HC Deb 31 January 1983 vol 36 cc5-7
6. Mr. Aitken

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he next expects to meet the chairman of the British Gas Corporation to discuss his proposals to offer for sale the corporation's 50 per cent. stake in the Wytch Farm oilfield.

Mr. Lawson

Discussions with the corporation about the disposal take place frequently.

Mr. Aitken

I welcome my right hon. Friend's frequent discussions and, above all, his commitment to allowing the public to invest in the oilfield, but does he realise that there is growing concern about the transparent delaying tactics being used by the British Gas Corporation? Will he find time to have a quiet, but firm, word with the chairman of the British Gas Corporation to tell him—

Mr. Skinner

"Firm word"? That is bad grammar for a publicly educated schoolboy.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We all know that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is here, but he must learn to control himself when other hon. Members are speaking.

Mr. Aitken

Will my right hon. Friend tell the chairman of the British Gas Corporation that continuing to manouevre this ball into touch until after the next election will do neither him nor the corporation any long—term good?

Mr. Lawson

I can well understand my hon. Friend's concern, and to some extent I share it. Having debated the issue several times, Parliament has decided that the British Gas Corporation's share of the Wytch Farm oilfield should be disposed of by the corporation and moved into the private sector. It would be a great pity if those responsible for the sale were to cause the taxpayer to obtain a less favourable price than he might otherwise have expected. It is merely a question of when the disposal takes place and in what form. It is not a question of whether it will take place, because Parliament has already decided that.

Mr. Palmer

Will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that he has learnt something by now from the experience of Amersham International and Britoil, and that there is no question of selling off this valuable national asset at a knock-down price, against the advice of the BGC?

Mr. Lawson

I should have thought that the lesson of Britoil is that I would be the last person to dispose of oil assets at a knock-down price.

Mr. Eggar

Have not the BGC's delaying tactics over the sale been deliberately engineered to avoid the will of Parliament and to reduce the amount that the taxpayer is likely to obtain? Has not the role that the chairman has played, in putting an artificially high price on this asset, proved completely unacceptable?

Mr. Lawson

I have great sympathy with what my hon. Friend has said.

Dr. J. Dickson Mabon

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that this issue was debated in Parliament several times and Ministers assured us that Wytch Farm would be sold, not at any price, but at a realistic price? Is it true that the highest bid so far is about half of the valuation of Wytch Farm?

Mr. Lawson

The right hon. Gentleman may be giving too much credence to a figure floated some time ago by the BGC. Of course, he is right on the general proposition. The asset will be sold at a proper price, and not below that price.

Mr. John Smith

Does the Secretary of State accept that it is disgraceful to force the BGC—which found, exploited and made a success of the field—to sell off that asset, particularly when the market is weak? Does the right hon. Gentleman further accept that it would be quite wrong for a sale to take place unless a proper price is obtained for that asset? Is not the very distinguished public servant who is the chairman of BGC entitled to the same degree of Government confidence in him as they give to those who support their point of view?

Mr. Lawson

Of course the asset must be sold at a proper price, and not below that price. I have made that absolutely clear. That is the Government's view, and it will be carried out.