument. I will now turn to the questions raised by noble Lords and begin, in order, with the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. One of the important things to stress about the market on the island of Ireland is that it is a single electricity market, not a single gas market. The gas does not cross the borders, only the electricity. The UK Government remain fully committed—as do the Irish Government—to ensuring the single electricity market on the island of Ireland. We believe that will be a priority for both Governments to ensure.

There is an interconnector transferring gas from the United Kingdom into the Republic of Ireland and we do not anticipate that that will be affected by any of these issues. The gas market across the EU is a remarkably—I want to use the term without meaning it as a pun—liquid market, but it is a very significant and successful market.

When it comes to interconnectors with the EU, touching on some of the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, we secure only 5% of our gas from the EU. It is a modest amount. Will that be affected by some of the geopolitics on the continent of Europe? We do not anticipate so, but have reserves which will allow us to secure continued use of gas during any such period.

My noble friend Lord Howell raised the wider situation on the continent of Europe. It is important to look at some of the real challenges this creates for the continent, the EU and ourselves. The first thing to stress is that we believe the Nord Stream pipeline is a problematic reality, which is why we are supportive of where Ukraine stands. However, there are also serious issues for the states to the east of the European Union. In this country we are moving swiftly towards decarbonisation but Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and others are presently faced by the impossible devil’s dilemma of having to continue with their indigenous coal reserves being utilised or importing from Russia. Noble Lords can appreciate the dilemma that creates for the EU as it seeks to determine a decarbonised agenda. We have been, as a number of noble Lords have noted, a very liberalising influence in trying to secure the movement going forward to help those countries decarbonise, but it is, as my noble friend Lord Howell correctly stresses, one of the greater challenges faced by the continent today.

We will seek to continue to be participants in the energy markets of the EU. Brexit will have an impact on that and it is very difficult for me to anticipate exactly how we shall continue in that area. For example, one of the issues on which we have been a great leader inside the European Union is emissions trading, where we have sought from a leadership position to encourage the decarbonisation through a market-based regime. Exactly how we will continue to do so after Brexit remains to be determined. Part of the difficulty, with which noble Lords will be very familiar, is that we are unable to begin to negotiate the future relationship until we have established the departure. Some of these questions which rightly should not only be answered now but should have been some time ago have not been answered. On that basis, we cannot do it unanimously and must wait until such time as we can move this forward with the EU after Brexit.

I thank the Minister for giving way. What I am trying to get at here is that the previous Government—the previous Prime Minister and her Ministers—were able to say, “We want to remain a part of the internal energy market. We may not achieve it, but that is our intent”. I am very aware that the present Prime Minister is trying to quite substantially change the political agreement within any withdrawal agreement, and I am trying to determine what government policy relating to this is known. Is the position the same or has it changed?

Let me be very specific: it is the policy of this Government to remain part of the internal energy market. The policy has not changed—for the same reasons, in truth, that applied before. They still apply today.

I will write with a specific answer to the question about petroleum reserves, which might be helpful. It is important to stress that it is government policy to ensure that the reserves are adequate for every eventuality. They must be stress tested necessarily through the challenges that Brexit represents. It is not our ambition to in any way put at risk what those reserves mean for the functioning of the wider energy situation in the United Kingdom. I also stress that we are—primarily in gas, certainly—dependent on imports from outwith the EU as a whole, although not primarily from Russia.

We are talking about gas and not oil reserves. That means gas storage. As we know, our own gas storage system is not all that reliable and has within recent memory gone down quite severely, with devastating effects on short-term gas prices. Are we planning any further storage projects of the kind we have had in the past, or to replace the Rough storage facility in the North Sea as a result of moving into the Brexit situation?

I do not believe that the Brexit situation changes the dynamic of how we approach the wider question of gas storage. We need to make sure that the storage is adequate for any—in fact, every—eventuality. Brexit itself has not changed the policy on that. It will be our intention to ensure that it is not only adequate but able to anticipate whatever challenges come ahead. We will remain committed to that end.

I will not interrupt again. However, I feel that this is a really important national issue. Will the Minister confirm or give us assurance that, following Brexit, the Government will not—immediately or within a short period of time—reduce the amount of petroleum reserves that have to be held in this country?

The Government will ensure that the reserves held are adequate for every eventuality. I suspect that the noble Lord is asking a more fundamental question, which is whether that limit should be set by the EU or follow international standards. Quite clearly, in both instances, it is important for the Government to judge what is right for the United Kingdom. We will do so on that basis.

I think that I have just about tackled all the issues. If I have missed anything out, I am very happy to respond in writing. On that basis, I beg to move.

Motion agreed.