HC Deb 02 August 1972 vol 842 cc534-7
6. Mr. Douglas

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will seek to make an official visit to the Scandinavian countries.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Gordon Campbell)

I have no plans at present to do so.

Mr. Douglas

I hope the right hon. Gentleman will concede that that is an unfortunate reply. Will he make plans to go to Norway to examine, in particular, Norway's regulations in respect of North Sea oil and its Continental Shelf which clearly show that the Norwegian Government have plans for keeping a part of their Continental Shelf within governmental control and also for ensuring that Norwegian producers have proper treatment from the firms which operate on their Continental Shelf?

Mr. Campbell

I am already aware, without going there, that there are no formal conditions laid down by Norway about the use of Norwegian equipment and that the present Norwegian rate of royalty is 10 per cent. as opposed to 12½ per cent. in this country.

Mr. Ross

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that considerable changes are at present being made by Norway, and that in one case it has increased the royalty to 12½ per cent.? Would it not be a good idea if the Secretary of State went? Ministers have gone to various Scandinavian countries in the past in respect of our fishing interests. We now have a new and potentially very great interest. Will the right hon. Gentleman think about it again?

Mr. Campbell

I have not ruled out going to Norway, and I should very much like to go. I have been somewhat occupied in the House in recent weeks and have certainly not been able to go. We should like to hear from the right hon. Gentleman about the statement in the policy discussion document called "Labour's Programme for Britain" to the effect that the present licences would all be taken away as soon as possible by a Labour Government, especially since many of them were issued during the period of the last Labour Government in 1969, and the statement threatens to bring to a grinding halt the whole process of exploration and deprive many people of jobs.

8. Mr. Strang

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will arrange for the Scottish Development Department to study the feasibility of allocating Gov- ernment development contracts to Scottish firms to help them acquire the expertise required for the manufacture of equipment for the North Sea oil industry.

Mr. Gordon Campbell

One of the intentions of the current Government study into the opportunities for British industry arising from the oil developments is to ascertain in what way it would be possible to encourage and assist British firms to participate.

Mr. Strang

Will the Secretary of State agree that the major challenge facing the Government at present in relation to North Sea oil is to do everything they possibly can to ensure that Scottish firms make the maximum contribution to the hundreds of millions of pounds worth of equipment and services now being purchased by the oil companies? If the Government can provide substantial support in the form of development contracts to the computer industry and the aircraft industry, is it not reasonable to urge in the case of the oil industry that Scottish firms should obtain similar development contracts to enable them to acquire the expertise as quickly as possible?

Mr. Campbell

I agree on the first point. It is one of our prime objectives. The good example which some Scottish firms have shown and are showing of going out vigorously seeking business in North Sea oil developments should be followed by others, and I entirely agree about that. Scottish industry has told us that the best way in which the Government can help is by quickly providing the infrastructure, and this is what we are doing.

Mr. Costain

Is it not ironical that the expertise of Scottish engineers is well known in operations abroad yet the oil companies tend to think they have no experience in this sphere because they have not done this particular work before? Will my right hon. Friend see what he can do to encourage developments in this way, not only by Government contracts but by encouraging those who have licences to use Scottish firms?

Mr. Campbell

Yes. Sir, I can promise my hon. Friend that. I have said this before. The drilling of the sea bed is a particular kind of operation which the Americans have been doing for 20 years or more and they have become experts at it, but we can co-operate with them and then ourselves specialise in the techniques which are required for the North Sea.

Mr. Ross

Surely this is the whole point. The experience of the Americans has hitherto been in fairly shallow waters. We are now moving into deeper waters and a new technology is developing. Would it not be worth while, through a system of development contracts, or additional support to universities, for Scotland to get into this work? This kind of experience and work may be even more lasting than the oil itself.

Mr. Campbell

The right hon. Gentleman is repeating some of the words that have used in recent months, which is a change, because last year I was pointing out that the depth of water and the formidable conditions in the North Sea required an advanced technology, some of which has not yet been developed. The right hon. Gentleman will have seen the report today about Heriot-Watt University holding a symposium on the subject later this year.

Mr. Ross

But what are the Government going to do about it?

Mr. Campbell

The Government are already doing something about it, as the right lion. Gentleman would know if only he would listen to some of the things that we have said during debates, for example during last Thursday's debate. All he does is to be hypnotised by his own words.