HC Deb 28 March 1983 vol 40 cc12-3
12. Mr. Douglas

asked the Secretary of State for Energy how many North sea fields in the 50 million to 150 million barrel recoverable reserve range he now expects to be developed in the next five to 10 years.

Mr. Gray

The oil companies have already responded positively to the fiscal incentives contained in the Budget. The precise rate of development of new oil and gas fields, however, is a matter for their technical and commercial judgment.

Mr. Douglas

Does the Minister of State accept that that is too much of a "hands off' answer to be acceptable to the House and to the country? Does he concede that substantial fiscal incentives are now given to develop these fields—

Mr. Eggar

The hon. Gentleman should welcome that.

Mr. Douglas

I shall welcome it. Will the Minister use his office to ensure that the equipment used in the fields is built and produced in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Gray

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman, who criticised the Government not long ago for not giving further incentives to the oil companies, cannot see his way to giving the incentives a warm and wholehearted welcome, unlike the oil companies, which have been most generous in their praise of the Government. The companies have expressed their appreciation and said that a real understanding of the industry's problems has been shown by the Government. They have suggested that it will encourage new exploration and development. I confirm that I shall do all that I can to ensure that Brtish industry is given full and fair opportunity to compete, as I have for the past four years.

Mr. Rost

Has my right hon. Friend notice that, despite the weakening oil prices, a number of oil companies have already accelerated their exploration and development programmes as a direct consequence of the Budget measures? Should not the Opposition welcome that instead of criticising it?

Mr. Gray

My hon. Friend is correct. He will not have missed the recent statement by Shell that the Shell-Esso group intends to invest between £700 million and £800 million per year in the North sea for the remainder of the decade.

Mr. Hooley

What exactly is the Government's depletion policy? Do they intend to go on recklessly using this valuable national asset to cover up the deficiencies caused by their economic failure?

Mr. Gray

That is apart from the question, but I shall answer the hon. Gentleman and draw his attention to the fact that the all-party Select Committee has greed with the Government's depletion policy.