HC Deb 06 April 1965 vol 710 cc222-4
10. Mr. Hector Hughes

asked the Minister of Power, in view of the fact that the project to drill for oil and gas in the North Sea, which is not private property, was granted under licence from the British Government to certain companies instead of being undertaken by Her Majesty's Government, if he will now take steps to rectify this by taking over the control and management of this project.

Mr. Frederick Lee

As I informed the House on 1st December, 1964, the Government have concluded that it would not be in the public interest to disturb the production licences issued last year. It would be inconsistent with that decision to take the action proposed by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Hughes

My right hon. Friend has mentioned public rights. Does he realise that these licences, granted by a previous Government, gave away British national rights? Will he take steps to ensure that they are exploited by and for the British nation and not for private profit?

Mr. Lee

My hon. and learned Friend will know from his legal knowledge that the licences to which he refers are legally binding contracts on the basis of which licensees have already committed themselves to pretty substantial expenditure, much of which will benefit development districts.

Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd

Is not that a rather unsympathetic reply to the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) since he is merely repeating speeches made by members of the Government during the General Election?

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

I apologise if I missed part of my right hon. Friend"s reply because of the noise in the House. Is he aware of a recent "Panorama" programme which spotlighted the inefficiencies and wastefulness of private enterprise to the extent that the first concessionaire is not able to make knowledge available to other concessionaires? Would my right hon. Friend have a look at this aspect of the matter with a view to ensuring that the knowledge is made available to many concessionaires in the public interest?

Mr. Lee

I believe that the people who have the licences are pretty knowledgeable in looking for oil and gas. I certainly note the point which my hon. Friend makes about the inefficiency of private enterprise.

Mr. Costain

Does the Minister agree that the expenditure is something like £80-£150 million, and would it not be better to allow this to be done by experts and not by amateurs?

Mr. Peyton

In view of the Minister's quite gratuitous remark about the inefficiency of private enterprise, will he kindly tell the House whom he has in mind to carry on these operations in the North Sea? Would it not be altogether more seemly if the Minister conducted himself with some appreciation?

Mr. Lee

I am sorry that the hon. Member is getting perturbed. My hon. Friend mentioned the inadequacies of private enterprise. I should have thought that since the party opposite kept 10 per cent. of our economy nationalised when they were in power, they recognised that private enterprise should be kept out of some industries.