Offshore Petroleum Licencing Bill (Second Reading)

Offshore Petroleum Licencing Bill (Second Reading)

Offshore Petroleum Licencing Bill (Second Reading)

Feb 6, 2024


What happened at the second reading and what can you do now?

What happened at the second reading and what can you do now?

What happened at the second reading and what can you do now?


House of Commons, 22 January 2024 - Offshore Petroleum Licencing Bill (Second Reading)

  • Debate (Volume 744; 22/1/24) Progress Stages Vote (Division 62; 22/1/24)
  • Text of Bill - Bill 9 (as introduced; before 2nd reading; dated 8/11/23)

Purpose of the Bill

Make provisions about licences to search and bore for and get offshore petroleum.

● This HoC session took place on 22/1/24, following the First Reading on 8/11/23.

● It began with a debate (link above) on issues relevant to the Second Reading and ended with a vote.

● As a result of the vote, the Bill’s text was amended from the 8/11/23 version and proceeded to a stage where a Committee of the whole House debates amendments before a Third Reading

● This vote was probably ‘three-line-whipped’ by all parties. As this information is not transparent to the public, we cannot confirm with certainty whether it is correct. Best guess.

How did MPs vote? See here how your MP voted Vote (Division 62; 22/1/24)

● AYE - 293 (CON 285; other 8) accept the Bill in its Second Reading form and allow it to progress to the next stage

● NO - 209 ( LAB 158; LD 10; SNP 27; other 14) reject the Bill and stop any further progress

● Vote not registered - 141 (inc Alok Sharma - abstention; Theresa May - out of HoC) (CON 59; LAB 36; LD 5; SNP 16; other 13; Speaker + deputies 5; SF 7)

MP Watch MPs who voted AYE: Jerome Mayhew, Bill Wiggin; Alex Chalk, Daniel Kawczynski; Philip Hollobone; Sheryl Murray; Selaine Saxby; Bob Seely; Ranil Jayawardena; Paul Scully; Paul Beresford; Fay Jones; Mike Freer; Esther McVey; David Johnston; Chloe Smith; Anthony Mangnall; Lee Anderson; Mel Stride

Voted NO: Kate Osamor; Stella Creasy, Sharon Hodgson

Votewatch Verdict

This Bill is not consistent with international commitments. It is unnecessary. The case for allowing it to proceed does not stand up to scrutiny. MP Watch urges constituents to challenge MPs who voted for it and hold them to account on the following issues:

This Bill is not consistent with international commitments

1. This Bill is inconsistent with the UK’s COP28 agreement to transition away from fossil fuels. The UK Climate Minister Graham Stuart tweeted after the conference, ‘There must be a phase-out of unabated fossil fuels to meet our climate goals.’ The Bill represents a ‘phasing up’ of fossil fuels rather than a ‘phase out’ or even a ‘transition away’.

2. This Bill undermines the reputation of the UK as a global leader. If the UK argues that another country should not develop its fossil fuel resources fully, that country would be justified in asking why the UK is asking other countries to do what it is not doing itself.

3. This Bill is inconsistent with advice from the Climate Change Committee. Its interim chair Piers Forster, wrote ‘the Climate Change Committee evidence is that continued expansion of new oil and gas reserves is inconsistent with our climate commitments, especially more so in light of the recent Global Stocktake COP agreement we just signed.’

4. This Bill is inconsistent with advice from the International Energy Agency who said ‘from 2021 there must be no new oil and gas fields approved for development.’

5. Chris Skidmore MP resigned over the issue. He wrote, ‘As the former energy minister who signed the UK’s net zero commitment by 2050 into law, I cannot vote for a bill that promotes the production of new oil and gas.’

The Bill is unnecessary

6. Alok Sharma said in the debate (5:02pm), ‘The substance of the Bill . . . is something of a distraction. I do not think it is necessary. The North Sea Transition Authority can already grant licences annually or, indeed, when it considers it necessary. It has been doing that regularly for the past few years. The Department’s own explanatory notes make that clear . . .’

The case for allowing it to proceed does not stand up to scrutiny.

7. Alok Sharma, in the same passage addressed the arguments the Government uses to justify the Bill proceeding:

a. Improve UK energy security - oil and gas extracted from the North sea is owned by private enterprises and the Government does not get to control to whom it is sold.

b. lower domestic UK energy bills - the price of oil and gas as a commodity is set internationally. There is nothing connected to this Bill capable of lowering UK bills. The

best way to lower energy bills is to invest in emerging low-carbon technology rather than waning fossil fuel technology.

c. The bill will secure 200,000 jobs - Alok Sharma said, ‘This is not about turning off the taps overnight on oil and gas. We must also acknowledge that more than 200,000 jobs, supported by the oil and gas industry, have been lost over the past decade despite hundreds of new drilling licences being issued. We know that many of the oil and gas sector skills are transferable to clean energy—to offshore wind and geothermal. If we want to turbocharge a clean energy transition truly, we need to help, support and retrain the workers who are making the transition, over time, from the fossil fuel sector into the many tens of thousands of jobs that are being created in clean energy as a result of the work that the Secretary of State and her team are doing.’ His clear implication is that clean energy must be ‘phased up and fossil fuels ‘phased down’.

d. Imported gas has four times the emissions of UK gas supplies - ‘The majority of the gas that the UK imports comes via a pipeline from Norway. It is not imported LNG. The carbon intensity of Norwegian gas production is around half that of UK domestic gas.’ (Sharma). Claire Coutinho argues that we should use UK gas for that which Norway does not supply, i.e. a small amount of marginal gas. This would be better metvia expanding the clean energy transition more quickly.

e. the independent CCC has said that in 2050, we will need oil and gas for a quarter of our energy - this is a false claim debunked by many (see Guardian article)

Westminster Watch Summary - by Victor Anderson


The Bill requires that North Sea oil and gas licenses be given out annually. The possible exception to this is that two tests must be satisfied for licensing to go ahead that year. They are designed to be easily met. But MPs will be thinking about amendments to add more complex tests.

The Second Reading was, as expected, a straight “party line” vote, with interest focusing on whether there would be any exceptions/rebels. Tory MP Chris Skidmore resigned from the Commons on the issue and caused a by-election.

Another Tory MP, Alok Sharma, abstained. Theresa May was absent, probably deliberately as a way of abstaining without making a fuss. No Conservatives voted against the Bill, and no other abstentions have been reported.

After this vote (Government majority 82) the Bill goes into Committee Stage, during which MPs can propose amendments. This usually means a small committee of a dozen or so MPs, but in this case it’s going to be a Committee of the Whole House, so all MPs are able to propose and debate amendments.

There will also be interest in Labour frontbenchers’ language about what is happening to their previously announced £28 billion a year of green investment.

Supporting Documents

● The Bill:

● Explanatory Notes:

● House of Commons Library briefing:

● The Government had already announced (July 31) that they will issue “hundreds” of new North

Sea oil and gas licenses:


● A description of the stages of the Bill

● Westminster Watch political briefing document - compiled for MP Watch