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Volume 889: debated on Monday 7 April 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he now expects Great Britain to be self-sufficient in oil.


asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he now expects the United Kingdom to be self-sufficient in energy.

There is every prospect that we shall achieve self-sufficiency in oil, and in energy generally, by 1980.

If the Secretary of State is saying that the North Sea oil programme is on target, will he be more honest with the House and agree that that is primarily because the shape of the target has been changed as the expected growth in demand in the years immediately ahead is considerably less than it was a few years ago? Does he also agree that overall North Sea production work is now between one year and two years behind hand, that this has led to a loss to the balance of payments of several hundreds of millions of pounds, and that the Government must take no legislative action that will delay North Sea production work even more?

We have not taken any action to delay North Sea oil exploration. I have never denied that there has been some slippage. The slippage started in 1973. Mr. Tom Boardman, then Minister for Industry, announced in the first Brown Book of that year that it was intended that by 1975 we should be getting 25 million tons of oil from the North Sea. The slippage took place then and since then, but the 1980–85 prospect is still OK.

To what extent will the coal industry contribute to national fuel self-sufficiency by 1980? Will the right hon. Gentleman provide figures to show how we shall achieve that by 1980 by stating the expected production from the North Sea for the years between now and 1980, rather than waiting for a miracle in 1980?

We have to go all out to get North Sea oil as quickly as possible, but in terms of overall self-sufficiency in fuel the coal industry, management and men, has a great deal to contribute. I want coal production to be not only maintained but improved. The hon. Gentleman will have seen figures over the past few weeks to show that production in the industry has gone up.

Is there any advantage in being self-sufficient in oil if oil can be obtained more cheaply elsewhere?

That is the$64,000 question. I have seen no evidence to suggest that oil prices will fall dramatically. 1 think that perhaps the major oil producers in OPEC will take steps to keep prices up. I hope that that is not the case and that as far as possible oil prices will come down.

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that we have been too dependent on oil from the Middle East and other sources and that various Governments in the past have failed to give sufficient attention to the coal industry? Does he agree that if we had not depended so much on oil from the Middle East, we should not now need to be so humble?

I agree with a great deal of what my hon. Friend says. He and many other members of the miners' group over the years have expressed the view that we ought not to be too dependent on Middle East oil. I can assure my hon. Friend that I for one have learned the lesson of October 1973.