HC Deb 25 November 1974 vol 882 cc14-6
12. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the progress made in the negotiations with the oil companies to ensure greater State participation both in the exploitation of the resources and in its financial returns.

Mr. Varley

I have written to all the licensee companies in the oil fields so far declared commercial inviting them to enter into negotiations. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will this week be meeting some of the companies with major interests in the North Sea.

Mr. Hamilton

Will my right hon. Friend say whether there is any evidence that the oil companies are opposed to the propositions put forward by the Government? Quite apart from the question of State participation, will he give my hon. Friends and me the assurance that there will be a public take of profits of not less than 80 per cent., or not less than the Norwegians take?

Mr. Varley

We are entering into negotiations. It would not be wise of me if I were to spell out all the options that are available to the Government or how we propose to proceed with these negotiations. But I certainly hope to give the House as much information as I can as the negotiations progress. We want to press ahead with them as quickly as possible. On my hon. Friend's first point, the majority of the oil companies have replied to my letter inviting them to take part in the negotiations, and as far as I can see most of them are seriously considering the question of participation. I am hopeful that we can come to an arrangement.

Mr. Emery

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that he gave three reasons for the need for these discussions? The first was greater public ownership, but he has said that the industry is already nationalised. The second reason was the need for full financial benefit, yet he refused to accept the supplementary question put by the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) about the industry evading taxation, so presumably the Government are happy about that. We then come to the third reason, which was the need for a depletion programme. Is the right hon. Gentleman really trying to tell the House cither that he has attempted to negotiate a depletion programme or that he would not get it from the industry if he did so?

Mr. Varley

We shall get a proper depletion policy on the basis of the information that we shall receive as part of the operators' committee when we have got the participation. The question of taxation is for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

I should like to clarify the earlier point made by the hon. Gentleman about public ownership. The oil industry is not itself nationalised. The oil reserves are in public ownership. That undertaking was fulfilled by the last Conservative Government but one under the leadership of Sir Alec Douglas-Home.

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