HC Deb 19 May 1980 vol 985 cc12-4
9. Mr. Gwilym Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for Enegry if he will now make a statement on depletion policy for British oil and gas resources.

Mr. David Howell

I am at present holding discussions with the industry and expect to make a statement on depletion policy shortly.

Mr. Roberts

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is some urgency about this matter, as the speed of the depletion programme is critical to the development of the coal and nuclear industries and all other aspects of energy? We must have an answer soon.

Mr. Howell

I accept that we must soon get this matter clear, and that is why I intend to make a statement in a few weeks.

Mr. Marlow

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, in relation to the depletion policy, United Kingdom oil belongs to the United Kingdom and will be used for the benefit of the United Kingdom? Will he confirm also that no commitment has been, or will be, made to give United Kingdom oil to Common Market countries, without discretion being left fully with the United Kingdom Government?

Mr. Howell

Yes, I can give that confirmation.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect any instance where reserves of energy sources have not been grossly underestimated? If the current estimates have continuously to be revised upwards, will not many current policies, in all parts of the United Kingdom, also need to be revised?

Mr. Howell

The uncertainties are undoubtedly great, particularly in the mining and extractive industries. That fact re-emphasises the need to keep all questions of depletion and management of these resources in the most flexible state. That is the policy adopted by the companies concerned, and that is the attitude of the Government.

Mr. Sproat

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that last year British companies won about 80 per cent. of all the oil contracts in the North Sea? Is not that a splendid achievement for British industry? How do we hope to improve in the areas where we are weakest, namely, exploration and drilling?

Mr. Howell

The figure for last year was 79 per cent. That was an excellent performance. I believe that we can do as well this year, or even improve on that, but that depends upon competitiveness in our yards operating under full and fair opportunities against strong foreign competition. Nevertheless, 79 per cent. is not bad.

Dr. Owen

Does the Secretary of State agree that while we continue to flare vast quantities of gas off our shores we must make an urgent decision on the gas-gathering pipeline scheme? In view of the increase in energy prices, does the Secretary of State agree that it is viable for a gas-gathering scheme to be financed by the United Kingdom and to be confined to the United Kingdom gasfields?

Mr. Howell

I am sure that with the price of energy as it is, the gas-gathering scheme is viable. I am not sure whether the advantages of taking gas from other than United Kingdom gasfields can be dismissed. They might be important. In general, the Government recognise the importance of the project, its worthwhile nature, its profitability and its benefit to the national interest. We are pressing ahead with it as fast as we can.