Rt Hon Lord Lilley

    Lord Lilley:

    My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, both of whom seem to be against the Bill because the positives are small. One is normally against things because they are negative. The only negative the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, came up with was that it sends out the wrong messages. I have observed a general rule in politics, that when the only argument anyone has against something is that it sends out the wrong messages, they do not really have an argument against it at all.

    The question that faces us is whether this Bill is compatible with our commitment to reach net zero by 2050. It is a huge challenge: a huge engineering challenge that, according to the former chief scientific adviser to the Department for Environment and professor of engineering at Cambridge, Professor Kelly, is impossible to achieve; let us hope he is wrong. It is a huge economic challenge that, according to a former economist at the World Bank and now professor of energy economics at Edinburgh University, is economically impossible to achieve; let us hope that he too is wrong. Let us assume for the purposes of this debate that these objectives are achievable. What we cannot do is add problems, even small ones, to those mammoth engineering and economics problems by doing things that add to emissions, rather than reduce them; that add to costs, rather than reduce them; and that reduce, albeit by a small amount, our own GDP and tax revenues, which we will need to pay for the transition to net zero.

    The sensible path to net zero that we, like other like- minded countries, have adopted is to phase out demand for fossil fuels, not their supply. If energy companies choose to invest in more fossil fuel capacity than is needed, they will lose money; that should not be our primary concern, except for those who happen to have a financial interest in the oil industry. If the UK unilaterally stops producing fossil fuels, which would be a bizarre thing to do if we do not ban their import, others will step in and supply the fossil fuels that we failed to produce but could have. They will also replace any fossil fuels that we provided to the rest of the world. If the whole world were to try to reduce the supply of fossil fuels, as well as phasing out demand, that would have no effect if we did not phase out the supply as rapidly as we reduced the demand. Or, if we phased out the supply more rapidly than we reduced the demand, it would create shortages, massive price rises and huge profits for the oil industry. It would do to ourselves and the world exactly what Putin did to us when he invaded Ukraine and reduced supplies. Is that what the opponents of this Bill want to achieve? Or are they solely interested in the UK stopping the production of oil and gas, rather than the rest of the world stopping it?

    Even if our fossil fuels did not involve fewer emissions in extraction and transport, or, in the case of gas, additional emissions over and above that in liquefaction and regasification, there would still be a very sensible case for us to keep producing such oil and gas as is available in the North Sea. Remember, the UK plans to reduce emissions not just by reducing demand for and use of fossil fuels, but by employing carbon capture and storage. That is a sensible thing to do because, according to the Climate Change Committee, our estimates and those of others suggest that without resort to carbon capture and storage, the cost of meeting the 2050 targets would be twice as high. We will use carbon capture and storage, which means we will continue to use oil and gas up to and after 2050—unless, of course, people on the other side want to double the cost of meeting the net-zero commitment.

    I got the impression from the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, that the Labour Party’s approach to this is based on the assumption that there is a choice between continuing to produce new oil and gas fields in the North Sea and developing renewables in the North Sea and elsewhere. There is no such alternative. We can do both, we are doing both and we should continue to do so. He also argued, as did the noble Baroness, that all the benefits of producing oil and gas in the North Sea are small ones: there will be only a small benefit in emissions reductions; there will be only a small benefit to the economy; there will be only a small benefit in extra tax revenues; and there will be only a small benefit in saving jobs and energy security. Well, small benefits are better than none, and we should pocket them if we can. The noble Baroness quoted Global Witness evidence that the claim that the oil and gas industry employs 200,000 jobs is wrong. She said— and I have no reason to doubt her or Global Witness—that the real figure is 27,600. Global Witness says that this does not matter, but it still seems a lot of jobs. It is pretty heartless to say to those 27,600 people, who are largely in Scotland, that their jobs do not matter and they can probably find a job in the renewables industry, if they are lucky, because they have transferable skills, notwithstanding the disruption and the need to move.

    The other argument—

    Baroness Hayman:

    I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He quoted me; otherwise, I would not interrupt him on Second Reading. I did not quote the Global Witness figures—which I do have—because they are complicated and quite difficult to discern. I quoted the ONS figures, which state that, over the period to which they refer, renewable roles increased by 70%, whereas in hard numbers, there were nearly 48,000 roles in renewable energy, which is considerably more than the 30,000 direct roles remaining in oil and gas. I did not talk about the 200,000 figure; I gave simply the ONS figures showing that there are more jobs in renewables than in oil and gas, and they are growing faster.

    Lord Lilley:

    I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that clarification. Somebody used the 200,000 figure—it must have been the noble Lord, Lord Lennie. Anyway, it does not matter.

    Lord Lennie:

    The Minister.

    Lord Lilley:

    The Minister did. The noble Baroness has acknowledged that the figure is about 30,000, rather than 27,600; I do not really see the difference, frankly. The point is not which figure is bigger. Why should we sacrifice 30,000 jobs?

    Baroness Hayman:

    We are not sacrificing them.

    Lord Lilley:

    The proposal is to sacrifice them if we phase out that industry more rapidly than would otherwise occur. I give way to the noble Baroness if she has some alternative.

    Baroness Hayman:

    I think I quoted the Minister correctly. He talked about the invaluable skills of people in the oil and gas industry, and how those could be transferred into our own industries and not lost to foreign competitors. When I went to a wind farm, the guy who was helping us to go right to the top of the wind turbine told me that he used to work on the oil rigs in the North Sea. He had seen the way the wind was blowing—if that is the correct term—and he took a job in renewable energy, so I am not in the business of sacrificing anybody’s jobs.

    Lord Lilley:

    I mentioned the possibility that people were claiming they could move across, and some of them will, but it will mean disruption. We should not unnecessarily require people to give up a job and —hopefully—take on another one. As the noble Baroness said, these jobs already exist and will go on increasing in number if we increase investment in renewables. I have not argued against that at all. The two types of job are perfectly compatible. Both can exist side by side, instead of there being only one lot of jobs.

    The other argument is that 80% of our oil is sent overseas to be refined, and so production of our own crude oil does not result in any security. I used to be an oil analyst in the City, examining how these things work. If, in a crisis, a country has supplies of crude, it can trade it for other types of crude that work in its own refineries. This is how the market works. It does give you security because you can say, “We will send you that and, in return, we want products or the equivalent amount of crude that we can refine ourselves”. It gives greater security—not a huge amount because we do not have a huge amount of oil and gas, but a bit of security is better than none.

    The arguments used by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, and in most of the briefing notes that I have seen, are all about how small the advantages from the Bill will be. The Climate Change Committee—the Government’s official independent adviser—has come out against this Bill and the Government’s decision to continue licensing new fields in the North Sea. I put the arguments I have made so far to its outgoing chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Deben, who is a colleague and my old friend, when he appeared before the Environment and Climate Change Committee. I asked him whether he wanted the whole world to phase out oil and gas, or just the UK. He said, in effect, “Just the UK”. He said:

    “The world is producing oil sufficient to meet our needs … There are many countries in the world that will still be producing oil and have no intention of reducing that. There are other countries that could produce oil and gas and have to make a choice between going down that route and going down the route of renewables. We have a duty to try to get them to make the right decision because otherwise we will destroy our world and ourselves … We have to get other countries to do the right thing … If you say to a country that does not have oil, ‘You have a chance to produce oil and your future will be with oil’, I am afraid it will not go for renewables, even though this is the real answer … We have to set an example”.

    I find that argument absolutely pathetic and incredible. The idea that phasing out production in the North Sea more rapidly than need be is going to persuade some African country which finds oil not to produce its oil but to go down the route of producing renewables is just ludicrous. It could, of course, do both. We should recognise that this is the only argument that the Government’s own independent advisers have against the Bill.

    We should recognise that, in law, the Climate Change Committee has no role in advising about the supply of oil and gas. Its role is about phasing out emissions, so it is acting ultra vires even in coming out with its recommendations against this Bill. That is as maybe.

    Other arguments suggest that it would be bad for the environment—that dolphins and other wildlife would be disturbed by offshore oilfields. Of course, they would be equally disturbed by offshore wind farms. This does not seem a wholly credible argument.

    Most people argue as if allowing petroleum licences and producing renewables are alternatives. The Bill will not stop renewables at all. In so far as it boosts the economy and tax revenues, it will help fund the transition. There is no time limit on speeches. In my view, by the same logic that applies to the Bill, we should also allow the production of oil and gas on shore. We should license onshore exploration and drilling for shale gas, subject to a local referendum in the area where it occurs, and to allowing the companies that wish to drill to offer incentives to those in that area. I have been told that they are prepared to pay £1,000 per head and subsequently to offer cheap gas if they find it.

    Why do we not do this? I know enough about the oil industry to know that everything is uncertain, but there is a lot down there. I do not know whether or not we can get it out of the shale. If we can, all the arguments that there is only a small amount disappear because the potential quantities are very large.

    I hope that we will not be carried away by those who object to producing oil and gas. It is a luxury belief. They can oppose production because it has no direct effect on them, but it will marginally impoverish the rest of us. This is not something to which we should give in.


    Lord Lilley:

    After the noble Baroness’s gratuitous insult at the beginning, I am grateful to her for giving way at this point.

    Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb:

    It is the industry that is the dinosaur, not you.

    Lord Lilley:

    That was very kind of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. She is an apologist for the noble Baroness, Lady Young. Now I have almost forgotten what I was going to ask. Is the noble Baroness, Lady Young, happy that we should do without carbon capture and storage at a risk, according to the estimates of the Climate Change Committee, of doubling the total cost—trillions of pounds—of meeting the net-zero target?

    Baroness Young of Old Scone:

    I would be delighted to be confident that carbon capture and storage would fill a substantial gap, but so far we do not have the practical evidence that it can be done. Until that is so, we should not increase the burden on a technology that is not yet established or proven. I personally think that, when the Climate Change Committee put the carbon capture and storage element into the net-zero budget, it was being a bit optimistic, as it was about some other issues. When one looks at the amount of public subsidy going towards Drax—the ultimate dream for carbon capture, storage and reuse—one wonders whether this is another example of the overdue influence of industry.

    The noble Lord talked about tax revenues and I was a bit speechless in response: “We are getting tax revenues from something that is quite harmful, but the tax revenues are important; therefore, we have to keep doing the harmful thing”. That is like saying that people smuggling is pretty profitable, even if it is harmful, so we should have a national people smuggling enterprise that brings in some reserves and revenue for the Government. I do not accept the tax revenue issue.

    The benefits of the Bill are far from what they are cracked up to be and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, will be glad that I will talk about some downsides. The first is marine protected areas. We know that more than a quarter of the oil and gas blocks approved in the October 2023 round were within marine protected areas. Our marine protected areas are in poor condition; only 8% offer effective protection for nature, which is the reason they were created. The clue is in the title. MPAs are an important component of the Government’s Environment Act targets and their international commitment, under the global biodiversity framework, to protect nature effectively in 30% of the sea by 2030. We helped lead that framework at COP and now we are authorising additional licensing of blocks in marine protected areas, as part of the commitment in the Bill.

    The International Union for Conservation of Nature, which is the United Nations official body, has guidance that recommends that no industrialised activities take place within MPAs. The Bill clearly rejects that guidance. Just in case noble Lords do not know what the impacts on MPAs are, I should say that they are not the same as for wind power. Some of them are about oil itself. That does not include gross oil spills; generally speaking, we must praise the oil industry around this country—not necessarily elsewhere—for having been fairly successful in reducing the risk of major oil pollution incidents. However, persistent micro-spills do quite a lot of damage to the water quality, from the top to the bottom of the sea. There are also other pollutants from other chemicals used in the operation of oil and gas extraction.

    The second issue sounds a bit weird, but is quite important. There is a lot of evidence that seismic survey noise really impacts marine mammals in particular, as well as commercially important fish species and the invertebrates on which they all live. We do not yet know enough about how strong the harm is, but we know that it is substantial.

    The third issue is direct destruction of seabed habitats—for example, cold-water corals and deep-sea sponge communities. It is not just that I am carrying a flag for deep-sea sponges, though as a biodiversity fan I am sure they are very lovely; they are actually important carbon storage mechanisms, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, my partner in crime, and important for nutrient cycles that help keep our oceans clean. We ignore at our peril the biodiversity and conservation downsides.

    I personally think this Bill is unnecessary, unwanted and damaging to climate, biodiversity and, as we have said before, our own international reputation, which should not be discounted. It is very easy to say that the only argument we can put is that it will not look good, but that is not what we are talking about. We have taken a leadership role in the world on this issue, and persuaded other countries—of the sort that the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, felt would not be persuaded—to do the right thing rather than the wrong thing. We would be junking that international reputation, as we have done successively with several announcements over the last year and a half.

    If the Government really want to waste their political capital driving this Bill through, it needs substantial amendment. First, we need to exempt completely marine protected areas from the oil and gas exploration and production blocks. Secondly—and you would expect this from somebody who has spent their life in government on a land use framework—we need a sea use framework. I understand that the Government are already working on a marine spatial prioritisation programme, designed to allocate and prioritise sea space for currently competing activities. Exactly the same problem that we have on land, we have at sea. I urge the Government to complete that work programme quickly, and to add a further test—a spatial prioritisation test—to the carbon intensity and net importer tests already in the Bill, inadequate as they are. This would make blocks available for licensing only if such activities could be shown to be compatible with the achievement of the objectives of the Environment Act and climate change targets. That would be set out in a marine spatial prioritisation programme.

    To be honest, the Minister knows in his heart that the North Sea Transition Authority and the nation do not need this Bill. The Climate Change Committee says that there will be a need for some oil and gas after net zero, but that does not justify the development of new North Sea fields. Although we could amend this Bill, it is bit like the pig in lipstick: we could put lipstick on the pig but it will still be a pig. Why does the Minister not just withdraw this silly Bill and we can all go home for Easter?


    Baroness Boycott:

    My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, but I feel reluctant to stand up because the Bill seems to have little genuine purpose. It is distracting us from what we need to concentrate on, which is tackling the twin threats of climate change and biodiversity loss. The context of the Bill and our international reputation are really important, as several noble Lords have said. This is one of the biggest election years in history and one of the most important too, as the fight against climate change becomes so pivotal. We cannot have it both ways: wanting to be a leader in the world and then doing something that contradicts that.

    People do read the headlines and they will see the one that says, “UK set to open more oil and gas fields”. What does it tell the world? That we think this is okay and in some weird way compatible with the Paris Agreement? We know that is not the case. The International Energy Agency has been clear about that and, last year, global temperatures were 1.46 degrees above their global pre-industrial average. As we all know, in Paris we agreed to try to shoot for 1.5 degrees. I think I heard the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, correctly when he said that trying to have a non-carbon economy was a luxury belief, but it does not feel much like luxury—

    Lord Lilley:

    I was saying that stopping supply, rather than phasing out demand, is a luxury belief.

    Baroness Boycott:

    I would contradict that too, because we do not have the time to figure out the difference between them. At the end of the day, they are the same thing. Many people who live in California, which was just mentioned, have lost their homes. If you live in Bangladesh, you have lost your homes; if you are a farmer in this country, you have been unable to plant your crops this year because of the level of rain. This is not a fantasy. It is something that is with us.

    Personally, if we lived in an ideal world the Bill should be scrapped, and in doing so the Government would find themselves extraordinarily popular with a lot of people. But specifically, I congratulate whoever creatively came up with two tests that are impossible to fail, while ignoring the emissions associated with the predominant commodity in the North Sea—oil. They might as well read, “If autumn has arrived, run a licensing round”. However, we are not in an ideal world so, if the Bill passes, we have to improve it. Thankfully, there are things we can do.

    One, of course, is protecting the marine environments or, as the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, just said, having no exploration in MPAs. I hope she will put in an amendment on that at the next stage. We could also look at the weak emissions reduction targets of 50% by 2030 and go instead for what the CCC recommended, which is a feasible 68%. We could do this.

    The Bill could also make progress on banning venting and flaring, which has been illegal in Norway since the 1970s. Even though Norway produces a lot of oil, at least it has managed to cut down the methane which, as we know, is 80 times more potent over a 20-year period, so that is something we could do. I urge Ministers to implement the recommendation by the Commons EAC to implement that ban by the end of next year.

    Jobs have been in decline, as we have heard, for many years yet there is still no skills passport available for workers who want to transition. We could try to do that.

    Taking a step back, let us think about what is going on in the world. This month, the CEO of Saudi Aramco said in Houston at the annual hydrocarbon festival known as CERAWeek:

    “We should abandon the fantasy of phasing out oil and gas, and instead invest in them adequately, reflecting realistic demand assumptions”.

    However, we can meet the demand we need with renewables if they are sufficiently scaled up. It is more about where the power, or the fuel, comes from: thousands of miles into the earth or from our own natural elements.

    Recent policy changes mean that we will need more carbon fuels. For example, the analysis by New AutoMotive shows that the potential supply from future licensing would be completely offset by reduced demand if we returned to the original 2030 target for ICE—internal combustion engine—phaseout. We claim that we are helping people but, in reality, we are not. Money, it seems, always triumphs. This month, Exxon CEO Darren Woods explained it simply as an all-out fight to derail anything green because it would not return “above average profits”. This shows that we can never rely on the industry to take the lead in reducing emissions. The Government have to act.

    Let us be clear: the Bill will not help the average citizen of this country or indeed any other. We are kidding ourselves if we think that the oil and gas companies, and increasingly private equity firms, really care about reducing emissions. The Government make great emphasis in their carbon budgets on our having CCS technology, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, referred to, but despite the fine words this is unproven.

    In my role as vice-chair of Peers for the Planet, I recently invited Sir Tim Smit, the founder of the Eden Project, to speak to colleagues. During his speech, he said that we should remember the person—the adult—we wanted to be at 19, stand there and make them proud. It is obviously a challenge to remember what it felt like at 19 but I can remember that I thought it was my role to try to make the world a better place. I suspect that everybody who has found their way on to these Benches had similar thoughts: make the world better and use what energy you have—what God has given you.

    At that point when I was 19, fossil fuel companies were just discovering exactly the kind of damage they were doing, but now we know. We have just had the hottest year on record. I would be aghast, as a 19 year- old, that I had to sit here and fight against something that seems so palpably obvious. At 19, I was fighting for women’s rights—quite honestly, there were no women in this place then—and we proved that was right, so now we are having another extraordinary fight about scientific facts.

    It is clear that the Bill is the wrong thing to legislate for. I urge noble Lords that if they cannot justify the Bill to themselves, they should at least try to justify it to their children and their grandchildren.