HC Deb 25 November 1974 vol 882 cc6-8
6. Mr. Hannam

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is his estimate of the increased revenue which will result from nationalisation of the British oil industry as compared with special taxation methods.

Mr. Varley

North Sea oil is already in public ownership. The Government are now negotiating for majority participation in commercial fields in areas under existing licences on the United Kingdom Continental Shelf. The revenues from this participation will depend in the first place on the outcome of negotiations to which I have invited the companies.

Mr. Hannam

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree, though, that the result of spending about £5,000 million of taxpayers' money on unnecessary nationalisation will be that the revenue obtained for the taxpayer will be only marginally above that which would result from normal taxation methods? Will that not drive away from the North Sea the expertise and involvement in the oil industry that will be so badly needed for the future of this country?

Mr. Varley

We shall not drive anybody away from the North Sea. We have made it plain that we see a continuing and profitable rôle for companies operating in the North Sea, and I pay tribute to them for the fine work they have done so far.

I cannot understand the inferiority complex of the Opposition. Almost every other oil-producing country can have participation, but when it comes to Britain's oil the Opposition say, "No, the British people cannot have a share".

Mr. William Hamilton

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is massive evidence of considerable tax evasion by the oil companies over the past several years and that that is one of the primary reasons why the tax principle is not enough to deal with this problem? Has he any evidence to suggest that the oil companies are being driven away from Norwegian waters as a result of that country's radical policies in regard to this matter?

Mr. Varley

My hon. Friend is correct. There is no evidence that the oil companies are leaving the North Sea. In fact, they are sitting down with us and talking about the kind of policies that nearly everybody in the House wants to see accomplished. We are discussing depletion policy and disposal of the oil, and I think we can come to satisfactory terms on participation.

Mr. Hordern

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is not possible to borrow £5,000 million in the capital market of this country, and that even if it were possible the annual interest charge would be not less than £500 million, and no benefit would be derived from the North Sea? Why go through this fruitless and expensive exercise?

Mr. Varley

I do not accept the figure of £5,000 million. The cost of participation—

Mr. Hordern

What is the Minister's figure?

Mr. Varley

The cost of participation will depend upon the outcome of the negotiations.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright

Will my right hon. Friend continue to resist the apeals of greedy right hon. and hon. Conservative Members who want to make certain that the nation does not share in the revenue obtained from North Sea oil? Will he bear in mind the recent statement that if the Tories get back to power after we have modernised the steel industry part of it will go back to private enterprise again?

Mr. Varley

Questions about the steel industry are for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry, and I should get into deep water if I entered into that matter.

My hon. Friend is right. We believe that the only way to ensure that the British people get proper benefit is by participation. We included this commitment in our election manifesto and we were elected on the basis of it.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

Is it not typical that at a time when Dr. Finniston is advocating the denationalisation of the steel industry the Government should be pressing ahead with the nationalisation of the oil industry?

Mr. Varley

I note also that Dr. Finniston said it was essential to take steel into public ownership.