HC Deb 08 February 1971 vol 811 cc32-3

Mr. Benn (by Private Notice)asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the oil situation following the threat of a total ban on exports by the oil-producing countries.

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and President of the Board of Trade (Mr. John Davies)

The Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries has resolved that in the absence of an agreement with the oil companies on increased revenues each member country exporting oil from Gulf terminals shall introduce on 15th February legal and legislative measures to implement the producing countries' objectives. In the event that any oil company fails to comply with these measures within seven days of their adoption in the countries concerned nine O.P.E.C. members have resolved to take measures including a total embargo on shipments by such company. Discussions between the Gulf countries and the oil companies are continuing. I am being kept closely informed about the developing situation and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will not wish me to prejudice the position by additional comment at this time.

Mr. Benn

I appreciate the reasons given by the right hon. Gentleman, and I am grateful for his reply, but may I ask whether he is satisfied that there are sufficient supplies to enable the British position to be safeguarded, and are plans for petrol rationing now in preparation?

Mr. Davies

The right hon. Gentleman will know that the Government make provision to ensure that there are adequate supplies to meet a short-term difficult situation, and they are therefore content on that subject.

On the other aspect of the problem, I think it is right to say that while negotiations are continuing between the commercial interests involved it would be wrong for me to take any further step of the kind suggested by the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Lane

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that one of the helpful factors is the considerable community of interest between the oil-producing and oil-consuming countries, and that the oil companies, in their efforts to reach a settlement which is fair to everyone concerned, deserve to be supported from both sides of the House?

Mr. Davies

I am sure my hon. Friend is right in saying that there is this real community of interest, and I am sure that both sides of the House are strongly behind the oil companies in their desire to achieve a fair and reasonable settlement in their commercial discussions.

Mr. Marsh

Can the right hon. Gentleman give the House some indication of the ultimate supplies possible of high quality sterling oil from Nigeria?

Mr. Davies

The right hon. Gentleman will have to put down a separate Question on that subject. He is asking about potential supplies, which is an extremely technical subject.

Mr. J. T. Price

Now that the House is confronted with this crisis in the oil situation, will it not become apparent to all those propagandists who in the past have been agitating for the run-down of the coal industry and have made this country more and more dependent on oil that not only are we vulnerable to having our supplies cut off in war, but also to international blacklegging, organised at the point of production? I am sorry, I should have said blackmail.

Mr. Davies

I had seized on the hon. Gentleman's Freudian slip. He will be aware that one of the factors in considering the whole future of our coal industry has always been the security that it grants us in terms of indigenous supplies of energy.