My Department is continually making forecasts of the future levels of United Kingdom crude oil imports. Because of the many uncertainties surrounding these forecasts, such as the level of home demand and the supply of crude oil from abroad, I think that it would be misleading to publish these figures.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has stated that it is the Government's policy to reduce the oil deficit in the balance of payments figures? How can the Treasury be working on any reduction in the oil deficit if the Department of Energy does not have any estimate of crude oil imports over the next two or three years?
I told the hon. Gentleman that it would be misleading to publish the figures. The Government are of course concerned to reduce the oil deficit but, for the reasons which I mentioned in my original answer, we think that it would be misleading to announce any figures at present.
Is the Under-Secretary aware that there has been a considerable slippage on the North Sea programme, that this could lead to a considerable movement upwards in imports of oil from abroad and that his economies which were to have been published many months ago are coming in only at the end of this month after a year's delay?
Any slippage is to be regretted as being most unfortunate, in view of the paramount necessity of obtaining as much oil as quickly as possible. There is a good deal of evidence to indicate that there was a large overestimate of what might be achieved in 1975. We are expecting to take ashore between 3 million tons and 5 million tons of oil during next year.