HC Deb 06 June 1972 vol 838 cc214-5
9. Mr. Skeet

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what estimates his Department has made of the number of jobs in Great Britain likely to be created as a result of the exploitation of North Sea gas and oil within the next five years.

46. Mr. Dempsey

asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many jobs he estimates will arise in Great Britain over the next five years from the exploitation of North Sea gas and oil.

Mr. Dudley Smith

While it is not possible to make a precise estimate, activities connected with the exploitation of North Sea gas and oil are likely to provide a substantial and increasing number of jobs.

Mr. Skeet

My hon. Friend has not given a particularly illuminating answer. The number of rigs to be employed in the North Sea area in 1973 or 1974 is likely to be three times the number there now. Would it not be a good idea to have a complete computer analysis of the repercussions of this new industry upon tertiary and secondary industries in this area? Would not my hon. Friend agree that by proper planning methods many more jobs could become available?

Mr. Smith

I should like to study what my hon. Friend said. Undoubtedly, if the various projects of which my Department is aware materialise, they are likely to provide over 4,000 additional jobs and to produce great opportunities. But it would be wrong to over-sell the developments taking place. On the other hand, these can be of real benefit, particularly to an area such as Scotland.

Mr. Dempsey

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that the successful working of gas and oil reserves could bring about a large-scale advantage to this country's economy? However difficult it may be, can he give any idea of how many jobs this will bring to Scotland? It would help us to halt the depopulation there.

Mr. Smith

I am glad the hon. Gentleman welcomes this development. It is very difficult to be precise. I quoted the figure of over 4,000 jobs and I hope there will be many more. It could well be so, but much more detailed study is required over a period before we can approach this matter with any precision.

Dame Irene Ward

While thanking my hon. Friend for his reply and recognising all the efforts which are being made, may I ask him to bear in mind that we have very high levels of unemployment and that everything seems a bit too "scatty"? The situation needs to be stated with much more precision so that we can know in which directions to bring pressure to bear on Ministers to get on with the jobs with which we want them to get on. I am very annoyed with all this "scattiness".

Mr. Smith

It is always very difficult to please my hon. Friend because she is so assiduous in promoting the cause of the North East, but I assure her that there is a great deal of precision in my Department's approach to employment. Indeed, the improvements which have already taken place are good evidence of the precision being applied.

Dr. Miller

When will the Government stop calling this "North Sea gas and oil", because these deposits go right round the North Sea to the west coast of Scotland, stretching into the Irish Sea? When also will the Government come to a conclusion about the benefit which these developments should have on Scotland and stop anybody—and I do not care from where they come—from stealing this valuable asset from the Scottish people?

Mr. Smith

I do not think that I should start crossing swords with the hon. Gentleman about the merits of Scotland. I did not coin the phrase "North Sea oil and gas". It is in general use. Indeed, he should address his remarks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I hope the hon. Gentleman will welcome this development because, not only for Scotland but for the country as a whole, there are very real benefits from it.