HC Deb 09 January 1978 vol 941 cc1253-4
20. Mr. Gordon Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on current offshore exploration.

Mr. Benn

Exploration and appraisal activity in 1977 was higher than in the previous year with over two dozen rigs engaged on average. Exploration results were down on 1976.

Mr. Wilson

Is the Secretary of State aware that the suspicion is developing in Scotland that because of the delay in forwarding exploration in the south-west approaches of the English Channel the policy of the present Government is to try to exhaust Scottish oil reserves first by leaving English oil reserves for the future benefit of England?

Mr. Benn

The hon. Gentleman misunderstands our purpose, our problems and our progress.

Mr. Kelley

Will my right hon. Friend take an opportunity to inform the House of what control the Government have over the extraction rate from oilfields within United Kingdom jurisdiction?

Mr. Benn

The powers of depletion and the associated powers over the approval of the development programme were given to me, or to the current Secretary of State, by the Petroleum and Submarine Pipe-lines Act. These are limited only by assurances given by my predecessor at the time when we came into office necessary to secure that the investment went forward. All these matters are described as fully as I can describe them in the working party on energy policy strategy document published in December.

Mr. George Rodgers

Could my right hon. Friend give the House a progress report on explorations taking place in the Irish Sea and in the mouth of the Mersey?

Mr. Benn

Not specifically without notice, but I will make available to my hon. Friend all that I know. The brown book is published annually and gives a full account of what is taking place.

Mr. Wyn Roberts

Will the Secretary of State rest assured that there is a great deal of interest not only in the Irish Sea but also in the Celtic Sea? Will he publish his reply to his hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Rodgers) in the Official Report?

Mr. Benn

All the information is public, but the House must understand that I do not carry in my head all the relevant statistics for every sector to the extent that would enable me to answer off the top of my head. I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman has all the latest information. We publish an annual report, and the brown book, as it is called, which is due in April, will bring together all the information we have about exploration, development, and the rate of success of drilling, which has hitherto been somewhat disappointing, in the Celtic Sea.