HC Deb 31 July 1978 vol 955 cc15-7
6. Mr. Dodsworth

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will review the security and confidential information made available to the British National Oil Corporation through participation agreements.

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

I am satisfied that the Department of Energy and the British National Oil Corporation are honouring the commitments relating to confidentiality of information contained in participation agreements with the various companies. I do not, therefore, propose to hold a review.

Mr. Dodsworth

While thanking the Minister for that reply, may I ask whether he recalls that the requirements for investment up to 1987 are over £15 billion and that that investment will mostly be repaid out of retained earnings? Does not the threat to confidentiality call that in question? Further, has he considered the fact that the discriminatory nature of the treatment, on licensing and financial terms, is probably in breach of articles 86 and 92 of the Treaty of Rome?

Dr. Mahon

The last part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question is not true. I would agree with the first part of it. If there were breaches of confidentiality, it would be very serious. But there have been none.

Mr. Viggers

Are not the Government putting an unnecessary strain on those working within BNOC by making it both a commercial oil company and adviser to the Minister? Does he not realise that this must be a situation which breeds mistrust and misunderstanding?

Dr. Mabon

It is true that the corporation has to be well aware of the practical difficulties occasioned by the requirement regarding non-use and non-dissemination within the corporation. Steps have been taken within the corporation to ensure that its personnel are acquainted with the need to observe those requirements scrupulously. May I venture the opinion that, perhaps, the personnel of BNOC are in this respect in the same position as other professional people in banking and in industry generally?

Mr. Gray

Does not the Minister accept that until January 1976 94 per cent. of the total investment in the North Sea came from private industry? Is it not essential that the confidence of private industry should be stimulated rather than hampered by anything which BNOC might do?

Dr. Mabon

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is a little hostile towards BNOC. The fact is that BP represents a substantial State involvement in the North Sea, so that I cannot confirm his first figure. Further, the British Gas Corporation has played a singularly substantial part in developing the North Sea. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the private and public sectors, married as they are, have to get on well together, which means that confidentiality in these matters has to be preserved by everyone.