HC Deb 19 May 1980 vol 985 cc19-21
14. Mr. Renton

asked the Secretary of of State for Energy what is his policy, in the light of the Iranian situation, as regards making United Kingdom oil more readily available to the European Economic Community, particularly West Germany, in view of that country's greater dependence on Iranian oil.

19. Mr. Peter Lloyd

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he intends to discuss with the European Economic Community Energy Ministers the question of preferential access to North Sea oil for other member States of the European Economic Community.

Mr. David Howell

The Government have already made clear both to the House and to our Community partners that they expect oil companies exporting North Sea oil to sell it in markets of our partners in the Community and the International Energy Agency, except where there is an existing pattern of trade outside those regions.

Mr. Renton

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that the problem becomes more acute every day? Coincidental with settling other Community problems and getting the Community constructively to move forward again, would it be possible for my right hon. Friend to offer our EEC partners greater long-term access to our North Sea oil and gas than he has been able to do to date?

Mr. Howell

My hon. Friend should not overlook the considerable quantities of North Sea oil already going to the markets of our EEC partners. About half of our exports go to our EEC partners' oil and petrol markets. We make a substantial contribution already. Much the best contribution that we could make in future would be to manage our North Sea oil resources in accordance with the best oilfield practice. We must ensure that production is maintained to the highest standards, and with maximum efficiency. In that way we can make a contribution to the overall production of energy in the EEC.

Mr. Lloyd

Does my right hon. Friend accept that although there is support for helping our EEC partners to maintain the continuity of their oil supplies, there will be no support for selling North Sea oil to them at below market prices or entering into long-term contracts other than on a fully commercial basis?

Mr. Howell

I confirm my hon. Friend's remarks.

Mr. Benn

Will the Minister confirm that it is the Government's intention to retain full control of depletion and trading pattern policies, and that he will not allow the agreement for a 500 million tonnes per day import target set by the EEC to lead to an expansion of our depletion policy? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm also that the Prime Minister will not trade off our oil interests in an attempt to achieve a better deal on the EEC budget?

Mr. Howell

On the right hon. Gentleman's second point, my right hon. Friend has made it clear that our budget contribution will be decided on its merits, and that it will not be linked with other issues—whether this or any other. On the right hon. Gentleman's other point, I think that he confused the figure. I think that he was referring to the 5 million tonne export target, which we have agreed as part of our overall targets for oil imports for the EEC until 1985. I gladly confirm that that is in no way influenced by, and in no way influences, our freedom to decide our depletion policies in line with our national interest.