HC Deb 17 June 1974 vol 875 cc4-7
3. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether the design and construction of the deep water, pre-stressed concrete drilling platforms in the North Sea will be carried out by British consulting engineers; and whether they will be governed by the new British code of practice for concrete construction CP110, adopted by the European Concrete Committee.

The Under-Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. Gavin Strang)

Not all the structures erected in the United Kingdom sector of the North Sea will have been designed and built by British engineers. At present several of the most favoured designs have their origins abroad. However, a number of British designs are available or in the process of development and I hope they will attract orders in the future. The international character of the offshore industry means that structures may be built in accordance with several widely accepted codes, of which CP110 is one.

Mrs. Short

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that many eminent British engineers have been responsible for helping to draw up the European code, which embraces not only the Common Market but Eastern and Western European countries? Is he aware that many of the countries doing this kind of work have very little more experience than we have in the behaviour of concrete under heavy water pressure? Why are we not sponsoring research, to be carried out at Government research establishments, into the behaviour of this material under these conditions?

Mr. Strang

I certainly agree that our prime concern must be for the integrity of the structures and the safety of the people who will work on them. We are considering the whole question of Government research and development. We are in consultation with British engineers and are as anxious as my hon. Friend that they should increase their contribution in this sphere.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that by sabotaging the plans of the previous Government to speed up the approval of sites for concrete platform development in Scotland, the Government have made it less likely that this work will be of British origin?

Mr. Strang

I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman. When the Secretary of State takes his decision on Drumbuie, we shall announce our plans in this area. In the meantime, there is no evidence to support the contention that our production plans have in any way been put back as a result of our decision on Drumbuie.

Mr. Taylor

Of course they have.

Mr. Strang

They have not.

4. Mr. Dixon

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he will make a further statement about his policy on nationalisation of oil and gas resources in the North Sea.

8. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on future policy on the handling of North Sea energy problems.

Mr. Varley

We are reviewing all aspects of licensing policy. A report will be made to Parliament when the review is complete.

Mr. Dixon

I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman can help us a little with that somewhat Delphic utterance? May I assume that, generally speaking, his views on this important issue correspond more closely to those of his right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary, for instance, than to those of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry?

Mr. Varley

My views correspond with the views of the Government.

Mr. Hamilton

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether there was any truth in the reports in the newspapers last week that the Government were prepared to take 80 per cent. of the profits accruing from oil and that the oil companies had agreed to that figure? Does he agree that if they have so agreed there is something wrong with that, in terms of the national interest? Will he assure the House that the Government will announce their proposals in time for a very full and forthright discussion inside the Labour Party as well as in this House, to ensure that this resource is used exclusively in the national interest?

Mr. Varley

The Government intend that resources in the North Sea and elsewhere throughout or off the shores of Britain will be used for the benefit of the British people. Certainly if nothing were done the British people would not get a proper share and benefit from the wealth of the North Sea.

The reports referred to by my hon. Friend mentioned about 80 per cent. No proposals of that kind have been put to the Government. I hope that it will be possible to make a report in good time to have a debate within the Labour Party and the House of Commons.

Mr. Skeet

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House to which faction he belongs? Does he believe that it is correct to support a British hydrocarbon corporation with a number of multiple buying agencies to bring in the oil? Of what advantage can that be to the British taxpayer and people? From where does he propose to get the finance to carry out the operation?

Mr. Varley

The hon. Gentleman must wait for the review, which I hope will be ready within a few weeks—certainly before the House goes into recess. There are many misconceptions about public ownership or nationalisation of North Sea oil. British oil is already nationalised. That was done by the last Conservative Government but one, under the Continental Shelf Act 1964.

Mr. Molloy

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear not only that North Sea oil and gas will remain under British control for the benefit of the British economy, but that we shall not be subject to any interference from the EEC or any other organisation which will impinge on British economic sovereignty?

Mr. Varley

British oil will certainly be used for the benefit of the British people. There is another question on the Order Paper relating to the EEC and I believe that that matter will come up again.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to make this statement as soon as he possibly can? Was his attention drawn to the statement by the chairman of one of the oil companies that delay is making it more difficult for the companies to raise finance, and that that is delaying the development of the oil?

Mr. Varley

There is not a shred of evidence that delay is causing a lessening of activity in the North Sea. We are anxious to make a statement as soon as possible, and certainly before the Summer Recess.