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North Sea Oil (European Community Proposals)

Volume 897: debated on Monday 4 August 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy what recent proposals have been made within the EEC regarding the availability within the Community of North Sea oil.

There are no specific proposals. However, the EEC Council of Ministers resolved on 17th December 1974 to pursue a target of a Community oil production—both onshore and offshore—of at least 180 million tons per annum by 1985. This target does not bind individual member States.

Is the Under-Secretary aware that Mr. Simonet said that Britain would hog its oil? As we shall be the only large producers in Europe by 1980 or 1985, should not the Government make up their mind what to do with the oil? Is it to be made available to Europe at world prices? What is the Government's depletion policy?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government repaired a deficiency in the statutory powers available to them by introducing proper depletion controls for the first time in the Petroleum and Submarine Pipe-lines Bill. The question of the extent to which we should deplete our oil resources is a difficult problem to resolve, involving consideration of the amount of oil in our sector. The tone and manner in which Mr. Simonet speaks to the European Parliament is, thankfully, not a matter of ministerial responsibility.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that, unlike the Common Market food surpluses, we shall not sell our oil surpluses to the Russians?

My hon. Friend is, I am sure, aware that we have no obligation to export to the EEC, although no doubt we shall consider it to be a natural market for some of the oil we produce.

As the figure of anticipated British production which was given to the Community was 180 million tons by 1985, how comes it that the British Government do not consider themselves bound by it?

The right hon. Gentleman is quite wrong on that. The figure is for the whole Community production and includes present Community oil production of 10 million tons. I understand that the EEC took the figures in the Brown Book issued by the British Government as the basis for the British component of the European total, but it is a European total. In future one will have to take into account within that 180 million tons oil acquired from La Mer d'Iroise in the French sector, the Greenland concessions which for this purpose are part of the EEC and also the Irish sector. It will be readily seen that much more than British resources are involved in the 180 million tons.

As the answer to my Question is totally unsatisfactory, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.