Lithium: Critical Minerals Supply — [Sir Gary Streeter in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall am 2:48 pm ar 23 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 2:48, 23 Ebrill 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Sir Gary. I thank Steve Double for leading today’s debate. His speech was a tour de force, setting the scene so well. The opportunities in his constituency are apparent and achievable, and I support him. Northern Ireland may not have the access to lithium that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, but we want to be part of this advanced technological progress. That is the thrust of where I am coming from.

It is great to be here because there is no doubt that in the not so distant future we will be having more conversations about the sustainability of and demand for lithium to meet our commitments to net zero targets. We are here to have an in-depth discussion on how we can plan for that.

In December 2023 a major milestone was reached: to deliver a domestic supply of lithium in the UK with home-grown technology and engineering. We have a very clear role to play in the world and a clear role to play for ourselves in this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We can all contribute to and gain advantages from what is being brought forward. Three companies from the north of England signed an agreement aimed at delivering the UK’s first commercial-scale direct lithium extraction plant that combines UK-developed technology, UK-sourced lithium-bearing saline brine and UK process engineering expertise. Those are things that we can do and I am pleased that the Minister and his Department are doing just that.

It is always important to me that Northern Ireland can play a role in modernising technology. It may not be possible for Northern Ireland to have the extraction process to which the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay has referred but, none the less, I think we can play our role. There is currently no supply of lithium in Northern Ireland and, to date, sectors relating to net zero, such as energy and transport, have represented a small proportion of total mineral demand. But it has been projected that the transition to net zero will result in a significant increase in demand in the future. If that is where we are going, and that is the target we are aiming for, I would like to see my constituents, and people from across all constituencies of Northern Ireland, being part of that. There is also a role for Scotland, though it seems that there may not be the same possibilities in Wales, unfortunately.

Some smaller businesses specialise in lithium batteries. For example, in my neighbouring constituency of North Down, a company called Lithium Go specialises in providing stable battery power to the golf trolley industry. I believe there is scope for Northern Ireland to contribute on a wider scale. What discussions has the Minister had with the Department for the Economy to see how we can advance the technology and the opportunity to businesses in Northern Ireland? We have the skilled workforce, we have the opportunities, we have the interest and I believe that we can do our part in Northern Ireland.

While I understand that mineral planning policy is a devolved matter, areas of potential geological prospectivity for critical minerals in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales must be recognised by the UK Government centrally. In an answer to a parliamentary question, the Minister stated that two areas of geological prospectivity for lithium had been identified in Scotland and no areas in Wales. When the SNP shadow Minister, Richard Thomson, speaks, he will no doubt mention that. That shows that Scotland has a head start, in conjunction with the opportunities in England on the mainland. Northern Ireland was not mentioned, so could the Minister provide clarity on what discussions he has held with his relevant counterparts in Northern Ireland on their role in the supply of lithium and other minerals?

We all in this House, in all political parties and on both sides of the Chamber, have a commitment to making the world a better place. That is a goal that all of us try to achieve, and sustainability is part of that. Yet we must all ensure that these are not unachievable goals, but that they have a solid foundation and practicality. We must sort out how we can supply lithium safely and in an environmentally friendly way. That has to be a priority for us all.

I often say—and I say it with great honesty and truthfulness—that I want this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to succeed, to prosper, to do well. I believe one of the great advantages we have is being able to do that together. My request to the Minister, and to others who will speak, is to ensure that we can all gain. In Northern Ireland, we deserve the same opportunity. We can contribute greatly to this debate and what we are trying to achieve.