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North Sea Oil and Gas

Volume 626: debated on Tuesday 27 June 2017

1. What recent discussions he has had with trade bodies and companies involved in extracting oil and gas from the North sea. (900016)

My Department is in regular contact with the oil and gas industry. As hon. Members will be aware, my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), met industry representatives regularly, both in London and in Aberdeen. On 23 March the Oil and Gas Authority awarded licences for 111 blocks to enable exploration and production across frontier areas—the first licensing round to focus on frontier areas in two decades. I look forward to continuing this relationship, which is very important for jobs and the wider economy. Indeed, in my first week in post I attended a reception at Imperial College London and met several companies and trade bodies in the field.

I thank the Minister for that answer and warmly welcome him to his new post. In 2016 the Chancellor announced that action would be taken to improve the tax regime for late-life asset transfers. In the 2017 Budget he re-announced the same policy, but now an expert panel is to be set up. Can the Minister let me know how many times the expert panel has met so far, and when we can expect the outcomes of its deliberations to be made public, as it says they will be on the website?

I thank the hon. Lady for that question. She and I have worked together in previous roles, and I look forward to visiting Aberdeen, where hopefully she will be able to explain this further. As far as late-life assets are concerned, we realise how important it is to get this right, and not just for the jobs and tax revenue, but for generating further investment. The discussion paper and the panel of experts are considering this. We look forward to hearing a wide range of views and will report our findings at the autumn Budget.

The Minister will be aware that over the past decade Qatar has become an increasingly important source of gas for the UK, not least from imports of liquefied natural gas through my constituency. What steps is he taking to ensure that the current diplomatic crisis in the Gulf affecting Qatar does not lead to any disruption of energy supply into the UK?

As my right hon. Friend will be aware, the Government are monitoring the situation very carefully, and we do not believe that it will make any difference whatsoever to liquefied gas supplies.

I welcome the Minister to his new post. Getting back to the North sea, the kind of action described by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) is vital, especially to help along the return optimism. The Scottish Government have invested £5 million to explore decommissioning opportunities in oil and gas that could grow many new jobs. When will we get action from the UK Government, and when will we see a robust and comprehensive future energy strategy from the UK Government?

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the Government have been very actively involved in funding seismic surveys and the 3D visualisation centre at Heriot-Watt University. I am looking forward to the next licensing round and to dealing with the strategy he mentioned. I should mention the Kraken development, which the Government have supported, because the first barrels of oil were produced last week, and we look forward to there being 50,000 barrels a day at peak.

The fact is that the UK Government have been slow to realise the potential of decommissioning, pulled funding from vital carbon capture and storage pipeline projects, failed adequately to address the drop in renewable energy investment and plunged public funds into risky and poor-value nuclear power projects against the advice of experts. When will this Government wake up and take our energy opportunities seriously?

I am afraid that I must completely disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s view of things. We are committed to supporting the development of a decommissioning industry. I think that there are significant opportunities. We are currently considering options for the delivery of a port and yard, and we will continue to engage closely with all relevant stakeholders as we develop our options.