HC Deb 17 April 1996 vol 275 cc706-7
13. Mr. Canavan

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what is the latest estimate of the oil and gas reserves in the United Kingdom continental shelf. [23928]

Mr. Eggar

The reserves estimates for 1995 are still in preparation and will be published in volume 2 of the "Energy Report" later this month.

At the end of 1994, however, remaining discovered reserves were estimated to lie between 575 million and 2,075 million tonnes of oil and 660 billion and 1,915 billion cu m of gas.

Mr. Canavan

As our trade deficit would be even worse if it were not for oil and gas reserves, which have brought revenues to the Treasury amounting to a total of £137 billion in today's prices, is it not one of the greatest national scandals of our time that the Tories have frittered away most of that money instead of investing it in the nation's future?

Mr. Eggar

The considerable revenues that have flowed from North sea oil and gas have been invested in infrastructure, the health service and education—and, I might add, in repaying a fair proportion of the debts left to the country by the last Labour Government. But the most important aspect of the North sea oil and gas industry is the employment that flows from it, both directly and indirectly. It is estimated that well over 300,000 jobs depend on the industry, and many of our most technologically advanced manufacturing companies produce goods related to it.

Mr. Jenkin

How much oil and gas would have been discovered over the past 15 years if oil and gas in the North sea had remained in public ownership, and the companies concerned had remained under state control—starved of the private finance that is necessary for investment? How much revenue would we have earned, and how many losses would the Government have had to finance?

Mr. Eggar

I speak from memory, but I believe that in the late 1970s there were confident predictions from the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) that the United Kingdom would be coming to the end of its oil production during the latter part of the millennium.