HC Deb 08 December 1980 vol 995 c611
7. Mr. McQuarrie

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he will be in a position to announce the full list of successful applicants for the seventh round of licensing of exploration in the North Sea.

The Minister of State, Department of Energy (Mr. Hamish Gray)

I expect to announce shortly the names of successful applicants for blocks in the company own choice area and to complete the awards for all blocks early in the New Year.

Mr. McQuarrie

I am sure that that news will be much welcomed by the major companies that have applied for licences, but in making the final selection for the balance of the licences will my hon. Friend bear it in mind that some smaller consortia have been formed in the North-East of Scotland with local investment and that they should be given due consideration when the remainder of the blocks are allocated?

Mr. Gray

I realise the great interest that my hon. Friend has taken in this matter. I can assure him that both large and small British companies and consortia will have their proposals carefully analysed and assessed according to the criteria that have been published.

Mr. Douglas

Can the Minister assure me that all these administrative details will be completed to allow the drilling to begin in next year's weather window? Will he undertake to ensure that, so far as possible, any drilling activity in the North Sea is given to United Kingdom-based companies?

Mr. Gray

The Government hope that the drilling on seventh round licences will get under way next year. Of course we will welcome maximum participation by United Kingdom companies.

Mr. Skeet

Is the Minister aware that the recent tax proposals in the Budget will have a serious effect on exploration and development in the North Sea? When I put down a question to him it was answered by the Treasury instead. Does that mean that the Department of Energy is against these proposals?

Mr. Gray

My hon. Friend has been in the House long enough to know that there is such a doctrine as collective responsibility. The Department of Energy does not share his view. It has been suggested to us that there have been seven variations in taxation since this Government came to power, but six of those variations were decided upon before the announcement of the seventh round of licensing, and that round has broken all records in the number of applicants. Therefore, my hon. Friend's fears are on this occasion a little misplaced.