HC Deb 14 June 1976 vol 913 cc9-12
8. Mr. Tim Renton

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he is satisfied with the development of the North Sea oil and gas fields during the 1976 season; and if he will make a statement.

Dr. J. Dickson Mabon

So far this year one new gas and seven new oil discoveries have been announced, one new oil field has come onstream, and by the end of the year a further four are expected onstream. I am satisfied that 1976 will be another successful year for the development of our North Sea resources.

Mr. Renton

Does the Minister of State accept that the political activities of his Government have held back for up to two years decisions on the question of whether or not to develop viable fields? Is he aware that while the Government are relinquishing some of their Draconian powers this delay has caused lasting damage to supporting industry and to Britain's cash flow from the North Sea?

Dr. Mabon

I do not think that is true. The Chairman of Conoco told us recently that the North Sea was the most attractive investment area in the world. The rate of development and of discovery is remarkable. If the hon. Gentleman will look at the Brown Book that we have just published he will see that the figures are consistent with the development that was expected.

With regard to the smaller fields—and this relates to the question asked by the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) about the tax policy, which may be a little unfair on the smaller fields—we have taken power under the Petroleum and Submarine Pipe-lines Act to refund royalties where we feel that it is in the national interest that a field should be developed. We have received precisely one application, and I regret to say that that application has not succeeded. As I have said, I shall look at the criteria to see whether we could be wrong. We may be wrong. But we are not doing anything to inhibit development. On the contrary.

Mr. Dalyell

On the immediate problem of the events in Sullom Voe, which could jeopardise the whole of the North Sea production programme, do not the Government think that the conciliation procedures of the Department of Employment ought to be brought in?

Dr. Mabon

I am hopeful that the delicate position in Sullom Voe will be resolved. Reports indicate that we may have an agreement shortly. The situation looks better than it was.

Mr. Henderson

Will the right hon. Gentleman welcome the fact that this is Scottish independence day for oil, and that Scotland's requirements can now be met from production? Will he also make sure that the Department makes this fact known as widely as possible?

Dr. Mabon

There is no doubt that there is a success story to be told about North Sea oil, and we shall tell it.

Mr. Skinner

Will my hon. Friend say what is the total Government stake, as a percentage, in all the oilfields? Will he also say how much the National Coal Board lost as a result of the participation of the Government in the Gulf-Conoco deal? This knowledge will be important to the miners when they debate other issues at the forthcoming conference in a fortnight's time.

Dr. Mabon

My hon. Friend, who is a very good Socialist, must recognise that when assets are transferred from one public concern to another they are within the public sector. National Coal Board assets are not owned by the miners; they are owned by the State, by the people. There is no loss in that regard.

In reply to the first part of the supplementary question, it is difficult to make an estimate, but I shall have a look.

Mr. Heffer

Will my hon. Friend make it clear to the country that there is no such thing as Scottish oil, any more than there is such a thing as English national gas, which at the moment is used in Glasgow? Will my hon. Friend also make it clear that most of the financing in "Scottish" oil, so-called by the Scottish National Party, comes from the British people as a whole, from British industry rather than from Scottish industry?

An hon. Member

It is American oil.

Dr. Mabon

It is not American, English or Scottish oil. It is God's oil, and we should be thankful for it.

Mr. Biffen

May I congratulate the Minister on his appearance at the Dispatch Box after an absence of six years, and say how delightful it is to see him there?

Arising out of the question asked by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), does the hon. Gentleman agree that the events at Sullom Voe, which we all hope will come to a speedy and happy conclusion, are a healthy reminder of the caution and prudence with which we should deal with all the forecasts of the benefits that we hope will flow from North Sea oil, because they depend on many delicate and, to some extent, imponderable conditions?

Dr. Mabon

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. I agree absolutely with what he said.

Mr. Tom Ellis

Can my hon. Friend estimate what proportion of ongoing capital from this country is being spent on developing the North Sea?

Dr. Mabon

Not enough.