Energy Bill: Bishop of Chester supports Commons amendment

ChesterOn 12th April 2016, the House of Lords discussed the amendments made by House of Commons to the Government’s Energy Bill. The House considered an amendment which transfers functions from the Secretary of State to the Oil and Gas Authority. The Bishop of Chester, Rt Revd Peter Forster, spoke in support of the amendment, for ‘limiting the function of the Oil and Gas Authority’.

The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, speaking briefly from these Benches but entirely personally, because bishops take different views on this, I welcome the realism that lies behind the Commons amendment. Following on from the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, it may well be that nature’s way of carbon capture and storage is some sort of vegetation. That may be the solution, but it is hardly a function for the Oil and Gas Authority to supervise. The great cost of extracting carbon dioxide—which can be done perfectly easily, technically—and then transporting it under the North Sea would increase energy prices in this country to an extent that would make the recent threat to our steel industry look like simply the foothills. It would have a major impact in raising energy costs. So the Commons amendment limiting the function of the Oil and Gas Authority is realistic and entirely supportable.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth: My Lords, I thank noble Lords for participating in the debate on this amendment. I will try to cover the points raised and do justice to some very important ones. First, there is nothing inconsistent in having a laser-like focus on the development of the North Sea as a principal objective set out by the Government and developing CCS. I reassure noble Lords who raised the issue—the noble Baronesses, Lady Featherstone, Lady Liddell and Lady Worthington—that the Government are very much wedded to the importance of CCS. As the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, said, we set up an advisory committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, who I do not think is in his place. He brings to this task great expertise. It has cross-party representation, with all principal parties here represented and also the Scottish nationalists from another place. We will be responding to the advice that we receive from the committee, which I think will come in a timely way at the end of the summer or the beginning of the autumn. I know that the committee has met at least three times already and is driving this agenda very hard.

I will mention what we are doing on CCS to reassure noble Lords. There is collaboration with key partners who are also developing CCS; we are sharing data and research with them. Officials in the department are working on CCS; this is not an area where there is no activity. Our science and innovation budget has been increased, and we are looking at how we can usefully use it. There are developments on Teesside with industrial CCS, which is important. My noble friend Lord Howell made a valid point about carbon capture usage, which is also a key part of what we are looking at—but these things are best done together.

I thank my noble friend Lord Ridley for mentioning the issue of Canada; we study progress there very closely. I also thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester for injecting some realism about the importance of having that laser-like focus on the North Sea, but, at the same time, as has rightly been accentuated and stressed by other noble Lords in the debate, developing a CCS strategy. With that, I commend the amendment.