Orders of the Day — Offshore Oil

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th December 1975.

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Photo of Mr Peter Rost Mr Peter Rost , Derbyshire South East 12:00 am, 8th December 1975

I do not propose to deal at length with the rather pathetic, doctrinaire and unconvincing attempt of the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) to defend further nationalisation. His argument appeared to be a justification for extending nationalisation because existing nationalisation was such a success and was so popular. If he really believes that—there cannot be many hon. Members opposite who still believe it—he must be even more out of touch than the public believe Members of Parliament to be. No doubt he will put that to the test with his electors in due course and perhaps will get a result which astounds him.

I wish to discuss the realities of the situation rather than deal with arguments for or against doctrinaire nationalisation. We have heard some persuasive arguments from this side of the House in attacking the Government's policy which is causing crippling delay, uncertainty, and a lack of confidence in the development of the North Sea resources. The Government should be censored, not simply for the uncertainty, delay and lack of confidence, but, above all, for the evidence that they are displaying of a complete lack of priorities.

At a time when the Government are having, at long last, to face the realities of trying to make the country live within its means; at a time when the nation is faced with bankruptcy; at a time when the Government are, at long last, attempting to control inflation and stem the unemployment which their failure to control inflation is creating; at a time when they are being forced to face the errors of their two years of gross mismanagement and overspending of taxpayers' money; and at a time when the Cabinet is in almost daily emergency session scratching round for ways to borrow more money from abroad, or to cut some of the wasteful spending which their policies have promoted, the Government continue to pursue a policy which will give a new nationalised industry an initial dollop of at least £900 million, plus an annual income of about £1,000 million from royalties which will be siphoned from the Treasury, plus relief from petroleum revenue tax which the rest of the oil industry will have to pay. They have promised that the benefits of North Sea oil will accrue to the people. Their policies will result in exactly the opposite.

The Government are scraping round for more money from the International Monetary Fund. Their intention in borrowing this money is, not to balance the nation's housekeeping and put our affairs in order, but to continue over-spending, to allow us to live beyond our means, and to finance completely unnecessary and damaging doctrinaire Socialist nationalisation. That is why we are being invited to borrow more money from abroad.

The Prime Minister is at such a loss to suggest policies to save the country that he continually asks the Opposition for help and advice: and we are continually telling him what he should do. We have told him time and again, every day for months, what he should do if he wants to save the nation from bankruptcy. However, he does not listen, because it does not suit the Labour left wing to accept the advice which we have offered him and which he knows is the only answer.

We shall tell the Prime Minister again. He should sort out the priorities for the nation. It is a matter, not just of cutting overspending, but of stopping policies which will increase spending still further. That is why the proposals for the North Sea are such a disastrous contribution to the irrelevance of Government policy.

The Government continue to pursue policies which will greatly increase spending at a time when spending elsewhere is having to be cut, when the National Health Service is a battleground, when teachers are unemployed and education is suffering, when defence expenditure is being cut to the bone, when the social services and welfare are being starved of finance, and when the whole nation is being asked to make sacrifices. One might be able to justify this spending if it achieved something, but it does not. It will make matters worse.

The first question we must ask about the Government's priorities is whether they have the money to spend on the BNOC and 51 per cent. nationalisation. If they have the money or can raise it, why in every other sector are cuts being made which will create severe hardship to the nation and increase unemploy- ment? If the Government have the money or can raise it, why cannot it be spent in areas of the economy where it will be cost-effective and contribute towards solving our problems rather than aggravating them?

We are about to get the Government's White Paper on public expenditure up to 1980. What allocation will be made for financing 51 per cent. nationalisation and the BNOC? We have heard today of supplementary estimates for Government expenditure in the period from the Budget to the end of the year. The House will be asked to grant another £3,000 million for excessive Government spending above the Budget forecasts. That takes no account of the money that will be required to set up the BNOC and to pay for the nationalisation of 51 per cent. of North Sea interests. That is still to come.

The Government should be censured for their misguided priorities. There is no money available for the extension of nationalisation. Even if money wet-0 available, it could be used more effectively in other areas. An area in which such vast expenditure could be used beneficially is the promotion of energy conservation. If we have this money to spend on nationalisation which will produce no benefits, why should it not be spent on encouraging the more economical use of energy?

We are continually told that there is no money available to provide incentives for thermal insulation, or to provide incentives to industry to re-equip with energy-saving machines. We are continually told that there is no money available to improve the efficiency of the electricity generating system so that some of the waste can be utilised. We are continually told that there is no money available for research and development on securing the rational use of energy. Yet all that expenditure would be cost-effective: it would produce direct benefits to the national economy. It would pay for itself over a period, because it would allow us to consume less energy, thereby directly benefiting the balance of payments position and allowing us to deplete our finite resources less quickly. Moreover, an allocation of capital to the more efficient use of our energy resources would save public expenditure on financing increased capacity.

We shall increase the nation's crisis it we allow this money to be spent upon BNOC and 51 per cent. nationalisation. We shall increase unemployment and inflation. If the money is available, as the Government maintain, by spending it elsewhere we can improve the ability of the nation to get back on its feet.

The Government have made no attempt to assess the priorities. They are not interested in an energy strategy or in allocating national resources in such a way that the nation as a whole will gain the most benefit. If they were, they would drop the proposals for setting up a wasteful and unnecessary nationalised industry in the oil sector and use the funds elsewhere.

The Select Committee on Science and Technology has shown how energy conservation would produce direct benefits to the economy. If the Secretary of State for Energy has these thousands of millions of pounds to spend on North Sea participation, he should seriously consider whether the money could not be better spent in the national interest elsewhere. Even if the British economy were doing well and we were not suffering from a financial crisis, high inflation and rising unemployment, the Government's policy for the North Sea would be unjustifiable, misguided, dangerous and damaging. At this time it is absolutely suicidal. I regard it as a criminal misappropriation of taxpayers' money. We have these hugely expensive nationalisation plans, for which there is a blank cheque. I regard it as deliberate sabotage of Britain's prospects for economic survival.