§ 4.4 p.m.
§ LORD HOBSON
My Lords, with permission, I will repeat a Statement which has just been made in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister of Power. The Statement is as follows:
"I told the House on July 21 of my proposals for a further round of production licences to search for and get oil and gas on the Continental Shelf, and applications were subsequently invited in August. I have decided to grant 37 licences to 18 companies or groups. The licences will comprise 127 blocks covering in all about 10,000 square miles, about 500 square miles in the Irish Sea and the rest in the North Sea. I am placing details in the Library.
"The minimum work obligations to be incorporated in the licences will involve the expenditure of about £30 million on seismic survey work and drilling during the next six years.
" The arrangements will increase the nationalised industries' stake in this enterprise. The Gas Council, which will participate with its existing partners, is to increase its share in the group's new licences to 50 per cent. compared with approximately 31 per cent. in its present licences. Two companies, Gulf Oil (Great Britain) Limited and Allied Chemical (Great Britain) Limited have given the National Coal Board options to participate in any licences granted to them, subject to the necessary powers being conferred on the Board by Parliament.
"If the options open to the Board are fully taken up, the British share in the licences will amount to about 37 per cent. overall, compared with about 30 per cent. in the licences granted last year."
§ LORD ERROLL OF HALE
My Lords, I am sure that noble Lords on both sides of the House would like me to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hobson, for repeating that Statement. I should like to ask him one or two questions, but before doing so, I would congratulate the Government on continuing the policy so successfully initiated by the previous Conservative Government, which has undoubtedly been the cause of so many applications being made and so many licences being granted at the present time.
In repeating the Statement made by the Minister of Power the noble Lord said that the Minister was placing details in the Library. Does it follow that similar details will be placed in the Library of your Lordships' House? As the device of placing details in the Library is a normal means to allow Members of Parliament to know what is going on, but not to let the newspapers know, may I have an assurance from the noble Lord that not only are the details being placed in the Library, but that the Press is being fully informed about these details?
Secondly, it is extremely interesting to see that the National Coal Board is proposing to participate. If I do not say much on this occasion, it does not follow that we on this side of the House necessarily agree with the concept of the Coal Board's going in for an entirely different branch of business, particularly as it is not making a profit at the present time. Can the noble Lord say whether the options have been given free of charge to the National Coal Board or have they been secured at a price; and, if so, at what price? I hope that the noble Lord will not suggest that this is a matter of day-to-day management by the Coal Board, this is breaking entirely new ground, and I think that those who have to pay for coal are entitled to know how much the Coal Board is paying for these options. Finally, will the noble Lord say what is the British share of the licences if the Coal Board options are not taken up?
§ LORD HOBSON
My Lords, the information will certainly be made available in the Library of the House of Lords, as well as in the House of Commons. Secondly, details will be made available to the Press. The noble Lord's third question involved a series of questions which I anticipated. This is really a case 938 where the National Coal Board should participate if it desires, and negotiations are actually taking place, the nature of which I am not at liberty to disclose. It is a normal business arrangement that details should not readily be made available. Your Lordships will notice that in the Statement there is the caveat that if anything did happen legislation would have to be brought before Parliament. So I should have thought that, even from any such arriére-pensée as the noble Lord may have, the position is safeguarded by the fact that Parliamentary consent is necessary. I personally, and I am sure your Lordships, including the previous Minister, do not see any difficulty, or any reason why the Coal Board should not diversify its interests.
One final point, my Lords. I think that the affairs of the Coal Board even since the time of the noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale, have been conducted with great acumen and success, thanks to my noble friend Lord Robens.
§ LORD ERROLL OF HALE
Cannot the noble Lord answer my simple question, how much will these options cost the National Coal Board?