HC Deb 22 March 1976 vol 908 cc4-6
3. Mr. Skeet

asked the Secretary of State for Energy how many yards in the United Kingdom are building production platforms; how many are currently looking for orders; and how many orders he anticipates are likely to be placed in 1976.

Mr. John Smith

Six United Kingdom yards are currently building oil production platforms. All United Kingdom yards are looking for further orders, although the timing of such orders varies in importance as between individual yards. The number of orders that may be placed this year is not yet certain. I am currently having talks with oil companies about their field development plans.

Mr. Skeet

Is the Minister aware, however, that he totally ignored the advice given during the passage of the Offshore Petroleum Development (Scotland) Act, when it was indicated that there would be over-capacity in the yards, and that about £24 million has been sunk or guaranteed and no orders have come? Will he indicate whether he intends to subsidise yards along the lines of Laing, or whether he wants the British National Oil Corporation to provide the necessary facilities?

Mr. Smith

I think that the most regrettable aspect of what the hon. Gentleman has said is his total failure to realise the damage done to this industry by its not having concrete platform production yards available in the past during the period when the party that he supports was in Government. We lost six orders—four for concrete platforms—at a time when we had little capacity to acquire them. The present Government have righted that situation. On the whole, we prefer to take the risk of providing the capacity rather than not having the capacity to meet very important orders for this country.

Mr. Gray

Does the Minister admit that the Government have made a serious error in their estimate of the number of yards required? Will he assure the House that the jobs and welfare of those already employed in established yards will not be put at risk through any question of Government intervention and direction towards yards in which they have invested money and which have not been able to attract any orders?

Mr. Smith

I think that it is far too early to pass comment on whether these yards will be able to obtain orders, and when. We regard it as absolutely vital to establish concrete platform facilities. For one thing, it is still hard to determine the type of platform, and even individual oil companies are uncertain whether they will require steel or concrete platforms, because so much depends on the condition of the sea bed where the platform is to be located. For this purpose the Government will deal fairly with all yards involved. The important thing is that we are able now, on the concrete side, to offer a variety of range and design. We shall no longer suffer the under-capacity problems of the past. It is important to stress this matter, because I believe strongly that our yards, on both the steel and concrete sides, have become increasingly efficient over the years and can face competition with confidence.