THE Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill has cleared its first hurdle in the House of Commons after MPs gave it a second reading.

Members voted in favour of the bill by 293 votes to 211, majority 82. It will undergo further scrutiny at a later date.

The Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill would compel the North Sea regulator to invite applications for new projects each year, instead of when it feels it is appropriate, as it does currently.

Ministers argue that this will improve the country’s energy security by reducing the need to ship oil in from abroad from countries that could be hostile to the UK.

However, it has proven controversial. Several Conservative MPs said before the debate that they will not support the bill, including former Cop26 president Alok Sharma.

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The legislation also prompted the resignation of net zero tsar Chris Skidmore, sparking a by-election.

Douglas Ross – who represents the Moray seat at Westminster as well as leading the Tories in Scotland – did back the bill and wrote on Twitter/X afterwards: "The SNP-Green coalition is turning its back on our oil and gas industry and the 90,000 Scottish workers who rely on it.

"I was pleased to support the UK Government’s Offshore Licensing Bill today which will support the sector and its workforce, and strengthen our energy security."

Sharma, 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, and shared his 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.”

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“For the reasons that I’ve outlined, I will not vote for this Bill today,” the MP for Reading West said.

He 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 Sharma, 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.

The National: Lorna Slater

Lorna Slater, the Scottish Government Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity, urged MPs to reject the bill.

She said: "This bill is a polluter's charter that would lead to decades of environmental destruction and do nothing for our energy security. It is utterly reckless and flies in the face of our climate commitments. It is telling that not even a single Scottish Tory MP has taken a stand against it.

"Scotland has thousands of skilled workers and resources that any country would envy. We need to be using them.

"I worked in the renewables sector for years, I have seen the difference that can be made by governments that understand why it is important and give it the support it needs.

"In Scotland we are making important progress but it is being totally undermined by a Westminster government with its head in the past.

"Any MP that wants to leave any kind of positive environmental legacy must vote against this reckless and damaging bill."