HL Deb 19 October 1981 vol 424 cc686-7WA
Lord Beloff

asked Her Majesty's Government:

If they will make a statement on the divestment of certain assets of the British Gas Corporation.

Lord Skelmersdale

The Secretary of State for Energy issued a direction last week, under Section 7 of the Gas Act, instructing the British Gas Corporation to dispose of their stake in the Wytch Farm onshore oilfield. This needs to be seen in the context of the Government's overall plans for privatisation and competition in the oil and gas industries.

First, the Government propose to introduce legislation to allow the transfer of the entire oil-producing business of the British National Oil Corporation to the private sector, with the state retaining only a minority stake. Secondly, the Government will also be seeking powers to privatise the British Gas Corporation's substantial offshore oil business.

These powers will also enable the Gas Corporation to be required to dispose of its showrooms. As we have made clear, it is essential that safety standards are fully maintained. This will require complex safety legislation for which there is unlikely to be time in the coming session of Parliament. But the Government remain fully committed to breaking this monopoly as soon as practicable.

Thirdly, the Government also intend to introduce measures to abolish the British Gas Corporation's unique statutory rights over both the purchase of gas and its sale to industry in particular. These outdated privileges have acted as a serious disincentive to the exploration and development of gas supplies on the United Kingdom continental shelf, with the result that British industry has not had all the gas it needs. The measure to be introduced, which will include effective private access to the Gas Corporation's pipeline system, will for the first time introduce real competition into the market for gas.