British Petroleum Shares

Oral Answers to Questions — Energy – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th January 1976.

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Photo of Mr John Ovenden Mr John Ovenden , Gravesend 12:00 am, 12th January 1976

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he has yet decided whether to acquire the British Petroleum shares which were purchased by the Bank of England from the Burmah Oil Company.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

As I told my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr Hoyle) on 3rd December—[Vol. 901, c. 598]—no decisions have been taken on the disposal of the shares

Photo of Mr John Ovenden Mr John Ovenden , Gravesend

Does my right hon Friend agree, as it is now nearly a yea' since the Bank of England acquired these shares, that a Government decision on this matter is long overdue? Does he not consider that it is contrary to the policy of the Government that a company like BP should be in public ownership—as it has been for the past year—without being subject to public control? Before my right hon. Friend takes a decision on this matter will he consider carefully the value and the advantages of having a publicly-owned oil company operating as part of the British National Oil Corporation?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

I appreciate what my hon. Friend said. On the other hand, the Government have to take account of a number of considerations. That is why we have not yet reached a view of what we should do. The position of British Petroleum over the years since 1914, when Mr. Churchill bought 51 per cent. of the shares, has been seen as a special one. A great deal of its business is under taken overseas on the basis of arrangements with the Government which have persisted for a long period.

Photo of Peter Viggers Peter Viggers , Gosport

Before the Secretary of State extends the Government's sticky fingers still further over BP, will he bear in mind that the company is believed to have a better credit rating than the Government? Does he agree that this is a sad comment on the Government's recent policies?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

I certainly accept that the majority public holding in BP, initiated by Mr. Churchill, has proved the value of a creative relationship between the public and the private sector.

Photo of Dr Jeremy Bray Dr Jeremy Bray , Motherwell and Wishaw

Does my right hon. Friend accept the argument that American pressures on BP are behind the pressure on the Government not to acquire the Bank of England shares? Will he make plain his own views on this?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

I do not want to comment on what my hon. Friend has said, except to say that in the relationship between the oil companies and the Government there are always a lot of pressures. I shall rest upon the decision that the Government are to take, taking into account all of these factors.