My Lords, I beg leave to ask the second Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government when a decision will be taken about the destination of natural gas liquids to be conveyed by the projected gas gathering pipeline and to be separated at the British Gas Corporation's terminal at Saint Fergus.
My Lords, several different prospective purchasers for the natural gas liquids have declared themselves and are in discussion with the organising group and the other interested parties. The destination of these natural gas liquids is an important element in the timely planning and completion of the projected gas gathering system. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Energy will announce in another place any decisions the Government take in the interests of advancing the project.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Would he not agree that the choice of destination for the liquid natural gases is essential to completing proposals for financing the scheme, which in turn is essential to getting it started soon? Is it not urgent that this should happen, so that we can actually make a plausible claim to take the Norwegians' natural gas?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his tolerance towards the fact that on neither of his two Questions have I been able to say as much as I should like. I can flesh out my second Answer a little in respect of his supplementary, by saying that the competitors for the ethane for petrochemical use are Dow and Highland Hydrocarbons at Nigg Bay, Occidental near Peterhead, Shell, Esso, BP and ICI at Mossmorran, Grangemouth and Tees-side. The rest of the natural gas liquids, containing propane, butane and natural gas, are likely to be fractionated at a coastal location and the products shipped. But they could also, of course, provide feedstock for petrochemical or other local development.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that answer, which, he will not be surprised to hear, I regard as somewhat gaseous. Would he not agree that there is growing doubt in Norway, Germany and France about our ability to get this scheme going in time to take the Statfjord gas? Therefore, whatever else we say, it really is urgent to get on with it.
My Lords, I agree about the urgency, and I do not think our colleagues on the continental mainland have any cause at all for disquiet.
My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that the word "fractionated" is not very transparent either?
My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that, with all these esoteric questions, what most of us who are taxpayers are interested in is that a legitimate and constructive point of view is taken by the Government, so that there is maximum saving for the taxpayer, rather than the enterprise in gaseous efforts that is taking place?
My Lords, one of the problems which the Government have—and I am, in a sense, glad that they have it—is that domestic gas is very heavily subsidised.