HC Deb 31 July 1974 vol 878 cc788-90
16. Mr. Gordon Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will pay an official visit to Norway to examine their planning laws in respect of offshore oil development.

Mr. William Ross

My hon. Friend the Minister of State visited Norway from 3rd to 6th June when he had general discussion with the Norwegian Government Petroleum Directorate, with Statoil, the Government oil company, and with the local authority in Stavanger, and had the opportunity to see at first hand and discuss the working of the Norwegian planning system as it affects oil.

Mr. Wilson

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that reply. Does he not accept that two of the secrets of the success of the Norwegian oil development have been, first, the ability to take quick decisions in relation to planning matters and, secondly, to gear the rate of exploration to maximising Norwegian involvement in the industrial opportunities while conserving the interests of the environment and the economy of Norway?

Mr. Ross

It is not always entirely fair to make comparisons, because the economic circumstances, consumption of energy of all kinds, are very different. The hon. Gentleman is quite right about the speed of decision. He will be aware, of course, that it is very dangerous to make that kind of statement, because in Norway no public inquiry system is involved. If that system were denied the people of Scotland, I do not doubt that the hon. Gentleman would be the first to complain about it.

Mr. Dalyell

Will the Secretary of State invite some senior Norwegian Ministers here so that they may learn at first hand about some of the advantages that we have in these procedures? Is it not a case of seeing fields to be rather greener on the other side of the North Sea? There are quite a number of Norwegians who think that we do many of these things rather better than they do in Norway.

Mr. Ross

There is something to be gained by having a look at other people's planning procedures, but we must not forget that the situation is entirely different. The Norwegians are fortunate in having available deep water at places where population, infrastructure and other facilities already exist. For instance, in Stavanger one can have platform building of a kind which would create difficulties in Scotland because of the limited number of places available so far. So we should be careful about that.

We appreciate, too, that recently a greater measure of central control has been instituted in Norway because of concern about the environment and because of concern to ensure maximum development in areas where infrastructure and population now exist.

Mr. Sproat

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that I entirely agree with him about the need to emphasise the total difference between United Kingdom requirements and those of Norway—a difference between 8 million tons of oil a year and 100 million tons of oil a year? Will he further recognise that Norwegian planning procedures are not so very much in front of ours? It was only a few months ago that the Norwegians instituted designated sites for oil development, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will publish those in the autumn of this year. Further, will he utterly reject the Norwegian plan of setting up Statoil, and reject the British parallel of the British National Oil Corporation? Since his hon. Friend asked for suggestions for helping the infrastructure, will he spend on infrastructure the £2,000 million that he says he is going to spend on the BNOC?

Mr. Ross

It is about time the hon. Gentleman made up his mind. One minute he castigates us about the British National Oil Corporation and the next he asks that it be sited in Aberdeen.