HC Deb 13 February 1978 vol 944 cc19-21
15. Mr. Tim Renton

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he is satisfied that there is no conflict in the British National Oil Corporation's dual role of integrated oil company and supervisory agency.

The Minister of State, Department of Energy (Dr. J. Dickson Mabon)

The Corporation is not a supervisory agency.

Mr. Renton

Is it not a fact that BNOC's growing urge to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds is already putting Britain's reputation for commercial integrity at risk? Is it not also the case that a number of oil companies are reconsidering their involvement in the North Sea, in the light of the fact that their applications to the Department for, for example, a farm-out on a licence are held up while BNOC lets it be known unofficially that it would like a carried interest in that licence?

Dr. Mabon

There is no evidence of any such urge as the hon. Gentleman described, and I can positively deny his last remark.

Mr. Hardy

Are not our national oil arrangements now immeasurably superior to the fecklessness of those adopted by the Conservative Government? Is not this revealed by the fact that some blocks licensed in the fourth round have not yet been drilled, contrary to claims by Opposition spokesmen?

Dr. Mabon

The answer to the first part of my hon. Friend's question is "Yes". The answer to the second part is that it is certainly true that the drilling we had hoped to take place in the fifth round has in no way started properly, not because matters have not been fixed up between the Department and the companies but because the drilling going on —and it is a high level of drilling—is still on the fourth round.

Mr. Viggers

Does the Minister understand that the dual role of BNOC as an oil company and his confidant results in its being regarded as a vague and sinister body? Does he not fully understand that?

Dr. Mabon

If there is any misunderstanding or confusion, it is in the minds of Members of the Opposition. BNOC is a State oil corporation and enjoys the same relationship with its Government as any other State oil corporation does. It is a valid position. BNOC has no regulatory or supervisory function. It is entirely an adviser to the Government.

Mr. Tom King

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, in spite of his answers, we know that BNOC has an advisory function and that it is expanding that function into a controlling position in the development of the North Sea? Is he satisfied that the Department is not, because of staff problems as much as anything else, losing a measure of control over activities in the North Sea?

Dr. Mabon

What the hon. Gentleman has said is highly mischievous, as are several of his speeches. There is no question of BNOC's taking over any of the statutory functions of the Secretary of State or any functions of the Department. BNOC's function is advisory to the Secretary of State—no more and no less.

Mr. Renton

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the light of the Minister's thoroughly unsatisfactory reply, I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible opportunity.