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British National Oil Corporation

Volume 892: debated on Monday 12 May 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make an announcement about the proposed location and staffing structure of the British National Oil Corporation.

As I said in the debate on the Second Reading of the Petroleum and Submarine Pipe-lines Bill, the BNOC's headquarters will be in Glasgow. The staffing of the corporation will be a matter for its board.

If my right hon. Friend is involved, even in an advisory capacity, in the appointment of the chairman and other staff of the British National Oil Corporation, will he bear in mind that it is a public corporation and, therefore ensure that people are appointed who not only know something about the oil industry but are in favour of public enterprise within that industry? In particular, does he agree that it would be most inappropriate to appoint a failed Right-wing politician to head this new public enterprise?

I do not know who my hon. Friend has in mind as the failed Right-wing politician to head the British National Oil Corporation. It is possible that he has in mind the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) or someone of that calibre. However, the person who is appointed will support the corporation and will have knowledge of the oil industry.

Will the Secretary of State indicate who the chairman will be and what his salary will be? Will he also indicate whether he is able to get the necessary staff in order to conduct the affairs of the BNOC on commercial lines?

I have already said on Second Reading of the Bill that where the BNOC works in partnership with the companies it will act commercially. It may well not act commercially where it acts as an agent of the Government. I am not in a position to announce the name of the chairman of the BNOC. However, it is recognised that competitive salaries will have to be paid.

Will the right hon. Gentleman assure us, first, that he has no intention of appointing the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) as Chairman of the BNOC? I am sure that such an answer would be of great assurance to all involved in the industry. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain perhaps a little further why Glasgow has been chosen as the site for the headquarters when most of the oil activities are situated in the north-east of Scotland, in the Aberdeen area? Even though he may wish to adhere to his decision, will he assure us that there will be a substantial presence in the Aberdeen area to enable those actively involved in the industry to have direct access to those involved in the BNOC? Will he also take into account—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."]—the fact that a large number of Scots are employed all over the world by oil companies and that some preference should be given to them in the key jobs in this enterprise?

The question of the location of the headquarters of the BNOC was under consideration for some time, as the hon. Gentleman knows. We recognise the difficulties of Aberdeen, with all the pressures that are on Aberdeen at present, such as the question of office space, housing and the pressure on resources in that city. In reply to the question whether I would appoint my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) as Chairman of the BNOC, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that we need my hon. Friend in the House to keep an eye on the Scottish National Party.

Does my right hon. Friend consider that if a greatly enhanced salary were paid to the chairman of this corporation, this would have a very real bearing on the salaries being paid at present to the chairmen of the other fuel industries, notably gas and electricity?

I do not think that is really relevant. The question of the salary for the chairmanship of the BNOC has still be to decided, but I recognise—as does by hon. Friend. I think, and the whole House—that a competitive salary will have to be paid.

How long is it since Ward Howell International was asked to find a chief executive for the BNOC? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that Ward Howell has now advised the Government that the proposed management structure of the BNOC is wholly misconceived and that it has no chance of finding a chief executive on the terms it has put out so far?

The report of Ward Howell is a matter of confidentiality. It would be interesting if the right hon. Gentleman would tell the House how he comes to know of the report and where he has got the information from. However, in any event the right hon. Gentleman has been misinformed. What he has just stated is not the case. There are people who have said they would like to take on this job, and, of course, we shall have no difficulty in finding someone who will support the corporation.