HC Deb 03 November 1980 vol 991 cc939-40
5. Mr. Cadbury

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will bring forward legislation to alter the statutory provisions relating to gas production so as to enable private companies to produce gas from the North Sea for resale to third parties in the United Kingdom for use as fuel.

Mr. David Howell

There is already scope under section 8 of the Energy Act 1976 for North Sea gas to be supplied direct to third parties for use as fuel.

Mr. Cadbury

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the industry suffers from a serious shortage of gas? Does he agree that the best way to accelerate gas production is to break the monopoly of purchase right, now enjoyed by the British Gas Corporation, and to allow private companies to produce and sell gas direct to industry?

Mr. Howell

My hon. Friend is correct. The industry is facing an excessive demand for the short-term supply of gas, arising from the rush of industrial customers away from oil and into gas. This has created intense strain and dragged prices up. The Chemical Industries Association has put certain suggestions to my Department for greater access by industrial consumers direct to the North Sea. In fact, such consumers have some access already for feedstock purposes and in one case for fuel purposes also. I have said that the Department will consider these representations.

Mr. Douglas

Is the Minister aware that he must be very careful about the way in which he tackles the issue of gas in the northern and southern sectors of the North Sea? Is he aware also that it is vital to ensure that firms and industries already established in the United Kingdom benefit, particularly from the ethane that will come ashore as a result of the gas-gathering system?

Mr. Howell

The hon. Gentleman raises questions about the gas-gathering system which do not arise directly from this question. However, I recognise that difficult decisions will have to be taken by myself and my Department as well as by other parties concerned. We are closely examining the matter with a view to reaching early decisions.