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British Gas Corporation

Volume 13: debated on Monday 23 November 1981

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3.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what response he has had to his proposals to reduce the public enterprise role of the British Gas Corporation.

The proposals will result in genuine competition in the supply of gas, particularly to industry, and have been warmly welcomed by the Chemical Industries Association and others.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the abandonment of the gas-gathering pipeline will mean the loss of thousands of job opportunities? Does he realise that the withdrawal of the corporation's buying rights will, in effect, give a licence to multinational companies to put the gas up for auction to the highest bidder, which will mean further price increases for both industrial and domestic consumers? Instead of carpeting Sir Denis Rooke for publicly criticising such daft proposals, should not the Secretary of State have been carpeted for displaying such blind political prejudice?

Blind political prejudice is what we have just heard from the hon. Gentleman, who is something of an expert in that area, as the House knows. The opening up of the the industry to competition will undoubtedly lead to an expansion of the industry and an expansion of job opportunities.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the gas-gathering pipeline that is predicted to come ashore at St. Fergus in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) in April next year from the Brent and Ninian fields? What effect will that have on gas supplies to this country?

My hon. Friend will, of course, be aware that there is a question later on the Order Paper on the gas-gathering pipeline, which I am sure is likely to be reached. It would be more sensible to discuss the matter when we reach that question.

Is the Secretary of State aware that, for historical reasons, Scottish industry gets only half the amount of industrial gas that is available to industry in other parts of the United Kingdom? In his proposals for the privatisation of the gas industry, what protection will he give to ensure that the supply of industrial gas is increased in Scotland?

I should think that it is evident that the opening up of this business to competition will give a better opportunity to Scotland than if it were in the hands of a single statutory monopoly.

With regard to the sale of Wytch Farm, which will mean a reduction in the public enterprise role of the BGC, what criteria are to be laid down for valuation, given, as I was told last week, the vast reserves in that area and a recently discovered gusher? Are British interests to be protected against French purchasers who, I understand, are extremely interested in Wytch Farm, given the nearness of the Channel quadrant?

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we are conscious of the need to protect British interests and of the need to ensure that a fair price is secured for the sale of the 50 per cent. interest in the Wytch Farm oilfield. Any new factors, such as those that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, will be fully taken into account in the price that is eventually paid.