HC Deb 03 November 1980 vol 991 cc947-9
14. Mr. Eggar

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the future of the British National Oil Corporation.

Mr. David Howell

It is the Government's intention to give the British public an opportunity to share the benefits of the nation's oil wealth through the creation of a revenue bond scheme linked to the fortunes of specified BNOC fields in the North Sea. Details of the scheme and its timing will be announced soon. We also propose that the forthcoming legislation on the future of the corporation should contain powers to enable the public to have a direct equity stake in BNOC's North Sea business.

Mr. Eggar

I welcome that statement, but is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us on the Government Benches regret that the Government will not be selling equity in BNOC in the immediate future? Why is that?

Mr. Howell

The revenue bonds will make available a stake in the fortunes of the North Sea to thousands of people who do not normally deal in stocks and shares. I hope that the whole House will welcome that. With regard to a minority equity stake, while the Government believe that it is necessary to keep control of BNOC, we intend to take those powers although there are considerable complexities to be unravelled before such powers can be put into practice. I look forward to my hon. Friend's support when we bring such measures before the House.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

What control or influence over the policy and management of the corporation will the owners of the bonds as such be given?

Mr. Howell

The owners of the bonds will not have an ownership stake in the corporation, but they will share in the risks and revenue of the North Sea. I do not see anything against the idea of thousands of families sharing in those risks.

Mr. Forman

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, although many of us welcome the cautious and measured way in which the Government have approached the matter, we want the units available in the bonds to be as small as possible in order to make a reality of popular capitalism?

Mr. Howell

Those views will be taken into account. It is desirable to spread the involvement of popular capitalism. I understand the views of Labour Members and their extreme hostility to wider ownership in any form.

Dr. Owen

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if he needs to issue "granny bonds" as the price of a U-turn we shall be happy for as many as possible to be issued? However, does he realise that if he goes ahead with legislation to introduce a private equity stake in BNOC he will open up for debate all the major questions of principle and of great international importance relating to the United Kingdom continental shelf? In addition, doing that simply as a fig leaf to placate some of his discontented Back Benchers will be playing around with one of the most central issues of energy policy in this country. If the right hon. Gentleman does that, it will be opposed, and opposed vigorously, and it will do no good to our national interest. Will the right hon. Gentleman also let us know whether he intends to allow the BNOC to develop the Clyde oilfield, or whether he intends to interfere in the development of that field?

Mr. Howell

No decision has been made on the Clyde development, although I have indicated that as part of our depletion policy there will be delays on developments in certain cases. As to the right hon. Gentleman's lecture on North Sea oil policy, I suggest that he reserves that for the debates that we shall have in the House. I think that he is aiming at the wrong target. If there were a proposal to do away with Government control of the BNOC, some of the right hon. Gentleman's worries might be outstanding. As it is, our proposals do not raise the worries on which he has lectured us, though no doubt we shall hear that lecture again.

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