HC Deb 28 November 1983 vol 49 cc646-7
12. Mr. Lilley

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he proposes to invite applications for the ninth round of licences on the United Kingdom continental shelf.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I am currently considering arrangements for the next licensing round.

Mr. Lilley

In view of the great success of the belated introduction of auctioning into the allocation of licences in recent rounds, will my right hon. Friend extend the use of auctioning in future licences? Will he recognise that the Labour Government's doctrinaire hostility to the market process persuaded them to give these valuable assets away to the oil companies as an uncovenanted benefit rather than selling them at their fair market prices, thereby gaining considerable revenues for the consumer?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I shall obviously look at these various issues in considering the next licensing round. It must also be remembered that what my hon. Friend advocates is not welcomed, particularly by a number of the smaller companies. The discretionary part of the last two rounds has enabled a considerable number of smaller British companies to become involved in exploration, which I welcome.

Mr. Douglas

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that it is now desirable to have a continuity of the regime and that the Government's record on tax changes has not been conducive to developments in the North sea? Has that ended and are future developments likely to sustain self-sufficiency will into the 1990s?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I certainly support the need for continuity. Indeed, it was for that very reason that the Government introduced the various fiscal changes which, this year, resulted in drilling activity in the North sea at the highest level we have ever had since North sea oil was first discovered. I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that the need to maintain continuity is an important aspect of our licensing arrangements.