Ministers should heed the “wake-up calls” of freak flooding and storms, and put aside the distraction of new oil and gas licences to tackle climate change, a leading environmental Tory voice has said.
Sir Alok Sharma, a Tory former cabinet minister, indicated that he would not support the Government’s Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill as it was debated for the first time in the Commons.
The Cop26 president, who led Britain’s efforts to agree global climate action in 2021, warned the Bill would be perceived by other countries as the UK rowing back on its commitments.
The Bill is designed to maximise North Sea oil and gas production, and has already prompted Tory former minster Chris Skidmore to resign as MP for Kingswood over worries about its impact.
Sir Alok shared similar concerns in the Commons, telling MPs: “Sadly what this Bill does do… is reinforce the unfortunate perception about the UK rowing back from climate action – as indeed we saw last autumn with the chopping and changing of some policies – and it does make our international partners question the seriousness with which we take our international commitments.”
“For the reasons that I’ve outlined, I will not vote for this Bill today,” the MP for Reading West said.
Sir Alok added: “We have seen the impacts of the changing climate around us daily, 2023 was the hottest year on record globally, in recent weeks many people have faced flooding again in our country including in my own constituency, we really shouldn’t need anymore wake-up calls to put aside the distractions and act with the urgency the situation demands.”
The Tory MP also cast doubt on suggestions that extra North Sea fuel production could help to lower consumer energy bills, telling MPs: “I think it’s acknowledged that this Bill would not necessarily lower domestic energy bills in the UK, that price for oil and gas as a commodity is set internationally.
“I think the best way to enhance are energy security and to ultimately bring down bills is for the Government to continue to deliver on its ambitious plans for expanding homegrown clean energy.”
Labour’s shadow energy secretary Ed Miliband agreed with Sir Alok, telling MPs: “All of this absolute codswallop about the idea that this (will) guarantee our energy security, that this is somehow going to guarantee these 200,000 jobs, it’s just risible nonsense.”
He urged MPs to join Labour in halting the Bill on its journey to become law, describing it as “one of the last desperate acts of a dying Government”.
“I urge the House to support our reasoned amendment and vote against their Bill tonight,” he said.
Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho had earlier told the Commons that the UK’s future energy supply plans must be based on “common sense”, rather than ideology, as she claimed Mr Miliband was attempting to “appease” Just Stop Oil by opposing the Bill.
In a message to Labour MPs planning to vote down the Bill, she said: “I suspect that there are many in the Labour Party who understand what turning off the taps would mean for British workers and they will vote against this Bill with a heavy heart.”
The minister, who claimed 200,000 UK jobs are supported by the oil and gas sector, added: “Isn’t it right that the billions of pounds in tax that we raise from this sector stays here rather than being sent abroad?
“And isn’t it the position of an ideologue to say we will not support 200,000 British workers, but we are happy for those jobs to go to Russia or further abroad?”