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British Petroleum

Volume 887: debated on Monday 24 February 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he has any proposals to acquire a majority shareholding in British Petroleum; and if he will make a statement.

As I told the House on 15th January, the question of the BP shareholding is a matter for consideration, and further thought needs to be given to this complex issue. In reaching a decision we shall have to take into account the needs of Government policies and the interests of BP.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that an assurance has been given to the Chairman of British Petroleum that whilst 20 per cent. of the BP shares formerly owned by Burmah Oil are held by the Bank of England the Government will not attempt to exercise any extra control of BP that a 70 per cent. holding would give them? Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is a fundamental principle of this Government's industrial policy that the investment of public money should carry with it public control and public accountability, and that we are being prevented from exercising such control until the shares are transferred from the Bank of England to my right hon. Friend's Department? Further, will he accept that it is highly desirable that the Government should reassert their majority holding in BP?

I do not think that I have much to add to the reply that I have already given and to the statement I made on 15th January. I can assure my hon. Friend that the disposal of BP shares that the Bank of England now holds is still under consideration, and that no decisions have been taken.

Will the right hon. Gentleman now assure the House that the Government will adhere to the undertaking which they gave to the takeover panel about the exercise of the Government's voting power in BP?

Certainly we shall adhere to that undertaking. The disposal of the shares is still under consideration. We have by no means ruled out the possibility of moving to a majority stake in BP.