John Redwood: I welcome the Bill because it attempts to deal with some of the damage that has accumulated in recent years as a result of the policies of the Labour Government, who neglected the need for more energy and security of supply, and some of the European Union’s interventions.
I welcome the cross-party attempts to breathe some life into the North sea industry, which has been crucial over many years. As many have pointed out, it is going through a troubled time and anything that can be done by the Oil and Gas Authority or directly by the Government is to be welcomed. For example, now is a good time to remove the petroleum revenue tax, which is a rather silly, unpleasant tax introduced by the Labour party for internal political reasons near the beginning of activities in the North sea. It yields no revenue at the moment, so it would be a good time to get rid of it to show that we want normal profit and revenue taxes, not super-taxes, on North sea activities when the good times return. I hope that the Chancellor will bear in mind the needs of the industry in his forthcoming Budget, because things could be done on tax to promote more investment against the background of a weak oil price, which is no great incentive for making new things happen.
I hope that the Bill will contribute towards taking security of supply seriously. The Government regularly tell us that they want our country to be secure—an aim that I hope is shared across the Chamber. An important way for a country to become more secure is through controlling its own energy resources. The United Kingdom is a relatively privileged country geographically, because it has substantial reserves of oil, gas and coal. We have recently discovered the likelihood of new gas reserves onshore, which should be available to exploit sensibly. We also have plenty of water around that allows us to have hydro-type renewables, which are genuinely renewable and continuously available, unlike the unreliable wind, about which we had a good debate earlier. As the Government go about implementing the Bill, I trust that they will have security of supply at the forefront of their mind.
George Kerevan (East Lothian) (SNP): Where does the security of supply lie in the Prime Minister flying to Paris to ask the French President to fund a nuclear power station that will supply 7% of our electricity, when France clearly will not do so?
John Redwood: That must be worked out between the contracting parties. I have not been urging them to do that, but I wish them well in whatever negotiations are under way. I accept that if they can find a way of producing relatively sensibly priced power on a continuous basis from a nuclear power station, that has all sorts of advantages for the security of supply. I assume that they will ensure that all the technology and the ability to control, repair and maintain the station will rest in the United Kingdom, because we can have true security only if we control the technology and have the industrial resources to be able to build and mend the facility being created. We must also bear that in mind for weapons procurement. If we want a secure country, we need an industry that can support it and is capable in adversity of seeing us through. We cannot rely on imports for everything, and we are already relying too much on imports in the crucial area of energy, so I hope the Bill will help us to stop thinking that we can automatically rely on French electricity and Russian gas indirectly through the European system.
George Kerevan: On that point, after France, the Chancellor of the Exchequer seems bent on handing over the entire British nuclear industry to China.
John Redwood: I trust not. I have not seen all the documents, but I am sure that we will see more of the detail in due course as and when more decisions are taken. If my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is negotiating such a deal, I urge him to ensure that we have control of and an understanding of the technology. I see from the nods from my Front-Bench team that that is exactly what they have in mind. A country does not have secure power if it is dependent on those abroad to maintain a power station and does not understand how to mend it, improve it or make it function at a crucial moment. Of course we need to probe to make sure that the Government are doing the right thing, but we get that security only if we control the technology.
Let me return to the point about security vis-à-vis imports and our own capability. We are becoming too dependent on imported power, and we have to remember that if our imports are to come from the European continent, that area is short of energy in general, and it has a policy to make energy scarce and very expensive. The west of the continent does not get on well with Mr Putin, yet indirectly it relies on his gas, and that is not a strong strategic position to be in. I want our country not to be in any way beholden indirectly to Putin’s gas or to the general network on the continent, which is clearly weakened by the necessity to have Russian supplies in the eastern part of the system. The UK, as an island nation, with access to such riches both onshore and offshore, and with the ability to generate more genuine renewables that are continuously available, should be able to have a secure supply and sufficient capacity in reserve when need arises.
We wish to be a greater industrial power than we are. We are the fifth largest economy in the world but we are very dependent on a very big service sector and our industrial sector has, under Governments of all persuasions in the past 30 years, shrunk as a proportion of it. We still have some great companies and some great technology but we need more of them and we need to broaden the industrial base. In order to have that capability in Britain, so that we can make our own power stations, generators and engines, we need to make sure that we have sufficient and cheap energy to fuel those factories, forges, facilities and blast furnaces.
We meet tonight against the backdrop of our steel industry gravely at risk. One of the main contributory factors to the risk to our steel industry is scarce and dear energy; there are also chronic problems with steel prices and Chinese competition now, but this began with an energy problem. We cannot hope to be one of the big world forces in energy-intensive industries if we do not have more plentiful energy at cheaper prices.
I wish the Bill and the Secretary of State well. The Government must have as their fundamental aim security of supply, because without secure energy a country is very limited in its foreign policy options and has to tailor its diplomacy accordingly. I see us becoming too dependent. We wish to correct our balance of payments, and getting into energy surplus would not only be a very good contribution to that aim, but would strengthen our diplomatic and political security. As we wish to reindustrialise, we need more and cheaper energy. We are not going to get that on a diet of wind farms and speculative renewable technologies that are not yet available, and are very expensive and difficult to scale up. We can get that affordable energy if we extract the oil, gas and coal, and process it in an environmentally friendly way to the extent that can be achieved, if we have more gas turbine power stations and more reliable baseload power stations. We are going to leave ourselves vulnerable and insecure if we depend on a combination of European imports and too many wind farms. I therefore say: may the OGA do well, may it find ways of bringing on stream the new reserves we are just discovering and may it find ways of extending the lives of the existing fields and of the pools of talent and expertise we have, particularly in Scotland, where we need them still.