Lord Offord of Garvel makes maiden speech in House of Lords

UK Government Minister for Scotland Malcolm Offord has today made his maiden speech in the House of Lords.

Minister Offord was invited to speak at the end of a debate from from Baroness Jones of Moulescoomb.

The question was posed to ask the UK Government what steps they have taken to ensure that subsidies and licensing decisions related to the oil and gas industry are not subject to undue influence from outside interests.

An excerpt from Lord Offord’s response follows:

My Lords, it is a great honour to make the final contribution to this short debate as a newly appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Scotland, making my maiden speech today in your Lordships’ House.

Please allow me to start by thanking your Noble Lords for
the warm welcome you have extended to me in this House,
to my supporters, my noble friends The Lord Kirkham and
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, and to Black Rod, the Clerk of the
Parliaments and especially the Doorkeepers who exercise
great patience as I wander around in circles.

I should also
give special thanks to my noble friend and mentor Lord
Leigh of Hurley and my noble friend and whip Lord Younger
of Leckie for sharing their invaluable knowledge of the
workings of your Lordships’ House.

My Lords, before turning to the substance of the important
question posed today by Baroness Jones, may I crave your
indulgence with some personal remarks.
I was born in a modest but homely tenement at 33 Bank
Street in Greenock, an industrial town west of Glasgow on
the Firth of Clyde.

I was educated at my local schools
Ardgowan Primary and Greenock Academy and, my Lords,
what a first-class education I received for free. I’m not the
first alumnus of that school to be associated with this
House: my noble friend Baroness Goldie of Bishopton
served as a distinguished Head Girl of Greenock Academy as
did the wife of my noble friend Lord Leigh of Hurley.

I was dismayed when my old school was closed in 2011
having been founded in 1855. It was determined by the
local council that, with Inverclyde de-populating post-deindustrialisation requiring the local schools to reduce from
eight to six, Greenock Academy should be closed because it
conferred too great an advantage on the students who were
fortunate enough to study there.

Surely, an egregious
example of levelling-down in Scotland, and a personal
motivator for me in joining this government’s levelling up
agenda.

So why Lord Offord of Garvel? If you walk down Bank Street
past the Wellpark to my parish church the mighty Mid Kirk,
and cross the road to the magnificent Georgian Customs
House on the Clyde, and then turn right along the river
bank, you will come to Garvel Point.

Garvel has long been a landmark in Greenock because it is
where the deep water is located and it was originally a safe
harbour for the fishing fleets before the first industrial
revolution transformed the town into a thriving trading port
and shipbuilding hub.

Greenock’s most famous son is the
inventor and engineer James Watt and the dock which
bears his name remains in use today at Garvel Point. In fact,
two of the three dry docks on the Clyde were located at
Garvel and a recent renovation project has re-purposed one
into the award-winning Beacon Theatre.

Which brings me neatly to the question before the House
today. Because one of my first ministerial duties was to
participate in COP26 in Glasgow, and how fitting that the
world came back to the Clyde to seek new solutions for this
climate emergency.
What a tremendous achievement for the UK’s two-year
presidency to increase the global commitment to net zero
from 30 per cent to 90 per cent of world emissions.

Some say that the UK
has a limited role to play in climate change as we account
for only 1 per cent of world emissions. Yet COP26 proved our
leadership still counts as we show it is possible to
simultaneously grow our economy whilst cutting our
emissions.

My Lords, this is what I learned at COP26: that we have the
capital, the brains and the political will to meet the climate
challenge. Participating as I did in the Net Zero Technology
forum (funded by the Aberdeen City Deal), I was so
encouraged to hear technologists from the oil and gas
sector in Aberdeen collaborating with Houston, Calgary,
Perth and Canberra as they re-purpose their assets and
people into low carbon energy sources. And how gratifying
that Scotland has such a prominent and world leading role
to play in re-balancing the UK’s energy programme to net
zero by 2050.

We have all the natural resources, the existing
infrastructure plus the scientists, engineers and skilled
workforce required to build a balanced score-card in
Energy. Scotland contributes 60 per cent of the UK wind generation
plus 40 per cent of the 160,000 highly skilled jobs already
working in Energy across the UK. This is called punching
above our weight in a United Kingdom where we contribute
just 8 per cent of the population but 33 per cent of the geography.

However, my Lords, we must remember that a key word in
this climate debate is “transition” and that it’s to net zero
not to zero carbon. With 35 per cent of the UK’s Energy needs in
2050 still coming from carbon (halved from 75 per cent today), we
would be foolhardy and irresponsible to ditch our world-class oil and gas sector in the North Sea to then increase our
carbon footprint by importing inefficiently from Russia and
Qatar.

The North Sea Transition Deal is an exemplar in the G7 of an
industry working in partnership with Government to ensure
net zero is met by 2050. By 2030, the cashflow generated
in oil and gas will contribute £15bn long term investment
into renewables. And by 2030, the UK offshore energy
sector will support 200,000 high-quality jobs of which
two thirds will be in low carbon.

My Lords, to answer the Question, in short, the UK Government does not
give subsidies to fossil fuel companies and licences are
awarded by an independent regulator Oil & Gas Authority
(OGA) within the framework of achieving net zero by 2050.
In fact, the High Court on Tuesday dismissed a case brought
by climate activists against the regulator, rejecting their
argument that the OGA’s actions amount to a type of
unlawful subsidy of the fossil fuel sector.

Licensing decisions are made by OGA which is
an independent regulator. Their staff are classified as public
servants and are subject to rigorous standards and codes of
conduct.

My Lords, in closing this debate, may I be quite clear that
HMG does not believe that decarbonising our economy
means shutting down the oil and gas industry as soon as
possible.

A broad range of stakeholders from entrepreneur Sir Ian
Wood to the GMB trade union have warned politicians
against creating an adverse investment environment for
this vital sector. There is nothing fair or just about that and
it will set us back on the road to net zero.

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