HC Deb 03 May 1972 vol 836 cc375-8
17. Mr. Wolrige-Gordon

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether the Scottish Economic Council has considered the effects of new installations in North-East Scotland related to exploration and production of North Sea oil; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Gordon Campbell

The opportunities and problems presented by the North Sea oil discoveries were discussed by the Scottish Economic Council at its meeting on 14th January and will, I am sure, come up for further discussion from time to time.

Mr. Wolrige-Gordon

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Has the council got power in deciding the applications of oil companies for these installations? If not, who has it? There is doubt about this in the public mind and it ought to be clarified.

Mr. Campbell

The Scottish Economic Council is not an executive body but an advisory body. The Minister responsible for planning in Scotland is the Secretary of State. I assure my hon. Friend that we are combining speed—where all the proceedings, naturally, are carried out—with making sure that industrial development does not take place where it should not. I am glad to be able to say that where the installations have so far been started, they are in areas where there should not be danger of either pollution or anything else.

Dr. Miller

Would the right hon. Gentleman care to comment on recent statements that North Sea oil, which includes not just North Sea oil but oil beds going right round the north of Scotland, has a potential for development which could more than cover the total of the United Kingdom' requirements?

Mr. Campbell

I could not confirm that. These matters are still for conjecture. It is clear that there is a major oilfield in the North Sea but that it is a tremendously expensive investment to carry out the technological operation of tapping it.

Mr. Sproat

Would my right hon. Friend agree that there may be much to be said for a Gaskin Report for development in the North Sea that would take into account all the oil discoveries made since that report was published?

Mr. Campbell

I do not think that anything that has happened conflicts with the Gaskin Report and its general recommendations. I shall certainly bear in mind what my hon. Friend has said. In the planning decisions so far, I do not think we have met difficulties which have been unable to be resolved.

Mr. Robert Hughes

When will the Secretary of State inject some new money into the economy of the North-East? When will he give capital grants instead of regarding the North-East as a suitable place to which to lend money?

Mr. Campbell

The hon. Gentleman will have noticed that the Government have already decided to accelerate expenditure on improvement of main roads to Aberdeen, and the A9 north of Inverness to Invergordon.

28. Mr. Eadie

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what recent discussion he has had with companies involved in North Sea prospecting for oil with a view to establishing an oil refinery in Scotland.

Mr. Gordon Campbell

I have had discussions with BP and Shell. BP proposes to use its Grangemouth refinery and has announced that it is considering its expansion. The other companies exploring in the North Sea are not yet in a position to make production plans.

Mr. Eadie

If we have our own oil finds in the North Sea, will it not be nothing short of ridiculous if oil found off our own shores is taken away to other countries to be refined? What is the Government's attitude on this matter?

Mr. Campbell

As I said, we are in touch with the companies and BP intends to expand its Grangemouth refinery. But the companies have not come forward with their production plans as regards further exploration.

Mr. Grimond

Will the Secretary of State look at the policy of the Norwegians in connection with oil? Second, will he ensure that the Royal Commission on the Constitution revises its estimate for the Scottish economy and the financial state of Scotland in the light of these important discoveries of oil?

Mr. Campbell

We are watching what Norway is doing. At the conference which I attended at Aviemore I heard some criticism of what the Norwegian Government are doing, especially as regards slowness, as well as praise of particular parts of their policy. I do not at present see a need for revision of the document to which the right hon. Gentleman referred.

Mr. Maddan

Will my right hon. Friend take it that I came here principally to get an answer to a later Question to the Minister for the Civil Service, but will he on this matter agree that the point made by the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) is very serious in view of the present state of the Scottish economy?

Mr. Campbell

I accept that it is a serious question. The Government and others are bending their minds to it.

Mr. Ross

Does that mean that the Government have no attitude, or no attitude which they can presently state, in relation to the refining of oil which may be found off the Scottish coast?

Mr. Campbell

Certainly we have a view, but it is impossible to state it in two sentences in answer to a supplementary question. I think that many hon. Members will know of, or will have heard or read, my speech at the oil forum at Aviemore. They will understand also that this is, as I said before, an extremely complicated and expensive technological operation and, therefore, industry and the Government must approach it together.