My Lords, I beg leave to ask the first Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government what proposals for an organisation to own and operate the North Sea gas-gathering pipeline have been received from the organising group; and whether they still expect the pipeline to be operational by October 1984.
My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Energy received on 31st October an interim report from the Gas Gathering Organising Group, and is now considering the report's contents. The report describes progress on both organisational and financial matters as well as the physical aspects of the project. The organisation group's interim report confirms that completion by 1984–85 is achieveable.
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that reply, which is fairly encouraging. Would he not agree that the fact that they have only got an interim report by the end of October suggests that the timetable is already beginning to slip, and the more it is thought to slip the more sceptical are our prospective Norwegian partners going to be about the feasibility of achieving the 1984 target?
My Lords, I think we are on target. As I say, the report does consider this to be achieveable. The Government do, of course, consider that a gas-gathering system in the North Sea should be constructed as quickly as possible. Planning permission has now been granted for plants at St. Fergus and Nigg Bay, and the British Gas Corporation has already acquired land at St. Fergus. So I think my right honourable friend will confirm that we are getting on.
My Lords, may I ask the Government whether they are aware that, in the words of The Times today, even the production of North Sea oil and gas is falling, and if this is so what are they intending to do about it?
My Lords, I have not read the reports to which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, refers, as, due to the pressure of parliamentary business, I have not seen The Times today.
My Lords, it is on the front page.
My Lords, I would have to have notice of the question. The Government, of course, do have a great interest, as does the entire country, in ensuring that production is stepped up in the North Sea, and that is precisely why we are getting ahead with this gas-gathering project.
My Lords, can my noble friend say whether the interim report is going to be made available to the public?
My Lords, I imagine that it does involve matters of commercial confidentiality, as the British Gas Corporation, the British Petroleum Company and Mobil Oil are involved in the organising group, but I will investigate and I will write to my noble friend.