HC Deb 23 June 1980 vol 987 cc18-20
11. Mr. Hannam

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what progress is being made in the widening of public participation in investment in North Sea oil.

14. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he is yet in a position to make a further statement on the future of the British National Oil Company.

6. Mr. Renton

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will bring forward proposals for the sale of shares in British National Oil Company to employees.

Mr. Gray

Further details of the Government's plans to introduce public participation in the British National Oil Corporation will be given in due course.

Mr. Hannam

Will my hon. Friend continue on target for the privatisation of British National Oil Corporation's exploration and development side so that the British public can be given a real chance to participate rather than obey the call of the Labour Party for participation involving State monopoly control?

Mr. Gray

I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government remain firmly committed to the introduction of private capital into the upstream operation of the, British National Oil Corporation. But hon. Members must await the announcement by my right hon. Friend about the detailed plan.

Mr. William Hamilton

Does not the Minister recognise that the BNOC has served the public interest extraordinarily well, that it is in control of an increasingly valuable national asset, and that it would be a crime if, for purely political, doctrinaire reasons, a Government flogged it off to private profiteers in the private sector?

Mr. Gray

I agree that the BNOC has made a good start. However, the Government believe that it can do even better if it has private capital introduced into it.

Mr. Hamilton

Better for whom?

Mr. Gray

It will do better for the nation. Security of supply is already safeguarded.

Mr. Emery

Will my hon. Friend examine the possibility of allowing increased private participation in the development of the Gas Council-Mobil gas-gathering system, and will he point out to the Opposition that, if private investment can be obtained, it will save taxpayers' money and reduce the public sector borrowing requirement and has nothing to do with safeguarding the overall national interest in terms of what comes out of the end of the pipe?

Mr. Gray

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, of course.

Dr. Owen

Will the Minister confirm that there is a difference between private equity in BNOC and bond-holding? When the Minister uses the expression "public capital", is he excluding the possibility of bonds being issued to the general public? Will he confirm that the board of BNOC has unanimously warned him against issuing public equity capital and about the change of control that that would involve and, instead, has advocated some form of bond-holding?

Mr. Gray

The right hon. Gentleman will not expect me to pre-empt the announcement of my right hon. Friend. However, I can confirm to him that in arriving at our decisions we are keeping in close touch with the chairman of the British National Oil Corporation.