HC Deb 07 April 1964 vol 692 cc895-9
Mr. Peyton

I beg to move, in page 6, line 21, after "by", to insert "or under".

This is a drafting Amendment with the details of which I need not worry the House. There is some doubt if the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1949, were applied by Order in Council under Clause 3(2) whether it would be said to have been applied directly under the provisions of the Bill or indirectly by Order in Council. The effect of the Amendment is to ensure that any court of summary jurisdiction can deal with the case.

Amendment agreed to.

Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen's consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified].

8.18 p.m.

Mr. Erroll

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Since the Bill was given a Second Reading, we have had the advantage of considerable debate on the detailed provisions, and it now appears before the House in a somewhat amplified and amended form. We have had the opportunity to discuss individual Clauses and to clarify the intention behind some of the drafting. I hope the House will agree that this has been particularly valuable in respect of those parts of the Bill concerned with rather technical problems of law.

It has also been possible to improve the Bill by the inclusion of a certain amount of new matter. Particularly we have taken account of the concern of hon. Members for the safety, health and welfare of employees on installations which are now expressly mentioned in the Bill. During the Report stage I was thinking of the request made earlier during Committee stage and I had forgotten the very precise way in which the request has been made.

Provision has been made for the Minister of Power of the day to report annually to Parliament on the salient facts about the exploitation of oil and natural gas on our part of the Continental Shelf, which could have such important effects on the national economy. There is now a new Clause which deals with the use and supply of natural gas in a way which, we believe, strikes a proper balance between the different interests concerned. Provision has been made for dealing with radioactive substances and for enabling licensees to acquire certain ancillary rights for their activities. Many hon. Members, but probably not all, will welcome the substitution of "metres" for "yards" in the Bill.

The main purposes of the Bill remain unchanged. They are to put the Government in a position to ratify the Continental Shelf Convention and to issue licences to those concerns which wish to explore and exploit the Shelf. If the Bill is enacted, we shall press on as rapidly as possible. There is the question of the deposit of the instrument of ratification with the United Nations. This can take place quickly. Work on the preparation of regulations is going ahead and, although there are many difficult and detailed problems, I am confident that the regulations will be laid before Parliament in the comparatively near future. Oil companies and others are maintaining and have been increasing their interest in the North Sea, and I am anxious to issue licences as soon as I can.

In Committee I was asked about the way in which we intend to award licences, and perhaps before the Bill leaves us I should say a few words on this important subject. Among the general considerations by which I shall be guided in carrying out this task are the following five main factors: first, the need to encourage the most rapid and thorough exploration and economical exploitation of petroleum resources on the Continental Shelf. Second, the requirement that the applicant for a licence shall be incorporated in the United Kingdom and the profits of the operations shall be taxable here. Thirdly, in cases where the applicant is a foreign-owned concern, how far British oil companies receive equitable treatment in that country. Fourthly, we shall look at the programme of work of the applicant and also at the ability and resources to implement it. Fifthly, we shall look at the contribution the applicant has already made or is making towards the development of resources of our Continental Shelf and the development of our fuel economy generally.

There might be other considerations from time to time, including considerations of national security, which, of course, will have to be taken into account. I would expect in the event that these considerations would lead to substantial British participation and to the encouragement of other appropriate concerns whose technical and financial help would be welcome. In this way I believe I shall be able to protect the national interest and at the same time act fairly towards the applicants. I trust that the House will agree that this is a reasonable basis on which to proceed.

I wish to say how much I have appreciated the co-operative spirit of all hon. Members during the earlier stages of the Bill, and particularly in Committee when we had most useful and constructive discussions. I hope the House will grant tie Bill its Third Reading so that we can get on with the next stages of the process.

8.24 p.m.

Sir F. Soskice

It behoves me to say a few words in reply to what the Minister has said. Perhaps hon. Members on both sides of the House will allow me on their behalf to thank him for the kindly words he has said about us and to reciprocate by thanking the Ministers for their courtesy in taking account of difficulties we felt on various stages in consideration of the Bill.

The Minister has made an important statement about the five principles he will take into account in granting licences. The development of the exploration of the seabed around our coasts as the years go by will depend to a large extent on the wisdom with which he and his colleagues exercise the discretion they possess in allocating licences and imposing proper conditions on those who enjoy the rights which the licences will give them.

We think the Bill has been improved by the changes the Government have introduced and, by way of promptings from the Opposition benches, reactions caused in their minds and consciences. We think it is a better Bill, and I am grateful for the changes which have been made. I still feel considerably puzzled after the discussions today about how Clause 3 will work. I am greatly consoled by the Minister, who told me that if I wish to have refreshment while on an installation and find myself 50 miles from the coast it would be unlikely that I should come into conflict with the criminal law. I am most grateful to him for that assurance. If ever I find my way to an installation I shall place infinite reliance on his research into the criminal law as enshrined in Clause 3. I am much obliged to him, and I hope that the House will give the Bill its Third Reading.

8.26 p.m.

Mr. Skeet

The Government are to be congratulated on bringing forward such an extremely important Bill. This is a milestone in our developments, but I do not think many people realise the implications of the Bill.

I hope that miners throughout the country and other producers of primary fuel will realise the big changes which may come about if natural gas is discovered in the North Sea—and there is a fair probability of that. My right hon. Friend is now in a position where he can grant licences and everyone concerned can get to work to try to find if there is natural gas there. Assuming that there is, the United Kingdom will have a very cheap form of fuel available, through which it will be possible to reduce industrial costs. We cannot face the situation with complacency. The United Kingdom must be ready to adapt itself to technological change. It would be quite wrong for me to speak at great length tonight, but I again congratulate the Government on this Bill and for the prospect it offers.

I am a little concerned about Clause 9. It is difficult for many hon. Members on both sides of the House to understand that Clause. Perhaps the only way in which it can be cleared up, if it is not amended in another place, will be to have some litigation about it. Then we can find out what it means. This is what the lawyers do in order to gain clarification. Generally speaking, I think it is heading in the right direction. We want to make the maximum use of the indigenous resources, and to some extent we can consider the Continental Shelf as being indigenous for some purposes at least. As has been mentioned, fortunately it is not nationalised. It would be quite wrong to do that.

We have sought to make possible the use of resources by bringing in the full operation of private enterprise, while at the same time letting the Minister have a certain amount of control. The only thing which disturbed us is the amount of power vested in the Executive, the power to make regulations and to do this and that about which very little is contained in the Bill itself. This is a dilemma, and probably it is one of the diseases of modern life; but there it is. We are about to give the Bill a Third Reading and all those who took part in the Committee and those who have watched with some interest will hope that we can move to the more operative stage when natural gas is discovered on the Continental Shelf.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with Amendments.