HC Deb 07 May 1973 vol 856 cc18-21
19. Mr. Douglas

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement in his current assessment of the number of United Kingdom designs of production platforms which may be suitable for use in North Sea conditions.

The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Anthony Grant)

There are probably about a dozen United Kingdom designs of production platform support structures of various types available or under development.

Mr. Douglas

Does the Minister concede that no United Kingdom-designed production platforms are at present under construction? Will he particularly consult Redpath Dorman Long, a subsidiary of the British Steel Corporation, to consider the possibility of its moving its headquarters for North Sea operations from Bedford to Scotland?

Mr. Skeet


Mr. Grant

The move seems to be a matter of some controversy. What I can tell the hon. Gentleman is that there is an increasing interest in United Kingdom designs for platforms and that the Offshore Supplies Office will seek to ensure that all oil companies and their contractors give full and fair consideration to the claims of United Kingdom designs.

Mr. Skeet

May I express the hope that my hon. Friend will take the advice of the local Member of Parliament before he considers the removal of this firm to Scotland? Is he aware that the firm is doing excellently in its present locality and will, I am certain, continue so to do?

Mr. Grant

I always take careful note of the advice of my hon. Friend.

Mr. Eadie

Will the Minister tell us what help he has received from the Offshore Supplies Office and its staff about this matter? Is he satisfied that working within the Industrial Development Executive is proving satisfactory and is not causing obstruction?

Mr. Grant

I believe, for the reasons that have been explained many times before, that this is the most practical and effective way of dealing with the problem. On present information, I have no reason to change my view.

21. Mr. Edwin Wainwright

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will encourage foreign-based North Sea oil and gas operators to grant British firms a greater share of the needs for equipment on the drilling rigs, and a greater share of offshore supply contracts.

Mr. Anthony Grant

Our policy is to secure for British firms a full and fair opportunity to compete for orders. This is one of the major objectives of the Offshore Supplies Office which has been established.

Mr. Wainwright

Does the Minister realise that many British companies feel that foreign companies have had too great a share in the supply of equipment for drilling operations in the North Sea and in Scottish waters? Does he realise that this creates the impression that the necessary equipment will always be supplied by firms already established there? Does he appreciate that offshore drilling activity is bound to increase throughout the world and that the market is tremendous? Cannot we have a good home base which will ensure that we get into the export market?

Mr. Grant

I entirely agree with the latter remarks of the hon. Gentleman. It is precisely for that reason that, as recommended by IMEG, we set up the Offshore Supplies Office. What we seek to do is to ensure that our companies will do well in a fair fight.

Mr. Eadie

Since 90 percent. of gas consumed in this country comes from the North Sea, and since in 1975 we can expect a major flow of oil, can the hon. Gentleman tell the House what financial assistance has been given under the Industry Act to effect expansion and growth in the supply and contracting industries?

Mr. Grant

Without notice I could not give the details. I shall be glad to do so if the hon. Gentleman puts down a Question. He must not under-estimate the flexible powers available under the Industry Act which can be used to assist here.

Mr. Edward Taylor

Is my hon. Friend aware that, while a number of private firms have failed to respond to the opportunities, many of us are gravely concerned at the way in which the British Steel Corporation appears to have failed miserably to respond to the opportunities offered by North Sea oil? Is he prepared to discuss this with the corporation to see whether further progress can be made?

Mr. Grant

I understand that my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry is engaged in discussions.