HC Deb 30 April 1975 vol 891 cc465-7
26. Mr. Tugendhat

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Common wealth Affairs whether he will make a statement on the attitude of Great Britain and the European Community towards proposals for a world conference on energy and other industrial raw materials.

Mr. Hattersley

There are many established international agencies where producers and developing countries discuss such matters. The hon. Member will be aware of the discussions now taking place with the Commonwealth Prime Ministers on the initiative of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Mr. Tugendhat

Yes. We have not yet seen the Prime Minister's plans. Therefore, it is impossible to comment on them. Does not the Minister of State agree that the failure of the recent talks in Paris was a serious setback to all those who hoped for co-operation between the industrial countries and the raw material producers? Does he foresee those talks being respected? Does he believe that in the summer there is scope for the kind of major international conference, either on oil or on oil and all other raw materials, for which everybody hoped before the recent conference began?

Mr. Hattersley

I do not believe that the preparatory meeting in Paris was a failure. That meeting was intended to discuss energy matters and not raw materials questions in general—which is why I did not refer to that in my first answer.

The reason for the breakdown after many days of discussion was a dispute between the participants on the question whether it should be related only to energy matters, or widened. I continue to hold the view that energy, and energy alone, should be discussed in that forum. But I believe that the exploratory discussions held in Paris made some pro- gress. They provide the framework for future discussions. I hope that such a meeting can be resuscitated in the not too far distant future.

Mr. Skinner

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that in his answer to the previous Question on energy he seemed to be reasonably categoric about the control from this country of the exploitation and exploration of the North Sea oil and gas energy resources? Will he answer the question whether he can give a complete and categoric guarantee that the total benefits resulting from the exploration and exploitation of North Sea oil and gas will accrue to the United Kingdom and not to any of the other Common Market countries?

Mr. Hattersley

I hope that I was not reasonably categoric about exploration and exploitation; I hope that I was totally categoric in saying that matters remain in the hands of the British Parliament and Government.

The answer to the question relating to benefits from oil follows from what I said previously. The important elements of policy remain with the Government and this House. If the Government choose to concentrate the benefits on Britain, that remains the Government's right.

Mr. Pardoe

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that at some future time we shall need the help of other countries to keep the price of North Sea oil above the cost of production?

Mr. Hattersley

I accept that in many matters concerning energy policy the day may come when we need to make agreements which will involve compromises with other countries. When that time comes, this House, Parliament and Government will be able to make those decisions unfettered by any requirements placed on them by Brussels.

Mr. Guy Barnett

Why does the Minister think that it is to our advantage to pool our sovereignty in so many areas but not in that of energy?

Mr. Hattersley

There are many answers to the sovereignty question. This is the basic answer: we pool sovereignty in a number of areas when by doing so we become not less powerful but more so—not less free but more so. That is my view of the sovereignty argument over recent months. As regards energy, there are special problems affecting the British economy and people which are understood and appreciated by our partners in Europe. Their understanding is a contribution towards the preservation of the right of sovereignty.

Mr. Adley

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is reasonable and proper for countries in the Middle East to sell their oil at the best price they can get for it, in the same way as food-producing countries sell their produce for the best prices they can get? If the right hon. Gentleman accepts that proposition, is it not obvious that there is no more likelihood of there being so-called cheap food in the world than of there being cheap oil in the future?

Mr. Hattersley

I agree with that so much that it causes me considerable pain to say that that is another question.