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Oil Licences (Fifth Round)

Volume 889: debated on Monday 7 April 1975

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17.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when the next round of offshore licences will be held.

Will the hon. Gentleman recognise that delay in setting up exploration of the Western Approaches of England is causing suspicion to arise in Scotland that the Government's policy is to exhaust Scottish oil resources while keeping England's oil resources, such as they may be, in retention? Does he realise that if oil is discovered off the Western Approaches, as the French seem to suggest it will be by expressing their intention to go ahead at an early date, it will enable England to get off Scotland's back as soon as possible?

I do not believe that that is a suspicion that arises in Scotland. It is nonsense which is deliberately perpetrated by the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends. It is a complete distortion of the picture. The Government's view is that all Britain's energy resources, be they oil, coal, gas or nuclear power, should be used for the benefit of the whole of the United Kingdom. The South-Western Approaches are hopeful territory for oil exploration. As evidence of the Government's good intentions, we are pressing ahead as fast as possible with the French to determine the median line.

Has my hon. Friend's attention been drawn to the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) during the weekend to the effect that Orkney and Shetland will claim the oil off those islands and that there will be very little left for Scotland? Will my hon. Friend give an assurance—and ask the Scottish National Party to give an assurance—that in no circumstances will Orkney and Shetland be allowed to collar that oil?

I do not think it will be possible for the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) to give that assurance, because during the last election campaign he promised dominion or federal status to Orkney and Shetland. If that were granted, the prolific east-of-Shetland oilfields would adhere to Shetland and Orkney. This is taking to its logical conclusion the procedure of the geographical allocation of energy resources advocated by those who aspire to Scotland's oil. [Interruption.] I am talking not of hopes but of the published words spoken by members of the Scottish National Party in the last election. They may have been meant to fool the people of Orkney and Shetland, but they were said.

If there is a new round of licensing, will the hon. Gentleman give an undertaking to observe the sanctity of contracts and not tear up the new concessions as he is threatening to do with the old?

I give the hon. Gentleman the absolute assurance that there will not be a sell-out as there was in the fourth round of licensing. We look forward confidently to the next round of licensing. We shall approach it unencumbered by the mistakes made by the previous administration, who were roundly criticised by the all-party Public Accounts Committee. We shall be able to achieve at least a 51 per cent. State participation in all licences allocated in the next round.