HC Deb 14 November 1977 vol 939 cc16-8
10. Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will give details of the quantity and value of North Sea oil which was exported to other countries during the past 12 months; and what percentage this represents of the total oil lifted from the North Sea.

Dr. J. Dickson Mabon

In the 12-month period ending on 30th September this year, nearly 13 million tonnes of North Sea crude was exported, representing nearly 40 per cent. of production in the period. The total value was approximately £750 million.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

Those are staggering figures and, I should have thought, would almost immediately have made us eligible to join OPEC. Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that we have been told by successive Ministers that the North Sea resources will not last indefinitely and that we must make the best use of them? They give us independence in oil in this country. There-force, why on earth is there this enormous level of exports? Why are we not retaining this oil for our own use rather than selling it to other countries, thereby denuding ourselves and perhaps creating a difficult future for Britain?

Dr. Mabon

I have a great deal of sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman has said. The Government do not go back in any way on the statement made on 6th December 1974 by the then Secretary of State for Energy, now Secretary of State for Industry, on the so-called two-thirds rule. We are, it is true, nearly 6 per cent. above that figure, which is significant. We are determined, because of our continuing consultations with the oil companies, to try to correct this matter and get it in perspective.

The participation agreements which we are negotiating with the oil companies will specifically provide for consultations on plans for marketing North Sea crude. Any remark of the type made by the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) about BNOC is contrary to this policy rather than in support of it.

Mr. Dalyell

What percentage of the exports came through Shetland?

Dr. Mabon

Without notice, I cannot say.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

In view of the Government's failure to keep within their own limits in relation to the export of crude oil, will the right hon. Gentleman say that it was not a correct statement of Government policy that they prefer to allow the oil companies to export, as they will, rather than encourage them to invest in petrochemical developments in Scotland?

Dr. Mabon

There is no intention on the part of the Government to allow oil companies to market at will. On the other hand, one must respect and observe our international agreements. We must respect the concerns of our friends in Western Europe, in North America and in Scandinavia, to whom most of such exports have gone.

I am very pleased to notice that on both sides of the House there seems to be some feeling towards the idea of controlling our exports by perhaps additional legislation. I look forward to receiving unanimous support in the House if such legislation has to be introduced.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that it is vitally essential that we use the money coming from North Sea oil to ensure that we modernise industry in this country and make it more productive? Does he believe that, if we give too much away to industry by reducing taxation and so on, the money from that source will go into industry, or will the Government have to do it themselves?

Dr. Mabon

I share my hon. Friend's concern. There is to be a presentation by my right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Energy as part of the debate which the Prime Minister announced in August on the disposal of our North Sea oil revenues with regard to restructuring industry, the repayment of debts and the general improvement of the nation's economic performance. All that will come before us in due course.

Mr. Gray

In view of the Government's stated attitude to the export of crude and the fact that we are told on every hand that we have an excess of refining capacity in this country, why have the Government, with all the measures that they have taken for control, allowed 40 per cent. of the oil so far produced to be exported?

Dr. Mabon

I am disappointed with the hon. Gentleman, who knows a great deal about the subject, if he does not realise that we do not have control. The State does not have control over such exports. If hon. Gentlemen would like us to have control, they should say so, and we as a Government could say that we would consider the matter. If the hon. Gentleman means that we should seek to persuade the companies—through participation agreements or by some other means—to observe the two-thirds line, that is precisely the Government's policy.